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!

 

The Curious Case of the Too-Tall Traveling Torah

by David Erik Nelson
Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Here at the AARC we are blessed with a very weird Torah that gets a tremendous amount of love.

Most Torahs rarely travel more than a dozen feet at a time, from ark to torah table. Ours gets hauled through the JCC, chauffeured to b’nei mitzvah venues, and schlepped across town to the Unitarian Universalist building for High Holidays. It is a remarkably well-loved—and notably well-traveled—oddball of a scroll. It is also old, a little delicate, and very unwieldy. Our traveling Torah badly needed a traveling case—something with wheels and handles, easy to maneuver, and able to protect our scroll from a sidewalk stumble, fender bender, or sudden downpour.

Anyone who’s been called to the AARC bimah (such as it is) has no doubt noted our scroll’s large Kabbalistic script (embellished with many little hooks, hats, and curly tails)—a relative rarity among “high use” Torahs like ours.  This calligraphy is a hallmark of Torahs crafted in the last great center of Kabbalistic learning, in Prague.  You may have noted our Torah’s age—the scroll is almost certainly several hundred years old.  If you’ve ever done hagba, you have first-hand experience of how unwieldy it can be to handle. But few folks point out how extremely tall the thing is.

Notes, measurements, and rough sketch

Notes, measurements, and rough sketch

Most Torahs are about two feet tall, in accordance with suggestions made by Moses Maimonides back in the 12th Century, and might weigh around 30 pounds. Ours—in accordance with the fashion of the Kabbalists of Prague—is almost four feet tall. I have no clue what it weighs, but I know it is a bear to haul up over your head.

As Amazon shoppers, you no doubt imagine that there is a robust, highly competitive global market for Torah travel cases. Thus you will be shocked (shocked!) to learn that there is a very limited selection of torah-specific travel cases for 47-inch tall Torahs.

In fact, that selection is limited to zero.

"The Vault" Hardside Golf Travel Bag

“The Vault” Hardside Golf Travel Bag

For that matter, there is a very limited market for travel cases for anything that’s four feet tall, a foot wide, and just shy of eight inches deep. No instrument case is long enough and wide enough, no gun case is deep enough, even cases for synthesizers and keyboards either fall short or are far too large—and either way, they are extremely expensive and heavy.

Fortunately, golfers love to travel. Two companies make bare-bones, hard-sided, lockable, wheeled, extra-large cases to protect those precious clubs. Our ancient, mystic Torah fits perfectly in one of these cases. Appropriately enough, this product is named “The Vault.”

And we now own it.

With the addition of a padded, custom-crafted foot-hold, The Vault holds our well-loved Torah snug as a bug in a rug. When not in use, the case tucks perfectly into the back corner of the official “office” (storage closet) of Ann Arbor’s only Reconstructionist congregation.

Now our Torah can wander in style.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Torah Tikkun

Rabbi Druin sewing the AARC torah, March 29, 2016. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin sewing the AARC torah, March 29, 2016. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

According to Rabbi Moshe Druin, of “Sofer on Site,” our Torah is between 200 and 250 years old; it has many distinctive letters that associate its scribe with the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel. It will be challenging and fun to look for corroboration of this interesting information. Rabbi Druin speculated that this Torah came to the U.S. from Europe before WWII. Dave Nelson, who was there when Rabbi Druin opened the Torah, was particularly impressed with the age of the scroll, and with the fact that, if properly cared for, how the torah can be used indefinitely, connecting us with Jews past and future.

Rabbi Druin unfurls the whole torah to begin work. Photo by Dave Nelson

Rabbi Druin unfurls the whole torah to begin work. Photo by Dave Nelson

Rabbi Druin points to another distinctive embellishment to the letter pey in the AARC torah.

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive embellishment to the letter pey in the AARC torah.

