Search Results for: omer

Passover and Counting the Omer

By: Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Beginning the second night of Passover, Jews around the world will begin counting the omer. The omer is counted every day for 7 weeks, ending with the holiday of Shavuot.

The 49 day-period between Passover and Shavuot marks two kinds of movement through time: the period of time between the first barley offering and the first wheat offering during the Temple era, and the transition from slavery to spiritual liberation.

During the Passover seder we recall the moment when our ancestors took their freedom. Although the Exodus happened in a matter of hours (hence the under-cooked matzah), Jewish tradition teaches that it took considerably longer for the Israelites to truly feel free; only once they received the Torah on Shavuot were the Israelites able to conceive of their role in redemption.

In Michigan, we’re far away from the wheat and barley harvests of Israel, as well as far from the experience of being enslaved. But as spring unfolds for us, counting the omer can help us shake off the stiffness of winter and recommit to the work of tikkun hanefesh (healing the soul) and tikkun olam (healing the world).

Some resources for counting the omer this year:

A brief meditation and exercise for each day from Rabbi Simon Jacobson

Daily themes from a variety of writers on RitualWell

More apps, books, and websites to help you count the omer

Jewish Time: Counting the Omer and the 19 Year Cycle

By Clare Kinberg

8d87b6c94cb0063ffae44d8ad207432fBecause my brother, Rabbi Myron Kinberg (his name is a blessing) died on April 19, 1996, which was the 30th of Nissan, I learned this year about the 19-year cycle of the Jewish calendar. This year, for the first time since he died 19 years ago, the secular date and the Hebrew date of his yahrtzeit coincided. This got me thinking about Jewish time. I knew that the Jewish calendar is a lunar-solar calendar; now I’m trying to come closer to (even a little) understanding of what that means. In astronomy, there is a natural 19-year cycle between the sun and the moon, called the Metonic Cycle. Every 19 years, or approximately 6940 days, the moon will have gone through 235 complete phase rotations, making the day of the month and day of the year the same. The Gregorian calendar uses 12-months in a year; 19 years of 12 months gives us 228 total months. The 228 months are seven less than the required 235 months of the Metonic Cycle. In the modern Hebrew calendar, the extra seven months are added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years. During those “leap” years, the Hebrew calendar has 13 months. Perhaps the mathematicians among us will take some time to further explain this to me next time we meet!

There is another reason I am thinking about Jewish time. As I write this on April 21, the 2nd of Iyyar, it is the 17th day of counting the Omer, the Jewish ritual of counting the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. There are many ways to think about these seven weeks. In an agricultural sense, it is the time between the early spring planting of the barley and its harvest, reminding us of our roots as an agricultural society. In a literary, metaphorical sense, the 49 days of the Omer is the time in which we entered the desert, crossed the sea, rejoiced, got thirsty and hungry, followed the cloud and stood at the foot of a mountain learning how to continue on as a people. Jewish mystics attended to these days as an inner journey. Rabbi Yael Levy explains the connections among all this in a beautiful Huffpost blog. On the last day of counting the Omer this year, May 22nd, we will be together for a special fourth Friday Shabbat potluck and dance party to honor and send off Rabbi Michal. The next day, Shavuot, will offer another opportunity to get together and study. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) is remembered as saying that the “catechism” of the Jews, our educational maxim, is our calendar. Our practice, our beliefs, our history, our spirituality all have expression in the days, weeks and months of the yearly cycle. Jewish time will be among the things I will be thinking about this Shavuot.

What Does it Mean To Be Welcoming: Appropriate Touch and Consent

By Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

As a people, Jews are pretty hands-on—literally. Some of us greet each other with kisses; some hug to offer condolences or support; many of us gesticulate when we talk. The hands-on approach extends to our sacred objects, such as touching the Torah’s mantle on Shabbat or kissing our fingers after touching a mezuzah.

In our congregation, touch is woven into the fabric of our community. On Friday nights we invite everyone to “touch the challah or touch someone who’s touching the challah.” At the conclusion of Friday night services, we put our arms around one another and bless our family and friends. During Havdalah, we sway together in a circle. Even in passing, some of us hug hello and goodbye.

Touch has the power to nourish and comfort, to stabilize, and to share strength. We know that touch is vital to our emotional and even physical wellbeing. Yet it is equally important to acknowledge that touch is not always welcomed, even in congregations that experience connection and holiness in embodied ways. 

The value of being welcoming is at the core of our congregation. So how do we make sure that everyone feels safe when we reach out (literally and metaphorically) to one another? 

