Man of Steel
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
October 1, 2018
by Vivian Henoch
“What kind of leader are you?” Answering that question for the “record” — now in Federation’s Oral History Archive — Douglas Bloom described himself as a “lazy boss.” Clarifying that classification, he added, “A lazy boss is a person who hires good people, delegates, gives people responsibility and authority and follows up.”
For those who know and love him, for those who have worked with him, traveled with him, followed his footsteps and learned from him, Douglas could never be conceived of as a “lazy boss.” With a long resumé of firsts, initiatives and bold steps, Douglas calls to mind the biblical story of Nahshon, leader of the Tribe of Judah and the man who jumped first into the Red Sea. According to Midrashic tale, Nahshon’s leap of faith into the waves parted the waters. The commonly held lesson there is that individual actions and human steps are partners to divine will. (And, perhaps it is no coincidence that Douglas once remarked that he always has loved the tradition of telling the Passover story.)
Though leadership in Jewish Detroit is never so arduous as parting waters, Douglas indeed has stepped up to numerous leadership roles in more than four decades of service to the Jewish community – starting as President of the Brotherhood at Temple Beth El. It was a mission to Israel in 1983, followed by a tour of Detroit’s Jewish agencies that really hooked him. It was then, he recalls, that he and his wife, Barbara, started lighting Shabbat candles and getting active in the Jewish Federation.
With the business acumen gained through years in the steel industry as a supplier to the Big Three, Douglas breezed through the ranks of Federation’s volunteers to serve the community in numerous leadership roles starting as President of the JCC (1994-1996). “It’s kind of funny,” Doug recalled in his interview for the Archives in 2012, “Because if you look at all the presidents of the JCC, you’ll see my uncle Hy Meyers was a president, as was my cousin Bob Slatkin and his nephew Brewster, and another cousin Jacob Keden.”
Also on the agency side, Douglas has served on the boards of The Jewish Fund, Jewish Senior Life, JVS, the Neighborhood Project, Temple Kol Ami and the United Jewish Foundation.
With Federation, Douglas has been a passionate fundraiser, advocate and activist for long range community planning, focusing on seniors, education and Federation’s Partnership Region in the Central Galilee. In the role of the first Chair of Federation’s Partnership 2000 (now Partnership 2Gether), Douglas was instrumental in establishing PACT – Natanya’s Parents and Children Together program – to work with new Israeli citizens from Ethiopia, as well as a number of business incubators and exchanges between Israeli and Detroit healthcare institutions and universities. Additionally, he served as Chair of Federation’s Education Division – and in a favorite role as Chair of Federation’s Planning and Allocations Steering Committee.
For all of Barbara’s and Doug’s acts of loving kindness to the Jewish community, perhaps the most widely known always will be the annual Barbara and Douglas Bloom Matzah Factory held at the JCC. As Doug described in his oral history, he and Barbara were among the first people approached for the naming opportunity. “We jumped at the opportunity because it was so important to us that young people carry on the traditions of Judaism and learn about Passover.”
For all his accomplishments, Douglas still considers his bar mitzvah at the age of 63 to be one of his proudest moments. As he tells the story . . .
“The first time I went to Israel, the security for El Al at the Kennedy Airport asked, ‘Are you Jewish?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘You been bar mitzvahed?’ ‘No.’ ‘How can you be Jewish if you weren’t bar mitzvahed?’ . . . and I thought, maybe there’s something to this . . . I was going to be 60, and about to sell my business and retire . . . and decided it was really important to have a bar mitzvah. So I approached Rabbi Roman at Temple Kol Ami, learned to read and speak Hebrew and celebrated my bar mitzvah on a Saturday morning where I led the congregation. I was really happy [to stand in proof positive] . . . that it’s never too late to learn, to appreciate something new, and that it’s important to be and do, to be active and to care about being Jewish.”
Together, the Blooms are active supporters of congregational life at multiple temples in the community. At Temple Israel, the Blooms are grantors of the Barbara & Douglas Bloom Special Needs Fund for Single Mothers.”
Residents of Birmingham, Douglas and Barbara are a beautifully blended family, the parents of three sons – David, Andrew and Matthew – and grandparents of seven.
About the “Butzel”
Douglas Bloom is the 67th recipient of the Fred M. Butzel Memorial Award for Distinguished Community Service – Federation’s highest honor. The Butzel dates back to 1951, when a special committee – comprised of the Presidents of Federation’s member agencies, the President of the Detroit Service Group, the President of the Women’s Division and the Chairman of the Federation Executive Committee – established the award to identify and celebrate the achievements of an individual based on:
- Length of service to the Jewish community
- Service to the total Jewish community as well as its constituent parts
- Service as a representative of the Jewish community in the organized general community
- Character and integrity in communal affairs
The 2018 Butzel Award was presented to Douglas Bloom at the combined Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation and United Jewish Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit on September 13, 2018, at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield.