Glory, Gold, Gezunt!

The 2019 JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest showcased competitive athletes, talented artists and Detroit as the host with the most.

(recommended for effect)

Last month, as Dexter Davison and most of metro Detroit succumbed to the humidity and dreamed of cruising — like so many Ancient Greeks and their chariots circa the Seleucid Empire — modern maccabees, from the midwest and beyond, met a mightier mission.

Some 1,700 teen participants from 46 delegations descended upon Detroit for the JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest. Teams traveled from as far as Israel, Great Britain and exotic parts of Canada to compete and collaborate. With a new location each year, Maccabi perennially draws on vision and values of each venerable venue.

And Detroit, long lauded for its hospitality, is now officially the host with the most. This marks the 6th time Detroit has played Maccabi host, an all-time record since the games began in 1982.*

After months of planning by the host committee and training by the teens — all leaning on 700 volunteers and 380 host families — the games kicked off with opening ceremonies at the Pizzarena:

Fantastic feats of athleticism and artistry filled the following five days, including:


Detroit Hockey came from behind in the semifinals to tie the game 3-3 and force overtime. They punched their ticket to the gold medal game by with sudden-death goal from Jacob Budabin off an assist from Ryan Becker.

Celebrating on both sides of the glass after an overtime goal clinches a spot in the finals.


Detroit took gold in the Israeli Dance, the premier event in competitive dance. When they weren’t going toe to toe in the Games or rehearsing for ArtsFest, all the dancers worked together wrapping presents for Bottomless Toy Chest as part of JCC Cares.


Both boys basketball teams made the podium in their hometown games. The U14 team entered the championship game undefeated, securing silver, and the U16 cagers netted bronze.


Unlike many of the competing cities that stock their rosters with 15 and 16 year olds, Detroit assembled a girls team with players as young as 12. A 1-0 loss to Ft. Lauderdale kept Team Detroit out of the championship game, but their decisive 3-0 victory over Orange County secured the bronze.


Mitchell Blackman, the All-Catholic League infielder and pitcher from the Frankel Jewish Academy pitched a complete game in Detroit’s quarter-finals game against Los Angeles. Blackman’s arm carried the team into extra innings, where they finally succumbed to the SoCal sluggers.


Of the 12 swimmers on Team Detroit, one came (by car) from Windsor and another courtesy of Coldwater, Michigan.

Ariel Ser, a 12-year-old participant, had never swum (or swam) competitively before and had only two weeks to prepare for the games. He found his sea legs — shaking off any mermaid references and dropping his times in the breast stroke and free style by over 10 seconds.

Ariel’s aquatastic attitude earned him a Midot Medal, the highest honor of the Games, bestowed upon athletes and artists who embody one of the values of Maccabi and go above and beyond what is required.

But that’s not all…

… not by a long shot or a high note. The 2019 JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest was wall-to-wall star-studded sportsball, social media and shaved ice …

Visual Arts

Rock ‘n Roll

Culinary Arts



Ball Pit**

Improv Comedy

If you’re feeling FOMO —or want to know mo’ — planning is well underway for the Maccabi 2020.

Dexter Davison is the nom de plume of local writer and nonprofiteer Ben Falik.

Photos and videos courtesy of JCC of Metro Detroit.

*The Maccabi movement dates back to 1895 Constantinople, but that’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

**Provisional Maccabi events.

The Gals of Summer

Like fireworks and complaining about fireworks, Summer in the City returned (much sparkle, minimal complaints) alongside the solstice this year. Summer #18 has seen chai highs, as the program makes it practical, productive and purposeful for hundreds of local volunteers to paint, plant and play. They come from across the region and down the street — some for just a day, others day after day after day — each with an opportunity to be the change they wish to see in Detroit.

Developed over decades as a “do-ocracy,” the Crew consists of over 50 young leaders who design murals, cultivate gardens and plan field trips for campers to bounce around Belle Isle and discover downtown. But mostly they facilitate service experiences that, no matter your background — Благодаря ти to our Bulgarian volunteers! — are fun, flexible and fulfilling.

Three Jewish members of the Crew — like its founders only female and focused — have made an indelible impact on the program this year…

Paint Pro: Tania Miller

A newly minted Groves graduate, Tania returned for her 4th Summer as part of the team that co-creates murals in every corner of the city. Paint Crew spends months leading up to the Summer identifying partner projects that will project positivity — and hours every week prepping walls so that anyone can participate “paint by numbers” style.

