Jonathan Cohn’s WJN article about High Holiday services

2015-09-High-Holidays

Preparing for Yom Kippur

MJ_Strassfeld_photo

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

From Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, who will be leading Yom Kippur services:

We gather on Yom Kippur to engage in teshuvah—reflection and change both as individuals and as a community. The services will be a mixture of liturgy, contemporary readings, talks by the rabbis and by laypeople, music played, an original story for children and adults, and singing led by laypeople and by the rabbis.
Unique to Yom Kippur is the avodah service. Traditionally it recounts the ritual in the Temple on Yom Kippur in ancient times. Instead our avodah service will be structured around us as individuals, in relationships and connected to the world. We will also touch on these themes as raised in the talks by Deb, Anita and Clare from Rosh ha-Shana.

We will take some time as individuals and then in small groups to reflect on our selves and our hopes and visions for that self. The third confession will focus on our commitment to social justice climaxing with a liturgical poem made up of Biblical verses on the theme of tzedek—justice.

Yom Kippur will come to a close with a special Yizkor service at 5:30 with an opportunity to share memories of loved ones. Neilah, the concluding service (at 7 pm ) is the climax of the day as the themes and the music come together one last time. It feels like crossing the finish line of a spiritual marathon. We will end with a special havdalah ritual with lights carried by the children and the final blast of the shofar.

Yom Kippur Readings (2015)

These were some of the readings at our 2015 Yom Kippur services.

Who by Fire

by Leonard Cohen

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?

The Kol Nidre Mirror to Our Soul

by Sandy E. Sasso, in All These Vows: Kol Nidre (Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011) [edited and adapted]

Life is filled with more than the scrapes and bruises of childhood that require nothing more than a kiss and a hug to make them better.  Life’s real issues are far more complicated and sometimes intractable.  Technology assures us a solution for every problem; medicine promises a pill for every pain.  But religion recognizes that we are mortal; we can’t fix everything.  Kol Nidre reminds us to forgive ourselves for it.

I recently learned that you can trap bees on the bottom of a Mason jar without a lid.  The bees fly in for the honey at the bottom of the jar and then they think they are stuck, because they never look up to see that the jar is open.  Life weighs us down.  Like the bees on the bottom of the Mason jar, we think that there is no way out of our situation, that we are trapped.  Kol Nidre – the High Holy Days – tells us to look up.

Technology is not so forgiving.  One of the problems of the Internet is that it does not forget; it keeps all our data – forever.  We cannot delete foolish e-mails or unflattering photos.  Our digital past remains indelibly with us.  How different is the Book of Life where tradition pictures God recording our good and bad deeds.  That record is erasable through t’shuvah.  If we regret something written in our own life’s book, atonement is our delete button.  The Rabbis teach that if individuals have repented, we are not allowed to remind them of their past errors.  Our past does not shackle us to the bottom of a Mason jar; we can look up.  We can begin again.

New Year’s Poem

by Rachel Barenblatt, http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2006/9new_years-poem.html

I’m cleaning the cupboard
beside the stove, low to the floor,
where pots and pans hide
haphazardly.

Our kitchen is well-used,
baker’s rack gleaming
with neat jars of peaches,
string beans, preserves

but one swipe of paper towel
across this hidden surface
and I flinch at the grime
I never noticed before.

This is teshuvah: opening
every closed-up space. I’m
a window smeared with dust,
a cabinet in need of scouring.

It’s simple work, but
part of me resists, preferring
distraction to clarity.
When I make the leap

I suddenly can’t believe
I ever ignored the dirt.
Hot water blesses my hands
into action. God, help me

put my house in order,
begin the year in readiness
for the wonders I know
are coming, are always here.

God Was In This Place & I, i Did Not Know

by Lawrence Kushner

We go down into ourselves with a flashlight, looking for the evil we have intended or done – not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover some good within it. We begin not by rejecting the evil, but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do. This is the only way we can truly raise and redeem it.

