Report Back: “Community in Difficult Times”

community in difficult timesReported by Martha Kransdorf and Sallygeorge Wright

“Community in Difficult Times,” was a Jewish community-wide facilitated discussion hosted by the Jewish Community Center (JCC) on Thursday evening June 30th.  The purpose for the meeting, according to convener Karla Goldman (director, UM Jewish Communal Leadership Program), “was to create a space where people come together in community to be able to process recent events.  The catalyst was the Pulse tragedy in Orlando, which just seemed to combine so many different elements of the recent news: hate crime, hate speech, LGBTQ issues, immigration issues, gun violence and gun control, anti-Muslim rhetoric and terrorism issues in ways that cried out for response and yet no one has seemed to know how to respond.” About 65 people attended, taking advantage of this important opportunity to reflect about the tragedy in Orlando and the ongoing issues in this year’s election campaign.

Goldman, JCC President Prue Rosenthal,  and Hillel Director Tilly Shames, got things started.  They reviewed the meeting’s background and guidelines for the small discussions at each table.  Rabbi Kim Blumenthal helped establish the mood for the evening by leading us in “Hinei Ma Tov.”

We were reminded that each table had a facilitator, and needed to choose a note taker.  We were to respect different opinions, and each person’s privacy.  Individual’s remarks were not to be repeated afterward without permission from the person who made them.  And we could say “ouch” if something offended us.  There were three guiding questions for us to consider:

1)  What brought you here?

2)  What’s in your heart and on your mind?

3)  Is there something about this moment that calls upon us as Jews and as a Jewish community?

Report backs noted the need for education and outreach on issues including guns, mental health, and more. The need for concrete measures to show solidarity with LGBTQ and Hispanic populations were pointed out.  Examples included having social activities that would increase awareness of diversity in the community. People suggested an ad in a newspaper to express our outrage and concern about current developments, and publicity for efforts on gun control.  Final remarks focused on further get-togethers to look at where we might go from here.

The invitation to the meeting was issued by almost every part of the organized Jewish Community in Ann Arbor:  the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, the Jewish Communal Leadership Program, U of M’s Hillel, Jewish Federation of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, Beth Israel Congregation, Temple Beth Emeth, Jewish Cultural Society, Hebrew Day School, Jewish Family Services of  Washtenaw County, and the Orthodox Minyan.  According to AARC member Sallygeorge Wright,  the meeting was an important opportunity for people who had never met before, who were involved in different community groups, to find out what each other are already doing and to exchange ideas. Goldman summed up the outcome, “People at the event were happy that there was a way to come together as Jews for issues that were not centered on Jews but which mattered to us as Jews nevertheless.”

Rabbi Sara Adler closed the meeting with a beautiful Prayer for Peace that she had written. This prayer will be published in the forthcoming book, Not By Might, a publication by Rabbis Against Gun Violence and edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor.

Prayer for Peace
 
God of our mothers and fathers,
God of tenderness,
God of lovers, teachers and children,
may we see the day when love conquers fear
when compassion overrides judgment
and the echo of gunshot is heard no more.
 
Let a great peace wrap its arms around our country,
and hold us tight.
 
Unite us-- people of all races, religions,
orientations and identities
in a bond of true fellowship.
 
Teach us to respect difference
and take pride in one another.
 
Let us learn that diversity makes us stronger,
that the healthiest forests are filled
with a multitude of species and birdsong.
 
God on High, let us find consolation
and comfort under Your canopy of peace.
 
May the memories of those assaulted by violence
inspire us to mend our broken world.
 
Let us grind guns into garden tools,
bend our weapons into bridges.
 
May we learn war no more.
Come, let us write a new covenant of kindness
an end to the flood of tears.
 
Seal this promise in the sky,
a rainbow to part the clouds.
 

Rabbi Sara O’Donnell Adler is a chaplain at UM Health System. She was ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1999 and received her
Clinical Pastoral Education at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. Prior to joining the staff of UMHS in 2008, Rabbi Sara worked as one of the rabbis with the
MetroWest Jewish Health and Healing Center in West Orange, NJ.

Two ads from this month’s Washtenaw Jewish News

AARC and Food, Land & Justice both had ads in the June/July/Aug. 2016 Washtenaw Jewish News.  Lots to tell the world about!

