First-Timers on an Interfaith Mission
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
September 29, 2016
by Vivian Henoch
Married eight years and together for 12, Jonathan (33) and Stacy (31) still have the sweet demeanor of newlyweds. “Jonathan’s the outgoing, talkative one; he’s the extrovert to my introvert,” says Stacy. “I always say that Stacy is my better half,” Jonathan adds, “It’s absolutely true that she is my moral compass. Her dedication to service is what got me involved in community work– and that has ramped up over the past years as I’ve learned more ways to contribute.”
“Ramped up” is to say the least about Jonathan’s professional and community activities. A business, commercial and employment litigation attorney, listed this year among Oakland County Executive’s Elite 40 Under 40, Jonathan recently joined the new Southfield office of the Foster Swift law firm where he will bring his considerable skills and connections: as Co-Founder and V.P. of the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM), Board Member of NEXTGen Detroit and the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee (JCRC/AJC) Partnership and Co-Chair of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Sills/Glass Family Leadership Program.
With a long history of volunteerism and work in the non-profit sector, Stacy, too, has taken a new turn in her career, recently moving to the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI) as Events and Membership Engagement Specialist. Prior to IHPI, Stacy held events and program-related positions at the U-M School of Social Work, Gleaners Community Food Bank, The Community House in Birmingham and YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit. While earning a B.S. in Community Development, Stacy served a volunteer year with AmeriCorps.
Slightly “off the beaten path” of what is considered Jewish Detroit, Stacy and Jonathan are proud residents of Plymouth, Michigan. “It’s amazing to us how many people who have grown up in Birmingham and West Bloomfield have never spent time out here before — especially those who go to U-M football games! They have no idea when driving back to the Detroit area that they are passing up so many great places to eat, drink and hang out in Plymouth.”
On family, blended backgrounds and marriage
J: I grew up in Franklin and attended Temple Beth El. My mom, originally from New Jersey, lives in Franklin, works as a corporate meeting planner and is active on the board of Hadassah of Greater Detroit. My Dad, who grew up in Philly, is a labor and employment attorney and lives in West Bloomfield with my stepmom, a nurse. I am the oldest of three; my sister is working on her PhD in Epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle, and my brother is an undergrad studying accounting at Purdue University, but I’m hoping to lure them back to Detroit.
S: I was born and raised here, grew up next door (to Plymouth) in Livonia. Like Jonathan, I am the oldest of three; both my sisters and parents live here in the area. As far as my religious background, I consider myself secular more than anything.
mJD: How did you meet?
J: It was just before I started law school at Wayne State University — Stacy had just finished her first year in college and was working one of her summer jobs at a restaurant. I had been there many times that summer and had never seen her before. It was kind of fate that we met – all because of a hurricane: I was on my way to visit my grandparents in Florida, but my flight was cancelled at the last minute because of Hurricane Frances. So I decided to go out with friends to the place where Stacy happened to be hosting that night. We struck up a conversation and immediately connected. As it turned out, that was also her last day on the job. If it wasn’t for Frances cancelling my flight, I’m not sure we’d ever have met. I mustered the courage to ask her out on the spot – and the rest is history.
mJD:Tell us a little about your wedding
S: We had a secular wedding, with a few Jewish elements. In fact, my father built our chuppah.
J: We didn’t seek out clergy to marry us. I had close ties with a judge, so we didn’t even broach the complex subject of finding a rabbi to officiate our wedding. There are wonderful couples we’ve met that tell us about the challenges they face in planning an interfaith wedding, particularly in finding a local rabbi who will do a joint ceremony with clergy of another faith.
Another complexity of planning a Jewish wedding is the often-cited precondition for participation set by many rabbis, even those who market as interfaith friendly, that couples commit to raising Jewish children. Hearing that requirement from clergy can feel off-putting or exclusionary. We as a community need to open up the discussion of how to better welcome and embrace interfaith couples and foster their willingness to embrace Jewish traditions and culture, to whatever extent they feel comfortable.
S: And, that must include not only marriage — but also celebrating other life cycle events and holidays. Jonathan and I are grateful for a family that supports us.
J: My stepmom – my brother’s mother – is Catholic. So for me, celebrating a diversity of holidays is nothing new. Stacy’s family didn’t have much exposure to the Jewish religion or culture before we started dating, but they take an interest in learning about it now, and enjoy being included – it’s amazing.
On career choices
myJD: What early influences drew you to your professions?
S: I landed in nonprofit work during college, and have stayed on that path. I have a history of event planning and community programming work. Though my current position isn’t for a nonprofit, the mission is still on social justice issues like addressing health disparities and health affordability.
J: My dad is an accomplished attorney, and I can honestly say I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from the age of four or five. Before that I wanted to be a firefighter, but as an attorney I still get to put out fires for clients.
On Federation initiatives
mJD: Your combined interests suggest that together you are committed to social justice and law. Let’s talk about some of your projects, specifically with Federation. How did you get involved?
