Isaac Asimov’s Book of Ruth

I’ve written about Shavuot several times over the past few years. In 2015, I wrote on the culmination of the counting of the Omer and the concept of “our lives as torah.” Last year, when Loving Day and Shavuot fell at the same time, I reflected on Jews and interracial marriage. In that blog, I recounted reasons I’d found that we read The Book of Ruth on Shavuot, “…the story takes place during the seasonal harvest that the holiday marks; Ruth’s acceptance of the Israelite faith is analogous to the Jewish people’s acceptance of Torah; and because of the legend that King David, a descendant of Ruth, died on Shavuot.”

Last week my friend Abbie Egherman told me about the 1972 Isaac Asimov book, The Story of Ruth. Abbie is on a search for books that will inspire us, as Jews, to become more deeply and actively involved in refugee support and resettlement. According to Asimov’s memoir, his retelling of Ruth’s story is a long essay treating the book “as a plea for tolerance against the cruelty of the scribe Ezra, who forced the Jews to ‘put away’ their foreign wives.” Asimov’s essay places the story in context of the culture of the time it was written, but his purpose, as explained in his memoir, was to reflect on the potential of any people to become persecutors when in positions of power. In particular, he wanted Jews to look at our own history, situations in which we have been in power as well as eras when we have not.

There will be plenty of time to discuss Asimov’s reflection, as well as other retellings of the Book of Ruth at our congregation’s Shavuot gathering.

 

AARC Shavuot in Stages

May 30, 2017

Everyone Welcome

RSVP Here 

Location: Marcy Epstein’s home, 1307 Henry St.:

6:30pm Holiday blessing, Parsha Study, and Spring Soup

7:30 Community celebration with flower strands and wreaths and Ice cream treats

8:30 “Many Books of Ruth” Real storytelling, with wine and cheese tasting

Also:

May 31st 6:30-7:30 Yiskor/Memorial Serivce at the JCC

contact for Marcy: dr_marcy@hotmail.com

AARC members are teachers

With the spring holidays, Tu B’Shevat, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot, AARC is coming near the end of two years of our members stepping up, without rabbinical direction, to plan our community’s observances. Of course, having started as a havurah, without a rabbi, many veteran members were used to planning holidays and services. And Rabbi Alana has been an inspiring service leader over this time.

In a few months, sure to quickly fly by, AARC’s new rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner, will be in Ann Arbor to begin her tenure with us and we are anticipating her leadership with excitement, and admittedly, relief. I’d like to shine a light on a few of the lay leaders who’ve filled in this year, not just administratively and logistically, but as religious and spiritual teachers.

From an article “Who is a Reconstructionist Jew” on the Reconstructionist Judaism Website: Reconstructionist communities challenge Jews to participate fully in our shared Jewish civilization. From building a sukkah to appreciating Jewish music, from caring for the Jewish young and old to leading Torah study – community members should experience Jewish civilization in our day as fully as they experience secular civilization.

Judaism will continue to be a dynamic civilization only if we choose to participate, create and transmit vitality to future generations. Reconstructionist rabbis work in partnership with committed lay people to formulate guidelines that serve as Jewish touchstones for our times. These guidelines are presented and democratically considered in Reconstructionist communities as standards for enhancing the Jewish life of the individual and the community rather than as binding laws.

A couple of weeks ago Jack Edelstein led our Second Saturday Shabbat morning service and discussion with such aplomb, I can’t wait till he leads again. Jack is my model of a Reconstructionist: knowledgeable in Hebrew, traditional prayer and Jewish source texts, he reads the Recon siddur/prayer book “beneath the line,” that is, during prayer, he emphasizes modern interpretations and understandings of the kavanah/intentions of the prayers. He led the discussion with respect for everyone’s input. My advice to all, next time Jack leads a service, come!

