NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Sarey Ruden

Hello world! Meet Sarey Ruden, The Well's Nice Jewish Person of the Month for March! Each month, The Well proudly highlights an amazing (and eligible) individual, but this month's NJP has a bit of a twist! Sarey sat down with us to answer some questions about herself, as well as navigating the dating scene here in Metro Detroit and how that experience is reflected through her work.


TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

SR: I grew up in Bloomfield hills, and after attending U of M, decided to try out NYC. I lasted there for a little over 6 years before realizing that my heart was home in Michigan. I missed my family, old friends, going up-north, more than 500 sq. feet living conditions. So I packed up and moved home to the midwest in the fall of 2009, and I haven’t looked back.

TW: You spend your days working as a graphic designer and art director-- tell us more!

SR: I recently started working at Taubman as a graphic designer. My background is in graphic design and art direction, so this role is perfect for me. I’m loving the people and culture and the fast-paced work environment.

TW: Have you always been into creating art and graphic design? How did that passion come about? 

SR: I started drawing before I could even write! Unicorns and fruit bowls were my favorites. I was always a quiet kid, and drawing was how I expressed myself. I found my passion in graphic design and art history in the School of Art and Design while at U of M.


TW: You were recently selected as one of Metro Detroit's 36 under 36 for, among your many amazing contributions to our community, your work with Sareytales. How did that come about and can you tell us some more about what that has been like?

SR: If you insist :) The idea for Sareytales came about quite randomly. I had received a particularly cruel text message from a guy I went on one date with (from Jswipe actually) last year, and it just struck me, these words were poetry. How perfect would it be to take these mean words and turn them into something beautiful? So that’s what I did. I took his text message, and a bunch of other unsavory texts from exes and online dating app messages I had screen shot, and using my graphic design background, began turning ugly into art, and the idea really caught on.

Many of my pieces have been featured in exhibits from LA to Chicago to here in Detroit. I also sell Sareytales products on my Etsy page (etsy.com/shop/sareytales), and a boutique shop in NYC called Bulletin Broads. I’m also looking forward to being at the DIYSF (annual Ferndale street fair) again this summer. It’s been a liberating experience to take some rather personal, and often embarrassing exchanges, and display them for the world to see. But the reaction has been beyond rewarding. I am so thankful for all the love and support from friends and family, and all the new people whose paths I cross on a daily basis because of this project.

TW: What is some of your favorite dating advice that you've either given or received? 

SR: “Don’t show them crazy too soon” - My brother, Noah Ruden

"I can't believe you're not divorced yet" - My mom, Joanne Schulman (keep in mind I've never been married).

"Over my dead body" - My dad, Andy Ruden

"If you think it, it is" - My step mom, Janis Ruden

TW: What is the dating scene like in Detroit vs. other places you've lived?

It’s obviously a LOT smaller here vs New York. But there are benefits to that. I can find out almost anything about anyone before we ever meet. Ok…so maybe that actually isn’t a good thing… I guess, for me, it doesn’t matter what city I am in. All it takes is one.


TW: What is your ideal date?

SR: I would say something casual. Drinks and apps during happy hour is usually best. It’s early in the evening, so if the date is a bust, the night isn’t lost.

TW: What tips do you have or what is the number one issue you see in your or other peoples dating lives? 

SR: Be open-minded. As I get older, I have learned to appreciate qualities in other people I might have overlooked, or dismissed, in my younger years. That’s not to say you should lower your standards or settle, but maybe recalibrate your priorities when making judgements on someone.

TW: Why did you choose graphic design as your medium?

SR: It was a happy accident. I knew I wanted to be in the art field, but wasn't sure in what capacity. It’s pretty rare to make a living being a traditional fine artist, but with graphic design, you can fuse that artistic angle with a more marketable service. I am lucky that my path has come back around to the more artistic side of design.

TW: What's your favorite book and what about it moves you?

SR: It’s a pretty random book someone suggested my bookclub read when I was living in NYC, called “Shantaram”. It was an about an ex-convict’s epic adventure from Australia to the slums of Mumbai. I don’t even remember all the details (it was a reallllly long novel), but it really struck me as a modern-day fairy tale about love, deception and knowing yourself.


TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

SR: Anywhere in Asia.

TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others? 

SR: Time is a commodity, and also a sacred resource. But it’s with my time that I feel most fulfilled when giving back to to others, and the community. Art and design are my gift, and while you cant place a monetary value on that, I can donate my time and resources, to help make a difference.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

SR: Yom Kippur. What can I say, I’m a glutton for self-deprivation.

TW: If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?

SR: I don’t have a pet, but, if I could ask my child-hood pet Barney the hot-dog dog (rest his soul) 3 questions, they would be: 

1. What are you barking at again?

2. Did you really just eat my underwear again?

3. Was it really a motorcyclist? (inside family joke and they would want to know too).


TW: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

SR: Being able to count on more than both hands the people I love in this world, and who love me back.

TW: How about a fun fact?

SR: We recently found out that my paternal grandfather changed his last name from Rudensky to Ruden when he was 18. I think Sarey Rudensky has a nice, strong ring to it :)

TW: When you've had a bad day, what do you do to make yourself feel better?

SR: Go for a long bike ride and try to get lost.

TW: Would you rather win an Olympic Medal, an Academy Award, or a Nobel Prize?

SR: Academy Award :)


NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Josh Finn

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Josh Finn.

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TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

JF: After going to Central Michigan University, teaching English for a year in Ashdod, Israel, and coming back to school here, Metro Detroit feels like home to me. My family, friends, and so many people are here. I think it’s important to keep this community thriving and to make it your own!

TW: You spend your days working for Bloomfield Public Schools -- tell us more!

JF: I am a DeafBlind Intervener. I work with students that are DeafBlind, and make learning accessible to them. A typical day involves me collaborating with teachers on what needs to be taught, and then modifying the assignments for the students in braille, or whatever communication mode they need. I’m also an American Sign Language Interpreter in the community and freelance as well!

TW: Have you always been passionate about American Sign Language? How did that passion come about?

JF: Yes! In 4th grade there was a disability awareness day. It totally changed my life. We learned the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet and I went home and practiced. A few years later, I signed up for classes and learned even more. Eventually, I minored in ASL at Central Michigan, and went to interpreting school at Oakland Community College later on. I became certified in April 2017 through the state of Michigan!

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TW: You're a graduate of Central Michigan University and Oakland Community College - what was Jewish life like there?

JF: At Central, I was involved with Hillel right away. It was a close knit group, and we loved planning fun events. Central has a smaller Jewish community. You could find me typing away notes at our meetings, and planning programs like, “Happy Meal Hannukkah,” or “Make Your Bubbie Proud Shabbat.” At OCC, I became more involved with The Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit's NextGen. 

TW: What's your favorite book and what about it moves you?

JF: My favorite book is Broadway Musicals, Show by Show. I’m a theatre geek. The book outlines musicals from the early 1900s until the early 2000s. It’s interesting to see how musicals and theatre have transformed over the years. I like that the book explains how the show came about, who the cast was, and songs that have changed or stayed the same in the revivals.

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

JF: I would die to go to Antarctica. Yes, living in Michigan, we basically live in Antarctica already. When I was in 7th grade, my dad’s coworker was researcher there, and it always looked so beautiful. I would love to see penguins and explore. That…or somewhere warmer like the Maldives.

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TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

JF: I love educating people on American Sign Language, as well as participating in pride events. I am a part of the LGBTQ community, and am on the committee for NextGen Pride, which plans events for LGBTQ individuals and allies. It’s a super fun way to get out there showing people what Jewish LGBTQ life is all about!

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

JF: Chanukah by far. I love the family traditions surrounding it, and I love being with family. I love to gift give, and I love latkes and everything about the holiday. My mom bakes unreal cookies, and we just have a fun time together. It also reminds me of my late grandparents and their traditions, which means a lot to me.

TW: Fav Jewish food?

JF: Kugel. Latkes. Matzo Ball soup….oh and for sure, a bagel and shmear.

TW: If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?

JF: I’d probably ask Baela, my two-year-old black cat: if she really likes being held, why she’s so obsessed with her blue string, and why is she so stinkin’ cute?!

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TW: What accomplishment are you most proud of?  

