UM-Dearborn scholar’s book documents history of Jews in Ann Arbor

October 16, 2006

DEARBORN / Oct. 16, 2006---Solomon Weil was the first of five brothers who came to Ann Arbor in 1845 to start a tannery, which eventually employed more than 100 workers. But while the tannery business is no longer a significant industry in Ann Arbor, the Weils actually started something much more durable.

They formed the nucleus of the city’s first Jewish community, with enough members to worship together regularly at ceremonies held in the Weil’s home.

Although members of the Weil family eventually moved on to larger cities like Chicago, they were the beginning of what has grown to be a vibrant community representing all facets of Judaism in Ann Arbor.

The history of that community has been documented in Jewish Ann Arbor, a history written by Richard Adler, professor of microbiology at UM-Dearborn, and his daughter Ruth Adler, a graduate student at the Ohio State University. They are members of Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor.

The book was published by Arcadia Publishing in their “Images of America” series.

In the book, the Adlers have assembled hundreds of photographs documenting Jewish cultural, social and religious activities in Ann Arbor over the last 150 years.

The earliest Jewish settlers in Washtenaw County were primarily associated with the region’s huge fur industry. But after the Weils moved away in the second half of the 19th century, the Jewish community became dormant, and the city’s first synagogue reverted to other uses.

At the beginning of the 20th century, though, two immigrants, Osias Zwerdling and Philip Lansky, “marked the true beginnings of what would be a lasting community,” Adler said. Zwerdling eventually owned a fur shop on East Liberty St., and Lansky founded a scrap metal business on Beakes St., later moved to North Main. They were both involved in the formation of the city’s first lasting Jewish congregation, Beth Israel.

The growth and evolution of Ann Arbor’s Jewish community paralleled and coincided with the growth of the University of Michigan, and their histories are deeply intertwined, according to the Adlers’ history.

In their book, they document the history of Temple Beth Emeth, and Chabad House, the home of the Lubavitcher movement in Ann Arbor. The Adlers also provide information about other Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Community Center and Hadassah, and prominent Jewish community leaders, including U-M President Harold T. Shapiro. They also document the history of Raoul Wallenberg during his student days in Ann Arbor. Wallenberg became a Swedish diplomat crediting with saving the lives of thousands of Jews from the Nazis in Hungary during World War II.

To order copies, or for more information about the book, see www.arcadiapublishing.com

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