What would Ruth deserve?

A woman harvests barley.

We read Megillat Ruth every year for Shavuot, which starts this year in the evening of May 30. Ruth was an illegal immigrant to Judah. Inspired by her kindness and her boldness, I’ve written a piece for the Tablet — it’s here — about Ruth, loving-kindness, chutzpah, and illegal immigration.  I hope you’ll read it and post any thoughts you have here.

Pirke Avot tells us:

עַל שְׁלֹשָׁה דְּבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֶד: עַל הַתּוֹרָה, וְעַל הַעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים
Al shlosha d’varim ha’olam omed: al haTorah, v’al ha’avoda v’al g’milut chasadim.
The world is sustained by three things: Torah, worship, and loving kindness.

I hope we can do as well as Boaz and Bethlehem and match the kindness and chutzpah of Ruth and of her modern-day brothers and sisters with our own.

What can we do?

  • Support WICIR, the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights: Like them on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WICIR/) and you’ll see posts for rallies, information sessions, and actions that support immigrant families.
  • Email Ruth Kraut, ruthkraut@gmail.com, if you want to join the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary planning group. For information on Sanctuary Synagogues, see http://www.truah.org/campaign/mikdash-the-jewish-sanctuary-movement/ .
  • If you speak another language well—especially Spanish, Arabic, or French—there are opportunities to do interpretation. Ask the folks at WICIR about how you can help.
  • Give time or money to MIRC, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, http://michiganimmigrant.org/. They train people to do Know Your Rights sessions and their “Let’s Do More” campaign is working to raise money for an additional staff attorney to meet the dramatically increased need since President Trump was sworn in.
  • If you see or hear ethnic or racial epithets or bias, speak up! Go over in your mind in advance what you would say/do. Here are the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Six Steps to Speaking Up Against Everyday Bigotry.

Isaac Asimov’s Book of Ruth

I’ve written about Shavuot several times over the past few years. In 2015, I wrote on the culmination of the counting of the Omer and the concept of “our lives as torah.” Last year, when Loving Day and Shavuot fell at the same time, I reflected on Jews and interracial marriage. In that blog, I recounted reasons I’d found that we read The Book of Ruth on Shavuot, “…the story takes place during the seasonal harvest that the holiday marks; Ruth’s acceptance of the Israelite faith is analogous to the Jewish people’s acceptance of Torah; and because of the legend that King David, a descendant of Ruth, died on Shavuot.”

Last week my friend Abbie Egherman told me about the 1972 Isaac Asimov book, The Story of Ruth. Abbie is on a search for books that will inspire us, as Jews, to become more deeply and actively involved in refugee support and resettlement. According to Asimov’s memoir, his retelling of Ruth’s story is a long essay treating the book “as a plea for tolerance against the cruelty of the scribe Ezra, who forced the Jews to ‘put away’ their foreign wives.” Asimov’s essay places the story in context of the culture of the time it was written, but his purpose, as explained in his memoir, was to reflect on the potential of any people to become persecutors when in positions of power. In particular, he wanted Jews to look at our own history, situations in which we have been in power as well as eras when we have not.

There will be plenty of time to discuss Asimov’s reflection, as well as other retellings of the Book of Ruth at our congregation’s Shavuot gathering.

 

AARC Shavuot in Stages

May 30, 2017

Everyone Welcome

RSVP Here 

Location: Marcy Epstein’s home, 1307 Henry St.:

6:30pm Holiday blessing, Parsha Study, and Spring Soup

7:30 Community celebration with flower strands and wreaths and Ice cream treats

8:30 “Many Books of Ruth” Real storytelling, with wine and cheese tasting

Also:

May 31st 6:30-7:30 Yiskor/Memorial Serivce at the JCC

contact for Marcy: dr_marcy@hotmail.com

New Activist Resources for your Passover Haggadah and Beyond

The first night of Passover will be Monday evening April 10, 2017. If you are still looking for some resources for your haggadah, or just some relevant reading for Passover, I’ve pulled together some new resources from various organizations.