JF: Becoming a certified ASL Interpreter. I have chased that dream since 1998, and it’s so nice to finally be certified!

TW: How about a fun fact?

JF: As a kid, I was on the cover of the Life cereal box for a week. I got 3rd place in a contest in Kindergarten, and I still have one of the boxes!

TW: What are your three favorite movies?

JF: It’s tough, but…Déjà Vu, Stranger Than Fiction, and Miss Congeniality!

TW: When you've had a bad day, what do you do to make yourself feel better?

JF: I bake up a storm. I can make cake, cookies, breads, cupcakes…you name it. I “stress bake,” and watch The Great British Bake Off. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine.

TW: Would you rather win an Olympic Medal, an Academy Award, or a Nobel Prize?

JF: An Academy award, so I could thank all of the amazing people in my life, and meet Ellen DeGeneres of course!

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NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Jaime Bean

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Jaime Bean!


TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

JB: After living outside of Metro-Detroit for a year, I came to really appreciate the tight-knit community that we have here. I think that I used to take it for granted but there is something special about being surrounded by a community where you have ties to everything. Also most of my family, both immediate and extended, is here and they are very important to me so being around them is a priority.

TW: You spend your days working for the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit -- tell us more!

JB: I am lucky enough to be in charge of recruiting, planning and staffing our Detroit Community Birthright trip (all you 22-26 year olds who haven’t gone on Birthright yet, hit me up). I love being able to work for the community that has given me so much. I benefited from the Federation and various agencies my entire life but never really knew what the Federation was, so I feel very grateful that I get to be a professional at an organization that has given me so much.


TW: What is a hobby that you are really into? How did that passion come about?

JB: I’ve become very into games recently. I think that they are an awesome way to work your brain, be competitive and the best part is that they are social. There is nothing I love more than getting a group of friends together to have a game night. This new found passion came about because I like finding ways to bring different people in my life together and this is the perfect way to get a group of people together to do something fun.

TW: What's your favorite book and what about it moves you?

 JB: I actually have two favorite books: Angels and Demons by Dan Brown and The Martian by Andy Weir. I love reading books where you know that the author put a lot of leg work into the book. Both have a lot of research that had to be done beforehand which gives me a greater appreciation of the book outside of simply being a good story.

 TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

JB: Japan is at the top of my list these days. One of my best friends from college has been living there for the past 3 years and seeing her pictures and hearing about her adventures has made me want to go there. The plus side is that if I go while she is still there I will have a built in tour guide to show me around!


TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

JB: I like to look at the most formational experiences I have had and tend to focus my attention on those experiences and how I can help others gain experiences, based on their own interest, that are equally as meaningful. 

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

JB: My favorite holiday is Shavuot. I spent the last year living in Israel and I found that Shavuot not only had the best food (it is mostly dairy based, so cheese for days) but the ceremonies that all of the kibbutzim and small communities have focus on farming and the harvest, which I really like. This is also a holiday that we don’t really celebrate in the diaspora so it was special experiencing it in Israel.

TW: Fav Jewish food?

JB: I know it can be controversial, but gefilte fish.

 TW: If you could compete in any Olympic sport, what would you choose?

JB: Bobsledding, but I would not want to be in the front or in the back, I’d want to be tucked nicely in the middle.


TW: If you could be a contestant on any reality/game show, what would it be?

JB: Minute to Win It

TW: How about a fun fact?

JB: I once watched a movie at Emagine Theatre in Royal Oak with Redfoo and his posse. He is the lead singer from LMFAO.

 TW: What would you put on your "Family Crest" if you were asked to design one?

 JB: A bean, of course

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

JB: I look forward to meeting other young adults from the area that I might not have met otherwise!


NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Andrew Banooni

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP (Dr.) Andrew Banooni!

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TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

AB: I grew up in the Detroit area, in Bloomfield Hills.  After high school I left Michigan.  I spent four years at Yale for college, four years at Emory for medical school, and five years at Harvard for residency and fellowship.  So after 13 years away, with my school and training finished, I started looking for jobs around the country.  I was lucky enough to find a job I love close to home and close to my family.  So I took the plunge and moved back here.  It’s been really great to explore Detroit and its renaissance, and to see how much things have changed here while I was gone.  I’ve been back almost a year, and I love it so far!

TW: You spend your days practicing medicine and working as an Assistant Professor -- tell us more!

AB: I am an anesthesiologist, with a subspecialty board certification in pediatric anesthesia.  I can pinpoint my decision to pursue this career to a specific moment in medical school.  I found myself looking down at the worried eyes of a seven-year-old boy, who was about to have a port placed to treat his newly diagnosed cancer.  Holding his hand, I answered each of his questions about the equipment in the room.  “You remember the stickers on your chest?”  He blinked, and nodded.  “Those stickers—and that screen—let me see how your heart is doing.”  He looked at me with wide blue eyes, and whispered, “Does the screen tell you my heart feels scared?”  “No,” I replied.  “The screen tells me your heart is very brave.”  He smiled, and fell asleep peacefully.  I treasure moments like this. No matter their age, I take pride in being able to gain their trust, mitigate their fears, and put them at ease in the very short time before they have surgery.  Plus, I am naturally silly, so I enjoy bringing that aspect of my personality to bear at work.

As for being an assistant professor, I have loved teaching for a long time.  I was a teaching fellow at Harvard Medical School during my residency and pediatric fellowship.  When I moved here, I was offered an appointment at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.  I teach medical students and residents regularly in the hospital. I also act as a mentor to a group of 21 medical students, meeting with them throughout their four years and helping in any way I can.  It’s been a tremendously rewarding experience so far. 

TW: What is a hobby that you are really into? How did that passion come about?

AB: I absolutely love to travel.  Whether it’s getting in my car for impromptu road trips, or venturing internationally, I am frequently working on sating my wanderlust.  Each trip fuels my wishes to explore even more of the vistas, foods and cultures of the world.  I’m going to Japan in a couple weeks, and I couldn’t be more excited!

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TW: You're a graduate of Yale University - what was Jewish life like there?

AB: Yale was roughly 15-20% Jewish, and so the Hillel there had a lot to offer.  One of my favorite memories about being Jewish at Yale was celebrating the holidays.  Anyone was welcome to participate in a Passover seder, Jewish or not, so with the Hillel’s assistance, I hosted a seder every year and invited a mixed group to celebrate.  Those of us who were Jewish would have fun sharing our personal traditions with each other and with those who had never been to a seder before.  It was awesome.

TW: What's your favorite book and what about it moves you?

AB: I would probably say The Giver.  It was the first dystopian novel I ever read, and reading it as a kid, I was exposed to the genre at such a formative age.  It really had a profound effect on my view of the world, and it has a lot to do with my desire to help those around me.  I still love to read.  I just finished reading American Gods, and I’m working on 1Q84 now.

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

AB: New Zealand.

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TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

AB: I find giving back to the community very rewarding.  My daily practice as a physician fills me with a strong sense of service.  Additionally, over the years, I have organized free health screenings in underserved communities, raised money for and volunteered time at a women’s shelter, and donated to various charities.  The best experiences I’ve had, however, came on international surgical relief missions to foreign countries.  Most recently, I went to Ecuador and provided anesthesia so children could have their cleft lips and palates repaired.  I hope to continue to do this for years to come.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

AB: I’m a Sephardic Jew, and as such, my favorite holiday is probably Rosh Hashana, because it’s the most different.  My family’s celebration goes much farther than just apples and honey.  Much like the passover seder, each of the nine things we eat on Rosh Hashana has symbolism behind it…and is so tasty.

TW: Fav Jewish food?

AB: My mom’s chicken soup recipe.  I love to make it.  It’s got a Persian twist, with cumin and some other spices.  Over some Persian-style rice, it’s soooo good. 

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TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

AB: Have you ever listened to Adam Sandler’s Hannukah Song?  Pretty much everyone in that song.  

TW: Who would win in a fight between a Grilled Cheese and a Taco?

AB: Oh man.  Soft-shelled or hard-shelled taco?  I feel like grilled cheese would beat a hard shelled taco any day—it might crack under the pressure—but I think a soft-shelled taco would get jalapeño business.

TW: How about a fun fact?

AB: I can speak five languages.  (English, French, Farsi, Hebrew, and some Japanese)

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TW: Best movie ever made, hands down?

