AARC Joins JCC/St. Joe’s “Stop the Bleed” Training

Take this Free Training!
Learn the Single Most Important First Aid Skill!

By Dave Nelson, AARC Safety Coordinator

The JCC and Community Security Committee will host a “Stop the Bleed” first-aid training on February 4 at the JCC. If you have enough hand strength to wring out a wet washcloth, you should attend and learn these skills. This excellent hands-on training is run by St. Joseph Mercy Hospital’s Trauma Center. In one hour, you’ll learn everything you need to know to give someone a fighting chance after an accident, disaster, or violent attack.

Our local first responders can generally reach the scene of an accident or injury in around seven minutes. But someone who is bleeding severely will die from blood loss within five minutes. A national effort is underway to train as many people as possible to recognize and treat life-threatening bleeding. You are the help until help arrives.

AARC has already begun to distinguish itself as a congregation that works to be both safe and welcoming: We refuse to hire armed security, or search people at the door, or limit access to our services and gatherings. Instead, we choose to train ourselves to be better equipped to offer a safe space and protect those who gather with us. This is a great opportunity to further expand our capacity to help when help is needed, and keep ourselves open to those around us who may struggle to find a spiritual home and feel safe there.

See you at the training!


WHEN: Tuesday, February 4, 9 am-10:30 am
WHERE:  Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor COST: Free!
REGISTER: email Events@JewishAnnArbor.org


Welcome Pritchard Family!

Clare and Andy Pritchard with their daughters, Elena and Maggie.

Our family is glad to have found AARC. Our names are Clare (that’s me), Andy, Elena (age 8) and Maggie (age 6). Andy and I are from Michigan originally and lived in Ann Arbor for about 10 years before moving to Maine for work. We had our children in Maine and moved back to make Ypsi our home in 2016.

We’ve been dabbling in Jewish activities/congregations in the area but feel most comfortable at AARC. Thank you for welcoming us to your community! Our kids LOVE beit sefer and we look forward to being involved over the years. It is also special to note that I first heard about AARC through my good friend Allison Ivey, who I met at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor back in 1997!


My background is in nursing and I currently work at IHA in Clinical Operations. Andy is a public health professional who works as an Independent Consultant. We enjoy the outdoors, traveling, the Corner Brewery, Cultivate, making things with our hands, and making the world a better place. 

A Lovely Hanukkah With AARC

It has been another season of light and love at AARC in celebration of Hanukkah. The week began with a fun Hanukkah-themed day of learning at Beit Sefer. Over the week, many AARC families hosted friends, family, and congregants for home-hosted Hanukkah celebrations. On Friday night, we all gathered together for the congregation wide Hanukkah party during Fourth Friday Shabbat.

Fourth Friday Shabbat Hanukkah Celebration was a festive night that included a community candle lighting, festive music, and a latke cook-off!

Esteemed judges Sally Fink and Anita Rubin-Meiller hard at work evaluating the admirable qualities of each latke entry.

Beit Sefer’s annual life-sized menorah!

Beit Sefer students enjoying edible dreidels. Yum!

Menorah lighting from a home-hosted Hanukkah gathering at Marcy Epstein’s house.

AARC Attends LGBTQ Advocacy Training with Keshet

On Thursday November 7th, Rabbi Ora, Gillian Jackson, and Judith Jacobs joined congregations and Jewish organizations from all over Metro Detroit to learn how to be more inclusive and how to advocate for LGBTQ communities. The training was led by Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality of LGBTQ Jews and families. Emily Saltzman, dynamic leader from Keshet, was joined by representatives from Nextgen Detroit Pride and Stand with Trans. The training provided a framework for understanding LGBTQ core concepts such as sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Participants also learned about the history of LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish communities and the challenges that LGBTQ-identifying people face in our culture. The seminar concluded with an opportunity for each organization to form goals to improve its LGBTQ advocacy.