This can look like asking, “Can I put my hand on your shoulder?” and then acting on the reply. But it’s not just that: it won’t work unless we can hear a “no” without experiencing it as judgment or rejection. It also requires us to name our boundaries. We need to get comfortable saying things like, “Thank you for asking; I’d rather not be touched,” or “I’m not comfortable with your hand on my waist; please touch my shoulder instead.”

This is challenging work. Reacting to a “no” with grace and acceptance requires both gentleness and a leaning into our Chesed side. Saying “no” requires a lot of Gevurah, as well as trust that we’ll be heard. It’s challenging, but it’s vital for creating holy community together.

In thinking about values around welcoming and welcomed touch, I was inspired by an unlikely source: the ultra-Orthodox custom of shomer negiah. This phrase literally translates as “being watchful” (shomer) in matters of touch (negiah), but the phrase has come to refer to the custom of avoiding direct physical contact with members of the opposite sex. 

I feel some discomfort with Orthodoxy’s ideology and praxis of shomer negiah, not least because it tends to turn women into objects of desire and reinforces a binaried view of gender. But there is also something beautiful in the root concept of shomer negiah: taking a moment to think about the person we’re about to reach out to.

A commitment to shomer negiah Recon-style would mean a commitment to forethought, imagination, honesty, and respect. In taking care with our touch, we are better able to take care of ourselves and each other. 

Moving forward, I want to commit to asking you before I hug you or touch your shoulder. If I forget, or I touch you in a way that causes unease, I hope you will feel comfortable reminding me. 

This is the opening of a discussion, rather than the definitive word. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can be transparent and caring as we navigate being embodied and in community together. May we be blessed to continue cocreating trust, affection, and welcoming for all.

What Does it Mean To Be Welcoming: Gender Inclusivity

This blog post is the first in a three-part series exploring what it means for a congregation to be truly welcoming. Each week we will explore a different topic: gender inclusivity, welcoming people of all (dis)abilities, and appropriate touch.

Walking into a place of worship, it’s possible to take our welcome for granted, but that has not always been the case (and continues not to be, in some communities) for LGBTQIA and genderqueer/non-binary Jews. For those of us who are not cisgender, entering new spaces can cause us to feel uncertain how we will be treated. While a community might fervently believe that it is accepting of others, newcomers might not perceive this spirit of acceptance without gestures of explicit welcome.

Since biblical times, Jews have carried on a tradition of engaging with various expressions of gender. In fact, Jewish texts contain references to six different genders.

  • Androgenos – one who has both male and female characteristics
  • Tumtum – one of uncertain or undecided gender
  • Aylonit – one who is born female and transitions to male
  • Saris – one who is born male and transitions to female
  • Male – male biology and identifying
  • Female – female biology and identifying

Because Modern English typically insists upon gendered personal pronouns, we can find ourselves searching for workarounds to accommodate cultural understandings of genders beyond “he” and “she.” Modern English usage often leads us to pause mid-sentence or mid-thought to reconsider the assumptions about gender we are about to make. Just as our Jewish ancestors developed a lexicon to include various expressions of gender, we must do the same in our language.

If we wish to be more welcoming, being mindful of pronoun preferences is a good place to start. When we introduce ourselves, we might add our own chosen pronoun; for example, “Hi, my name is Gillian, you can use she/her pronouns when referring to me.” When we introduce someone new, we might say, “Sally this is Newbie; Newbie – what pronouns do you prefer?” This signals that we are not taking our gender expressions for granted and welcome others to do the same.

AARC will be offering pronoun stickers to add to our member name tags. These little stickers will help all of us avoid any assumptions and assure a special welcome to those whose pronouns are often misused. The new stickers will be on the welcome table beginning at this Friday’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Jewish history is overrun with accounts of our people rendered powerless, discriminated against, and treated as second class citizens. As Jews, we have an obligation to ensure that other marginalized communities never have to face these obstacles when engaging with us. It is in this spirit that I welcome you to practice this new way of interacting with gender and incorporate it into our community when welcoming guests and visitors to our congregation.

What is Tikkun Leil Shavuot?

By Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

The evening of Shavuot finds Jews around the world gathering in synagogues and learning through the night, often fueled by coffee and cheesecake.

This practice of all-night Torah study is known as ‘tikkun leil Shavuot.’ The tradition dates back to 16th century Tzfat; it’s said that the famous kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (more commonly known as the Ari) instituted the practice as a ‘tikkun’ – correction or repair – for an ancient error.

‘Tikkun’ is a familiar first half of the modern phrase ‘tikkun olam’ – that is, healing or repairing the world through acts of social, political, and climate justice. But what breach are we repairing on the night (‘leil’) of Shavuot?

