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December 01, 2011 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-12-01

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a Inin‘

he City

Left: Participants heard oral histories
and saw art that explored interracial and
interfaith partnership at the Downtown
Synagogue's Detroit Art Show, featuring
Devon Cunningham and other Detroit
artists on Sept 10, 2011.

One City,
Stories of
Jews Living
in Detroit

s young adult Detroit Jews, we've
been watching a narrative unfold
for the past two years of Detroit as
an exciting, opportunity-rich blank
slate. Having moved to the city in our early 20s
to work in documentary film and food, we were
part of an early migration of suburban Jews,
like ourselves, wandering back to the city as if
pulled by some reverse Detroit diaspora. We were
enticed at the opportunity to build and to create,
while simultaneously exploring the city's rich and
complicated past.
Neither of us believed what we were doing in
Detroit was particularly Jewish, nor did we expect
to find ourselves surrounded by like-minded
peers. Yet recognizing that our shared desire to
reconnect to the city was rooted in the exodus
which preceded us, we set about growing a

Jewish community that both reflects
our "tikkun olam" values and builds
from the foundations of Detroit
Jewish history.
For the past year, the broader
Jewish community has grown
increasingly more committed to the
conversation surrounding revitalizing
Detroit. We believe this excitement
will be most poised to contribute to a
healthy future region if it is grounded
in an understanding of the many
faces of Detroit.
Is there regional consensus as to
what we mean when we talk about
"Detroit?" Do we have a cohesive
and broad understanding of what
different communities believe to be
the history of our city? Where do our
community's visions for the future
diverge, and align, with others? These
questions require investigation as we
talk about rebuilding, redeveloping
and reimagining Detroit.
For us, a recent opportunity to
explore this topic arrived with the
Black/Jewish forum at Temple Beth
El on Oct 26, convened by Arthur
Horwitz and Bankole Thompson.
Thompson described the panel
as "intended to bring two of
Southeastern Michigan's most
significant communities, African-
Americans and Jews, closer together
to collaborate on socioeconomic
initiatives for the betterment of
Metropolitan Detroit." This goal
touched us and our peers because
of our individual and community
work in the city, and created a strong
enough impetus for attendance that
we filled a whole Temple Beth El row.
That night, we were not surprised to hear an
oft-revisited chorus: "Bring Detroit back
to its glory days!" Yet, as young adults
engaged in community-based conversations
about Detroit's future, the notion of
returning to our past feels misguided and
unrealistic. Why would we be excited to
bring back a city that — although culturally
and economically robust — was ultimately
segregated, classist, environmentally and
socially polluting?
Listening to the the panelists talk
nostalgically about the past, rather than
frankly about race, class, religion and
privilege, we were forced to ask why the
image being presented for the future of
Detroit is so embedded in an inadequate

understanding of its past.
As young adult Jews who have chosen
to live in a city where we are a racial and
religious minority, the questions of Jewish
identity and Jewish/Black relations, are central
to our community identity. We have convened
conversations in our homes and in our few-
yet-thriving Downtown institutions. We have
developed Jewish holiday practices that are
both culturally rich and rooted in our unique
Detroit Jewish identity. And we have been deeply
involved in navigating the complex relationships
of our own identity and the identity of our
greater Detroit community: participating in work
and partnerships that extend well beyond the
boundaries of our Jewish world.
Most importantly, we are a part of a
communitywide effort to re-imagine what Detroit
can be, exploring its potential to become a 21st-
century city that defines its greatness not merely
along economic lines, but also as a socially and
environmentally just metropolis.
As young Jews, we are pointedly aware of the
Jewish community's hunger to engage and retain
young adults, and particularly to see Detroit as
one of many mechanisms for doing so. While
the first question that was raised on Oct. 26 was
"what is the role of young people?" no young
people, or Jewish Detroiters, were included on
the panel that was being asked to speak on
their behalf. We're thrilled that our community
is thinking about the perspective of young adult
Jews. We're eager to share our thoughts and
our vision for how together we can healthily
and mindfully develop our region. And, relying
on everyone's thirst to know more of these
stories, we are taking on the task of developing a
narrative of and byJewish Detroiters.
At this time, we hope to bring these
conversations to the broader audience of the
Jewish News.
Our desire to develop this column came from
years of wanting to explore as a community the
relationship of Jews to the city of Detroit, and we
will focus on unpacking the differing definitions
of Detroit, current, past and future.
We are excited to take on this work as
the Truth and Reconcilliation Council of the
Michigan Rountable has just been seated (www.
and is leading the way toward
a more just and inclusive
We hope you are as eager
as we are for this important
work to take form. In the
meantime, keep your eyes
open for the variety of Jewish
Detroit voices that will be
presented as part of this
ongoing column.

Blair Nosan and Oren

Goldenberg are two Jews living

and working in Detroit.

December 1 • 2011


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