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`He Enriched This Community'
twin Shaw served a quarter century as executive
director of the Jewish Community Center of
Metropolitan Detroit and retired more than a
quarter century ago.
But only in the past few years did he stop coming to
the office — the one set up for him by his former col-
leagues at the JCC in West Bloomfield, where he still
actively participated in Center activities and board
Mr. Shaw, known for his energy, idealism and open-
ness of spirit, died of cancer Feb. 10, 2004, at age 92.
"He created friendships, relationships, programs —
he created a vision for this community that's unparal-
leled," said Morton Plotnick, who succeeded Mr. Shaw
as JCC executive director.
Mr. Shaw, who lived in West Bloomfield, is best
known as founder of the JCC's Jewish Book Fair,
which has run annually since 1952. A model for book
fairs throughout the world, it has attracted a star-stud-
ded list of authors to Detroit for half a century.
But Book Fair is only one of the countless projects
Mr. Shaw shepherded through from concept to reality.
Tamarack Camps, JCC Day Camp, the Readers'
Theatre, the Jewish Parents Institute, the Institute for
Retired Professionals, the Russian Acculturation
Program — speak to anyone associated with these pro-
grams and many others, and they say, "If it weren't for
Irwin Shaw, we wouldn't be here".
"I felt Irwin was not old in mind or spirit," said
Sandy Stark of West Bloomfield, former Book Fair co-
chair. "He was as contemporary as a person could be."
Brewster Broder of West Bloomfield called Mr. Shaw
"a visionary, pure and simple."
"In the 50 or so years I've been actively involved with
the Jewish community, I've known a lot of profession-
als," said Broder, who served as JCC president from
1970-73. "He ranked right up there with the number
one in the country"
Mr. Shaw took a good deal of pride in the three JCC
campuses he helped design, Broder said — the Meyers-
Curtis building (now the Northwest Activities Center
in Detroit) and the two current campuses, in Oak Park
and West Bloomfield.
"He may have cared about the buildings, but he
cared more about what was in the buildings," said
Evelyn Orbach, artistic director of the Jewish Ensemble
Theatre. "Irwin was a mentor for programming
throughout the Center. He never just said, 'Here it is;
go run it.' He played a vital role in every one of those
programs, running them, keeping them going.
"He enriched this community culturally as much as
any human being."
A native Detroiter, Mr. Shaw graduated from Northern
High School, attending United Hebrew Schools
through high school and continuing at the Beth El
College of Jewish Studies while studying at Wayne
At Wayne, he earned a bachelor's degree, followed by
a master's degree in educational administration. He
taught in the Detroit Public Schools, serving as a coun-
selor for the Fresh Air Camps
during the summers. "It was
around 1928-29; Irwin was
tall, slim, blond — he bore a
striking resemblance to Charles
Lindbergh," Broder said. "In
fact, he told me some of the
kids, 9- and 10-year-olds,
thought he was Lindbergh. He
didn't dissuade them."
He also taught at Temple
Beth El and was principal of
the religious school at
Congregation B'nai Moshe.
During World War II, Mr.
Shaw served in the Navy For
his work in bringing American
supplies to the blockaded
Russians through the port of
Murmansk, he was later
awarded the Hero of the Soviet
Union medal by former Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev
After the war, he was assis-
tant director of the Jewish
Welfare Federation and execu-
tive director of the Fresh Air
Society before taking over as
the JCC's executive director in
"He was responsible for all
the innovative things, all the
good things, that happened
during his tenure," said
Miriam Sandweis of Beverly
Hills, who worked with Mr..
Shaw as the JCC's director of
adult activities when he began the Readers' Theatre.
"He had seen it in New York, where top actors
would do play readings, working for below scale on
Mondays, when the theaters were closed," she said.
"He just grasped the whole idea of why it was done,
how it could be done here."
Alan Finkelstein, president of the New York-based
Jewish Community Centers Association of North
America, said Mr. Shaw was "way ahead of his time in
understanding the Jewish educational role of the JCC."
When compact computers were first being devel-
oped, Mr. Shaw envisioned the Quiz Cube, a comput-
er-based question-and-answer game, Finkelstein said.
After its debut in metro Detroit, the game caught on in
many other Jewish centers.
"He was one of the first to realize the potential of the
computer to help make education fun," Finkelstein
IRP And Beyond
Mr. Shaw began the Institute for Retired Professionals
after he had technically retired, said Judy Samson of
Samson, who worked as program developer at the
JCC, said Mr. Shaw realized the community needed
more than a series of classes. "Irwin took out his file —
he had an enormous file of ideas ready to go — and
took out information about a
program of the New School for
Social Research in New York,"
What Mr. Shaw envisioned
was a cooperative program for
intelligent, educated people, with
a strong social component; a pro-
gram in which members would
share the responsibility of learn-
ing and teaching
"When I was lining up people
to organize the IRP, all I had to
do was use Irwin's name,"
Samson said. "That was the
It was due to Mr. Shaw's
efforts that metro Detroit gained
its first shaliach (emissary) from
Israel. Later in his life, Mr. Shaw
worked on a method for simpli-
fying the reading of Hebrew for
the American Jewish community,
traveling several times to Israel to
develop the project.
At Mr. Shaw's Feb. 13 funeral,
Rabbi Harold Loss of Temple
Israel remembered him as a
neighbor and as a teacher.
"There are teachers who tell you
how to behave — others model
behavior in such a way you actu-
ally learn from them," Rabbi
Loss said. "Irwin was such a
Mr. Shaw's son Edward quoted
the words of philosopher Horace
Mann: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some
victory for humanity."
"Counting dad's victories, I would have to conclude
that he was a great man."
Irwin Shaw is survived by his sons and daughter-in-
law, Nolan Shaw, Michael and Mimi Shaw of West
Bloomfield, Edward Shaw of West Bloomfield; grand-
daughter, Jessica (Paul) Koslen; great-grandson
Nathanial Jacob Koslen; brothers and sister4n-law
Max, and Morris and Jean Shaw, all of Southfield.
He was the beloved husband of the late Lillian Shaw.
Interment was at Machpelah Cemetery.
Contributions may be made to One Family Fund, 777
Passaic, Clifton, N.J. 07021. Arrangements by Ira
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