AARC-WJN-June_2016_2016-05-20-FINAL

 

HazonFoodFest-ad-for-WJN-bothLogos

T’ruah’s new Handbook for Jewish Communities Fighting Mass Incarceration

Jewish Protest Signs

T’ruah has just published a Handbook for Jewish Communities Fighting Mass Incarceration.  I’ve been waiting for months for it to be available–171 pages of facts, figures, stories, strategies, and inspiration for Jewish communities who want to help end American mass incarceration.  There are 2.3 million people behind bars in American jails and prisons tonight–2 million more than when I was born.  Treating people like throwaways tramples on so much of what Judaism teaches; it is inconsistent with recognition of godliness in family, neighbors, and strangers alike.  I’m really happy to have this resource to help communities like ours think about whether we can be part of the opposition.

For each topic the handbook covers–and there are dozens, including Poverty and Mass Incarceration, School to Prison Pipeline, Prison Labor, Solitary Confinement, Barriers to Reentry–it offers statistics and background, relevant Jewish texts, and contemporary accounts.  It includes materials for text study (I’m really proud that one of the study units is based on a d’var torah about Jonah I wrote for AARC’s Yom Kippur service in 2013).  And it has suggestions for Jewish community action.

I was particularly moved by some of the advice the handbook give rabbis:

Here are some of the ways in which we can draw on our Jewish wisdom to help change the narrative:

  • Move the conversation away from “how do we punish” to “how can we facilitate teshuvah?”
  • Break down the false dichotomy between victims and perpetrators; acknowledge that all of us may be both at one point or another in our lives, and that society must protect all of us.
  • Have honest conversations within your communities, in interfaith groups, and in public about race and its impact on incarceration.
  • If you’ve visited congregants or other people in prison, or served as a prison chaplain, talk about these experiences (without sacrificing confidentiality, of course). Help your community see incarcerated individuals as creations b’tzelem Elohim—in the divine image.
  • Talk about the ways in which other societal issues that your community may encounter through your social action work can have an impact on imprisonment, or can be affected by imprisonment.
  • Speak openly about mental illness. This will both make your community feel safer for members living with mental illness or dealing with mentally ill family members, and will also allow for conversations about the relationship between mental illness and incarceration.
  • Offer a prophetic vision of what could be. Don’t let people wallow in despair—show a vision of how we can move forward.

I’ve been struggling, a little bit, with how to join up my own personal commitment to criminal justice reform with my Jewishness. I feel better equipped now that I’ve read this handbook, so I wanted to share it with my community.

Purim Gifts: Welcome Baskets for Refugee Families

welcome basketAARC Beit Sefer teacher Sharon Alvandi is a student in the UMich Jewish Communal Leadership Program, and an intern at Jewish Family Service learning to work with refugee families. Sharon has been very inspired by our AARC congregation, particularly the ways that the Beit Sefer students, parents and other community members come together to share learning and activities, investing in the character of the children. Through her work with JFS, Sharon is organizing a way for us to practice the mitzvot of Purim, giving gifts of tasty treats to one another/mishloach manot, and gifts to the poor/mattanot le-evyonim (for more about how these two mitzvot are related see this). Sharon writes:

There are many reasons to celebrate Purim and sort through a narrative that’s truly unlike any other in Jewish scripture. On Purim- the holiday of “lots”- we celebrate more than simply the idea of chance. When we listen to Esther’s story, we collectively celebrate character, resolve, and integrity. By presenting her true self–her Jewish self–to king Ahasuerus to appeal for the fate of the Jewish people of Shushan (present day Susa, Iran), Esther is a model of advocacy for herself and others. As a developing social worker, this story helps me think  about what it takes to act in a way that integrates all parts of who I am.

Purim also commemorates what it means to survive genocide or the threat of genocide. Each day when I work at JFS, I have the opportunity to observe the strength of character of the clients and the meticulous work of the case managers to serve a community of refugees in making the best choices in their first days in the U.S.   

JFS has resettled over 350 refugees since 2009.  Countries range from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iran, Syria, and Burma. JFS is set to resettle 150 individuals by October 1, 2016. AARC can help with the resettlement of families by joining with JFS  to assemble and donate Welcome Baskets for refugee families in Washtenaw County. We can do more than discuss violence that is taking place abroad. We can  welcome those in our community who have found refuge in a new place. This Purim, we can help make a space of comfort for their true selves.