AB: The Princess Bride.  I’ve seen it more times than I care to admit, and I still laugh every time.

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well…

AB: …I feel welcomed into a warm community!

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Matt Weiner

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with a Nice Jewish Person and our newest team member, Matt Weiner! We're so excited to have Matt begin as our Assistant Director on August 1! 

TW: Welcome to Detroit, Matt! What brought you here?

MW: Thank you! I'm excited to be here! The Well brought me here. Rabbi Dan has been subtly (at first) and not-so-subtly been trying to get me to move to Detroit for the last 3 years or so. When this opportunity came up, it just seemed like the right time to jump in with both feet!

TW: Have you always been involved in Jewish life and work?

MW: For the most part, yes. I kind of fell into it after college. I was living in LA trying to make it in the comedy scene, and was given the opportunity to staff a Birthright trip. Afterwards a full-time position became available and the lure of consistent travel to Israel (and health insurance) was something I just couldn't turn down! The rest is history!

TW: What are you excited to bring to The Well?

MW: Wow what a great question. I love what The Well is doing and building in Metro Detroit and I really see it as being on the cutting edge of Jewish communal life. I hope that I can come in and help build it up even more. I love community building, connecting with people and helping folks along their own Jewish journeys. I hope to bring even more of a sense of community to an already thriving one, and especially focus my efforts on the city of Detroit, where I will be living!

TW: On your first day of living in Detroit, what are you going to explore??

MW: There is a Shake Shack here, so that??? Honestly I think my first day here will consist of unpacking my apartment and painting and such, but my first exploring day I want to find my go-to coffee shop (I'm a closet hipster, so the funkier/more local/organic it is, the better!). I will be spending a lot of time in coffee shops this year, so it's important that I get a good vibe from it.

TW: What's your favorite book and what about it moves you? 

MW: My favorite book is The Alchemist. It was one of those situations where the first time I read it was exactly at the right time and in the right place. I was living on a kibbutz in Israel and had just kind of a mind expanding experience reading it. It really made me think about where I am going in life and what is important to me. I get something different from it every time I read it -- and I've read it many times. I buy a copy every time I go on a big trip, then I write something inside the cover about what the book impressed on me this time around. Then, I leave it for someone else to find, hoping it inspires something within them as well. I am all about the pay it forward mentality. 

TW: How do you relax and treat yo self? 

MW: I am a sucker for a good record. For me, relaxing is sitting on the couch with a good friend listening to a great record and sharing a good meal. Or anything that allows me to exercise my creative outlets: writing, painting, playing music, cooking. It's all great!

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TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

MW: I have been dreaming of Thailand for what seems like forever. I have many friends who have been and I am tired of looking at all of these amazing pictures and not having the experiences for myself! Hopefully soon I'll get there!

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

MW: Passover (minus the matzah). When I was living with my best friend in LA we threw a seder at our apartment for 30 people. It was supposed to only be 8 of us, but we had so many people without a place to go that we just kept adding more. In the end we had people sitting on the floor eating together. It was the first time I really felt like I was taking control of my own Jewish identity in a proactive "adult" way. It was a really powerful experience. That and I found out that I make a mean brisket ;)

TW: Fav Jewish food?

MW: Oy, that's such a difficult choice! I guess I would have to say latkes, since you can't go wrong when you fry a potato!

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

MW: Mel Brooks. That's a tough question -- there are a lot of cool Jews!

TW: Best movie ever made, hands down?

MW: Oh jeez, you can't ask me that. I don't even know where to start. MY favorite movie (which is by far NOT the best movie ever made) is Bio-Dome. I know it's horrible, but I love it so much!!

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

MW: I get a drink of water? You know what? I don't think I have ever actually seen a functioning well before! That's weird. Excited to see how this Well has so impressively built awesome Jewish community in Metro Detroit and to drink deeply from it! 

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Katie Wallace

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Katie Wallace!

TW: Katie, you're originally from metro Detroit - - what made you decide to stay after college?

KW: When I graduated from UofM in 2011, Detroit was starting to gain momentum and that was something that I wanted to be a part of and witness. There’s an energy about Detroit that isn’t easy to replicate anywhere else. The pride we take in our city is incredible.

TW: You spend your days working for Everdays -- tell us more!

KW: When people lose a loved one, they need a simple way to notify family and friends of their passing. But newspaper obituaries are costly and often fail to get the word out, and making multiple phone calls is time-consuming and emotionally draining. Everdays brings peace of mind by offering a free mobile app with easy-to-create memorial announcements that can be shared to important contacts with one tap. Our company's mission is to make a difficult time more manageable and to transform the way the world communicates about one of life's most important moments.

TW: What are your three favorite things to do in your free time?

KW: Go outside (weather permitting), play tennis (I’m always looking for someone new to play with - - hit me up), and spend time with friends and family.

TW: What's your favorite book?

KW: The Harry Potter series! No matter how many times I read them, they’re books that I cannot put down. More recently, I haven’t had a chance to read much - - it’s a goal of mine to start reading more! If you have any suggestions let me know. 

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

KW: While there are many places I haven't been, I really want to travel to New Zealand/Australia. It would be great to go during the Michigan winter when it's summer there. The landscape is incredible there too.

TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

KW: I like to volunteer my time. I previously worked for 3+ years at Yad Ezra and saw firsthand the power of volunteering. There are so many worthwhile organizations in our community that cannot rely on staff alone - - volunteers help to make these organizations successful.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

KW: Yom Kippur. While it's never fun to fast, Yom Kippur encourages us to practice mindfulness. Being fully present all the time is hard, and Yom Kippur provides time to reflect on our actions of the past year and think about those we may have wronged. Rather than think about how hungry we are or when we can break the fast, the holiday gives us an opportunity to apologize. Yom Kippur thus allows us to become more intentional with our actions as we prepare for the next year.

TW: Fav Jewish food?

KW: Gefilte fish and horseradish. The spicier the horseradish the better.

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

KW: Thou shalt be kind to one another. It takes less energy and effort to say or do something nice than it does to be mean. 

TW: How about a fun fact?

KW: I started a new shared interest group with The Well for people interested in learning how to play or want to play Mah Jongg. I learned by watching my mom and two grandmas play every time we got together for a holiday, and I've since taught workshops on how to play!

TW: Best movie ever made, hands down?

KW: My favorite movie is Big Daddy and I will admit that it’s definitely not the best movie ever made. But, I laugh every time I watch it, it has so many memorable lines, and it stars a young Cole and Dylan Sprouse.

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well…

KW: I feel at ease. There’s no pressure to attend every single event, and there’s always someone new to meet. Every time I’m at The Well, I meet new people or reconnect with old friends.


NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Ari Weil

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Ari Weil!

TW: Ari, you're currently a fellow with Repair the World Detroit-- tell us more about what you do! 

AW: I am a Food Justice Fellow where I work primarily with Keep Growing Detroit (KGD), an organization that supports the amazing urban agriculture network in the city. I help build their capacity by recruiting and facilitating volunteer days at their farm - Plum St. Market Garden. One of my bigger projects with KGD is planting the family demonstration garden. Using only the seeds and resources that KGD distributes to thousands of gardeners in the city, I am creating a model garden so people can see what is possible to grow with their seeds using a variety of farming techniques. It's fun! If you want to learn more and volunteer please reach out at werepair.org and detroitagriculture.net!

TW: You grew up in metro Detroit - what made you decide to stay?

AW: There is so much to Detroit that I did not get to see growing up. My story is a typical one - only going "downtown" for Tigers games and concerts. I love exploring, and as much as possible I try to expand my mental map of the city by going to new areas and meeting new people. If I can, I take the side roads and avoid the highways so I can "connect the dots." Also, it is nice to be close to Ann Arbor for Michigan football games. Go Blue! 


TW: Where did you develop a passion for service?

AW: This is definitely cliche, but I love being active and doing work that makes a difference. It probably started when I was younger and I helped my dad with yard work. Then I realized that I could help people with similar tasks that really needed the extra hand. Then, by getting other people involved, more good work could be done and it could be fun! 

TW: What's your favorite book and how does it move you?

