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Shared Memories of Shaarey Zedek
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I attended Hebrew
school here, on Sunday mornings and two afternoons a week--either Monday
and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday--in the years leading up to July 9,
1960 when I was Bar Mitzvah'ed in this building. The main sanctuary made
an impression on me, as it seemed enormous and featured a balcony at the
rear. It was quite a treat to go up there, which of course was not part
of the school day, but somehow this little boy found his way there when
he should have been in class. The rabbi at that time was the celebrated
Morris Adler of blessed memory, and joining him was Rabbi Irwin Groner.
If my memory serves me correctly, the chazzan at the time was Jacob Sonenklar;
if I'm in error on this, I hope someone will set the record straight.
On warm weekdays in the fall and spring, Murray the ice
cream man was outside the building when we arrived via buses which transported
us from the various Detroit elementary schools we attended. About halfway
through the weekday Hebrew school sessions it was time for a milk break.
I distinctly recall drinking chocolate milk from brown and white half-pint
cartons. The school buses then took us home at the end of the weekday
sessions, which concluded at about 6:10 P.M.
The Hebrew school teachers during my time were Mrs. Nelson
and Mr. Kelman, along with others whose names I cannot recall. As must
be evident, I was not much of a Hebrew school student, and in fact never
really learned how to daven until I said Kaddish for my father. This is
terribly ironic--whenever I asked him why I had to go to Hebrew school,
he always replied, "You've gotta know your stuff," some of which,
he explained, included the ability to say Kaddish for loved ones.
To me, the Chicago Boulevard home of Shaarey Zedek epitomizes
synagogue architecture at its zenith. I've never been able to develop
much enthusiasm for the modern styles currently in vogue.
When I was much, much younger I attended meetings for
Cub Scout Pack #104, Den 9 at Shaarey Zedek. This was around 1950.
The synagogue, which was featured in The Life and Times
of Hank Greenberg, is a jewel. Before I rage headlong into a description
for my scroll brethren, let me remind hissonor, The fair Scottish Lord-mayor
of the Forum, that he passed several Jewish houses of worship between
his digs near Wayne State and 2900 West Chicago Blvd.,the Shaarey Zedek.
Try to find B'Nai David (Beth David?), 2201
Elmhurst @14th, and the Albert Kahn collection of Temple Beth El(s)
at 8801 Woodward Ave. and others.
I also recommend Temple Israel, 17400 Manderson.
You post 'em, I've got the descriptions for you. Try to find the B'nai
Moshe and the Hebrew School next door on Dexter Ave. It's a big
place on the W. side of Dexter. See what you can still find in the Oakland-Westminster
area. Congregation Shaarey Zedek was built by Albert Kahn in 1932.
It is now called Clinton Street Greater Bethlehem Temple. 2900
W. Chicago Blvd., corner Lawton St.
On High Holiday service days, the sanctuary was packed
out with the faithful, and the Lawton Ave. entrance to the basement was
also overflowing. People would stand on Lawton Ave. just to hear the chanting
and be a part of the Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Although
it was Depression, Kahn and the congregation were able to raise the building.
It was the sixth home of this Conservative congregation.
The Romanesque Revival facade of polychrome brick round
arched edifice, has a triple entry through a colonetted arcade. Inside
is a masterpiece of impressive wooden trusses, twin colonnades, and a
beautiful ark wall. The current Afro-American congregation has taken great
pains to keep the building intact, much to their credit.
In 1962, Congregation Shaarey Zedek engaged Albert
Kahn Associates and Percival Goodman to build at 27237 Bell
Road, and 11 Mile Road, Southfield, Michigan. That jutting concrete pylon
flies up at you as you are driving North on Northwestern Hwy. on a stretch
called "Rabbi Morris Adler Highway." The building recalls FL
Wright's Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin.
Both buildings should be seen in the same day. They moved
from W. Chicago to a site of 40 acres, to a place seating 3,600 people.
The educational wing has 20 classrooms. There are numerous smaller chapels,
social halls, a library, gift shoppe, and administrative offices. Acres
of parking. The 40 foot tall marble ark has a Tree of Life as its core.
Now, about Shaarey Zedek and Hammerin' Hank Greenberg.
Hank grew up in The Bronx and played for The Tigers 1933-47. He missed
four seasons during WWII. He wouldn't play on Yom Kippur and he worshipped
at Shaarey Zedek. He was befriended by many families there and when he
parked the car at synagogue, anxious mothers and their daughters would
stand on their porches excited to wave. When he set team and league records,
home-made plates of gefilte fish would arrive for him.
