The following article originally appeared in Detroit Jewish News 8/31/17

No Room For Hate

Rabbi Simcha Tolwin



The Black Lives Matter movement released its first comprehensive paper outlying their policies. While the majority of the document addresses issues other than Israel, the section on foreign policy describes Israel as “a state that practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades.” It criticizes no foreign country other than Israel and argues that the U.S., because of its alliance with Israel, is “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”

Parshat Ki Tetze: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19; Isaiah 54:1-10.

The White Lives Matter Movement or the alt-right don’t hide their anti-Semitism behind Israel, but came right out and called for killing Jews who are “stealing land and jobs that were meant for their children.” And so I’m reminded of the lyrics from a Tom Lehrer song, “and everyone hates the Jews.” But the one thing that is worse than the hatred of others against us is when we start to hate each other.

In this week’s Torah portion, we are advised about the rules of going out to war against your enemy, and the Talmud is quick to point out that the enemy is yourself. We can be our own worst enemies. As an Orthodox rabbi for non-Orthodox people, I have brought more than 1,000 non-Orthodox Jews to Israel, including close to 300 from our community. About 90 percent of the participants, when reflecting on their trip, felt that the Kotel was the highlight of their Israel experience. The Kotel is the place where Jewish people of all stripes come and pray together.

Since 1967, the Kotel has been a great unifier. The multitude of cultures, religions and ethnicities that have experienced this magic beside me enriched my prayers at the Kotel. I have prayed next to a barefoot Indian man in his kneeling position on one side of me, a Reform Jew, who is looking up and meditating on the other side. A Chassid behind me prays from a siddur, and a tourist next to him is on a pilgrimage from Africa.

Jerusalem, Israel – The Kotel (Western Wall).

The Kotel is the farthest thing from a dividing wall, and we have become our own worst enemies by turning it into a place of disunity. Never mind that the arguing is ludicrous since there already is an egalitarian plaza that has been in existence for years, and never mind that this is an Israeli political issue and not ours, Detroit has been sucked into a false war that is not even ours.

Of course, we will have disagreements, but we cannot lose our respect for each other. We need to respect and love every Jew and sometimes compromise. This is exactly what has always existed at the Kotel: love, respect and compromise. People from all lands, cultures and beliefs coming together and praying as one. Everyone hates the Jews, but we love each other.

Rabbi Tolwin


Simcha Tolwin is executive director of Aish Detroit.








The following article was originally published in the Detroit Jewish News 12/22/2016. 

Aish Detroit Gets 800 People Baking Challah For The Global Shabbat Project

More than 800 participants — each with a table setting with an apron, mixing bowl, measuring cup and ingredients — took part in the annual “Great Big Challah Bake” at the Royal Oak Farmers Market on Nov. 10.

Acting as lead sponsor, Aish HaTorah Detroit organized the event with community partners the Birmingham Bloomfield Chai Center and Partners Detroit. The activity was part of the Shabbat Project, a global event that originated in Johannesburg, South Africa, three years ago. This year, the project reached 1,150 cities in 94 countries, with an estimated 1 million people participating.

In Detroit, attendees included friends, relatives, newcomers and many generations all in one family. The baking was fun and messy, but the results were delicious.

Other sponsors included Kroger, One Stop Kosher, Pegasus and Star Trax.