AW: In terms of fiction,  Holes by Louis Sachar. The book is better than the movie, but the movie is pretty great too. It is an amazing story of acceptance and bravery. It taught me the true value of friendship, how to survive in the desert during a drought, and that if I ever see a Yellow Spotted Lizard I should eat some onions. I always shed a tear when (spoiler alert!) Stanley finds Zero alive hiding under the boat Mary Lou. It makes sense that my favorite gardening activity is digging. It is so cathartic to dig a hole!

Non Fiction- The Nature Principle by Richard Louv. It is the followup to his big hit The Last Child in the Woods. It details the psychological and physical benefits of exposure to nature (as you may be able to tell by now I love "the outdoors"). It is especially important now that technology has quickly become ubiquitous with the human experience and can detract from time spent in natural settings. So...put down your phone and go outside! 


TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

AW: One day I would love to do a through hike (hiking a couple thousand miles for 4-6 months from one end of the trail to another) on Appalachian Trail on the east or the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast. Or both! I also really want to go hiking in New Zealand. I have only heard amazing things about the country. They have a through hike called Te Araroa that is supposed to be epic! Also, Vancouver. 

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

AW:  So many great options! Channukah is always near my birthday so it's a good time, it is fun to dress up on Purim, Passover has great food (I often like Matzah more than bread), and TuBshvat because trees = life. Though, if I had to choose one it would be Sukkot. I love camping and I really jive with the Sukkah. Also, I can shake it like Shakira with the Lulav and Etrog :) 

TW: Fav Jewish food?

AW: A Hillel Sandwich. For those unfamiliar it is a sandwich you make during passover with matzah, horseradish, and charoset (a mix of apples, nuts, and other yummy ingredients). I could eat it every day and I would be happy. The sweet and spicy combo is perfect. 

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

AW: Besides me? ;) Even though he has been going through some hard times lately, I would say Shia LaBeouf. From Even Stevens to Holes (I couldn't only mention Holes once!) he is excellent. We can forget about his work after that. I admire that he just does his own thing and doesn't seem to care what people think.

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

AW: Recess should be at least an hour, twice a day during school, all the way through high school. Kids need time to play. School is hard when you are cooped up inside all day. Recess lets kids be creative, get exercise, and focus better in the classroom. 

TW: How about a fun fact?

AW: I am training for a Tough Mudder race that will be on June 4th. It's a 5 mile run with mud and obstacles. If anyone wants to get down and dirty in the mud with me at the race please join!

TW: Best movie ever made, hands down?

Hook. Robin Williams plays a grown up Peter Pan and goes back to Neverland to save his kids from Captain Hook. A timeless classic!

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

AW: I enjoy meeting people from around Metro Detroit and learning how Jewish traditions can make a positive impact on my life. 


NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Haley Schreier

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Haley Schreier!

TW: You spend your days getting your Master of Social Work and working at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) in Farmington Hills -- tell us more!

HS: I'm finishing up my graduate degree in Social Work at the University of Michigan, and am a part of the Jewish Communal Leadership Program. For my internship I was placed at HMC, and I was in the middle of a project when the internship ended, so I just stuck around! School is great -- but I'm definitely ready to not have homework anymore!

TW: I hear you've lived in Ann Arbor your whole life! Any plans to venture away anytime soon?

HS: I love Ann Arbor and don't ever want to leave, although I'll probably end up moving closer to work once I get my masters. For now, I am perfectly content being a lifelong "townie." My parents moved to Ann Arbor for college from West Bloomfield/Bloomfield Hills and never left, and my sisters and I all stayed for college too! We are a big Michigan family -- 4th generation actually! Go Blue! 

TW: Have you always been interested in Jewish communal life? How did that passion come about?

HS: I got really involved in Jewish communal life when I was in High School. I was the Social Action Vice President of my temple youth group in Ann Arbor (Go AARTY!) and then co-President my senior year. I had a little bit of distance from the Jewish community my freshman and sophomore years of college, but got right back into it as a junior, and have stayed really involved ever since! 

TW: What's your favorite book and why does it move you?

HS: One of my favorite books is "The Five Books of Miriam" by Ellen Frankel -- it's essentially a feminist Torah, so it combines my two favorite things: feminism and Judaism!

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

HS: Poland! And I'm about to get to go! I am fortunate to have the opportunity in March to co-lead an Alternative Spring Break Trip through University of Michigan Hillel. I'm really looking forward to it personally and professionally -- visiting Poland is very relevant to the work that I do at HMC. 

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

HS: Passover! I love a good Seder, especially one with a social justice focus! I also just love being with my family and eating my grandma's delicious brisket!!!

TW: Fav Jewish food?

HS: Matzah ball soup is hands down my favorite Jewish food -- especially the kind that has vegetables in it! You can find me eating it regularly at Pickles & Rye in West Bloomfield!

TW: Who's your favorite Jewish person?

HS: Letty Cottin Pogrebin or Gloria Steinem! I look up to women who place themselves at the intersection of Judaism and feminism. 

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

HS: Thou shalt fact check all sources before posting on social media

TW: How about a fun fact?

HS: My friends tease me often for having a secret twitter life where I engage exclusively on topics of politics, sports, and The Bachelor. I can be pretty hilarious -- @hayz950.

TW: Best movie ever made?

HS: Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are definitely two of my favorites. 

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

HS: It's amazing! I'm looking forward to becoming even more involved in the Metro Detroit Jewish community as I make my way out of Ann Arbor this spring after graduation!


NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Zach Berg

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Zach Berg!


TW: You recently moved back to Metro Detroit after living in San Francisco. What brought you home? 

ZB: I'm at the age where I want to put down roots, whether it's a business, a home, or a family. It seemed like an appropriate time to come home. Also, the food scene in Metro Detroit is really exciting right now, so the move home made sense for my career as well. 

TW: You've hosted a couple of awesome cheese "pop ups" at Gayle's Chocolates in Royal Oak -- and have another coming up (1/28/17 from 11am-8pm). Tell us about the model and the one coming up - why a pop up?

ZB: When I do a cheese pop up, I show up at Gayle's Chocolates with 8-10 types of cheeses. I sell all of the cheeses retail, and will cut any size piece that you want. I also do cheese trays for special events. This time around, I am going to feature a pairing of chocolate and cheese. I like the pop up format because it allows me to test the market and see if Metro Detroit is interested in a cheese shop. Come stop by for free samples! 

TW: You've worked for Zingerman's in Ann Arbor and for Bi-Rite (staffed by several former Zingerman's employees) in San Francisco, in addition to a number of other fine dining establishments. What are the secret ingredients to a great food business culture? 

ZB: To me, the great secrets in business are not really even secrets. I have learned that it's all about the people; the team you have around you is paramount. You cannot be effective without them, and it's crucial to always show your team appreciation and gratitude. 

TW: Rumor has it you were a top finisher in a national cheesemongering competition -- tell us about it! And how did cheese become one of your specialties?

ZB: I got into cheese while working at Zingerman's, where I was blown away by the flavors of cheese, and the stories behind it. Cheese really represents an intersection of two important interests in my life: storytelling and food. In 2014, I placed second at the Cheesemonger Invitational in San Francisco. It was a lot of fun, and I suggest anyone who is a cheese lover attends this event. Now, I'm a CCP -- a Certified Cheese Professional. Yes, that is a real thing(!) and exists through the American Cheese Society (it's akin to being a cheese sommelier!).

TW: You're a product of Hillel Day School -- looking back, what about those years has stuck with you?

ZB: What really stuck with me from that time is a sense of community. Our class did everything together - attended school, went out on the weekends, and played basketball. Now that I've moved back, one of the best things I have done is reconnect with those friends from 20 years ago, Rabbi Dan included! 

TW: What's your favorite book and what about it moves you?

ZB: I love to read, so I have a lot of favorites. A book that really spoke to me was Way of Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. It's a great book as well as a series. I really enjoy themes of managing one's energy, and the idea that we are capable of things well beyond what most of us believe we can do.

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

ZB: Italy. As a student of food and wine, I believe it would be a monumental trip. I have never been to any of the classic European culinary destinations but I think the Italian way of life, particularly southern Italy, is most appealing.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish ritual and why?

ZB: I've always been a Havdallah kind of guy. I really enjoy the connection to all of your senses. I also appreciate the idea of being mindful of the end of the Sabbath and beginning a new week.

