Birthright: From Israel to Detroit
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
September 1, 2013
In Israel, they are given the opportunity to climb Masada, swim in the Dead Sea and tuck prayers in the Western Wall. They spend a day in the beautiful Central Galilee, Federation’s Partnership Region, exploring and enjoying the hospitality of locals, all while being accompanied by Israelis for the entirety of the trip. This is Detroit’s Community Birthright experience.
After ten days in Israel, these young Detroiters are encouraged to continue their journey back home with social events, networking and community outreach in an effort to stay connected. This is what’s in black and white, the certainty of it all. The surface. What the flyers, emails and photographs don’t tell you is what’s at the core of the Detroit Community Birthright: The Mifgash – a Hebrew word for “a coming together.” This transformative Israel experience resonates deeply with all involved and includes a homecoming to Detroit for the Israeli Birthrighters.
The Mifgash in Michigan lasted for five days and consisted of programs and events where participants from the past three Detroit Community Birthright trips joined together with “their” Israelis, hosting them in their homes in metro Detroit.
The Israelis arrived at Metro Airport on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 and were greeted by a group of thirty excited Americans. Their first stop was Kensington Metropark where they relaxed and snacked on the beach, reuniting with their friends after their long day of travel. An additional fifty local former Birthrighters were also at the park to celebrate their Detroit homecoming.
The next four days included an itinerary filled with learning, discovery, discussions and bonding. The highlights were:
Day two: Interactive dialogues with Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Rabbis, a trip to the Holocaust Memorial Center and a BBQ dinner with NEXTGen Detroit and Summer in the City.
Day three: A morning downtown Detroit tour highlighting the Downtown Synagogue, River Walk, The Heidelberg Project, and a Quicken insider tour. An afternoon spent at Comerica Park and a Good Shabbos Detroit dinner at Aish in the Woods.
Day four: Free day with a havdalah and Detroit-style house party scheduled at night.
Day five: (The final day) Canoeing and tour of Ann Arbor followed by a closing celebration that evening at Local in Ferndale.
Erez Opincaru, a visiting Israeli, spoke during the closing celebration and said, “It’s hard work to be Jewish outside of Israel. That’s how I saw it. Makes me think twice about my Judaism. About who I am and what my part is in this world and community.”
A sense of belonging
Another Israeli, Ilan Gitman, remarked, “The connection we have here, it’s for life.”
Whether it was the record breaking number of locals that supported each scheduled event, the conversations that were paneled or stumbled upon, or the thank-you emails that filed in after the week concluded, the message was clear: Detroit Community Birthright gives a sense of belonging to Israel, Judaism and the Detroit community alike.
A former Community Birthright participant wrote, “This (Mifgash) was another reminder to me of why being Jewish is important and makes me want to keep the faith a little stronger than I do now”. When she spoke of her overall experience she said, “It was life-changing and impacted me in such a way that I would have never imagined it doing. I can always count on people on the trip to be there if I ever need them.”
When the group visited downtown Detroit, Heidelberg Project resident artist and founder, Tyree Guyton, joined the group for a rare, brief chat in front of the polka dotted Heidelberg house where it began 27 years ago.
Challenging the group to ponder time, Guyton, spoke. “Behind you is a tree, and the tree has clocks all over it. I’m going to ask you a philosophical question: what time is it?”
Tentatively, the group started to answer: It’s early. The time is now. It’s our time. Time to make a change. Time to get together.
Tyree responded, “That’s right, and this I believe: everything in this creation has purpose and everything is connected. You are not here by accident. We are all playing our part, all in time.”
A philosophical question answered with a definitive response of purpose. That is the summation of Detroit Community Birthright and Mifgash.
For more information about Detroit Community Birthright or to sign up for the December trip, please visit www.detroitbirthrightisrael.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.