In addition to the special lettering associated with Czechoslovakia of a period 200 or so years ago, Rabbi Druin said that the varying sizes of the 52 pieces of parchment and their unusual height of almost 4 feet were also an indication of the age of the torah. More on this topic in an upcoming blog post.

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Several people were able to observe and talk with Rabbi Druin as he worked. Jack Edelstein, who arranged for Rabbi Druin to do the repair, was interested to find that our Torah is much lighter than most of its size because the parchment is not coated with a certain material that torahs are typically coated with, and that the poles that the scroll is attached to are not the original ones; they are a few inches shorter than they should be, which is partially what accounts for the crinkliness of the top and especially bottom of the scroll. Evelyn Neuhaus and Mike Ehmann, Clare Kinberg, Dave Nelson, Danny Steinmetz, and Stephanie Rowden also watched as Rabbi Druin worked.  Evelyn says she felt a closer connection to the Torah after learning so much about it and having so many of its details pointed out.

Evelyn looks on as Rabbi Druin repairs the torah.

Evelyn looks on as Rabbi Druin repairs the torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Now that Rabbi Druin mended and stitched all the parchments that needed it, we should be able to enjoy Hagba–the display of the Torah to the Congregation after it’s read–without stress!

Come see a sofer at work, fixing our Torah

AARC’s Torah is old and much-loved. In fact, it seems to be over 200 years old. In recent years, it’s gotten a bit unstable; there are a number of tears in the scroll, and the stitching at the edges is coming unraveled.  Hagba–the display of the Torah to the Congregation, after it is read–has gotten a little too exciting.

So we’re pleased to say that Rabbi Moshe Druin, of Sofer On Site, will be visiting us on Tuesday, March 29, to fix all the stitching/tears.  He’ll work at the JCC, and you’re invited to come and watch.  Kids and adults–come by at 2:30 or 3.  Sofer on Site frequently does community events for Torah restorations.

Also, if you are able to be there for a bit and take some pictures, please let me know (email me at margo.schlanger@gmail.com).

Shabbat on the farm

Shabbat on the farm

Friendship scroll

By Barbara Boyk Rust

scroll image

Come hear the Megillah read Friday March 25 at the JCC and see this beautiful scroll up close

One of the joys of friendship is sharing each other’s interests, perspectives, and experiences. For me, one of the joys of being friends with an artist is the beauty that I learn about, enjoy, and benefit from that I would not be likely to encounter otherwise. Spiritual teachings claim beauty as the perfection of love and that rings true to me.

When Idelle Hammond-Sass called me several years ago and told me about the beautiful megillah scroll she saw at the Jewish Community Center of West Bloomfield, Michigan I was so taken with her verbal description alone that I welcomed her invitation to share the cost with her for purchasing it.

The scroll is on heavy paper and every segment is adorned with colorful renderings evocative of the spirit of Purim. The artwork is a party unto itself. It was created by Israeli artist Enya Keshet, and Idelle was drawn to the designs which reminded her of Persian miniatures. She was fascinated by the embellishment, so rare in most Judaica, but allowed on a Purim scroll.

Purim has long been a special holiday for me in light of another significant friendship in my life. Many of you knew Nancy Denenberg, of blessed memory. Nancy and I together created high holiday services, Shabbat retreats, and celebrations round the entire sacred cycle. We were also involved in spiriting prayer circles for healing and life cycle transitions over the years of our friendship, from her move to Ann Arbor in the late 1980’s until her death in 2006.

Nancy had a drive to make Jewish meaning in her life relevant to the immediacy of her understanding of loving and healing and sharing in community. She had practiced yoga for many years; later moving into work with Feldenkreis Method, a technique created by an Israeli physicist. She had a strong affinity for dance and became adept at Middle Eastern beledi, belly dance, fostering for herself and others more direct contact with Middle Eastern traditions. These are a few of the many ways Nancy intentionally cultivated Jewish spiritual means to endow her life with beauty, healing, art and creativity.

photo of Nancy Dennenberg

Nancy Denenberg in beledi regalia.