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

ZB: Rick Rubin, first because his beard is epic. Second, he was a punk rocker who revolutionized hip hop while remaining humble and not spending a lot of time talking about himself.

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

ZB: Thou shall treat people as thou wish to be treated. 

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well…

ZB: I drink deeply

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Brittany Feldman

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Brittany Feldman!

TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

BF: I’ve been a Michigander my whole life! My friends and family play a huge role in my life and continue to ground me in my connection to the city. I am excited about all the revitalization in Detroit and am happy that my home in Ferndale is only 15 minutes from the city proper.

TW: You spend your days working for Hazon -- what do they do? What do you do for them?

BF: Hazon (check out Hazon.org) is a Jewish environmental non-profit organization leading the way in the JOFFEE world (Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming, and Environmental Education). As a program coordinator for environmental and outdoor engagement I work to connect a wide range of age groups to the outdoors through adventure programs. I also work on our Seal of Sustainability program which is helping six Jewish organizations and congregations become more sustainable institutions. 

TW: Have you always been outdoorsy? How did that passion come about?

BF: As a child I attended Tamarack Camps and that’s really where my love for the outdoors began. As I got older I realized I could turn my passion for the outdoors into a career, and I couldn’t be happier. I love connecting people to nature through my work. In my personal life I enjoy kayaking, biking, and camping.

TW: You're a graduate of Central Michigan University - what was Jewish life like there?

BF: Growing up in West Bloomfield my Jewish roots were and still are deep. Attending Central Michigan University opened an entirely new world for me in terms of friends, opportunities and hobbies. I was not very involved in Jewish life at CMU because for me this was a time of exploration and growth through different outlets on campus.

TW: What's your favorite book and what about it moves you?

BF: On the Road by Jack Kerouac was a favorite of mine growing up. It inspired me to want to travel the country seeing new places and people along the way. A cross country road trip is still on my bucket list -- I’m just waiting to find the right travel companion!

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

BF: Thailand! I’ve always been interested in the culture and food. I’m hoping to travel there within the next year or two.

TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

BF: Through my work and personal life I am able to combine my passion for the environment by working to create healthier and more sustainable communities by guiding organizations and congregations in their greening efforts. I also try to stay environmentally conscious in my personal life by reducing my carbon footprint as best I can.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

BF: I’ve always loved Sukkot because it is a holiday that allows people to gather together and eat a meal outside while enjoying nature. Sukkot also occurs during my favorite season and around my birthday so that was always a plus.

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

BF: There are so many out there but Adam Levine is pretty great so I’ll go with him.

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

BF: Thou shall recycle and compost!

TW: How about a fun fact?

BF: I want to enroll in culinary school during my midlife crisis...

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

BF: I am able to connect with friends and meet new people!

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Alex Scharg

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Alex Scharg!

TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

AS: Opportunity is what kept me here! A few months before graduating, I reconnected with an old friend — through an entrepreneurship association — who told me about all of the great things happening in Detroit and why it was the best place to build a business. I visited his space a few times downtown and I liked everything about it. Combine that with my local connections in the area, plus a part-time freelance gig for Fox Sports Detroit, and I was hooked.

TW: Rumor has it you just started a business locally with a good friend - tell us about it!

AS: The rumor is true! My friend and I collaborated on a lot of different media projects together in college, and we finally had the opportunity to take our passion full-time together. Our company, Visioned Media (http://www.visionedmedia.com/), is a video marketing company where we make engaging video content for businesses and organizations to be used for marketing purposes. We’ve been full-time together now for about 3 months and we are excited to continue our outreach and letting community members know how we can help grow a business or organization!

TW: You were recently named Kadima's Volunteer of the Year! What about their work inspired you to get involved, and what has been the most rewarding part about being a volunteer there?

AS: I’ve always been big on giving back and I was looking to get involved as a volunteer in Metro Detroit. While out for dinner with a friend one evening, I met a woman who gave me her Kadima business card and we discussed how the organization supports members of our community. I thought about my friends who cope with mental illness and friends I’ve lost to suicide, and I knew this was exactly what I was looking for to make a difference. There’s more to the story here: http://www.kadimacenter.org/blog/a-sports-connection

TW: What are your 3 favorite leisure activities?

AS: Traveling, Event-going, and Board/Card games. I love playing Risk and Monopoly, and admittedly enjoy Poker too! My friends and I played all the time together and it stimulated great conversation and helped us bond. When it comes to traveling, I loved going to Israel and want to travel around the world even more!

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

AS: I’ve always wanted to visit Europe and learn more about the culture there across various countries.

TW: If you had to pick a favorite sport / team to watch, which would it be and why?

AS: The Michigan State Spartans, as it is my alma mater… Go Green! I was fortunate to cover a lot of the sports teams as a media member, so I was able to cover the Rose Bowl, Final Four, and numerous Big Ten championships and tournaments for football and basketball. The best memory was the Rose Bowl, as I spent almost a week out in Pasadena and made an award-winning documentary about the Rose Bowl experience for Spartan fans.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

AS: Rosh Hashanah — there’s something special about the sweetness of apples and honey while having the opportunity to start fresh each year!

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

AS: Albert Einstein — he made so many contributions to our understanding of the world (and he had awesome hair)!

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

AS: Thou shalt always love one another as brothers and sisters regardless of differences.

TW: How about a fun fact?

AS: I’m currently 6 feet tall, but was 5’4 up until the age of 16. At the end of high school, I grew about 7 inches in one year!

TW: Any other secret talents to know about?

AS: I started taking piano lessons at age 4 and still love to play today!

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well…

I enjoy the discussions and conversations about current events, ethics, and issues while meeting other great people in the Metro Detroit community!

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Adam Denenberg

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Adam Denenberg!

TW:  How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

AD:  After growing up in the Detroit suburbs and living in 2 other cities (Chicago & Boulder) I realized that Detroit was the place I wanted to call home. Living in Detroit allows me to be close to my family and friends, which is very important to me. I made the decision to move downtown not only to be closer to work, but also to be a part of something bigger.  I wanted to be involved with the rebirth of the city of Detroit. Detroit offers many opportunities to become involved socially, and is a great place to start a career. I am lucky I have the opportunity to work with my family business, in the historic eastern market district.

TW:  Your days are spent working in the meat resale business. Do you enjoy eating meat when you are not at work?

AD: Yes, I love eating meat. Without a doubt I would call myself a carnivore. Who does't like a good steak?

TW: Word on the street is you're an amazing cook (your reputation precedes you!). What's your signature dish and why?

AD: My one signature dish is homemade pasta and meatballs. I make everything from scratch. When I was young, my grandmother taught me to make this dish along with many others.  I have been using her recipes with a smile for 15 years. 

TW: Rumor has it you are a great golfer – how did you get in to the sport?

AD: I started to play golf when I was young, and quickly realized it was a sport I could continue to play for the rest of my life. I play golf to have fun and hang out with my friends. Tiger Woods may beat me by a stroke or two, but when it comes to never giving up I have him beat, that’s for sure. 

TW: What is on your bucket list of places to travel?

AD: I would love the opportunity to travel to Italy- sipping on all the best wines in the world and tasting all the best pastas.  When I'm there I would love to take cooking classes from all the best chefs. You will have to roll me back on the plane to return to Detroit ;)   

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

AD: My favorite Jewish holiday is Passover because I really enjoy my grandmother's cooking, and the time I get to spend with my family.    

TW: What are your 3 favorite leisure activities and why?

AD: My favorite leisure activities change from season to season. In the summer I would have to say playing golf with friends and family. There is nothing like having a huge BBQ with all my friends (working in the meat market helps) and hanging out on my boat relaxing.  In the winter I enjoy taking trips to Colorado for downhill Skiing.

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

AD: Hank Greenberg, a true Detroit icon

TW: How about a fun fact?

AD: I grew up the biggest Michigan Wolverine fan you could meet.  I did not miss a single home game for 10 years until I decided to attend MSU.  Once I became a Spartan, things changed.

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well…

AD: I look forward to meeting new people living in the metro Detroit area!

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Reva Berman

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Reva Berman!

TW: You're our first featured NJG/NJB who lives in Ann Arbor! How did you decide to make your adult life there?

