In the four years-plus I’ve been writing this column, I’ve received many questions from readers. This month would be a good time to showcase some of the more popular questions and tell you of a book about an Orthodox Jew in the baseball field.
Were you always Orthodox and were you born in Detroit?
Yes. My father was born in Brooklyn and my mother in Cleveland. Both of their families came to Detroit prior to 1920 to join relatives. All their siblings grew up and remained Orthodox and when a day school yeshiva started in Detroit in the 1940s, all sent their children there. My mother’s family is directly descended from the Baal Shem Tov, and in fact my parents gave me the Hebrew name Yisroel after the Baal Shem.
From the time your column began, the tagline has always said you’re the president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul. Do you win the election every year?
The last time we had an election was 25 years ago and the rabbis asked me to be president. We haven’t had elections since. It would be a waste of time, as I’d win easily.
Here’s why: Everybody in shul is taller than me, better looking, more learned and more moneyed, so no one is jealous of me. Besides, I set a high standard. Other presidents sit up front and make the announcements; I sit in the very last row in the back and let the gabbai make the announcements. I handle the behind-the-scenes jobs, such as seating for Shabbos HaGadol meals and for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
What does the Detroit Orthodox community offer for those who may be thinking of relocating?
It’s the best in the country. The main Orthodox community consists of two of Detroit’s adjoining northern suburbs – Oak Park and Southfield. I live in Oak Park and the shul (Agudas Yisroel Mogen Avrohom) I’m president of is in Southfield. When I leave my house and get to the corner, if I turn to the left there are two shuls a few minutes away that I like and use in bad weather.
But my usual routine is to turn right every weekday morning and go to the kollel for Daf Yomi and Shacharis. In the evenings and on Shabbos and Yom Tov I go to the Agudah shul. In good weather it’s about a 12-minute walk. Our community has 18 Orthodox minyanim on Shabbos and Yom Tov within a 15-minute walk from my home. Also within the same time-frame walk there are several kosher eateries, a large all-kosher supermarket, yeshivas and three kollels. There are about 50 men learning full-time among the three. Of course, that doesn’t count the retirees that learn there, too.
There are three different frum girls’ high schools here and three different boys’ high schools. There is even a post-high school seminary (with a dorm) for girls.
We have all kinds of shuls – Young Israel, Chabad and several black hat types. In the Agudah shul we have all types – many don’t own a single hat and wear yarmulkes at all times. In fact, during the week I wear hats other than black. I like to put a little color in a black and white world; I’ve got several suits of different colors and wear a hat of matching color with each of them. On Shabbos and Yom Tov I wear black.
Several families from the east have moved to Detroit this year. One came from Brookline, Massachusetts. The husband sold the house there for $800,000 and moved to Oak Park where he bought a nice three-bedroom ranch with family room and full basement for a bit over $100,000. He retired several years earlier than he would have if he’d stayed in Boston. Same with a man from Flatbush. Housing here is about a quarter the price or even less than a comparable home in New York, Boston and Los Angeles.
The best way to describe my community is that it’s like a mini-Lakewood – but with professional sports. The community is loaded with rabid sports fans. For example, on the last Tigers home game of the season – a Sunday that fell on chol hamoed Sukkos, I took my grandsons to the game and sat in the bleachers. From my spot in right field I counted more than a minyan and saw something I never saw at a ballgame before – a Chabadnik going up and down the aisles holding a lulav and esrog looking for prospects. So we have everything needed to make a community great.
How did you get into the baseball field?
It’s really a fascinating story that was directed by Hashem. After reading about it, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s too long to go into here. So I wrote a book titled Tiger Stadium/Comerica Park, History & Memories. It’s both a chronological history of a great franchise and my history. It’s really the story of an Orthodox Jew in the baseball field but if I had that title the distributor and Detroit-area bookstores wouldn’t have carried it. The book also has 160 photos, including many from New York teams that I interacted with. In the book I tell what my salary was when I worked in a front office and what my World Series share was. A well-known New York rabbi bought the book and called me twice to tell me how much he enjoyed it. He was even pleasantly surprised to see a picture of his favorite Dodgers player.
Do you do speaking engagements?
Yes – all types of groups and ages, Jewish and non-Jewish. I just did one for accountants while they ate breakfast. It was a two-hour gig that included baseball business and I always end with a Q and A session. I’ve done schools and retiree homes and men’s and ladies’ groups. My favorite groups, though, are Jewish because I can use some baseball-related Torah topics.
Would you speak at a Pesach program at a hotel of the type that advertise in The Jewish Press?
I would certainly listen to any inquiries.
How do I get the book?
Here’s the best way. Send a check for $19.95 payable to Irwin Cohen. Mail it to 25921 Stratford Place, Oak Park, MI 48237. The price includes shipping and handling (I handle both). Just give me a clear mailing address for you and tell me if you want me to sign it for someone. It makes a terrific gift, especially for me.
Now the author of eight books, Irwin Cohen may be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.