Over this past year, Evelyn Neuhaus, Margo Schlanger, Debbie Zivan, Barbara Boyk-Rust, and Allison Stupka have led Saturday morning services. Each of them brought learning of great value to the service. Dina Kurz has planned our last two Purims, and Rachel Baron Singer edited a new Haggadah just for us. Carol Lessure, Marcy Epstein, Mike Ehmann, Carole Caplan, and Nancy Meadow (and if others, please forgive me) have hosted home observances this year. Marcy is already planning for our Shavuot observance, May 30. I want to extend a thank you to all of them for helping us “participate fully in our shared Jewish civilization.” And I want to extend an invitation to each of our members to consider sharing your knowledge, skills, and spiritual leadership with the community as we move forward.

In May, Deb Kraus will be leading Fourth Friday and the following Saturday (when Peter Cohn will become Bar Mitzvah), and in June, Josh and Michal Samuels will lead. We are incredibly lucky to have these teachers in our congregation and we can all look forward to learning with them.

Beginning an AARC practice of yahrzeit reminders

Graphic from the Ritual Well article “Marking the First Yahrzeit”

When Debbie Zivan, Rebecca Kanner and I met last month to talk about establishing a system for AARC to acknowledge our members families’ yahrzeits, we knew this was so important to us because we want our congregation to support us, and all our members, in practicing the Jewish rituals of mourning and remembrance. Our plan is to collect the yahrzeit dates that each of our members would like to remember and that these dates will be noted each year with a mailed notice to the member and a reading of the upcoming yahrzeits at our monthly Fourth Friday Shabbat services. To begin this for AARC, members can send Rebecca [rnmik@yahoo.com ] the dates of the death of their immediate family members.

I found this concise information about the practice of yahrzeit on the website of Reconstructionist congregation Kehilat HaNahar of New Hope, PA. It is written by their rabbi, Diana Miller.

Yahrzeit Information

What is Yahrzeit?

Yahrzeit is a Yiddish word meaning “a year’s time.” The yahrzeit is the annual anniversary of the death of a person, based on the Hebrew calendar (although some individuals observe it on the Gregorian calendar). The yahrzeit is determined from the day of death rather than the day of burial. If three or more days elapse between death and burial, one opinion says the yahrzeit is reckoned from the day of burial only for the first year and from that point forward, on the day of death. If you do not know the exact day of death, you may choose a date to observe as the yahrzeit.

Why observe Yahrzeit?

Commemorating the anniversary of a death year after year allows you to honor the deceased and the legacy he or she has left behind. It also helps you remain in touch with the memory of the deceased, while at the same time continuing to move through the cycle of life. In this way, death becomes part of the cycle of life itself.

The first yahrzeit is especially important psychologically because it helps you acknowledge that you have made it through an entire year without your loved one…all the holidays, the seasons and the occasions you usually would have spent with that person in the physical world.

Spiritually, yahrzeit is a ”soul-guiding” ritual, a process that acknowledges that the living and the dead are in an ongoing process of interconnection. It helps strengthen the spiritual bond between the world of the living and the soul of the departed.

What happens on Yahrzeit?

This day is a solemn day of remembrance. Typically, people attend synagogue or a place where there is a minyan to say Kaddish Yatom, or Mourner’s Kaddish, for their loved one. At Kehilat HaNahar, your loved one’s name will be read on the Friday night Shabbat service before the actual yahrzeit date. Many families attend this service for that reason. It is also common for a family member to have an aliyah, which is the honor of “going up” to the Torah in memory of the deceased loved one. A special prayer known as “El Maley Rachamin” may be recited. Some people also visit the cemetery around this time or give tzedakah (charitable donations) to commemorate the yahrzeit. Another tradition is to fast during yahrzeit for a parent and, if so, to avoid attending weddings because of their celebratory mood.

What if I forget the Yahrzeit?

The synagogue office will send you a written reminder of your loved one’s yahrzeit approximately one month before the date and an email notice about 10 days before. However, if you forget or were unable to observe the Yahrzeit, simply observe it when you remember.

What about the Yarzheit candle?

