Hanukkah 5777 with AARC

We sang songs

Home-hosted Hanukkas with AARC families were beautiful this year. Many thanks to Mike Ehmann, Nancy Meadow, Marcy Epstein, the Kinberg-Cowans and the Lessure-Engelberts for hosting get togethers. We made sufganiyot, played games, sang, lit the lights, ate, and blessed the Source of Life and the return of the sun.

We made sufganiyot.

We played games.

We lit the lights and blessed the Source of Life.

New Members Howie Brick and “D” Schwartz

Originally from Long Island (with accents to prove it), Howie and I attended the University of Michigan as undergrads and graduate students. We left Ann Arbor finally (or so we thought) in 1980. At that time, Howie had nearly finished his PhD in American Culture while I had completed an MA in Asian Studies.  The following years found us on the academic ramble, following Howie’s career as a historian of the 20th century USA, from New York, to Chicago, to Boston, to Eugene, OR, to St. Louis. (Yes. We share some history with Clare K.!) All the while, I was doing my thing as a writer and editor in university communications offices. Somewhere in there, we raised two children, Michael and Jessye, who are now grown and out of the house. We were shocked when Michigan came calling again in 2008, but here we are.  I am now enjoying my postwork life, while Howie gives his best to the university.
I am happy to join all the other Debras, Deborahs, Debbies, and Debs. I go by all of those names, so whatever makes you happy, makes me happy. My St. Louis rabbi just calls me “D.”
[Editor’s note: We always ask new members to introduce themselves to the community with a little blog post. Debbie (and Howie occasionally) have been showing up at services for several years, and Debbie and I always have something to talk about (explained above, Eugene! St. Louis!). If you are a new member, or even if you have been a member for a long time, but have never had a profile blog post, contact me (ckinberg@gmail.com), because I’d like to profile you!]

Praying with My Legs: January 22

AARC is co-sponsoring the Sun, January 22, 2017, 10:30am – 12:30pm screening of the documentary-in-progress, Praying with My Legs, about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Its filmmaker, Steve Brand, will speak via Skype and Rabbi Alana Alpert, who is in the film, will add her own remarks. The brunch and film showing is organized by the Beth Israel Congregation Social Action Committee and will honor their volunteers and include opportunities to support the completion of the film, and Detroit Jews for Justice. 

When this program was planned several months ago, the date was chosen because of its proximity to both Dr. Heschel’s yahrtzeit on the 18th of Tevet, and the national day of honor for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, this year, on January 16. King and Heschel were friends and colleagues who marched together at the front of the 1965 Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery. However, the planners did not anticipate that the date of the event would also coincide with the inauguration of someone who is bringing white nationalism into the White House. This film could be precisely the spiritual and political inspiration we need to face the future. Heschel was compelled by his religious beliefs to leave the confines of his study to fight for human dignity, immersing himself in the struggle for civil rights and human dignity.

The brunch at 10:30 is free, and everyone is welcome to come. To ensure that there is enough food, please RSVP to BIC Office by Tuesday, January 17thoffice@bethisrael-aa.org.  More about the film here.

A Pledge

by AARC member Rose Benjamin

I am afraid to be trans today. I am afraid to leave my cocoon. I am afraid to leave Ann Arbor. I am afraid in Ann Arbor. I am afraid to walk around in a dress with my new baby. I am afraid to relax. I am looking over my shoulder. I am wondering who secretly wants to kill me, not for who I am but for what I represent, what I trigger. I am less open. I am less free. I am wondering whether to hide my transness. I am used to hiding it, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I am frightened for my wife, for my child. I am frightened for my gay and trans friends. I am frightened that when we are together we will be shiny targets. I am afraid that all my doubts will come back, the ones that make me feel freakish and ugly. I have not been “out” for long; should I just go back in, I wonder. I am frightened to use the women’s bathroom. I am frightened to use the men’s bathroom. I do not take my estrogen with glee anymore. I take it with dread because every dose is another step in the direction of standing out. I am afraid to be trans. I am afraid.

But I should not, cannot, will not let this defeat me. I will remember that this is about so much more than me. I will remember that millions of Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, women, immigrants, differently abled people, progressives, radicals, socialists, bi-gendered, un-gendered, fluidly-gendered, young, elderly, Jewish, Native, people, humans are feeling just as frightened, and much more so than me. I will remember all the privilege I have regardless of being a transgender, bi-ish-sexual, Jewish, radical fop without any savings. And I will remember how many people struggled and died in obscurity just so I could wear this dress at all, just so we could rant openly, just so we could stand up for something. And I will try to feel brave, I will take heart. But not because I am very strong. I will do so because you give me hope. And so I write this to give you hope. I am scared. But I am going to wear my lipstick. I will go to Detroit and march and I will do so wearing my pins and flowers and frilly hems. Because I trust you when you say you have my back and I want you to know I have yours. Because otherwise we are lost.

