Ben Falik is not that great.
By Dexter Davison
June 1, 2019
Don’t be so humble, you’re not that great.
– Golda Meir
Ben Falik is kind of exhausting to read, but he also speaks of the internal mania that many suburban dads keep buried inside.
– Michigan Press Association
Since you’ve all been such good boys and girls, I would like to take everybody in this entire audience out for milk and cookies.
– Andy Kaufman
Maybe it wasn’t a mistake for the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan to choose Ben Falik for the 2019 Leonard N. Simons History Award. That is up to history will decide.
Maybe it was for them to let him curate the event. That you can decide for yourself…
On June 11, the Jewish Historical Society will convene its annual meeting at the Bethel Community Transformation Center — historic home of Temple Beth El in Detroit — and the everyone is invited to an event that, if Ben Falik has anything to say about it, will have very little to do with Ben Falik.
First, there’s the venue. Woodward and Gladstone, the spiritual home of Breakers Covenant Church International and a host of community partners and programs.
“We feel privileged to be invited in to this historic space, and hope we can play our part in the wonderful work Pastor Aramis and Lady Rosanna Hines, Tyreka and all of the assembled community partners are doing to let this city and all of its stories shine,” says JHSM Executive Director Catherine Cangany, PhD.
Then, there’s Peg and Ann.
Judith Levin Cantor Lifetime Achievement Award: Peg Tracy-Finkelstein (left) was Born in Manistee and raised in Scottville, Michigan. She directs the Peg and Mort Finkelstein Archives at Temple Emanuel, established in 2002 with the goal of preserving the Jewish History of Grand Rapids and surrounding communities. The archives received the State of Michigan Historical Award in 2012.
Volunteer of the Year Award: Among her myriad community contributions, Ann Conrad has served on the Investment Committee of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan for nearly 20 years. To this day, Ann writes regular memos on the economic and market outlook for the benefit and interest of her fellow board members.
Ben? With glasses by Kirkland and all but two of his original teeth, it’s hard to believe that Ben has been advocating, agitating and occasionally aggravating locally for nearly 20 years:
- 100ish contributions to the Detroit Jewish News
- Community Correspondent for Street Beat on CW50
- short-lived but memorable baseball career
- unsubstantiated claim to being The Original Millennial
- substantiated claim to coining the word Backpacktacular
- Schusterman Foundation Fellowship
- work with the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs (MOCA) in the Kilpatrick administration
- recent acquisition of the world’s largest collection of Quantum Spirit: Apocalypse
- support of Drag Queen Story Time (replete with WaPo quote)
- and this picture with Kenan Thompson.
But enough about Ben! Per his programmatic prerogative, Ben has opted to forego traditional awardee remarks in favor of an Open Space experience, in which the attendees can curate their own encounters using the Law of Two Feet:
Explore the extraordinary space, nosh to your heart’s content and let your curiosity carry you between conversations with guests from some of the organizations Ben has had the privilege of partnering with over the years.
In the Ben’s Friends* section of the sanctuary, Ben will interview some of remarkable people he has worked with about their efforts to strengthen community.
*While this is the same name as Falik’s 1995 muppet-themed Temple Kol Ami Bar Mitzvah, there will be no sermon and fewer hot-air balloon centerpieces.
Featured partner organizations and distinguished guests will include:
Summer in the City
Just two weeks away from its 18th season of Service, Summer in the City continues to make it “fun, flexible and fulfilling” for volunteers from all walks of life to “paint, plant and play” in Detroit.
Ben co-founded Summer in the City with (fellow Temple Beth El pre-school alumni) Neil Greenberg and Michael Goldberg. Now Summer in the City boasts a diverse cohort of ten program directors, who live together and design murals, cultivate community gardens and develop youth enrichment programming that engage hundreds of volunteers a day, all summer long.
Repair the World
Ben’s home in Southwest Detroit for six years and a model for cities of service across the country, Repair the World Detroit is now led by Sarah Allyn and continues to attract dedicated fellows — both homegrown and new to town — who facilitate Jewish service learning focused on education and food justice.
This summer, Repair the World will cut the ribbon on Plaza Aztlán and mark six years of PeerCorps with an alumni reunion.
Detroit Food Academy
Detroit Food Academy works to inspire young Detroiters through culinary arts and food entrepreneurship. From cooking delicious healthy meals for friends and family to facilitating complex conversations with community to developing artisan food projects from scratch to market, students learn by transforming their ideas into reality.
There will be free samples.
Arts and Scraps
Since 1989, Arts & Scraps has been providing hands-on learning and creative experiences both at their east-side facility and throughout Southeast Michigan.
Now, Arts & Scraps is looking to reach beyond its quarter of a million past participants through a pop-up shop at 1645 Clark, Summer in the City’s new community space.
The Jewish Fund
Established in 1997 from the sale proceeds of Sinai Hospital to the Detroit Medical Center, The Jewish Fund continues Sinai’s tradition of assuring excellent and compassionate care for those in need in Metropolitan Detroit by awarding grants to help vulnerable individuals improve their health and human condition.
Summer in the City received the 2010 Robert Sosnick Award for Excellence and used the resources to purchase its Detroit headquarters.
Bethel Community Transformation Center
Our host for the evening, BCTC is a coalition of local clergy, community leaders, visionaries and builders who provide stewardship for the historic Temple Beth El building as both a physical and conceptual space for reconciliation, community building and unity of purpose between people of diverse races, religions, ages and geographies.
Detroit Jews For Justice
Detroit Jews for Justice builds solidarity in the metro Jewish community for grassroots-led movements. DJJ focuses work that is actionable, winnable, and relevant to the lived experience of people in our region. They weave arts, song, and prayer into our organizing practice, building relationships and offering opportunities for issue-based education, organizing training, and the study of history.
DJJ is currently focused on advocacy for water rights and recently celebrated the shuttering of Detroit’s incinerator as part of a diverse coalition that fought the environmental injustice for years.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization committed to covering one of America’s most important stories: the effort to improve schools for all children, especially those who have historically lacked access to a quality education.
Under the local leadership of Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat provides rigorous, accessible insights into the complex social, political and economic landscape of public educational in Detroit.
Building a movement that strengthens Jewish life and contributes to a more environmentally sustainable world for all, Hazon locally hosts the Michigan Jewish Food Festival, partners with the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, provides a Seal of Sustainability to area organizations, operates the Topsy Turvy Bus …
… and a stationary bike that makes smoothies when you ride it that will be at the Historical Society event to meet your cycling and smoothie needs.
The Annual Meeting of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan will commence at 6:30. Doors open at 6:00 and awards begin at 7:00. Click here to register or tell them Dexter Davison sent you when you arrive: 8801 Woodward Avenue, ample parking in lot off Gladstone.
Dexter Davison is the nom de plume of local writer and nonprofiteer Ben Falik.
Photos and videos courtesy of JCC of Metro Detroit.