Changing the Face of Detroit
After the riots in Detroit, many people fled the city and made the suburbs their home. Now a new generation of young urban professionals, who happen to be of the Jewish faith, are peeling away those old stereotypes in an attempt to change the face and the image of the motor city.
An historic four-story building is home to the downtown synagogue—the only remaining synagogue in Detroit. It has been housed at 1457 Griswold since the 1960s and needs a lot of upkeep.
The Detroit synagogue established an online campaign to raise $25,000 to re-do their beautiful windows which board members say are symbolic of letting in the light of diversity.
David Powell has been working with the downtown synagogue for the last 20 years. It is a place where everyone is welcome regardless of your background or how much money you have. Now, after years of barely any activity, the energy is returning. A new board of trustees, elected in 2008 is trying to re-establish its mission to serve young adults of the Jewish faith and to lure them back to Detroit.
“People are realizing you can’t have a successful region, a successful state, without a successful urban area,” said 30-year-old Leor Barak. He is a board member and attorney who works and lives in the city. He was also born and raised in Detroit and went to law school at Wayne State University. “The suburb-city divide is really a difficult relationship but on the other hand I feel there’s the younger generation that don’t have the institutional memories of the riots and the difficulties of the ’60s and ’70s.”
Community Next has partners with the downtown synagogue. It is an initiative to attract and retain young talent and to create a dynamic lifestyle for adults in their 20s and 30s. The founder, Jordan Wolfe hopes to inspire young Jewish professionals to live, work and change the perception of Detroit.
He says, “Our generation is very much interested in multi-cultural relations and we’re focused on how to make this a vibrant place to live. We’re not so worried about skin color, religion, race – any of that stuff—we all just want to co-exist.”
Rachel Lachover is the program director for Community Next. In 12 months, more than 2,000 people have joined sports leagues, attended social outings, like ice skating at Campus Martius, and bar nights. Community Next also has job training and offers free office space to help upstart business owners.
According to Rachel, “One business was actually looking to move to Chicago and due to our free office space program, they actually stayed in Detroit. They’ve grown from three staff members to 14 and they’re all hires from within Michigan.”
Program funding comes from the Jewish Federation of Detroit.
Does the group find that people are still afraid of the city of Detroit? They are finding that people are skeptical, but also very excited about the idea of having a vibrant city. These young leaders, who are all volunteers, hope to be pioneers and instead of talking about what might be, they’re making it happen now.
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