Jackie Victor on Creating Jewish Community in Detroit

It’s said that there are two kinds of people in the world: meaning makers and meaning takers.

One reason I choose to live, work and raise my children in Detroit is the unusually high concentration of the meaning makers.

Perhaps because we live in a city where there are so many unmet needs, there are countless opportunities to create – not just meaning – but institutions, organizations and businesses.

Even mundane activities in Detroit can take on a deeper meaning because they are in the process of creation: grocery shopping at the Eastern Market, recycling at Recycle Here! and praying at the Isaac Avery Downtown Synagogue.

I call this a bad picture of a good minyan. We’re a happy crew!

For most of the past 25 years, my Jewish identity was on a completely separate trajectory from my life in Detroit.

Without a strong Jewish community in Detroit, I chose to travel out to a suburban synagogue that would provide a vibrant Jewish educational experience for my children in an open and caring community, Temple Emmanuel in Oak Park.

My business, Avalon International Breads, formed a perfect nexus of meaning around which my professional and personal life revolved in Detroit. But my spiritual life remained separate.

A year ago all this changed with an invitation to join the program committee for the 90th Anniversary of the Downtown Synagogue.

I said, “yes” for two reasons.

First, I was asked by my friend, reporter Zak Rosen, a fellow U of M graduate (20 years my junior) and Detroiter whom I admire greatly.

Secondly, because the Downtown Synagogue has rich meaning for me. My father Steven I. Victor (in blessed memory), said Kaddish for both of his parents there. He also met his business partner and dear friend Bill Yolles who became an integral part of his and our family’s life throughout their decades of partnership.

My little guy, Ari and I at one of our downtown temple potlucks after services

I’m not sure what was more successful: the amazing, over-capacity anniversary celebration at Detroit’s Gem Theatre or the more intimate committee meetings, which we all came to treasure as gatherings of kindred spirits.

But I do know that my life in Detroit has been transformed.

Friday nights are now spent walking to the synagogue, bringing in Shabbat with song, prayer and a shared meal with this emerging community, led largely by Jewish Detroiters in their 20s.

Thursday mornings bring morning minyan at 7:30 a.m., where I say Kaddish for my late father. We stumble through the morning service with reverence and good humor, aspiring to co-create a traditional, yet authentic ritual that connects us with our ancient past and feeds our spiritual needs today.

Without a rabbi, we take turns leading.

Without a cantor, the congregation creates exquisite music through the voices present.

Without a secretary or deep pockets, we rely on volunteers for everything from mailings to cooking to deciding when to pray together.

Without the structures of an existing institution in place, we are in the process of creation, dedicated to discovering contemporary meaning out of rituals that have too often become rote. We are not looking for perfection or flawless performances.

We are seeking that spark of the Divine that happens when our voices rise together in the Shema, and there is a minyan, and we realize that we are all part of a modern miracle.

We are in the process of creating a community of Jews in Detroit at the Isaac Avery Downtown Synagogue on Griswold Street.

After 25 years, it’s good to be home.


About Jackie

Jackie’s entrepreneur chops are legend as co-owner and co-creator of Detroit’s Avalon Bakery. Her role as a mother is less high profile but deeply rooted and, like moms everywhere, continually struggles to walk the line of balance. But, as you can tell, one big piece has fallen into place.

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