Congregation Beth David (House of David) was founded in 1892 by fourteen, newly-arrived Russian immigrants who sought a house of worship of their own. Lovingly nicknamed the Russische Shul, the members first worshipped in rented quarters at Hastings and Gratiot. Soon after, as prescribed by Jewish law (Jews are to be buried with other Jews), Beth David established the B’nai David Cemetery, one of Detroit’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, in 1897. It was incorporated on July 7, 1903.
On September 9, 1900, the forty-member congregation dedicated its first building at 293 Adelaide between Hastings & Rivard. During this time, Rabbi Yehudah L. Levin, Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox Congregations of Detroit, officiated on a part-time basis. In 1904 Rabbi Ezekiel Aishishkin (1867-1935) a Lithuanian-born rabbi, replaced Jacob H. Scheinman as spiritual leader. In 1914, the congregation moved into 545 Winder Street, a building purchased from Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
In 1924, recognizing that much of its membership had moved north, began construction on a new building on Elmhurst and 14th Street. In the meantime, they congregation worshipped in temporary quarters on Owen Street. On August 26, 1928, more than 100 celebrants marched from Owen Street to the new building for a grand ceremonial dedication. The procession was led by a fifty-piece band and Torah bearers. The new building, located in the Linwood-Dexter area of Detroit, was designed by John L. Popkin.
The economic hardships of the Great Depression limited members’ abilities to pay dues and forced the congregation to declare bankruptcy. As part of the bankruptcy judgment, they lost the rights to the name Beth David and renamed themselves Congregation B’nai David (Children of David). In 1933 Rabbi Aishishkin retired and was replaced by American born and educated Rabbi Joshua Sperka. Rabbi Aishishkin is buried in the B’nai David Cemetery. In 1934, mixed seating areas for men and women were established.
Detroit’s post-World War II expansion of its African-American community and the suburban building boom changed the demographics of the Linwood-Dexter neighborhood; by the late 1950’s only nine percent of Detroit’s Jewish community still lived in the Dexter area. In 1958, Congregation B’nai David sold the Elmhurst building to the New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church and relocated to Southfield, Michigan. Since then, the building has been lovingly maintained by the ministry and parishioners of Mt. Zion.
Learn More: B'nai David Cemetery