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites following 49 days of rigorous spiritual preparation (the Omer). According to one midrash, the night before the giving of the Torah, the Israelites did what anyone tries to do before an important event – they turned in early for a good night’s sleep. This seemingly innocent decision, however, led to embarrassing consequences. The next morning, when it came time for the Torah to be given, the base of Mount Sinai was empty. The entire Jewish people had slept in. The midrash even recounts that Moses had to wake the Israelites with a shofar, causing G-d to lament, “Why have I come and no one is here to receive me?” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:12b)

In order to rectify this ancient mistake, the Ari instituted a custom of all-night learning: we remain awake to show that, unlike our heavy-lidded ancestors at Sinai, we are ready to receive Torah and God.

This midrash may not sit comfortably with all of us. Maybe we don’t like the idea of being burdened by our ancestor’s errors, or maybe we simply want to be motivated to learn by something other than correction.

It’s customary to learn from the Oral Torah (Mishnah and Talmud) on Shavuot, rather than from the Torah itself. I think there’s a lesson here: in coming together to learn on Shavuot, we’re doing more than simply correcting an ancient mistake; we are adding our voices to a millenia-old tradition of oral learning, interpretation, and argumentation. On Shavuot, we add to our tradition by offering each other new pathways to accessing wisdom. In this sense, every Shavuot we who learn are contributing to ‘tikkun olam’ – to repairing the frayed threads of our world.

What is AARC up to for Shavuot?

Tikkun Leil Shavuot Special: Kehillat Israel Comes to Ann Arbor!

Saturday, June 8

This year we will enjoy a special celebration for Shavuot in collaboration with members of Kehillat Israel, the Reconstructionist congregation in Lansing.

Kehillat Israel members will spend the afternoon exploring Ann Arbor, and have invited us to join them! If you’d like to participate in an ecological study walk in the Arb led by Rabbi Michael Zimmerman (4-5 pm) and an early dinner at Zingermans (5:15-6:15 pm), sign up here.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot (6:30-9:30 pm at the JCC) will have multiple learning opportunities for adults and teens-and-tweens (Grade 5 and up).

The schedule for adults is:     

 6:15 pm – Gather at the JCC

6:30-7:30 pm – Choose 1 of 2 study sessions    

7:30-8:00 pm – Cheesecake and schmoozing    

8:00-9:00 pm – Choose 1 of 2 study sessions    

9:00-9:30 pm – Jewish summer camp-style Havdalah (led by our teens)

Tentative list of adult ed sessions:    

Ken Harrow – The Events at Sinai    

Rabbi Michael Zimmerman – The Torah of the Green New Deal    

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner – Abortion and Judaism   

Clare Kinberg – Jewish Time

The schedule for teens:

Games, food, fun and a play! Concurrent to the adult study session on Shavuot, we will have two sessions for young people, ages ~ 9- 16. Our Beit Sefer G’dolim class created two pin ball games that are ready to roll! There is a puzzle board game special for Shavuot, a skit and planning for an end of the evening Havdalah. Beit Sefer G’dolim teacher Aaron Jackson will be leading the youth along with teachers from KI in Lansing. Bring the kids for a fun evening, with some learning, too!

If you plan on attending the Shavuot program, please sign up here. If your tween/teen plans on attending, please sign them up here.

Reconstructing Judaism: Convention Report

Last week, November 15-18, 2018 I joined over 700 Reconstructionists from around the world for an outstanding convention which was titled and themed “Deeply Rooted. Boldly Relevant.” The spirit at Kabbalat Shabbat and havdallah was really sweet and enveloping, I saw many old friends and made some new ones. Below is a short report on the sessions I attended. Your comments and questions are welcome.

Joint Israel Commission (JIC)

The Joint Israel Commission is made of 22 representatives of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, rabbinical students, and lay members (including me) of the movement (these three different constituencies account for the “joint” designation). We met for six hours on Thursday November 15. The JIC was deliberately constituted to include people who hold the widest range of views within the Reconstructionist movement, which means including supporters of the Israeli Defense Force and AIPAC on the more conservative end to Jewish Voice for Peace and anti-Zionism on the other end of the spectrum, with of course, a big middle bulge around the J Street positions.  Our challenge as a commission is to advise Reconstructing Judaism on ways that our movement, open to members with all of these points of view, can move, grow and act. In addition to the JIC meeting, I attended a “listening session” in which about 40 people were invited to express what they thought the JIC should be doing while we, the commission members, listened, recorded and took notes.

