Talk about a Hollywood-style “meet-cute,” ask Miriam how she met Daniel Horwitz at a camp retreat in West Milford, New Jersey, in September 2012. The story is best told as she slips her right foot out of a sandal to reveal a curious tattoo, six block letters that look like ancient Hebrew, but not quite.
“I chose the word beshert, in arcane Rashi script as a personal emblem, because the meaning of the word (interpreted as destiny) always has resonated with me as a reminder to be ever-present on my journey in life, and to trust that whatever was meant to be would be.”
“It was never my intention that the mark be obvious or easily read by others,” Miriam continues. “As an ASL interpreter, I liked that Rashi was a scholar and interpreter of texts. As destiny would have it, I arrived a few moments late to the first session of the retreat where Dan – the Director of Immersive Learning at Moishe House – had hired me to work for the weekend. We were perfect strangers, connected only through an email exchange, but as I rushed in to take the last empty seat in the room, it just so happened that the seat was next to Dan.”
Miriam remembers taking a moment to collect herself. The group had just started to get through introductions. Quite possibly, Dan could have had Miriam at ‘hello.’ But instead Miriam recalls, “He looks down at my sandal, looks straight up at me and says, “Beshert. And in Rashi? That’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen! It took my breath away.”
What followed was a long-distance romance, with Dan based in Detroit and Miriam in Washington, D.C. Destined for one another and sharing a love of Jewish learning and multiple artistic talents, Rabbi Dan Horwitz from West Bloomfield and Miriam (nee Ganz) from Albany, New York, married in October 2013. In May 2014, they moved to into their new home in Huntington Woods.
Miriam, 33, is a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter and an Equity Actor. She also co-founded Fourth Wall Gone, an initiative in D.C. promoting inclusion, access and collaboration amongst, deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing theater professionals. A graduate cum laude with a B.A. in Musical Theater and Secondary Education from American University, she received her master’s in Interpretation from Gallaudet University. Her many credentials include conceiving, directing and performing in an original visual theatre piece, “Mosaic,” which addresses the power of identity and the journey to find it. “Mosaic” has been performed all over the world since 2004.
Dan, 30, is a rabbi, a lawyer, a violinist and an avid Detroit sports fan who has returned to the community as Associate Rabbi of Congregation Shir Tikvah and Senior Jewish Educator for Michigan State University Hillel and the Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan —meaning essentially that he is about to put many, many miles on his car. Rabbi Dan graduated cum laude from Brandeis and received three Master’s Degrees: one in Jewish Studies from Gratz College in Melrose Park, PA.; another in Jewish Education from Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.; and a third in Sports Management from the University of Michigan, from which he also received a law degree. He was ordained as a rabbi by the Mesifta Adath Wolkowisk, a rabbinical academy in Woodmere, NY.
In a recent interview in the Rabbi’s study, Dan and Miriam laugh easily, hold hands and finish each other’s sentences, all in the tender manner of newly married couples. . . and expectant parents. . . due in December.
On family, educational background and leaps of faith
myJewishDetroit: Dan, how has growing up in Jewish Detroit influenced your choice to be a rabbi?
D: Well, you might say my path was “written” in the pages of the Jewish News and sealed in my formative years at Hillel Day School. As many people in the community know, my father, Arthur Horwitz, moved here in ’86 to run the Detroit Jewish News. My mother, Gina, was a homemaker for 20 years and a career volunteer who served on the lay board of nearly every Jewish organization in the city. It was a rare week when our family didn’t have some kind of fundraising benefit or event to attend. I’ve always felt connected to the Jewish community and knew in some way, shape or form that I was going to become a Jewish communal professional.
myJD: Miriam, clearly you are a kindred spirit with Dan, have you interest in becoming a Jewish communal professional?
M: I certainly share with Dan a love of Jewish learning. Dan is the professional, with years of Jewish-specific study. My path to Judaism is more personal, spiritual and communal. I grew up in a strong and committed Jewish community – but a smaller one than in Detroit. My family was deeply rooted in the performing arts, so as far back as I can remember, music and dance and theater were a big chunk of my life. At American University, I studied musical theater, and because I also wanted to teach, I double majored in secondary education.
myJD: When did you learn to sign?
M: I had a middle school classmate who was deaf, so at the age of 12, I took it upon myself to learn her language, America Sign Language. While no one around me made the effort, I felt it was important. From that friendship, I developed a real fascination with the culture of the deaf community. In college, we lost touch and I shelved my interest and skill in ASL, focusing on performance. I got back in practice with my first job out of college, working in a deaf theater company. As I became more fluent, people started suggesting that I be an interpreter. And the more I learned about interpreting, the more I discovered those things about interpreting that are similar to what drew me to the arts in the first place.
It all comes down to the dynamics of human behavior, looking at the way people say things and why. Because when you interpret, you don’t translate word-for-word. You interpret for context and intent, meaning that you have to take in cues, what’s happening in the room, where you are, where other people are in their relationship to the speaker, all those elements go into the way you choose the words you translate into that language.
