Thursday, December 30, 2010

A visit to Detroit

[Post I’m mulling today: Book Review: Boys Adrift at Orthonomics]

Making good on my commitment to schedule an occasional break and see things new and different, I took some time this week to go with my family to Detroit. I know, it’s not exactly glamorous or dramatic, but this is where you go when you have 48 hours, cold weather, and a desire to daven with a minyan.

So what did we see, and what do we recommend?

First off, Young Israel of Southfield was great. The minyannaires are friendly and warm, they have a women’s section at the daily minyan, the davening is good, the rabbi is good. What more could you ask for?

We went to the Detroit Historical Museum, and that was fun for the kids. We were worried that there wouldn’t be much for the younger ones, but we need not have been concerned – plenty of buttons to push and screens to watch. Enjoyed the video of an actor playing a Polish Jewish immigrant who came over in 1880 – it gave me a chance to teach my kids a little Jewish history – but I didn’t get the “Mazel Tov” thrown in at the end of his shpiel. Guess it wasn’t scripted by a Jew. The model of an assembly line intrigued the kids, and, of course, they liked the Lionel train set. Good space to eat the food we brought with us - this is not a given in many museums. I suppose the museum could have included something about the economic collapse of recent decades, but then, I’m not surprised they didn’t.

Café One was a very good stop for dinner one night. We had a range of items, from ziti to French Onion soup to pancakes a la mode to eggs. All of the food (except perhaps the ice cream) was very good as well as inexpensive, and it was served with a smile.

The Detroit People Mover was fun, although I think older kids would be bored to tears. A fifteen-minute ride around an elevated track, covering a small section of midtown; my kids loved it enough to do it twice. Tip, though: Don’t get on at the Greektown stop. You need to enter through the casino, or take a circuitous route we didn’t enjoy in the bitter cold.

John K. King Used and Rare Books, the self-titled “biggest book store in Michigan”, was definitely worthwhile, both for the experience [four floors of a huge warehouse, jammed wall-to-wall with reading] and for the books we found. It’s hard to find good books for pre-adolescents; the pulp they churn out today tends to try too hard to be cool by putting in the sex I don’t want my kids reading. We discovered some great reads for kids, like a series called “The Boy Allies,” about American kids having adventures in Europe during World War I – written during World War I itself. [You can see the opening volume on Project Gutenberg here.]

The one dud of the trip was Campus Martius Park, which was supposed to have an open-air skating rink. What it actually had was a tiny oval of ice in dire need of a Zamboni. My kids are spoiled by the community centres in skate-happy Toronto; they turned up their noses and declined.

I wanted to take my kids to see the Charles H. Wright Museum of the African-American Experience, but the younger ones aren't old enough yet. They're old enough to vaguely understand what they're seeing, and then to walk up to likely-looking strangers on the street to ask them how they've been doing since they were freed. Next time, perhaps.

All in all, a good trip, thank Gd; I’m glad we went. I’m taking recommendations now for our next trip; must be within a reasonable drive of Toronto.


  1. Sounds like a great trip for all the family members. And oh do I envy you that bookstore. All they would have to do is provide a cot for sleeping and that store could be a whole vacation for me, no other stops needed.

  2. Some Ontario locations we used to take the family to:

    In the winter, within 1.5 hour drive from TO try snow tubing at Snow Valley - no lessons needed (compared to skiing).

    In the summer, keeping with the tubing idea, you can go to the magnificent Elora Gorge and go tubing down the Grand River (see and also do a side trip to St. Jacobs Farmers Market where the kids will see Mennonites coming and going in their horses and buggies.

    Or a nice Sunday summer afternoon trip is to go 1 hour north of Toronto to Tottenham where you can ride a real steam engine train along a stretch of track that used to be the South Simcoe Railroad.

    Another summer trip close to TO is the streetcar museum (Halton County Radial Railway see ). If the kids have been on the modern streetcars downtown, here they restore old streetcars and you can ride old streetcars on a track through their grounds.

  3. ProfK-
    Indeed, we had to drag our kids, and ourselves, out of there.

    Thanks very much for this list! I wish London, ON had a regular minyan; there are quite few sights I'd like to see there.

  4. Hi - fun blog. Hard to believe that you went to Detroit and didn't go to the Henry Ford Museum. Not cheap, but truly a great place to visit. Also, while I also liked Cafe One very much, I recommend Jerusalem Pizza for the specialty pizzas. You haven't lived (in Detroit) at least, until you've tasted cholent pizza, or BBQ chicken pizza.

  5. Since you are mulling my book review, I'd love your thoughts!

  6. Ruby-
    Thanks. I was glad that the Ford Museum was closed when we were there; I was torn about going to a museum named for such a Jew-hater.

    Still mulling, actually. I need to go get the book itself.

  7. Re the Henry Ford Museum: we were once there on Chol Hamoed Pesach visiting with the kids, and ended up on the Rosa Parks bus with a bunch of Asians. I remember vividly thinking how Henry Ford would turn over in his grave if he ever saw a bunch of Jews and Orientals in his museum looking at the Rosa Parks bus. It was a great moment, and I'm pretty sure that I spoke about it in a drashah.