There are four clusters of activities JIC will be engaged in over the next 3 years.

  • Thinking and Writing about Israel and Zionism which includes curating articles or books that we’d recommend as bases for congregational discussions.
  • Recommending best-practices for creating “civil discourse,” that is holding congregational discussions about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in which each participant can express themselves, learn from others, and evolve.
  • Enhancing reciprocal relationships between our congregations and Israeli “Renaissance” groups (those exploring creative Judaism, the arts, and organizing for social justice, etc) and groups or individuals working on shared society, Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation and resolution of the conflict.
  • Curating and recommending adult and youth curriculum on Israel and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
RENA (Reconstructionist Educators of North America)

Membership in RENA is limited to current and past directors of education of Reconstructionist schools. I went to two RENA sessions. One was on teaching Israel and the other was led by the master Reconstructionist educator Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Schein, Senior Education Consultant for the Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood. The session featured presentations by curriculum innovators on: outdoor education, teaching Hebrew in small groups outside of the classroom, building whole school curriculum around practice of middot (Jewish ethical values), and grief and suicide prevention. I was also introduced to “Kaplanian Report Card: An Evaluation Tool for Jewish Education,” which grades each lesson for transmission of five qualities:

  1. Understand and Appreciate Hebrew, Language and, Literature
  2. Practice Jewish Ethical and Religious Values
  3. Participate in Jewish Life
  4. Give Artistic Expression to Jewish Values
  5. Cultivate Jewish Ideals and Role Models
Congregational Programs on Racism and White Supremacy

This terrific session described programs of two different congregations, The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston and Adat Shalom, near Washington, DC. The JRC program was a “Racial Injustice Trip to Montgomery, AL” where 29 congregants went together to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. The Adat Shalom program was a six session “Racial Justice Discussion Group” that over 60 people attended. They watched videos and had structured discussions on “White Privilege and Implicit Bias,” “The History of Racism in the U.S,”  “Wealth Disparity,” and “Racial Bias in the U.S. Justice System,” and then held two “Reflection and Next Steps” sessions. Here is a link to the reading and viewing lists.

Muslim-Jewish Women’s Dialogue Encountering Sarah and Hajar

Finally, I went to a session led by Rabbi Nancy Kreimer, who teaches at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Professor Homayra Ziad, a professor of Islam at Johns Hopkins University. They led us in discussion of sections from the Torah and the Qu’ran that both tell stories of Sarah, Abraham, Hajar and their sons Isaac and Ismail, looking at similarities and differences in texts and commentaries.

 

Making a Habit of Tenderness

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Yom Kippur 5779 Sermon
by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Making a Habit of Tenderness

Some of you know that before I moved to Ann Arbor to serve as rabbi of this holy community, I worked as a chaplain at a hospital in New Orleans. I was assigned to the oncology ward, so my weekdays, 8 to 5, were spent with cancer patients and their families. But at least once a week I would also work an overnight shift, which meant covering any death that happened in the hospital over a 24-hour period.

I ended up witnessing a lot of deaths – sometimes one per shift, occasionally as many as three. I rarely had time in the immediate aftermath of each death to grieve or process. But it was my job to show up, fully present, each time I walked into a hospital room. So I developed a ritual for myself: After each death, once the family had left the room and the body was taken away, I would take a few moments, alone, to wash my hands twice; first with soap and water, and then again, just water. It felt like this small ritual helped wash away some of the emotional residue that clung to me, so that I could show up for the next patient and family, with an open heart.

One patient who I remember vividly, in life and in death, was a man called Mikal (pseudonym)  in his early 60s. He was the proud patriarch of a large, loud, Armenian Orthodox family. He’d emigrated to New Orleans in the 1970s, raised a son and daughter there, and established a successful jewelry business.

During the two months Mikal spent coming in and out of the hospital for treatment, I could always tell when he’d been admitted because there would a stream of visitors – family, friends, customers – spilling out of his hospital room into the hallway, laughing and talking animatedly and bothering the nurses for more fridge space in the lounge to store dishes of homemade food they’d brought.

Mikal had an aggressive form of cancer, but he was a dedicated optimist. He never admitted, at least to me, that he was dying. But he passed quickly, within a few months of his diagnosis.

The morning that Mikal passed away, I’d just started my shift when I got a call from the head nurse telling me that Mikal had just died, surrounded by his family. When I walked into the hospital room, I saw Mikal’s 32-year-old daughter Tamar lying in bed next to her father’s body. Her right arm spanned her father’s chest, and she was kissing his cheek again and again and crying.