Photos by Jerry Zolynsky

Aish Detroit member Rachel Rosenthal of Oak Park introduces Elizabeth Kurtz, food columnist and creator of, to direct the recipe.
Annette Kaner of West Bloomfield and Amy Sternfeld of Bloomfield Hills mix their ingredients in a plastic bag.
Eliana Israilov, 10, of West Bloomfield adds eggs while her mother, Angela, looks on.
Dena Stein is the loser in a flour fight with Leah Hellerstein, both of Southfield.
Participants enjoy a little dance time while they wait for their dough to rise.
Volunteer Deborah Snow of Southfield with empty flour and sugar bags
Devorah Magier takes a selfie with Yaffa and Sara Magier, all of Southfield, Natalie Kahn of Huntington Woods and Shifra Cahan of Oak Park.
Michele Gershonowicz of Detroit shows she is all in when it comes to kneading dough.
Sisters Bonnie Growe and Mimi Gross, both of Oak Park, and Marrin Itenberg of Huntington Woods show their braided loaves.
The following article was first published in the Detroit Jewish News 11/12/2015
Click Here for the link
Parshat Toldot teaches us that, ultimately, our children determine what will ensure Jewish continuity — and what will not. Is your Judaism transmittable to your children, or is each generation less and less interested in the continuation of the Jewish people? In Judaism, we measure progress with how similar we are to our parents who were ultimately one generation closer to the very beginning of our faith.
These were the toldot of Abraham
… his children who lived as he lived.
A friend of mine in New York asked me to debate another friend, a Reconstructionist rabbi from Washington, D.C. I said,”No, thank you,” but I will put in writing that my grandchildren will debate his grandchildren. It’s not about right or wrong; we can argue all day, and it may even be fun. The question you have to askyourself is, “Are you successfully passing Judaism on to your children?”
Many people today define their Judaism by who can go up on the
bimah. Does your congregation allow women on the bimah? What about someone who is intermarried? The bimah has become the unfortunate rally table to define where we stand Jewishly. Defining Judaism by your temple, and making temples the focus of your Jewish identity is a mistake. The future of Judaism is your children, and your children are defined by what goes on in your home and not what happens on the bimah. Jewish life is your homebecause that’s what gets transmitted to your children. The Passover seder is the No. 1 celebrated Jewish ritual … it happens in the home. Ask questions like “What does Friday night look like in my house?” and not “Do you go to synagogue:’ “What books are on the shelves in my den?” not “What authors does the temple library stock?” It’s nice that on High Holidays you go to services, but what does your home look like during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Abraham did not carry a temple membership that defined his relationship with God; he and Sarah had a home that defined that relationship.
The synagogue is the least important Jewish building, after the mikvah and schools. Let go of the bimah mentality and grab onto a mezuzah mentality. Think in terms of your home and not in terms of your temple.This, perhaps more than anything else, can explain why the Orthodox community is 60 times less likely to assimilate than other denominations. If you want to see Orthodox life, don’t go to a synagogue; they are generally small, stuffy and uninspiring. To see Orthodox Jewish life you need to go into a home. The home is where you see a vibrancy that is young, exciting and being passed on to the next generation.
As a community, we struggle for the answer to Jewish continuity in light of devastating Pew Research Center reports — and in the face of our children who demand to know “Why should we care?” The answer is in your home. Build a home that creates toldot, and your family will also be part of the story of the Jewish people. We have a guarantee that “‘Am Yisroel chai,’ the nation of Israel lives.” We are eternal; Jewish continuity is guaranteed. The question you must ask yourself is that there is no guarantee that your family will be a part of the story of the Jewish people. This week’s Torah portion tells us that you can be a part of the amazing nation by making your home a
Jewish home.
Rabbi Simcha Tolwin
The following article was originally published in the Detroit Jewish News on 11/12/2015 click Here for the link
Shabbos Project
Great Big Challah Bake brings 650 bakers together for a huge connection.
The Great Big Challah Bake drew 650 women and girls to the Royal Oak Farmers Market Oct. 22 as part of the third annual global Shabbos Project that mobilized more than 1 million Jews world-wide to observe the Sabbath together.
In Royal Oak, the communal bread-making sponsored by Aish Detroit and Partners In Torah meant 650 stations with all the ingredients (provided by Kroger) at the ready, including special bright green aprons. Participants listened to Rachel Rosenthal of Aish Detroit give instructions as they prepared braided challah loaves together to take home to bake for the Shabbat meal the next evening.
“This event brought people together from all walks of life and many families celebrated Shabbat as a result:’ said Estie Tolwin of Aish Detroit, this year’s organizer. “Detroit was proudly represented in the international Shabbos Project:’
The following article was published by the Detroit Jewish News on 7/2/2015
Click Here for the link
Sharing The Spark
Aish Detroit brings mission leader’s wisdom back home to Detroit.
After 85 Detroit moms spent nine days in Israel hearing from amazing educators, they are paying it forward by bringing some of those same speakers from their trip back to Detroit. “We came back on fire because of the
amazing talks we heard” says Jennifer Arkin Camens, a trip participant. “We wanted our friends to have that same opportunity to experience Jewish wisdom from these educators we heard on our trip,” says Rachel Frawley, another participant.
The trip leader was Nili Couzens, who runs the Jewish Life seminars in Philadelphia. She spoke at an evening program at Aish Detroit on May 18 and during a women’s lunch and learn at the home of Mary Aaron on May 19, which drew nearly 100 women. “Nili Couzens changed the way I look at my marriage and my role as a Jewish mom for the better:’ said Gina Walters. “I am a better person through her talks, and I was so excited to bring my husband to hear her wisdom.”
Couzens said, “My goal is that people should see Judaism as relevant and fun and meaningful, and how they choose to express that is between them and God. If Jews don’t like being Jewish, if Jews don’t see Judaism as a source of light, they are just not going to want to keep it.”
The following article was published in the Detroit Jewish News on 1/7/2015


80 local Jewish moms learn more about Judaism and themselves in Israel.

Detroit moms Renee Roth, Debbie Pearlman, Elise Otis, Randi Langan, Jennifer Dudovitz, Lisa Knoll Klein and Jennifer Arkin Camens.

Could the Jewish mother be the most potent weapon in the fight against assimilation and decreasing support for Israel?

The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program (JWRP), which partners with the Israeli government and more than 100 organizations around the world, is betting on it.

