ANN ARBOR, city in Michigan, U.S. The present-day Jewish community of Ann Arbor – comprising over 3,000 family units in 2005 – traces its roots to the turn of the century with the arrival of the Lansky family in 1895 and Mr. Osias Zwerdling, furrier, in 1904. Although the Lanskys had heard that Jews had previously lived in the area, there were no signs of the existence of an earlier community. It was not until 1980 – with the serendipitous discovery of a tombstone, beautifully engraved in Hebrew script and dated 1858, and the efforts to determine its original resting place – that the picture of a viable Jewish life in Ann Arbor from the 1840s to the 1880s began to emerge. These first Jews of Ann Arbor, the Weils and their extended family members and friends, arrived from Bohemia and began their lives as farmers and peddlers, then traded furs and skins and finally opened a successful tannery business.
As a result of the information garnered during this discovery process, it was possible to ascertain that the first Jewish cemetery in the state of Michigan existed at the northeast corner of the grounds of what today is the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan. Dedication of a Historical Marker, commemorating the establishment of the first organized Jewish community in Michigan, took place in 1983. Appropriately, this site also became the location for the Holocaust Memorial sculpture by Leonard Baskin that was dedicated in 1994.
William and Hattie Lansky originally had set up a grocery/general store and, as the Jewish community began to grow, it was this family that undertook a leadership role. The Lanskys were joined in this endeavor by Osias Zwerdling, who served as president of Beth Israel Congregation from 1918 to 1958. By 1902, the landmark Lansky junkyard was established and, as extended family members joined the early pioneers, more Jewish families were attracted to the area: Abraham Levy, shoemaker; Thomas Cook, who made his mark by establishing a foundry business with an African-American partner; Israel Friedman, scrap iron business; Jacob Ingber, auto parts; Mark Ross, furniture store; and Joseph Lampe, retired carpenter, who crafted the aron kodesh for Beth Israel Congregation that still exists in its small chapel. His son, Isadore Lampe, was among the first Jewish faculty members at the University of Michigan Medical School. Following his studies, in 1936, Dr. Lampe was named director of the Division of Radiation Therapy, the first full division in the country. His lasting legacy was the training of over 200 radiation oncology physicians, many of whom went on to leadership positions in other universities. Also on the faculty, from 1913 to 1954 in the Department of Economics, was I. Leo Sharfman who became chair in 1928. Prof. Sharfman, uncle of
, a U-M graduate himself, enlisted William Haber to the department in 1936, and he later became chair and subsequently dean of the College of Literature, Science and Arts. Additional early faculty members of note include Kasimir Fajans, physical chemist, renowned for his pioneering work on radioactive isotopes; Reuben Kahn, originator of the Kahn Test for syphilis; and
, developer of the polio vaccine. Another famous graduate of the university's College of Architecture and Design was
, in 1935. In his honor, the College holds an annual Wallenberg Lecture series. Additionally, an endowment was established at the university by members of the Jewish and non-Jewish communities to fund an annual Lecture and Medal series. Invited guests are those who personify the Wallenberg ideals of bravery, stamina and integrity, and who imbue in the students the fact that one person can make a difference.
As the University of Michigan grew, so grew the influx of Jewish faculty – in all disciplines. In the 1950s and 1960s, with the population growth, a split developed between town and gown. At that time, Beth Israel was the only formal congregation in the city. A new B'nai Brith Hillel-Beth Israel building was dedicated in 1951 and Beth Israel changed its name to Beth Israel Community Center. In 1964, bursting at the seams, Beth Israel embarked on a fundraising campaign to build its own building. Subsequently, a faction of the membership broke off and began the Reform congregation, Temple Beth Emeth. The Conservative Beth Israel returned to its former name and remained joined in the Hillel Building until its own new facility was built in 1978 under the leadership
of Rabbi Allan D. Kensky, spiritual leader of the congregation from 1971 to 1988. Membership in the two congregations, led by Rabbi Robert Dobrusin at Beth Israel since 1988, and Rabbi Robert Levy at Beth Emeth since 1984, comprised over 1,200 family units. The rift between town and gown was bridged at the outbreak of the Six-Day War, when the community came together in support of Israel, and was cemented at the time of the Yom Kippur War. The thriving Jewish community today, in addition to the aforementioned congregations and Hillel, includes Congregation Chabad, led by Rabbi Aharon and Esther Goldstein since 1975, the Jewish Cultural Society, the Ann Arbor Orthodox Minyan, and the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah. There is a Jewish Community Center, Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Services organization, Hadassah and Women's American ORT chapters, a Yiddish group and Hebrew Day School.
The most recent wave of major Jewish influx in Ann Arbor began in 1979 with the arrival of the first "New Americans," refugees from the Former Soviet Union. Their population today approximates 200 families, and most of them have become involved in various aspects of the Jewish community.
Enriching the community is the Samuel and Jean Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, established at the University of Michigan in 1988, co-directed by Professors Zvi Gitelman and
. The Center superseded the University's Program in Judaic Studies, established in 1971 with a grant from the Jewish Welfare Association in Detroit. The Program was co-directed by Professors Zvi Gitelman and Edna Coffin, and it brought Professor Yehuda Reinharz, now president of Brandeis University, to the Ann Arbor campus to teach Jewish history. In 2005, Stanley and Judy Frankel, son and daughter-in-law of Samuel and Jean, donated $20 million to the University of Michigan to establish the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. The Frankel Center coordinates programs and teaching; the Frankel Institute will have 15 faculty members, 40 courses, and 10–14 visiting scholars, teaching 800–1,200 students per year. The total population at the University numbers 36,000, of which 24,000 are undergraduates; it is estimated that ⅓ of the student body is Jewish. Thus, two percent of all Jewish students in North America study at the University of Michigan and the Jewish community of Ann Arbor swells while the university is in session. The students are served by the B'nai Brith Hillel Foundation, the second largest student organization at the University of Michigan, whose modern, new facility was built in 1989, under the leadership of its long-time and current executive director, Michael Brooks. The University of Michigan is a major feeder school for the Hebrew Union College, Jewish Theological Seminary, and AIPAC's Young Leadership Cabinet.