By Nicole Frehsee Mazur
Ask Roz Blanck to describe herself, and she replies with two words: “very Jewish.”
Roz, of Franklin, simply means that she feels deeply connected to the Jewish community, both in Detroit and globally. “It’s something in my soul, my kishkas,” she says.
That connection has been part of Roz’s life since her early days in Oak Park, where she was surrounded by Jewish life — Hebrew school at B’nai David, summers at Camp Tamarack, a tight-knit group of family and friends who lived within blocks. Her father worked at the small auto parts store he owned with his mother while her mom raised Roz and her two siblings. “Someone once said Oak Park was like a Jewish ‘Leave It to Beaver,’” she says. “It was a wonderful place to grow up.”
Decades later, Roz, a mother of three grown children and grandmother of four, still feels deeply connected to her community — so connected, in fact, that she’s devoted a large part of her life to causes that help Metro Detroiters. Over the past 40 years, Roz has sat on dozens of Federation boards and committees, from Jewish Vocational Services (now Gesher), the Jewish Fund and the Jewish Community Relations Council to Tamarack Camps and Hillel of MSU. She’s also been president of Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Department and is the co-founder of Bookstock, which has raised almost $3 million for education and literacy programs throughout southeast Michigan and beyond.
There was no master plan behind deciding which commitments to take on, she says; she simply went where she was asked to go. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Federation agency or not,” says Roz, who received the 2023 William Davidson Lifetime Achievement Award from Federation. “We’re all one community, and we work as a whole.”
Why do you love volunteering so much?
I love being part of a community, I love people and I love connections. When you’re involved and you know different people, it’s a relationship builder. You just feel connected to the people around you and it makes you happier. I heard about this professor at one of the Ivy League schools who said the two ways of being happy are to be giving — not necessarily with money — and to care about others. I figured that out for myself somewhere along the line.
What was your introduction to volunteering?
I always liked to be busy, and that’s where my volunteering came from. Growing up, I was a camper and then a counselor at Tamarack, and even if there were only a few weeks between school and camp, I used to do things because I got bored easily. As a teenager, I worked as a candy striper at Sinai Hospital. I wore a red-and-white striped apron and would go around the hospital with books, coffee, and candy.
But what really changed my life in terms of volunteering was interning with Project JOIN during college. I worked in the planning department at the Federation building downtown and really learned what Federation was. I was enthralled by the Federation system and wrote my essay to get into law school [at University of Michigan] comparing Federation to a mini-government that took care of Jewish peoples’ needs.
After law school, I went to work at a small firm, but I knew it wasn’t right for me — I used to count the hours until I could leave. Around that time, someone asked me to join the board of Federation’s Young Adult Division. I must have liked it because I haven’t left Federation since.
You continued to volunteer while you were building your family. How did you balance both?
I put my kids first and then I could volunteer. Forty years ago I was on the board of Tamarack. I’d make dinner for my husband, Stanford, so I’d be late to the meetings, and then I would leave early so I could be home to put my infant daughter to bed. As my kids got older I started doing things between ten to three, when they were in school. That’s the difference between working and volunteering: You do what you can do when you can do it. [Roz’s oldest daughter, Lisa, is now 40 and lives in Denver; her son, Adam, a former NextGEN Detroit president, is 36 and lives in Bloomfield Hills; daughter Jenna is 30 and lives in New York.]
You were the president of Women’s Philanthropy for two years. What drew you to that department?
To be honest, I didn’t have the initiative, foresight, or confidence to think it out. Women’s Philanthropy is where [Federation] asked me to go and I did it. But I learned so much from my experience. Most of what I’ve learned about nonprofits and volunteering is from Women’s Philanthropy. I learned leadership skills, how to lead meetings, how people interact. In Women’s Philanthropy you have the opportunity to gather these skills and grow.
Of all the causes you’ve been involved with, which are closest to your heart, and why?
Bookstock and the David-Horodoker organization are my biggest passions.
At certain times in my life I wasn’t busy enough, and I was looking for something to do. Then I started Bookstock, a used-book and media sale that will be celebrating its 20th year next April. I started it with Jodi Goodman – we met at Hillel when our kids went to school there. It’s since evolved into a big project with 500 volunteers, some of whom work on it all year long. Bookstock has contributed almost $3 million to educational and literacy programs throughout southeast Michigan and beyond. It’s been so rewarding.
The David-Horodoker organization is a network of descendants from the same town in Belarus. My grandmother was active in the organization, and I became co-president about 30 years ago. Finding other Horodokers is a huge passion of mine. I’ve been to Belarus three times. The organization has also traveled to Cuba and Argentina with other Horodokers, and we’re planning a trip to Israel. We’re all interrelated, even if we don’t know each other. Creating and preserving memories for future generations is very important to me.
Why do you think Detroit’s Jewish community is so special?
I’ve only ever lived in Detroit, but everywhere I go, I hear that the Detroit Jewish community is different than most. For one, we’re very cohesive — we work together. And while people have deep roots here, our community is also very welcoming to new people. Think of all the people who are new to Detroit, bringing their spouses or coming for jobs. They’re being welcomed into this community. We want those young people here because, for many years, they weren’t coming. And now I think they are.
Any advice for those looking to volunteer but aren’t sure where to start?
There are tons of opportunities, so if you try something and don’t like it, don’t feel guilty; just find something that feels right. It’s not one-size-fits-all: Some people want to bag groceries once a week, and others want to sit in a committee meeting. You have to find what’s meaningful to you. The trick is to find people you like and do what you like. The people can trump the doing, or the doing can trump the people — but give it a chance either way because you really can get a lot out of it.
What’s a typical day in your life?
There are lots of meetings, which I’m very happy about. I’m happiest when I have five meetings in a day. My kids and friends make fun of me, but volunteering is really what I do most of the time. I’m in a book club, I read. But volunteering is my free time; it’s what I’m passionate about. Between volunteering and my family and friends, that’s my whole life.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m only 70 … I have a lot more to do! My hope is that I can be a mentor to others. My volunteer work over the years has provided me with such a full life. I want others to be able to take advantage and reap the benefits of volunteering, but if they don’t know about all the opportunities out there, or how rewarding it is, they can’t lean in that direction.