I am afraid to be trans. And this will not change. I was afraid to be trans long before I accepted I was trans. Because while being trans is scary so is being honest. So is being real. So is caring. So is “being there” in any kind of actual way. So is wondering whether you belong, wondering whether the dream is just a particularly unprofitable joke we’ve all played on each other with some very profitable help from The Beatles. Life is scary. These things have to do with us, with what we say and do, with how we behave when the nighttime comes. And I want you to know something: when I read some of the remarkably powerful and empowering things you say, I am less scared and I am more heartened. Everyone is righteous and brave when things are comfortably distant. Everyone says the right things about recycling and the failing schools and how much black lives matter (and of course these things matter in the biggest ways). But now is the time when that distance shrinks, when the gap between saying and doing closes, when the comfortable space between theory and practice disappears.

And so I am making a pledge to myself and to you. I am going to keep wearing this dress. As long as you keep wearing yours, whatever form that “dress” takes. If that “dress” is your race or religion, keep wearing it. If that dress is your sexuality, nationality, artistry, humor, or hair color, keep wearing it. If that dress is your belief that people should speak up against injustice, then by all means, now is the time to layer that shit. If your dress is your laughter or longing, if it is the way you treat your co-workers and friends, if it is your relationship, the way you hold your head, the foods you like, the hours you keep, the things you collect, your makeup or lack thereof, your mental or physical health, your poverty, your character, your deepest convictions, your doubts, your love, your soul, you just keep wearing that dress. In fact, you add a scarf and hat. You add some fancy shoes you got at the overpriced vintage store. You throw on a bow. You hang some beads. You do what you have to do to wear that dress, whatever it is. And you make sure your friends wear theirs. Because this is the very occasion we’ve all been saving that dress for.

So I’m gonna keep wearing my pumps. I’m gonna keep wearing the foundation I got conned into buying by that lady at Macy’s. I’m gonna keep talking to people I don’t know, I’m gonna keep returning smiles even when there was nothing to return. I’m gonna keep wondering who needs help, gonna keep crying. I’m gonna keep my heart open even though it hurts. I’m gonna keep laughing. I’m gonna keep hoping. I’m gonna keep feeling and looking like a damn fool because no matter how much I want to give in, I just can’t be that person. And the reason I can’t is you. The things you say, the things I know you are willing to do to keep the frost from swallowing the garden reminds me that I am not alone.

I am afraid to be trans today. And I will continue to be afraid, more afraid than before. But I am also utterly resolved not to let this fear win. And after this week and month, after the initial shock and rage wear off, I will need you to keep reminding me of that resolve and I promise to remind you.
I am afraid. And I’m putting on my dress. And I’m going outside. And I’m not gonna avert my eyes.

I love you, friends,
Rose

 

Post election: What are you doing?


Collage created by members of the Diversity Peer Education Team at York University in 2013, lifted from the blog Inclusivity Zone by Margaret

At last Saturday’s Human Rights Shabbat, Margo led a discussion about the emotional impact of the election and its implications for human rights. Many of us found the service cathartic, and it was inspiring to hear about the activities of our members.

With the hope that activity can be an antidote to despair, let’s try using this post to collect the list of constructive actions people are taking part in locally. As a start, refer to Margo’s post for a list of  ways you can get involved building bridges with people in prison.

What are you doing? If you’re volunteering or helping or organizing or protesting, add a comment to this post briefly describing what you’re doing and how others might get involved. Thanks!

 

Show of support for Islamic Center of Ann Arbor

On November 30th, 2016 the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor received an anti-Muslim hate letter, similar to letters sent to mosques all over the country, including the Islamic Center of East Lansing. The ICAA has received hate mail in the past, but this recent version includes numerous mentions of Trump: ‘There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump. He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And, he’s going to start with you Muslims. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the jews. (sic)’”

In an expression of support to the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor/Muslim Community Association, the AARC Board sent the following statement:

The Board of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation deplores harassment of anyone because of his or her religious beliefs or ethnicity. As Jews, we are well aware of the hostility our people have faced in many places and many eras. We were deeply troubled to learn of recent incidents in Ann Arbor targeting the Muslim community, such as a threat to burn a Muslim woman if she did not remove her hijab and a vicious letter mailed from California to many mosques, including the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor.  We are writing to express our solidarity with the Ann Arbor Muslim community and to assure you that a great many non-Muslims condemn anti-Muslim bigotry.