The training in Michigan grew out of a 2018 survey, the “State of Equality Index,” that reviewed areas of the US for positive policies supporting LGBTQ equality. Michigan scored as an area of high priority; this means we have many areas of law, health and safety measures, and religious recognition that must be updated to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.

As our blog about welcoming remarked, Judaism has a rich history of gender diversity and inclusion. However, modern Jewish culture still has a long way to go until our organizations make LGBTQ individuals feel safe, welcomed, and respected. Keshet suggested that organizations provide leadership on LGBTQ inclusion through programming, policy, and culture. AARC has taken steps to improve our organization on all of these fronts.

The AARC action plan includes the formation of a LGBTQ inclusion policy, a new LGBTQ welcoming section of our website, visible LGBTQ welcoming signs at our welcome table, and the organization of a new annual Pride Shabbat. If you would like to take part in the planning or implementation of any or all of these new initiatives, please email me or speak with Rabbi Ora. We look forward to hearing from you!

A Meaningful Human Rights Shabbat with Kehillat Israel

This past Saturday, AARC made the journey to Congregation Kehillat Israel in Lansing to share in celebration of Human Rights Shabbat, an annual celebration initiated by T’ruah, a Rabbinic Organization advocating for human rights in North America, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The annual Human Rights Shabbat initiative is intended to educate Jewish Communities about the intersection between Jewish values and the values of International Human Rights. It is typically celebrated on the Shabbat closest to the anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Kehillat Israel and AARC chose to focus their Human Rights Shabbat on bringing together children and families to learn and build community. Rabbi Michael Zimmerman and Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner led all of us in a beautiful Shabbat morning service that asked congregants, “What does the story of Isaac and Esau teach us about justice, forgiveness, and identity?”

Services were followed by a potluck lunch that featured not only delicious foods from both congregations, but also much enjoyable conversation between new friends and old. After lunch, Rabbi Ora led the adults in a conversation entitled, “Who Deserves Punishment? Considering ‘Goodness’ and ‘Badness’ through a Jewish Lens.” The thoughtful and stimulating conversation examined not only Jewish moral thought on crime and punishment, but also its relevance to current political policy on incarceration and the resulting reality in human terms.

Many thanks to everyone who attended last Saturday and special thanks to our hosts, Congregation Kehillat Israel, for including us in this Shabbat exploration of human rights.

Sam Ball’s Dvar Torah: Lech Lecha

Hello everybody! Thank you for coming to my bar mitzvah! The name of my parshah or my torah portion is Lech Lecha, which is in the book of Genesis. Lech Lecha means “Go forth,” which is what God said to Abram: “Go forth from where you call home and go to the place where I tell you.” And Abram and Sarai did. By the way, Abram and Sarai are called Abram and Sarai because they hadn’t yet gotten their second names of Abraham and Sarah from God.

First Abram and his wife Sarai went to Canaan. They then went to Egypt. When they got to Egypt, Pharaoh saw how pretty Sarai was. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s palace and she received lots of gifts, like cattle and camels and slaves. After some time in Egypt, Abram and Sarai left to go back to Canaan.

Ten years passed in Canaan and Sarai, who wanted to get pregnant, still couldn’t. After ten years of not being able to get pregnant, Sarai gave up in frustration. So she gave her slave named Hagar to Abram and Hagar got pregnant very quickly. Once she became pregnant, Hagar began to act like she wasn’t a slave. Hagar mocked Sarai and refused to do what she was told. As it says in my parshah, “. . . her mistress was lowered in her esteem. . . .” 

Sarai was angry after being mocked by Hagar, so Sarai treated Hagar very disrespectfully. So Hagar ran away. An angel found Hagar and told her to go back to Sarai and Abram’s house because God promised to grant her a great multitude of descendants. Hagar went back and later gave birth to Ishmael.

