(Photo: Michael Russotto as Morrie and Cody Nickell as Mitch Albom in the stage production of Tuesdays With Morrie. Photo by Teresa Castracane.)

On September 15, The Jewish Community Center (The J) of Metropolitan Detroit’s Berman Theater will welcome a production of Tuesdays With Morrie as part of the show’s first-ever Michigan tour. The featured performance, which will run through the 18th at The J, comes to West Bloomfield to round out its six-week tour across the state in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the publication of Mitch Albom’s book by the same name.

Actors Cody Nickell as Mitch Album and Michael Russotto as Morrie.
Photo by Teresa Castracane.

“For the first time in the 20 years since the play was created, it is running in my home state,” says Albom. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity for Michiganders to see the play and for the interaction that takes place after the shows, where a talkback takes place.”

The opening night at The J will include a pre-glow, presentation of The J’s Boneh Kehilah Award (Builder of Community), live performance and talkback, and a dessert reception. Chaired by Matt Lester and Ian Burnstein, the evening benefits The J’s family, youth, cultural arts programming and technology.

Playwright Mitch Albom and former president of The J Mark Rubenfire will receive this year’s award as the sixth set of community builder and leader of The J honorees. Past awardees have included Roger Penske, Bill Ford Jr., Mark Reuss, Hugh Greenberg, Bob Aronson, Florine Mark, and Ira Jaffe.

Mitch Albom

“These are two people who are worthy of being celebrated,” says Brian Siegel, CEO of the J, about Albom and Rubenfire. “They’re a part of a history of distinguished awardees.”

Mark Rubinfire

Rubenfire is the longest serving president in the agency’s history, as he was asked to extend his term during the pandemic from a typical two years to nearly four. “Mark was the steadfast steward of the J during this historically uncertain time,” says Siegel. “Every time the organization had to scenario plan to survive and move forward, Mark was there, keeping us moving in the right direction.” 

Rubenfire, who served on the J’s camp committee and was a lay leader for its Maccabi Games before stepping into the role of president in 2019, says Covid transformed his work with the J into a second “full-time” job. The real estate attorney says he found himself on the phone twice a day in an effort to help navigate the J’s high-priority issues, and is proud of what the J has been able to accomplish. His term ended in November, but not before he helped guide the J into its next chapter.

Under Rubenfire’s leadership, the J was reimagined, explains Siegel. “With his critical help, The J is now in its best financial position in 40 years and, at the same time, best positioned to move the needle on strengthening Jewish community over the next 40 years.”

Also on the board of Project Healthy Community, a charity his parents founded serving northwest Detroit out of the Northwest Activities Center, Rubenfire says he is honored to receive The J’s award, and excited to be paired with Mitch Albom. He says he is looking forward to a meaningful evening that will help further support the J. “I think the role of The J is bringing people in the community together,” he says. “I hope the event does that.”

Matt Lester, who has known Rubenfire as an attorney and friend for over 25 years, says the award is well-earned. “I have yet to meet anyone who has conducted themselves with the level of integrity, professionalism and compassion that Mark has consistently displayed to me and to everyone he encounters,” he notes.  

Ian Burnstein adds that Rubenfire has enriched his life as well in several capacities – as his camp counselor, work mentor, attorney and friend. “He has been there for me at nearly every stage of my life and he is reliable, supportive and a tremendous friend,” Burnstein says of the awardee. “I know that my life is far better and a far richer place with Mark in it.”

Meanwhile, Albom’s community-based work includes founding SAY Detroit, an umbrella organization that helps Detroiters access shelter, food, medical care and more, and his dessert store, the Detroit Water Ice Factory, the profits from which also support the charity. He is recognized for substantial international philanthropic work as well. 

“I try my best to be a responsible citizen of the community I live in and to use the gifts I’ve been given to communicate to others the plight of people less fortunate,” Albom says. “I think communities are built on compassion. So to whatever degree I have helped to build that in our metro Detroit community I am honored to be recognized for it.”

Tickets for this special opening night event can be purchased here.