Fifty years after Detroit was founded by the dynamic Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a Jewish fur trader named Chapman Abraham entered the fledgling trading post, laying what became the cornerstone of our long-lasting and vibrant Jewish community. In 1850, with only fifty Jewish adults on the census, the Beth El Society was formed by Sarah and Isaac Cozens, opening their home as a location for religious services. The original Beth El congregation consisted of twelve men; by 1950, this number had grown to fifteen hundred.
As the community continuted to grow and thrive, Michigan became a destination hub for agrarian Jews from eastern Europe, especially from Bavaria, where they immigrated in part to escape persecution. During the Civil War, Jewish families contributed soldiers at a rate of more than one per family.
Around this same time, the precursor of Congregation Shaarey Zedek formed as an offshoot of Beth El, which had begun to introduce more reform. The original site of this newly formed synagogue, Scherer’s Drug Store, now holds Cadillac Square Tower.
In 1881, our first professional ball club, The Detroits, joined the National League, and featured Jewish first baseman Dan Stearns. During that period, and throughout the early Twentieth century, many Jewish families settled in the streets along what is now Comerica Park. Beth David, now B’nai David, opened its first building at the turn of the century. The following year, Beth El opened a temple designed by famed architech Albert Kahn—a member of the congregation. Kahn’s many influential buildings throughout Detroit would later include Ford’s Highland Park assembly plant and, of course, the Fisher Building
During the early part of the century, prominent and interesting Jewish Detroiters included fireman Moses Weingarden, community leader Bernard Ginsberg, Shaarey Zedek sexton Meyer Smith, and Detroit symphony conductor Ossip Gabrilowitsch. Of course, hundreds of other Detroit Jews continued to influence the steady growth of Detroit, and continue to do so into the Twenty First century.