Paint Project: John R & State Fair

The corner of State Fair and John R straddles eras, communities and possibilities. The owners wanted something that evoked memories of the Michigan State Fair (if not John R himself) with a constructive feeling for the future of their neighborhood. They graciously rejected the first design that Tania and Riley Montgomery proposed, so they went back to the literal drawing board.

Over the many project days painting the mural with Team Tania, volunteers have gotten to learn about nearby Chaldean Town, sample Dutch Girl Donuts, meet neighbors and greet passersby in the process of contributing to a lasting piece of public art.

Paint Personally: Willing Warrior

“I have always loved Detroit but Summer in the City has changed my relationship with Detroit. Before I started volunteering, I just loved Detroit because I thought it had cool spots and restaurants, but now I love it for the history, complexity and possibilities beyond downtown and midtown.

“Beyond painting walls, I’ve learned so much about different issues that I can educate others and begin to advocate for social justice causes. If not for Summer in the City, I would have overlooked Wayne State. Now, I couldn’t imagine continuing my education and engagement anywhere else.”

Plant Pro: Emily Lulkin

Emily got to dig into Detroit’s grassroots through PeerCorps in high school. She stayed at the Summer in the City house for a week during Gesher, an immersive experience designed to expose her cohort to the root causes of issues that marginalize many Detroiters before serving as mentors for the year. At Kalamazoo College, she is majoring in French (en route to studying abroad in Clermont-Ferrand) with a concentration in Jewish Studies and a term on the Hillel board.

Plant Project: Eden Gardens Block Club

When Emily signed on to be a co-director of Project Plant, she was quick to suggest Eden Gardens as a prospective partner. Blooming with inter-generational energy, even as City Airport down the street goes to seed, Eden Gardens had been Emily’s PeerCorps site. She knew that it would be a place volunteers could make and impact — and that working with Chava and her neighbors could make an impact on them.

Plant Personally: East to Eden

“Two years after PeerCorps taught me about Jewish history and Jewish values in Detroit, I’m back in the city and I get to pick up right where I left off. When I was working with Eden Gardens in high school, they were looking to build a playground and plant a fruit orchard across the street. This summer, I got to be there for the grand opening of both. It’s so rewarding to see projects like that come to fruition.

“Even working for a secular organization, I feel deeply connected to the Jewish history here. I moved into the Summer in the City House only to learn that my great aunt was the principal of Maybury Elementary School down the street for decades. My family used to live and work and play in the exact same areas that I am.

“I’ve experienced a new connection to Judaism through Summer in the City, drawing from my Jewish identity to work in solidarity with people from all different backgrounds.”

Play Pro: Aria Peterson

After her junior year at Farber Hebrew Day School, Aria Peterson had the option to do a paid internship as a member of the Jewish Fund Teen Board. She knew she didn’t want to sit at a desk all day, so she took a chance on Summer in the City. Prior to the summer, she participated in a training through Playworks and brainstormed games and craft ideas with new and returning Camper Coordinators.

Play Project: Highland Park Rec Center

Last year, Summer in the City helped Highland Park mark its centennial with a mural on their recreation center and a celebration at Reggie McKenzie Field. Based on the enthusiastic community response, the rec center created a new day camp, with programming provided by Summer in the City. Campers have tie-dyed T-shirts, collected books for their home libraries and gone on field trips every week.

Play Personally: Almost Aliyah

“I’m the 4th generation of my to live in the same house on Webster Street in Oak Park, one mile (plus one block) from the city limits. But I can admit it — I used to be afraid of Detroit. More based on it being unknown than unsafe. This summer has changed my entire perspective on Detroit and its relationship with the suburbs. 

“Before Summer in the City, I had never worked with kids before. I am the baby of my family, so it has been a growth experience to lead campers and volunteers. At first, it was definitely out of my comfort zone. Because I had to work to get comfortable, it’s easy for me to spot volunteers who are uncomfortable and help integrate them into our activities.

“My family is making Aliyah in a couple of weeks. I didn’t really know what I was signing up for with Summer in the City. Now I know that I will carry these experiences with me to Israel. 

Dexter Davison is the nom de plume of local writer and nonprofiteer Ben Falik.

Photos and videos courtesy of JCC of Metro Detroit.

Ben Falik is not that great.

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:

*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.