Why did Sarai act the way she did? I think that at first, Sarai wanted someone to blame for her not being able to get pregnant, so she experimented by giving Hagar to Abram. Maybe she thought that if Hagar wasn’t able to pregnant, then the problem would be with Abram. But since Hagar did get pregnant, maybe Sarai knew that the problem was with her. And instead of accepting this fact, she denied it and treated Hagar poorly by oppressing Hagar and returning her to her former slave status.

I also think that maybe Sarai gave Hagar to Abram because Sarai wanted to be faithful to the role God had promised her, that she would be the mother of a great nation. But when Hagar started acting less like a slave and more like Abram’s wife, Sarai became angry that her role as Abram’s partner was taken. I believe that for these reasons, it was a contest of priorities for Sarai.

So far I’ve only talked about Sarai’s feelings. But what about Abram’s?

Before Sarai returned Hagar to her slave status, she counseled with Abram, complaining about Hagar. Abram said “. . . your maid is in your hands, deal with her as you think is right.” Essentially Abram said, she is your slave; do what you will to her. I think that Abram was either feeling that the situation wasn’t his problem and he shouldn’t be the one to deal with it. Or he felt that if he interfered that he would make the situation worse.

How did Hagar feel about all of this? 

I believe that Hagar was feeling that she was being cheated. The reason for this is first Hagar was a slave and she then was raised from her status of slave to wife. Then she was put back down to slavery even while she was pregnant with Ishmael. I would feel cheated if I was raised in status and then put back down again because someone was feeling jealous. I believe that Hagar thought that she was being cheated of what she rightly deserved as the person who was pregnant with Abram’s son.

I think the reason that we have all of these stories in the Torah is so that we can learn from them the easy way and not have to learn them the hard way. The easy way is getting the lesson early and not having to experience the challenging situations for ourselves. And the reason we go deeper into the Torah’s characters in the stories is because we need to understand their opinions and motivations if we are going to understand the story itself. 

Why do we have stories in general? I have learned about the collective unconscious, which is a part of our minds that connects us to everyone else, even though we don’t know it, and causes people everywhere to invent the same stories. Humans of all history and cultures have the same basic storyline for all our myths and legends – a storyline of people seeking something they need, like Jason and the Argonauts or King Arthur and his quest to find the Holy Grail, or the Buddha searching for Enlightenment or Moses and the Exodus. We all tell similar stories because there is a link between humans. Stories teach us about being human by giving us meaning.

When I read a story, I get sucked into the world of it, and the real world around me goes away. I don’t become the characters, but I observe the characters, and I can see from their point of view, like looking through their eyes. Stories show us that we are always connected with everyone else, even when believing that we are alone. 

The Torah is full of both stories and laws. Laws give us practical guidance of what not to do, like don’t murder or steal. While those are actions that we shouldn’t do, stories help us understand how to navigate emotions and thoughts ethically.

The stories in the Torah help us learn and grow and discover how to be good people. God uses stories to teach us because if we only had strict laws, we wouldn’t be able to think for ourselves and there would be no freedom. We have a considerate and forgiving God who wants us to interpret and understand. God lets us make mistakes so we can learn from them.

This takes me back to Sarai. God didn’t interfere in her life except minimally, and allowed Sarai to make her own mistakes. Sarai wasn’t perfect, and Abram wasn’t perfect. They made mistakes and improved from them. And the stories about them impact us even today because Sarai and Abram were so human. We can relate to them because we deal with the same issues and temptations, jealousy, guilt, hatred and joy.

Stories connect us all. Maybe the collective unconscious is there because we all have a little bit of God in all of us, and the little bit of God is the connection.

In our congregation, we have a custom of asking the community a question to generate discussion towards the end of a dvar Torah. I have a couple of questions for you at this point: “Why do you think stories are important and what stories have helped you find meaning in your lives?”

I want to thank all of you for coming to my bar mitzvah. I appreciate it. Thank you especially to those who are coming out of town. I want to thank Deb for tutoring me and giving me lots of support to help make this happen. I want to thank Rabbi Ora for helping me make this speech. And most of all, I want to thank my loving, supportive parents for making this happen!