One thing I discovered in my work as a chaplain is that the length of time family will stay with the body of a loved one varies tremendously from family to family and culture to culture.

Most families will leave within an hour of their loved one being pronounced dead.  Tamar stayed with her father’s body, cradling him and crying, for more than four hours.

And I stayed with them in that room the whole time, because that was my job, to be there, to witness, to comfort. But I was uncomfortable. Because as a Jew, that kind of clinging to a dead body felt foreign and unsettling to me.

The Torah cautions us repeatedly not to touch a dead body, because it makes the living ritually impure. Many passages in Leviticus and Numbers warn against any contact with a corpse, and then outline how to cleanse oneself if contact does accidentally happen. But beyond these biblical, archaic prohibitions, even contemporary Jewish practices around death seem to communicate a hands-off feeling.

When someone dies, we bury their body as quickly as possible. After a funeral, all those who’ve attended are supposed to wash their hands as they leave the cemetery. And when Jews walk through a cemetery, we’re supposed to take care not to walk across any graves. So it seems like as Jews, we’re supposed to avoid contact with the dead.

But: this attitude doesn’t reflect the fullness of our traditions around death and mourning. Judaism also has a number of rituals that demonstrate deep tenderness towards the dead – rituals that seem to encourage care and physical closeness. I want to highlight four of these.

The first is the custom of the shomer – guard, watchman. After a Jewish person dies, their body is taken to a funeral home, where a relative, or a volunteer, or an employee of the funeral home sits with the body overnight and reads poetry out loud to it – usually Psalms. This ancient tradition came about because of the belief that a soul could become lost and confused right after death, and hover around the body until it was buried. The presence of the shomer was meant to be a comfort to the soul. And there is always a shomer until the funeral – the body is never left alone.

The second custom also takes place before burial, and involves a group called the chevrah kedisha, a community of volunteers that prepares bodies for burial. The preparation, known as tahara, is fixed, slow, and careful. First the body is ritually washed. As it’s washed, care is taken to preserve its modesty; only one small section of the body is uncovered at any given time. Then the body is dressed in white garments, wrapped in a tallit, and laid in a casket. At the conclusion of the tahara, the members of chevrah kedisha silently ask forgiveness from the soul for any indignity the body may have suffered during the ritual. They then ask God to gently receive the soul of the body they’ve just washed and dressed and tucked in.

The third custom I want to highlight is a more public-facing one: how relatives recite Mourner’s Kaddish for a year after a loved one’s death. This tradition dates back almost 2,000 years. The early rabbis believed that when a person died, their soul would go down to Gehinnom, a temporary purgatory. There, the soul would review their life’s actions and do teshuva. The more sins a person had accumulated in life, the longer their soul would stay in Gehinnom, with the maximum time being 12 months before the soul could finally ascend to heaven.

It was believed that having living relatives recite Kaddish could help speed up the soul’s process of teshuva. Some rabbis recommended that relatives stop reciting Kaddish after 11 months – to assume that their loved one had already ascended to heaven, and had not been so sinful as to have needed the full 12 months.

The final custom I want to share with you is that of visiting the graves of loved ones on yahrzeits and before holidays. Many Jewish families will take a yearly trip to the cemetery before Rosh HaShana and spend some time at each family member’s grave. At the end of the visit they’ll place a small rock on each gravestone, a way of marking ‘I was here’.

All of these rituals fall under the umbrella term ‘chesed shel emet.’ Chesed – meaning lovingkindess. And Shel Emet – meaning truth. Our tradition teaches us, with this name, that these acts of loving care for the dead are the truest form of compassion. Why? It’s simple: The dead will never be able to do the same for us in return. Chesed shel emet is considered true altruism.

What does all this have to do with Yom Kippur? Well, last night and this morning, we’ve been repeating the Vidui and Al Chet, doing teshuvah for this past year. And, as Dave said so eloquently last night, even as we reflect on the past, we’re also meant to be thinking about the future.

Audre Lorde once wrote: ‘We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes habit.’ I’m wondering what it would be like, in the coming year, for us to reach for the delicacy and tenderness of chesed shel emet. Not, God forbid, treating the living as though they’re dead. But seeing if we can be so tender with one another, and without waiting for our gentleness to be returned.

So what would our day-to-day look like, guided by the tenderness of the rituals I just described?

Well: The shomer serves a comforting presence to a soul that may be lost, disoriented, or afraid. And of course being a shomer isn’t easy, or joyful; sitting up at night, alone with a dead body is hard. But what if, similar to a shomer, we challenge ourselves to radical accompaniment: to sitting with friends and strangers and family, even when their vulnerability or their need makes us uncomfortable. Can we show up and stay there in the messiness, even if it makes us afraid? Can we show up knowing we might not be thanked or appreciated?