Nu? Trailers, Trailers, Trailers!

The JCC’s Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival — all cinema on the big screen, for that matter — thrives not just as reason to leave the house, but as a means of transportation itself.

Entertaining and engaging local audiences since 1998, this year’s festival travels to Israel, the Czech Republic, Spain, Ethiopia and beyond. Multiple screenings bring the lights up and the experience live through panel discussions or multimedia performance.

Dexter’s Take

And, for those of us whose young children, elderly pets, listless evenings or restless legs keep them from the sneaking away to the silver screen, there’s trailers. Glorious trailers. As the name suggests, trailers once humbly followed the movie — before migrating to the top of the ticket and, arguably, transcending feature filmmaking as a medium.

A good preview can make you forget what movie you showed up to see in the first place. Some make promises their full-length versions can’t keep. Others blow the dust off old film reels and transport them across genres.

To be clear, you should go — in person and on time — to the Detroit Jewish Film Festival. The staff and volunteers consumed untold quantities of Junior Mints in the process of finding fine films for filling a festive fortnight.

And turn off your phone. Not just the ringer. All the way off. That’s better.

You also have Dexter’s permission to enjoy these trailers like a Costco sample, free from the guilt of forgoing or strain of committing to the 27-pound bucket of macaroni and cheese.

And if one of them doesn’t grab you right away, it probably just needs more Solsbury Hill.

The Samuel Project

The Samuel Project: “Eli gets to know his grandfather Samuel for the first time when he makes him the subject of an animation project for school. With dreams of becoming an artist, Eli discovers how Samuel was, as a boy, heroically saved from the Nazis.”

Dexter’s Trailer Take: This trailer has everything — inter-generational tension, inter-generational bonding, inter-cultural slang sharing, a butcher, a long-haired loner who claims he’s “not really looking for friends.”

Actor Ryan Ochoa is no stranger to overcoming hardship, having survived a recurring role on Nickelodeon’s iCarly and 67 episodes of a Disney Channel show in which he tries to thwart his fraternal twin teenage cousins who have leapfrogged him in succession to rule a fictitious Pacific island nation.


YidLive! “Join Jamie & Eli, the creators and stars of the award-winning Yiddish-ish web series YidLife Crisis — in the fleisch! The boychiks from Montreal present an evening of comedy, film and music reflecting their unique take on the modern Jewish experience. No knowledge of Yiddish required. Sense of humor requested. Appropriate for ages 21 – 118.”

Dexter’s Trailer Take: This isn’t a trailer, per se, though it works well as a teaser for Jamie and Eli’s return to Detroit for a live performance on Wednesday, May 8, at Ridley’s Comedy Castle. More importantly, the webisode features our very own JKatz, Rabbi Silverman and Pastor Hines.

Ben Falik partook in a schvitz with YidLife Crisis when they were in town last year. They are good guys — just about the funniest French Canadian Jewish duo he’s ever met — and they have a real libshaft for Detroit. While the evening at Ridley’s won’t be as sweaty, it will at least be less sweaty.

Mr. and Mrs. Adelman

Mr. and Mrs. Adelman: “For more than 45 years, Sarah and Victor have been together. How did they do it? Who is Sarah, this enigmatic woman always in the shadow of her husband? Love, ambition and secrets feed this unusual couple’s odyssey. Awarded the Cesar Award for Best Actress and Best First Feature Film.”

Dexter’s Trailer Take: If you push play and notice there is a problem loading, remove the cartridge, blow forcefully in the slot and return to playing Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

If the issue is with the trailer above, do not despair — Ronnie Rocket confirms “Psst, YOU FORGOT THE SUBTITLES!” His fellow Youtube commenters seems split on the movie. From England, “a rollercoaster of emotions, the ups and downs and laughter and tears.. wow just wow!!! Thank you, Nicolas, for making this beauty! Such a beautiful story!”

By way of retort, Денис Бельский parries, “Please, make less movies.”

While the trailer is entirely compelling en français, the award-winning film will indeed have subtitles throughout. And, one presumes, at least as much bottomless vacuuming.


Fractures: “Oded, a renowned professor and scientific researcher, is on his way to receiving a prestigious award, accompanied by his wife Merav. A call comes in from the police, asking him to stop by to answer a few questions. In an instant, their world crumbles. Noa, a graduate student of his, has accused him of sexual coercion. The film takes place in a single day, where the family’s life comes apart.”

