Calling all justice-seekers and justice-pursuers!

On Shabbat morning, December 9th, AARC will be celebrating Human Rights Shabbat along with more than 140 congregations across the globe. The centerpiece of our Shabbat service will be YOU. Whether you’re involved in local activism or global human rights work, you are invited to share your work and inspiration with our community.

 

Please sign up to present as part of our Human Rights Shabbat here. We’re excited to hear from you! On Shabbat morning, you’ll be given 4 minutes (total) to address the following questions:
  1. How does your Judaism inform your activism?
  2. What gives you hope?

Speaking of ‘justice-pursuers,’ this unusual turn of phrase comes from the Hebrew ‘tzedek tzedek tirdof’ – ‘justice, justice you shall pursue, so that you might live’ (Deuteronomy 16:20). Various commentators have asked why the word ‘justice’ (sometimes translated as ‘righteousness’) is repeated in the verse. Some have interpreted the repetition as a subtle reminder that the pursuit of justice must also be pursued with justice.

Rav Elya Meir Bloch, a 20th century Orthodox rabbi, elaborates:

“Many times we pursue that which is righteous and fair. Our goal is to ensure that what is right prevails. We are often tempted to let the ends justify the means. We may overlook the fact that we have to step on a few laws here and there as long as in the end ‘righteousness will prevail.’

We know unfortunately how many times throughout history the pursuit of justice was carried on with unjust ways. This has caused terrible destruction. The message of our verse is that we may not overlook unscrupulous methods to achieve lofty goals. Righteousness must be pursued with righteousness. Achieving tzedek in any other way is not tzedek.”

Human Rights Shabbat is organized to coincide with International Human Rights Day, which celebrates the December 10, 1948 signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This years marks its 70th year. You can participate with people from around the globe in marking this anniversary by recording your voice (with your kids!!) reading one of the articles. Here is the website to do this. If you do, let us know in the comments!

 

 

Repair the World invites us to Act Now Against Hunger

The director of Education for Repair the World, Rebecca Katz, sent an email to Rabbi Ora last week inviting AARC members and friends to participate in their Act Now Against Hunger campaign this Thanksgiving. Detroit is one of seven active sites for the non-profit organization Repair the World, which was founded in 2009 to encourage young Jewish people to participate in meaningful service and engagement in social change rooted in Jewish values and learning.

This year they have put together special resources for Thanksgiving  to help us have conversations about hunger at our Thanksgiving dinner table, or another appropriate time.

“Transform your table into a place of generous learning, listening, and action.  As we gather around a table of plenty, commit to opening your table to conversations about food insecurity and hunger. Use these three discussion guides and DIY resources to root your discussion of food insecurity in Jewish values and foster a brave space for people to meaningfully engage with each other’s experiences and ideas.”

The discussion guides and resources below are very nicely put together and will be relevant throughout the year. Take a minute to look through them and download for your family’s use.

Discussion Guides:

  • A Plateful of Grateful
    • Untangle the impact of food waste and hunger using this guide co-created with 412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh non-profit that believes that good food belongs to people, not landfills.
  • Addressing Hunger Together
    • Discuss root causes and strategies to address food insecurity through traditional and modern food justice texts
  • Bringing Generosity to a Tough Table
    • If you are heading into a tense or divisive space and want to foster a generous and open conversation at your table, check out this guide we developed in partnership with Lab/Shul, an everybody-driven experimental Jewish community in NYC.
  • Food Justice Glossary
    • Build a shared language around food justice

 

Miriam Chava Berman Stidd dvar on Bereshit

Shabbat Shalom!

My parsha is Bereshit, which as most of you know, tells the story of the creation of the world. We read today the first chapter of Genesis, verses 1 through 23, which takes us from Day 1 through Day 5, from the creation of light and darkness all the way through the creation of birds and fish.

