Interviewed by Susie Pappas
June 14, 2017
Max M. Fisher Federation Building, Bloomfield Hills, MI
In this interview, Gershenson discusses the closeness of his family. He speaks of his father’s immigration from a Jewish city in Poland called Gorshkoff in about 1904. Since his grandmother’s family, the Greenbergs had already come to Detroit, they moved from New York to Detroit. His father was very close to his brother, and they married two close sisters. This made it so Gershenson was very close with his extended family.
Gershenson mentions that religion was never a big part of his life during his childhood. He talks about how his father had turned his back on religion at a young age, but his mother always believed it was important to at least go to Temple on the High Holidays.
It was his bar mitzvah that brought religion into Gershenson’s life. He was so moved by the sermons of Rabbi Siegel that he has considered himself a Conservative Jew ever since.
Gershenson speaks of his school experience, first at Mumford High School, then going to Grosse Pointe University School for 11th and 12th grade. He talks briefly about his time at Camp Hiawatha from age 7 to 16 when his father insisted he begin working during the summer.
Gershenson speaks at length about his experiences with the Young Leadership Cabinet, the Junior Division, and the Soviet Jewry Committee. He details his trip to Russia in 1980 to bring religious items, medicine and food to Refuseniks- those who applied to go to Israel to find themselves fired from their jobs and children kicked out of school.
Finally, when asked about the most influential people in his life, Gershenson speaks again about his father and Rabbi Siegel.
Joel Gershenson was born on April 6, 1941 in Detroit, Michigan to William and Sylvia Gershenson. He attended Tufts University where he majored in political science. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Gershenson worked on a kibbutz in Israel.
Upon returning home to Detroit, he joined United Jewish Appeal’s Young Leadership Cabinet. After learning of the plight of Soviet Jews, Gershenson became active in the movement to free them, including a trip to Russia to bring supplies and meet Refuseniks. Later, Gershenson was the chairman of the Real Estate Division and served on the board and executive committee of Adat Shalom Synagogue.
Credit as: Leonard N. Simons Jewish Community Archives. Joel Gershenson Oral History Interview, June 14, 2017.