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November 08, 2012 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-11-08

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Kol Ami Co-President Lee Schottenfels, Kol Ami Rabbi Norman T. Roman, B'nai Israel President Linda Jacobson, Kol Ami

Treasurer Gene Farber and B'nai Israel Vice President Frank Ellias in front of the building they share.

Two Years And Counting

B'nai Israel celebrates second anniversary
with its first congregational dinner.

Shelli Liebman Dorfman

Contributing Writer


uring the course of their first two
years, B'nai Israel Synagogue (BI)
members grew a congregation,
voted in a board, secured a temporary
spiritual leader, initiated religious services
— complete with Shabbat and holiday
youth programming — and became a self-
sustaining synagogue operating on mem-
bership dues and member donations.
Dozens of social action, religious, cul-
tural, social and educational programs and
events later, BI is celebrating its second
anniversary with a 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18,
event at the synagogue.
A most fitting choice
of speaker for the syna-
gogue's first congrega-
tional dinner — billed as
a site of reflection on the
past, present and future
of B'nai Israel — is
Rabbi Eric Yanoff. Now
rabbi of Adath Israel in
Rabbi Eric
Philadelphia, Yanoff
once served many BI
members when he was rabbi of
Congregation Shaarey Zedek (CSZ). B'nai
Israel was formed largely of members who
had previously attended services at CSZ's
West Bloomfield facility, which was sold in
2010 when the synagogue consolidated
operations into its Southfield campus.
"Given the wonderful people who roll
up their sleeves to build and sustain the
B'nai Israel community, it is no surprise
that they have accomplished so much in
two short years:' Yanoff said. "It is no sur-
prise — but it is worthy of celebration.
"They have built up this community


November 8 • 2012

with their hard work, their resources, and
most of all, with their constant presence
and care. As friends, even from afar, [my
wife] Dava and I have marveled at all they
have done."

Vital Connections
Shortly after its creation, BI entered into a
joint operating agreement with Temple Kol
Ami (TKA) allowing them shared use of
TKM West Bloomfield facility:
From the start, the plan was for the two
synagogues— who did not merge — to go
beyond just using space in the same build-
They regularly invite one another to
their own events, partner in new programs
and notably have planned a joint Jewish
Heritage Trip to Prague and Budapest for
April 2013.
To accommodate the two congrega-
tions, TKA has shared its building most
graciously, rotating programs and services
within the sanctuary, social hall, chapel
and classrooms.
Because BI is a Conservative synagogue
and TKA is Reform, services are held
separately, with Kol Ami members joining
the B'nai Israel congregation each week at
their Shabbat lunch. Some religious pro-
gramming — like Shavuot learning and
Purim celebrations — have overlapped as
In 2011, the congregations worked
together on plans for expansion and
renovation of the building's chapel,
reconfiguration of administrative space
and construction of a new BI office. The
project, overseen by TKA member Joel
Smith of Neumann/Smith Architecture in
Southfield, was the result of a fundraising
campaign that included donors from both

TKA and BI, with construction actually a
continuation of work scheduled by TKA
before BI joined in.
BI has no religious school, but some
area Conservative synagogues offer mem-
ber-rate tuition for B'nai Israel members
who also receive member rates at Hillel
Day School of Metropolitan Detroit's Early
Childhood Center.
In the past year, BI raised $32,000
to purchase 250 Siddurim and 250
Chumashim along with five megillot
books, a dozen child-sized Torahs and
other ritual items.

Next Up: A New Rabbi

A look ahead points to the hiring of a new
From the inception of
the synagogue, BI's
Shabbat and holiday ser-
vices have been run by
Rabbi Jonathan Berger,
who serves as B'nai
Israel's rabbi but whose
primary professional
commitment is to Hillel
Day School, where he is
rabbi in residence. He
also serves as a mesader
gittin, one of the only Conservative rabbis
in the Midwest trained to arrange Jewish
Berger, who took on the rabbinic role
at B'nai Israel as a temporary post, will
step down this coming spring. "My deci-
sion was based on my conviction that the
congregation is ready for a rabbi who can
devote time to some tasks I had to neglect,
such as daily minyan, adult education
classes, officiating at funerals and visiting
the sick:' he said.

In a letter to the congregation, Berger
wrote, "There was a time ... when the best
future I could envision for us involved
10 to 20 folding chairs in someone's
basement. Now, into our third year of
existence, we are a dynamic, multi-
generational, welcoming, Torah-centered
congregation. I am proud to have had an
important role in helping B'nai Israel take
root and grow."
Berger and his family will continue to
be active members of the BI congregation.
"Rabbi Berger is a dedicated and out-
standing rabbi for us," said BI vice presi-
dent, Frank J. Ellias, chair of the Rabbinic
Search Committee, vice chaired by BI
member Vicki Freedman.
"The new rabbi, who will be hired
on a part-time basis, will be involved in
all aspects of synagogue life including
officiating at and coordinating religious
services, life cycle events, adult and youth
education, as well as interacting with the
board and being an ambassador for BI in
the greater community:' Ellias said.
"We have grown from a 100-member
unit group to 125 within two years," he
said. "Virtually all of our members are
regular Shabbat attendees. We continue to
attract new members, particularly from
families relocating to Michigan as our
economy improves:'
The congregation sees its association
with TKA as ongoing. The original two-
year joint operating agreement between
them has been renegotiated to extend
through 2015.
"I see the synagogue continuing to
grow and attract new families who want
a smaller, more intimate experience," said
Linda Jacobson, BI president and vol-
unteer executive director. "It is a unique
opportunity for two congregations to
continue to work together not only to
strengthen each other but also the Detroit
Jewish community as well."
Yanoff looks forward to participating
in BI's dinner event. "We love our life and
synagogue community in Philadelphia,
but what has kept us connected to the
Detroit Jewish community over these past
two years are the deep personal relation-
ships that we developed during our six
years there he said. "We look forward to
being with the friends and former congre-
gants who have committed themselves to
a vibrant Jewish community as a part of
B'nai Israel." ❑

For information on B'nai Israel
Synagogue's 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov.
18, dinner event, at the Temple Kol
Ami/B'nai Israel Synagogue build-
ing, 5085 Walnut Lake Road, West
Bloomfield, or other synagogue
programs, call (248) 432-2729 or
access the synagogue website at:
www.bnaiisraelwb.org . Cost begins
at $72.

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