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.

 

D’var on Ki Tavo by bat mitzvah Jasmine Lowenstein

jasmine-lowensteinShabbat Shalom!

My parsha is Ki Tavo in the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, Moses is telling the people that once they cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, there will be rules and laws that they will have to follow. If they follow them, God will reward the people with blessings, but if they disobey, curses will fall upon them.

In my portion I found that there were far more curses than blessings. The blessings are only in verse 28, but the curses take up most of my portion including a 55 line aliyah and then, finally, it ends with another blessing. Maybe when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land they needed structure because the previous generation had come out of slavery in Egypt where they could not make their own decisions (because they weren’t free). Now they are free, but do they know how to make their own decisions?

On the journey from Egypt, they had G-d guiding them and they still made mistakes, as all human beings do. One of the times they were foolish was the incident with the Golden Calf. As you may know, Moses traveled up Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments. It took Moses a long time to come down from the mountain and the Israelites became scared. They thought he had died and they had lost their connection to G-d so they made a new deity, a golden calf. When Moses reached the bottom and saw the calf he was furious, so furious that he smashed the tablets on the ground!

In this example, the Israelites weren’t necessarily being foolish, they were just doing what they assumed was right based on what they saw, heard, and thought. Or didn’t think: The Israelites had always had someone leading them whether it was Moses or Pharaoh. So they had not learned how to critically think on their own.

As you can see in my parsha there are a lot of blessings and curses, but why should there be blessings and curses? I think there should be some rules, but I don’t think anyone should be cursed or die if they do something wrong. I think that everyone should get a second chance. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s just part of life. There is a difference between making a mistake and intentionally doing the wrong thing. Sometimes there are consequences for people’s actions and that is also a part of life. Even though there are consequences I don’t think that there should ever be consequences without thought to the surrounding circumstances. It’s not right or fair to that person, if someone does something by mistake and then gets punished just because there are set consequences. The world we currently live in is not fair. Punishments affect some people in worse ways than others. Different people, making the same mistake, can face different consequences because of the color of their skin, their economic class or sexual orientation, among other things. I think this is wrong.

People tend to like people just like them. In order to be fair to others, people have to be in environments where they can interact with each other and even make mistakes. The more people have an opportunity to interact with people different than them, the less they will discriminate against each other.

The LGBTQ community is an example of a community that has been discriminated against and still is. At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, some people who didn’t know better and hadn’t been in contact with gay men thought that AIDS was a curse, inflicted on gay men, because people thought it was “bad,” “wrong,” or “disobeying to G-d” to be gay. Then when Ryan White, a boy with hemophilia, got HIV from a contaminated blood transfusion it really showed everyone that HIV wasn’t a curse or a punishment for something that people thought was “bad;” it was a disease that anyone could get. Babies were even born with it. People were wrong when they thought AIDS was a curse. Sometimes bad things happen to very good people. Long ago, the Israelites needed (or G-d thought that they needed) these blessings and curses that are in my Torah portion. Maybe in the 1980’s some people needed to think that HIV/AIDS was a curse; it might have been a coping mechanism to explain something scary.

Once people knew there was a scientific explanation, in other words, that you could get HIV/AIDS through blood transfusions, everyone realized it could happen to anyone: it doesn’t matter who you love, and it isn’t a curse. That is why for my mitzvah project I chose to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, an organization that raises money through the theater community to help support people who have HIV and AIDS. I’ll be having a Broadway sing-a-long as a fundraiser–I’ll let you all know the details when they’re set. It will be a lot of fun!!

In my parsha something else really struck me. G-d says that G-d the Eternal has not given us eyes that can see, ears that can hear, or mind to understand. The first time I read this, I thought: if the Eternal hasn’t given us eyes, ears, or a mind than how come we go to school and take tests and quizzes and manage to get some–if not all–of the questions right? If we do not have eyes that can see, then how do we read the Torah? If we did not have ears to hear, G-d would not have been able to communicate with Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, Leah, Rachel and all of the prophets. If Moses couldn’t hear G-d Moses probably wouldn’t have lead the Israelites to the land of milk and honey. Instead they probably would have ended up in the land of milk and cookies!

But later when I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t what G-d was trying to tell us. What G-d is saying is that G-d gave us sight, but didn’t give us insight; hearing but not the power to comprehend everything to its fullest potential; G-d gave us a mind but no one knows everything inside and out. I think the true message in this is that no one is perfect and people make mistakes. I am a perfectionist and learning that everyone makes mistakes and that no one is perfect has been a big part of my growth as a human being. Making mistakes, reflecting on the consequences, and being more patient with the mistakes of myself and others has helped me to become a better person and less hard on myself. In this I am learning to be a critical thinker, just like the Israelites.

