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Photos: Inside the Bethel Community Transformation Center

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A sanctuary, in the truest sense of the word

Michelle & Chris Gerard

Along Woodward, between New Center and Boston-Edison, a true transformation is underway, physically and spiritually. Designed in 1922 by Albert Kahn, the 55,000-square-foot Temple Beth El has fallen into disrepair over the years, but serves as a place of refuge for those who need it. The interfaith community is coming together to restore this majestic site. Curbed toured the building with Pastor (and owner) Aramis Hinds and Rabbi Ariana Silverman from the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue to talk about the plans for the building and their communities.

Both Pastor Hinds and Rabbi Silverman see this building as a place for reconciliation and healing. Built as a synagogue, it served the Jewish population in Detroit for decades. After the riots in 1967, much of the Jewish community left for the suburbs, and the Temple Beth El changed ownership after. Now the only active, free-standing Jewish synagogue in Detroit is the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. But Hinds and Silverman, observing the current racial tensions in the country, state, cities, and neighborhoods, felt the need to come together before there’s a crisis here in Detroit.

In restoring this space, Hinds is hoping for three main uses for the building: interfaith worship, performing arts, and a community center. Currently, the building serves as a home for the Breakers Covenant Church International, a youth performing arts group called the Casoe Group, and a place of refuge for the Phoenix Center, which serves homeless youth in Detroit. Silverman plans on holding the High Holidays services here this year.

While the building is huge, the centerpiece is the sanctuary itself, with rows and rows of pews under an incredible ceiling with murals that, “evoke the immigrant’s dream, the wanderer’s journey, the elder’s wisdom.” The sanctuary can seat 1,600 and when we visited, seats were moved from an earlier service and rain was coming in through parts of the ceiling. The first step in restoration will include repairs to the roof, maintenance, and planning for historic preservation.

The building holds many community spaces throughout its halls. On the lower level, there’s a social hall, kitchen, and space for youth in the Phoenix Center. On the second, third, and fourth floors, there are classrooms, offices, conference rooms, and learning centers. In the first phase of renovation, the elevator will be repaired to make all areas accessible. Restrooms will also be renovated.

An ambitious $100,000 Kickstarter campaign has been launched to help fund repairs and restoration. It’s the first part of a multi-level renovation and Pastor Hinds hopes that in the near future, the space can be a place of healing, celebration, and refuge for all in the community.

Photo courtesy of James Feldman