What would Ruth deserve?

A woman harvests barley.

We read Megillat Ruth every year for Shavuot, which starts this year in the evening of May 30. Ruth was an illegal immigrant to Judah. Inspired by her kindness and her boldness, I’ve written a piece for the Tablet — it’s here — about Ruth, loving-kindness, chutzpah, and illegal immigration.  I hope you’ll read it and post any thoughts you have here.

Pirke Avot tells us:

עַל שְׁלֹשָׁה דְּבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֶד: עַל הַתּוֹרָה, וְעַל הַעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים
Al shlosha d’varim ha’olam omed: al haTorah, v’al ha’avoda v’al g’milut chasadim.
The world is sustained by three things: Torah, worship, and loving kindness.

I hope we can do as well as Boaz and Bethlehem and match the kindness and chutzpah of Ruth and of her modern-day brothers and sisters with our own.

What can we do?

  • Support WICIR, the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights: Like them on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WICIR/) and you’ll see posts for rallies, information sessions, and actions that support immigrant families.
  • Email Ruth Kraut, ruthkraut@gmail.com, if you want to join the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary planning group. For information on Sanctuary Synagogues, see http://www.truah.org/campaign/mikdash-the-jewish-sanctuary-movement/ .
  • If you speak another language well—especially Spanish, Arabic, or French—there are opportunities to do interpretation. Ask the folks at WICIR about how you can help.
  • Give time or money to MIRC, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, http://michiganimmigrant.org/. They train people to do Know Your Rights sessions and their “Let’s Do More” campaign is working to raise money for an additional staff attorney to meet the dramatically increased need since President Trump was sworn in.
  • If you see or hear ethnic or racial epithets or bias, speak up! Go over in your mind in advance what you would say/do. Here are the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Six Steps to Speaking Up Against Everyday Bigotry.

A very short reflection on community

by Debbie Field

When the JCC lost electricity late last week, we were able to celebrate Purim anyway, thanks to our neighbors at Temple Beth Emeth, who allowed us to hold our event in their building. While at the Purim party, I complained to a few (or perhaps many) people because the power had been out at my house for days. Three different AARC members offered to host us for the night, kind invitations which I declined because we had already arranged to stay with yet another set of AARC friends.

Even before power and my equanimity were restored, I was able to feel gratitude for our caring AARC community, and the wider Jewish community of Ann Arbor as well.

Thoughts on Chesed Shel Emeth

by Clare Kinberg

There’s a complicated story surrounding my feelings about the Feb 18, 2017 vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, MO. I’m not even thinking right now about the fact that my family buried my mother there last month, on Jan 5. Yes, I am very upset that the peace of the space around my mother’s fresh grave has been so unnaturally disturbed. But the seat of my feelings has other sources.

On Sept 5, 2016, 5 months before we buried mom in Chesed Shel Emeth, I visited a very different, historic cemetery in the rural and remote, rolling hills of Southwest Michigan; a sparse, church cemetery where my Aunt Rose, my father’s sister, lies buried in an unmarked grave. I found her resting place, after 40 years of looking for her, through determination and chance. She died in 1982; her obituary in the Cassopolis Vigilant says “there are no known survivors at this time.” Estranged from her family, including even her young son, Joe,  since the 1930s, Rose remained separated in death. Until this week, I’d fantasized about bringing her body home to the shtetl, which is, of course, Chesed Shel Emeth. Her mother and father are there, her grandfather, too. All three of her brothers and a sister. But Chesed Shel Emeth is not where Rose wanted to be. And now, I almost feel grateful that she isn’t there, that her rest is not disturbed like all the others. 

To be honest, the thought of bringing her home to Chesed Shel Emeth was only a passing thought. I’ve given serious thought, though, to the headstone I plan to order for her, to mark her space under the earth. Rose (Kinberg) Arnwine does have known survivors, and her extraordinary life will be noted.

Both Rose and I are the non-conformists of the family. But I can still claim Chesed Shel Emeth for my own. I’ve walked its narrow paths countless times. I love to stand in the midst of the gravestones and be enclosed into its familiarity. In 1897, my father’s–and Rose’s–grandmother was buried there, when she died ten days after giving birth to my great aunt Mary. It was in the first years of the cemetery, when they buried Russian Jews who didn’t have the money for a plot or a headstone. Chesed Shel Emeth is the shtetl, the home of the poor, and the very poor, all laid up next to the better off. There’s a plethora of peddlers, tailors, and junk dealers …and the jobbers they became.

With my mom’s papers, I find invoices and paid checks from my father and Uncle Leonard to Chesed Shel Emeth Burial Society, beginning in 1951, for “burial graves.” They paid on some sort of regular basis through the 1960s. Every name on a headstone in Chesed Shel Emeth echoes with the voices of our parents and teachers, our neighbors and schoolmates, the grocers and shoe salesmen, teammates, cousins, and friends. The families that moved from downtown on North 10th St. to midtown near Cates and Kingshighway, to Westminster, to Kingsbury in University City, to Olivette and Ladue and finally further west to Chesterfield. Of the 17,000 people buried in Chesed Shel Emeth, so many with families like mine, with generations buried there, I think I am connected, through marriage and proximity, to each and every one. I look at each headstone and think, I know you, I know you, I know you.