We lose our temper because we want things to be better right away. We gaze with lustful eyes because we have forgotten how to love the ones we want to love. We hoard material possessions because we imagine they will help us live more fully. We turn a deaf ear, for we fear the pain of listening would kill us. We waste time, because we are not sure how to enter a relationship. At the bottom of such behavior is something that was once good. On this sacred day, a day of communion and of light, our personal and collective perversions creep out of the cellar, begging to be healed, freed, and redeemed.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye taught: The essence of the finest t’shuva [turning] is that “deliberate sins are transformed into merits,” for one turns evil into good, as I heard from my teacher [the Baal Shem Tov], who interpreted the Psalm verse “Turn aside from evil and do good” to mean: ‘Turn the evil into good.’

The conclusion of true t’shuva, of true turning, is not self-rejection or remorse, but the healing that comes from telling ourselves the truth about our real intentions and, finally, self-acceptance. This does not mean that we are now proud of who we were or what we did, but it does mean that we have taken what we did back into ourselves, and acknowledged it as part of ourselves. We have found its original motive, realized how it became disfigured, perhaps beyond recognition, made real apologies, done our best to repair the injury, but we no longer try to reject who we have been and therefore who we are, for even that is an expression of what is holy.

We do not simply repudiate the evil we have done and sincerely mean never to do again; that is easy (we do it all the time). We receive whatever evils we have intended and done back into ourselves as our own deliberate creations. We cherish them as long-banished children finally taken home again, and thereby transform them and ourselves. When we say the vidui, the confession, we don’t hit ourselves; we hold ourselves.

On Jewish Identity

by Theodore Bikel (published in Moment Magazine, May/June 2010)

I consider myself to be a Jew in the vertical and horizontal sense. Horizontal, because I feel myself to be kin, relative and family of every Jew who lives today, wherever he or she may be. Vertical, because I am son, grandson and descendant of all the Jews who came before me; I am also father, grandfather and ancestor of all those who w\ill come after me. Am I special because I am a Jew?… I am not better than my neighbors, not nobler; I just carry a knapsack that is heavier with memory, with pain. As a Jew, I peddle the lessons of history. As for survival in the face of mortal threats, we who have repeatedly stared into the jaws of death are better able to deal with the threats than those who face them for the first time. But when we tell the world about survival, we are talking about creative survival, not mere physical survival. Everybody who is threatened with extinction fights for physical survival. Yet to survive as a moral people is as important, maybe more important. Far too often people forget this.

There is a Time

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:
A time for being born and a time for dying,
A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted;
A time for slaying and a time for healing,
A time for tearing down and a time for building up;
A time for weeping and a time for laughing,
A time for wailing and a time for dancing;
A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces;
A time for seeking and a time for losing;
A time for keeping and a time for discarding;
A time for ripping and a time for sewing,
A time for silence and a time for speaking;
A time for loving and a time for hating;
A time for war and a time for peace.

A Man Doesn’t Have Time

by Yehuda Amichai

A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.

And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.

He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.

I needed to talk to my sister

by Grace Paley, in Fidelity (2008)

I needed to talk to my sister
talk to her on the telephone I mean
just as I used to every morning
in the evening too whenever the
grandchildren said a sentence that
clasped both our hearts

I called her phone rang four times
you can imagine my breath stopped then
there was a terrible telephonic noise
a voice said this number is no
longer in use how wonderful I
thought I can
call again they have not yet assigned
her number to another person despite
two years of absence due to death

The Essene Book of Days

by Danaan Perry (Earthstewards Network, 2003) [edited]

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings.  I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment.  It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.  I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers.  But once in awhile, as I’m merrily (or not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see?  I see another trapeze bar swinging towards me.  It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it.  It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me.  In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope that I won’t have to grab the new one.  But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.  Each time I am filled with terror.  It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it.  Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars.  But I do it anyway.  Perhaps this is the essence of what mystics call the faith experience.  No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives.  And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”  It’s called transition.  I have come to believe that is the only place that real change occurs.  I mean real change, not pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

In our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing”, a no-place between places.  Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too.  But the void in between?  That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible.  What a waste!  I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and that the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.  Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are extraordinarily rich places.  They should be honored, even savored.  Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that may accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, the most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang-out” in the transition between trapeze bars.  Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens.  It can be terrifying.  It can also be enlightening.  Hurtling through the void, we just may learn to fly.

