Building Jewish Community in Royal Oak
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
November 29, 2018
When new neighbors move in, it’s usually the folks who are already there who do the welcoming— bringing over a pie or some other baked good, introducing themselves, asking if they can be of any help. That’s if the new neighbors don’t come a-knocking first…
If you live near downtown Royal Oak, you recently may have had an unexpected knock on your door from Rabbi Moishie and Mushky Glitsenstein bearing gifts of honey cake. The Glitsensteins are Chabad shluchim (roughly translated to emissaries), brought to Royal Oak by Chabad Lubavitch of Michigan, and are the founders and co-directors of the newly opened Royal Oak Jewish Center.
“We’ve met so many people just by knocking on doors,” said Mushky. “We just say, ‘Hi, we just moved to town and wanted to meet our new neighbors.’ And people are so friendly.”
“It’s like people are on a mission to be friendly here,” added Moishie. “Even if they’re not Jewish, they try to think of someone they know who is Jewish to introduce to us.”
Knocking on doors
Knocking on doors might seem a little forward, but the Glitsensteins are serious about getting to know the Jewish community members of Royal Oak, one at a time. For them, this is a critical first step in the work that they came here to do.
At its core, the Royal Oak Jewish Center is a Chabad house, one of thousands across the world, serving Jews in every environment from major cities to remote locations. Chabad houses provide Jewish locals and travelers with everything from kosher food, Shabbat meals and religious services to programs, classes, events and a way to meet other Jews wherever they are.
The international network of Chabad houses is a key component in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s, the leader of the Chabad movement, mission to seek out every Jewish person, regardless of background or observance level, and help them find meaningful ways to connect to their Judaism.
“A lot of people think that Chabad sends shluchim out and gives them a building and a salary, and then they just sit on the couch and wait for people to come. But it’s actually the opposite,” said Moishie. “You go to a place as a young couple, you don’t necessarily know anyone or have much support, but you go there and see what they need, what they want — and you build it together. Every Chabad house is different, because every community is different.”
Both Mushky and Moishie come from families that have been running Chabad houses for generations. Over 60 years ago, Mushky’s grandfather, Rabbi Berel Shemtov, was the first Chabad representative sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to start a Chabad house in the United States, right here to Metro Detroit. Coincidently, Mushky’s first cousin and her husband were sent to South Dakota a little over a year ago — the last state in the county to open a Chabad house.
Mushky grew up in her parent’s Chabad house in Bayside, Wisconsin, before coming to Metro Detroit in 6th grade to learn in the Lubavitch schools here.
“My early education was different in that our Chabad house always took priority. We had a teacher that my parents hired, and she taught me and my siblings and my cousins. We grouped together and made a little school,” said Mushky. “But if there was a big program going on, we were all go — setting up, making food, whatever needed to be done.”
Moishie is originally from Eilat, where his father was sent in the 1970s to open one of the first Chabad houses in Israel outside of Jerusalem and Kfar Chabad (a town made up of almost exclusively Chabad families). “In those days, my grandmother had to send kosher meat from Jerusalem to my father, and my father or one of my older brothers would to travel to a nearby village to get milk,” said Moishie.
Moishie grew up the eleventh of thirteen brothers in the Chabad house in Eilat. Now, his brothers and their families also run Chabad houses all over the world, from Ukraine to Budapest to Alaska.
A new adventure
While the couple has plenty of experience living and working in Chabad houses, they are finding that it’s a whole new adventure when it comes to establishing their own.
“I think starting out is so fun, and your mission is so strong,” said Mushky. “You’re not this huge organization putting on events and programs, you’re really just all about the individual. And I hope we stay that way — focused on the individual. The Rebbe said, ‘focus on the people, and the people will build their community.’”
“Here in Royal Oak, there are a lot of Jewish people, but they’re not connected to one another, they don’t know each other,” said Moishie. “We’ve met people who have lived here for 20 or even 40 years. Many of them used to be connected to the Jewish community when they were kids but aren’t anymore.”
“We’ve had people reach out to us and say, ‘the only thing I know is that I’m Jewish,’” said Mushky. “That’s the best, when you can provide people with a connection to their Judaism when they haven’t had one in so long.”
In addition to people who have lived in Royal Oak for decades, the Glitsensteins are also meeting a lot of young adults who are relatively new to the area and looking for a way to connect. Royal Oak has been a highly desirable location for young people for several years, and the Glistensteins are happy to be in a position to connect young Jews to one another and work together to create a close-knit community. Whether an out-of-towner recently moved to Metro Detroit for a job, or a young couple starting a family, the Glitsensteins are at the ready to welcome.
“One of the things that’s been most surprising is how interested people are in what we’re doing. You would think that in Metro Detroit, with so many Jewish organizations, if someone wanted to be involved Jewishly, they already would be because there are so many places and options,” said Mushky. “But even with all of that, and even though they are interested, they haven’t gotten involved. It took us knocking on their door and inviting them personally.”
The Glitsensteins aren’t just meeting folks by knocking on doors, they’re getting out into the community, going to events around Royal Oak, joining community groups, they even strolled down Main Street with a lulav over Sukkot. Mushky especially loves exercising and socializing with moms at Fuse45 Royal Oak.
The City of Royal Oak has been exceptional welcoming to the Glitsensteins, notably the city’s Community Engagement Specialist Judy Davids, who is the force behind Royal Oak’s new campaign “Rethink Royal Oak.” Judy made sure the Glitsensteins were at the city’s recent police station groundbreaking, which proved to be great opportunity to meet people and get the word out about the new Jewish Center.
“We went to the groundbreaking and set up a table with some fun stuff for Rosh Hashanah,” said Mushky. “A man came over to us with his son-in-law and said ‘I’m not Jewish, and my son-in-law isn’t either, but I have two Jewish daughters, because my ex-wife is Jewish.’ We connected with his daughters and their families, who were really open to meeting us, and now we’ve become good friends with them.”
Having moved in just before the High Holiday season, the couple set up a sukkah in the backyard and hosted multiple meals over Sukkot. They’ve also been having folks over for Shabbat Friday night meals almost every week in their new home on Lincoln just off of Woodward.
“We’re very grateful to be able to start the community center in this beautiful and inviting space that was so generously provided to us by Julie and Edward Hersch,” said Mushky. “The Hersch’s own this property and are letting us live here as a gift in memory of Edward’s beloved parents of blessed memory, Betty and Martin Hersch.”
And while the Jewish Center has only been open for a few months, the couple already has done some amazing things.
“After the tragedy in Pittsburgh, we wanted to something for our community. The Rebbe taught that after something bad happens, you need to do something good,” said Moishie. “So we made a goal to help eleven households put up eleven mezuzahs, each one in memory of an innocent soul lost.”
“Most of the people who reached out to us and wanted to put up a mezuzah we weren’t necessarily close to,” said Mushky. “But they heard about this opportunity, and the call woke up their neshamas. They wanted to honor the victims’ memories with this mitzvah. In just a couple hours, we had put up all eleven mezuzahs, but we kept going until everyone who wanted one had one.”
If you would like to learn more about the Royal Oak Jewish Center, you can visit their website at jewishroyaloak.com, find them on Facebook, shoot them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give them a call at 248.571.9197. The Glitsensteins would love to meet you!