Edgar Guest, the wonderful Detroit poet: "Come
Yom Kippur-holy fast day worldwide over to the Jew-and Hank Greenberg
to his teaching and the old tradition true, spent the day among his people
and he didn't come to play. Said Murphy to Mulrooney, 'We shall lose the
game today! We shall miss him in the infield and shall miss him at the
bat. But he's true to his religion-and I honor him for that'."
Without a doubt, this adopted Jewish Detroiter, gave all
of American Jewry a sense of pride never to be experienced since in our
lifetime. And as a Detroiter, take pride with me as it happened here.
I think Shaarey Zedek had a location on the street that
is just north of I-75 and east of Woodward. I'm also afraid the building
is in ruins. Shaarey Zedek has in their lobby in the their building on
Bell Road little models of their previous homes.
I lived right next door to this synagogue @ 2930 W. Chicago
Blvd. from 1937 - 1941 and loved to 'peak in' during holiday services.
My parents were not financially able to be members......but we loved it
anyway. I remember learning to ride a two-wheel bike, by 'pushing off'
from the steps in front. This brings back many fond memories. Thank you.
This congregation was established in 1861. The first building
was at Winder and Brush, it was a small wooden structure. From there the
next move was Brush and Willis, now part of the I94 freeway. This was
a beautiful building which included a gym along with classrooms and a
magnificent sanctuary. In 1933, the move was made to Chicago Blvd. The
land for this building was purchased from the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Clinton Street Greater Bethel Church occupies this edifice. It is still
a beautiful building, lovingly cared for by the parishioners. Bell Road
opened in 1962. Shaarey Zedek also has 2 other buildings, The Shaarey
Zedek B'nai Israel Center on Walnut Lake Road just west of Orchard Lake
Road, and the Laker Educational Center on Walnut Lake Road just west of
Inkster Road. There are models of all the current and old buildings on
display in the outer foyer of the Bell Road building.
I was Barmitzva'd at Shaarey Zedek. Today you would say
that I "was" a Bar Mitzvah. Back then we thought of the word
as a verb. What did we know? It was in the summer of 1940 when I recited
my Maftir. Rabbi Hershman was the head Rabbi then, but I can't remember
the Cantor's name. I used to tolerate and every once in a while enjoy
the music but was unhappy about spending an off day from public school
in yet another school. But a promise was a promise, and my parents were
glad that I honored it. World War II was raging and back then, a Yamika
was a Yamika, not a Kuupeh. Today a Yamika is probably a Japanese Race
Inside, the synagogue was beautiful, elegant, and quiet.
Lots of very dark wood. We had to be on our best behavior. There weren't
too many smiles or laughing, as we were taught that religion was a very
serious business, except after the Shabbas services ended. That took forever,
and still does.
We lived near the Parkman Branch Library on Oakman Court
near Linwood, and every Sunday I had to go to Sunday School at Shaarey
Zedek. I had the choice to spend the 20 cents I was given for car fare
(10 cents each way) or I could choose to walk, and keep the money . It
was quite a distance, and it was much colder there than my present home
in Florida. I always tell my grandchildren that it was at least 5 miles,
through snow that often reached to my armpits, but I don't really know
how far it was. I think I had to be laying down in the snow to make it
reach my armpits, but we did that too.
So did I take the Linwood Streetcar to Sunday School,
or did I walk with a mouthful of cheap candy? What do you think? Here's
a clue, I still have some of own teeth, but not much of the 20 cent allowance.
I guess it was just another one of those compromises that we all make
throughout our lives. I did walk when I felt that I could make it without
getting frostbite, specially if I had a friend to keep me company for
at least part of the way. Sometimes when I tired I just hopped on the
streetcar at the next stop. It didn't go all the way to Oakman Court anyway,
as it turned on Davison, heading West, I believe, and I still had about
4 blocks to walk to Oakman Court.
I measured the distance then with a pedometer that I proudly
wore on the belt of my knickers. It was a prize that I saved cereal box
tops for, for years, in order to get. I wore that pedometer periodically
up to the 12th grade when I graduated Central High School, and then went
to serve in the Navy as the war ended.
The memories are a bit faded, but it seems as if I remember
more than I thought I would.
I never knew that Hank Greenberg went to services at Shaarey
Zedek. That would have been a very compelling reason for me to be more
interested in going to services. How did my folks miss that one? I still
remember a few other names on the Detroit Tiger's Roster when they won
the World Series in 1939.
welcome and invite you to share your memories of Detroit's former synagogues and Jewish sites.
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