In my haftarah, God is saying there is always hope and your nation Israel is going to be the center of everything. It’s kind of the opposite of my torah portion in that it’s looking at the bright side of life. My torah portion looks at the reality of life and focuses on the bad things that might happen. My feeling is that it creates a mindset that could really affect your outlook on life. We can choose to be an optimist, like Isaiah is saying, or a pessimist, like Moses is saying. Interestingly, both are channeling G-d.

My haftorah is one of the 7 leading up to the high holidays. These haftarot are known as the haftarot of consolation, and are based on balance. I think that maybe G-d was trying to balance the optimistic views to the pessimistic. I have so many people in my life who have helped me to find this balance. I would like to thank everyone who’s here for making the effort to show up and being supportive here today.

I would like to thank all of my friends, whether from school, Young Peoples Theater, or dance–you give me a place to belong. I would also like to thank all of my teachers for teaching me amazing things and making learning fun in the process. I would like to especially thank my teacher since first grade, Ms. Tucker. You are the perfect teacher for me. Thank you for helping me to become less of a perfectionist! I would like to thank Sari Mills for preparing me to start preparing for my Bat Mitzvah by teaching me Hebrew–and for being so nice in the process. Rabbi Alana–Thank you so much for doing my Bat Mitzvah even though you have another congregation and are so busy. You’re so nice and always have a smile on your face and it makes me feel confident, which is important when you are preparing for your Bat Mitzvah! Deb, thank you for always keeping your cool and being so encouraging no matter what was happening. (I think it is good that my Bat Mitzvah tutor also happens to be a therapist.) I would like to thank all of the out-of-towners who travelled from near and far to be here.

I would like to thank my human cousins and my canine one for making all of the family vacations and get-togethers all the more fun. Even though none of you are my age you still make me feel included. Thank you Alex, Eli, Lily and Joey for coming from college to my Bat Mitzvah. Thank you to all of my aunts and uncles for always being so much fun and being like my parents except with no rules!! I would like to thank my grandparents for being some of the most–if not the most-caring people I know. You guys are my role models. Pops and Grandpa–you gave me my love of math and science. And Bubbe and Nana–you gave me my love of music and art. I love you guys.

I would like to thank my Dad for always being soooo great and staying calm even when my sister, mom and I are having breakdowns. And most importantly, feeding us!! You work so hard and are the best Dad in the world. I would also like to thank my mom for helping me relax and feel so much better about myself whenever I’m stressed. And through this process of preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, especially, you have helped me remember that I’m doing great and have nothing to worry about. You’re the best mom in the world. Last but not least, I would like to thank my wonderful, amazing sister Ruby for always being wonderful and amazing and all of the other adjectives that mean that–and for being patient with me even when I can be difficult or sensitive–and still finding time to hang out with me. It’s a great thing for my best friend to be my sister. You’re the best sister in the world. I have the best family in the world. I love you guys. Thanks!!!

 

AARC 2016 High School Grads

Four AARC members, including my own daughter, graduated high school this year. They will be heading off to college in another month. Myisha, Eli, Jonas and Marley had a variety of high school experiences and are each embarking on their own unique path.

myisha grad 3Myisha Kinberg-Cowan graduated summa cum laude (just let me kvell for a second) from Washtenaw Technical Middle College and Washtenaw Community College with a Liberal Arts Transfer Associates Degree. She’ll be heading out to Portland, OR to attend Lewis & Clark College. She plans on majoring in computer science.

eli kirshnerEli Kirshner graduated from Ann Arbor Skyline. He received the “Equality SLC” award for fair-minded contributions to his school and to the greater Ann Arbor community. He will be attending Oberlin College in Ohio in the
fall.

Marley and Jonas graduated from Washtenaw International High School. Marley will be going to Macalester CollegeIMG_0344 in St. Paul, MN. Jonas will be going to Michigan State University honors program. Jonas will be performing as Jay in “Lost in Yonkers” at Ypsilanti’s Riverside Arts Center, from August 25th to September 3rd. It’s a great theater – come and enjoy! (Why yes, MSU move-in is August 28th…).

Mazel tov to all of you and your families!

 

D’var on Behar by bat mitzvah Rose Basch

Rose and Rabbi Alana Alpert

Rose and Rabbi Alana Alpert

Shabbat Shalom!

First of all I want to start by explaining what I will be chanting from the Torah. I had no idea what it all meant until I looked into it, so I am going to assume that nobody else does either. Just so you know, when I refer to God I’m going to use female pronouns.  Something Rabbi Alana taught me…

My portion, Behar, talks about shmita. Shmita is the rule or practice that says that you must let the land rest every seven years. Last year, Jewish year 5775, was actually a shmita year.  To celebrate it our congregation did text study and planned many shmita events which I attended, including Farm Education Day. While at Farm Education Day I got to be part of a small shmita simulation game, which was a great learning experience. We controlled parts of it, like how we grew our food, but there were other parts of the simulation that were not in our control. For example, when the director decided to simulate a drought, we didn’t have enough food to make it through the shmita year. The simulation gave an example of when we must really put our trust in God that She will make everything run smoothly.

