Reflections on this year’s Sukkot Retreat

By Deb Gombert

The kids are up to something.

The kids are up to something.

Carl in a tree

Carl in a tree

I’ve included two pictures to start this post off.  The picture from last year shows a group of children age 3 to 13 who have all joined together in a Very Important Quest of some sort. I wanted to share it because every year at the retreat I love the way the children play together in one group, the older and younger children joining each other in flashlight tag or other games created in the moment. This year was no different: the children created a community that mirrored the sense of community I feel at the retreat.

The other picture is a picture from this year. Carl is high up in a tree. He is alone, reading a book, enjoying a new sense of physical accomplishment in that he can climb higher than he could last year, and enjoying the near perfect weather. At the retreat this year I too found some time to be alone. I meditated, wrote in my journal and practiced accordion. Unlike Carl I was not personally aware of any new physical accomplishments since last year, but I was aware of other ways in which I have grown since last year. And as Carl did, I also enjoyed the weather – not by climbing trees, but by walking among them in the forest around the retreat center.

Last year we almost did not go to the retreat. Carl told me “Mom! We HAVE to go. It is the best weekend of the year!” I suggested [Read more…]

On Volunteering at the Community Kitchen

By Debbie Field

I’ve been cooking since childhood, and I feel pretty confident in the kitchen.  But the first time I volunteered at Food Gatherers’ Community Kitchen at the Delonis Center, I learned a lot about how the professionals do it: health department rules require meticulous attention to cleanliness, the knives are extremely sharp, and if you forget to bring your own hat, you really do have to wear one of those hairnets. If you come a few times, you graduate from mixing powdered lemonade or slicing leftover cake to making stew for 70 on the big range. If, like me, you enjoy feeding people, you will find that a fun and satisfying experience.


From Mike Ehmann: Our congregation provides volunteers for a scheduled shift the first Saturday of every month from noon to 2:30. The Community Kitchen is inside the Delonis Center, 312 W. Huron St, Ann Arbor. This is a great opportunity for adults and for youth over 12 years old to participate in this wonderful team meal prep experience. Keep in mind that only 2 of the 5 volunteers may be between 12-18 years of age. Food Gatherers and Community Kitchen staff are very grateful for our participation.

Cultivating Shmita: Re-Wilding Our Ecosystem, Our Diet, Our Medicine

By Idelle Hammond-Sass

Drake Meadow took some of us on an illuminating permaculture walk at the Fall Sukkot Retreat. It was especially relevant in this year where we are cultivating a new ‘Shmita mentality‘.

Idelle and Drake examining a plant at the 2014 Sukkot Retreat

Idelle and Drake examining a plant at the 2014 Sukkot Retreat

We learned to find edible and healing plants in our own yards and how those things that many people sacrifice to have a typical American lawn are actually better to embrace, cultivate and use in tinctures and teas. Drake’s knowledge and ability to notice plants reminded me of how little we know about the land around us.

Shmita reminds us to recognize that even when the land is fallow and wild, it can provide nourishment and even healing herbs for us. Allowing the land to rest can bring a different type of harvest as well, as local and native plants regain their footing and provide habitat and food for animals as well as perennial and edible plants for us.

In an article shared recently by Sarah Chandler, (Director of Earth Based Spiritual Practice at Adamah Farm at the Isabella Freedman Center) she demonstrates how to cultivate elderberry plants and make a tincture from it with the Jewish Greening Fellows. (The article is not available online but here are photos of the process.) This dovetailed with some of the knowledge Drake shared with us at the retreat. Drake mentioned making tinctures from other plants we found including goldenrod.

One piece of knowledge passed on by Drake came in handy recently as we toured conservation efforts in Washtenaw County with Legacy Land Trust. [Read more…]

Cultivating Friendships, Community through the Sukkot Retreat

By Carol Lessure (based on welcome remarks made during Yom Kippur Services 5775)

As a community, we have much to be grateful for. I thought of this when I responded to my 10 year old son, our sceptic, about why we are Jewish and participate in High Holiday services. It is in part because we want to be a part of this community.

I also thought of this when I read a recent editorial by David Brooks in the New York Times pondering what he would do if in some fantasy world he had $500 million to give away. What did he conclude? Well, he decided he would try to set up places that cultivate friendships.

He envisions places that are NOT networking programs but some place that offers something more profound.

He would create places that “give you challenging activities to do together.” We put on High Holiday services for several hundred members and guests in a temporary location each year.

He said, “nothing inspires friendship like selflessness and cooperation in moments of difficulty.” I naturally think of our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs that we all pitch in to support each other within this small DYI congregation. We also have a Mitzvah Corps available to help members during life transitions and other times when support is needed.

“You also want to give moments when people can share confidences, about big ideas and small worries,” wrote Brooks. (Yes, we’ve got that covered.)

He envisioned a string of adult camps or retreat centers that would gather people together in seclusion. We’d prepare and clean up our meals together, and eating our meals would go on for a while. In the morning, we would read about and discuss big topics. In the afternoons, we’d play sports, take hikes and build something complicated together. At night, there’d be a bar and music.

Well that brings me back to our resident skeptic because Brooks is kind of describing our Fall Sukkot Retreat. My skeptical son has been asking me when it will be . . . since August.

As part of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, he and the rest of my family have gained a community where we don’t network, but really delve into both intellectual and spiritual topics. We wrestle with G-d and our own perceptions of belief. After lurking around for many years, we became members and have never looked back. Through AARC, we have gained a bit of that friendship circle, of that community, that David Brooks describes.

So, David Brooks does not have $500 million, and he is not here to give us a grant to make our circle bigger. But it takes far less than that to become a member of our community. In fact, we invite people to give what they can within a range. By becoming a member you make a commitment to this community and its future, and as one that did not sign up right away I can tell you that if feels good to take that step forward.

That said, I always enjoy seeing all the guests that join us for High Holidays. I thank you all for enriching us with your participation in services this year and years past.

If you want to really experience our community come to Fourth Friday on October 24 at the JCC. We eat a communal meal after services and do the dishes together. If you aren’t coming to the Fall Sukkot Retreat this year, mark your calendars for October 2 – 4, 2015. I am pretty sure that we’ll be there.

Read more about and sign up for the Sukkot Retreat

A D’var Torah about the Akedah

by Margo Schlanger

ShofarThe traditional Torah portion for the first day of Rosh Hashanah is about the birth of Isaac and the near-death of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by a woman whose name we never find out – Hagar, the name given in the Torah, means “foreigner.”  Ishmael, of course, is the father of the Ishmaelites.  In the Muslim tradition, he is the Muslim patriarch, ancestor of Muhammed, and more generally of the Arab Muslims.

It’s the relationship between that first day’s parsha and the parsha for today, Rosh Hashanah’s second day, that I want to talk about.  Today’s parsha is Akedah, the binding of Isaac.  As we all know, it’s a difficult portion.  If the project of our Torah reading is to find inspiration and edification, that’s a tough undertaking from a story that seems to portray just about everyone behaving badly.

How can we reconcile ourselves to a God who says to Abraham “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you”?  And if the answer to that question is, it’s a test, then that raises another question:  How can we admire an Abraham who is so bold, so compassionate, as to argue with God over strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, but not bold enough and compassionate enough to argue with God about the command to murder his own child?  If it’s a test, didn’t Abraham fail, when he set so silently to obey?

These are not new questions.  [Read more…]