And the chevra kedisha, performing tahara, the ritual of cleansing the body, with so much gentleness and respect. We could treat each other with the most delicate of touches, knowing how easy it is to cause shame or embarrassment. Knowing that sometimes we’ll still need to apologize even when we’ve done our best.

And, guided by Mourner’s Kaddish? We would assume positive intent in others. We’d believe that if a person hurt us, that they’d been doing the best they could at that moment. We’d limit how long we held grudges, held onto hurt. And we’d try to believe that even if the apology never came, that the person who hurt us was, on some level, sorry.

And finally, graveyard visits: Literally, visiting people where they’re at. What if we showed up, from time to time, uninvited, on each other’s doorsteps, bringing a gift, leaving a note, reminding someone we care about: Hey. I’ve been thinking about you.

It’s so freeing to act out of love without needing it to be returned. This kind of chesed, tender loving kindness, can transform the person who loves and the person who is loved.

This new year, 5779, can we love like this? Can we take up Audre Lorde’s challenge to reach for tenderness until it becomes habit?

On Erev Rosh HaShana, I said to you: ‘If we choose life then we are obligated to remember that although daily acts of love do not win headlines love has always existed, it does exist, and it will continue to exist. Love is an endlessly renewing resource.’

And, this afternoon, I want to add: More than just a resource like water, more than that which flows from us and to us and through us, love – chesed – is the foundation of this world. Love is the ground that we build and rebuild with each gesture, with every small act.

One of my favourite Hebrew songs is called Olam Chesed Yibaneh. The lyrics are just these three words, repeated. Olam Chesed Yibaneh. Meaning: we will build this world from love.

Let’s hold onto this possibility for ourselves, and for one another. Olam chesed yibaneh – we can build this world out of love.

Join me.

Misheberakh for the State and People of Israel: Rabbi Ascherman visits Ann Arbor

 By Martha Kransdorf

In the first week of May, Israeli-American human rights activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman returned to Ann Arbor on a speaking and fundraising tour. My co-pilot, Harvey Somers, and I were the anchor people for his visit here. We’d like to first of all thank AARC for their support and to thank all of the co-sponsors for the May 2 JCC Fundraising Dinner and Community Forum: Beth Israel’s Social Action Committee, Jewish Cultural Society, Pardes Hannah, & Temple Beth Emeth. In addition to Rabbi Ora, rabbis from each of the other congregations were present, and took part in the evening’s program.

Rabbi Ascherman was the head of Rabbis for Human Rights for 21 years, and last fall he founded a new organization, Torat Tzedek, Torah of Justice. At the Community Forum, he described some of the current issues that he is working on, and the list is long and quite moving. His work ranges from meeting with lawyers and interviewing people who have been threatened by settlers, to lobbying at the Knesset on behalf of poor Israelis, to helping Arab shepherds hold onto their flocks when settlers frighten them and scare them away. Torat Tzedek has also been involved helping African refugees fight the Israeli government’s efforts to deport them and helping Bedouin communities hold on to their way of life.

Rabbi Ascherman’s courage and commitment have not wavered. He won’t throw in the towel. He admits that he is somewhat less optimistic than he has been in the past, but his response is to roll up his sleeves and work harder. He urges us, similarly, to react with urgency by becoming more active.

In addition to speaking at the JCC, Rabbi Ascherman spoke at Shir Tikvah in Troy, and he led text studies at Lunch & Learn programs at TBE and at Kehillat Israel in Lansing. His visit wrapped up with an “Open House” at BIC. A busy week, by any account. We are grateful to our communities in Michigan, which contributed over $4000 to Torat Tzedek. If anyone would like more information on Rabbi Ascherman’s work or on Torat Tzedek, please feel free to get in touch with either of us.

Martha Kransdorf ,  mkransdo@umich.edu    734-663-7933

Harvey Somers,  harveysomers@gmail.com   734-780-6907

Rabbi Ascherman blogs regularly in The Times of Israel. On April 19 2018 he included this “Misheberakh — A Loving Prayer of Healing for the State and People of Israel

The Hebrew is followed by a transliteration, and then a translation.

