History of the Jews in Metro Detroit

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Jews have been living in Metro Detroit since it was first founded, and have been prominent in all parts of life in the city. The city has a rich Jewish history, but the Jewish community has also seen tensions and faced anti-Jewish backlash. Today, the Jewish community is quite established and has a number of community organizations and institutions.

Background information[edit]

As of 2012, about 116,000 Jewish Americans live in Metro Detroit.[citation needed] In 2001, about 96,000 Jewish Americans lived in Metro Detroit. That year, 75% of them lived in Oakland County. Many are in walking distances to their synagogues.[1]

The Jewish community includes Ashkenazi, Hasidic, and Sephardic origin Jews who follow those traditions. The religious movements represented include common versions of Conservative, Orthodox, Reform Judaism.[2]

The nearby cities of Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing, and Ypsilanti have their own Jewish communities. Barry Stiefel, author of The Jewish Community of Metro Detroit 1945-2005, classifies these cities as being part of the "Greater Metro Detroit" region.[2]


1902–1922 Temple Beth-El, now the Bonstelle Theatre

The First Jew In Detroit (1762-1783)[edit]

The first recorded Jew in Detroit was Chapman Abraham, a fur trader from Montreal. In 1762, in order to trade he traveled south along the Detroit River. He was recorded that year. Until his 1783 death he had a residence in Detroit.[3]

Detroit's First Jewish Neighborhood (1880–1930)[edit]

German and Central European Jews found their homes in the Hasting Street Area neighborhood around 1880. Here, the professions of the middle class included proprietors, managers, and white collar workers. However, much of the elite were involved in politics. Some served in elected positions at the city and state level in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, after 1930, no Jew served on Detroit's elected Common Council until 1962.

Prohibition Era (1920–1930)[edit]

In the 1920s and early 1930s, during the Prohibition Era, the Jewish Purple Gang operated alcohol smuggling and committed acts of violence in Detroit. By the early 1930s the gang had been weakened and organized crime groups from the East Coast wrested control of the territory from the Purple Gang.[4]

Eastern European Arrivals (1900–1940)[edit]


Eastern European Jews arrived in Metropolitan Detroit in the 20th century. The German Jews left the Hastings Street neighborhood for the areas to the North and West of it. Such areas included east of Woodward Avenue near Warren and Oakland Avenues.In the 1930s several Jews leaving Germany under Adolf Hitler arrived in Detroit. In the 1940s the 12th Street/Linwood/Dexter area housed the Jewish community in Detroit. The community at one point moved to the Livernois-Seven Mile area. It later relocated to the Oakland County municipalities of Oak Park, Southfield, and West Bloomfield.[1] The post-World War II Jewish community began to suburbanize. Barry Stiefel, author of The Jewish Community of Metro Detroit 1945-2005, wrote that "The move from Detroit to the suburbs north of Eight Mile Road was not a Jewish event, but one of socioeconomic class and race." [5]

According to historian Lila Corwin Berman, Although not as populated as the Lower East Side, Jewish Hastings Street still struck reports as overcrowded and teeming with foreignness and a "queer" Yiddish dialect."[6] The Michigan census in 1935 stated," 10% of Jews lived in the Hastings Street area and 80% of the Jewish population lived in two Neighborhoods. The Twelfth Street area and the neighborhood referred to as Dexter."[7]

The local elementary school was the most populous in the city and had a predominantly Jewish student body. Synagogues and kosher markets lined the streets in this area of the city. The Dexter/Davison Market was where Jews came to show and to pause in their errands for conversations and to catch up with one another.


According to Meyer, Income of Jewish workers likewise varies between industries. An income of $2,000 more was received in 1934 by 33 percent of the Jewish workers who engaged in professional service, whereas the income was received by only 5 percent of the workers in domestic and personal service industries and 6 percent of the Jewish workers in automobile factors.[7] By 1935, The Working force was considered to be 34,459 people.[7] The white collar occupation groups around that time included professional workers, proprietors, managers and officials, and clears and kindred workers.

By 1937, 71,000 Jews lived in Detroit which made it the sixth most populated Jewish city in the United States.

Tension (1936–1970)[edit]

Jewish Community Council[edit]

The Jewish Community Council was a centralized Jewish organization founded in 1936. The aim of the organization was to coordinate Jewish activity with relations with non-Jews throughout the city. In the late 1930's, they turned its attention to the tension brewing in the Hastings Street area in the late 1930's.

Jewish and African American Conflict[edit]

According to Berman, "In the fall of 1937, the rabbi of Temple Beth El, the city's largest Reform temple, chastised Jewish merchants in the Hastings street area for behaving unethically towards black customers.[6] She also stated," Black Jewish conflict fared between 1938 and 1941, especially along Hastings Street where youths assaulted merchants and their stores." [6] However, there were some African Americans who considered Jews their allies. According to Capeci," Prominent Jewish Detroit's had supported the Urban League, genuinely but paternalistically concerned more with improving the welfare of black than raising their status." [8] Following the Detroit race riot of 1943, Detroit Mayor Edward Jeffries decided to appoint a Jewish woman to his newly-established Inter-Racial Committee, and named Mrs. Golda Krolik, who served on this committee until 1968.[9]


In the 1940s, Jews in Detroit were involved in their neighborhood's policies. They were concerned with who was living where, who was moving, and why. In the fall of 1947, the Jewish Community Council joined forced with the Interracial Committee of the NAACP to create the Midtown Neighborhood Council. The goal was to slow the process of the neighborhood's transformation into a black neighborhood.

Late 1960s and 1970s[edit]

In the late 1960s and 1970s, there were progressive democratic ideologies in Detroit. There were radical political ideas from the left, the right, and the black separatist groups.

In 1963 Rabbi Sherwin Wine, located in Metro Detroit, founded the Humanistic Judaism movement[5] In 1966, Rabbi Morris Adler of Congregation Shaarey Zedek was shot while leading a service on the bima, and later succumbed to his wounds.[10]

The Rise of the Suburbs (1950–1958)[edit]

In the 1950's Jewish settlement patterns changed from the northwest suburb of Detroit into Jewish spaces. In 1958, one-fifth of all Detroit Jews lived in Oak Park and Huntington Woods. But, some left for the suburbs with a sense of defeat. According to Berman, "Most, however, expressed optimism that the suburbs would become a newer, better location for American and Jewish life than the city had been. Suburban planning commissions, driven by the building industry and federal incentives for home building in the suburbs, helped create the landscape of optimism."[6]

The Later Suburban Neighborhoods (1970–1988)[edit]

Stiefel wrote that by the 1970s the exodus of Jews from the City of Detroit to the suburbs had increased from a "trickle" to a "deluge."[5] There were 80,000 Jews living in Metro Detroit in 1976, of a total population of 4,138,800, and in the metro area there were 34 congregations: 23 Orthodox, 6 Conservative, 4 Reform, and one Humanistic.[10] In the 1980s the Metro Detroit Jewish community lived in several municipalities.[5] Barry Steifel, author of The Jewish Community of Metro Detroit 1945-2005, wrote that in the 1980s "the new, collective foci of the Jewish community" were several municipalities in Oakland County and western Wayne County which housed "massive congregations".[11] Stiefel wrote that it was by then "nonexistent" in the City of Detroit.[5] Suburban municipalities defined by Stiefel as foci included Bloomfield Hills, Farmington Hills, Oak Park, Royal Oak, Southfield, and West Bloomfield.[11] Smaller congregations of Jewish people existed in other municipalities such as Livonia and Trenton.[2]

In the 1980s many Russian Jews arrived in Metro Detroit because of the Soviet Union's 1988 relaxation of travel restrictions and the processes of its dissolution. Oak Park received most of these Russian Jews.[1] The Metro Detroit Jewish community helped thousands of these Soviet Jews travel to Michigan.[5]


The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit is headquartered in Bloomfield Township, near Bloomfield Hills.[12][13] The headquarters, the Max M. Fisher Building, was dedicated on May 3, 1992.[14]


Primary and secondary schools[edit]

The Jean and Samuel Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit is located in West Bloomfield.

Hillel Day School is in Farmington Hills.

The Tushiyah United Hebrew School previously operated in Detroit.

Colleges and universities[edit]

Michigan Jewish Institute has its U.S. administrative office in Southfield and its primary campus in West Bloomfield Township.[15]


1922–1973 temple of Temple Beth El in Detroit

In the early 20th Century Jews of many nationalities had settled Detroit. The German Jews, who predominately lived north of Downtown Detroit, usually worshiped at Reform Temple Beth El. Russian and Eastern European Jews tended to worship at lower east side Jewish district Orthodox synagogues.[16]

In Delray the First Hebrew Congregation of Delray or the Orthodox Hungarian Jewish Congregation was located on Burdeno, near Fort Wayne. It was operated by Hungarian Jews and it was Detroit's first Orthodox Judaism synagogue that was west of Woodward Avenue.[17]


The Detroit Jewish News serves the Jewish community in Metro Detroit.

In 1951 there were Jewish community newspapers in Detroit in the English and Yiddish languages. Two English-language newspapers, The Jewish News and the Jewish Chronicle, were weekly. There were Detroit editions of The Jewish Daily Forward and one other paper, two daily Yiddish papers.[18]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Woodford, p. 188.
  2. ^ a b c Stiefel, p. 8.
  3. ^ Cohen, p. 7.
  4. ^ Gribben, Mark. "Bootlegger's Paradise." (Archive) The Purple Gang. Crime Library. Retrieved on December 14, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Steifel, p. 7.
  6. ^ a b c d Berman, Lila Corwin (2015). Metropolitan Jews. The University of Chicago Press.
  7. ^ a b c Meyer, Henry J. "The Economic Structure of the Jewish Community in Detroit". Jewish Social Studies. Volume 2, No.2 (April.,1940).
  8. ^ Capeci. "Black-Jewish Relations in Wartime Detroit: The Marsh, Loving, Wolf Surveys and the Race Riot of 1943". Jewish Social Studies. 47, Nov. 3/4 (Summer-Autumn, 1985).
  9. ^ "Golda Krolik: Of The Generation Of Detroit Communal Giants". Detroit Jewish News. May 24, 1985. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  10. ^ a b "The Jewish Community of Detroit". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
  11. ^ a b Steifel, p. 7-8.
  12. ^ "Contact" (Archive) Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit. Retrieved on January 19, 2014. "Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit 6735 Telegraph Road Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301"
  13. ^ "Bloomfield Township Street Map." (Archive) Bloomfield Township, Oakland County. Retrieved on July 30, 2013.
  14. ^ "Dedication of the Max M. Fisher Building of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit" (Archive) Max M. Fisher Archives. Retrieved on January 19, 2014.
  15. ^ "Contact Us." Michigan Jewish Institute. Retrieved on July 9, 2015.
  16. ^ Babson, p. 28.
  17. ^ Cohen, p. 64.
  18. ^ Mayer, p. 36. "Like most other groups in Detroit, there are in the Jewish community, newspapers which are specifically published to keep Detroit Jewry informed of matters pertaining to Jewish life. These newspapers are in both English and Yiddish. There are two weekly English-Jewish newspapers, The Jewish News, 708 David Stott Bldg. and the Jewish Chronicle, 900 Lawyers Bldg,; and in addition, two Yiddish Daily papers which have Detroit editions, The Jewish Daily Forward"


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]