In partnership with Aish Detroit, JWRP’s flagship program, Momentum, recently brought 80 Detroit-area Jewish moms to Israel for an eight-day travel and education experience. They joined more than 300 women from Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, New York-New Jersey, Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

JWRP was formed in 2008 and started leading moms’ missions to Israel the following year. Aish Detroit has been a partner since the beginning.

Momentum aims to bring Jewish knowledge, values and spirituality into the home and, through the moms, to make an impact on the entire family. In addition to Aish Detroit, partner organizations include Jewish federations, Jewish community centers and outreach organizations.

Detroit moms get ready for Shabbat with a challah-baking session.

Aish’s previous mission was last July. Until now, the Detroit groups have been small, averaging about 10 women. December’s trip was the first “mega” moms’ mission, said Aish associate director Estie Tolwin of Huntington Woods.

Tolwin and her husband, Rabbi Simcha Tolwin, Aish executive director, began recruiting participants last summer by word of mouth. The only requirements are that the women have children under 18 living at home and agree to continue their Jewish learning after the mission by attending a number of JWRP-approved programs.

The moms’ missions are heavily subsidized by the JWRP, the Israeli government and Aish. Participants pay only for airfare (some used frequent flyer miles) and a $36 registration fee. Leaders and participants liken it to the popular Birthright program aimed at young adults.

Detroit moms take a group shot in Safed.

The Dec. 8-17 mission included tours across the country, from Safed to Masada, as well as lectures, discussion groups and other educational activities about Israel, Jewish values, relationships and parenting. The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit arranged for the women to spend an afternoon in Federation’s Partnership2Gether region, the Central Galilee.

“The lectures were outstanding and inspiring,” said Ellen Starr, 47, of Farmington Hills, a social worker who has 19-year-old boy-and-girl twins and a 15-year-old son. “I can use what I learned about parenting skills even though my children are older,” she said.

Jennifer Fishkind, 44, of Bloomfield Hills, who has three sons ages 15, 14 and 10, enjoyed the opportunity to get away from everyday responsibilities and do some introspection.

Diverse Backgrounds

Participants came from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox steams of Judaism.

“One of the great surprises was seeing how similar we all are,” Fishkind said. “We connected in a real way and saw that we had more in common than not as women and moms. It was an incredible gift.”

Jennifer Arkin Camens, 42, of West Bloomfield, agreed.

“You had 80 women from Michigan and there was no drama, no bickering. We were all genuinely glad to be there,” she said. “I came back wanting to be a better woman, a better mom. I want to learn more about Judaism with my children.”

Ellen Starr and Jennifer Ostroff atop the Aish building overlooking the Western Wall in Jerusalem
Ellen Starr and Jennifer Ostroff atop the Aish building overlooking the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Aviva Gelberman, 40, of Southfield, who is Orthodox, said she found new ways of looking at Jewish practices and why she does what she does.

Even though she’s a program leader who has been through it before — this is her third moms’ mission — Gelberman said the lectures and classes made her realize the impact women can have on generations to come.

Camens, an attorney and a member of Temple Israel, said a highlight of the trip was dancing at the Western Wall on Erev Shabbat.

“We were 400 women, and all these other people — soldiers, children, grandmas — came and joined us because we were having the time of our lives,” said Camens, who has two daughters, ages 9 and 7.

Ellen Starr and Debbie Pearlman, 43, of Huntington Woods, a member of Temple Emanu-El, were moved by their visit to an Israeli army base.

“The soldiers defend Israel so we in America can have a Jewish state,” said Pearlman, who has three children, ages 14, 11 and 6. “I want my kids to have an appreciation for people who do that and be grateful that we have this Jewish state.”

Starr said she was struck by the realization that the soldiers she met were the same age as her twins, Shira and Zach. “They were overwhelmed that we were thanking them for what they’re doing,” she said.

Bringing It Home

Detroiters take a break at the Dead Sea.

Pearlman said the mission made her want to be “a better mom, a better person, a better Jew and to teach my kids to love Israel.”

She had purchased a pair of Shabbat candlesticks in Jerusalem. On the Friday after she returned, she lit Shabbat candles with her family for the first time.

“My heart was so full, being able to bring this home for my kids,” she said.

About 4,500 women have participated in Momentum trips since 2009.

Surveys conducted one year after participants return show that 83 percent say being Jewish is more important to them; 43 percent say they have become more involved in their local Jewish communities; 96 percent say they are encouraging their family and friends to visit Israel and 89 percent have increased their level of Jewish study.

Tolwin said the next Detroit Momentum mission will be in October, with a smaller group. She said JWRP also plans to bring a small group of dads on a similar trip in November.

For information, call Aish at (248) 327-3579. To apply, go to and select “Detroit” from the drop-down menu, or contact Lisa Knoll at

By Barbara Lewis, Contributing Writer





The following article was published in the Detroit Jewish News on 3/27/2014. Click Here for the link.