Dexter’s Trailer Take: And you thought you were having a rough Monday, Garfield! This Israeli take on the Great Man Theory colliding with the #metoo movement makes for a riveting preview. And Stan Erivan’s “Love Is A Game” — enigmatic even after extensive internet sleuthing — is now officially Dexter Davison’s second favorite trailer track.

Trailing right behind…


Dexter Davison is the nom de plume of local writer and nonprofiteer Ben Falik.

Photos and videos courtesy of JCC of Metro Detroit.

ICYMI: Limmud Michigan

On March 31, over 500 participants braved the unseasonable weather for Limmud Michigan, “an inclusive festival of unexpected Jewish learning run totally by volunteers.”

As part of My Jewish Detroit’s occasional series In Case You Missed It (ICYMI or, as is often the case, icyMI), Dexter Davison provides a snapshot of just some of the 70+ sessions from the 4th Annual Limmud Michigan.

Dexter’s Take

An embarrassment of riches! The depth and dynamism of local learning at Limmud is remarkable. The presenters’ intellectual rigor, zealous advocacy, creativity and humor were reflected back by the participants.

I was torn between multiple topics and presenters during each of the day’s 6 rounds. (Lunch was less of a dilemma … veggie wrap for the win. And the Costco snacks, all with recycling and composting courtesy of Hazon…)

I’ve included quick look at each of the sessions I attended — as well as some where I had to settle for being there in spirit — though I can hardly do justice to all the thought-provoking content and edifying engagement. Suffice it to say, this is not a top ten list.

My advice is to get there in person next year. Or better yet, volunteer.

1. Jewish Monsters Beyond the Golem

Who: Justin Sledge

What: Fantastical creatures abound in the world’s folklore. Dragons, faeries, imps, ghosts, genies and such fill stories and myths. Yet, Judaism tends to downplay the role of such creatures in its religious life. Despite this, wonderful and terrible creatures abound in Jewish folklore. A tremendous unicorn, a temple-making magical mite, and terrible sea monsters rivaling G-d all abound in Jewish folklore.

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Dexter’s Take: I will never think about unicorn’s the same way again.

2. The Right, Left, or In-Between: Understanding Anti-Semitism

Who: Professor Howard Lupovitch

What: Two issues pertaining to the phenomenon of Anti-Semitism: the similarities and differences between right-wing and left-wing Anti-semitism; and the fine line between Anti-Zionism/Antagonism to the State of Israel as a form of post-racial Anti-Semitism, on the one hand, and criticism of the State of Israel that is not Anti-Semitism, on the other.

Sample Source: “The Jewish Problem: How To Solve It” by Louis Brandeis (1915)

“Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. A man is a better citizen of the United States for being also a loyal citizen of his state, and of his city; for being loyal to his family, and to his profession or trade; for being loyal to his college or his lodge.

“Every Irish American who contributed towards advancing home rule was a better man and a better American for the sacrifice he made. Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine, though he feels that neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so…”

Dexter’s Take: Howard (first names/no titles at Limmud) gave us useful concepts and context for for untangling what just might be the knottiest issue imaginable. With sources ranging from Wagner to the Hamas Charter to Cornel West, Howard encouraged us toward nuance and proportionality in understanding and responding to Anti-Semitism.

3. The Tax Foreclosure Crisis in Detroit: What is it and why should I care?

Who: Lauren Fine and Gabe Slabosky

What: What’s the deal with the tax foreclosure crisis in Detroit? Is it even still a crisis? Why should Jews care about this issue? In this session, we will learn about the tax foreclosure crisis as it stands today, the problem of housing injustice in Detroit, the ways in which Detroiters can be helped to stay in their homes, the scope of the problem of tax foreclosure, how it is unconstitutional, and the ways in which this is a Jewish issue.

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Dexter’s Take: Tax foreclosure touches every neighborhood in Detroit, ripples beyond the city limits and, most importantly, robs children of the stability they need and deserve. Lauren and Gabe drew on their outstanding work with Detroit Jews for justice to put this broken system into a historical, regional and political context.

4. In the year 2525, if man is still alive, will Jews survive?

Who: Professor Ira Sheskin

What: In 1969, Zager and Evans, in a number one song, wondered if man would still be here in the year 2525. In 2013, the Pew Research Center completed a major survey of American Jews in which they assessed the condition of the American Jewish community. So in the year 2019, we look at the Pew survey and see both reasons for hope and reasons for concern as to the long-term future of American Jews. Some data from the recently completed study of Detroit Jews is included to highlight factors on which the Detroit Jewish community differs from the national picture.