I think that becoming an ASL interpreter all ties back to my connection with the word besheret. There are times in life when you must step back, listen to others to hear your own heart and find your direction. It took a few years before I stopped and really listened to my circle of deaf friends who kept suggesting that I consider interpreting as a career choice.
myJD: Dan, with three master’s degrees, a JD and a rabbinical ordination, you are an alumnus of numerous universities and have been a resident of many cities across the country (not to mention Jerusalem and a stint in Beijing). What most influenced you to become a rabbi?
D: It’s true, I have a bit of a learning habit, and I relish having formal structure to my learning. My Jewish journey led me through the various denominations, and ultimately I decided that there’s beauty in the myriad forms of Jewish expression. When people ask me what kind of rabbi I am, I answer: A Jewish one!
Miriam talks about “beshert,” finding her path – in many ways, my experience has been similar. During law school (pre-rabbinic ordination) I staffed two Birthright Israel trips. By the end of each of those trips, the groups started referring to me as Rabbi Dan on their own accord. It was just the kick in the tush I needed to complete my rabbinic training. I have since officiated at a number of wedding for individuals and couples who either met or came on those trips – and that has been very moving for me.
On moving to Detroit
myJD: What brought you back to Detroit?
D: This past year, we had an opportunity to relocate to from Washington D.C. to San Diego. As we started evaluating what this kind of move would mean – to live so far from our families as we looked to grow our own – we realized it wasn’t right move for us. So that started the job hunt in earnest, and when the opportunity came up here for a shared position as a pulpit rabbi able to keep a foot in the Hillel world, and do some really wonderful programming and relationship building with young adults, and to be a part of the rejuvenation of Detroit – all with the comfort of family and a home base, everything we had been working towards all seemed to fall into place.
myJD: What’s been the most surprising about the move?
M: I’ve been living in an urban environment for 15 years. It’s been a bit of a surprise with how much ease I’ve actually transitioned into a Midwest, suburban lifestyle. I’m just beginning to realize how big and robust and how strong the Jewish community of Detroit is and it’s exciting to see all the different programming, all the different choices of synagogues one can go to—to meet so many people who are going to services in so many different places and still come together as one community – that’s been a wonderful discovery.
myJD: What would you tell people considering moving back to Detroit or into the city for the first time?
D: If you have a job, there’s no better place to raise a committed Jewish family – and the resources that we have as a community – that are being invested, particularly in folks in our demographic, are greater than anywhere else in the country and maybe the world.
On NEXTGen and community involvement
D: As Moishe House Rabbi and Director of Immersive Learning, I was based for a time in Detroit, with an office in Federation’s Alliance – so even though I was not directly involved with Federation, I have had close connections to the staff and NEXTGen board. So when the opportunity came up to join the board, I came in already having strong relationships with most of the members. We’re a tight group, but I think what I add is something different because there are very few Jewish communal professionals on the board – so I’m hoping in many ways to be a bridge between professional staff and the committed lay leadership.
Without a doubt, Federation’s NEXTGen has redefined what it is to be a young and actively Jewish person in the metro Detroit area. I know it’s changed my life and that there are a lot more young folks living and working downtown, who happen to be Jewish, than at any time I can remember.
I think the biggest issue still facing us as a community and a city is in building our numbers back up. To move forward, I believe we have to start actively recruiting. We have the resources to build the infrastructure of a Jewish community that is commanding the attention of the nation. But we’re not a destination city, not yet. What we need now is to tell our story and to create the incentives (jobs and homes) to bring people here.
On rabbinic life
myJD: Challenges, pleasures, surprises?
D: Miriam and I have only just begun. . . but it’s been incredibly humbling to be a rabbi with a congregation to call home. Rabbi Arnie is a gem and so welcoming. A true mentor. I’m thrilled to be here and learn from him. Even in the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve had the privilege of having very intimate moments with folks in hospitals and in their homes, sharing both their joys and sorrows, sometimes at a moment’s notice.
From the rabbinic perspective, I would compare a day in the life of a rabbi to being in Israel where you have memorial day—Yom HaZikaron, followed immediately by Israel’s independence day of celebration — moving in a breath from the lowest low to highest high. For clergy, that’s our calling and all a part of the experience.
Restaurant: D: For lunch, I’m a Leo’s tuna salad kinda guy. M: More than anywhere, we actually prefer having people to share meals. We love to host Shabbat dinners, it’s how we connect.
Place to meet for coffee or drinks: M: There’s no coffee or drinks in my present state. For me, it’s definitely Fro-Yo!
Place to take kids/ visitors: We love the walks around our beautiful lakes. And there’s the Eastern Market.
Favorite vacation place: Caesarea in Israel
Sport: D: Basketball M: Soccer
Jewish Food: M: Challah D: I’d say gefilte fish, but it’s just a horseradish delivery device.
Jewish Expression: In addition to Beshert, Miriam likes “Hazak Hazak V’nitkhazek! Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened.” (Dan doesn’t have a favorite Jewish expression.)
Guilty pleasure: HGTV. (Home and Garden Television)
Never leave home without: M: Glasses (because I finally failed the driver’s test eye exam –cry-cry!) . D: A yarmulke. Generally I wear it when I’m in the synagogue building, but for me it’s actually a conscious choice when I’m in public not to wear it. Because I want to send the message that one is perfectly capable of leading a committed and intentional Jewish life without the outward display at all times.
M: A Guide for the Perplexed, by Dara Horn
D: Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future, by Rabbi Sidney Schwarz PhD