Menorah in the D Lights Up the Holidays in the City
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
December 1, 2016
It stands 26 feet tall, among the tallest menorahs in the country: a towering icon of the resurgence of Detroit and the Jewish community’s ever-enduring connection to the city. For the record, thousands of families of all faiths will come together to light up the night for the Sixth Annual Menorah in the D Chanukah Celebration in Campus Martius Park/Cadillac Square in the heart of downtown Detroit on Tuesday, December 27, 2016.
Hosted by The Shul of West Bloomfield in partnership with Jewish Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit, Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit and Quicken Loans, Menorah in the D is free and open to the public – with fun for the family from 3 to 5 pm, lighting ceremony from 5 to 6 pm, and an After Glow with NEXTGen Detroit from 6 to 8 pm.
As for all big events held in public spaces, many moving parts come seamlessly together to plan and stage Menorah in the D – not the least of which is moving 2,600 pounds of steel from storage and hoisting it into the air to assemble the menorah. In preview of the artistry and planning entailed in this year’s event, myJewishDetroit recently met up with the Nordin brothers Erik and Israel – designers of the massive menorah – and Rachel Taubman-Glickfeld, event planner and expert “people mover” recruited this year to help make the event bigger and better than ever.
Self-described as “artists who create objects for spaces,” Erik and Israel have been partners, building landmark sculptures, fine art, furniture and functional objects, for 20 years. Home-based in the Detroit Design Center, located at 6100 Michigan Avenue, their 12,000-square foot studio space is a converted steel company that their father owned.
With a strong background in hospitality and culinary arts, Rachel recently launched her own events company, Taubman Events. Previously, she was on staff at the Federation, starting as Teen Mission Coordinator, then managing its packed calendar of fundraisers and community events, including NEXTGen’s Annual Latke Vodka and Epic events.
Q&A with Rachel, Erik and Israel
On big events, big spaces and people changing the landscape of Detroit, big time
myJewishDetroit: Let’s start by talking about Menorah in the D, how did you get involved?
Erik: Six years ago, the Shul commissioned us to create a menorah that would be a signature for the Detroit Jewish community and a statement to the world that our city was on the rise again. We looked at menorahs in other cities – London and elsewhere. We considered the size and scale of their pieces, and then stepped things up to make Detroit’s art piece even more significant.
Israel: Our discussions started with an eight-foot menorah, then 10-foot, and then 15, which lead to the key question: How big could it be? We ultimately decided to create the piece as it stands, over 25 feet tall.
Erik: We wanted the menorah to be an epic piece of the Chanukah story – one that also would speak true to Detroit for years to come.
Israel: In large part, the inspiration for the design of the menorah came from the community. The menorah’s design symbolizes people standing together and, that together, we are stronger. Every person connected to the event – from Benji Rosenzweig to Rabbi Kasriel and Itty Shemtov – everyone involved was so excited to bring something like this to the people of Detroit. Working together with them was fantastic; the entire process was grassroots as it has been in Detroit for so long.
Rachel: I had been involved with Menorah in the D when I was on staff at Federation. But this year, Rabbi Yisrael Pinson brought me into the event, knowing my previous work and ability to organize and plan big community events. My expertise is in coordination – space coordination and flow. This year, there will be family activities, food and entertainment under cover inside the heated tent in Cadillac Square.
Erik: We’re getting the setup of the menorah almost down to a science, and the event gets better every year. We feel so blessed that we were able to contribute in our way to help the formation of the Menorah in the D event. This year the event is very fortunate to have Rachel at the helm.
Israel: When the event first started, in 2010, people were a little hesitant to come downtown. Now that’s changing, they are proud and excited to be in Detroit.
Rachel: This year, Chanukah falls during Winter Break at school, so we anticipate a larger attendance. We’re doing something a little different too. We’re organizing with BBYO, which is holding their regional convention here, and bringing their annual talent show downtown. With the teens and parents coming downtown, we anticipate at least another 1,000 people, an estimated crowd of 3,500.
Erik: We are creating numbered miniature renditions of the Detroit Menorah that are functional. Like all of our art pieces, each one is handmade. We are working with Rachel to integrate their availability at the event and they also are available to order at our showroom at the Michigan Design Center in Troy, or you can contact us through our website. They also will be available at our open house in midtown for Noel Night.