  • New Israel Fund Jubilee Haggadah: In the Jewish tradition, the fiftieth year is the year of liberty. As written in Leviticus, “Sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you.” This is the fiftieth year of the State of Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people. The time has come for liberty and peace. From SISO, Save Israel, Stop the Occupation.
  • Jewish Women’s Archive, Your Passover Story: As you prepare to spend Passover with loved ones, think of a Jewish woman in your life whom you would like to know more about. Maybe it’s a grandmother, an aunt, or a teacher. Invite her to participate in an interview with you, at a mutually agreed upon time and place.
  • American Jewish World Service, Ten Lessons from the Haggadah for Jewish Activists, and their Next Year in a Just World Haggadah Drawing upon Jewish history, Torah sources and the latest headlines, we plumb pressing questions about human rights and global justice from a Jewish perspective
  • Hazon Jewish Food Movement, Tips for a Sustainable Passover: Passover offers a perfect opportunity to combine the wisdom of a traditional Jewish holiday with our contemporary desire to live with our health and sustainability in mind.
  • T’ruah: Rabbinical call for Human Rights Crying Out Against Mass Incarceration Haggadah Supplement and fair trade chocolate for passover: Our ancient story of liberation is bound up in the liberation of all people today from the chains of mass incarceration.
  • The Shalom Center suggests a Passover deadline for Amazon to stop advertising on Breitbart and Four New Questions for Passover: Write to  Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, urging him — with a Passover deadline — to stop funding Breitbart wth his advertising. 

Our community get together for Passover will be a third night seder, Wednesday April 12, at the JCC, beginning at 6:00 (but you can come early to help set up). Here is the signup for attending, helping and bringing something (everyone coming will hopefully sign up for something).

 

Jewish Responses to EO Banning Immigrants and Refugees from Muslim Majority Countries

The Reconstructionist Movement issued a statement on January 26th on the Executive Order concerning immigrants and refugees. I thought it might be useful for our AARC community to have a compilation of recent statements and news articles reflecting many Jewish responses.

  1. Reconstructionist Movement Statement on President Trump’s Executive Order Concerning Refugees
  2. Conservative Movement Condemns President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration and Refugees
  3. Reform Movement Denounces President Trump’s Executive Order Barring Entry From Several Muslim-Majority Countries
  4. Jews Hand Muslims Synagogue Keys When a Texas Mosque Burns Down
  5. Refugee Ban Devastating Impact: HIAS
  6. HIAS Rabbi letter.
  7. Statement of East Bay Jewish Family and Children’s Services
  8. Jewish Community Action for Refugees, Feb 12
  9. Refugee Ban Puts Jewish Asylum Seekers in Limbo
  10. Iranian Jews in Los Angeles, Atlantic article
  11. Association for Jewish Studies Statement on the EO

Praying with My Legs: January 22

AARC is co-sponsoring the Sun, January 22, 2017, 10:30am – 12:30pm screening of the documentary-in-progress, Praying with My Legs, about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Its filmmaker, Steve Brand, will speak via Skype and Rabbi Alana Alpert, who is in the film, will add her own remarks. The brunch and film showing is organized by the Beth Israel Congregation Social Action Committee and will honor their volunteers and include opportunities to support the completion of the film, and Detroit Jews for Justice. 

When this program was planned several months ago, the date was chosen because of its proximity to both Dr. Heschel’s yahrtzeit on the 18th of Tevet, and the national day of honor for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, this year, on January 16. King and Heschel were friends and colleagues who marched together at the front of the 1965 Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery. However, the planners did not anticipate that the date of the event would also coincide with the inauguration of someone who is bringing white nationalism into the White House. This film could be precisely the spiritual and political inspiration we need to face the future. Heschel was compelled by his religious beliefs to leave the confines of his study to fight for human dignity, immersing himself in the struggle for civil rights and human dignity.

The brunch at 10:30 is free, and everyone is welcome to come. To ensure that there is enough food, please RSVP to BIC Office by Tuesday, January 17thoffice@bethisrael-aa.org.  More about the film here.

A Pledge

by AARC member Rose Benjamin

I am afraid to be trans today. I am afraid to leave my cocoon. I am afraid to leave Ann Arbor. I am afraid in Ann Arbor. I am afraid to walk around in a dress with my new baby. I am afraid to relax. I am looking over my shoulder. I am wondering who secretly wants to kill me, not for who I am but for what I represent, what I trigger. I am less open. I am less free. I am wondering whether to hide my transness. I am used to hiding it, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I am frightened for my wife, for my child. I am frightened for my gay and trans friends. I am frightened that when we are together we will be shiny targets. I am afraid that all my doubts will come back, the ones that make me feel freakish and ugly. I have not been “out” for long; should I just go back in, I wonder. I am frightened to use the women’s bathroom. I am frightened to use the men’s bathroom. I do not take my estrogen with glee anymore. I take it with dread because every dose is another step in the direction of standing out. I am afraid to be trans. I am afraid.