Sharon has put together a list of personal care and household items the new families need upon arrival to set up their new homes. Check with this registry to see what is needed. We ask that you buy these items new and when you have, check off the registry. We will assemble the Welcome Baskets some time during the Purim Shabbaton March 25-27.

Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton

TreeOur Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton was a great success.  Read all about the text study here, and the seder here.

 

 


 

We’re excited to announce a Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton, the weekend of Jan. 22, with three events, all led by visiting Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, Rabbi Emeritus of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism. The Shabbaton will be environmentally-themed throughout.

 

  1. Our regular Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat service and potluck, at the JCC.  This will start with a Tot Shabbat gathering for preschoolers and their families, at 5:45 pm.  Childcare (and pizza for the kids) are available starting 6:15.  (RSVP to Clare Kinberg for either or both.) The service starts at 6:30.  Bring something for the vegetarian potluck dinner that follows.
  2. Saturday text study and discussion: 4 pm
  3. Saturday Tu B’Shevat Seder: 5:30 pm.  With vegetarian supper.  Free, but reservations are required.  RSVP at http://shabbaton-FoodLandJustice.eventbrite.com.  Note: there will be a separate kid-friendly event at the same time, done in time for its participants to join the full group for supper.

Rabbi Strassfeld explains: “The classic Jewish texts about the environment [Deuteronomy 20:19-20; Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8, 10] prohibit the wanton destruction of nature. The stress on wanton destruction implies that the destruction of natural resources is permissible if it benefits human beings. For the text study on Shabbat, we will study other Jewish texts to see how Judaism can help us to create a contemporary environmental ethic rooted in the value of all things.”

The Tu B’Shevat seder that will follow is structured around eating of four different kinds of fruit, coupled with readings, songs and kavanot/reflections. The  Kabbalists of Safed created a Tu B’Shevat seder in the 17th century, loosely modeled on the Passover seder. Over the past several decades, Jews across the world have used Tu B’Shevat as a time to focus on the environment. Rabbi Strassfeld notes, “Our Tu B’Shevat seder will combine the focus on personal growth of the Jewish mystics with contemporary ecological concerns.”  Detroit’s Congregation T’Chiyah and its Rabbi, Alana Alpert, will be joining the Ann Arbor community for the seder, as will several Hazon Detroit fellows.

The events are co-sponsored by AARC and the Jewish Alliance for Food, Land, & Justice.  They are a continuation from last year’s year-long exploration of the teachings of Shmita, and are funded by an impact grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor.  AARC and the Alliance welcome all community members to join any or all these Shabbaton activities; the events are free, but online registration is required.

Our flyer is below.  Please feel free to download, print and share it!

2015-12-Shabbaton-ad

MJ_Strassfeld_photo-B&WRabbi Michael Strassfeld is the author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books and articles, including three versions of the Jewish Catalog, A Shabbat Haggadah: Ritual and Study Texts for the Home; and Jewish Holidays, a guide to the holidays used in many Jewish households.  Since the 1973 appearance of the first Jewish Catalog, subtitled “a do it yourself kit,” Rabbi Strassfeld’s books have been the go-to publications for progressive American Jews seeking explanations, contemporary readings, and resources relating to traditions and holidays.

 

 

Harvesting Jewish learning to nurture an environmental ethic

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld leads Tu B'Shevat Text Study

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld leads Tu B’Shevat Text Study

Yesterday, AARC and the Jewish Alliance for Food, Land, and Justice hosted 50 people for two lovely events, led by our visiting Rabbi, Michael Strassfeld.  Tu B’Shevat–the “birthday of the trees”–provided us a great occasion to focus for the weekend on Judaism and the environment.

Another post will talk about the Tu B’Shevat seder.  In this one, I want to share with people who couldn’t make it to the afternoon text study some of the passages and insights offered by Rabbi Michael.

We started with two verses from Deuteronomy (20:19-20):

When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees may you destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls.

It’s an interesting passage, with several ideas in it.  For starters, the text suggests that even in war, ethical constraints remain–and not just the most urgent ethical constraints, dealing directly with human lives.  Fruit trees take many years to grow, and of course they are important sources of food.  So this rule against their destruction may be founded on the obligations the current generation has to the future.