On more than one Purim, Nancy donned her full regalia for belly dancing, and brought others from her troupe to the Hav celebration. Some years ago The Ann Arbor News featured a picture of her leading our costume parade.

For my part, this scroll is a remembrance of friendship, of beauty, of sharing in community. It is a way to offer the power of this artist’s rendering into the annual cycle of our congregation’s celebration of this holiday that asks us to marry the opposites: Haman and Mordechai, forces of good and forces of evil. May we each have a chance to dance our beauty and our joy with the rhythm of blessing and celebration for years to come.

 

Our new yad, in the Washtenaw Jewish News

Renewed thanks to Idelle Hammond-Sass for donating her time and creativity to make AARC’s yad, and to Emily Eisbruch and Clare Kinberg for writing this article in the Washtenaw Jewish News.WJN_Feb-16-web--Yad-article

Idelle Shares the Inside Story of the AARC’s Beautiful New Yad

Many thanks to AARC member Idelle Hammond-Sass for creating a beautiful new Yad for our congregation. Yad, literally “hand” in Hebrew, is a pointer used by the Torah reader to keep the place while reading. Below is Q&A with Idelle about the Yad.

IDELLE-YAD-Shows-TIP

EE (Emily Eisbruch): Idelle, how did you come to create a new Yad for the AARC?       

Idelle: My creation of a new Yad came about after Rabbi Michal had given me the existing Yad to repair; it had broken at the hand end. I tried to fix it but it came back bent and on the verge of breaking again. The problem was that it was made by electro-forming, a process that deposits thin layers of silver over wax. The wax inside prevented me from attempting to solder it. Many Israeli pieces are made this way. The chain on the new Yad is from the previous one.


EE: So when the attempts to repair the existing Yad were unsuccessful, you offered to create a new one?

Idelle: Yes, I offered to make a new Yad for the AARC and Julie Norris generously offered to cover the materials.  I donated the design and labor. I hope this way we have something unique and local from the group rather than a piece that we would have picked out of a catalog or mass produced.


EE: What were your inspirations as you created the design for the new Yad?

Idelle: I did a little searching online and in books on Judaic art for examples of Yads. I also was reminded of my Bat Mitzvah Torah portion  (Ki Tisa) which included the construction of the Mishkan/sacred space. I love that we have constructed our own Mishkan, both figuratively and metaphorically.

Thinking about making a Yad for the congregation I was drawn to use the leaf and branches on the Tree of Life, as in our welcoming logo, and to reflect the tree motif we are working on for the Torah Tapestry. I also had a long piece of heavy triangular sterling tubing that looked perfect and asked a few Torah readers to hold it and give me feedback on the shape. Barbara Boyk Rust, Deb Kraus and Harry Fried all agreed it was also easy to hold and handle which is important as it was to be used by small and large hands.


EE: Tell us about the process of creating the Yad.     

Idelle: I sketched and kept changing the design right through the crafting of the piece. I was working hard to finish in time for the High Holidays and decided to use 14k gold to accent the sterling. Both ends were cut at an angle to allow a Star of David to be placed on one end and a pointer on the other. The star was an inherent design possibility in the triangle tubing and I cut a piece off and backed it with 14k and soldered that to one end.

IDELLE-YAD


EE: What was the most challenging part of creating the Yad?

Idelle: Creating the pointer was the most difficult design solution to make on this piece. I strive for asymmetrical balance and did not want a ‘literal’ hand at the end, so the branch continues and a gold leaf points the way for the reader. Each leaf is made by hand and the leaves and triangle wire that forms the branch is soldered on separately, each one added till it visually “works”.


EE: How did your previous Judaica work inform your work on this project?

Idelle: Before making this Yad, I have made numerous Mezzuzot, including one design I call “12 elements” for the 12 tribes, and a Menorah that has multiple pieces called “Sparks of Renewal” which was exhibited at an exhibit at the Janet Charach Gallery at the JCC a few years ago. (I have also made a sterling Tzedakah box for another exhibit. Both are in private collections.)  I have been able to make other Torah pointers as commissioned gifts.


