Passion For History
Judy Levin Cantor to be honored by the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.
Wendy Rose Bice
Special to the Jewish News
"If you moved to
Michigan last night,
you are a part of
ong before Judith Levin Cantor got
involved with the Jewish Historical
Society of Michigan in 1990 as edi-
tor of the journal Michigan Jewish History,
she already had begun to make her mark
on Michigan's Jewish history. As Judy
would say, "If you moved to Michigan last
night, you are a part of Michigan's Jewish
A fourth-generation Detroiter, Cantor
has not only made Jewish history, but is
largely responsible for recording much of
it as well. As an author, curator, speaker
and active volunteer with numerous insti-
tutions, she's helped record and preserve
our Jewish history. She's helped to preserve
important stories of the state of Michigan
Judith Levin Cantor's tireless work will
be recognized on Oct. 17 when this grand
lady joins the ranks of Aretha Franklin,
Florine Mark, Erma Henderson, Millie
Jeffrey, Betty Ford and Gilda Radner as a
member of the Michigan Women's Hall
of Fame. She is being honored for her
ongoing efforts to promote awareness of
Michigan's Jewish heritage and the com-
munity's history in the state.
Detroit Family History
Judy's interest in history perhaps stems
from the fact that her Detroit family roots
date back to the 1890s. Her two grand-
fathers include Abba Keidan, one of the
early leaders of Congregation Shaarey
Zedek and Rabbi Judah L. Levin, who
served as Congregation Shaarey Zedek's
rabbi from 1897-1904.
Cantor's father was the first Jewish fac-
ulty member hired to teach at the newly
established Detroit Junior College, which
later became Wayne State University.
Her mother, Lillian Keidan Levin, taught
English to World War II refugees arriving
in Detroit, transcribed Hebrew and math-
ematics for the Jewish Braille Institute,
led a Hadassah Study Group and helped
establish the Wayne University Faculty
Long after her graduation from
University of Michigan and graduate
studies at George Washington University,
Cantor enrolled at Wayne State.
"I had been a high school history teach-
er, but once my children were on their
way, I decided to teach English as a Second
Language, at night:' she said. "I loved it,
26 October 10 • 2013
— Judy Levin Cantor
but I always had that passion for history. I
decided to enroll at Wayne State University
to become an archivist ... and the rest:'
she laughed, "is history"
Jewish Historical Society
In 1990, she began to lend her skills to
the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan.
Besides her marriage to her lifelong part-
ner and husband, Bernard, the union of
Cantor and JHSM was nothing less than a
In the years since, Cantor has served as
editor of the Society's journal, Michigan
Jewish History, the longest, continuously
published journal of Jewish history in the
country; JHSM president; and currently as
The Michigan Women's Hall of Fame
nomination was submitted by JHSM
administrators. They believe Cantor repre-
sents Michigan's "sentinel of Jewish history:'
"Her vigilance as a historian, author,
teacher and archivist in fostering the gather-
ing and telling of this history is unmatched:'
said Amiee Ergas, former JHSM director
and current research director.
Not only has she authored books,
articles and lectures, but Cantor, who lives
in Bloomfield Hills, also has curated and
hosted some of the most prominent his-
torical exhibits in the area.
One of Cantor's proudest achievements
was bringing the national traveling exhibit,
"From Haven to Home: 350 Years of
Jewish Life in America;' to Detroit in 2009,
which attracted tour groups from the
region. Cantor and fellow archivist Sharon
Alterman curated the Michigan panels,
now on display at the Holocaust Center.
"Judy's knowledge of Michigan history is
unmatched, but — more importantly — it
reaches beyond just our Jewish history:'
Ergas said. "She recognizes the importance
of ensuring that the history of our com-
munity is taught not only to Jewish young
people, but to all students and adults
throughout the state. By showcasing posi-
tive awareness of the Jewish contributions
to our state, people of all denominations
learn valuable lessons:'
Among Cantor's other achievements
was the creation of the Settlers to Citizens
Youth Tours hosted by JHSM. In 2013,
nearly 500 religious school students will
have been taken on a bus tour of the city
to learn both its Jewish history and wit-
ness the history being made today by
Jewish entrepreneurs and urban pioneers.
Although the tour content is updated
annually, the mission of the trip hasn't
changed since Cantor and a team of educa-
tors created it in 1991: to leave students
feeling proud of their Jewish heritage.
This isn't Cantor's first honor, she been
lauded by the American Jewish Historical
Society (Medal of Honor, 2009), American
Jewish Committee (Cyrus Adler Award,
jointly with her husband, 2002), the Jewish
Historical Society of Michigan (Leonard N.
Simons History Award, 1998) and the State
of Michigan (Michigan 150 First Lady
She's the author of the award-winning
Jews in Michigan published by Michigan
State University Press in 2001 and
Michigan Jewry for the Encyclopedia
Judaica; and the 2005 "Michigan Jewish
Timeline" for the Jewish News.
She also volunteers and works with sever-
al other organizations, including the Detroit
Historical Society and as archivist for
Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
"I'm especially humbled by this honor;
Cantor said. "I have always considered
myself as being a part of a team and that
our accomplishments belong to the com-
munity. I am just one spoke in the wheel
of all these wonderful organizations."
Cantor joins several other impor-
tant Jewish women who are also in the
Michigan Women's Hall of Fame, located
in Lansing at the Michigan Women's
Among them are Ida Lippman, con-
sidered a pioneer for women in criminal
justice and who used her position as a
woman to help other women retain their
rights; Edna Ferber, a Pulitzer-Prize win-
ning novelist and playwright with a pen-
chant for developing strong female char-
acters; and Lana Pollack, who began her
political career as a school board member
and ended up a U.S. senator.
The Michigan Women's Historical
Center and Hall of Fame inducts histori-
cal or deceased women, along with con-
temporary, living women into the Hall of
Fame each year. This year, there are six
contemporary and 13 historical women
being inducted. Cantor was selected after
a panel of judges reviewed the nearly 100
Additionally, the group honors a
male Michigander with the Philip A.
Hart Award who has demonstrated an
understanding and support of women's
issues and concerns and has contributed
to the advancement of women's rights
and interests. This year's recipient is
Daniel Krichbaum, former director of the
Michigan Department of Civil Rights, who
was a strong advocate for women and pay
equity throughout his career.
The 30th anniversary class will join
nearly 270 women already in the Hall
of Fame, as they are honored during a
dinner Oct. 17 at the Kellogg Hotel and
Conference Center in East Lansing.
For tickets, call the Michigan Women's
Historical Center at (517) 484-1880 or visit
For information on the Jewish Historical
Society of Michigan, call (248) 432-5517
or go to wwwmichjewishhistory.org .
Wendy Rose Bice, director of the Jewish
Historical Society of Michigan, was one of
Cantor's nominators to the Hall of Fame.