Dexter’s Take: Ira recently completed a local population study (in-depth information available online), but this session was focused on the American Jewish population. The Pew Research Center did a nationwide study of Jewish Americans in 2013 and is preparing to do a follow-up next year. Even as it grapples with generational dynamics and tracks broader national trends, the American Jewish Community, as Ira shows, is “strong and well organized.”

Two constituencies Ira assured us are well represented in our community:

The Jewish Pessimist: “Things can’t possibly get any worse.”

The Jewish Optimist: “Yes they can!”

5. Welcoming the Stranger: Our Journey to a Detention Center for Migrant Children and a Vision for Compassion at Our Borders

Who: Rebecca Epstein, Rachel Goldberg, Abbie Egherman, Wendy Lawrence

What: In November 2018, we joined our rabbi and faith leaders from all over the country in protest outside of the detention center for unaccompanied minors in Tornillo, Texas. Understanding that, as Jews, we are commanded to welcome the stranger, we felt compelled to demonstrate, bear witness, and use our voices to urge our elected officials to end the practice of child detainment and shut this facility down.

As Jews, and, more broadly, as concerned humans who understand that “never again” means that we must stand up in the face of injustice, we felt compelled to witness that which was being done by our government and use our privilege to protest that which we find unjust. In this session, we share our reflections on our experiences at Tornillo (and in El Paso and Juarez) as well as ideas for future action.

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Dexter’s Take: If not us, who? Check out HIAS’ Guide To Becoming A Sanctuary Congregation

6. Facing Our Fears: Intermarriage, Identity and Israel – Oh My!

Who: University of Michigan Jewish Community Leadership Program students

What: The Jewish community is afraid of many things – Israel conversations, intermarriage, the continuity crisis, the future of Jewish communal institutions, and more. Without acknowledging these fears, our decisions can be irrational, and to create a stronger Jewish community we must create space to process and understand these fears personally and communally. As social work students we seek to analyze why and how we talk about our fears, and how we can transition from conversations of fear to those of hope which will create a stronger vision for the Jewish future.

Dexter’s Take: Powerful session. Upon entering the room (thank you, Frankel Jewish Academy for hosting), we received sticky notes and could place them under the things that we fear for the Jewish people.

With the social work students as our facilitators, we acknowledged the validity and power of fear as an emotional response — and the consequences of making fear-based decisions. Then we explored strategies for responding to an reframing our fears.

7. Civil Discourse between People Who Totally Disagree: Is it Possible?

Who: Rabbi Asher Lopatin

What: Why should people who are different in political views or religious views, or from totally different backgrounds get together and try to connect through Civil Discourse?  Asher Lopatin will make the case that not only is this exactly what America needs, but also that this is the way to strengthen our communities and civic structures: we have to come together, we have to find a way of partnering and even enjoying each other’s fellowship even if we may be totally different on critical issues or attitudes.  Come here and argue (civilly, of course) and let’s figure this out.

Dexter’s Take: Asher has only been in Michigan eight months and, in that short time, has developed strong relationships in the Muslim community. He explored historical precedents for going it alone (sorry, Samaritans) and for working together (pre-polygamy Solomon), reminding us that the same freeways that can get us home in a hurry can also ferry us to Dearborn, Hamtramck and other corners of our community we might otherwise bypass.

8. How Jewish is Feminism?

Who: Professor Karla Goldman

What: While the history of the American women’s movement of the 1960s and 70s is generally recounted with little reference to Jewish identity, some observers note that most leading feminists of that era seem to have been Jewish.  Indeed, although it’s easy to locate influential Jewish feminists, few of them emphasized their Jewish identity at the time. This session will look at the erasure of Jewish identity both by historians and by those who sought to join what they saw as a universal struggle for liberation. It will then take up the question of what might be learned if we began to look at the history of feminism through a Jewish lens.

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Dexter’s Take: It’s fascinating to explore the Jewish seeds that are part of sprouting social and political movements, even (or especially) when popular narratives downplay the Jewish influences or identities of movement leaders and participants.

Appropriate for Karla to take a historical perspective following “The Jewish Future is Feminist,” a communal conversation hosted by her second year Jewish Communal Leadership Program students last month.