מי שברך קדמונינו אברהם ושרה, יצחק ורבקה, יעקב לאה ורחל, הוא יברך וירפא את החולים, מדינת ישראל ועם ישראל. הקדוש ברוך הוא ימלא רחמים עלינו להחלימנו ולרפואתנו מכל מחלה המקשה עלינו להגשים את הטוב ואת השאיפות לצדק שבליבנו – ביניהן: העיוורון לנוכחותך בכל אדם והעיוורון למציאות; החירשות לקול הדממה הדקה בתוך רעש הפחד וההפחדה, קולות הענות והמלחמה במחנה; והפקודות; האטימות לסבל של האחר/ת;  הרשימו שנשאר מכל מה שסבלנו אנו, השיכרון מכוח ומשלטון; השנאה לחושב/ת אחרת מאתנו; והאהבה היתרה לארץ ישראל ולמדינת ישראל ולעם ישראל ולכל דבר קדוש המסנוור אותנו לקדושתך ולרצונך. אנא, החזק בנו את היצר הטוב והחיות את אמונתנו בעולם מתוקן במלכותך וביכולתנו לקרבו.  שלח לנו במהרה רפואה שלמה, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף, בתוך שאר החולים/ות, השתא בעגלא ובזמן קרים, ונאמר אמן.

Mi sh’beirakh kadmoneinu Avraham v’Sarah, Yitzhak v’Rivkah, Ya’akov, Leah v’Rakhek, hu yivarekh v’yirapeih et ha’kholim, Medinat Yisrael v’Am Yisrael. HaKadosh Borukh Hu yimaleh rakhamim aleinu  l’hakhlamatanu v’l’rfuatanu mi’kol makhalah ha’makshah aleinu l’hagshim et ha’tov v’et ha’sheifah la’tzedek sh’b’libeinu-beiniehen: ha’ivaraon l’nokhakhutkha b’kholadam v’ha’ivaron l’mitziut; ha’khershut l’kol ha’demamah ha’dakah b’tokh ra’ash ha’pakhad v’ha’hafkhadah, kolot ha’onot v’kolot ha’milkhamah b’makhaneh v’hapekudot;   ha’atimut l’sevel shelha’akher/et; ha’rashimu sh’nishar mi’kol mah sh’avalnu anu; ha’shikaron mi’koakh u’mi’shilton; ha’sinah l’khoshev’et akheret m’itanu; v’ha’ahavah ha’yiterah l’Eretz Yisrael v’l’Medinat Yisrael, v’l’Am Yisrael, v’lkhol d’var kadosh ha’misanveir otanu l’kedushatkhah v’l’ratzonkhah. Anah, he’khezeik banu  et ha’yetzer ha’tov v’ha’khayot et emunateinu b’olam mitukan b’malkhutkha u’v’yekholteinu l’karvo.  Shlakh lanu b’meheirah refuah shleimah, refuat ha’nefesh v’refuat ha’guf, b’tokh sh’ar he’kholim, hashta b’agalah’ u’v’zman Kariv, v’nomar amein.

May the One who blessed our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, bless and heal the ill:  the State and People of Israel.  May the Holy One of Blessing be full of mercy and us to heal us from every illness that keeps us from fulfilling the good and the aspiration for justice that is within us – Among them: Blindness to Your Presence in every human being and blindness to reality; deafness to the Still Small Voice within the thundering fear and fearmongering, the sounds of war and singing in the camp,  and orders; hatred of those who think differently than us, disproportional love for the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, the People of Israel and every holy thing that blinds us to Your Holiness and Your Will.  Please strengthen within us our good inclination and revive our faith in the possibility of a repaired world under Your Sovereignty and our ability to bring that world closer to reality. Send us complete and speedy healing of body and soul, along with all who are ill, speedily and in our day.  And let us say, Amen.

 

Our Measure of Grain

“Memorial Tablet and Omer Calendar” by Baruch Zvi Ring, 1904. Paper cut, pencil, ink and paint. Owned by the Jewish Museum in NYC. Baruch Zvi Ring (Ringiansky) came to Rochester from Vishya, Lithuania, in 1902. Please visit this artwork on the Jewish Museum website to learn more about the incredible intricacies in this work.

Our Beit Sefer, led by our Yeledim class (Bass, Ben, Ellie, Isaac, Joey, Miles, Molly, and their teacher, Shlomit) is collecting boxes of grains (pasta, cereal, rice, etc) to make a collective donation to Food Gatherers. We started collecting right after Passover and we will continue through Shavuot. By collecting donations for the Food Gatherers, the Yeledim are learning to connect the Jewish holiday cycle with a need in our community.

