Originally from Orlando, Molly Chernow moved to metro area 12 years ago with her husband, Aaron, a Detroiter returning home to take the helm of his family business. Mother of three – Sophie (12), Annie (10) and Ethan (8) – Molly readily admits that she “leads from the heart” and that her work in the community is really all about her children. “My kids know we’re here to do what we can to help people. That’s just the way our family works.” A member of Federation’s Cabinet, Molly takes an active part in the Israeli Camper Program, and served as co-leader of the recent Grosfeld 10 Leadership Mission to Israel and Poland. Founder of Mishpochai, board member of Jewish Senior Life and chair of the Advisory Committee for the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families, Molly recently has joined the board of the Holocaust Memorial Center, Zekelman Family Campus. In her “not-so-spare” time, Molly loves running, music, reading, tennis and golf.
On moving to Detroit
Where I grew up in Orlando, the Jewish community was tight-knit in spirit only. We were spread out all over town, so it was nothing like Detroit.
When I moved here, I remember seeing my first Jewish News. I was amazed to find out how big the Jewish community was here and that there was enough going on to warrant an actual weekly newspaper. The Detroit Jewish News was my first impression of the city and wow! I couldn’t wait to see what more Detroit had to offer!
I started a program through the Federation and Jewish Senior Life called Mishpochai (Families). We connect Holocaust survivors to families with young children with the hope that the survivors’ stories will live on. Our program provides a community family – a circle of friends where close relationships are developed and nurtured through shared experiences, holidays, simchas and special events.
On what inspired her to get started
I grew up in a conservative Jewish home, so I always felt very connected to my Jewish community, my Jewish identity and my parents. My parents started a Hebrew day school in Florida, I kept kosher until I was 18 and had my Bat Mitzvah in Israel.
When I was asked to go to on my first Grosfeld Mission to Israel and Poland in 2007, I thought, “Of course!” The aspect of the trip that really got my attention was Poland.
I’ve always felt that one of the most important things to do as a Jew was to see the camps – an experience I was very fearful to undertake.
So, I read Eli’s book. And when we got off the plane, he was there to meet us. For me it was like meeting a rock star because his story really resonated with me and inspired me.
I’ll never forget the day we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a rainy Friday. As I reached the camps, I had an anxiety attack. Just like that, a full panic like never before. I couldn’t breathe and I was crying. Eli gently walked up to me and said, “Look at me, I’m not crying, this is a great day: I survived!” From that moment on, there was something about him that inspired me. I would call it his zest for life.
My group spent the whole day touring the camps with Eli and ended in Birkenau where we recited the mourner’s Kaddish. No sooner did we end the prayer that the rain stopped and the sun came out. Not a cloud in the sky, the leaves were rustling in the breeze. Such a sense of peace, like a sign, it was the most beautiful day!
I wanted to take that experience – gather all those tragic stories and turn them into something positive. My goal was to come back to Detroit and find the many “Eliezers” of our own community. There are so many of them. I knew that I had found my mission in life.
When people ask me why I do what I do – why I care so deeply about survivors, I think of Eli, and his zest for life. Eli is my true inspiration.
On the recent Grosfeld Mission 10
Fast forward five years: my goal was to lead Grosfeld Mission 10, to go back to Poland, where Eli was to meet us, then travel on with him to Jerusalem. Sadly, that was not be. Eli died the day before we left Detroit.
As a leader of 16 adults on their way to experience Poland and Israel, I was forced to mourn privately. Even so, we conducted a beautiful memorial service for Eli in Birkenau, five years to the day I first said the Kaddish with him. While I missed my friend Eli on the mission, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
On what makes Detroit a great place to live, work and play
Detroit feels like my home. I love the warmth of the community, the people and the life my husband and children have created together here. The spirit and strength of the Jewish community here has inspired me to be a stronger person. It makes me want to be more involved.
Zingerman’s Road House
Favorite places to take kids
Detroit Institute of Art
Eastern Market on Saturday
Comerica Park. There’s nothing like a Tigers game. They have the coldest beer.
The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman
My Hometown Concentration Camp: A Survivor’s Account of Life in the Krakow Ghetto and Plaszow Concentration Camp, by Bernard Offen