One of my favorite parts of shmita is that it creates empathy among wealthy people for the poor. Both the wealthy and the poor have to undergo the experience of not knowing if there will be enough to eat.  My portion also mentions the bigger occasion, the Jubilee, which happens every 49 years; actually in the 50th year. So every 50 years during the jubilee we don’t sow, we don’t reap and we don’t harvest the fields.  Everyone basically gets to start over:  slaves get released, debts are dropped and as with the usual shmita, the land gets to rest. [Read more…]

Barbara Boyk Rust: Spiritual Leader and Teacher

BBRustBarbara Boyk Rust was one of AARC’s founding members.  Eighteen months ago, she was ordained as a spiritual teacher and leader by a Bet Din of four leaders.  Her approach to Jewish observance centers around meditation and sacred chant.  Along with member Allison Stupka, Barbara will be leading our Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday, December 18, at 6:30. Here, Barbara shares with the community some of her thoughts about her recent ordination process:

What prompted you to undertake the process of ordination? What was the preparation like?

Before moving further into spiritual leadership I needed the review and affirmation of others whom I hold as teachers, mentors and guides.  I needed them to say either “yes” or “no” to my sense of being called to teach and lead in a spiritual context.

Early rabbinic ordination, smicha or smichut l’rabanut, involved the laying on of hands from one rabbi to the next.  Some of the meanings of smicha are to rely on, or to be authorized.  Though I am following a unique path, it did not feel appropriate to me to take further steps authorized by myself alone.  Using a template similar to the origins of Jewish rabbinic ordination I held myself accountable to those who teach me and those whom I serve for recognition, validation and affirmation of this step of my journey as a spiritual leader and teacher.

Part of what I shared with them was the story of my journey, recapped briefly here:

I have been pursuing my spiritual path consciously since my mid-teens.  For more than half my life now, individuals, families and communities have asked me to serve as creator, facilitator and leader of holiday and life cycle celebrations.  Long ago, Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi said something to the effect of, ‘if 200 people think you’re a rabbi, you’re a rabbi.’  While I met that criteria long ago, I decided not to complete rabbinic training through the Aleph Rabbinic Program though I was enrolled in it for some years while I completed an interdisciplinary doctorate at The University of Michigan in Higher Education and Clinical Psychology. [Read more…]

Klezmer Dance All Age Fun!

Friday May 22nd was really a special and beautiful evening. The room filled with the warmest of blessings for Rabbi Michal. And then the fun really kicked in. Many thanks to Allison Stupka, Barbara Rust Boyk and the whole crew that organized the evening. Let’s have Klezmephonic over again! Nancy Meadow took terrific photos of our klezmer dance party!

klezmer1 klezmer2 klezmer3 klezmer5 klezmer6 klezmer4

Odile Hugonot Haber on Parashat Shemini

Odile Hugonot Haber Bat Mitzvah Words, April 11 2015

We are reading in Leviticus now, and it is a good time to have a Bat Mitzvah, a recommitment, because in Hebrew, the book of Leviticus and its first chapter are named Vayikra,–“and the Lord Called.” I read in Avraham Burg’s Torah commentary, Very Near To You “When the time comes for the book of Leviticus, with all its sacrifices and their spattered blood, I raised my spines like a hedgehog…” We do too, so how do we understand these passages today?

Odile roasting chestnuts in old city of  Jerusalem after a snowstorm in 2014

Odile roasting chestnuts in old city of Jerusalem after a snowstorm, 2014

The Hebrews came out to the desert led by Moses and Aaron, liberated from slavery, from alienated labor and from the whip of Pharaoh, the ruler and employer. They found themselves suddenly in front of the silence–and beauty–of the desert, a simpler life in accordance with the rhythms of nature. Yes, life in the desert can be humbling, very simple, bringing us back to our core. The few sounds in the silence, the plants that grow against the wind, the crackling of the sand, the trails of little animals, all that immensity of sky, earth and cloud. Definitely a new way of life.

The desert can be very intimidating, such a change! It was important to organize that emerging society, give it some structure and community. Rather than leave them in front of each other in distress to fight and divide, it was time to build on their freedom and support a spiritual life that would nourish them and open their minds and hearts. The tribes had to be kept assembled and form a new identity. So the services were created, the priesthood was formed, the people performed, then the laws were given from on high.

But what about the sacrifices of animals, the spilling of blood? How could it possibly mean something to us now? Very few of us are prepared to spill blood, and yet we are living from the continual sacrifices of others. Our nation and its might of military arsenals is continually spilling the blood of some of the poorest people on earth. Many animal species are moving to extinction because humans are gorging ourselves on materialism while the rest of nature is perishing around us.

