Friday, December 19, 2008

Detroit -- Saving a City's Last synagogue

This is from the U.S., not Europe -- but the issues resonate; dwindling Jewish population; deteriorating synagogue; changing neighborhood.... what's to be done?

The Detroit News reports that downtown Detroit's last functioning synagogue is under threat....

Saving Detroit's Last Synagogue December 18, 2008)

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News

The Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue is the last of its kind -- the sole building in Detroit still functioning as a Jewish place of worship.

Unless something changes fast, the downtown synagogue may become history. A group of young would-be rescuers find themselves at odds with some of the synagogue's old guard.

Since Rabbi Noah Gamze died in 2003, the synagogue has been void of a spiritual leader. The four-story building on Griswold and Clifford streets barely clings to life; the top two floors are vacant and the roof leaks.

At the Saturday morning Shabbat -- the only regular weekly service -- the handful of members who attend often need to recruit the African-American owner of the nightclub next door to reach minyan -- the minimum of 10 males older than age 13 needed for a Jewish public worship.

The synagogue may have recruited the right gentile: Larry Mongo, owner of Café D'Mongo's Speakeasy. Since opening a little over a year ago, Mongo's club and restaurant have become a haven for Detroit's café society -- the creative and professional class returning to the city's core. Some are twentysomething Jews including D'Mongo's bartender and Wayne State University student Courtney Smith. She and seven others -- calling themselves the Detroit Action Synagogue Committee -- want to save the downtown synagogue. Among them are a nonprofit lawyer, a pharmaceutical salesperson and an academic. They want a chance to turn the synagogue into a major piece of downtown's revitalization, tapping into the arts and cultural scene.

"We don't want to just save the building. We want it to be a hub for the people returning to the city and the energy that represents," Smith said.


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