Shabbat shalom!

Meet the Mitzvah Committee

Connection: an essential ingredient of a caring community

Written by: Anita Rubin-Meiller

“Mitzvah comes from the root word tzavta, which means connection. There are 613 mitzvot, and therefore, 613 ways to connect to G-d.”

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg

I appreciate this definition of mitzvah, which goes beyond doing a good deed or following a commandment, and adds connection as an essential ingredient. Certainly, in this past year of chairing the committee, the experience of connection is what stands out. Whatever we engage in involves connection: arranging for help to set up for the joyful celebration of a B’nai Mitzvah; accompanying someone in their grief and assisting with shiva; doing our best to find someone a ride to services and events; or gathering together for our quarterly “coffee and catch up.” Connection is not only the heart and soul of our mission, it is what makes the efforts worthwhile.

As we approach the annual congregational meeting, I want to pique your curiosity about this important committee and ask that you consider joining in our efforts. At the moment six of us pair up to take care of requests as they arise. While we have done well pitching in this year, it is apparent to us that we could use additional members, as we are not always able to be available when needed. 

The mitzvah committee is designed to assist in meeting commonly arising needs of our congregation’s members. This past year we helped with the Bar Mitzvah celebrations of Jacob Resnick, Eli Revzen, Otto Nelson, and Sam Ball. We assisted with the shiva observances in the homes of Amy Rosenberg, Deborah Fisch, and Carol Lessure. We helped organize a meal train for Alice and Ryan as they welcomed their little one. And we did our best to try to secure rides for members when there was a need. 

The committee currently consists of Rena Basch, Mike Ehmann, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Amie Ritchie, Stephanie Rowden, and me. We have enjoyed deepening the connection among us in meetings over coffee at York, with conversations about how we have felt supported or challenged in the past few months. We would love to welcome you to our next meeting on February 9th.

If you are not able to join the committee, please consider completing our survey so that we may call on you for specific tasks when the need arises. The survey can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1HNkIfCEHWaN1T-EevfbrPx8E8n7UVm9icNtVhVIoEqc/edit

Please come to our “roundtable” at the December 8th congregational meeting to learn more!

Lots of Chanukah Fun in Store!

A 2018 home-hosted Chanukah celebration.

Believe it or not, the winter holiday season is upon us! The Festival Committee has been hard at work planning loads of Chanukah fun for us.

Our celebration begins with home-hosted Chanukah gatherings from December 22nd to December 29th. Each day, members can gather at a different family home. Hosts might choose to offer dinner, deserts, lunch, tea, or a special activity. In previous years, hosts have shared cookie-making parties, latke dinners, cocktails, and so much more! Members can sign up to host or attend a Home Hosted Shabbat on a day that works for them. Home-hosted Chanukah celebrations are a fun way to get to know AARC families in an intimate, haimish setting.

In addition to our home-hosted Chanukah celebrations, AARC will hold a Chanukah party on December 27th at the JCC. The evening’s events begin with candle lighting at 6 pm. Everyone is encouraged to bring a menorah/hanukiah. A regular Kabbalat Shabbat service follows, but in addition to the usual potluck, you can expect a latke contest, music, and dreidel games. If you would like to participate in the latke contest, please sign up here!

Many thanks to our hard-working Festival Committee for planning these Chanukah events! We hope to see you at one of them. Happy holidays!

A Lovely Sunday Morning Hagbah Training for AARC Members

All photos by Ella August

Keith Kurz teaches Gillian Jackson, Etta Heisler, Dave Nelson, and Eric Bramson how minimize wear on the parchment while rolling the Torah.

It was a lovely Sunday morning, crisp and sunny, when a handful of tall and strong AARC members gathered to learn Hagbah, the raising up of the Torah after a Torah reading on Shabbat or other occasion. Although the practice may sound straightforward, it requires knack and nuance. For example, when lifting the open Torah off the table, one must push down on the lower handles while pivoting the Torah upwards, rather than lifting it directly up. This and many other handy tidbits were passed down by our teacher, Keith Kurz.

