Rabbi Alana discusses faith and millennials with Ray Suarez

Rabbi Alana Alpert

Rabbi Alana was part of an “On Point” radio discussion among “millennial” clergy on July 6, 2017. In this discussion a rabbi, an imam, an Episcopal priest and a Catholic priest discuss why they have dedicated their lives to the clergy. Asking questions about declining numbers of people affiliating with congregations, the host Ray Suarez seemed to be motivated by concern for his own daughter, recently ordained as an Episcopal priest. Rabbi Alana did a great job in challenging the assumptions that young people are not interested in religion and getting in strong statements about creative Judaism and the spiritual pull of social justice activism. She also gave some good explanations of the work Detroit Jews for Justice is doing. Take a listen!

We have two more opportunities this summer to participate in Rabbi Alana led services. On July 28, AARC will have its regular Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat and Potluck at the Jewish Community Center. And, news flash, Rabbi Alana will lead a Reconstructionist service at the Community-Wide Shabbat at Hillel on August 25th. Because August 25th is a fourth Friday, AARC is moving our regular service to Hillel on that evening. More about this will be posted soon. In the meantime, you can register for the free dinner here. There will be children’s activities, several choices for services (TBE and BIC are having their congregational services at Hillel that evening as well), in additional to a communal dinner.

Jews and Social Justice: Neither synonymous nor in conflict, but up to you

poverty wages are not kosherAARC visiting rabbi, Alana Alpert, is spearheading a fundraising campaign to launch Detroit Jews for Justice and is asking all of us to help. “Detroit is an incredible place full of courageous and resilient people who I feel so privileged to learn from and to struggle with,” she says in a crowdfunding video. “What happens in Detroit matters not just to the people here.  We are not just a symbol, but a microcosm. What we win or lose here has impacts across the country.”

Rabbi Alana is a gifted young rabbi, and a skilled community organizer. But, she says, “There was a time when I thought I had to choose between my Jewish identity and being a social justice activist. And then I realized that not only were they not in conflict, but they could make each other stronger.” Detroit Jews for Justice is carrying on the Jewish traditions of activism in the women’s, labor, and civil rights movements, and bringing them into this moment in history. Since 2014 DJJ has organized and participated in a long list of activities including support for #blacklivesmatter, protesting the Detroit water shutoffs, and supporting fast food workers and Wal-Mart employees in their struggle for fair wages and decent working conditions. Take a look here at what DJJ has already accomplished.

In a counterpoint to Rabbi Alana’s pre-rabbinical school feeling that she had to choose between her Jewish identify and social justice activism, one commenter on the crowdfunding video wrote, “There was a time when I thought Jews and social justice were synonymous.” There’s some food for good discussion. But, right now, Detroit Jews for Justice has picked up the baton to strengthen the tradition of Jewish involvement in social justice activism. With ten days left, the crowdfunding has raised two thirds of its goal of $18,000. You can become a Founding Supporter here.

Human Rights Activism is a Source of Light

truah_logo_web_no_RHRNAFor our Shabbat morning service during Hanukkah this year, December 12, AARC will be joining hundreds of other congregations around the U.S. in a focus on human rights activism.  “T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights,” an organization with a long history of Jewish ethical and social justice leadership, organizes this annual Human Rights Shabbat. Rabbi Alana Alpert, rabbi at Congregation T’Chiyah in Oak Park and community organizer with Detroit Jews for Justice–and our visiting rabbi this year–is among the 1,800 rabbis who are part of the T’ruah network. She will be leading our service on December 12 and we’ve invited members of T’Chiyah to join us in Ann Arbor.

T’ruah offers organizational and intellectual support for Jewish work on issues such as ending mass incarceration, justice for farmworkers in the U.S., and standing against Islamophobia.   Rabbi Robert Dobrusin of Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor is a recent past Co-chair.  At its website  are abundant excellent study, worship, and advocacy materials (including one study guide based on Margo Schlanger’s AARC d’var torah from Yom Kippur services a couple of years ago).

The roots of T’ruah as an organization go back to the early 1970s, when a cohort of Reform rabbinic students at Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Cincinnati brought their anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights activism into their rabbinic training. Some, like Rabbi Myron Kinberg z”l (my brother), as undergraduates in the ‘60s, had trained with Clergy and Laity Concerned to do counseling with conscientious objectors. Others had been Freedom Riders, helping to register Black voters in the South. When they became rabbinic students in 1967 and 1968, they read the texts with those fresh experiences. The T’ruah website quotes one key text newly understood as a call for racial justice and human equality: “Beloved is all humankind for they were made b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God). Doubly beloved are they, for they were told that they were made in the image of God. As it says: ‘In the image of God was humankind made.’” (Genesis 9:6) Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:14.