But I should not, cannot, will not let this defeat me. I will remember that this is about so much more than me. I will remember that millions of Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, women, immigrants, differently abled people, progressives, radicals, socialists, bi-gendered, un-gendered, fluidly-gendered, young, elderly, Jewish, Native, people, humans are feeling just as frightened, and much more so than me. I will remember all the privilege I have regardless of being a transgender, bi-ish-sexual, Jewish, radical fop without any savings. And I will remember how many people struggled and died in obscurity just so I could wear this dress at all, just so we could rant openly, just so we could stand up for something. And I will try to feel brave, I will take heart. But not because I am very strong. I will do so because you give me hope. And so I write this to give you hope. I am scared. But I am going to wear my lipstick. I will go to Detroit and march and I will do so wearing my pins and flowers and frilly hems. Because I trust you when you say you have my back and I want you to know I have yours. Because otherwise we are lost.

I am afraid to be trans. And this will not change. I was afraid to be trans long before I accepted I was trans. Because while being trans is scary so is being honest. So is being real. So is caring. So is “being there” in any kind of actual way. So is wondering whether you belong, wondering whether the dream is just a particularly unprofitable joke we’ve all played on each other with some very profitable help from The Beatles. Life is scary. These things have to do with us, with what we say and do, with how we behave when the nighttime comes. And I want you to know something: when I read some of the remarkably powerful and empowering things you say, I am less scared and I am more heartened. Everyone is righteous and brave when things are comfortably distant. Everyone says the right things about recycling and the failing schools and how much black lives matter (and of course these things matter in the biggest ways). But now is the time when that distance shrinks, when the gap between saying and doing closes, when the comfortable space between theory and practice disappears.

And so I am making a pledge to myself and to you. I am going to keep wearing this dress. As long as you keep wearing yours, whatever form that “dress” takes. If that “dress” is your race or religion, keep wearing it. If that dress is your sexuality, nationality, artistry, humor, or hair color, keep wearing it. If that dress is your belief that people should speak up against injustice, then by all means, now is the time to layer that shit. If your dress is your laughter or longing, if it is the way you treat your co-workers and friends, if it is your relationship, the way you hold your head, the foods you like, the hours you keep, the things you collect, your makeup or lack thereof, your mental or physical health, your poverty, your character, your deepest convictions, your doubts, your love, your soul, you just keep wearing that dress. In fact, you add a scarf and hat. You add some fancy shoes you got at the overpriced vintage store. You throw on a bow. You hang some beads. You do what you have to do to wear that dress, whatever it is. And you make sure your friends wear theirs. Because this is the very occasion we’ve all been saving that dress for.

So I’m gonna keep wearing my pumps. I’m gonna keep wearing the foundation I got conned into buying by that lady at Macy’s. I’m gonna keep talking to people I don’t know, I’m gonna keep returning smiles even when there was nothing to return. I’m gonna keep wondering who needs help, gonna keep crying. I’m gonna keep my heart open even though it hurts. I’m gonna keep laughing. I’m gonna keep hoping. I’m gonna keep feeling and looking like a damn fool because no matter how much I want to give in, I just can’t be that person. And the reason I can’t is you. The things you say, the things I know you are willing to do to keep the frost from swallowing the garden reminds me that I am not alone.

I am afraid to be trans today. And I will continue to be afraid, more afraid than before. But I am also utterly resolved not to let this fear win. And after this week and month, after the initial shock and rage wear off, I will need you to keep reminding me of that resolve and I promise to remind you.
I am afraid. And I’m putting on my dress. And I’m going outside. And I’m not gonna avert my eyes.

I love you, friends,
Rose

 

Post election: What are you doing?


Collage created by members of the Diversity Peer Education Team at York University in 2013, lifted from the blog Inclusivity Zone by Margaret

At last Saturday’s Human Rights Shabbat, Margo led a discussion about the emotional impact of the election and its implications for human rights. Many of us found the service cathartic, and it was inspiring to hear about the activities of our members.

With the hope that activity can be an antidote to despair, let’s try using this post to collect the list of constructive actions people are taking part in locally. As a start, refer to Margo’s post for a list of  ways you can get involved building bridges with people in prison.

What are you doing? If you’re volunteering or helping or organizing or protesting, add a comment to this post briefly describing what you’re doing and how others might get involved. Thanks!