Aunt Mary, who grew up shuttled between the Jewish orphan home in Cleveland and various relatives, was the only one who stayed in touch with Rose. The shtetl was not entirely kind to either of them.

Rose’s son Joe married in 1952, to Joyce (who died just a month before mom, in Alabama). Everyone is at the wedding, except Rose: Aunt Mary and her grown children stand next to my mom and dad, Dad’s siblings and their children. Today, only my siblings Robert and Sheila from this picture are alive (I wouldn’t be born for 3 more years). Five of them are in Chesed Shel Emeth: Mom and Dad, Uncle Leonard and Aunt Ethel, and Tillie. The rest are scattered, New York, Chicago, California.

I wonder if Aunt Mary brought this picture to Rose. Was it among Rose’s things when she died, thirty years later? What did happen to Rose’s things when she died? The Cass County probate court has lost her record, but I haven’t given up the search. After all, I found her. Or at least the unmarked patch of grass where she is buried.

The Chesed Shel Emeth shtetl was no longer Rose’s home, but, oh, the home she did create. A stop on the Underground Railroad, on Paradise Lake, Vandalia, MI. When her East Texas-born African American husband bought 25 acres of farmland there in 1943, did it feel safe to them? Familiar, like the rural county he’d grown up in? Was it more like the Russian shtetl her grandfather came from than the brick duplexes of St Louis or the crowded Black Belt in the south side of Chicago? In Cass County, MI, Rose and Zebedee raised chickens and sold eggs. She was active in her church. She lived on the same piece of land for 40 years. Her resting place is quiet.

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!

 

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.]

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?

Human Rights Shabbat — Saturday morning, December 10

December 10 is International Human Rights Day, and so we’re making our second Saturday service a Human Rights Shabbat service.  I’ll lead the service, at the normal 10 am time.  We’ll do some of the regular Shacharit service, but have a discussion rather than a Torah service.  In this difficult week and month, I’m still thinking through how to approach this.  My plans from a week ago suddenly seem inadequate.  But I hope many of us can gather and share hope and community.  So save the date.

The Shofar blasts:  Waking up to something in a new way

a Rosh Hashanah talk by Patti Smith

patti-smithDespite a lifelong love of being the center of attention and performing, I am actually a very shy person. I am one of those unusual folk who would rather be in front of dozens or hundreds of people than talk one to one with someone. One-to-one makes me nervous. It is out of my comfort zone.

I did something this past summer that is also out of my comfort zone—I went to camp for the first time. Unlike most people raised in the same circumstances as me, I had never gone to camp. I was quite sickly as a kid and going into the woods with no air conditioning or access to doctors was not really possible. But I’ve grown up and medicine is better, and air conditioned cabins are now a thing, so I got a scholarship and off I went to a dance and arts camp in the woods.

The nerves started a few weeks before camp did. I casually mentioned to my husband that maybe I shouldn’t go. I only knew a few people by sight, and wouldn’t know most of the 120 campers and maybe I should stay home. He reminded me that I had gotten a scholarship that I had to honor.

I set off on a Sunday in August. As soon as I arrived at camp, my nerves started jangling—I didn’t know anyone and they wanted us to sit together at meals. I had to make small talk with complete strangers, most of whom were quite a bit older than me and who all seemed to know each other. I held my own but my stomach jumped all over like it always does when I have to talk to people one on one. I found a Wi-Fi signal and messaged my husband, suggesting that maybe I should come home. He replied by wishing me a happy evening. Drat!

At breakfast and lunch the next day, I felt the same uneasiness that I always have. I started to message my husband again when I heard a woman make an announcement. She was looking for people to perform at the daily gathering, the time just before lunch when campers could sing, dance, tell jokes, lead a sing-a-long, or otherwise show off their talents. I erased my message to my husband and went up to the woman.

“I’m Patti from Ann Arbor,” I said. “I do storytelling, if you could use me tomorrow.”

Her face lit up. “I’d love it! You can go first!”

The story I selected was called The Plant People, the theme of which is me being a very literal and very naïve child who literally thought that the plant people were going to come and eat us all.

So I got up there the next day and told my 5 minute story. It is very rare that I say this, but it really hit all the right notes. I normally sort of black out when I’m up there, but I was really in the moment and it went great.

And then something happened. People started talking to me, and I had something to talk to them about. The theme of naivety and childhood hit a chord with people who told me about their very literal son or their sheltered niece. By telling my story, I had empowered other people to share their stories. And in doing so, we had opened a door into a territory of common life experiences. Now we had something to talk about! And my shyness melted away.

Because I got up there and told that story, I met people who I probably wouldn’t have otherwise even met. We have all friended each other on Facebook and next year at camp, we will have lots of stories to share!

patti-smith-warrior-queenPatti will perform her storytelling on Novemeber 10th in “HERsay: An Evening of Performance Art” at Pointless Brewery & Theatre 3014 Packard St, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108

It is already sold out, but may be a good topic to talk to Patti about next time you see her!