‘Jeopardy!’ featured a suburban Detroit synagogue once called ‘a concrete Sinai on the shoulder of Interstate 696’


Ben Goldstein is on a “Jeopardy!” winning streak despite missing a clue about a notable synagogue, Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan, 45 minutes from his home. (Screenshot; synagogue from Wikimedia Commons)

Gabe Friedman, JTA

(JTA) — Viewers of the popular game show “Jeopardy!” got a glance of one of the United States’ most distinctive synagogue buildings on Tuesday, after a clue showcased Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan.

The Conservative synagogue had leaked the fact that it would appear as a trivia item on “Jeopardy!” for days before the game, and as luck would have it, one of the contestants on Tuesday lives just a 45-minute drive from Southfield, in Dexter.

Ben Goldstein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his local expertise did influence his quick response to the clue — just not correctly.

Contestants were shown a picture of Shaarey Zedek’s soaring facade as they heard the clue, in the category “Architects”: “After World War II, these evolved Moorish to Modernists as in architect Percival Goodman’s Shaarey Zedek in suburban Detroit.”

Goldstein, who has a Jewish father but does not identify as Jewish and said he was last in a synagogue during “the bar/bat mitzvah season of 1994,” buzzed in right away. “What are mosques?” he asked. A second contestant, Janie Sullivan, correctly guessed “What are temples?”

“When I read the clue, two phrases immediately jumped out: ‘Moorish’ and ‘suburban Detroit.’ Being a resident of Southeast Michigan, I’m familiar with Metro Detroit’s famously large Muslim community. Those two bits of information made me confident enough to ring in and say ‘What are mosques?’” he told JTA via Twitter direct message. “I just didn’t pay enough attention to the name of the building and its architect.”

He added, “Obviously, I got a bunch of playful abuse from my Jewish friends over text messages.” But Goldstein — who grew up in suburban Chicago, attended the University of Michigan and works outside Ann Arbor as a marketing specialist at a tech company — said he found consolation from thinking about another set of Jewish loved ones.

“My father’s parents, Isaac and Rochelle Goldstein, were Holocaust survivors from Poland, and they were devoted viewers of ‘Jeopardy!’,” he said. “They both passed away years ago, but I know they’d be so proud of me for competing on the show that they’d forgive me for my wrong answer.”

While someone with an eagle eye might be able to discern that cutouts on the front of Shaarey Zedek’s towering building resemble Jewish stars, the name offered the only real indicator in the clue that that correct response was about synagogues.

Shaarey Zedek means “Gates of Righteousness” in Hebrew and is a relatively common name for synagogues. In fact, a different Congregation Sharey Zedek in Michigan, a Reform synagogue in East Lansing, was in the news this week because a local man was charged on Friday with plotting an attack on it. (Meanwhile, Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield was the site of an active shooter training this week.)

The Southfield Shaarey Zedek is one of the largest and most architecturally significant synagogues in the United States, an outlier for Goodman, whose 50 synagogues mostly function on a smaller scale.

“But even Goodman had his roadside attraction: Shaarey Zedek, capacity 3,500, parlays a skyscraping Ark and an erupting eternal flame into a concrete Sinai on the shoulder of Interstate 696 near Detroit,” the architect Philip Nobel wrote in The New York Times in 2001.

Goldstein won the night’s game despite the miss on the synagogue clue, extending his three-day winnings to $21,293. He goes into his fourth game Thursday night having not answered any Final Jeopardy! clues correctly and after multiple games with relatively low score totals. Those signs, along with confusingly worded clues that have stumped contestants, have caused the show’s vocal fans to complain that it has slipped in quality since longtime host Alex Trebek died in 2020. Mayim Bialik, a Jewish actress, is one of two replacements for Trebek and hosted Tuesday’s episode.

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