The secretary of the Muslim Community Association sent this note of appreciation in response.

Hello All,

Thank you for your kind words of support and solidarity. These are difficult times indeed and it is very sad to receive such a letter, but we fully understand that these people are not the norm and do not represent the greater good in this country.

Honestly, we are just very happy to receive these messages of support. Your words mean a lot to us – thank you again! We will keep your contact information and reach out to you when in need of assistance. Our strength lies in being united, and thus we are looking for ways to make connections.

Peace.

The Muslim Community Association has put up a webpage “Support from Ann Arbor Residents” that includes a sampling of the letters of support they have received.

You may also want to order and display a “One Human Family: We Support refugees and our Muslim neighbors” yard sign or banner. Distribution is a project of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice the Interfaith Roundtable of Washtenaw County.

 

 

 

Bridging the distance between here and prison

bird-and-prison-barsInternational Human Rights Day (and Human Rights Shabbat) is December 10, which prompted me to put together this post.

Ronald Simpson-Bey and I led a workshop on Yom Kippur about solitary confinement and building criminal justice institutions that encourage t’shuvah.  Many of the workshop participants asked for more information about how they could get involved, and I promised to post some ideas.  So here goes:

I’ve asked many people from many organizations: this post brings together their thoughts on getting informed and building bridges.  There’s also a prayer for those in solitary, at the bottom.  If you’re interested in working further on this issue, or learning more, please sign up here.  

  1. Get informed.
  2. Reach out.  Building bridges from prison to the outside is enormously gratifying, and key to reintegrating prisoners productively into communities.
    • Some quick ways to reach out:
      • Leave a supportive note on one of the blog posts at Between the Bars (the note will be printed and anonymously mailed to the prisoner).
      • Write a short holiday card to someone at Prison Inmate Penpal. For the return address, if you’d like to remain anonymous, you can use the address of Fair Shake Reentry Resource Center at: Fair Shake, PO Box 63, Westby, WI 54667.
    • Prison Creative Arts Project (UM) — a fantastic organization, which is doing a training for new volunteers on Jan. 8.  let them know you’re interested here.  (And don’t forget to sign up with us here, too.)
    • Michigan Criminal Justice Project, American Friends Service Committee.  They have a program called the Good Neighbor Project, which pairs free-world and prisoner folks.  Here’s some info.  There are periodic trainings–and if there was enough interest (again, sign up here), they would do a special one for us.  The same organization also relies on volunteers to do advocacy work.  If anyone is interested in either of these, use the signup, and I can either link you to the right person or (if there is enough interest) we can coordinate something for our community.
    • Here are some ways to get involved in a visiting or pen-pal program for prisoners.  Ideas from T’ruah.
    • Solitary Watch, Lifelines to Solitary.

A prayer for justice

From a space of narrow tightness we call to the Eternal, and God answers; from the belly of death we cry out and You hear our voice.
Our brothers and sisters have been cast into the depths of solitary confinement; so many waves and breakers have buffeted and drowned them.
We, too, feel their pain, and reel from the impact of this injustice.
They are cast out from the public eye, but we will not let them be forgotten.
May the One Who was with our brother Joseph in the pit and in prison, and with our sister Miriam when she was isolated from the camp for seven days—
Bless and heal all those who are imprisoned in solitary confinement.
May the Holy Blessed One be filled with mercy for them, strengthening them and keeping them from all harm.
May God speedily send them complete healing of spirit and of body and grant our society the wisdom to find a more fair and humane system soon, in our day. And let us say, Amen.

[Assembled from this and this.]

We have a new rabbi! Ora Nitkin-Kaner begins September 1, 2017

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

The Board of AARC is thrilled to announce that Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner (RRC ’16) will begin her tenure as our congregation’s rabbi on September 1, 2017. Rabbi Ora is spending the current year in New Orleans in an intensive chaplaincy program and will be moving to Ann Arbor in the summer of 2017.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Rabbi Ora began her rabbinic studies in Philadelphia at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2011. From the bio published upon her graduation in June 2016:

Ora learned Judaism at home, in Hebrew day school and at the University of Toronto, where as an undergraduate she studied Jewish folktales of demonic possession and as a graduate student she studied the intergenerational transmission of Holocaust trauma. Ora fell in love with New Orleans in 2007, and made it her home from 2008 to 2010 as she worked with exonerees and received educations in justice and power and beauty.

