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Jewish Journey Interviews

          Welcome      About    History   Themes      Complete Interviews

Interviewee: Aura Ahuvia
Themes: Jewish Identity, Doctrine, Holocaust, Jewish Gentile Relations, Observance, Upbringing

Summary: Rabbi Aura Ahuvia discusses the historical meaning of a rabbi and the multiple roles of a rabbi as a teacher and interpreter of Judaism and as a helper for the needs of the congregants.  In 1938, Her father’s family fled Vienna by train to Italy and then took a boat to Palestine. Both her parents told her and her brothers to keep their Judaism secret. Interviewer Larry Boocker questions her about the Rabbi’s role in determining Jewish education, involvement in the business of the synagogue, and as the representative of Judaism to the inter-faith community.

Interviewee: Edith Bernstein

Interviewee: Sam Boocker
Jewish Identity, Immigration, Jewish Gentile Relations, Upbringing 
Summary: Sam Boocker is the son of immigrants who grew up in a mixed neighborhood.  He’s always had a strong Jewish identity including fluency in Yiddish.

Interviewee: Leon Bruer

Interviewee: Matthew Bruer


Interviewee: Edward Chezick
Jewish Identity, Conversion, Holocaust, Jewish Gentile Relations, Upbringing

Summary: Intrigued by Judaism from an early age, Edward Chezick’s path to conversion at Shir Tikvah is one built by careful spiritual learning and philosophical investment. His time while stationed in Frankfurt in the Army included learning from an enlisted Rabbi, Israelis working for El Al, and Holocaust survivors. These experiences are detailed as well as his personal journey to becoming an “enduring member of the tribe”. 

Interviewee: Carolyn Comai

Themes: Jewish Identity, Conversion
Summary: Carolyn Comai converted from Lutheranism to Judaism in her college years. She was influenced by lectures from Rabbi Sherwin Wine. Her parents were supportive of her choosing her own religious path. While the Hillel rabbi was not encouraging of her intention to convert, she found the synagogue, Beth Emeth, in Ann Arbor, which had both a Jewish and a Christian congregation meeting in the same building. She grew to love the holidays, but always missed the choir music that she had grown up with. She particularly felt she was Jewish when she had to convince the hospital that her first-born son with be circumcised at home and not in the hospital. While she did not experience anti-Semitism in her community, she sometime felt that older Jews were inclined to let her know that she was not part of the “club”. The community of Shir Tikvah strengthened her Judaism because everyone worked together and to encourage their children’s Jewish holidays at schools where the emphasis was Christian holidays.


Interviewee: Robert Crowe
Themes:Jewish Identity, Conversion, Upbringing
Summary:Robert details the difficult childhood and painful part of his adulthood as he struggled to understand and accept his gender identity. His Jewish identity came about when he was trying to connect with spirituality.



Interviewee:  Elwin Greenwald
Themes: Jewish Identity, Doctrine, Observance, Upbringing
Summary: Elwin was raised in an orthodox family who kept Shabbos and his father went to services weekly. His first memories of being Jewish were Seders. His parents came from Hungary, his family did not live in a Jewish neighborhood. After going to public school (Cooley High School) where he was one of a few Jewish students, he was transferred to Cass High School because of his art talent. While there was more diversity of student at Cass, he was shy and insular.

Interviewee: Wolf Gruca
Themes: Jewish Identity, Anti-Semitism, Doctrine, Holocaust, Immigration, Jewish Gentile Relations, Observance

Summary: Wolf Gruca was born in 1920 in Poland, in Czestochowa, a town of about 20,000-40, 000 Jewish. About 10 years before the war (WWII), Jews would keep to themselves, they would walk on one side of the street, Jews were separate from Gentiles, not because of the law, but that was just the way it was. Jews had stores and homes and the Polish people were envious. Wolf Gruca was the youngest of six kids and he was raised religious, going to religious school in the morning, and the Polish public school in the afternoon. At home they spoke Yiddish, he spoke Polish and could read Hebrew. Jews made a living selling in markets/stores. His father was a shoemaker. His mother saw his father in his army uniform and decided to marry him—she got a matchmaker to make it happen. Wolf went to synagogue with his father that was the way it was, “you had no choice”. He loved the prayers and the singing in the synagogue and he loved it when a “maggid”, a rabbi would come to town and give sermons, explaining without a book, just talking to the people.

Interviewee: William Hoffman
Themes: Jewish Identity, Anti-Semitism, Conversion, Doctrine, Jewish Gentile Relations, Upbringing

Summary:William Hoffman’s Jewish identity is a microcosm of the American Jewish diaspora’s path to Reform and Renewal practice. Born into a traditionally Orthodox family of Kosher bakers in Pittsburgh, Hoffman drank deep at the well of tradition before his thirst for debate and different styles of Judaism led him to the reform movement. Along the way he moved to Michigan and found a reconnection to his liturgical past at Shir Tikvah. Hoffman also details his family putting down roots in America.

Interviewee: Eileen Isenberg 

Themes: Jewish Identity, Upbringing, Jewish Gentile Relations
Summary: Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Eileen Isenberg’s early life was clouded by her father’s battle with cancer. Her cousin Dave, a doctor, would make house calls to care for her father but also helped cultivate a love of Jewish-styled joke and story telling in Eileen. This joyous appreciation of Yiddish-tinged humor stayed with Eileen as she and her husband raised a family in Detroit’s Jewish community. Eileen reflects on her early life in Cleveland and fun times with Shir Tikvah in this interview.