Members took turns picking up, raising, and holding the Torah under the careful support of Hagbah spotters. Participants also learned the proper way to perform Gelilah, the dressing of the Torah.

As a result of this training, AARC now has many able and willing members available for Hagbah and Gelilah. Thank you to Keith Kurz and all the participants who volunteered to learn this important skill for our congregation!

To learn more about the history of our Torah, please check out these blogs by Clare Kinberg and Dave Nelson.

Etta Heisler and Eric Bramson practicing Gelilah.
Etta Heisler sporting a winning smile after mastering Hagbah.
Eric Bramson was strong and confident while lifting the Torah. Well done, Eric!
Brenna Reichman was an excellent Hagbah spotter – calm and supportive as always!
This was Gillian’s first time holding the Torah!

Erring on the Side of Love

Kol Nidrei 5780 Sermon

By Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner
Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Toronto, 1990. I’m seven, in grade 2 at Bialik Hebrew Day School. My favourite class at school is art. Outside of school, I do gymnastics, which I mostly don’t like because I’m not good at it, and pottery, which I do like, because I am.

I’m not very outdoorsy but I like playing in our neighbourhood park. At the park I make a new friend, a Jewish girl my age, and we play together every few days.

One day I get to the park expecting to play and my new friend says to me: ‘Tatte says I can’t play with you anymore.’ Tatte is Yiddish for father – my friend is Orthodox and speaks Yiddish at home. She says: ‘I can’t play with you anymore because Tatte says you’re not Jewish.’

Not Jewish. My seven-year-old self found this so confusing. Didn’t my family go to shul every Shabbes? Didn’t we keep kosher? Didn’t we put our menorah in the front window on Chanukah, just like every other Jewish family on our street? 

I felt Jewish. And yet according to my friend’s father, I was not. 

That was the first time in my life I was told I wasn’t Jewish. But it wasn’t the last. Over the years other people said similar things to me — neighbors in Toronto, shopkeepers in New York, rabbis in Jerusalem. 

Thus far, in my life it’s been mostly Orthodox Jews who have questioned my Jewishness. But the Orthodox are certainly not the only Jews who invest energy in deciding who does and does not belong in Jewish community. 

Over the years I’ve heard many stories from friends, colleagues, congregants who have been told in ways subtle and unsubtle that they are not Jewish, or not Jewish enough, or are Jewishly suspect. My Reconstructionist colleague Rabbi Emily Cohen, who was raised in a committed Jewish household by a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, was told by more traditional rabbinical schools that she’d have to convert before applying. My colleague Rabbi Shais Rishon, a black Orthodox Jew in New York, has been asked in Jewish spaces ‘how are you Jewish?’ so many times that he’s developed the response, “I’m fine, thank you, how are you, Jewish?” I’ve talked to converts whose decision to convert was met by suspicion and a profound lack of welcome. I’ve talked to off-the-derech Jews whose community cut them off after they stopped living an Orthodox lifestyle. I’ve talked to engaged couples – straight interfaith couples and queer Jewish couples – who had other rabbis tell them they were making a mistake in their choice of partner, and refused to marry them. 

If you’ve ever experienced this kind of scrutiny or rejection, you know how deeply wounding it is. 

Even if it’s not done out of malice, it hurts. It hurts to have someone deny that you belong. It hurts to be told you’re not welcome in a place that should feel like home. It can make it so that afterwards, even when you walk into a welcoming space, part of you is always expecting to be told: ‘You shouldn’t really be here.’ And maybe most damaging of all, this kind of scrutiny and rejection can plant seeds of doubt. It can make a person say to themselves: ‘Maybe I’m not really who I think I am. Maybe my home isn’t here.’

Unfortunately, this kind of boundary-policing has been going on in Jewish communities for millennia.

