A Beacon Of Jewish Wisdom
It began as a modest effort to expand the Jewish footprint in the Birmingham-Bloomfield area — but it has the potential of becoming an educational gem for the entire Metro Detroit Jewish community.
The new Hyman and Sonia Blumenstein Jewish Learning Center, 36300 Woodward Ave., a half-mile north of downtown Birmingham, is intended for the educational enlightenment of all — no matter one’s level of Jewish knowledge, observance or affiliation.
The Blumenstein Jewish Learning Center is the brainchild of Eileen and Jerry Borsand of Bloomfield Hills and was named in memory of her parents who inspired Jewish values and community service in their children.
The Borsands have been instrumental in encouraging the increasing Jewish presence in the north Woodward area. Some 33 years ago, they started a synagogue, the Birmingham-Bloomfield Chai Center, in their living room. The growing congregation later moved to rented space in the Birmingham Masonic Lodge, about a mile north of the learning center, and holds weekly Shabbat and holiday services led by Rabbi Tzvi Muller.
“Eileen and Jerry are great visionaries and supporters of Yiddishkeit in the Birmingham-Bloomfield area,” Muller said.
At a festive dedication ceremony on June 28, Eileen’s brother, Harold Blumenstein of Bloomfield Hills, who played an important role with the center, spoke along with his wife, Penny, and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit CEO Scott Kaufman.
Right now, the learning center’s primary tenant is the Jewish Values Institute, also led by Muller. The JVI’s non-denominational mission is to encourage and teach respect and kindness in human relations.
“The center’s board and leadership reflect the diversity of Metro Detroit’s Jewish community,” said Penny Blumenstein, who serves as a board member of the center. “We are proud to offer a pluralistic and open environment for Jewish study.”
Eileen Borsand is pleased the center will serve the wider Jewish community. “My parents, Hyman and Sonia, although not people of means, were very charitable,” she said. “They loved family, and they valued encompassing everybody in the community. They passed that value on to us children.”
Brother Harold agrees. “For Eileen and me, the center is a tribute to our parents,” he said. “But to the community, it’s a tribute to the concept of Jewish learning. Jews were always people of the book — a learned people.”
He noted the importance of education after school years. “I’m 80 years old, and 96 percent of my knowledge came after I left school,” he said. “This center is relevant because it allows people to continue their education and do the things that make them broader, more satisfied people.”
Who Were Hyman and Sonia?
Hyman and Sonia Blumenstein were representative of the generation of Jews who immigrated before and after World War I, seeking escape from pogroms in Eastern Europe and finding economic opportunity in North America.
Hyman immigrated to Canada from Poland in 1918 and Sonia from what is now Belarus in 1926. Both were skilled in the garment industry. They met while working at a clothing manufacturer in Toronto. They married and eventually moved to Detroit in 1945 and acquired a garment business.
Like many of that generation, they made a modest living and raised a new generation that further realized the American Dream. But it was their moral core and strength of character that left a lasting impression on their children.
“My parents were wonderful — they worked hard and were dedicated to us,” said son Harold Blumenstein. “They were wise in the ways of life and what kind of person you should be. They gave us a value system.”
Daughter Eileen Borsand agrees.
“We really had nothing, but no matter which charity sent us an envelope, my mother would always send something back,” she said. “Whatever she had, she would share.
“Because they were modest people, they might have been shy about having their names on a public building like this. But we’re bringing Jews together to learn under one roof — they would love that.”
— David Sachs, contributing writer
Eileen added, “We are very fortunate to have Rabbi Muller because he is an amazing spiritual leader and such a dedicated, sincere and genuine person.”
Muller will teach classes, offer programming and conduct the kindness-focused activities of the Jewish Values Institute.
“We are looking forward to a number of exciting things here,” Muller said. “We’ll be rolling out programming for adults, young adults, teens and children. We’ll also feature a distinguished lecture series and a digital, audio and book Jewish library.”
Muller has an ambitious agenda in teaching kindness in human relations.
“Some things in life come with accompanying instructions, from coffee makers to our roads with speed limit signs,” he said. “But, for the most important areas of our lives — our relationships, our choices about goodness, our own character development — we don’t have signs popping up, giving us guidance on what to do.
“We don’t hear a whisper in our ear, ‘Apologize now for what you just said.’ We don’t have a sign pop up and say, ‘Compliment that kid; he just did something extraordinary.’
“The way we can live a life that reflects our values is if we take the time to ponder, think and prepare ourselves by precisely studying the things that we study here. The Blumenstein Jewish Learning Center is a home for life’s most important instructions.”
Allan Cohen of Bloomfield Township is a regular at both the Jewish Values Institute and the Birmingham-Bloomfield Chai Center. “I love that there are two sources of Jewish learning in my neighborhood,” he said. “Both JVI and Rabbi Muller’s synagogue have allowed me to better lead my daily life from a perspective of Jewish values and ideals.”
At the Blumenstein Jewish Learning Center’s grand opening ceremony, Muller acknowledged Ronald Rogers, husband of Eileen’s and Harold’s sister Fran Rogers, for his efforts with the building renovations and also Patti Kelter Cohen for the interior design. Fran and Ronald’s daughter Ahuva Rogers designed the youth lounge.
As Federation CEO Kaufman noted, the Blumenstein Jewish Learning Center has community-wide appeal. “This center will reflect the strength and richness of our Jewish life here in Detroit,” he said.
“It will enhance our ability to live long and share our collective experiences that are grounded in our essential Jewish values and teachings while remaining open to new ideas, to diverse perspectives and approaches.”