Jews and Christians unite to restore historic synagogue in Detroit

The majestic sanctuary inside Temple Beth El on Woodward in Detroit. Photos by Steve Neavling.

Gazing up at the sanctuary’s towering, ornate dome, Pastor Aramis Hinds recalls the first time he walked into the 95-year-old synagogue in Detroit.

“I thought it was something divine,” Hinds said inside the historic Temple Beth El at 8801 Woodward.

Designed by architect Albert Kahn, the iconic, neoclassical synagogue was home to Detroit’s first Jewish congregation from 1922 to 1973.

Temple Beth El

Since then, it has changed hands numerous times until Hinds purchased the building in 2014.

Hinds, a 36-year-old Detroit native, teamed up with the Jewish community to embark on an ambitious plans to renovate the 55,000-square-foot limestone building and covert it into an interfaith community center with a performing arts theater, a fitness center and space for tutoring, counseling and worship. The cavernous building has four floors and 55 classrooms and offices.

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Pastor Aramis Hinds inside the sanctuary.

Hinds and volunteers launched a Kickstarter campaign that ends Friday. The goal is to raise $100,000 to repair the elevator and leaking roof, renovate the classrooms and retain an architecture firm specializing in historic building renovation.

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With only a few days left, the group has raised more than $42,000.

“You start with nothing and you build on it,” said Hinds, who started his church in his living room on Detroit’s east side. “We recognized it’s time to kick it up a notch.”

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Auditorium inside Temple Beth El.

The building already is showing its potential. The second-floor library has books, workshops and 11 computers. The Detroit Phoenix Center provides space and showers for homeless people ages 14 to 24. And a children’s community group, The Casoe, performs in the auditorium.

“We’re taking a holistic approach to community empowerment,” Hinds said.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.