Pistons Owner Bill Davidson

Bill Davidson, in an exclusive interview with the Detroit Jewish News, reflects on his efforts to bolster Judaism in America through education.

Bill Carroll
Special to the Jewish News

When the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) presented Chancellor’s Medals to several honorees in New York this time last year, Jewish businessman-philanthropist Bill Davidson of Bloomfield Hills, one of the intended recipients, couldn’t attend because he was busy as managing partner of his professional basketball team. The Detroit Pistons were heavily involved in the league playoffs elsewhere.

JTS officials want to give him the award this year, but they find themselves in the same predicament — the Pistons are defending their National Basketball Association championship. So the school’s chancellor and creator of the medal, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, will bestow it upon 18 grantees this year (in honor of his 18 years with JTS) and will come to Michigan on Monday, May 23, to make sure Davidson gets the award. Also receiving a medal will be Doreen Hermelin of Bingham Farms, who couldn’t attend last year either. The JTS will give other honors to five couples from Detroit-area Conservative synagogues.

Davidson, the quiet billionaire industrialist-sportsman, who still recites maftir at Yom Kippur morning services each year at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, is being honored for his ongoing commitment to Jewish education. Commitments by philanthropists like Davidson are important in view of National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001 findings that show less than half of all American Jews belong to synagogues and that most Jewish children end their religious education after their bar or bat mitzvah.

In 1994, Davidson gave an unprecedented $15 million gift to the JTS to create the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, a milestone for the seminary, the Jewish community and Jewish education in general. It was the largest donation ever made to a single institution of Jewish education in the country. JTS is the Conservative movement’s rabbinic and teaching school. [more…]

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