What else are you working on today?
Rachel: With Menorah in the D around the corner, that’s my primary focus for now. But I also have several weddings that I am planning.
Erik: We are dividing our time between several city sculptures, some corporate pieces, several custom award projects, as well as working on our new space in Midtown.
Currently, we’re putting the finishing touches on a large scale sculpture for Corktown and getting ready to install several private commissions for Michigan companies – including a lobby piece for Jamie Jacob at his new Ajax Paving headquarters in Troy, and a blown-glass and steel sculpture for Scott Bernstein for his new offices at his company Beta Steel in Sterling Heights. Each of these art pieces tells a story about our clients.
Additionally, we are prepping for a new large scale piece for Grosse Pointe Park that will be set this spring. It is a unity sculpture; its design is meant to celebrate the river, sailing and the city’s connection with Detroit. Israel and I are really excited about a piece we created this fall that was recently chosen to stand as the MVP Award for the University of Michigan football team by Coach Jim Harbough. It is now considered a highly coveted award in Michigan football and will live permanently at Schembechler Hall.
Tell us a little more about your company. How did you start your business?
Erik: Our business has grown one job at a time. We created pieces for restaurants and homes when we first started. We started creating furniture when the economy fell apart during the great recession. Our focus for the last five years has been sculpture.
Israel and I both worked for our father’s steel company to help pay for our education. Israel graduated from the College of Creative Studies; and I received my degree from the University of Michigan. Everything we learned about business, we learned from our father. He taught us the fundamentals. . .to do what you say, pay your bills before paying yourself, tell the truth and go the extra mile.
In this city, word travels fast. Your reputation is everything. Typically we work on a dozen or more pieces at a time — always looking for new design challenges. We feel that business and art are like opposing magnets – deadlines and budgets don’t always marry with creating an art piece. It’s push and pull, but we always find a way to make things that work for our clients and fulfill our own sense of creative integrity.
Israel: To survive as artists in Detroit – through what our city has been through – is something we’re very proud of, and much of the credit goes to our upbringing. Our mom was an artist and dad was a musician; both instilled strong work ethics in our family; with six children, we feel that they did a great job in helping us to get to where we are as artists today.
Rachel: I think of the business of hospitality as something of an art too. In any case, it’s a high touch business. I was drawn into event planning because of my natural ability to organize the finer points and details of hospitality, showing people a good time. My goal is always to see people enjoy an event. I don’t see myself in the spotlight. My job, as I see it, is to make everyone else look good. What I’m passionate about is making people happy. I can use my skills to do just that through planning events.
Erik: I think that’s a strong connecting point for our enterprises. As artists, what we do is all about bringing people together and celebrating the things we have in common. What Rachel describes is very much the same thing —creating something that’s fun, that makes people happy and feel good about the city.
Israel: That’s what we’ve been doing for 20 years, making pieces to help make our city look better. In every case, the work starts with trust that people have in you.
Erik: And faith. As an artist and as a person, you must take a leap of faith sometimes. You just do what your heart tells you is the right thing and it works its own wonder. And that’s a great feeling – to know that every experience in art – as in life – has its own destiny. Its own purpose.
Erik: We have the goal to build 100 landmark sculptures throughout the region, and we’re well on our way. Currently, we’re working on our gallery and event space in Midtown at 3rd and Willis Avenue – a great neighborhood where we’ve lived for 20 years. We’re also working on sculptures for Broder-Sachse in Brush Park, a large piece for the Michigan Design Center in Troy, and just finished a 22-foot signature sculpture for Harrison Township. We’re just starting to talk to people in Chicago, so word about our work is getting around.
Rachel: Like Erik and Israel, I feel blessed to have people around me who have faith in my work and give me an opportunity like Menorah in the D. My company is just getting started now by word-of-mouth. No pressure! I’m learning that beautiful things start to happen on their own, especially when working in Detroit with a great team of creative people.
Beyond Menorah in the D, I’m working on showcasing my skills. And I never say ‘no’ to opportunities. I love helping people plan their events. That’s my strong suit; I’m very familiar with the different vendors in the market. If and whenever I can help make someone’s special event just the way they want it, I’m all in!