A Tale of (More Than) Two Synagogues: How Our Lives Intertwine
by David A. Henig
In 1966 I moved to the Pontiac, Michigan area, which was at that time a fairly vibrant community with a significant Jewish population. The town supported two synagogues, one Reform, Temple Beth Jacob (z”l) and one Conservative, Congregation B’nai Israel.
R’ Ernst J. Conrad, z”l, who had been the Rabbi at TBJ, just prior to my arrival had left that post to establish what is now Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, Michigan.
I became a member of Temple Beth Jacob, taught in the Religious School, was a youth Group Advisor, got married there, my daughter was named and consecrated there and sadly we helped close the facility in 1991. The building was sold and the members moved on, many to Temple Beth El, where many of the artifacts are now displayed and others to each of the other Reform congregations in the SE Michigan area. The Torah scrolls benefited some smaller congregations; indeed one of them is now in Germany where it has found new life in a Renewal Congregation, whence it was passed by Congregation Shir Tikvah, of Troy, Michigan where it lived for many years.
In the late ’70′s, early ’80′s it could be said that Congregation B’nai Israel was a bit ahead of the game and saw that their future in Pontiac was not to be, as the Jewish population was not staying there and sold their building. About a year later a new building was constructed in West Bloomfield Michigan. Sometime after that they merged with Congregation Shaarey Zedek of Southfield, Michigan giving that congregation an additional campus in West Bloomfield to serve the needs of SZ members living in the area, especially those who were Shomer Shabbat.
So here we had two dynamic congregations a little over a mile apart on the same street, Along with two more Reform congregations and one Sephardic Congregation.
Fast forward to the new century and the economic downturn. Everycongregation in the Metro Detroit area is losing members, some aremoving out of state to places where they find jobs, and some are simplydropping their synagogue membership because they cannot afford it due tonot working or some simply cannot pay dues, but retain theirmemberships.
The multi-campus Shaarey Zedek finds it must close the WestBloomfield facility and sell it; the original B’nai Israel folks plusmany who have cast their lot with that group for many varied reasonsbegin the process of organizing and looking for a home. The leadershipof B’nai Israel approached the leadership of Temple Kol Ami. (There aresome relatives on both sides) Negotiations continued into early summer2010 and agreements were made. On September 19, 2010, the day after YomKippur, the renewed Congregation B’nai Israel of West Bloomfieldjoyously walked their Torah scrolls the mile or so down the road toTemple Kol Ami where an equally exuberant congregation welcomed them.
There have been many shared opportunities along the way. In Augustmany B’nai Israel members joined Temple Kol Ami members for our annualFun(d)raising for Nets (the Nothing but Nets campaign in which the URJis a partner) and also on the 19th helped us raise our new Sukkah. Thatwas a busy weekend! We have supported each other’s fundraising effortsand in some cases helped make a minyan. Upcoming, on Shavuot, we willshare in Tikun Leil Shavuot.
We do have separate services, but share a Kiddush lunch after Shabbatmorning services, a great time to shmooze, make new friends and renewold friendships.
The relationship certainly exemplifies B’nai Israel’s motto: Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh b’Zeh! (AllIsrael is responsible for one another) And, if I might say, the Jewishworld is certainly connected, figuratively as well as literally.
Dave Henig is a member of TempleKol Ami in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he serves as co-chair of theReligious Services Committee, coordinates the Shiva Corps, the Usher Corps andas unofficial Gabbai. He recently became President ofthe Metropolitan Detroit Federation of Reform Synagogues, was invited to serveon the URJ Central District Council and the URJ’s Joint Commission on Worship, Music andReligious Living.
He is seriously consideringchanging his name so no one can suggest him for any more positions.