J: Both of us feel very fortunate that we share a lot of causes we care about and that our employers give us the opportunity to make a priority of spending time and resources on community projects.
My involvement with Federation goes back a few years ago to a networking event where I met Peter Alter – former President of Federation. He asked if I did anything with Federation, and I told him I really didn’t know what Federation does. Peter put me in touch with Miryam Rosenzweig, then head of NEXTGen and, within 48 hours, we were set to meet for coffee. I told Miryam from the outset that my wife is supportive of the Jewish community, but we were not going to get involved in Federation unless we found a niche open to diversity and welcoming to all different kinds of Jews, including interfaith couples. Miryam assured me that we’d find a great fit with Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit, which was beginning to discuss ways to provide outreach to underserved groups in the community, including interfaith couples and LGBTQ Jews.
Soon thereafter, Stacy and I attended a couple of events. I went through the leadership development programs and then I joined the board in 2015. At my first board meeting, I stood up and said we should formally pursue interfaith couple and LGBTQ outreach initiatives. After that meeting, two fellow board members came up to me: Rabbi Dan Horwitz, of The Well, who said he wanted to do interfaith couple programming, and Sam Dubin, who told me he had recently come out and was thrilled to learn there was an ally willing to embrace outreach to LGBTQ Jews. So right then and there, we decided: Let’s do this.
We got the ball rolling, and NEXTGen staff and board members quickly embraced both initiatives. My involvement with these efforts stems from the belief that there are all kinds of ways to be Jewish and part of the Jewish community, and that being supportive of both interfaith and LGBTQ people and families is simply the right thing to do. NEXTGen Pride has held several events and the Interfaith Couples group will launch on October 27 with a guest panel of three couples of different ages and stages of life.
mJD: Stacy, as Jonathan jumped in to NEXTGen with both feet, how did you feel about this newfound connection?
S: I was happy to see Jonathan have an opportunity to make new connections and re-connections, both personal and professional, while giving back to the Jewish community in a way that is meaningful to him. I’ve also enjoyed participating. Beyond the social aspect, NEXTGen events have provided me a better understanding of Jewish culture and traditions. Though the culture and traditions may not be my own, they are Jonathan’s, which I fully embrace and want to celebrate as an interfaith couple.
On Federation’s first Interfaith Couples Mission to Israel
mJD: First impressions and lasting impressions?
S: Ever since Jonathan and I have been together, he has wanted to take me to Israel. And I always had been a little hesitant given the security picture the media can paint. But when Federation launched the Interfaith Couples Mission and asked us to serve as Co-Chairs, making the trip suddenly had more purpose and meaning to me. It was a wonderful opportunity for us. There’s so much about Israel I just “didn’t get” before — now I do.
The trip itself was a lot of fun; we made great friends of all ages and learned a lot. The standout moment for me was the guided tour at Yad Vashem. Every piece of that memorial had thought and meaning to it, which I found very powerful. And seeing, first-hand, how Federation invests in youth programs and other areas of need in the Michigan Partnership2Gether Region really put Federation’s work at home into a new perspective.
J: I am very grateful that we had the opportunity. We have Federation to thank for the trip, which was heavily subsidized by Federation’s Mission Lab initiative with the support of Nora and Guy Barron, who are visionaries in recognizing the value of helping interfaith couples experience Israel together. A standout moment for me was returning to Masada, where I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah 20 years ago. I also was deeply moved by stories at Yad Vashem of Righteous Gentiles risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
mJD: What do you tell people considering moving back to the city or moving to Detroit for the first time?
J: I talk to people thinking about coming back all the time, especially when they reach out to JBAM and NEXTGen. I tell them to absolutely move back—there’s so much here for you, so many great people doing wonderful things. I will help you, this community will help you, you’re going to love it here!
It’s easy to be a cheerleader for the metro Detroit area, it’s made a great home for us. The city and region are continuing to get better and better with more to offer. We like to think we’re playing our small part in helping.
Restaurant: Sardine Room in Plymouth
Place to meet for coffee: Expresso Elevado – a roaster on Main Street, downtown Plymouth
Building in the Detroit skyline: Guardian
Place to take kids/ visitors: Downtown Plymouth
Favorite vacation place in Michigan: Traverse City
Sports: Stand-up paddle boarding (Jonathan is a former swimmer/ Stacy a former gymnast)
Jewish food: Noodle kugel for Stacy; gefilte fish for Jonathan (who sees it as metaphor for things you can’t necessarily explain, but they work)
Holidays: Passover and retelling the story every time in an “abbreviated” Seder with finger puppets. And Thanksgiving – a time for food, family and appreciation.
Jewish expression: Be a mensch– from Jonathan’s grandmother who lives at Fox Run.
Guilty pleasure: Netflix for Stacy; any superhero movie or TV show for Jonathan
Reading now: Actually, it’s more like binge listening: we just finished The Serial podcast
Words to live by: J: Do right and fear not. S: Be grateful.