Young Detroit in Hollywood

Detroit's Jewish News features cover-story on young Jews lost to LA.

Along with most of my Jewish friends from Detroit that I grew up with, only a few returned to live in Detroit. The mass exodus of young Jews from Detroit was noted in the 2005 population survey of the Jewish community that pegged the number of Jews between the ages of 24-34 in Detroit as 2.1% of the total Jewish population. This Jewish Detroit Diaspora has settled all over – but a huge number of them are here in the LA area.

A recent event for Young Detroiters gave me a good opportunity to blog about my Shtetle: Young Detroit in Hollywood. It was featured as the cover story in the Jewish News in Detroit.

Organizers included Max Aronson, son of Bob Aronson, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

Max, 23, formerly of Franklin, moved to L.A. to pursue his passion for writing and currently works as an assistant to two Sony Television executives. He helped organize the July 31 bash billed as “Young Detroit in Hollywood” with two friends, Eli Sussman, 23, originally from Huntington Woods, and Aaron Kaczander, 24, who grew up in West Bloomfield.

Detroiters in huge numbers turned out for this inaugural event —featuring ex-Detroiter screen-writer/actor/director/producer Michael Binder— more than 250 according to organizers. Future events are planned, most likely with another Detroiter who has made it in the biz.

“Essentially, we started a massive snowball effect,” Kaczander said. “It culminated with us looking out at a sea of young Detroit Jews who were so eager to catch up. I think the most overheard phrase of the night was, ‘I didn’t know you lived here!’”

The first-of-its kind Federation sponsored event, funded by private contributors, was part of an aggressive new outreach campaign aimed at capturing the attention of young Detroit Jews, even thousands of miles away. The elder Aronson and several Federation staff members flew to L.A. to deliver the message personally.

Yes. The Federation and private funders put up the money for the party, because the Detroiters are still tied to Detroit. It’s kind of a 21st century landsmanschaft, Jewish benevolent society. The Detroit Jewish Fed is also doing Detroiter events in Chicago and New York.

Jewish Ex-Detroiters like myself have a religious attachement to our hometown. We have a tight-knit Jewish community, allegiance to local sports teams, and favorite bakeries, cafes, or delis. (Notice the absence of any allegiance to a synagogue or temple). When we leave Detroit, we leave close family back home – grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents, siblings and cousins. We get back for family events when we can. We try to keep up with the Tigers or Pistons. We root for U of M at the Rose Bowl. We often are connected to other Detroiters who made the move out here before us.

Will ex-Detroiters return to Detroit? Will they help to prop-up Jewish institutions they left behind? If the lesson learned from the exodus from the old country can be used as a model – the chances are that a small number will return, but that the majority will support the community from afar. The Jews who left Warsaw, Lodz, and Lvov never planned on returning, but sought greener pastures, economically and socially, in the Golden Land.

The Jews who left West Bloomfield, Birmingham, Southfield, or Bloomfield Hills, left for the greener pastures of Hollywoodland. Most are going to stay and put down roots.

My Detroiter street cred: Zeemans, Hillel Day School, Cranbrook, grandma at The Heritage, Tigers, Camp Tavor – I won’t mention the Synagogue.