Self Forgiveness First

by Donna Schaper

The first thing people do when restoring old chairs is strip — strip right down to the bare wood. They do this to see what the original might have looked like and to determine if the thing is worth doing over. They strip away all the years of grime, the garish coats of paint piled one on top of the other. They get rid of all the junk that’s been tacked on through the years and try to find the solid, simple thing that’s underneath.

I’m like an old chair needing that stripping process. Every now and then I have to take a really hard look at the illusions I’ve built up in myself and see what I’ve gotten myself into. Illusions? Yes, illusions; the excess baggage I carry around, the unnecessary; all that keeps me living off center too long. Stripping myself of all this is an intentional letting go of these illusions. It is a spiritual act of personal forgiveness. God lets us let go.

It’s hard work to let God forgive me. I have to discover the original under all these coats I’ve added, strip away all the cynicism and anger I’ve built up, get rid of the junk I’ve taken on, defy my disappointments, and find what is real again.

Compassion

by Kristin Neff

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness.  Things will not always go the way you want them to.  You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals.  This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.

 

What makes a moment religious?

Comments written by Julie Norris, delivered by Kevin Norris on Rosh Hashanah 2015

What makes a moment religious?

What makes an experience feel religious?

Is it a glimmer of a feeling, or a feeling that encompasses you?

What is your recipe for a religious moment?

This July 4th weekend, I was so struck when I had an experience that I expected to be a lot of nostalgic fun, but which shifted into something that felt unexpectedly, but unmistakably, religious.

We took a train to Chicago to meet up with our adult daughter, for the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, fare-thee-well concert.  3 nights under the stars at Soldier’s Field with 70,000 tie-dyed faithful.

grateful deadAnd it happened almost immediately – the awareness that somehow this felt religious. It never struck me as religious in the early 1980s as I followed the band up and down the east coast, but now, the awareness of the rituals and culture surrounding this music led me to think about some of the similarities between the shows and services.

First, the music. Many of us are so deeply moved by music. The melodies and harmonies you recognize from decades gone by and the knowledge that these same tunes are known and appreciated by millions. The verse and refrain that feel like coming home.

There’s the rhythm of sitting and standing in unison. How do 70,000 people know, without being told, when to stand but this crowd knew. And through 3-1/2 hours, 3 nights in a row, if you closed your eyes to sink fully into the moment, suddenly a recognized chord or phrase that you hadn’t realized how much you’d missed hearing would emerge and you’d be drawn to your feet. And when you open your eyes you see that everyone else has stood too, in a collective expression of joy and appreciation.

Then there’s the text or lyrics, full of poetry and meaning, full of space for interpretation. And as I gaze at my daughter, I see that these words have now been passed on from one generation to the next.

[Read more…]

Rosh Hashanah Readings (2015)

Yom Kippur Sonnet, with a Line from Lamentations

by Jacqueline Osherow, in Dead Men’s Praise (1999)

Can a person atone for pure bewilderment?
For hyperbole? for being wrong
In a thousand categorical opinions?
For never opening her mouth, except too soon?
For ignoring, all week long, the waning moon
Retreating from its haunt above the local canyons,
Signaling her season to repent,
Then deflecting her repentance with a song?
Because the rest is just too difficult to face –
What we are – I mean – in all its meagerness –
The way we stint on any modicum of kindness –
What we allow ourselves – what we don’t learn –
How each lapsed, unchanging year resigns us –
Return us, Lord, to you, and we’ll return.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver, in Dreamwork

One day you finally know
what you have to do, and begin,
though the voices around you
keep shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
begins to tremble
and you feel the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cries.
But you don’t stop.
You know what you have to do,
though the wind pries
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations –
though their melancholy
is terrible.
It is already late
late enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you leave their voices behind,
the stars begin to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there is a new voice,
which you slowly
recognize as your own,
that keeps you company
as you stride deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you can do,
determined to save
the only life you can save –
Yours.

Cold Feet

From Siddur Sha’ar Zahav

They say cold feet are a sign of turning back,
The failure of internal will –
But I say it can be the other way,
The body’s anticipation of things to come.
Whether demons are nipping at your heels
Or gnawing within, here’s the thing:
Settle quietly, close your eyes,
Then take the most deliberate, deep breath,
As though it were the very first (God’s breath) –
And when you can feel it penetrate every bit of your being,
Making the rest of your life possible,
You open your eyes
And take that first step out into the sea of reeds.
Watered feet are just the price of coming home.