RB: It kind of just happened. I went to the University of Michigan for undergrad and for grad school and loved the city. I applied for jobs all around the country, but it just so happened that I got offered my ideal job at a company in Ann Arbor and have been here ever since. Ann Arbor is an amazing city with so much culture, amazing restaurants, and beautiful parks. The city is constantly evolving and I continuously find new and fun things to do here!

TW: You spend your days as a Product Content Developer at Johnson & Johnson. Does their baby shampoo really not burn when it gets in your eyes? And what does a Product Content Developer do? 

RB: Haha it’s been some time since I’ve personally used their baby shampoo, but I believe it. My background is in public health, so as a Product Content Developer, I write the content of our digital health products. A lot of that work has been on our online health coaching programs. We have programs on topics like weight management, diabetes, insomnia, chronic pain, heart health, nutrition, etc. While our programs don’t give medical advice, they help you build healthy habits and make small changes in your life to help you feel your best.

TW: Rumor has it you're a well-regarded blogger -- how did you get into that? What has been most interesting / rewarding / challenging about it?

RB: I first started blogging a few years ago when I was in the midst of job searching. I had some free time and thought that blogging would be a great way to showcase my writing and health communication skills and give me something to talk about in interviews. My blog is about my experiences living with Type 1 diabetes (typeONEderful.com), but I try to make my posts somewhat relatable to anyone. Some posts are serious, some are funny, but I try to be honest about my experiences, the good and the bad. It’s always a great feeling when someone tells me they follow my blog or when I get comments from strangers who my words have helped. I’ve had some unique experiences come from my blogging, such as being sent free diabetes products to test and being asked by an author to consult on a romance novel where the main character has type 1 diabetes. Sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation to post after writing all day at work, but I definitely enjoy it.

TW: It's game night with friends. What's your go-to game?

RB: Lately it’s been a game called Telestrations. It’s essentially a combination of the game Telephone and Pictionary. The best is playing in a big group and ideally with some people who aren’t great artists. It makes it more fun when you really have to guess what the other person attempted to draw. I always end up laughing so hard during this game, seeing what the original word was and where it ended up after it has gone around the circle.

TW: What are your 3 favorite leisure activities and why?

RB: I love being active, so in the summer I enjoy bike riding, kayaking, or playing tennis. When I’m looking for something a little more relaxing, floating down the Huron River with friends is always fun. I definitely enjoy watching TV and am in a book club with a group of friends. And does eating count as a leisure activity? I love food, especially brunch. It’s kind of a hobby to find amazing brunch places to try. I was even in a “breakfast club” with friends where once a month we’d try a different restaurant before work. 

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

RB: I’ve been fortunate that I’ve visited a lot of amazing places around the world. Top of my list right now is to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or to visit Iceland; the natural scenic beauty of the landscape just looks breathtaking!

TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

RB: Over the years I’ve found ways to get involved in organizations that I feel passionate about. I’m currently on the Young Leaders Committee of the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and help plan fundraising and outreach events as well as volunteer at other JDRF events. I’ve been volunteering with the organization Project SNAP for a few years now, which helps empower, educate, and unite communities through creating artwork focused on a specific topic for mosaic mural installations around the country.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

RB: Definitely Passover. I appreciate how each year we read from the same Hagaddah, the same story, yet every year I take something new away from the Seder. I also love being together with my extended family. My family always hosts Passover, and over the years, have found creative ways to make the Seder fun and unique. This past year, most of my cousins and my sister were spread out around the country so we created a Google Hangout and set up an IPad in the corner of the room so my cousins and sister could all still participate and everyone could see each other. Technology is pretty amazing!

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

RB: Thou shall look up from your cell phone occasionally. But seriously, I feel like we are missing out on so many chances to genuinely connect with others and experience the world around us because we’re too busy looking down instead of out.

TW: What is the Jewish community missing?

RB: More crossover between Jewish communities. It would be great to see more events or more of an effort to help bring together Jews from Detroit to Ann Arbor to Lansing to small pockets in other local cities. While events are open to anyone, considerations like transportation or rotating locations could really help open up the Jewish community to feel more inclusive no matter where you live.

TW: How about a fun fact?

RB: I’ve gone bungee jumping in New Zealand. It was amazing!!!

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

RB: I find myself challenged to think about topics in a new way while connecting with friends old and new!

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Jillian Levine

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Jillian Levine!

TW: How did you decide to make Metro Detroit your home after college?

JL: After graduating from Michigan State (Go Green!) I realized that not only were there some amazing opportunities for me in the advertising industry here in Detroit, but it was also where most of my family was and I wanted to be able to stay close to them.

TW: You spend your days doing advertising - specifically on projects for Ford. Would you call yourself a car lover? What are your plans for Dream Cruise?

JL: Although I do appreciate looking at old cars I would not consider myself a car enthusiast - it's more of a job than a hobby for me. Living off of Woodward, I get away from the neighborhood for Dream Cruise! Traffic and I are not the best of friends...

TW: You're a licensed Zumba Instructor! How did you get into that? Have you always loved spandex and Latin music?

JL: I’ve always been into dance, so I guess I’ve always been a lover of Spandex. Over the past few years I decided to try Zumba, and really liked the classes and Latin music and so I finally decided to become an instructor. It’s a great way to work out and shake what my momma gave me!

TW: Apparently you're an amazing cook (your reputation precedes you!). What's your signature dish and why?

JL: I wouldn’t say I have one signature dish, but my specialties are salsa and mashed potatoes (not together of course). I love trying new restaurants and cooking new or different dishes or recipes. Just don’t ask me to make a challah - I still haven’t managed to perfect that!

TW: It's game night with friends. What's your go-to game?

JL: Are puzzles allowed to be part of game night? I’m a big puzzle lover. A typical game night at the Levine household would include Heads Up or Pictionary, and if we are trying to relive our college years there’s always waterfall or beer pong.

TW: What are your 3 favorite leisure activities and why?

JL: I don’t know if everyone would consider it a leisure activity but I love to workout, especially barre or tibata classes, and of course Zumba. I also love to read - I’ve read 37 books so far this year! I also like watching 22 Jump Street -- I’ve probably watched it 5 times… this week!

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

JL: It’s hard to choose just one place I’d want to visit, but I have always wanted to go to South Africa and Australia.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

JL: Either Sukkot because you eat under the stars or Rosh Hashanah cause it’s the New Year and new beginnings!

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

JL: Thou shalt not drive and Pokeman!

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

JL: My Papa Fred... he really is an awesome dude!

TW: How about a fun fact?

JL: Did you know penguins have knees? Also - I was a BBYO youth advisor for 3 years!

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

JL: ... it's because I know my friends will be waiting for me there!

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Jordan Weiss

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Jordan Weiss!

TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

JW: Honestly, it was a decision I more or less fell into. I took the bar in Michigan (I'm indeed guilty - of being a lawyer!) and started to build my own practice here. My immediate family is still here too and this is home -- nowhere else really feels right!

TW: You spend your days lawyering -- can you handle the truth? What's your favorite lawyer book/movie?

JW: I have a bit of a tendency to avoid the legal movies, otherwise I just start screaming at the screen that things don’t really work like that. But I don’t think anyone from my generation can pass on My Cousin Vinny!

TW: Rumor has it you are an avid cycler -- how'd you get in to the sport? What's the best cycling event/race you've taken part in and why?

JW: In this case, the rumors are true! When I was little my dad would ride into Birmingham with me on the child’s seat on the bike. I’ve always had a bike, but decided it was time to get serious about it again a few years ago so I could join my uncle on his weekend rides in the summer. I’ve joined Team Alex to raise funds for Make A Wish, and this summer I will be completing my first WAM 300, a 3 day 300 mile ride starting up north, and ending at the Michigan International Speedway. This is definitely my greatest undertaking yet on my bike.

TW: Bowling? Tell us more! Do you roll on Shabbos?

JW: Never, Donny! I bowl in a B’nai Brith Men's League (which is a thing that still exists!). I have a great team, and it is a nice break from everything else to get out there for a few games every Tuesday night. There are some great people in the league, and it is a lot more diverse in age than you might expect.

TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

JW: Being part of the Jewish community is really important to me. I’m active with a number of other organizations, and my synagogue, and I try and use my free time to work with others, to grow the community, and to grow interfaith relations within Detroit. I’m always really interested in hearing what other people are looking for, so if someone feels they can’t find a place, they should tell me about it, I’d like to help!