I wanted to read this last Aliyah because it reminded me of the Marc Chagall stained glass windows in Nice, France, at the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum, which feature birds and fish. These stained-glass windows mean so much to me because they are by one of my favorite artists. His art pieces about creation almost make me think they are not just about the creation of the world, but about Marc Chagall creating himself through his art, because his visual interpretation of the creation story tells you so much about who he was as a person. It wasn’t just that Chagall was expressing himself, he was creating who he was right then and there, in that moment.

So, who was Chagall? Born into a very religious Jewish household on July 6, 1887, there weren’t any pictures of anything, because according to his family and tradition, any representations were idolatry. Despite his parents not wanting him to, he still left his home in Belarus and went to art school in France and eventually became a great artist. (This clearly shows the importance of listening to your parents). He is well known for his paintings and stained-glass windows that depict biblical stories and other things. This was a way he displayed his spirituality.

Out of respect for his parents, he didn’t want to display them in his art, so the fish represented his father (he sold fish at a local market). His mother’s name in Yiddish sounded like the Yiddish word for chicken or rooster, and if you look closely, there is a rooster in almost every one of his paintings. Chagall is creating himself through including these elements by letting you see a piece of his parents’ and his childhood, which are still a part of him at the time he creates the art. [Read more…]

MCIRR Loan Program for Immigrant Filing Fees

Thank you for quick action, straight-forward help

MCIRR is a membership organization made up of more than forty nonprofit and faith groups committed to building capacity within Michigan’s advocacy community, supporting immigrant rights, and promoting a more positive and inclusive atmosphere for immigrants and refugees. See MCIRR.org for more details

 

The Michigan Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (MCIRR) sends its thanks, in a letter from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center’s director, Susan Reed.  Susan writes:

When Attorney General Sessions announced the end of DACA on September 5, 2017, he gave a one month window for many with DACA to renew.  Many of our members’ first thought was: how will those eligible to renew be able to raise the $495 fee in time?  Enter our good friends (and perhaps also yours), University of Michigan Law School Professors Margo Schlanger and Sam Bagenstos.  Margo and Sam wanted to know how to support those facing this cost and we told them about the fee bank.  They made a generous gift and also shared the giving opportunity with members of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, Temple Beth Emeth, and others in the University of Michigan community.  The outpouring of generosity was amazing, and in a few days, we had received more than $18,000 for our little loan fund.  Checks are still finding their way to us. This meant that we were able to assure our advocacy community that NO ONE in Michigan needed to miss the DACA renewal deadline for lack of the fee.  At the same time, some major national funds providing grants emerged.  So, ultimately, we only needed to make four loans for DACA renewal because most people in need got national grants.  In one case, an applicant had been rejected by a grant fund because she needed assistance to replace her DACA work permit rather than renew it and she didn’t meet their parameters, but she met ours and she was extremely grateful to have access to at least another year with DACA!

The fee bank used to be an occasional solution to an ever-present problem. In 2010, with a very small gift of $2,000 from the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters and support from pro bono banking lawyers at the Honigman law firm (recruited by Michigan Community Resources) we launched our fee bank. Because the filing fee for a green card can be as much as $2070, that initial $2,000, plus a few other small gifts we were able to add, had only become about six loans.  But, every loan was repaid by our clients on time or well in advance of the repayment schedule and the loan program had been extremely helpful to those who had been able to access the funds.  (We ask borrowers to pay $10 per month until 90 days after the “work permit” arrives and $40 per month after that time.)  Each time we had enough money back in the fund, we let our members know that a new loan was potentially available and the loan was snapped up.  Blue Ox Credit Union, based in Battle Creek services the loans at no cost and there is no interest.

Now, you have made the fee bank loan program robust.  We have already been told that two applications are on the way for clients who need filing fee loans for immigration benefits other than DACA.  Because we make loans rather than grants, the transformation made by your generosity will make this resource last forever!

Thank you for your rush to generosity.  You are truly repairing our world.

