To Be or Not to be In Detroit

The event was a first – organized primarily for Jewish college students on the cusp of graduation, making those first critical choices – to stay in Michigan – to come to Detroit – or to chose otherwise in pursuit of opportunities elsewhere. With the invitation to “See Detroit Through Your Own Lens,” the program entitled “D360” brought eager participants from campuses across the region to the McGregor Conference Center at Wayne State University.

Their purpose: To connect with young professionals working in the city and to explore ways to “follow their passion” in Detroit.

“The energy in the room was palpable,” said Miriam Starkman, Executive Director of Hillel Metro Detroit. “It was gratifying and very powerful to see so many students engaged in vigorous discussions about the future of Detroit.”

To Be Or Not to Be in the D
Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland, Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, Mike Clark and Miriam Silverstein.

“The group couldn’t stop talking,” said Haley Sakwa, a senior from the University of Michigan representing Hillel’s Jewish Detroit Initiative (JDI), a student group dedicated to creating opportunities to become actively involved in the city of Detroit. “There were speakers with so much to say, and students so curious, outspoken and engaged in conversation; the room got loud, so loud in fact, it was hard to get the group’s attention for announcements. I loved every second of it.”

Reaching out to students across the region

D360 was the year-end culmination, not only of the University of Michigan Hillel’s JDI, but also of a multi-campus outreach program, and part of a series coordinated by Hillel of Metro Detroit’s “Jewish in the D” initiative funded by The Jewish Fund. The goal of this initiative is to engage and excite local Jewish college-age students in the dynamic Jewish life that currently exists within the city of Detroit and to encourage young adults to embrace the vibrancy of the city of Detroit within a Jewish context.The event, itself, was sponsored by Michigan Hillel, Hillel of Metro Detroit, and Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit, and partnered with the Wayne State Cohen-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies Department.

To Be Or Not to Be in the D
Sarah Silver and Hannah Fine

As Haley explains, “D360 was rooted in a recognition of Detroit’s complexities through seeking diverse narratives, and a thoughtful awareness of how our identities as Jewish students inform the role we can play in Detroit’s revitalization.”

With this in mind, students learned about Detroit through a wide range of speakers, from Susannah Goodman, potter and arts educator at the DIA, to Brandi Keeler, Challenge Detroit Fellow and marketing specialist for a start-up business. Their common thread was their active efforts to pursue their passion in a unique way, engage in community and create something positive in the City of Detroit.

Student participants were as diverse as the speakers. In attendance were in-state and out-of-state students, religious and secular Jewish students, as well as students of other religious and ethnic backgrounds. Topics for the breakout session ranged from entrepreneurship to community engagement. At the conclusion of the afternoon, students and speakers came together the to answer the question, “Why pursue my passion in Detroit?”

Why Detroit, why now?

“My passion always has been in graphic design, video and writing,” stated Josh Lieder, who plans to continue his education at the College of Creative Studies in the fall. “Until recently, I never thought my creativity also could be the basis of my career. D360 opened my eyes to the possibilities and introduced me to just a handful of the many amazing and creative people living and working in Detroit. From artists to entrepreneurs, the people who spoke at the event were inspiring. Once again, they reminded me that I am making the right decision staying in Detroit.”

“Detroit is not a ‘canvas’ or empty slate to be written upon. It is a city with enormous potential and issues which hard-working, thoughtful people are trying to figure out and solve” says Michael Evers, a service volunteer and Fellow with Repair the World. “The challenges of housing, food access and resource accumulation – are right here in your face and as a resident I have to confront them. But, the collaboration is amazing and inspiring!”

“I have chosen to pursue my career in Detroit because I truly believe that the city is big enough to matter, and small enough that I matter in it,” commented Tara Forman, NEXTGen Detroit Associate at the Jewish Federation. “Nowhere else is the unwritten story so compelling, and the opportunities for change, transformation, and growth so enchantingly reachable.”

As Haley concluded, “As a graduating senior at the University of Michigan and Co-Founder of Jewish Detroit Initiative, I have been inspired by my experiences with JDI to take part in this vibrant community. My plans are to move to Detroit to begin work on affordable food access in the fall. I hope participants learned that Detroit is complicated, but its unique character makes it an amazing space for the intellectually curious, the community-minded and the action-oriented.”

This isn’t the easy road to take – social movements that catch on are those that are simple: easy to explain, easy to understand and easy to retweet; but to represent Detroit without its nuances would be a disservice to those Detroiters, young and old, who have created and maintained the vibrant community that sparked D360’s energy and continue to inspire students every day.

To learn more about Jewish Detroit Initiative, please visit or email