The second temple has been long destroyed, animal sacrifices have been eradicated, and many of us here are vegetarian. So what are the sacrifices that Adonai wants to get from us at this time? “The building of the temple and the renewal of the sacrificial service are the climax of the Jewish state’s true rebirth and the redemption of the world,” as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook expressed it, “to build the temple and the sacrificial service is the noblest and highest of aspiration.” It certainly beats materialism and shopping. Yet, Isaiah tells us that God does not delight in sacrifices and in rituals. God instead would like us to do the work of Peace and Justice around us. [Read more…]

AARC Adult Hebrew Class soon to Graduate!

For the past three months AARC members Odile Hugonot-Haber, Mike Ehmann and Sally George Wright have been learning the Aleph-Bet in a weekly gathering graciously hosted by Odile (and Alan.) Coffee, tea, and Washtenaw Dairy donuts, as well as other goodies brought by students or by Rav Michal, who guides them, accompany an hour or so of learning Hebrew phonetics as well as some prayer and translation.

hebrew study

The motivation for the class began with Odile, who wished to learn Hebrew in preparation for her conversion after 20+ years of her activity in the Jewish community. Indeed, Odile will celebrate her formal entry into the Jewish people on Shabbat morning April 11. All are welcome for the 10 am service at the JCC and a light lunch. RSVP’s appreciated for space and food planning purposes (to Odile Hugonot Haber <odilehh@gmail.com>)

How an AARC Member Helped Strike a Blow against Discrimination

by Jonathan Cohn

Women who are pregnant now have stronger protection against workplace discrimination, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court–and a member of the AARC who argued before the Court late last year.

On March 25, the Court issued its decision in Young v. United Parcel Service,  a case in which a pregnant woman (Young) claimed her employer (UPS) would not offer her the same kind of on-the-job accommodations it offered other employees with medical conditions. Young prevailed, winning the right to sue UPS under a law called the “Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”

Young’s lawyer was none other than Sam Bagenstos, who has been a member of the AARC since 2011. Sam, the Frank G. Millard Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, is a nationally recognized expert on constitutional, civil rights, and employment law. A graduate of the University of North Carolina and Harvard Law School, he has worked at the Justice Department and been a clerk to Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This was his third time appearing as an advocate before the nation’s highest court — and the second time that his client prevailed.

In academic and legal circles, Sam is probably best known for his work on laws about disability and discrimination. And it’s that expertise he brought to bear in the Young case, which called upon the Justices to parse the meaning of a 1978 law and what Congress had in mind at the time of enactment. By a 6-to-3 majority, with two conservatives joining the Court’s liberals, the Justices ruled that Congress wanted to make sure employers treated pregnancy no different than other medical conditions.

Sam Bagenstos

Sam (blue tie) outside the Court after the argument.

“The Court made clear that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on considerations of cost or convenience when they accommodate other workers,” Sam said. “The Court recognized that a ruling for UPS would have thwarted Congress’s intent in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This decision is a big step forward towards enforcing the principle that a woman shouldn’t have to choose between her pregnancy and her job.”

AARC members who don’t recognize Sam from his presence at congregation activities may know some of his family members — including his children, Harry and Leila, as well as his wife, AARC Board Chairperson Margo Schlanger.

Margo also happens to be a Michigan law professor and former Ginsburg clerk. No, they didn’t meet while clerking. But if you want the actual backstory, you’ll have to ask them.

By the way, you can listen to Sam delivering his oral argument at the Supreme Court here.

Challah Rising

challah risingAARC member Lori Lichtman is launching a new baking company, Challah Rising Baking Company: “Blessing the World One Challah at a Time,” on March 20 (the Spring Equinox, Solar Eclipse, Super (New) Moon). Lori has been baking challah every Friday since October 25, 2008. She learned from Jen Cohen and continues a tradition that was passed on to her by her father and grandfather. Her grandfather, from Hungary, became a baker when he came to the U.S. Lori uses local ingredients that connect her challah to our very own Michigan farms. Lori’s challah stands alone as she infuses the dough with blessing chants of love (Ahava Raba), Peace (Oseh Shalom), Abundance (Peleg Elohim), and Connecting to G-d’s light (V’eristich li). She does a meditation before kneading each batch of dough, connecting G-d’s light through her crown, heart, hands and into the dough. You can also order special blessings for pre-ordered loaves. Lori has been in prayer circles and uses the challah baking as one of her spiritual practices. She has taught workshops and after her first workshop stood in her garden and the inspiration came to start the business. Lori will be selling her challah (gluten free too!) on Fridays at Argus Farm Stop on Liberty. Please come out to try the deliciousness and blessings! We will also have a Challah Rising loaf at our Fourth Friday Shabbat on March 27, the last Shabbat before Pesach. Challah-leuia!