In part, it’s because Judaism began as a religion of otherness. Abraham, the first Jew, had a radical idea – that God was one, not many. It took Abraham smashing his father’s idols to get the point across: I’m different. I believe in a different God than you do.

Mitzvot – commandedness – helped ensure a connection to this different God. Mitzvot also ensured that Jews would behave like one another and unlike their non-Jewish neighbors. And to further assist in this project of radical religious otherness, Judaism’s religious leaders did their best to ensure that Jews would have limited contact with the non-Jewish world. 

The Torah largely forbade intermarriage with non-Israelite nations. Kashrut limited our dining options, and certain Talmudic rabbis forbade Jews from eating and drinking with non-Jews entirely. Medieval rabbis prohibited their community members from even entering non-Jewish houses of worship. And even into the 20th century, speaking primarily in Yiddish, Ladino, or Hebrew prevented Jews from developing close personal or business ties with their non-Jewish neighbors. 

As Jews, we have a long tradition of being different and keeping ourselves separate. This has required a strict policing of boundaries, done in the name of God and community. For those in the in-group who’ve refused to toe the party line – for those who have acted not-properly-Jewish – there’s a long tradition of excommunication, known as ‘karet’ – exiling transgressive Jews from their communities.

We can’t deny that one of the reasons Judaism has lasted so long is because historically, it has strongly policed the in-group’s borders. 

But this policing is always in service to the collective. In focusing on the whole, rather than its parts, Judaism hasn’t always taken as seriously the individual’s need for exploration, self-expression, or curiosity within a given religious community. 

Prioritizing the needs of the individual can mean making existing members temporarily uncomfortable, or even eventually shifting the group’s core identity. This can be expansive – it can have the effect of bringing in fresh, enlivening perspectives and shifting stagnant values or beliefs. But it’s also challenging to do and do well. 

So how does any Jewish community make these key decisions around belonging? In the tension between maintaining strict borders and being radically expansive; in the tension between keeping our identity intact and minimizing the individual wounds of scrutiny and rejection, what values might serve as our guide?  

In considering this question, I thought about various theories of group dynamics and social identity. But ultimately, I found inspiration in the centuries-old mystical tradition known as Kabbalah. 

Kabalah promotes the idea of ten sefirot, ten divine traits that manifest in different ways in God and our world.

Gevurah, one of these ten sefirot, is the emanation associated with judgment and limitation, law and strict justice. Gevurah in divine form appears many times in the bible – a God filled with anger, a God quick to punish. In individuals, gevurah is associated with the power to restrain one’s innate urge to bestow goodness on others when the recipient is judged to be unworthy of it. Naturally, communities that strongly self-police rely heavily on gevurah. And you may be unsurprised to hear that the emotional state that corresponds with gevurah is yirah, or fear.

The sefira of gevurah exists opposite the sefira of chesed. In people, chesed is associated with unconditional love and a willingness to stretch to accommodate the needs of the other. Chesed is what undergirded Abraham’s practice of welcoming strangers into his tent. Like Abraham reaching out, chesed is thought to be proactive – an expansive force that impels the soul to connect with what it outside itself. In cosmological terms, chesed is associated with the very first day of creation – with God’s need to create a world, filled with light.

The emotional state that corresponds with chesed is ahavah, love.

In classical Kabbalah, gevurah and chesed are meant to balance each other out in equal measure. And that makes sense to me. Our world needs love to temper justice, and boundaries to offer a container for love. 

But later Kabbalists came to believe that too much gevurah was actually the source of the world’s evil. They taught that the Sitra Achra, the evil inclination, is actually based in gevurah. That too much judgment is the cause of man’s inhumanity to man. 

So they proposed that we always aim for more chesed than gevurah. That we should err on the side of abundant love, rather than on the side of limits.

As modern-day professionals, parents, colleagues, friends, we know the value of setting limits. But I want you to consider with me, this evening, the value of community erring on the side of love. 