Ora began rabbinical school because she knew five years at RRC would help shape her into the leader she seeks to be in the world. Along the way, to her surprise and delight, she also became a Reconstructionist. While at RRC, Ora has been the grateful recipient of the Ziegelman Scholarship, John Bliss Scholarship, Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Or Hadash D’var Torah Award, Alice Stein Essay Prize and Tikkun Olam Award.

Ora’s internships at RRC have helped her grow immeasurably. As a chaplain at Monroe Village, Ora learned to hold stories; as the sabbatical and student rabbi at Congregation Kehilat Shalom, she discovered what it means to love a community; as a chaplain at Bellevue Hospital, she learned how the pastoral encounter fosters healing in patient and chaplain; and as the Bert Linder Rabbinic Intern at West End Synagogue, she found her voice.

During her first time living in New Orleans, Rabbi Ora was a fellow of the Jewish service corps organization, Avodah, where she blogged on the intersections of Judaism and social justice organizing and worked with the organization Resurrection after Exoneration which was founded by death row exoneree  John “JT” Thompson. She brought her experiences from New Orleans into her rabbinic training, concluding an MLK Day d’var in 2014 with these words:

As Jews, we have seeded the world with the idea that we are made in God’s image, that each of us, black, brown and white, Jewish or gentile, innocent or guilty, have God’s light inside of us. This teaching is the birthright that we have shared with the world. And now, it’s time to honour the corollary of that birthright – that we work for justice, even when it seems hopeless, even when crime and prison seem far away, even when the dreams of freedom of men who pace 6 foot by 9 foot cells seem far from our own, quieter dreams. I have a dream that we will put aside our complacency and recognize that we cannot drink in our freedom while communities of Americans across this country are dying of thirst.

Rabbi Ora uses her life experience as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to learn and teach about living with fear, loss and grief by practicing gratitude and taking action. Her dvar on Bechukotai is a beautiful contemplation on these themes.

The whole AARC community looks forward to Rabbi Ora’s leadership. Over the coming months we will be planning opportunities for meeting her in person and introducing her to our community.

 

How we are still a havurah.

by Margo Schlanger
Margo Schlanger

Margo Schlanger

As co-chair, this was my congregational welcome on Yom Kippur this year:

L’shanah tovah. I am Margo Schlanger; I am nearing the end of my time as board co-chair for the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, which has been a very great privilege. It’s also my privilege to welcome both members and friends to this service, whether you’ve been a part of our community for its full 23 year history, or are new to us today, or something in between.

This is a community that is very dear to me, and I want to tell a little story that captures a small part of why. It’s about our ner tamid, our eternal light. You may notice – we don’t have one. That’s because we don’t have a stationary ark. Our ark travels; it lives in our closet at the JCC, and comes out for our Torah services. So how could we have a ner tamid? Well, it turns out that ours is far from the first travelling ark. And so, many learned rabbis have debated the question: how do you fit a ner tamid to a travelling ark. They’ve come up with the sensible answer that the ner tamid needs to be out, and lit, with the ark – but it need not be out or lit when the ark itself is put away.

So for our ner tamid, we realized we need something that can be out, and lit, for something between an hour or two at minimum, but about a day, at maximum.

AARC started as a havurah – a lay-led fellowship. Volunteer solutions are in our DNA. On this one, it turns out we have a great amateur electronics maven, Dave Nelson. So Dave figured out a way to run a battery-chargable LED light for a day at a time. This took considerable experimentation and adjustments to the electronics, but Dave finished that a few weeks ago. And now comes the fun part: we can, as a community, create a sacred object. Like our Ark, Torah Table, Tapestries, Yad, Torah Cover. All are created by members, inspired by their aspirations for what our community means. The ner tamid will be the next such object, and like the others, will symbolize our Jewish community as well as the objects it depicts. Many people will have a hand in making it. Some will pay for precious materials; some will do work; some will kibbitz about design. We’ll all together enjoy the result.

LED light that Dave has made into the guts of our Ner Tamid

LED light that Dave has made into the guts of our ner tamid

Another synagogue's portable ner tamid.