The custom of lighting a special yahrzeit candle comes from the Book of Proverbs (20:27): Ner Hashem nishmat adam (“The soul of man is a candle of the Lord”).  Sometimes it’s called a memorial candle or a ner neshama, a “soul candle.” The candle is typically lit the evening before the yahrzeit date. There is no specific prayer for the candle-lighting.

 

 

Erica Bloom on Tu B’Shevat: “Bend a little closer to the earth”

On Saturday February 11, Erica Bloom, Project Director at Growing Hope, gave this talk during our morning Shabbat service.

Hello everyone. Thank you for having me today. This is a rare opportunity for me to wear two of my hats at once. I’ve been asked to speak today to reflect on Tu B’shevat as the Program Director at Growing Hope, but also as a Jewish person who cares deeply about the natural world and access to healthy food as a human right. [Read more…]

Inclusion and Talmud in Unreasonable Times: Feb 18 and 19

by Clare Kinberg

Master Jewish educators Yavilah McCoy and Rabbi Benay Lappe are two people I have long looked to for teaching deep growth and change in Jewish communal life. I couldn’t be more excited that they are coming to lead workshops in Ann Arbor on Februrary 18 and 19. The Jewish Communal Leadership Program (JCLP) is hosting a weekend of provocative study and discussion, and you are invited. Here is where you register.

Because Yavilah began her Jewish diversity trainings while living in my hometown of St. Louis, I saw firsthand the impact her work had on my family and friends. While living there in the late 1990s, she founded one of the first nonprofit Jewish organizations to provide Jewish diversity education and advocacy for Jews of Color in the United States. In 2005, I had the pleasure of publishing Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz’ interview with Yavilah in Bridges. You can access it here. In her  current work at Visions, Inc, in Boston, she is bringing diversity training and inclusion to the next level.

On Saturday evening, February 18, Yavilah McCoy will lead the discussion at Common Cup Coffeehouse on Washtenaw Ave (free parking available). In these challenging days, what will it take to realize our obligation to racial justice across the diversity of religious and spiritual affiliations? The discussion will explore Jewish text and tradition to help us achieve deeper equality and more beloved community.

 

Rabbi Benay Lappe is Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of SVARA, a traditionally radical yeshiva based in Chicago that offers accessible, complex, and highly accountable traditional Jewish education from a Queer perspective. Ordained in 1997 by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Lappe is an associate at two progressive Jewish think tanks (Institute for the Next Jewish Future and CLAL). On Sunday afternoon, Februrary 19, Rabbi Lappe will be introducing us to her style of Talmud study as a practice that strips away pretense and highlights the strengthening of self and community in radical relationship to the text. Sunday evening, Rabbi Lappe will offer an additional session for those who know the Hebrew alphabet that will engage participants in her version of radical text study in the original.

The program JCLP has put together is formed around the question, “How can we strengthen ourselves and our communities to confront these unreasonable times?”

Here are the details:

WHAT NOW ?

Communal Conversations for Unreasonable Times

February 18 & 19, 2017

Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue with Yavilah McCoy

Saturday, February 18, 2017

7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

The Common Cup Coffeehouse

1511 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor

Radical Texts for an Unreasonable Time:

An Approach to Activist Talmud Study, with Benay Lappe

Sunday, February 19, 2017

1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

School of Social Work, Room 1840

1080 S. University Ave, Ann Arbor
Join Rabbi Benay Lappe for this exploration through text and community. Consider whether the identities best equipped to engage Jewish tradition are really the ones we’re used to seeing at the front of the room.

One-Night Stand: An Evening of Radical Talmud, with Benay Lappe

Sunday, February 19

6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

School of Social Work, Room 1840

Presented as part of the Frankel Speakers Series with the generous support of the Covenant Foundation.   Co-sponsored by Jean & Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, Michigan Hillel, Department of America Culture, Dean’s TBLG Matters Initiative, and AHAVA.

Register here. For more information or questions contact Paige Walker vpwalker@umich.edu or (734) 764-5392.