Cruel Waters

by John Miodownik

Why, I asked? Why have all these seemingly friendly, well-mannered and trusted brooks and rivers, which we have grown up with, turned on us so unexpectedly, so violently, so destructively? What angered them? What provoked their rage to do us such harm? Why have these placid waters swelled to such a powerful surf rolling over our beloved Vermont villages swallowing homes, roads, bridges, trees, memories and dreams?

My son’s basement flooded full to the first floor threatening the very foundation of his home. All was sad, all was bleak, as the indifferent muddy waters invaded his life. But, at once, the small community rejected such harsh indignity. Regiments of neighbors hurried from near and far, armed with pumps, buckets, shovels, mops and endless energy to help stem the tide the best they could.

Left floating in the aftermath were personal belongings – clothing, bedding, old photographs, children’s treasured artwork, important files and valued documents. All were lovingly cleaned by strangers, and hung up on lines to dry. There, fluttering in the morning breeze, was one particular salvaged document. It was not signaling surrender but rather hope over chaos, cruelty and ruthlessness. By chance, it was my father’s official release paper from concentration camp Buchenwald.

Atonement Songs

by Judith Rafaela, in Another Desert: Jewish Poetry of New Mexico (2001) [edited and adapted]

The wild sounds of the shofar
pierce my skin and open my heart.
And I’m crazed for tunes in a minor key
that vibrate my tailbone and belly
and echo out across a shul packed
with doubters and believers
who come together
one day of the year to hear
archaic formulas and prayers.
Just for this moment
open us to rich tones –
Simple melodies that convey truths or fictions
about our fate.

What Can I Say

by Mary Oliver, in Swan (2010)

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

From Where Redemption Will Come

by Annie Dillard

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in God’s holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead — as if innocence had ever
been — and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been.

Torah Table fits in Minivan

rosh hashanaOur annual migration has begun. Once a year, in preparation for the High Holidays, AARC moves our machzorim (Holiday prayer books), our ark, Torah reading table, and many other supplies from our home at the Jewish Community Center to the Unitarian Universalists of Ann Arbor building. I wish I had a picture of Jacob Schneyer, Eli Kirschner, Brayan Zivan, Debbie Zivan, Debbie Field, Jonathan Cohn, and me measuring, sweating, lifting, and pushing the Torah reading table (and then doing it all again) before it finally slid neatly into my Honda Odyssey. But, alas, no photo, so these words will have to suffice.

Our open, ticketless High Holiday observances include opportunities for many ways to participate. In addition to the highly anticipated services led by Rabbis Michael Strassfeld and Joy Levitt, AARC members have prepared to chant Torah and lead various prayers and readings.  Our teen members will be chanting haftorah and helping Rabbi Levitt lead children’s services. Everyone in the community is welcome to all observances, which in addition to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services, include tashlich/a casting of our mistakes into the Huron River at Island Park (3:30 Sept 14), a non-traditional Yizkor where each person takes a few moments to voice their remembrances (5:30 Sept 23), and, to make the most of our heightened and open state during the afternoon of the Yom Kippur fast,  a guided mediation, a workshop, and a discussion (2-5pm Sept 23). The last service of Yom Kippur, Ne’ilah/Shofar/Havdalah (7pm Sept 23) will be followed by a scrumptious break-the-fast (reservations are due September 17).

No reservations are needed for anything other than break-the-fast and childcare.

Hope to see you there.

 

4th Translation of Psalm 27 for Elul

mishkan-rabbiyael-n23With one week left before Rosh Hashanah, the preparatory month of Elul is waning. The 4th translation published in this blog of Psalm 27, is by Rabbi Yael Levy, director of  “A Way In: Jewish Mindfulness Program” at Reconstructionist congregation Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia. Here is a beautiful, downloadable version of the Psalm with Hebrew and Rabbi Levy’s translation. For the other translations in this series browse through our Latest News.

