J-Serve teens team with BBYO and Repair the World to experience Detroit.

Albaro Aguirre, 9, of Detroit gets a ride from J-Serve volunteer Sierra Stone, 17, of West Bloomfield. (Photos by Brett Mountain)
Albaro Aguirre, 9, of Detroit gets a ride from J-Serve volunteer Sierra Stone, 17, of West Bloomfield. (Photos by Brett Mountain)

It would take three lifetimes to fully comprehend the depths and dynamics of Detroit. But three days immersed in the city provided 13 local Jewish teens, volunteering through J-Serve, the perfect opportunity to investigate and invest.

The itinerary for their service-learning trip, which was coordinated by Repair the World and BBYO, tells the story of a group of young people both serving and expanding their community:

Wednesday
4 p.m. Teens arrive at the Collaboratory, an historic home in southwest Detroit that is now the world headquarters of Summer in the City. Volunteers take their

Brothers Artemio Gonzales, 5, and Gavin Gonzales, 7, of Detroit with J-Serve volunteers Daniel Honet, 15, of West Bloomfield and Jacob Silberg, 15, of Northville
Brothers Artemio Gonzales, 5, and Gavin Gonzales, 7, of Detroit with J-Serve volunteers Daniel Honet, 15, of West Bloomfield and Jacob Silberg, 15, of Northville

unnecessarily large volume of luggage to the recently renovated third floor, where they will be sleeping less than they should. Then they get to work assembling materials for the Winter Games, a free two-day camp for kids in the neighborhood organized by Repair the World.

6 p.m. We dine at Gold ’n’ Greens, Wayne State’s new kosher restaurant. The group enjoys delicious vegetarian fare alongside WSU students and members of the general community who keep kosher or halal — or don’t — but love the all-you-can-eat-for-$8 dinner and self-serve soft serve.

7 p.m. Everyone walks across Wayne State’s campus to the main branch of the Detroit Public Library to explore (and Instagram) the endless rows of books, historic collections and artwork.

9 p.m. Two local community activists, Blair Nosan and Nora Feldhusen, lead a session as part of their new initiative Gesher (“Bridge”), which aims to connect Jewish young adults to Detroit through social and environmental stewardship. The program helps participants explore connections between Jewish Detroit’s past, present and future.

Prina Ortiz, 8, Detroit; Hannah Goodman, 16, West Bloomfield; Abby Cohen, 16, Farmington Hills; Luzmaria Cervantes, 8, Detroit

Prina Ortiz, 8, Detroit; Hannah Goodman, 16, West Bloomfield; Abby Cohen, 16, Farmington Hills; Luzmaria Cervantes, 8, Detroit

Thursday
9 a.m. J-Serve teens partner up with students volunteering from Detroit’s Western International High School. The Western volunteers are part of buildOn, an organization that runs service-learning and empowerment programs in Detroit and cities around the country. Pairs from J-Serve and buildOn prepare themselves for a mighty challenge — captaining teams of campers for the Winter Games.

10 a.m. Game on! Campers begin flooding into the Latino Mission Society, a community center (just blocks from the Summer in the City House and Western) that has offered to host the Winter Games.

Teams of campers and volunteers create their own countries, replete with name, flag, geography and anthem.

Maldonia, led by Lauren Yellen and Lily Grier, has a tropical climate with small islands named after the campers. Maldonians enjoy surfing, speaking gibberish and reading. Lifeguards, doctors and shark watchers are the primary jobs; dolphins adorn the flag.

Noon After the group eats 18 pizzas (and almost as many carrots), they compete in fast-paced relay races for points and then sing their anthems to determine faux national supremacy.

2 p.m. The campers head home and the volunteers pair off for reflection and dialogue. The conversation’s leaping-off point: grandparents, our relationships with them, the unique role they play in our lives and the common enemies we share.

J-Serve volunteer Abby Cohen, 16, of Farmington Hills works with a group on their “country.”
J-Serve volunteer Abby Cohen, 16, of Farmington Hills works with a group on their “country.”

3 p.m. No trip to the Latino Mission Society would be complete without bowling (and manually setting the pins) on their four-lane basement alley. Irrespective of the geographic, racial and religious differences between the groups, all of the volunteers are comparably poor bowlers in the absence of bumpers.

4 p.m. Volunteers watch a screening of We Are Not Ghosts, a 2012 documentary that shares compelling but often unheard voices of Detroiters as part of a narrative of community self-determination.

 5 p.m. J-Serve heads to the Repair the World Moishe House in Woodbridge to discuss eating Jewishly with Rabbi Ariana Silverman of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, who lives down the street, and then has dinner with the house’s four residents, who share their experiences living, working, learning and serving in Detroit.

8 p.m. On a roundtrip People Mover ride — the first ever for some — the volunteers enjoy their ironic interaction with a group of riders on their way to the 18th Annual Motor City Tattoo Expo.

 9 p.m. SchmoozeFest. Jewish young adults who live Downtown and in nearby neighborhoods join J-Serve for a party at a Broderick Tower apartment to mix, mingle and enjoy a view that includes the infield at Comerica Park.

One of the distinguished guests, Adam Milgrom, is in the final stages of developing “a super-duper co-working space” in Detroit called, appropriately, An Office in Detroit.

Midnight. A blizzard hits. Snow blankets the city. Blankets blanket the volunteers.

Tiushka Shaday Marquez Olivo, 9, with buildOn volunteer Lydia Maciel, 14, both of Detroit
Tiushka Shaday Marquez Olivo, 9, with buildOn volunteer Lydia Maciel, 14, both of Detroit

Friday
9:30 a.m. Anxiety. Will the kids brave the blizzard on their school break to come back to camp?

10 a.m. They came back! Kids shake off layers of coats and snow and don’t miss a beat. One mother shares that her boys literally dragged her out of bed to bring them. Chaos and creativity ensue as campers and volunteers craft their own wizards, with materials from Arts and Scraps, and instill them with all variety of magical powers.

4 p.m. Half of the volunteers don aprons to cook a local-sustainable Shabbat dinner at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. The rest stock up on provisions at Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe for an adventure that includes snow-silent Heidelberg Street and Belle Isle.

7 p.m. Participants Brian Dickstein, Lily Grier and Sierra Stone leap at the opportunity to lead the Kabbalat Shabbat service, which erupts into dance. Twice.

8 p.m. Congregant Ruby Robinson gives the d’var Torah, drawing a lesson for the volunteers from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Tetzaveh: In the same way that the high priest carried the 12 tribes of Israel on his shoulders and in his heart, as symbolized by the jewels on his epaulets and breastplate, so, too, should we carry our service to and love of Detroit with us wherever we go.

8:30 p.m. We dine at the synagogue on the delicious dinner prepared by the volunteers: winter green salad, kasha with eggplant, kreplach soup with sweet potato stuffing, a trio of hummuses, beet and carrot slaw and, of course, hamantaschen.

9:30 p.m. Walking past the sounds of live music at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy, the volunteers head home, tired, wired and inspired. 

Students in grades 6-12 from around the community will gather together to volunteer at and learn about organizations making a difference in Detroit. J-Serve projects include gardening, painting, food packing, park clean-up and more.

When? Sunday, April 21, from noon-4:30 p.m. Drop off and pick up at Temple Beth El, 7400 Telegraph Road in Bloomfield Hills.

For more information and to register, visit jservedetroit.org. Pre-registration is required.

Questions? Contact Danny Bittker, program associate, BBYO Michigan Region: (248) 432-5686 or [email protected]; or Jodie Gross, associate director of education and youth at Adat Shalom Synagogue: (248) 626-2153 or [email protected].