If there is one lesson to be learned in a world pandemic, it’s how connected we are and how vulnerable we are without the strength of our families, the reach of our networks and the support of community. In our public spaces - and even in our own homes – Covid has put to the test nearly every decision: how we gather in safety, how we meet and work productively, how we care for those we love, how we celebrate together, how we return to the activities that nourish and sustain body and mind, how we redefine what it means to build community.
“We’re at a pivotal moment,” says Brian D. Siegel, CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit. “The JCC had set a path to fundamentally change the nature of its business model and COVID-19 has served to accelerate that paradigm shift. We have been following the clear steps of a strategic plan that our Board adopted four years ago and I can say with pride that we’re finally in a place where we’re excited to tell our story.”
It’s 3 a.m. in the morning and Michelle Berman is still at her desk wrapping up another “long, hard week’s work” in the classroom created in the basement of her Orchard Lake home. An elementary school teacher in the community of essential workers we count on for the safety, wellbeing and education of our children, Michelle works with a team of five third-grade teachers at Lakers Online, the fully remote school of the West Bloomfield School District that opened in September as a full curriculum option. The school now serves more than 1,400 K-12 students across Oakland County. With 25 years of experience teaching K-3 in West Bloomfield, Michelle is well prepared to handle most curves thrown at her. But this? Who’d imagine this school year? Ever the optimist, drawing from a remarkable reserve of energy, experience and strength, Michelle remains philosophical, “COVID has tested us at every step of our journey and it can feel overwhelming day to day, but you have to think of this period of time as one of extraordinary change in our lives - an opportunity to learn and grow together - all for the better.”
Born in Jerusalem, son of former Israeli emissaries who served in the U.S; raised in the Israeli Youth Movement; nine years a pilot and flight instructor in the Israeli Air Force; eight years a high school teacher and mentor for youth-at-risk in Tel Aviv; an educator with a Master’s of Philosophy; what better creds for Jewish Detroit’s new Shaliach, our emissary from Israel, Yiftah Leket?
Imagine the courage, the spirit and the optimism it takes to mask-up and fly in the face of a world pandemic to carry out his mission to Israel and our Jewish community. With steadfast confidence in his bold move to Detroit - having just arrived in September with his wife, Paz, and their daughter, Ella - Yiftah offers his first take on the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Wherever we find ourselves today, we are a different community than we were one year ago. We have seen unprecedented threats to our health and wellbeing, tectonic shifts in the workplace and in our schools, and pivotal changes in our habits at home and away. Few have wrestled more intimately with the challenges of safeguarding the future of Jewish Detroit than Dennis Bernard, newly elected President of the United Jewish Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit. And few are as well prepared to meet the community challenges ahead.
As Founder and President of Bernard Financial Group, Michigan’s largest commercial mortgage banking and servicing firm, Dennis holds a longtime record of professional and philanthropic leadership in both the Jewish community and greater community of Detroit. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Michigan, Dennis has co-chaired Federation’s Covid Emergency Campaign in partnership with Matt Lester, Federation President (also beginning his term in October). “Faced with a crisis, humans are truly remarkable,” Dennis reflected, “The response of our Jewish community - with their hearts, with their brains, with their wallets - has been nothing but astounding.”
If ever you wonder what inspires leadership at Jewish Federation, ask Randi Sakwa. An energetic and highly motivated volunteer since her early days with Federation’s TOV Volunteer Network, Randi now serves on the Boards of Federation and its Women’s Philanthropy. Her heart in Israel – and a frequent visitor there with family and friends closely tied to Michigan’s Partnership Region of the Central Galilee - Randi is fully committed to her work as Co-chair of the Parternship2Gether Steering Committee and its programming, now celebrating 25 years of fellowship and accomplishment. Beyond her service to Federation, Randi is Vice President of the West Bloomfield Board of Education and a member of the Boards of JCRC/AJC and Hillel of Metro Detroit. Additionally, she is a participant in the prestigious Shalom Hartman Detroit Leadership Program and a Graduate Fellow of the Legacy Heritage OnBoard Detroit Cohort (2019).
Born in Chicago, proud to call Jewish Detroit his home where his family roots are firmly planted, Rabbi Joshua Bennett celebrated his 25th anniversary at Temple Israel on June 26th in a moving Kabbalat Shabbat service via Zoom. “We are living in the midst of Covid-19, a pandemic that has changed our lives for the foreseeable future,” he said in the sermon he delivered that evening. “We also are living through another pandemic of racial inequality that has divided our nation. It might seem as if the best of times is behind us. But I do not believe it so. I believe another life is just beginning. I have been blessed with Temple Israel 1.0 as my proving ground for a quarter of a century. Now, I get to dream about version 2.0 and the words written on my tallit. Ve-im lo achshav, ei’matay? If not now, when?”