Psalm 27 – Meditation for Elul

To the Beloved,
The Infinite Presence is my light and expanse, who should I fear?
The Infinite Presence is the strength of my life, what shall I dread?
When forces come close
Seeming to devour me,
When narrowness threatens,
And opposition attacks,
All that is menacing stumbles and falls.
Even as an army of mistrust besieges me
My heart does not fear.
Even as thoughts and desires rise up against me
I still have trust.
One thing I ask of the Infinite,
One thing I seek,
To dwell in the Presence all the days of my life.
To awaken to the beauty of each moment
as I pass through this world.
The Infinite shelters me as I encounter difficulty and pain.
The Infinite holds me close in deep and hidden places.
And lifts me high upon a rock.
Now I can see through to what is true.
And I will offer my gifts of thanks
And I will sing and make music to the Eternal.
Please, Infinite One, Listen to my voice, hear my call.
Be gracious with me.
Answer me.
You call to my heart, “Seek my presence”
Your presence I seek.
Please don’t hide from me.
Please don’t let me turn away in anger.
I long to serve.
You are my help.
Do not let me feel abandoned. Do not let me turn away.
In You I am safe.
For my Mother and father have left me
And it is you who gathers me in.
Teach me Your ways. Guide me on the path of integrity.
There is so much to lead me astray.
Don’t let me give in to all that torments me,
the lies, the illusions, the menacing threats.
I must have faith that I can see through all of this
I can see the good, the blessings, the ways of life.
Cultivate hope in the Infinite Presence.
Let your heart be strong and filled with courage.
Cultivate hope.

Translation by Rabbi Yael Levy
Elul 5773 /2013

Yom Kippur Afternoon Programming

medium_laronwilliamswebAs always, AARC will have afternoon programming on Yom Kippur, in between the Morning and Torah service (10am-2pm) and our evening non traditional Yizkor service (5:30-6:45pm). The afternoon programming is 2-5pm; come to one part or all, as you choose. At 2, there will be an hour guided meditation–or take a break, perhaps for a walk through the beautiful grounds of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation building. From 3-3:50pm, we will host a workshop on institutional racism and insider/outsider status by Ann Arbor activist La’Ron Williams, and at 4-4:50pm Rabbi Michael Strassfeld will lead a discussion of the Book of Jonah.

This year we are trying something new: having a respected and honored guest lead a Yom Kippur afternoon workshop that will draw us to use our open and vulnerable condition to make meaningful change. La’Ron Williams conducts workshops – with schools, business organizations, and non-profits – on the fundamentals of creating inclusive communities across a number of lines of diversity. His workshops are always informative, entertaining, and filled with opportunities for personal growth and organizational development. La’Ron is also a nationally acclaimed, award winning storyteller who, for more than twenty-five years, has toured extensively presenting highly participatory, music-spiced programs composed of a dynamic blend of original and traditional tales. He is known for his pronounced commitment to justice and peacemaking – a commitment made concrete through his involvement with the Racial and Economic Justice Task Force of the Ann Arbor based Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, and via his work with Washtenaw Faces Race, an all-volunteer, inter-racial, interdisciplinary group that consciously and consistently works to dismantle racial hierarchy and promote racial equity in local institutions within Washtenaw County.

La’Ron describes the Yom Kippur afternoon workshop:

In the main, America’s understanding of racism remains stuck in the 1960s. Most of us only recognize it when it shows up as it did in the June shooting at the AME Church in Charleston – in overt incidents of violence, or as easily identifiable, interpersonal acts of discrimination backed by the ill will of a few individuals.

Because we think of it that way, the remedies we envision for it are part-time, incidental, and situationally applied to those we identify as its victims. In truth, 21st century racism cannot be remedied in our spare time. It lies deeply imbedded in all of our institutions; operating constantly, continuously, and “invisibly” — to perpetuate, in hundreds of ways that remain largely unmentioned, unidentified, and unexamined, a hierarchy of White advantage.

This presentation is designed to help its participants begin to recognize and understand the pervasiveness and effects of this contemporary “stealth” racism. Using a blend of storytelling, lecture and dialogue, we will focus on concept building, increasing our awareness of our personal racial identity development within an already racialized milieu, and identifying the major illusions that act to thwart our efforts to achieve inclusion.