We are commanded by the Torah to bring, on the second day of Passover, a measure—an omer—of the first cutting of our barley harvest to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as an offering to G‑d, and not to partake of that year’s grain crop until that offering is made. We then count 49 days, and on the 50th day, which is Shavuot, we bring the first of our wheat harvest as an offering to G‑d, and we do not use of the year’s wheat crop for Temple offerings until this is done. Hence, the 49-day count leading from Passover to Shavuot is called “the Counting of the Omer”—a reference to the omer of barley that was brought on the first day of the count.
(from “Grain, Growth and Goodness” by R. Shlomo Yaffe)

The Yeledim have set a goal of collecting as least 49 boxes of grain, one for each day of the Omer. And you can help! We will be collecting this Saturday, May 12th at the JCC during Second Saturday Shabbat morning services, and also at our congregational observance of Shavuot on Saturday May 19th.

AARC Mimouna 2018: Abandon Bitterness, Celebrate Blessing

Photo of Mimouna foods from an article in The Nosher, includes recipes.

This year, AARC will be celebrating Mimouna on Saturday April 7, 5:30-7:30pm at the JCC. We’ll have lots of food, music, and a short ‘seder’ to learn about the symbols and traditions of Mimouna. We will also begin a conversation about things our congregation can do to form relationships with other faith communities in the coming year.

Mimouna, the traditional Moroccan Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, marks the start of spring and the return to eating chametz, i.e., leavened bread and bread by-products, which are forbidden throughout Passover. In centuries past, Muslim neighbors would bring gifts of flour, honey, milk, butter and green beans to their Jewish neighbors to help them prepare delicious, chametz-rich recipes. More recently, Moroccan Jews brought the holiday to Israel where it is now widely celebrated with picnics and visiting with friends and neighbors. Recently, an organization of Moroccan Muslim students was founded which preserves and promotes the history of Morocco’s ancient Jewish community and seeks to educate about Jewish culture to encourage harmony between Jews and Muslims.

“Unlike Passover, which is charged with religious meaning, this is a festival devoted to the celebration of community, friendship, togetherness and hospitality. Mimouna is celebrated by throwing one’s home open to friends, neighbors and even strangers, with public parties, and by sharing – a large portion of that sharing involving food. Mimouna is thus clearly all about encouraging peace, kindness and human warmth. It also centers around making music, singing and dancing,” explains an article in Haaretz which includes a recipe for the traditional crepe, mofleta.

The piyyut (ligurgical poetry) below, “Atem Yotzei Maarav ,”composed by Rabbi David Bouzaglo (1903-1975), to commemorate the Mimouna holiday tells–in Hebrew with some Judeo-Arabic interspersed–the various aspects of the holiday including the foods eaten, the friendly atmosphere, and the significance of the holiday. It tells a story of strife and its resolution, and in conclusion calls for the abandonment of bitterness between Muslims and Jews.

 

Atem Yotzei Maarav

A Moroccan Jewish Piyyut:

You, who come from the Maghreb, from Morocco, men of faith –
praise G-d in assembly, this day of the Mimouna.

Yesterday the Red Sea opened its gaping mouth before Pharaoh,
it moved over all their wagons and swallowed them.

Israel, the flock, his servants crossed through passages,
as the waves of the sea were piled up by the hand of Moses, the faithful father.

The wealth of their enemies and tormentors Israel collected,
between the waves of the sea, they received it as a gift.

On every doorstep, all congratulated each other:
“Be blessed, friend, all the months of the year.”

And in Morocco, for many generations, the Hebrews say,
in blessing their friends, “good luck, brother, good fortune!”

The strangers, their waters were spilled on them;
the fear of G-d, in Heaven poured down on them.

Loads and loads of wealth and grains
were delivered from all comers of the world to the people G-d has chosen.

And it is the way of the sons of Arabia, in Morocco,
each according to his means brings the Jews an offering of value.

Yeast, honey and flour, the milk of a healthy cow,
fish, mint, and butter with wild flowers and flowers from the garden.

This night, Hebrews and Arabs are all seated together –
they rejoice with musical instruments and singing.

The Hebrew woman wears the clothes of an Arab,
the man wears an Arab vest, and the scent of incense and perfume.

One can no longer distinguish between a Hebrew and his Arab brother,
or if they are city dwellers or villagers: the good spirit overtakes them all.

The borders between Israel and the nations are blurred
If it wasn’t for the bloodthirsty who run the states.

It is these evil kings who deliver their people to catastrophe –
They are concerned only with their thrones, not the soul who suffers.

Abandon for all time conflict and bitterness!
Stop the bitter cries! Stop in the name of peace and freedom!

(Translation – Ruben Namdar and Joshua Levitt)