J-Teen, a dynamic group of Jewish high school students, visited us last weekend all the way from New York and we made sure that they had a jam packed, event filled, serviced up time while here.
They arrived on Friday morning and went straight from the airport to Bagley Elementary where they got to meet Principal Cheryl Price before heading into classrooms. After hearing from Principal Price, they started off in two different 4th grade classes and spent their time discussing quotes from historical African-American leaders. After getting to know each other and sharing what the quotes meant to them, each small group performed their quote for the rest of the class. It was a very meaningful activity done in a fun way; the performances were definitely creative. After finishing with the 4th graders and then the 3rd graders, the group was jazzed and hungry. The next stop, Wayne State’s famous Gold ‘n’ Greens, the only vegetarian, certified kosher cafeteria in Detroit.
After vegging out, we walked over to the Detroit Institute of Art and headed straight for the Diego Rivera Court. Fortunately, chairs were set up and we got to hear from Dosen Susannah Goodman, who told us all about Rivera Court and the history of the automobile industry as it relates to Detroit; lots of ooohs and aahhhs were heard throughout the museum. Once Susannah told us all about the murals, the J-Teens participated in a DIA scavenger hunt before heading back to the hotel and preparing for the Repair the World Turn the Tables Shabbat. Upon arriving at the Repair the World workshop, the J-Teens spent their Shabbat dinner joining in on a dialogue about systemic racial injustice and ways to show solidarity in our communities. Needless to say, they had a long, dynamic, perhaps tiring, day.
The J-Teens began their Shabbat with a Civil Rights service led by their very own Micah Weiss at the hotel. Afterwards, they put on their walking shoes to head over to the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and hear from Director Anna Kohn. Anna proceeded to share with them a history of Detroit that spoke to some misconceptions and generalizations that the teens heard before their trip. She told the story of Jewish Detroit and how that related to her family and to the Downtown Synagogue, the last functioning synagogue located in Detroit proper; overall it was very powerful and definitely contributed to a thoughtful day of rest. After learning more about Detroit’s history, the teens ventured to the Auto Show where they were encouraged to talk to other attendees about their relationship to Detroit and how they felt about the event. After experiencing the Auto Show, they came back to the hotel and had Havdallah with Rabbi Alana Alpert.
Before lighting the candles, Rabbi Alana spoke to the group about different ways to be involved with social change and the importance of each practice. As we reflected on our roles in social movements, we welcomed a new week together. After a brief stint on the People Mover, we headed over to Clark Park in SouthWest Detroit to end the day with some real cool outdoor ice-skating.
After sleeping off their ice-skating excitement, they woke up the next day for an interfaith service at Breakers Covenant Church, which used to be Temple Beth El. Pastor Aramis graciously invited us to join their service as a way to show that the Jewish community is welcome in his Church and to show the importance of remembering the history of the building. After sharing prayers with the congregants, the J-Teens literally left their print on the Church…they worked alongside the young congregants and painted two murals in what will be the teen rooms. They spent the rest of the time schlepping some desks to the basement in order to help clean out the dining hall.
From here, the J-Teens found themselves in Lafayette Park to hear from two wonderful speakers, Harriet and Marsha. Both shared their stories and reflected on what it has meant during the latter half of the 20th century and onward to be an African-American woman and a white Jewish woman living in Detroit. They spoke to the teens about their own experiences as well as how the students can reflect on that in terms of their family histories and themselves personally. After some meaningful conversation and a brief stop at the Plum Street Garden (a cool urban garden located downtown), we all headed to the workshop to do…drumroll please…more service!
Once in the workshop, our fellow-fellow Benny, taught the teens about Keep Growing Detroit before facilitating them in seed sorting; a fun game of matching on seed package with another. From here, the J-Teens found the most ridiculous sounding seed names and headed back to the hotel.
The final day arrives! We all headed to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, where people were coming together in celebration of MLK Day. Here, the J-Teens sat in on panel discussions held by Detroiters and were able to engage in important dialogue about Civil Rights and social justice.
After a looonnnnggg weekend full of service and learning, we had to say goodbye to our J-Teen friends who headed straight to the airport from the museum. After a weekend full of history, awesome speakers and running around Detroit, I’m sure the J-Teens are extremely tired; we wish them a safe trip home and a good nights sleep.
Leah Mack is a Repair the World Fellow in Detroit.