Another synagogue’s portable ner tamid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as you must have expected, here’s the point; the ner tamid is real. But it’s also a small metaphor for our community as a whole. We need many people to have a hand in making it, and we need everyone to bring both their talents and their resources to bear. This is a transitional year for us, as we hopefully bring our rabbi search to a close. If you’re a member, and have already renewed your membership, thank you. If you’re a member and haven’t done that yet, thanks for doing it very soon. Either way, please think about how you can help enable our community to flourish, so it can give you and others what it is they need. And if you’re not a member, please consider yourself welcome to all our events, and please consider joining us more officially. It’s easy, and we’re very nice people. Or, if you prefer, consider supporting these ticketless open services. There are donation envelopes at the welcome table out front. Please support this community—your community—as generously as you can.

L’shanah tovah!

 

Is memory important?

Zichronot/Remembrances: Is memory important? 
Rosh Hashanah 2016 Talk by Nancy Meadow
Judith Tendler , Dec 30, 1938 - July 25, 2016

Judith Tendler Dec 30, 1938 – July 25, 2016

I have loved and lost many women in my family to dementia or Alzheimer’s.

My maternal Great Aunt Sarah who, in dementia, read the same novel for ten years and loved ice cream.

My paternal grandma Alice who, in dementia, swore like a sailor and loved ice cream.

My mother, RoseAnna, who in dementia was not at peace unless she was ‘creating something’– even if it was folding the same two washcloths for hours on end. And who liked to mix her raspberry sherbet with potato chips.

My mother’s best friend, Sarah, who in dementia was tortured by interactive visions of evil people and deeds her clients suffering from trauma had shared with her over decades of a career in social work.

My mother’s sister, Aunt Judith, a beyond brilliant writer and academic who in her dementia would not stop walking even when her body could no longer do so, who corrected people’s grammar long after she could hold a conversation, who was not at peace unless she was holding a book/journal/few sheets of paper in her hands … and who loved ice cream.

I watched the disease slowly but relentlessly steal every single memory and every single piece of knowledge from their beings. Every bit they had spent a lifetime collecting. First to go was often words. Not all of them, but the beautiful, specific ones that communicated just exactly who they were, what they were thinking, how they felt, and what they wanted. As the memory pillage continued they lost the ability to sequence, connect, and feel safe in space. This is when trouble with keys, locks, codes, and doors began. Then difficulty with transitions began, small transitions like walking from tile onto carpet or through a door way, and big transitions like choosing a different route home or a new doctor. As the battle for memory marched further forward they lost names of people they loved, they knew. Every single one. From today, from yesterday, from generations before. Then the ability to care for their most basic needs, then their own name, then the ability to swallow, then to breathe.

When I was young, and I lost family members who were two generations older than me, I thought about how sad I was and how wrong it was that I could not have them in my life anymore. When I was an adult and lost my mom I thought about what mental habits I could adopt, ASAP, that might help me escape such a cruel death.

Then I lost mom’s best friend, and then Aunt Judith started to fail. Through Judith, I lost many beautiful people I fell in love with, those who lived with her while she was in an assisted living facility and then the Memory Care Ward. Then, this past July, I lost Judith – the last of her nuclear family.

Now I presume I will die from Alzheimer’s or some other dementia. I already love ice cream. The doctors object to such certainty, and perhaps it is the raw grief, but after witnessing all these strong, smart, feisty women fall who am I to think I could escape it?  

So I am here today, asking: why do we place such value on memory? Is it really so important?

When my grandmother was living with us the last six months of her life, I remember sitting on the couch with her for hours looking over family scrapbooks. I remember how happy I could make her by rattling off the names of dead friends and relatives I had never met but were in those picture books. I remember sitting at the piano with her while she played and sang a particular song from her Eastern European childhood over and over – drilling the melody and words into my childhood memory bank. My mother was caught up by the genealogy bug. She “found” over 1,500 relatives and took me on a roots tour that included visiting a shtetl in Ukraine, a street in Antwerp, and a sleepy town in Norway. My mother and grandmother clearly thought it important to remember the past.

Since my twins’ birth, I have told the story to Mollie and Isaac about how their great-great grandparents escaped from Ukraine–and who begat whom–until we get to their own birth story. I’m doing what I am supposed to do, passing along the history. But I am sure I don’t have all the facts “right,” and now there is nobody left to tell me the “real” story. I watched my mother and aunt spend decades arguing over whose version of what their parents did and thought was “correct.” I know that my sisters and I have very different ideas about people and things that happened in our common past. We each have our own versions.

So, here I am today, asking: is memory important?