Detroit synagogue appoints executive director

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit’s Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue has appointed its first full-time executive director, leaders announced Monday.

Arlene J. Frank, who spent 23 years directing the Women’s Center at Oakland Community College, is set to manage daily operations as well as oversee development of membership, programming, ritual, growth and community support, synagogue officials said in a statement.

“The Downtown Synagogue’s impressive growth was elevated when we hired full-time staff in 2012, and we will continue to reach new heights with Arlene as our executive director,” Leor Barak, president of the synagogue’s board, said. “She is a formidable community leader with a host of experience in nonprofit management, and she brings a positive and professional approach to our congregation.”

At Oakland Community College, Frank increased scholarship funds, engaged corporate and community organizations, collaborated with groups and raised awareness of programs and services, the synagogue said. She also was a member or chairperson of nonprofit and organizational boards such as Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, Birmingham Maple Clinic, and National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Detroit Section.

“I’m excited to start a new challenge at the Downtown Synagogue, and I’m fortunate to join the congregation as it continues to grow Jewish life in Detroit,” Frank said in a statement. “As a lifelong Detroiter, I have a compelling connection to both the synagogue and the city. I embrace the congregation’s commitment to revitalize Detroit, as well as its dedication to tikkun olam, a Jewish concept of acts of kindness to perfect or repair the world.”

Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue began in 1921 and is considered Detroit’s “last remaining Conservative synagogue,” according to its website. Housed in an historic four-story building on Griswold with colorful windows, the synagogue offers Sabbath and High Holiday service while aiming to remain “a hub for collective action in support of the Jewish community as well as the general community of greater Detroit,” leaders said.

Membership declined as synagogues shifted to the suburbs, but IADS officials say a wave of young Jews moving to Detroit in recent years have helped guide revitalization efforts.

Professional staff were hired through grants Berman Foundation and the Jewish Fund offered in 2012, and since then more than 1,000 new guests have visited for worship services, synagogue officials said on the website. Along with electing a new board of trustees, expanding programming and relaunching committees in the last decade, officials have also sought more money to stay afloat — including raising some $150,000 in 2013 through a “Make It History” crowd-funding campaign to boost building improvements and renovation plans, according to the website.