MJ_Strassfeld_photo-B&WThen at 4 o’clock, Rabbi Strassfeld will lead a discussion of the Book of Jonah, traditionally read on Yom Kippur afternoon. What a one-two! As commentator Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg writes in The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on Biblical Unconscious,  “The enigmas that enrage and sadden Jonah are not riddles to be solved. They remain; God invites Jonah to bear them, even to deepen them, and to allow new perceptions to emerge unbidden. In a word, to stand and pray.” And as Maya Bernstein comments on this: “And so we, Jonah-like, enter the synagogue as he entered the fish, and as we stand in the dark, unseeing, we call out to our Creator. We do not answer these riddles; rather, we immerse ourselves in them and let them take us over.”

Another Translation of Psalm 27

full moonWe are midway through Elul (check out the full moon at our BBQ tomorrow August 30). Below is a third translation of Psalm 27, traditionally recited each morning of Elul in preparation for the Yamim Noraim/Days of Awe. You can find the first two translations I posted here and here. (Next week I’ll post a fourth.) In her inaugural leading of Kabbalat Shabbat services last night as our visiting rabbi, Rabbi Alana mentioned the psalms/tehillim that are part of the Friday night service, which started me off thinking about how much of our liturgy is drawn from the Psalms. According to this source,  “seventy-four of the hundred and fifty Psalms are incorporated bodily in the Siddur.” The Reconstructionist siddur uses many interpretive translations of the Psalms. The interpretation (can it be called a translation?) of Psalm 27 below, by Rabbi Patti Haskel, is the most colloquial I’ve found. I love it that she can translate the ponderous beseeching of the psalm into these light, easily relatable words. You can find this poem on Ritualwell.org (a wonderful resource for many things) here.

Psalm 27/Poem by Rabbi Patti Haskel

Good morning, God, happy Elul.
This day, one thing do I ask of you, God,
One thing do I seek:
To dwell in your house
All the days of my life.

… and while I dwell with you
Perhaps a few more things I might request:
Good health is at the top of my list—
For me, my family, my loved ones,
While we’re at it how about everyone, everywhere.

And perhaps food:
A healthy nosh for all who are hungry.
Quench all hunger and thirst with your love.
We do hunger for more than food and drink, so
Please quench other needs as well.

Okay, how ‘bout safety.
Safety from earthquakes, hurricanes,
Safety from one another.
Safety from all that frightens us
Safety to rest in your care.

And laughter.
Please give us much fun, silliness
to giggle at, many many smiles.
Smiles as we watch children investigate their worlds,
Smiles as we explore the lives of our elders.

God, let me behold your graciousness
Today… each day of Elul… each day
Of this year, and next, and then the next,
While I visit your temple
And immerse in your love.

AARC High Holiday Plans for Teens and Younger Kids

by Ella Edelstein

yussel's prayerThe High Holidays are approaching quickly! Often times, what happens is that the adults–and the teenagers–sit for hours in services, while the younger children play in a room, having fun but not learning a whole lot about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. So this year, in addition to the adult service, some teens will be leading a children’s service as a way to incorporate the younger people into the holidays.

With the help of Rabbi Joy Levitt and (Beit Sefer Director and AARC member) Clare Kinberg, seven other teens (aged mostly 14-16) and I created a fun and informative lesson for the younger kids. In a meeting at the JCC on August 15, we first discussed our favorite meaningful Jewish experiences. One of my favorite experiences was going to Israel and seeing how they practice Judaism and how they deal with their current situation. Some other favorites included camp and bar/bat mitzvahs.

Then Rabbi Joy helped us brainstorm ways to engage the younger demographic. She had brought a selection of Jewish and High Holiday themed picture books. We read them all, and chose three to incorporate into High Holiday services for the younger kids.  One told the story of Jonah and the whale; one was about the shofar; and the third was a story of a little boy on Yom Kippur. At High Holidays, we will have a discussion and act out the stories with the younger kids. Also, we’ll all learn the calls for the shofar and then perform them in the adult service.

I hope this new element makes the holidays more interactive and fun for everybody.

The other teenager part of the service is that a bunch of the 14-16 year olds will do the Haftarah, on Rosh Hashanah.  As usual at AARC, Deb Kraus is helping us learn it, and we’ll be chanting it in English, with traditional trope.

Full details on High Holiday services, including timing, childcare, etc., are here.