But why this evening? Why am I choosing Kol Nidrei to talk about this? 

Because at no other time is the Jewish belief in the value of love more obvious than during these High Holy Days.

Nine days ago we celebrated Rosh HaShanah. Anticipating Yom Kippur, also known as Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgement, we called out ‘Adonai Adonai el rachum vechanun erech apayim verav chesed ve’emet’ – we called out to a God of compassion, a God slow to anger, a God full of abundant love. We asked the most loving version of God we know to welcome us back and to remember us for good. We sang ‘aseh imanu tzedakah vachesed vehoshiaynu’ — treat us with generosity and love, and save us.

And then we blew the shofar. Why? According to one midrash, on Rosh Hashanah, God sits upon kisei hadin, a throne of strict judgment. But when we blow the shofar, God gets up from this throne of judgment and moves to the kisei rachamim, the seat of compassion. And that is the place from which God welcomes us on Yom Kippur – from a place of love.  (Lev Rabbah 29:3)

During these High Holy Days, we call on God to move towards love because we are absolutely clear that love is what will save us. 

We are clear on that. So why not model our community on that same call? Why not make love the grounding principle of our tradition, opening our metaphorical tents on all sides? And not just during the Yamim Noraim, but throughout the year. Because let’s be real. We’re not only being saved or saving one another on Yom Kippur. It happens in ways large and small in how we reach out to one another or turn away from one another throughout the year.

Many of you have heard by now that this year, our congregation has undertaken to remodel itself in accordance with the values of radical welcoming. This community’s leadership has asked itself, what would it take to ensure that every person feels welcome in this community? Because we’re a community made of human beings, we’ve already missed the mark a couple times. But we’re going to keep at it. We’re going to keep learning and trying. 

And we need your help. If we’re going to create a community based on chesed, we need to hear from you: What would it take to make you feel welcomed? What would it take to help you feel like you fully belonged?

If there are ways that this particular community can grow to serve you better – please let us know. Or if there are ways I can help you strategize about how to make your other Jewish communities more welcoming – come talk to me. And if there are parts of you that are unsure whether you belong here – please let us know how we can build trust with you. So that you feel that you belong, and you know that you are beloved.

I began this sermon talking about my experience of being told as a young person: You’re not Jewish. You don’t belong. 

And now – I’m a rabbi. And rabbis have a long tradition of serving as gatekeepers of Jewish communities.  

And so I want to take the opportunity, this evening, with so many of you gathered here, to make myself clear: As a rabbi and as a human being I place more value on chesed than gevurah. It is more important to me to open the gates wide, to be asked to stretch, to be invited to do better, and to commit to figuring it out, than to tell someone they don’t belong. 

Why? 

Because I want every person here to feel beloved by their community. 

I want you to see yourself as not at the margins, but at the center. 

And I want you to know that this messy enterprise of life is made richer and more complex and more beautiful because of how you choose to engage with your Jewish community.

If you come here this evening bearing an old wound of being told that you didn’t belong in one Jewish community or another: because one or both of your parents weren’t Jewish; because of who you loved or married; because of your family; because you are single; because of your body’s abilities; because of the colour of your skin; because of your gender, because of your age; because of your finances, because of where you were born; because of your politics; because of your views on Israel and Palestine; because of your level of observance or knowledge of Hebrew or Jewish prayer; because of whether or how you believe in God; because of any variety of your uniqueness:

To each of you here ever turned away from Jewish community – that community sinned against you. You deserved better. You deserved a Judaism that centered you and a Jewish community where you felt like you belonged. A community that knew intuitively and immediately how much a part of it you were. And I’m sorry if you were ever made to believe otherwise.

Even on these Yamim Noraim, these Days of Awe, we know implicitly that more love, more acceptance, more gentleness is what will get us closer to God and to one another. So my blessing for us this Yom Kippur and the year to come: may we be an inspiration to one another and even to the Holy One above by erring on the side of loving and being loved. Ken yehi ratzon.