 

Show of support for Islamic Center of Ann Arbor

On November 30th, 2016 the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor received an anti-Muslim hate letter, similar to letters sent to mosques all over the country, including the Islamic Center of East Lansing. The ICAA has received hate mail in the past, but this recent version includes numerous mentions of Trump: ‘There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump. He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And, he’s going to start with you Muslims. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the jews. (sic)’”

In an expression of support to the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor/Muslim Community Association, the AARC Board sent the following statement:

The Board of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation deplores harassment of anyone because of his or her religious beliefs or ethnicity. As Jews, we are well aware of the hostility our people have faced in many places and many eras. We were deeply troubled to learn of recent incidents in Ann Arbor targeting the Muslim community, such as a threat to burn a Muslim woman if she did not remove her hijab and a vicious letter mailed from California to many mosques, including the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor.  We are writing to express our solidarity with the Ann Arbor Muslim community and to assure you that a great many non-Muslims condemn anti-Muslim bigotry.

The secretary of the Muslim Community Association sent this note of appreciation in response.

Hello All,

Thank you for your kind words of support and solidarity. These are difficult times indeed and it is very sad to receive such a letter, but we fully understand that these people are not the norm and do not represent the greater good in this country.

Honestly, we are just very happy to receive these messages of support. Your words mean a lot to us – thank you again! We will keep your contact information and reach out to you when in need of assistance. Our strength lies in being united, and thus we are looking for ways to make connections.

Peace.

The Muslim Community Association has put up a webpage “Support from Ann Arbor Residents” that includes a sampling of the letters of support they have received.

You may also want to order and display a “One Human Family: We Support refugees and our Muslim neighbors” yard sign or banner. Distribution is a project of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice the Interfaith Roundtable of Washtenaw County.

 

 

 

Bridging the distance between here and prison

bird-and-prison-barsInternational Human Rights Day (and Human Rights Shabbat) is December 10, which prompted me to put together this post.

Ronald Simpson-Bey and I led a workshop on Yom Kippur about solitary confinement and building criminal justice institutions that encourage t’shuvah.  Many of the workshop participants asked for more information about how they could get involved, and I promised to post some ideas.  So here goes:

I’ve asked many people from many organizations: this post brings together their thoughts on getting informed and building bridges.  There’s also a prayer for those in solitary, at the bottom.  If you’re interested in working further on this issue, or learning more, please sign up here.  

  1. Get informed.
  2. Reach out.  Building bridges from prison to the outside is enormously gratifying, and key to reintegrating prisoners productively into communities.
    • Some quick ways to reach out:
      • Leave a supportive note on one of the blog posts at Between the Bars (the note will be printed and anonymously mailed to the prisoner).
      • Write a short holiday card to someone at Prison Inmate Penpal. For the return address, if you’d like to remain anonymous, you can use the address of Fair Shake Reentry Resource Center at: Fair Shake, PO Box 63, Westby, WI 54667.
    • Prison Creative Arts Project (UM) — a fantastic organization, which is doing a training for new volunteers on Jan. 8.  let them know you’re interested here.  (And don’t forget to sign up with us here, too.)
    • Michigan Criminal Justice Project, American Friends Service Committee.  They have a program called the Good Neighbor Project, which pairs free-world and prisoner folks.  Here’s some info.  There are periodic trainings–and if there was enough interest (again, sign up here), they would do a special one for us.  The same organization also relies on volunteers to do advocacy work.  If anyone is interested in either of these, use the signup, and I can either link you to the right person or (if there is enough interest) we can coordinate something for our community.
    • Here are some ways to get involved in a visiting or pen-pal program for prisoners.  Ideas from T’ruah.
    • Solitary Watch, Lifelines to Solitary.

A prayer for justice

From a space of narrow tightness we call to the Eternal, and God answers; from the belly of death we cry out and You hear our voice.
Our brothers and sisters have been cast into the depths of solitary confinement; so many waves and breakers have buffeted and drowned them.
We, too, feel their pain, and reel from the impact of this injustice.
They are cast out from the public eye, but we will not let them be forgotten.
May the One Who was with our brother Joseph in the pit and in prison, and with our sister Miriam when she was isolated from the camp for seven days—
Bless and heal all those who are imprisoned in solitary confinement.
May the Holy Blessed One be filled with mercy for them, strengthening them and keeping them from all harm.
May God speedily send them complete healing of spirit and of body and grant our society the wisdom to find a more fair and humane system soon, in our day. And let us say, Amen.

[Assembled from this and this.]

Human Rights Shabbat — Saturday morning, December 10

December 10 is International Human Rights Day, and so we’re making our second Saturday service a Human Rights Shabbat service.  I’ll lead the service, at the normal 10 am time.  We’ll do some of the regular Shacharit service, but have a discussion rather than a Torah service.  In this difficult week and month, I’m still thinking through how to approach this.  My plans from a week ago suddenly seem inadequate.  But I hope many of us can gather and share hope and community.  So save the date.