 

Tu B’Shevat: The Jewish Environmental Holiday, February 11, 2017

Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of the month of Shevat, is the Jewish new year of the trees, the date in the Jewish calendar when we especially focus on human interdependence with nature and other environmental concerns. This year, Tu B’Shevat will fall on Saturday, February 11 and there are several ways you can celebrate the holiday with AARC.

Saturday February 11 is a Second Saturday, our regular monthly Saturday morning Shabbat service at the JCC (10am-noon), so it’s the perfect opportunity for us to get together for Tu B’Shevat. Rabbi Alana will lead the prayer service and we’ve invited special guest Erica Bloom to join us for a talk about her work with Growing Hope in Ypsilanti. Growing Hope is an organization focused on helping people improve their lives and communities through gardening and increasing access to healthy food. It hosts an urban farm on W Michigan and does several community and school programs on “farm to table” themes.

Growing Hope 922 W. Michigan, Ypsilanti

Growing Hope Green House and Gardens

Erica’s roots are in Southeast Michigan, though she went west for her education. She received her M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana where she studied environmental health and environmental non-fiction writing. After returning to Michigan, she worked at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters advocating to increase protections for our state’s natural resources. She is currently a Senior Fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program, and participated in a Detroit area young professional Jewish leadership initiative through Bend the Arc, a Jewish partnership for justice.

 

 

Later in the day, we are invited to two Tu B’Shevat seders in Detroit:

  • Congregation T’chiyah, the Reconstructionist Congregation of Detroit, and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue are hosting a Tu B’Shevat Seder on Saturday, February 11, at 3.30 pm, at IADS (1457 Griswold, Detroit 48226). The seder, led by Rabbis Alana Alpert and Ariana Silverman, will have lots of fruits, nuts, and Jewish wisdom about being better stewards of the Earth. Special activities for children will enable each generation to celebrate and learn. This event is free of charge.
  • And at 7:30 Hazon Detroit is hosting a Tu B’Shevat event at the Light Box: Gather in community for an experiential Tu B’Shvat seder (ceremony) that will re-connect us to the environment and take us on a journey from the physical world to the spiritual world with music, poetry, and learnings from some of Detroit’s most dedicated environmental changemakers and activists. Expected to be there are State Representatives Jeremy Moss and Robert Wittenberg; Executive Director & Health Officer for the City of Detroit’s Health Department, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed; President & CEO of We the People of Detroit, Monica Lewis Patrick; and Executive Director of Soulardarity, Jackson Koeppel! Co-sponsored by: The Well, NEXTGen Detroit, Jewish Ferndale, Yad Ezra, Repair The World: Detroit,Congregation Shir Tikvah, Detroit City Moishe House, and Adat Shalom Synagogue’s Young Adult Group. There is a fee for the Hazon event: sliding scale of $10-18. Scholarships available. REGISTER HERE for the Hazon event! Please contact Julie Rosenbaum for questions: julie.rosenbaum@hazon.org or 248-997-6344.

For the past few years, Tu B’Shevat has been a special holiday for AARC. Here is a blog about last year’s Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton and Seder, and from the 2015 Tu B’Shevat Seder. Let’s make this year memorable as well.

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.

Our Yom Kippur Workshops in the Washtenaw Jewish News

As is our tradition at AARC, between services on Yom Kippur we have several workshops where we can together study, meditate, and discuss. This year, there will be three sessions.  From 2:15 to 3:30 pm Barbara Boyk-Rust will lead “Soul Nourishment: Meditation and Sacred Chant for the Quiet of the Day” and Ellen Dannin will lead “Yonah – It’s Much More than Just a Whale.” From 3:45 to 5 pm, Margo Schlanger and Ronald Simpson-Bey will lead a conversation about the modern experience of imprisonment, and what kind of conditions–physical and programmatic–create the best chance of t’shuvah.  All are welcome to join any of these workshops, whether or not you are attending services with us.