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9. From Egypt to Postville (and beyond): Jewish thoughts on migrant labor

Who: Ruby Robinson

What: The Jewish people have, throughout its history, been primarily migratory. Almost all major figures in Jewish tradition have physically migrated as a result of divine intervention (from slavery), famine, political instability, persecution, and/or economic opportunity to name a few reasons. Over successive millennia, Jews have migrated the world over for similar reasons. We will briefly examine Jewish migration from historical and halachic perspectives so as to explore more deeply the current experiences of migrants in the United States (and Israel).  

Dexter’s Take: In the 11 years since the federal raid on Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa — the largest immigration raid in US history — issues about where law, ethics, market forces and geopolitics intersect have only gotten more complex. Ruby recommends this Univision documentary for a look at the legacy of Postville.

10. The Old Neighborhood: Jewish Enclaves of Northwest Detroit

Who: Catherine Cangany

What: Examining the transformative effects of WWII on Michigan’s Jews by zeroing in on the neighborhoods in Northwest Detroit where they settled beginning in the 1930s.  Take a walk down memory lane as the ten-square-mile community bounded by Eight Mile, Livernois, McNichols, and Evergreen is discussed, focusing on well-known synagogues, businesses, institutions, schools–and the little-known landmarks, including the “Birwood Segregation Wall.”

Dexter’s Take: There would be no Dexter Davison without Dexter-Davison.

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Dexter’s Take: There would be no Dexter Davison without Dexter-Davison.

Dexter Davison is the nom de plume of local writer and nonprofiteer Ben Falik.

Photos and videos courtesy of JCC of Metro Detroit.

Sammy Davis Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr. — The Greatest Entertainer in the World — is the subject of I Gotta Be Me, “the first major film documentary to examine Sammy Davis Jr.’s vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th century America.”

I Gotta Be Me, which premiered at the JCC’s Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival last year and aired last month on Detroit Public Television, has My Jewish Detroit wondering …

… was Sammy Davis Jr. Our Jewish Detroit?

Specifically, where does the Mr. Show Business fit into the venn diagram of Jewish and Detroit?

By birth? Neither.

He was born in Harlem to Baptist African-American Sammy Davis Sr. and Catholic Afro-Cuban Elvera Sanchez, both Vaudeville dancers. Owing to his parents, Sammy was a seasoned performer by the time he crooned “I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal you” in the 1932 film Rufus Jones for President.

So Davis wasn’t born in Detroit — or even Michigan. Neither was Hank Greenberg, Joe Louis, Max Fisher or Aretha Franklin.

Considering he started touring with his dad as part of the Will Mastin Trio at 3 years old, the city that can probably best claim his as its own is Las Vegas, though he faced rampant discrimination there even as a headliner.

By one apocryphal account, Detroit is where it all began. In that recollection, nine-year-old Sammy slips out of the grasp of a truant officer and back onstage to perform at a Turk’s Club Trocadero on Fenkell thanks to Turk persuading the officer that he was a midget.

Danny’s timeline doesn’t quite line up — Sammy was 15 in 1940, only a few years away from being drafted into the army — but there’s ample evidence to show his connection to Detroit precedes the Rat Pack era.

According to, Sammy played 59 shows in Detroit between 1949 and 1990, the final one less than three months before he died.

(24858) NAACP, Fight for Freedom Dinner, Sammy Davis, Jr., 1960

He sang at the 5th NAACP Fight for Freedom Dinner in 1960. Damon Keith, then a practicing attorney four years away from being appointed to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and another three from the federal bench, was among the attendees.

Sammy Davis Jr.’s Judaism was national news. After the car accident that cost him his left eye, Davis found solace in Jewish chaplaincy and resonance in Jewish teachings about justice.


“The year came to an end and I returned to the rabbi. I gave him my answer, and NOT one ONE foot. I told him I wanted to be a Jew because I wanted to become part of a 5,000 year history and hold on to something not just material, which would give me that inner strength to turn the other cheek. Jews have become strong over their thousands of years of oppression and I wanted to become part of that strength. As a Negro, I felt emotionally tied to Judaism.”

“I wanted to become a Jew because it was the answer to a life filled with confusion and uncertainty. Judaism gave me security and understanding.”

– Why I became a Jew, Ebony Magazine, February 1960

He struggled to persuade Sam Goldwyn of his affiliation and need to miss a day of shooting George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in 1959 in order to observe Yom Kippur.

