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March 14, 2013 - Image 68

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-03-14

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'A Great Leader Of Our People'

Lynne Meredith Golodner

1 Special to the Jewish News


t takes a special kind of person to
assume a leadership role in a Jewish
community as vibrant as Detroit. It
takes an even more remarkable person
to hold virtually every role available and
take on the challenge of rescuing some of
the community's cherished institutions.
Irwin Alterman was that kind of guy.
He was the kind of leader that changes a
community for the better, not sweeping
its shortcomings under the rug, but pull-
ing them out for scrutiny under bright
lights so that problems can be turned into
Irwin Michael Alterman, of West
Bloomfield, died on his 72nd birthday,
March 4, 2013, after a long illness. His
funeral took place two days later at Adat
Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills
with Rabbi Aaron Bergman officiating.
Every week of the 20 years that
Robert Aronson was CEO of the Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, he
talked with Irwin.
"In our Jewish community, he did
everything there was to do:' said Aronson.
In addition to being a "very good
friend:' Irwin was "one of the most
energetic and passionate leaders in our
Jewish community:' said Aronson. "What
I remember most is that he was a very
inquisitive and a sometime challenger of
what was going on in the Federation.
"He was special and unique, and it is
very hard for all of us to think about his
being gone:'
At the funeral, attended by nearly 400
of Irwin's friends, associates and fellow
congregants, Rabbi Bergman commented
on the irony of his passing on his 72nd
birthday in the Hebrew month of Adar.
"I believe this is significant for two
reasons:' he said. "Moses, our greatest
leader, died on his birthday in the month
of Adar. It is no coincidence that Irwin's
Hebrew middle name is Moses. Irwin was
a great leader of our people, a great leader
of many people:'

Dedication To Judaism

Irwin was born in 1941 in Vineland, N.J.,
and enjoyed a small-town childhood as
one of two sons of Joseph and Rose. His
brother, Norman, said, "Irwin was always
the smartest kid in the class:'
He joined his father in synagogue every
Shabbat and by the time he graduated
high school, Irwin had chanted nearly 100
different haftorot (biblical portions). As
an adult, Rabbi Bergman says, he could
prepare a haftorah in five minutes.
Jewish study, especially for adults, was
a lifetime goal. For 38 years, he belonged
to the study group Koach (strength) with
six other couples. In addition to study, the
group toured other cities to learn about


