August 5th, 2011
04:00 AM ET
By Joe Sterling, CNN
(CNN) - Jordan Wolfe and Leor Barak are Jewish and really dig living in the city of Detroit. But these two members of the tribe are demographic exceptions.
The vast majority of the 72,000 Jews in the Detroit metro area are planted in the suburbs, according to census figures. Just a sprinkling reside in the city.
However, a Detroit Jewish federation initiative is planting a seed or two to help the city grow, person by person. It is raising money for a rent subsidy program designed to attract 25 young people to live in the city.
The federation's CommunityNEXT has kicked off "Do It for Detroit," the umbrella name for a number of events in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and metro Detroit designed to raise $100,000.
If the money is raised, it will be used to provide subsidies of $3,000 a year - $250 a month - to live in the city. The program will accept applications in October.
The rent subsidy program is called the Live Detroit Fund and it will be administered by CommunityNEXT.
The goal of the program: Attracting and retaining young talent in the region. It is open to all, not just Jews, but it has a focus on the Jewish community.
To qualify for the aid, applicants must agree to host a monthly event that helps invigorate the Jewish community and the greater Detroit region.
The program and the sentiment behind it buck a long-time trend among Jewish-Americans.
Like other major American cities, Detroit has been ravaged by industrial decline and urban blight.
Like other hyphenated Americans, Jews have left for the suburbs from the inner cities where they first settled when they came to the United States.
The city of Detroit has a rich Jewish heritage and was once dotted with a few dozen synagogues. But today, it has only one free-standing congregation left, the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.
Jordan Wolfe, the director of CommunityNEXT, lives in the Midtown neighborhood of Detroit and, ironically, commutes occasionally to work in the suburbs.
Several employers in the city have similar programs to get their own employees to move back to the city, Wolfe said. If the group can raise the money to kick off the subsidy program, it will be an exciting opportunity for young people to engage in what Wolfe calls an impressive economic development story - helping Detroit grow.
It's a worthwhile place for an urban pioneer and an opportunity to shape an environment, even though the effort has its obvious challenges as well, with the city being in bad shape economically, he said.
"If we're lucky and successful, we'll get a mix. I think we want 25 people who have a variety of occupations and that entrepreneurial mindset," Wolfe said.
Wolfe lives in the Midtown neighborhood.
"For me, it's great," he said. "I really like the urban feel and going places that are diverse in nature."
Leor Barak is hoping there will be "transparency of process" in the program's choices.
He also hopes the community understands the need for "an overall awareness about positive community-oriented development to avoid gentrification."
Just the same, Barak supports incentives to bring people to the city and is excited to see the Jewish community engaged in such an effort.
Barak says there are two major misconceptions about Detroit. One is that the entire city is devastated.
"That's not true," said the resident of the West Village Historic District. There are many nice neighborhoods, he said.
Another is the perception about large-scale crime.
"The second misperception is that you are going to get shot walking around," he said. "I bike to work every single day, and I've never had an issue.
Barak is an evangelist for the city. The Jewish community is hoping his attitudes are contagious.
"If you have a passion for change, this is the place. This is the most exciting place to be in the country right now."
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