It’s a limited point, though; the explicit permission to use other, non-fruit-bearing, trees as battering rams and so on makes that clear.  This is not a modern environmentalism; it’s expressing something narrower. Still, we learned, Maimonides extended the concept somewhat:

It is forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees outside a (besieged) city, nor may a water channel be deflected from them so that they wither. . . . [This applies] not only to cutting it down during a siege, but whenever a fruit-yielding tree is cut down with destructive intent.  . . . It may be cut down, however, if it causes damage to other trees or to a field belonging to another man or if its value for other purposes is greater (than that of the fruit it produces).  The Law forbids only wanton destruction.  . . . Not only one who cuts down (fruit-producing) trees, but also one who smashes household good, tears cloths, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys aricles of food with destructive intent, transgresses the command Thou shalt not destroy (bal tashit). 

So according to Maimonides, the passage in Deuteronomy amounts to a comprehensive ethical ban on “wanton destruction,” whether in time of war or not, whether of a fruit tree or something else.  This is broader, for sure–but still very limited.  It reaches only wanton destruction: destruction that is for no appropriate purpose.  And the focus remains on present-day human purposes.  It seems to me the passage from Maimonides doesn’t quite capture the cross-generational insight from the original Torah passage.  But that’s what we moved to next. [Read more…]

MLK Day and the Ten Commandments

by Margo Schlanger

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Monday January 18, 2016 , I got together with the Beit Sefer kids the day before, to talk about the Torah and civil rights.

We started with this picture:

Martin Luther King, Jr, with Rabbis Maurice Eisendrath and Abraham Joshua Heschel

Martin Luther King, Jr., R. Maurice Eisendrath and R. Abraham Joshua Heschel, on the March from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, March 1965.

I asked the students what the Civil Rights movement was about.  They talked about African Americans’ claims on equality–voting, jobs, buses, restaurants, and more.

So why did Rabbi Eisendrath think it was important not just to carry the Torah during the Selma march in 1965, but for the Torah’s mantle to show the Ten Commandments?  We looked together at the commandments, focusing on the “Don’t” commandments, illustrated on the Torah mantle with the Hebrew word “לא” (lo — “no” or “don’t”).

Our conversation was mostly about three of the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie about important things (“bear false witness against your neighbor”).

What do these commandments have in common? Some people think we can develop from them (and the others in the ten) a full statement of the requirements of a moral life.  But so many things are left out.  If we can deduce a principle behind these commandments, maybe that principle can help.

The students first developed a “results-oriented” justification.  Who would want to live in a world where other people were allowed to murder and steal? they asked.  Then they moved to the justification that ties the Ten Commandments to civil rights–equality.  You don’t kill people, or steal from them, or lie to them, they said, because those other people are equal to you.  Their lives matter, their stuff matters, their feelings matter.

In other words, the students ended up in the same place as Rabbi Hillel.  We each stood on one foot while I repeated the Talmudic story:

Once there was a non-Jew who told Rabbi Hillel that he was thinking about converting to Judaism, but first, he wanted to know everything he needed to know, while he stood on one foot.  And so Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is explanation.”

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.

Refugee Thanksgiving

Like so many others, I have been devastated by the images and stories of Syrian refugees that are everywhere in the news.  And equally devastated by the ugly absence of compassion from too many politicians.  It will be to our country’s great shame if we do not do better in the weeks and months ahead.  Thanksgiving is the refugee holiday; the ritual celebration of safe arrival.  So I wanted to pass along to our community three readings from Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (the Recon national umbrella group) for our Thanksgiving tables — to remember our highest aspirations and inspire our capacious empathy.

I give thanks for our wonderful community.

Intro:

We pause before our set table. We are deeply grateful. Life holds no guarantees. And still: we are not huddled into a refugee camp in southeast Turkey nor jammed ten to a room in a crowded apartment in Berlin. We are not suffering the northern Mexico heat while waiting to cross, not sleeping in a field in Serbia, not waking up at a way station in Sweden. We are not on a boat, praying we’ll reach a distant shore alive. In our many ways, we have made it to the other side. We pause and take a breath. Some face extraordinary violence, and we don’t. Some go hungry, and the table before us holds an overflowing, to-some-eyes almost unimaginable bounty.

The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands,your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.” Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

A Thanksgiving Prayer, by Rabbi Naomi Levy

For the laughter of the children,
For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,
For the roof over our heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our health,
And our wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,
For the freedom to pray these words
Without fear,
In any language,
In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen

 

More information 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.