Kim Bernzweig, 39, of Huntington Woods
may not know it, but she's an Aish success
story. She grew up attending a Reform
congregation; her husband, Paul, is more
traditional and Conservative. They found
their comfort zone with Aish.
"Why not have services and activities
for people from all levels of observance?"
Bernzweig said. "I think it was the missing
link for us."
Now, her daughter, Sophia, 3, will attend
the new Aish Sunday school and eventu-
ally her son, Zac, 1, may also learn there.
The family has regular Shabbat dinners;
they build a sukkah in their yard; and they
attend Aish's events, study groups and
popular free High Holiday services that
draw 200-300 participants annually. Kim
says through it all her personal connection
to Judaism has grown.
"I think being involved with Aish allows
you to go at the speed you're comfortable
with," she said."There's no pressure. There
are no set guidelines. Staying put is also an
option. You can just gain knowledge and
make your own choices. I like being with my
peers and finding new people in the Woods
who share the same thought process."
That's exactly the kind of response the
organization is hoping for, and it's why
Simcha and Estie Tolwin believe they're
making an impact. When they arrived
in 2006, they had no contacts at all. Now
they have a database of 170 families in
Huntington Woods who participate in
Aish programs. The Tolwins refer to about
50 families as "super active!'
There are plenty of options for partici-
pation. Aish in the Woods runs about 20
programs per year including a Chanukah
carnival, a sukkah building workshop, a
Passover-themed steak and beer party for
dads called the "Man's Seder," adult Hebrew
classes and more.
Thursdays at noon for the past 17 years,
Aish has held a "Lunch and Learn" study
group at the Detroit Jewish News, the
longest running program of its kind in
the area. Simcha's father, Alon, leads the
Four years ago, Alon's wife, Leah, started
another program called "The Bridal
Canopy," which has allowed more than 300
brides, bridesmaids and mothers-of-the-
bride to receive free dresses, hairpieces
"Our vision is to bring Judaism back
into the home Simcha Tolwin explained.
"The key to continuity is to make
Judaism alive in the home, not just in the
synagogue; to learn with families in their
homes and engage the home with Judaism
instead of just filling up seats for High
Holidays. We want to keep Judaism alive
age children from Washington, D.C.,
Toronto and Mexico City. All were part
of a larger program known as the Jewish
Women's Renaissance Project that will
introduce 300 women from 15 cities to the
sights and sounds of their Jewish home-
land. The highly subsidized tour, mod-
eled after the Birthright Israel program,
enabled the women to go on the 10-day
trip for just $700, including airfare, hotels
"We had dinner by the Sea of Galilee;
we went kayaking on the Jordan River;
we went to the Syrian border': Estie said.
"Four women on the trip received Hebrew
names during a ceremony in Jerusalem.
We knew that if we could make Israel
affordable for moms, we could have an
even greater influence on Jewish families."
ence a taste of
ing the Jewish
and relevant for families!'
The effort has plenty of supporters.
Naomi and Lionel Margolick of Franklin
are major donors. Their family name will
appear on the new Jewish learning center.
"I like that they're educators, and I like
that they're involving young families in
Huntington Woods': Lionel Margolick said.
"They're bringing a lot of Jewish families
back into the fold without pressure. It's
necessary, and I think they're doing a phe-
Moms On A Mission
Back in June, 18 local women affiliated with
Aish packed their suitcases, kissed their hus-
bands and children goodbye, and boarded
an El Al flight bound for Israel. They took
part in a special "Birthright for Moms" mis-
sion June 28-July 9. Estie recruited the moms
and lead the spiritual journey.
"If you influence the mother of the
home, the whole family gains:' she said.
"If you inspire her Jewishly, she's going to
bring it home to the whole family."
The group spent Shabbat in Jerusalem
and visited Tzfat, Masada and the Dead
Sea. They took part in hikes and social
service projects, met with speakers and
scholars, and even spent a night sleeping
under a tent in the desert. Kim Bernzweig
was among the group.
"My husband encouraged me to go:' she
said. "I wanted to see Israel again, and I
knew it would be awhile before I was corn-
fortable flying that long with my 1- and
3- year-old. There was something power-
ful about being there with this group of
women. I was surprised to learn we shared
so many of the same philosophical ideas.
We all missed our families, but we enjoyed
During the trip, the moms met up with
other women like themselves with school-
Fresh off of that exhilarating journey, the
group returned to Michigan where, in
some ways, Aish's mission is just getting
started. With each passing day, the build-
ing on Coolidge is taking shape. Right
now, construction crews are focused on
Phase One, renovating 3,500-square-feet
on the south side of the facility. Aish hopes
to hold its High Holiday services there
this year instead of at Burton Elementary
School in Huntington Woods. The goal is
to complete Phase Two by next summer.
Scott Kaufman of Huntington Woods
is the newly named CEO of the Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. He likes
what he sees happening in his own backyard.
"Anything that increases the quality of
Jewish life in our community is a great
thing," Kaufman said. "Simcha and Estie's
presence in the neighborhood has defi-
nitely made an impact, particularly for
families with children."
In the midst of Michigan's lagging econo-
my, some may question the timing of Aish's
big move. But Simcha Tolwin believes now is
as good a time as any for moving forward.
"I get a lot of raised eyebrows and people
saying, `What a time to build:" he said.
"What I say is there's no question the
Jewish community has a direct amount of
hardship needs and we have to address those
needs. But we're also losing Jewish people
spiritually; assimilation is decimating us and
there has to be a parallel struggle.
"We have to keep fighting and asking
ourselves, `What are we doing about Jewish
families and their children to keep Judaism
relevant to them and future generations?" El
For more information, including free
High Holiday services and other pro-
gramming, call (248) 948-9908 or
visit www.aishinthewoods.com .
August 27. 2009