Upon ordination in 1972, one of this cohort of students, Rabbi David Forman z”l, made Aliyah. While leading the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel as director of the Israel office of the Union for Reform Judaism (1976-2003), he also founded Rabbis for Human Rights in 1988, in Israel. Another of the group of HUC students, Rabbi Bruce Cohen z”l, ordained in 1973, was sent to Israel to do peace work by his New Haven congregation in 1976 following the murder of five Israeli Arabs during protests in Nazareth, northern Israel. Rabbi Cohen co-founded, with Farhat Agbaria, the organization Interns for Peace, which for many years focused on bringing American Jewish college students to Israel to work on projects with Israeli Arabs and Jews. One such college student was Israeli’s Rabbis for Human Rights long time and current President, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who worked with Interns for Peace in 1981-1983.

In 2002 Rabbis for Human Rights-North America was founded as a multi-denominational network of rabbis and Jewish communities to protect human rights in North America and Israel. Renamed T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, in 2013, it continues to continue to call on its supporters in North America and around the world to educate and advocate for an Israel embodying our highest Jewish values.

Human rights movements gain their strength from the power of the people as a whole, the soul of a movement rather than the individual bodies who take part. As individuals we might tire, our bodies might weaken, but it is the light of our collective power – which grows brighter and brighter over time – that gives us the strength to go on. Likewise, charismatic leaders come and go, and we might think it is their light that inspires us and produces change. But they, too, are bodies, which wane and dwindle. A truly wise leader nurtures the souls of the movement, builds towards a systemic victory. He or she lets their light burn with others, rather than standing aloft as the shamash.

 – Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster from a Human Rights Commentary on Chanukah

Please join us on Saturday morning, December 12, as we celebrate this Human Rights Shabbat along with congregations across the country.

New WJN article about Rabbi Alana and AARC

By Jonathan Cohn

WJN-Nov-15-web-Alana

ICPJ 50th Anniversary: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

icpj 50thby Deb Kraus

When Ruth Kraut approached me five years ago to see if I wanted to be on the board of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ), I had only the slightest sense of what they did. I was aware that most of the people I knew who did political work were at least tangentially connected to ICPJ; what I didn’t know is that I was actually one of those people!

ICPJ coordinates the local CROP walk every year. I had walked in the CROP walk. Back in 1998, ICPJ organized a peacekeeping team to mitigate between the KKK and the equally angry counter demonstrators when the KKK came to Ann Arbor to recruit. I went to the peace demonstration that day. [editor’s note: For more news of that day here and here.]

Every year, ICPJ goes to protest at the School of the Americas, and I knew that Rebecca Kanner did civil disobedience that landed her in prison, but I’m not sure I knew that this was in the context of ICPJ. When I was a graduate student, I heard about and participated in an anti-war protest when George HW Bush was the UM commencement speaker. Just this past weekend, I found out this, too, was the work of ICPJ. And as our shmita team would attest, there was a lot of cross-pollination between our work and ICPJ’s theme year work on Food and Justice.

This is a subset of the great work that this organization has spearheaded. I am pleased to be involved in this work, and pleased that so many of you have some involvement in ICPJ as well. In fact, I sometimes joke that ICPJ is our social justice arm.

So here’s my ask:

In less than three weeks, ICPJ is hosting an anniversary dinner party to celebrate 50 years of peace and justice work in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

It will be at 6 p.m. at the Morris Lawrence Building at WCC on Saturday, November 14. There will be remembrances from past decades, a silent auction, and a preview of what is happening in 2016. And our own Rabbi Alana will be one of the two keynote speakers as ICPJ looks ahead to the next 50 years.

Dinner will be family-style service with chicken and vegetarian options, sourced with fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.

The dinner is $50/person.

You can rsvp via email (jane@icpj.org) or phone (734-663-1870)–in which case you will be asked to send in a check–or you can get your tickets online.

I know it will be a great night, and I hope you can join me.

Welcome Rabbi Alana Alpert

by Deborah Fisch

Alpert_photoDuring the Aug. 28 Shabbat service, visiting rabbi Alana Alpert explained her route to the rabbinate. While her first love was community organizing in service of social justice, she worried about the high rate of burnout such work entailed. Rabbinical school seemed to her a way to prepare to help those leaders most at risk for burnout. “I never expected to be a rabbi with my own congregation!” She now splits her time as a half-time rabbi for Congregation T’chiyah in Detroit and as a community organizer with Detroit Jews for Justice – and one of our visiting rabbis.

In her Dvar Torah, Rabbi Alpert examined a verse from Parsha Ki Teitzei: “When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof…” She found this verse’s practical application in preventing potential harm to be immediately relevant to her recently purchased fixer-upper, in which she and her partner discovered rotted beams that threatened the stability of a second-floor balcony. While the installation of a roof rail or replacement beams improves physical safety, Rabbi Alpert also inferred a symbolic meaning for the rail: it acts as a limit on pride of ownership of a house – a necessary check on entitlement and privilege in the midst of poverty and homelessness.

We welcome to our congregation Rabbi Alpert and the many other newcomers who attended the service, including a large contingent of U-M Law School students. The usual outstanding potluck dinner followed the service, which this time might appropriately have been titled, “Celebration of the Tomato.”

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.