Activist of the Year (and Forever)
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
May 1, 2015
In downtown Birmingham, four doors south of the Birmingham Theatre, it’s easy to miss the address 235 – the jewel box of a store, HEARTWEAR DESIGNS.
Drop in for a visit and you’ll find proprietors Marcy and Michael Feldman at home with their standard offer of hospitality: “Can we make you a cup of tea, would you like some cookies, can we clean your rings while you’re here?” If it feels like you’ve just walked into the Feldman’s living room, that’s by design in the sunlit and elegantly appointed space where Marcy’s signature silver and gold jewelry is showcased and handcrafted.
More than a jewelry store, HEARTWEAR DESIGNS is clearly a labor of love. Lifelong community activists, married 45 years, partners in business and avid supporters of dozens of organizations and causes, Marcy and Michael hold the distinction of being the first couple to receive Federation’s Frank A. Wetsman and Sylvia Simon Greenberg Young Leadership Awards in the same year (1985).
Busy years and work “from the heart”
Recollecting those busy years – having children, building their jewelry business, building community, studying with the Wexner Heritage Foundation – a tireless volunteer and fundraiser on behalf of Federation, the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, the Detroit Resettlement Service, the UJA Young Womens’ Leadership Cabinet, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Yad Ezra, the Scleroderma Foundation — and topping it all as Founder and President of the Pasteur Elementary School Alumni Foundation, dedicated to the children of Detroit — Marcy concludes, “All those things that I’ve been involved in are all worthy, all wonderful causes.”
As fate (or beshert) would have it, it was social activism that brought Michael and Marcy together at the corner of South U. and East U. in Ann Arbor in the late 60’s. As Michael explains, “I had been on a United Jewish Appeal (UJA) college mission to Israel, and when I came home, I wanted to have a meeting with my father’s friend, Lou Berry, who was very involved with the Federation.” (Lou and Vivian Berry, of blessed memory, were fervent activists.) “When we met for lunch, Lou mentioned that he had a daughter who had just transferred to U. of M. and, at my father’s insistence, I reluctantly called Marcy. And here we are, four decades later, blessed with three grown children and a grandchild on the way.”
Over a cup of tea, a conversation with Marcy about her activism in Jewish Detroit easily turns to reminiscence about her mother, Vivian:
“There’s no question that my mother was a role model. She was strong, widowed when I was 23 months old, raised us alone until I was 16 when she married Lou. Friends will always remember her for her sharp sense of humor, but I’ll never forget one of the first lessons she taught me was tikkun olam (repairing the world).”
“I must have been around 9, in the 4th grade at Pasteur Elementary School, when I mentioned to my mother that there was a little girl in my class who wore the same clothes every day and she was so thin. So, next thing I know, my mother packed up some of my clothes and took me in hand to deliver them to the girl’s house one evening.
“I remember standing on her porch in the dark, aghast to find the girl home alone with her brother. There were cigarette butts and empty beer cans on the porch. It was then that I realized that there were people who had less than we did. My mother was a widow with three little girls. She worked at Congregation Shaarey Zedek as the administrator of the schools, came home every night to make us dinner, invited people for Shabbat. I don’t know how she did it all and made it fun.”
Asked about those things that make her most proud, Marcy is quick to answer, “My kids, of course.” There’s Ronit, an editor at Random House, married to attorney Eric Wagman in New Jersey (soon to make the Feldmans proud grandparents); Noah, an audio engineer in San Diego, and Joanna, an actress/comedian with The Second City in Chicago.”
Upon further reflection, Marcy turns to a favorite topic: her elementary school and the kids for whom she established the Pasteur Elementary School Foundation nearly 19 years ago.
The power of saying yes
“I can say, I’m proudest of the fact that there are so many people across the country (alumni, friends and generous supporters) who said yes to us — because they realize it’s all about children in our city who don’t have the advantages that we had when we were growing up in Detroit. This has brought together alumni who span an age difference of 30 years, Detroiters, suburbanites, black, white and we all care about making life better for the kids of Detroit.”
Today, the Pasteur Elementary School Alumni Foundation has a database of 1500 alumni, with more than 270 current members who pay $30 annually, $250 for a life membership or $500 for a scholarship life membership. Many others have donated funds over the years and through Marcy’s leadership and perseverance, the Foundation has provided books, school supplies, holiday baskets for needy families, college scholarships, annual field trips for 6th graders to see a performance of The Diary of Ann Frank at the JET, “Summer in the City” camp and many other special programs.
Listing other highlights in her long career as a community leader and volunteer, Marcy adds:
- Meeting a planeload of Jewish Russian immigrants at midnight at Metro airport when she was President of Resettlement Service
- Going to Washington, D.C. for the Soviet Jewry rally that drew 250,000 people
- Campaigning for 16 years with Janet Levine to get a pool built at the 10 Mile JCC (JPM) – and once again, now working to find the resources in the community to keep the pool and recreational facilities running
- Leading a few national missions with Michael to Israel and Prague
Time well spent! How many people can recount a life of higher service and reward? And what’s next? Marcy’s thoughts turn back to the Detroit schools and the potential to do more:
“Over the years, people have said to me, ‘Oh I wish someone was doing what you’re doing at Pasteur at my elementary school and I think here we have a model, a blueprint for action. So, about a year and a half ago I started a list, finding out where people went to school and now have a database of what I call ‘City Kids,’ ready to connect alumni to their former schools in Detroit neighborhoods where they once lived. I would love to help people replicate this idea for their schools.”
Ask Marcy Feldman – a woman who defines the very term activist, what activism means to her and get a simple answer, straight from the heart:
“Well, doesn’t everyone want to be an activist in some way, and make the world a better place? If not for us, then for our kids, their future. Tikkun olam. It’s all about repairing the world. I take that literally.”