Thanks to Jonathan Cohn for writing this up for the Washtenaw Jewish News:

wjn-oct-16-web

Yom Kippur Workshops

It’s our Yom Kippur tradition at AARC to have several afternoon sessions where we can together study, meditate, and discuss. This year, there will be three sessions; two from about 2:15 to 3:30 pm, and one from 3:45 to 5 pm.

One of the 2:15 sessions will be guided meditation, led by our member, Barbara Boyk-Rust, who writes:

Soul Nourishment: Meditation and Sacred Chant for the Quiet of the Day.
As we fast and pray on Yom Kippur we are asked to be in more direct contact with our spirit and with our connection to God than any other day of the year. While we move toward this during the evening, morning, and late afternoon services, what assists us during the spaces between the services? A walk, a nap, a quiet conversation? Each may be of help. A different way of prayer is also fitting. It is a time of day when we may be longing for sustenance. Together we will create a form of soul nourishment through meditation and offering up a few sacred texts in chant. May this time augment and amplify the expression of our soul on this holy day.

Our member Ellen Dannin will facilitate a conversation about the Book of Jonah:

Yonah – It’s Much More than Just a “Whale”: We will share reading the story of Yonah / Jonah, with time for participants’ contributions, questions, thoughts. Feel free to bring your own texts.

At 3:45, you can choose between a walk, a chat with a friend, or whatever else moves you, and a session that uses Jonah, again, as a starting off point a conversation about solitary confinement. We’ll start with some materials from this T’ruah study guide (which is based on a Yom Kippur d’var member Margo Schlanger gave at AARC in 2013).  But we’ll move fairly quickly into the modern experience of imprisonment and examine the question, What kind of conditions–physical and programmatic–create the best chance of t’shuvah?  Our leaders for this session will be member Margo Schlanger and Ronald Simpson-Bey.

Ronald Simpson-Bey, leading Ann Arbor Yom Kippur workshop

Ronald Simpson-Bey

Ron is the Alumni Associate for JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), part of the steering team of the newly formed Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration in Michigan (MI-CEMI), and co-founder and advisory board member of the Chance For Life (CFL) organization in Detroit. He served 27-years in the Michigan prison system, where he founded many enrichment programs rooted in transformation, redemption, and self-accountability.  In the course of that time, he spent two years in solitary confinement. He was a jailhouse lawyer who got his conviction reversed by the courts and got himself out of prison.  He attended Eastern Michigan University, Mott Community College, and Jackson Community College, and he has worked as a staff paralegal at the former Prison Legal Services of Michigan.

On this day of atonement, join this workshop to better understand American imprisonment, and what kinds of change we need and can help with.

Your Story Adds to our Shofar Service on Rosh Hashanah

Cover of Rachel Barenblatt's machzor/high holiday prayerbook

Cover of Rachel Barenblatt’s machzor/high holiday prayerbook

Deb Kraus is looking for several people to tell 3-5 minute personal stories as part of the Rosh Hashanah day (October 3, this year) Shofar Service. Deb offers some explanation and background:

The Shofar Service, which happens in the later part of the Rosh Hashanah Service, is divided into three parts:  Malchuyot (majesty/sovereignty), Zichronot (remembrances) and Shofarot (call to action). For the last few years, AARC congregants have offered short 3-5 minute personal stories to introduce each section of prayer. This has been a really meaningful way for our members to participate in communal leadership and share an important part of themselves with the community.  For example, in past years, Kevin Norris shared about a health challenge (Shofarot) , Dina Kurz talked about higher power (Malchuyot), and I talked about hiking in the alps (Malchuyot) and (another year) how my daughter Molly and I shared memories of our old house in an attempt to get it sold (Zichronot).  Last year, this is where Clare called us to welcome Jews of all colors (Shofarot). So,  do you have a story to share? Contact me (drdebkraus@gmail.com) with your story idea, and I’ll try to fit it into the service.

In this blog on her site, the Veleveteen Rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt introduces each section of the Shofar Service with a poem, directing our hearts to open to the prayers. Another resource on the Shofar Service is offered by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, with these kavanah/intentions for Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. These may help you get started on finding your story.