The Call of the Shofar: Rena Basch on Activism

Rena and Jeff Basch at our 2017 Annual BBQ. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

by Rena Basch, from her dvar on Rosh Hashana

Often people hear a distinct, sharp call to action. Something happens; something shocking or traumatic happens to you, your family, your community, or your nation. We hear these calls to action. They’re often loud and clear. Yet, we struggle with what actions to take. We hear the call. But then what?

There are also softer, more subtle calls to action. You’ve heard something over and over again, but then one day, the same words sound different. Something crystallizes in your head. “Aha,” you say. You hear the call.

For me, current events of 5777 provided an unrelenting cacophony. Deafening calls to action. I sifted through the noise, adjusted priorities, and chose a path for tikkun olam. I’m fortunate and grateful for being able to do this: hear the call–consider, contemplate, plan–then act. I have learned how to do this from all of you. Our community sounded the shofar, then taught me how to hear it. You’ve showed me how I can be useful, can help change the world.

Here are just a few examples:

A pair of our founders, my friends Aura and Aaron Ahuvia, extend an invitation to me–a call to an unaffiliated, uninvolved Jew: Come to our Reconstructionist Havurah. I’m like, “What’s a Reconstructionist Havurah? Sounds like a cult.” They took the time to explain, and Aha! I’m in. This is Judaism to me.

Over the years, these subtle calls to action continued from our community members. A very young Sarah Kurz–I will always remember her empathy. Back when the Hav was still meeting in the basement of a church near the law quad. A special aunt of mine had died. I’m crying during services and Sarah comforts me. I hear the call: I need to do that too – comfort those in need. Stop being afraid to reach out.

Again, a few years ago – Marcy Epstein says “let’s plan Shmita. Let’s plan Shmita for the Jewish community of Ann Arbor and southeast MI.” And I say, “Huh? What’s Shmita? Never heard of it.” Then, “that’s too devout, that’s too spiritual, that’s too big an endeavor. I can’t.”

“Of course you can,” she said. “Food! Land! Justice! Shmita!” Aha, I hear the call. She and Carol, and Idelle and many others made me see how I was needed to help us study and celebrate Shmita.

Last year, Rabbi Alana spoke at the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice 50th Anniversary dinner. Here’s what I heard her say–more or less: “You old activists need to listen to the young activists to understand today’s issues, to understand today’s methods. And you young activists need to learn from the old how to build infrastructure.” Aha! A clear call to action. I can help with that. I can learn from different generations. I can help build bridges.

Again, this past year, right now really–the cacophony. Bells are ringing loud and clear. The shofar blowing every morning in the form of daily news. Fresh assaults on our values nearly every day. The antithesis of tikkun olam. I heard, I hear this shofar. Most of us here today hear the call to action. And our community, like usual, we’re hearing that call–we’re listening, processing–the are wheels turning, and we’re helping each other find our way to action.

I decided in November to become “An Activist.” (Because I need yet another career path, another to-do list, right?) I’ve been listening to my mother saying over and over again–“gerrymandering is tearing apart our nation.” Aha! The light bulb goes on, the idea crystallizes, I hear the call. I can act to fix that.

I look around our congregation and see role models everywhere, activists of all sorts, hearing the call, living their values, giving their skills and time, acting to make the world a better place in a myriad of different ways. I tell Rebecca Kanner I’m going to work on redistricting reform. I ask her to teach me how to be an activist.  She says “you already are.” What? Huh? ……Aha! thank you. Thank you for giving me the confidence to say, yes. Yes, I am an Activist.

So thank you, my Ann Arbor Reconstructionist community for giving me the support, the role models, the opportunities and the confidence to truly heed the shofar. We all hear the call. We are all acting.

 

Hospice Volunteer Opportunity

St. Joseph Mercy is looking for hospice volunteers. Keeping company with the dying is understood to be one way of fulfilling the halachic dictate that the dying should be treated as complete people, capable of fully engaging in human affairs.  Beyond that, providing succor to the family is clearly an aspect of tikkun olam.  Details:

What would Ruth deserve?

A woman harvests barley.

by Margo Schlanger

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