Even with its massive infrastructure, towering buildings and epic acreage, Detroit still has its hidey-holes or small spaces where people collect, communicate, commiserate and create.
Having a little place to call your own – a home of sorts – is essential to our human spirit. That is why the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue is the kind of place that resonates with its community members, who are desperately working to renovate its crumbling interior and exterior.
This is the kind of place that has huge potential, says Director Anna Kohn. It has a growing participant base and an opportunity to serve as a gathering space for not just a single group but for the larger good of the city.
But to continue its mission, the Downtown Synagogue needs money. That is where all of us come in. And by coming in, Kohn and other members there mean exactly that. Because while organizers would love a donation to its capital campaign, you are invited regardless into this unique space to experience the community held therein.
“The energy that is created on Friday and Saturday is so palatable,” Kohn said. “Everyone is excited to be there. We’ve tried to create a space for Jews and non-Jews. Black and white. Young and old. We welcome all faiths.”
Kohn, who joined the Downtown Synagogue about six months ago, said she is impressed with how much the community in and around the site have done to keep it going. Just a few years ago, the building was about to close because of its physical condition and how few people were still attending the religious ceremonies there.
People including Leor Barak, president of Isaac Agree’s board of directors, and Larry Mongo, owner of neighboring Café D’Mongo Speakeasy, worked diligently to see that a younger generation of Jews found out about the city’s last free-standing Synagogue. The result was a resurgence in participation; the membership is growing at a rate of 25 percent annually. However, the building’s structure issues remained.
Two years ago, a fund-raising campaign resulted in new, energy-saving windows. Now, the Downtown Synagogue is more than half way toward a second round of repairs. It has already raised more than $60,000 off line toward a $120,000 budget to repair the exterior, add a custom bike rack, repair the fire escape and update the bathroom (yes, there is only one functioning bathroom).
Repairing the fire escape will allow access to the third and fourth floors, which cannot be used for activities until the fix is done, Kohn said. Most importantly, this round of funding will go toward consultations with area architectural and building firms to determine a complete vision for these floors and the overall facility.
Eventually, the Downtown Synagogue hopes to do a huge capital campaign (think $2 million plus) to get this unique building fully repaired. Kohn said the Downtown Synagogue could use those upper floors to serve as a “hub of life” for the city and suburban Jewish community. Every Jewish organization in the area could have a space in Detroit, she noted, allowing them to have a hand in the city’s revival.
“We have tremendous opportunities for collaboration in the city,” Kohn said. “We want these groups to come on down and get their hands dirty. We’ll have the space.”
But that’s for later. Right now, the focus is on that April 9 deadline to finish funding the remaining $33,900 needed (of the total $60,000 that the organizers hope to raise online). Right now, there needs to be safety, functionality and accessibility.
“We’ve got work to do but we’re excited and motivated,” Kohn said. “It’s amazing when you consider how closely it mirrors what’s going on in Detroit. It’s really a microcosm of that development and social infrastructure that’s being built for people. … We have the ability to create a new space – to create a space that’s ours.
“We’re not just a religious institution; we’re a community center. We’re a space that serves the community,” Kohn added.Donate here!