Image result for porgy and bess sammy

Goldwyn ultimately relented: “Sammy, you’re a little so-and-so, but go ahead with your yarmulkeh and your tallis. We’ll make arrangements to fit…” Holding up production for the day cost MGM $30,000 or, adjusted for inflammation, a quarter million dollars.

As for Detroit, connections were plentiful as both the city and Sammy enjoyed a national profile into the 1960s.

Davis and Walter Reuther were among the notable participants in 1963’s March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered the I Have a Dream speech first heard in Detroit two months earlier.

A Jewish cause first brought Sammy to Detroit that same year (having helmed the floor show for the Home Relief Society at the Windsor’s Elmwood Casino in in 1955) and he did not disappoint with either his offer to return to Detroit for a concert that fall or his thoughts about Israel.

“It is a warm, generous feeling to know that you belong. We must be governed by two great principles: 1. We must not be afraid to voice our opinion. 2. We can not guarantee our freedom if the freedom of others is menaced.

“The Freedom March was the greatest experience of my life … I’ve never been to Israel but Israel is my adoptive country and I don’t want to go there for money. I want to go there to give a series of benefits. This is the year of the redemption of the first Israeli Bonds and of the Freedom March, but the March and the Redemption does not mean the end, only the beginning of our efforts.”

And Sammy visited countless Detroiters, among the 21 million Americans who tuned in to see his big moment with Archie Bunker in 1972.

But it wasn’t until the the hardscrabble 1980s, after the city and star’s post-war peak, that they converged to create something both nostalgic and aspirational.

Berry Gordy Jr. and Motown had long since gone west by 1984, when Mayor Coleman Young reached out to him to write an anthem for the city.

Gordy has Sammy Davis Jr. in mind for the song and Sammy, for his part, “fell in love with it and felt it reflected his feelings on Detroit.”

Hello Detroit is not the best of the Motown Sound, nor did it have the place-making punch of Sinatra’s New York/Chicago or even Bennett’s San Francisco/Capital City.

But there’s an earnest tone to Davis’ voice — road weary and romantic — even as the reach of Gordy’s lyrics exceeds their grasp.

You’re a fighter, you’re a lover
You’re strong and you recover
From whatever gets you down

Image result for michigan chronicle fist repair

Those opening lines describe Sammy Davis Jr. just as well as they do Detroit and, for that matter, the resiliency he saw in his chosen people, “from one end of the world to the other, despised and rejected, searching for a home, for equality and human dignity, suffering the loneliness of being unwanted, surviving the destruction of their homes and their temples, the burning of their books.”

Hello Detroit, you’ve won my heart
Your renaissance, and waterfronts
Give you a flare of your own

Hello Detroit is oddly prophetic. It has taken the decades since the song, for example, to adapt the fortress architecture of the Renaissance Center and to piece together the RiverWalk from parcels of blight and brownfield.

And yet in 2019, if you seek flare — or soul or grit or heart — look about you!

Sammy Davis Jr. said, “My home has always been show business” and Detroit was always hospitable, even in the twilight of his career.

The trio’s five-night stand, replete with 30-piece orchestra, kicked off a new era for the Fox Theatre. The Fox originally opened in 1928, the same year a 3-year-old Sammy Davis Jr. performed for the first time. And the concert rebroadcast may have been the most dignified three hours of content to air on Showtime in all of 1989.

The Sammy Davis Jr. 60th Anniversary Celebration in 1990 — as the honoree was undergoing radiation treatment for throat cancer in the final months of his life — is extraordinary, both as tribute and time capsule.

The stars who graced the stage to fete Davis were as iconic as you’d expect (with heavy weight irony in hindsight) for a triple threat who performed on stage and screen for decades. Behind the scenes, Mumford (’62) and Wayne State (’66) alum Bruce Miller arranged the music for the Emmy-winning program.

While it’s unclear whether Sammy Davis Jr.’s car fetched the asking price at auction in Pontiac…

… it is as clear as a sunrise sprinkled with dew that Sammy Davis Jr. was and — daring to try, to do it or die — is our Jewish Detroit.

And there’s so many many reasons, any time, any season…

Image result for sammy davis jr delorean

Visit to stream I Gotta Be Me through March 19.

Images from the The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History and Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

Dexter Davison is the nom de plume of local writer and nonprofiteer Ben Falik.