EE: How does making a Yad compare to making jewelry?

Idelle: A Yad is on a much larger scale than most jewelry, and it takes quite a lot of time to solder larger pieces and make them work visually and technically.  Sterling silver is soldered near 900 degrees with an air/gas acetelyne torch.


EE: What are your reflections related to making the Yad?

Idelle: It was a rewarding process and one that also gives back to my spirit. While soldering on the branch, I sang Ahava Rabah.  I share my gratitude for the opportunity to make this special piece for our community.


EE: We understand that your husband Dale was also involved?

Idelle:  Yes, Dale made the beautiful box to hold the Yad.  It is made out of cherry wood, which is the same as our Torah table

yad-box


EE: Idelle, we appreciate your sharing this story of the creation of the Yad, and we thank you so much for this wonderful gift to the AARC, which has already become a treasured object and which symbolizes a beautiful and meaningful connection between our congregation and the Torah.

To learn more about Idelle’s artwork, see her website at http://www.idellehammond-sass.com

A Torah Story

Shabbat on the farm

Shabbat on the farm

Our Torah scroll was acquired, according to Bev Warshai, at the time when the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah was about to celebrate our first bat mitzvah, the Warshai’s daughter Gal. Although Bev and her husband Yuval belonged to both the AA Havurah and T’chiya, a Detroit Reconstructionist congregation, they wanted Gal’s bat mitzvah Torah service to be here in Ann Arbor. However, the Havurah did not have a Torah scroll, an ark, or a table to use during a service. Around this time, in 1997, several members of the Havurah–Aaron and Aura Ahuvia, Deb Kraus and Danny Steinmetz (and their children Isaac and Jonah Ahuvia (3 and 1 years old) and Molly Kraus-Steinmetz (2 years old)–drove together to Kenosha, WI for a regional Reconstructionist workshop. There they met a member of a Reconstructionist congregation in Chicago that happened to have an excess of Torah scrolls. How does a congregation acquire an excess of Torah scrolls? Danny suggests that “Back in the day, giving a Torah was a big thing, whether or not the shul needed another one. The symbolism of dedicating the ultimate sacred object (since the destruction of the Temple) in memory of deceased relatives is so strong, if a shul was around long enough and had enough members with some money, collecting Torah scrolls was not unusual.” Bev also remembers that two congregations merged, creating even more of an excess of scrolls. Deb remembers the initial discussion, “I was in a workshop and someone was lamenting that they don’t always have Torah readers and I said, ‘at least you have a Torah,’ at which point a person from a Chicago congregation said, ‘Talk to me after this. We have an extra Torah.’”

Arrangements were made. Because the Torah was a gift to the Chicago congregation, they could loan it to us and give us responsibility to take care of it. Although Yuval’s subsequent communications with the Chicago congregation indicated that they have relinquished all claims to the scroll, out of an excess of caution, AARC will continue to care for it in trust. If we ever come into possession of any other Torah, we could decide to gift this one on, again, to another congregation in need. But back to the story!

Yuval and Harry Fried made the trip to Chicago to bring the Torah scroll back to Ann Arbor. Alan Haber made the ark, and other necessities and niceties for a Torah service were collected. In future blog posts I will write more about those objects, including our Torah covers and our yad. So far, we know nothing more about the provenance of our Torah scroll. Since we’ve had it, the scroll has been repaired twice at Borenstein’s in Oak Park, including new wooden spindles. It still has need of stitching repairs and there are many faded letters that can make it challenging to read.

AARC has a fund for repairing or replacing the Torah, though it contains only a fraction of the money needed. Board member Jack Edelstein is leading a new effort to figure out the best path forward. If you’d like to be involved in this effort, contact Jack. And if you’d like to donate to the fund, click here.