Coming Home: Because There’s No Place Like Detroit
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
May 29, 2012
by Vivian Henoch
Meet Ben Falik, age 30, Cool Dad, Detroiter in Exile, Recovering Attorney, Manager of Detroit Service Initiatives for Repair the World
When I was 17, I couldn’t get away from Bloomfield Hills fast enough. When I was 19, Detroit beckoned me back. When I was 22, I raced home from New York. Now I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world. A circuitous path — geographic, professional, spiritual — has led me to quite possibly the world’s best job: part professional volunteer and part volunteer professional.
On growing up in Jewish Detroit
It’s easy to take for granted what an exceptional Jewish community this is. I went to public school and dropped out of Tamarack after a few years, but when look at who I’ve stayed close with over the years, I am continually struck by the shared values and good humor of our community. I hope my kids have as rich an experience as I did — just without the mullet.
On ways he’s making his mark in the city
I am humbled that anyone knows who I am or cares what I’m doing. I think what initially draws a lot of us to Detroit is that you can create your own opportunities and make an impact here. But Detroit has made a much bigger mark on me than I have on it. My experiences in the city — far more than eight years of higher ed — have shaped my worldview and directed my moral compass. That said, I still get pretty excited when I see Summer in the City murals in Chrysler and Nike commercials.
On what inspired you to get started
Equal parts restlessness and naivety led us to start Summer in the City during college. You don’t have to spend much time in Detroit to see that it’s a markedly different place from how it’s typically depicted. We were inspired by the people and groups that welcomed us and thought that if we could extend that warm welcome — and harness the energy of everyone who responded — we could do some good work.
On his work with Repair the World
I am the Manager of Detroit Service Initiatives for Repair the World (werepair.org), a national organization dedicated to making service a defining element of Jewish life, learning and leadership. We have a great culture of Tikkun Olam in our community, but it can still be hard to turn our values into value. I get to work with any group or organization that’s interested — J-Serve, Tamarack, Frankel Jewish Academy, U of M Hillel, our JCRC, Backstage Pass, NextGen, the list goes on — to make volunteer work work equally well for both them and our community partners in Detroit.
On choosing to move to Detroit
Don’t wait for a rent subsidy — or even a job offer. Carpe Detroit! There is no place else in the world you can write your own story the way you can in Detroit. That’s true for people who grew up in the city, reversed track from the suburbs or are migrating from elsewhere in the country or the world.
On his hopes, dreams or plans for Detroit’s future
I aspire to a Detroit that is the greatest place in the world to be a kid. For both current Detroiters, who have been dealt a pretty tough hand, and for geographically mobile people looking for a diverse, dynamic place to live their values and pass them on to their children. Also good for the young at heart and outright Peter Pan types.
On what’s next for Detroit, in his opinion
Transit. Gotta happen. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like, but anyone who’s serious about the future of Detroit had better get serious about transit.
Hygrade Deli. Great Reuben, old-school staff, colorful clientele. And it tastes even better doing your small part to support Stuart Litt and Detroit’s last Jewish deli.
Favorite place to take kids
The zoo. It’s magical every time, partly because I get to see it through their eyes and partly because I always get lost there. It’s crazy to think that these animals and people came from every corner of the earth to my backyard. I could chill with the Japanese Macaques all day.
A lot of Dr. Seuss.