The Elephant In The Room:
Our Dwindling Demographics
n array of theories and explanations have
been offered to justify the July 7 decision by
Congregation Shaarey Zedek's board of trustees to
close its B'nai Israel Center in West Bloomfield after this year's
With recurring budget deficits, an
aging membership base in need of
more dues relief, a recession-impacted
endowment, nearly tapped-out lines
of credit, a moving of its B'nai Israel-
based preschool into Hillel Day School
of Metropolitan Detroit, a vacant pulpit
position caused by the recent departure
of Rabbi Eric Yanoff and a potential
buyer for the facility quietly waiting in
the wings, Shaarey Zedek could ratio-
nalize its decision as one driven by dol-
lars and cents.
Others contend that aside from finances, factors included an
inability to meld the distinct West Bloomfield and Southfield
cultures into one congregational family, general shrinkage in
Conservative movement affiliation and a Southfield build-
ing-centered strategy that propelled expensive decisions to
purchase and divest two satellite facilities (B'nai Israel and the
Laker Center) about two miles from each other.
But in his letter to congregants explaining the board's deci-
sion to close the B'nai Israel Center, President Brian Hermelin
touched on the elephant in the room ... the shrinking Detroit
How significant is this elephant? The 1989 demographic study
commissioned by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit
pegged our population at 96,000. The 2005 Federation-commis-
sioned demographic study placed our population at 72,000 with
the oldest median age outside of Sun Belt Jewish communities
and the number of young adults so small, it was comparable to
the study's overall margin for error.
Projecting age cohorts from the 2005 demographic study
and overlaying empirical data (local funerals handled by Ira
Kaufman Chapel, Dorfman Chapel and Hebrew Memorial, local
births, the number of high school students leaving for college,
out-migration trends for Oakland County residents retiring or
seeking work elsewhere), 60,000 is a defensible guesstimate of
our current Jewish population.
If these trends are not addressed, our Jewish community
may shrink to between 40,000-45,000 by the year 2020, with
more than half older than 65. Let me repeat that ... 40,000-
45,000 by the year 2020 with more than half older than 65.
To put it bluntly ... our once dynamic and world-renowned
Detroit Jewish community is slowly but surely dying in front
of our eyes. And despite the substantial economic and human
resources at our community's fingertips, there continue to be
nominally supported and improperly funded efforts to try and
stabilize and revitalize our population base.
Hard-working and dedicated community leadership remains
focused on immediate and important priorities, including
supporting vulnerable local populations, securing endow-
ment gifts for Federation's Annual Campaign and providing
generous financial support for Israel and other overseas Jewish
communities. However, by ignoring the elephant in the room,
they are mortgaging our future, and our children's future, as a
vibrant Detroit Jewish community.
In December 2008, Federation completed a strategic study,
"20/20 for 2020: A Clear Vision for Our Future." It is thought-
ful and contains valuable recommendations, including the
strengthening of Federation's fundraising functions, expanding
volunteerism and utilizing technology to streamline Federation
and beneficiary agency operations and communications.
However, the report includes two assumptions that need
• The Detroit Jewish population could decline to 60,000 by
2020 (data suggest we are already at that number in 2010);
• The global economic recession will cause greater short-
term challenges than anticipated (data suggest the Detroit
area has experienced a fundamental structural change in its
economy, not a short-term one).
Also, the 20/20 com-
mittee started its work in
the spring of 2007, about
six months before anoth-
er Federation task force
titled "Detroit Works!"
issued its findings and
ing to the alarming
out-migration of young
Jewish adults. There
is no mention in the
20/20 report of"Detroit
Works!" findings or ways
to confront the debilitat-
ing demographic trends.
The 20/20 committee concludes by calling on Federation
to form a high-level, active implementation team to enact the
recommendations and provide new insights to keep the 20/20
vision for Jewish Detroit sharp. While some of the committee's
recommendations have been implemented on an ad hoc basis,
19 months after the report's completion, the high-level, active
implementation team has yet to be formed.
The underpinning of our Jewish community's success has
been, and must continue to be, the centrality of Federation
in the areas of fundraising, allocations and planning. It's past
time for Federation and our community leadership to boldly
and creatively attempt to bend the demographic trend line ...
precious months and years have already been squandered. Let's
finally confront the elephant in the room.
To put it bluntly ...
our once dynamic
community is slowly
but surely dying in
front of our eyes.
Tea Party Revisited
Heading into the Aug. 3 Republican gubernatorial primary,
candidates are engaged in their final push for votes and victory.
Two in particular, Attorney General Mike Cox and Oakland
County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, have been aggressively courting
Tea Party support.
In the May 6 issue of the Jewish News, I wrote about big-
ots diluting the Tea Party message and challenged Cox and
Bouchard to condemn convicted felon and Tea Party presiden-
tial candidate wannabe James Traficant for his anti-Semitic
rants (which can be found on former Ku Klux Klan Grand
Wizard David Duke's website). Neither did.
Cox and Bouchard should be judged on their overall records
of public service and platforms for moving Michigan forward.
However, they shouldn't get a free pass for failing to condemn
Carol Shapiro Havis of Organically Done
with Stacy Duczkowski
JARC gardeners have been
working hard in their own
gardens to produce delicious
organic vegetables, herbs
and edible flowers. This new
garden project, designed and
built by Organically Done,
enhances the lives of the
gardeners through satisfying
labor, a connection to the
environment and a sense of
Special thanks to garden donors
Charles. Lisa and Leah Dunn.
Whether as a volunteer or donor,
your generous support will
benefit the men, women and
children JARC serves by . .
f5arria . c.
30TH ANNUAL FUNDRAISER
S74 ✓ e
July 29 • 2010