Interviewee: John Kovacs
Themes: Jewish Identity, Holocaust, Immigration, Observance, Upbringing

Summary: John Kovacs’ family was torn apart when the Germans entered Hungary during World War II. His grandmother and brother were killed in Auschwitz while his mother managed to survive the death camp. At the age of 11, John was sent to a work camp intended for 15 to 45 year olds, where he toiled alongside his stepfather. At one point the workers at the camp were loaded into a train. John’s stepfather - realizing the train had made its way past Budapest and was going to continue towards Germany - bade John to escape. From then on during the war he lived and worked in different settings including a Jewish house “protected” by Germans and an open-air brick factory. In 1945, with the war over, John reunited with his mother and returned to the city where he had lived and he and his mother later immigrated to New York, later moving to Michigan. He has since visited in Hungary and one of his sons was Bar Mitzvah’d at the Budapest Synagogue.

Interviewee: Cary Levy

Interviewee: Pennie Michelin
Themes: Jewish Identity, Doctrine, Observance

Summary: Pennie’s Orthodox grandparents came from Poland and Russia eventually settling in Metropolitan Detroit.  She grew up with a close and large extended family in a kosher Conservative house. Her life journey has taken her through all branches of Judaism.  She has chosen the one bringing her the most fulfillment and spirituality: Reform/Renewal movement. Equally important are being welcomed, heard, and empowered as a person and a woman in the community.

Interviewee: Rochelle Rubin

Interviewee: Dena Scher 

Interviewee: Judy Schreiber

Interviewee:  Cindy Silverman


Interviewee Arnie Sleutelberg
Themes: Jewish Identity, Anti-Semitism, Doctrine, Holocaust, Jewish Gentile Relations, Observance, Upbringing
Summary: Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg’s upbringing in Hudson, MI featured a reverence for Judaism observed in secret from the rest of the community. Sleutelberg reflects on this as he examines his parent’s flight from the Holocaust, the path to rabbinical school, and his own sexuality in this interview.


Interviewee: Pamela Spitzer

Themes: Jewish Identity, Observance, Doctrine, Jewish Gentile Relations

Summary: Hailing originally from Auburn, NY, Pam Spitzer’s Jewish journey has spanned across a wide breadth of Judaism’s spectrum. Pam grew up in a conservative synagogue, which started out orthodox, and then became reform. Brought up in a kosher home, Pam’s parents shifted from orthodox to conservative and she remained in this denomination for years on, enrolling her children in the first branch of United Hebrew Schools in Troy, MI. Pam reflects on the early meetings of the Troy Jewish Congregation, which grew into Congregation Shir Tikvah, and how choices such as whether to be reform or conservative and where to hold services were made in those formative years. Pam also speaks to her 36 years of experience teaching in CST’s religious school, her work with B’nai Mitzvah students, and her own Jewish practice in the home especially including ethical treatment of animals in her family’s Kashrut practice.

Interviewee: Aaron Starr

Interviewee: Rebecca Starr

Themes: Jewish Identity, Doctrine, Jewish Gentile Relations, Observance, Upbringing

Summary: Rebecca’s childhood in Michigan’s Upper Pennisula meshed frontier living with a kosher style home. Having uprooted from their lives in Detroit, the family settled into a farmhouse in Pickford, MI, where they hunted and grew food while also holding weekly Shabbat dinners.

Following her mother’s example, Rebecca took on the responsibility to educate people about Judaism. During this interview Rebecca also reflects on how her childhood, college years, marriage, and current role as the Rebbetzin at Shaarey Zedek provided essential steps in her Jewish identity. 


Interviewee: Susan Tauber

Interviewee: Gretchen Thams
Themes: Jewish Identity, Anti-Semitism, Conversion, Jewish Gentile Relations, Upbringing
Summary: Gretchen Thams’ identity as a Jew has remained close to her heart but has been expressed differently across diverse eras and geography. From moving to Detroit, MI and attending services at Temple Beth El on Woodward to her family’s move to Rochester, MI and subsequent conversion to Christianity. Later, as Christian, Thams served in the State Department abroad and in D.C. Throughout the interview, Thams tells of navigating a range of Anti-Semitism, building up her own identity as a Jew and how she made Bat-Mitzvah at age 85.

Interviewee: Sandy Walker

Interviewee: Paul Wenig
Themes: Jewish Identity, Anti-Semitism, Doctrine
Summary: Paul Wenig is a retired doctor who served in the military during the Vietnam era. He is currently active in CST’s Torah study group.

Interviewee: Phyllis Wenig
Themes: Jewish Identity, Doctrine, Observance, Upbringing
Summary: In this interview, Phyllis Wenig speaks of her upbringing in a Jewish community, affiliation with a Reform congregation, the influence of a respected Rabbi, and the importance of her involvement in Jewish youth and leadership groups. She has positive views on Orthodox Jewish practices, which were formed by her first marriage to an Orthodox Jewish man and more recently by her son’s marriage to an Orthodox woman.  As she talks about the early formation of Congregation Shir Tikvah in 1982, Phyllis recounts the early Hebrew school in Troy, her “parking lot” meeting with Pam Spitzer, the first group meetings, housing the early student rabbis, and her feeling that the group “invented it as it went along.”

Interviewee:  Ralph Yamron

Interviewee: David Zachman
Themes: Jewish Identity, Conversion, Upbringing
Summary:David Zachman’s mother was 8 years old and being raised Christian, when his grandmother converted to Judaism and married a Jewish man (David’s grandfather). Both David’s grandmother and mother converted. When his mother prepared to marry her high school sweetheart, she asked him to convert to Judaism. David was the first in the family to be born into a Jewish family. 

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Tue, January 21 2020 24 Tevet 5780