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June 13, 2013 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-06-13

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metro >> on the cover

Of Friends

"New Americans" celebrate freedom
with a group bar/bat mitzvah.

Barbara Lewis I Special to the Jewish News


"The Soviet regime denied this popu-
lation of Jews the right to participate
in Jewish traditions and holidays, and
deprived them of a feeling of belong-
ing to the Jewish people," said Joanna
Berger of West Bloomfield. She and fel-
low Beth Shalom member Ellie Slovis
of Bloomfield Hills started Circle of
Friends in 1998 at the request of Judge
Mark Goldsmith, who was then con-
gregation president. They had strong
backing from Rabbi David Nelson, who
was concerned that local churches were
proselytizing among the newcomers.

Creating Jewish Identity
A first wave of Jewish refugees from the
former Soviet Union arrived in Detroit
in the 1970s; many more came in the
early 1990s. Many were resettled in Oak
Park, near Beth Shalom.
"We felt it was important to reach out,
to help them feel comfortable in the syn-
agogue environment," Berger said. "We
started Circle of Friends to strengthen,
re-establish or create their Jewish identi-
ty, and help them proudly join the world
Jewish community."
Circle of Friends initiated many pro-
grams for "New Americans" of all ages.
The Sunday morning discussion group is
the only ongoing program.
Every Sunday at 10:30 a.m., Circle
of Friends meets at Beth Shalom for
English conversation on a variety of
topics, including Jewish traditions and
practice, current events and memories
of members' early years. The conversa-
tion helps them with English — after
more than 20 years here, many are
still not fluent — but the purpose of
the group is to make them feel part of
the Jewish community. Over time, the
members, both American-born and New
Americans, have become close friends.
Yuriy Mushkin, 82, of Oak Park, came
to the U.S. in 1993 with his wife, Inna,
82. Both had been pediatricians. He said
he's grateful for the opportunity Circle of
Friends gives him to speak English and

to get to know Americans.
"We didn't work here," he said. "We
knew only our relatives and Russian
He says the discussion can get
heated at times when people dis-
agree, but it doesn't affect friend-
Circle of Friends members have

!seek Trabsky
of Oak Park
gets assis-
tance with
his tallit
from Cantor

Rob Grodin answers a question
about the ceremony asked by Asya
Komarova of Walled Lake.

become members of the congregation,
and many attend Shabbat services regu-
larly. Klara Shapiro, 82, of Oak Park is in
the shul kitchen every Friday morning,
helping to prepare the Kiddush.
Circle of Friends has sponsored two
benefit concerts, raising funds to sup-
port victims of terror in Israel. For sev-
eral years, members baked hundreds of
hamentashen to sell at the Beth Shalom
Purim carnival. Some of the women are
renowned for their rugelach, and they

baked a large tray of the pastries that
sold for $80 at a silent auction fundrais-
er. Others made a large quilt that hangs
in the synagogue hallway, as a way of
expressing their thanks.
The Jewish Federation was so
impressed by the program that it award-
ed Circle of Friends a three-year Fisher
Foundation grant in 1999. The Harvard
University Pluralism Project, which doc-
uments the changing religious landscape
of the United States, included material

from Circle of Friends in its collection
in 2002.
Grodin stepped in as director 10
years ago after returning from a teacher
exchange program in Russia.
Last fall, she asked Beth Shalom's
Cantor Sam Greenbaum to talk to the
group about what is involved in reading
Torah. He realized no one in the group
had had a bar or bat mitzvah, so, he
asked if they'd like to have a group cel-

Circle on page 10

8 June 13 • 2013

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