TW: You've been a leader with NEXTGen for a number of years - how did you get involved there and what has been the most rewarding part of your efforts?

JW:  I was told by a friend that he had a program for me to do. I had been home for a year or so, and hadn’t really found a place after being in East Lansing for seven years. Needless to say, that was the push I needed, and it’s really helped me find ways to be part of a community, and give back to the community. The most rewarding part of leading is showing people the parts of the community that are out there, and being able to show people from around the country, and world, that yes, Detroit still has this young, vibrant Jewish community, and it is a place worth being.

TW: Where would you most like to travel that you haven't visited?

JW: I’d really like to explore Europe. I was on a really amazing program in Berlin last year, but didn’t have the opportunity to spend time in any other cities. I’d like to get back, maybe take an opportunity cycle through some of the amazing areas in the Netherlands or France.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

JW: I find a lot of opportunity in Yom Kippur. While most people don’t like it because of the fast, I really appreciate the opportunity to focus on nothing but truly forgiving others, repairing your mental state, and preparing for the year to come with a fresh slate.

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

JW: Think before you speak.

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

JW: Mel Brooks - obviously.

TW: How about a fun fact?

JW: I love to read, almost exclusively fiction.

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well

JW: I get to learn new things and meet new people!


NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Rachel Matz

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Rachel Matz!

TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

RM: I don’t know that it was ever a decision so much as an opportunity to stay in the area in which I grew up and teach in an incredible school district. I think the growth in the Metro Detroit area in the past ten years, particularly as it relates to programming for young adults has been really exciting, and I’ve been glad to be a part of it. I’m also very close with my family who are, for the most part, local, so making a life elsewhere never really made sense to me. 

TW: You spend your days as an English teacher -- what's your take on the state on public education today? And what's it like teaching at the high school you went to (kind of, since Andover merged into BHHS)?

RM: I think that public education is one of those constantly changing and evolving beasts that nobody has been able to get a true hold of. I agree philosophically with a lot of the changes or policies made, but in practice I struggle with the fact that non-educators are consistently telling teachers and those in the field of education what school should look like for every student. There are a lot of equity issues in education, and there is a significant amount of work to be done in that arena.

At first, it was very strange to teach where I grew up. I was kicked out of the staff lounge on my first day by a former science teacher who didn’t realize that I had been gone for four years! Other than those initial growing pains, it has been great to teach in a building and a community that I am so invested in. Three years ago, when Andover and Lahser merged to become Bloomfield Hills High School, I thought I would lose part of that connection, but I still feel a great sense of pride contributing to students’ education in my former district. I am lucky to have amazing students and colleagues, and I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else.

TW: Rumor has it your favorite book of all time is The Great Gatsby. What about the book moves you? 

RM: That is absolutely my favorite book, although my love for the Harry Potter series cannot be overlooked. I really love the way that The Great Gatsby is written—there is so much meaning packed into each word and interaction that it is fun to analyze and unpack. I also love the 1920s, so the insider glimpse into life in that decade is exciting. I think my love of the novel really increased when I started teaching it; watching my students unpack Fitzgerald’s writing and come up with their own analysis of the text has made me consider it in a new way every time I read it. 

TW: You're a certified zumba instructor -- tell us about how you found your way into that! Did you always love Latin beats?

RM: Ha! I unfortunately don’t have much time for teaching Zumba anymore, but I now coach the Varsity Poms team at school, so I get my dancing fix through them. I have always loved to dance, and after studying abroad in Spain I had an even stronger appreciation of different styles of music and dance. I took a ton of Zumba classes at home and at U of M, and then was encouraged to get certified. One of the reasons I still love Zumba is that anyone can do it. Nobody in a Zumba class cares if you’re getting the steps right, if you’ve ever danced a day in your life, if you’re going left or right or not moving much at all—the only thing that matters is that you’re having fun. There is something really freeing about that in the workout space.

TW: You're a singer! And in a band! Details please!

RM: I have been singing my entire life in choirs, musicals, or just the car (where my true talent shines). Singing in a band is something I just kind of fell into. My dad, who plays percussion, had a band, and they practiced in our basement. One day they wanted somebody to sing harmonies on a few songs, and the rest is history! Singing with that group (eventually called Conga Blonde) led to singing in an original group (Null Paradox), and a bunch of fun gigs and opportunities. Conga Blonde does all covers, and my favorites are anything with good harmonies—anything by Fleetwood Mac or Heart are definite standouts. The members of the band have been so busy with other projects that we haven’t performed in a while, but I think it’s time to get the band back together!

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

RM: This is a tough one because I’ve been lucky enough to travel pretty extensively in my life already. I want to go back to Greece at some point and see more of the country, but the Galapagos Islands are next on my wish list. I have wanted to go ever since my grandparents took a trip there many years ago. I would also really love to go back to Israel and explore it from a less touristy perspective. Birthright was amazing, but I would like to be able to spend more time in places and have a more authentic experience.

TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

RM: Teaching offers me a lot of opportunities in this arena, as I am able to encourage my students to create social action projects and participate in their community work. My sister-in-law Semonna and I are always seeking new ways to volunteer, and a particularly favorite project of ours is the National Council of Jewish Women Back 2 School Store (coming up August 7)! This event brings over 400 children from Detroit to a pop up store run by the NCJW volunteers where they get to pick out clothing for school, winter outerwear, school supplies, shoes, etc. It is an amazing day and my favorite project to be a part of. I now also run the GROW (girls reaching outward) program through NCJW. The group is designed to encourage high school girls to learn about advocacy and work for justice in areas impacting women, children and families.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

RM: My favorite holiday is Passover, except for when I am in the middle of Passover! I love the traditions behind it, and it was my grandma’s favorite holiday, so I think that passed to me a bit. This year I actually wrote a Haggadah for my family, using a variety of readings, commentary, and images to tell the traditional stories. I felt connected to the holiday as I was able to truly understand the story in a new way and have quality discussion around our table about the various elements of the Seder and the meaning behind them. 

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

RM: Thou shalt stand up for and with others and promote social justice wherever possible.

TW: How about a fun fact?

RM: I am a big Michigan football fan (GO BLUE!) and my family has a longstanding tailgate tradition before games. I tend to get a bit crazy about my Michigan football, and almost missed out on adopting my puppy Kona last summer because he was in a shelter in Ohio that was being managed by an OSU fan. Luckily, she didn’t see my UofM license plate before I signed the paperwork!

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

RM: I am challenged to consider disparate points of view and connect with individuals whose ideas may differ from mine.

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Kevin Yavno

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Kevin Yavno!

TW: You have the distinct honor of being our first Canadian featured! What's it like living in Windsor and working in Detroit? Are you a tunnel or bridge kind of guy?

KY: It’s an honour to be the first Canadian featured. Living in Windsor and working in Detroit let’s me enjoy the best of both countries. I get to enjoy everything Detroit has to offer during the week, and retreat to the relative tranquility of Windsor in the evenings and weekends. I’ve lived in Windsor my whole life and I highly recommend visiting to everyone. We have some amazing restaurants and the view is much better from our side of the river. I am a tunnel guy. I have to go through customs everyday, but I still have a shorter commute than most of my co-workers.

TW: You're currently a software engineer for Amazon -- what do you actually do day-to-day at work?

KY: Well, unfortunately I can’t give too many details. I can say that my job is to make sure that whatever it is that you want when you go to Amazon is available for you to buy at a low price. I do this by building tools that help businesses sell their items on Amazon more efficiently and competitively. Day to day I write a lot of code, go to meetings, and help design the systems that work behind the scenes at Amazon.

TW: You went on Birthright Israel last year with the Detroit Federation's community trip -- what was that experience like for you? Highlights?

KY: It was an amazing experience. It was my first time visiting Israel and I definitely want to go back as soon as possible. I was lucky that the Detroit community allowed me to tag along with them since I was technically supposed to go with a Canadian group. I really loved the history of the country and visiting all the ancient locations in person. My favourite part of the trip was all the markets we visited, especially the one in Jaffa. I also had a lot of fun going river rafting with everybody. After the trip ended I stayed with my brother in Eilat and we took a trip to Petra, Jordan to see the ancient city, which was absolutely incredible.


