JCRC/AJC and Hartman Institute

(Photo: New cohort members pose for a group photo.)

In 2019, the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) opened an office in Detroit thanks to generous support from the William Davidson Foundation. At that time, Detroit was among the many Jewish communities throughout North America working to engage and strengthen Jewish communal life, a sense of peoplehood, and to understand the changing nature of the relationship between Israel and American Jews.

Founded in Israel, SHI is a center of transformative thinking and teaching that addresses the major challenges facing the Jewish people today and elevates Jewish life in Israel and around the world. SHI NA hired Rebecca Starr to oversee the Midwest office and her role in the organization shifted as she also serves as the Director of Regional Programs.

When Hartman started to bring ideas and scholars to the Detroit community, they organized four cohort groups. These included educators and rabbis, communal professionals and the local Jewish Funders Network. The fourth cohort was established as a pilot program in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee (JCRC/AJC). The Detroit Community Leadership Program (DCLP) invited applicants to apply to be part of a diverse cohort of metropolitan Detroit’s most influential Jewish lay leaders. The aim of this group, which was led by scholars from the Shalom Hartman Institute, was to set a conceptual framework for understanding the relationship between Israel and North American Jewry, to mediate the tone and tenor of complex communal discourse and to bring what they learned back to the organizations and institutions in which they hold leadership positions. 

“The Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee has been thrilled to partner with the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America for the last two years,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the organization’s executive director. “It is vital that we support community leaders as they study how Jewish sources and traditions lead to the values and advocacy that the Jewish community and our organization support for the wider world.”

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

In the DCLP’s first few months, participants had the opportunity to meet and learn, in person, alongside visiting scholars such as Elana Stein Hain and Lauren Berkun. However, once the pandemic began, the format and goals of the program changed as sessions were held solely on Zoom and the trip the group planned to take to Israel in June of 2020 with other leaders from across North America was canceled. To pivot amid this challenge, the Jewish communal conversation grew under these changing circumstances with participants expanding their conversations to include questions that arose as a result of the pandemic and challenging political situations in both Israel and the US.  The work shifted from a focus on Israel exclusively to one that helped leaders think about the role of leaders in times of crisis. 

Audrey Bloomberg and Rebecca Starr

“Being part of the Detroit Community Leadership Program exceeded all of my expectations,” said Audrey Bloomberg, a member of this first cohort. “I feel so fortunate to have participated over the last two years in thoughtful conversations with not only scholars, but fellow Detroiters who have all been working in our community. Especially during the pandemic, coming together with my cohort gave me an opportunity to connect with my community in a deeply meaningful way and gave me respite to think about our community through a different lens.”

She added, “As someone who volunteers and works in our Jewish community, engaging in Hartman work gave me the space and place to think in a different way. Because of my involvement in DCLP, I began engaging in the other resources Hartman provides such as podcasts. I cannot recommend enough for individuals to check out the podcasts, virtual summits and articles that Hartman produces. You do not need to be part of the cohort to experience Hartman Torah.”

A new group of nearly two dozen lay leaders will soon begin their learning as the second DCLP cohort, with several members of the first cohort serving as mentors. The new members are:

Jonathan Aaron
Brad Axelrod
Alicia Chandler
Michael Curhan
Suzan Curhan
Andrew Doctoroff
Ken Gold
Ryan Hertz
Jeffrey Klein
Susan Klein
Jodie Krasnick
Ellen Lipton
Marc Lipton
Beth Margolin
Steve Margolin
Andi Nitzkin
Sarah Roberts
Larry Winer
Michelle Younger

Rebecca Starr noted, “The Institute is thrilled to welcome this incredible group of leaders to the newest local cohort. Our work together will bring an opportunity to explore our complex relationship with Israel as Jews in North America. Hartman faculty will bring challenging thoughts, ideas and frameworks for the group to consider together. This moment in Jewish history is one that requires study, debate and conversation around the future of Jewish peoplehood. I look forward to learning with this DCLP group, along with Hartman’s other local cohorts of professional leaders throughout the year, and to watching them bring their wisdom to the larger Jewish community of Metro Detroit.” 

This year, the cohort’s topic of study includes time spent bringing Jewish values into conversations about Israel. When participants begin their learning, they will explore the ways in which their relationship to Israel unites and divides and how deep polarization affects their work as communal leaders. Each participant will have an opportunity to engage with new ideas and to make them work at the institutions they represent.

Participants will meet in person at various community locations, and on Zoom for some sessions, as well as have opportunities for reflection. In June, if travel allows, they will spend an intensive week-long seminar on Hartman’s Jerusalem campus.

Alicia Chandler

Alicia Chandler, JCRC/AJC’s immediate past president, was involved with envisioning the DCLP in 2019 and will now be a member of the newest cohort, “I am so thrilled to be able to take part in this experience through Shalom Hartman. Hartman is the thought-leader for the Jewish community on issues of pluralism and Israel-Diaspora relations and it is so exciting that this learning has been brought to Detroit.”

Added cohort participant Jon Aaron, “I am excited and honored to be able to learn with, and from, some of the greatest minds in the Jewish world. The Shalom Hartman Institute has become the preeminent destination for Jewish thought and idea dissemination.

John Aaron

The Detroit Hartman cohort has gathered some of Detroit’s wisest individuals and Jewish leaders and provided me with the opportunity to learn and grow my Jewish identity alongside these remarkable individuals. I look forward to increasing my Jewish awareness and being able to share my newfound wisdom with my wife and children.” 

For more information about the Shalom Hartman Institute and the DCLP, visit https://www.hartman.org.il/program/detroit/ or email Rebecca Starr at rebecca.starr@shalomhartman.org. For more information about JCRC/AJC visit www.jcrcajc.org or email Lauren Herrin at herrin@jfmd.org.