Congregation T’Chiyah’s virtual variety show: ...

Congregation T’Chiyah’s virtual variety show: A chance to meet metro Detroit’s ‘queerest,’ social justice-driven, all-ages synagogue

"2021 M’CHAlyah! All Dressed Up & Nowhere To Go" hits Zoom on Thursday, July 22.

Congregation T’chiyah gathered outdoors in Ferndale on July 3 for their first in-person service since the pandemic. Credit: Emily Silver

Published in partnership with Congregation T’Chiyah. “2021 M’CHAlyah! All Dressed Up & Nowhere To Go,” presented by Congregation T’chiyah, is being held virtually from 7-8:30 p.m., Thursday, July 22. Tickets can be purchased here

When viewers tune in to the Congregation T’Chiyah’s virtual variety show Thursday, they’ll have a front-row seat for the Ferndale-based synagogue’s inclusive, progressive approach.

It’s an opportunity for Congregation T’Chiyah to reach out to the public, said Jake Ehrlich, the congregation’s community engagement associate. The synagogue was founded in Detroit’s Lafayette Park in 1977, with a membership that’s widely intergenerational and about one-third identifying as LGBTQ.

“2021 M’CHAIyah! All Dressed Up & Nowhere To Go,” which airs on Zoom Thursday and is headlined by musical comedienne Marcia Belsky, is a fundraiser for the Reconstructionist congregation and a showcase for its special brand of Jewish culture. 

“We want more people to join the congregation, people who share our values and alignment with us. We also want people to feel like they can just drop in when they want to,” Ehrlich said. 

What to expect at Thursday’s variety show

The show opens with techno musician Jo Rad Silver, then will feature comic and Detroit native Geulah Finman and the klezmer and folk quartet Mamaliga. It closes with Belsky, a stand-up comic, musician and writer who’s the co-host of the podcast “Misandry with Marcia and Rae” and has appeared on Comedy Central. 

Comics Finman and Belsky “have this great kind of balance of edginess, a bit of social and political critique, in ways that aren’t heavy handed,” Ehrlich said. “That’s something I really appreciate about both of them.” 

Members of Congregation T’Chiyah will be performing skits, and guests will have the chance to win prizes. Rocky Cohen volunteered to do CART captioning for the event, which is human-generated captioning for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

Giveaways include a membership to Ferndale-based sustainable butchery Farm Field Table, gift bags from The Peacock Room, radical Jewish artwork from Cohen and Hannah Lewis, private yoga instruction and more. 

Thursday’s virtual show was planned online in the interest of safety. Ehrlich is encouraging those who join to make an evening out of it. 

“We want people to dress up in ways that feel enlivening,” he said. “If it’s safe for them in accordance with their comfort and their practices, [we’re encouraging them] to gather with friends — gather in small groups, their pod or whatever and tune in together.”

The available ticket levels include subsidized and individual rates, bring-a-date, four-packs, eight-packs and 10-packs. Higher ticket levels include a cheese board from Detroit’s Mongers’ Provisions; for those who order beforehand, the congregation will deliver it. 

How Congregation T’Chiyah tackled the pandemic 

Since March 2020, Congregation T’Chiyah has held services online. On July 3, the synagogue gathered for its first in-person event since the pandemic began, held outdoors at its new home, Ferndale’s First United Methodist Church. 

Another in-person service is planned for the Saturday following “2021 M’CHAIyah! All Dressed Up & Nowhere To Go.” 

The virtual events necessitated by the pandemic have had positives, Ehrlich said, such as bringing in rabbis from across the country for Shabbat services and making services available to more people. 

“We are really looking forward to integrating the continued use of Zoom into future programming,” he said. 

Synagogue focused on social justice, LGBTQ belonging

Congregation T’Chiyah, which means “renaissance” in Hebrew, is led by Rabbi Alana Alpert, who is going full-time after originally joining in 2014 for the dual role of half-time rabbi, half-time community organizer, Ehrlich said. 

Historically, Congregation T’Chiyah was lay-led, meaning it was organized by the congregation. Before moving to its new Ferndale space, the synagogue met on the Jewish Community Center campus in Oak Park. 

The synagogue’s membership is at its largest size since its founding with about 130 individuals. About one-third of the congregation is millennial, around one-third are young families or in their 40s and about one-third are over 60, he said. About half of the synagogue’s members live in Detroit and half are in the suburbs. 

The congregation is proud of its queer-friendly nature and has a number of trans members who are converts to Judaism, Ehrlich said. He frequently receives emails from folks who are exploring gender identity — “and also coming toward Judaism as a part of that process,” he told Detour. 

“I feel pretty comfortable saying we are the queerest congregation in metro Detroit.”

For Congregation T’Chiyah, it’s not just about welcoming, but belonging, he said. 

“It’s not just, ‘oh, you can come here however you are,’ but more in the realm of queer people building programming that may involve expressions of their queer identities.” 

Congregation T’Chiyah and Alpert founded the group Detroit Jews for Justice, which aims to mobilize Jews in metro Detroit to participate in movements for racial and economic justice. Alpert is leaving her position as executive director of the group to become Congregation T’Chiyah’s full-time rabbi. 

The synagogue’s social justice focus has included legwork on LGBTQ affirmation work, antiracism and conversations around disability justice and accessibility, Ehrlich said. 

“We’re really trying to think about how we can be strategic about supporting existing movements and organizations and campaigns.” 

‘A bit scrappy’ and willing to experiment

 Ehrlich, 28, of Detroit, has worked as a staff member at Congregation T’Chiyah since 2018. On his second night in the Motor City in 2015, he attended Rosh Hashanah services at the synagogue.

“Pretty immediately I found something a bit scrappy, something exciting. I was drawn to the spirituality and I was drawn to the justice orientation.” 

Another element that attracted Ehrlich to Congregation T’Chiyah: it’s truly intergenerational, he said. “Thank god it’s not just an initiative for people in their 20s and 30s to get drinks together. Here is a real community that is interconnected and enmeshed with each other in good and sometimes challenging ways.”

For this congregation, it’s not a question of creating something brand new, but one of experimenting and seeking to learn and grow, he said. 

“People want synagogues. But they want synagogues that are true to their values that have space for experimentation and that are deeply participatory and enriching.”