TW: What are your three favorite things to do in your free time?

KY: My three favourite things to do are cooking, playing the piano, and traveling. I love cooking. There’s nothing like making delicious food whenever you want. Currently, my signature dish is New York cheesecake, but I also have a killer chicken wing recipe. I have been playing the piano since I was 6 years old. I used to play all classical but when I stopped taking lessons, I starting playing more modern music. I’m currently working on Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. I also love traveling and flying, I am planning to get my pilot’s license. I try to travel as much as I can.

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

KY: In terms of seeing new things, I would really like to visit China and Japan. I think that there’s so much culture and history there and it would be amazing to see it in person. If my goal is to relax, my kind of vacation involves a beach, sun, and lots of cold drinks.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

KY: I’m going to go with Purim. My Hebrew School always had a Purim carnival where we would all compete in mini games for prizes. I have some very fond childhood memories from those carnivals.

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

KY: In my humble opinion: Mel Blanc. He is the man of 1000 voices including all your favourite Looney Tunes characters.  

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

KY: “Thou shalt empathize with thy neighbor.” Empathy is something I feel that the majority of people lack. I think seeing things from other people’s point of view can go a long way towards solving problems in this world.

TW: How about a fun fact?

KY: I can solve a Rubik’s cube in under a minute.

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

KY: I'm able to think about the modern world from a Jewish perspective and meet others who are like me!

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Rachel Klein

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Rachel Klein!

TW: We hear you're currently living in Southwest Detroit. What are the best and worst parts of living in the city, and how has it changed since you moved there?

RK: Living in Detroit has been wonderful because it’s given me a chance to be a part of a vibrant community of individuals with a genuine interest in seeing the city thrive. It’s great to be involved in everything that’s happening here, and I’ve especially been (pleasantly) surprised to see what an active young Jewish community is budding in town. I’ve only been living here a little less than a year, so I can’t say it’s changed tremendously in that time, but I do see new projects brewing every day. Overall, it’s an exciting place to live, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow new roots here.

TW: You're currently a fellow with Repair The World -- tell us about it!

RK: Repair the World is a great experience- every day is different! I’m an education justice fellow, so I coordinate programs between Detroit Public Schools and other Repair the World partner organizations. One of my favorite partnerships was coordinating University of Michigan’s (Go Blue!) alternative spring break. My favorite thing about being a fellow is that it has given me a chance to interact with students and teachers to learn what needs exist in the city, and to have a platform for contributing toward meeting those needs.

TW: What's the project you've worked on as part of your fellowship (or otherwise) that you're the most proud of?

RK: Right now I’m organizing a speaker series for the residents of Freedom House, a safe haven for refugees seeking political asylum within the United States. Every other Monday, we invite a speaker to give a talk for Freedom House residents on topics like the American political system and the current state of public health in Detroit. We’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible local speakers so far, and it’s been wonderful to see the enthusiasm among Freedom House residents.

TW: What are your three favorite things to do in your free time?

RK: This one is embarrassingly easy to answer: Yoga, Knitting, and Cooking. My Bubbie would be so proud.

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

RK: There are so many places I haven’t been yet! A friend and I are planning a backpacking trip through Europe for next summer. I’ve never been to Europe at all, so I’m really looking forward to it. Any recommendations on “must-sees” are appreciated :)

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

RK: Definitely Pesach. Every year I have a huge Seder with my family. One of my best Pesach memories so far is from 2014, while I was studying abroad in Haifa. My mother came to Israel to visit me and we had a Seder with my Zaydie’s friends from his hometown in Poland. Celebrating Passover in Israel with a group of Holocaust survivors gave me a whole new level of appreciation for the hardships that the Jewish nation has overcome, and the potential for growth and positive change moving forward.

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

RK: Right now I’m going to have to say Bernie Sanders #feelinthebern

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

RK: “Thou shalt not finish the entire container of hummus in one day.” (I could use the reminder)

TW: What is the Jewish community missing?

RK: The Jewish community has so much to offer, but I think we could still work harder to create a safe space for young progressive Jews to have their voices heard.

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well…

RK: I am challenged to think about numerous current issues through a Jewish lens. It’s really wonderful to have a safe space where I feel all voices can be heard.

NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Robert Sallen

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Robert Sallen!

TW: How did you decide to live in Detroit after school?

RS: Detroit is booming! I was drawn to the area because it is in a period of rebirth. I wanted to contribute to the rejuvenation. It has been an unbelievable experience down here. There is something wildly “cool” about Detroit that you have to live here to understand. It’s historic, cultural, architecturally gorgeous, and coming back in a big way. I would recommend living in the city to anybody. I was lucky enough to nab one of the few lofts in midtown that was available for rent. I’ve been living there for almost 2 years, and I am now in the process of purchasing a condo in the area.

TW: What was it like going to school at Grand Valley? Was it easy/challenging to build Jewish community there?

RS: Grand Valley was a tremendous experience. Being 20 minutes from Grand Rapids and about 40 minutes from the beaches of Lake Michigan offered up a lot of fun during my 4 years there. I have visited every major public university in Michigan, and I firmly believe that GVSU offers one of the best collegiate experiences you could ask for. With that being said, there is not a large Jewish population on campus. I was one of about 20 members in the Hillel group, and I was the only Jew in my fraternity. People constantly told me that I was the first Jew that they had ever met. I did not experience any anti-Semitism at GVSU; I just encountered many people that were not familiar with Judaism. The school continues to grow. Since I left, they have built a brand new library, business school, among other facilities. Seriously… Any parents reading this with kids in high school please take a long look at Grand Valley.

TW: You recently started a new job at Jackson Dawson Communications -- what're you doing for them?

RS: I can only speak generally about my role at Jackson Dawson because information about my project still is not public knowledge. I am an account manager, meaning I manage a team of people executing a marketing job that we were hired for. I interface with the clients that hired us, and make sure that the team is exceeding their expectations. I am fortunate enough to be working one of the most coveted cars to be announced in the last year or so: the Ford GT. The passion and enthusiasm that the clients have for that car is contagious, and it has been very exciting working with them.

TW: In the past you worked as an area sales manager for Chrysler. Would you call yourself a car guy? What's your dream car?

RS: I would not call myself a car guy; I would just say that I have a passion for business. However, getting the chance to be around shiny new cars all the time was not so bad! Living in metro Detroit, it was fitting that I would land in the auto industry. Had I been born in California, I would probably be working at a tech company in some sort of business role. I love business and getting the opportunity to present value to people. Chrysler was a great experience out of school but I am so thankful for my most recent career move. My dream car would fall under the Aston Martin brand. When I am in a position to drop $150,000 on a car, that’s where it’ll land.

TW: Do you have a favorite charity?

RS: Every year I donate to a charity called Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). I am a major advocate for this charity because of what they provide. They provide service dogs to people who have very unique needs. The dogs undergo intense and costly training from CCI to assist their owners with their needs. They are not seeing-eye dogs; they are dogs that assist people who have multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, hearing impairments, and many other physical and mental ailments. When I was a senior at GVSU, we were able to raise $13,000 for CCI.

TW: Rumor has it you're an appreciator of the great outdoors -- what are your outdoor activities of choice and why?

RS: Those rumors are true. I like snowboarding, camping, and watersports, but I would say my all-time favorite outdoor activity would be playing pond hockey. It could be 5 degrees outside, but with enough friends, beer, and good ice, we could play for hours. This winter has been tough to find any ice, but traditionally we have some awesome sessions out on the ice.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

RS: Passover is hands-down my favorite holiday mostly for the food, but also for the family time. It’s tough to get the whole Sallen clan in one room for the holiday as we have a couple Sallens in California, but when everyone gets together, there are no shortages of laughs and crude dad-jokes.

TW: Who is the coolest Jew?

RS: Larry David is the coolest Jew. His comedy is hilarious because everyone can relate to it. I imagine that hanging out with Larry David would be a riot.

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

RS: Thou shall not make the duck face in pictures. Cut it out, ladies.

TW: How about a fun fact?

RS: I got to play in a Winter Classic-like hockey game with Red Wing Alumni during my time with Chrysler. The rink was at Comerica Park. I got to skate with Joey Kocur and John Ogrodnick and our team won!

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

RS: I want to meet people that I can connect with socially.