Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Archives hold history of Detroit Jewish community

Joanie Schott sorts through photographs of her ancestors. The Livonia woman takes pride in the family whose association with Temple Beth El goes back to her mother's confirmation in 1914. At the time the synagogue was located in Detroit.
Today Schott sits in the second floor climate-controlled archive on the campus of the Bloomfield Hills location where she volunteers every Monday. The historical records tell a story not only of the temple but the Jewish community since 1850 when the congregation was founded by 12 German immigrant families who gathered in the home of Isaac and Sarah Cozens.
It's the job of Jan Durecki as director to make sure the collection is preserved, so once a week volunteers Schott and Marlene Lipman of Southfield spend hours cataloging materials.
“The reason for the archives is to maintain and make accessible for the community administrative documents for auxiliaries like the sisterhood,” said Durecki. “Of special interest is families. We have over 800 family files from a complete history to a few documents. It's good to have one safe place instead of being dispersed to cousins.”
“I can always visit my aunt and uncle here,” added Schott. “I can visit this whenever I want. Someday my great grandchildren can come and look in the boxes and have access to all this information. My grandmother's wedding invitation, Emma Epstein, from 1891, pictures of me and my twin brother, my mother and father in the 1920s, poetry my grandmother wrote.”
Durecki is presently researching the craftsman who carved the receptacle which holds the temple's Torah Scrolls. The Ark originally was housed in the 1903 temple at Woodward and Elliot (now the Bonstelle Theater).
The war collection features paintings of World War II soldiers, like Roy Green, who died in service to their country. Last year the temple became archivist for the Jewish War Veterans of Michigan.
Schott found eulogies for her mother and father who died in 1954 and 1977 which gave her further insight to her parents. Marlene Lipman is currently making a spreadsheet of more than 2,000 eulogies delivered by Rabbi Richard Hertz from 1953 until 1996. He wrote notes about the deceased on envelopes which sat in filing cabinets for years until Robbie Termin, an intern from Wayne State University, began organizing the material.

“This is history,” said Lipman, whose family background is traced back to Europe. Her father was the first to come to this country. “There's a sermon given after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. It's been interesting to look back at the death of Abraham Lincoln.”

“The archives are like the local Smithsonian,” added Lipman. (Hometown Life)
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