March 14 • 2013


how different Jewish communities func-
was a man who valued his integrity above
all else:'
The tradition at Adat Shalom for more
Irwin's book Plain and Accurate Style in
than two decades was for Irwin to recite
Court Papers, published by ALI/ABA, has
the Book of Jonah during services on Yom received widespread critical acclaim. The
Kippur afternoon.
State Bar of Michigan distributed an ear-
lier version to all 24,000 Michigan lawyers
"It came at the worst time of Yom
Kippur:' said Aronson, referring to
and judges.
In addition, he created Michigan
the last leg of the 25-hour fast. "But I
Antitrust, a newsletter of the Antitrust
wouldn't have missed it for the world. He
chanted with such passion that it came to
Section of the State Bar, which he wrote
symbolize for me what Yom
from 1975-1992. Also
in 1975, he created and
Kippur is all about:'
Irwin had that effect
supplemented through
on many people. For him,
2001 the Michigan
though, participating in syn-
Antitrust Digest, a book
agogue ritual simply recon-
published by the Institute
of Continuing Legal
nected him to the voices of
his father and grandfather.
Education. His ear-
He told his wife, Marilyn,
lier articles on Michigan
that reciting them was a
trademark and covenant
mystical and emotional
not to compete law were
leading works in their
fields, cited with approval
Last year, Irwin was not
Irwin Alterm an
by the Michigan appellate
well enough to attend Kol
Nidre services on Yom
courts. He lectured and
Kippur eve, but he and Marilyn watched
wrote other articles on these subjects. He
them online with friends Mark and Joyce
also created and co-authored a monthly
Lit. But the next afternoon, he mustered
article in the Michigan Bar Journal from
1982-1997 summarizing the important
the strength to chant the entire Book
of Jonah at Adat Shalom. Said Rabbi
recent decisions of the federal court in
Bergman, "His face was radiant with joy:'
Irwin was also known for his extensive
Devoted Husband, Father
collection of Passover Haggadot, amass-
ing, over a nearly 35-year span, more
Irwin met his late wife, Susan, while both
than 1,200 unique volumes from all over
were living in New York. Together, they
the world. His is the largest private collec- enjoyed their love of travel, excercize
tion in Michigan and one of the largest in
and community life. Owen, their son,
was born in 1976. He is a graduate of
the country. In a IN cover story in 2004,
he said, "The most valuable Haggadah I
Harvard Law School, an achievement his
own is valuable for a personal reason. It is father was so proud of he called everyone
because it holds the original signatures of he knew to share the news. Susan suf-
fered a cardiac arrest in November 1995
everyone who ever attended any seder in
any year in my home:'
and went into a coma. Rabbi Bergman
described Irwin's love and devotion to his
Honored Attorney
wife — how he visited her twice each day
A graduate of Princeton University and
until her death in April 1997.
Columbia Law School, Irwin was a leader
Owen, now a Tel Aviv-based researcher
in the Detroit legal community and highly at the Institute for National Security
regarded nationally. He was a lifetime
Studies, an Israeli think tank, said his
member of the prestigious and very selec- father taught him so many things: "curi-
tive American Law Institute, an organiza-
osity, energy, travel, Judaism, the impor-
tion dedicated to clarifying, modernizing
tance of being involved in the community.
and improving American law.
These have made me who I am."
He earned a reputation as one of the
Irwin met his wife, Marilyn, when
top lawyers in the state, was listed in Best
she came to work at Kemp Klein. She
Lawyers in America for 25 consecutive
was warned about his sometimes "dif-
years, was listed in Who's Who in America ficult and quirky" personality, but they
for 30 consecutive years, and in Michigan
soon found that they worked very well
Super Lawyers since its inception in 2006. together. First colleagues, then friends —
He was also listed in Who's Who in the
with both suffering the loss of spouses
World since 2005.
— eventually a courtship began. After a
Irwin practiced business litigation at
10-year engagement, Irwin and Marilyn
the Hyman Gurwin law firm and then at
were married on Aug. 22, 2011.
the Kemp Klein law firm in Troy for more
When Irwin began his relationship
than 23 years. His fellow attorney, share-
with Marilyn, he met her young teenage
holder and board of directors member of
daughter, Jennifer. Nothing had prepared
the firm, Ralph Castelli, said, "Irwin was a him for the trials and joys of a daughter.
lawyer's lawyer — and a better friend. He
He and Jenny developed a loving close


relationship that far exceeded the labels
"stepfather" and "stepdaughter" They soon
mutually declared themselves father and
daughter, and Irwin was always proud of
Jenny and her many accomplishments.
"My dad taught me to love learning,
to be passionate about what you do, to
explore new possibilities and to value
time with family. I miss him." Jenny
teaches kindergarten and resides in
Traverse City with her husband, Derek

Community Impact

In the Jewish community, Irwin's com-
mitment was unparalleled. He held many
leadership roles including president of
Adat Shalom and the Jewish Community
Center of Metropolitan Detroit. He was
a member of the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit Board of Governors
for 20 years. He served on the boards of
the United Jewish Foundation, JVS, Hillel
Day School, United Hebrew Schools,
BBYO and the Holocaust Memorial
Center. He also served Federation's
Alliance for Jewish Education and many
other causes, including the National
Executive Committee of the United Jewish
Appeal Young Men's Leadership Cabinet.
Irwin was introduced to Adat Shalom
by his friend and law associate Alan
Nachman. Irwin was key in rescuing the
synagogue from severe financial problems
in the early 1970s.
Adat Shalom Executive Director Alan
Yost praised Irwin's "commitment and
dedication on behalf of the synagogue
during his entire affiliation.
"He lived and breathed Adat Shalom.
His leadership was critical in Adat
Shalom's emerging out of bankruptcy."
When Irwin was president of the JCC
in the mid-2000s, he was instrumental in
turning it around during a time of bud-
getary distress. JCC Executive Director
Mark Lit said, "Everything Irwin did
was with great intensity and integrity.
Whether being president of the JCC or
being a family man or a friend, it was
always done with the greatest honor, love
and dedication:'
Sharon Hart was Irwin's longtime
friend and associate. They both belonged
to the Koach study group and both were
dedicated to promoting continuing
adult Jewish education. Together, they
founded the Seminars for Adult Jewish
Enrichment (SAJE), the successful and
popular communal program that brought
together rabbis and leaders from all
Jewish denominations.
Last year, in recognition of their many
achievements in the Jewish community,
Irwin and Sharon were each awarded
Federation's 2012 Lifetime Achievement
"Irwin was thrilled to be the recipi-

Obituaries on page 70

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