From Darkness to Light: Blessings for Receiving the Vaccine

In the early months of the pandemic, it seemed a distant fantasy that the day would come when we would receive a vaccine against Covid-19. But thanks to the tireless work of an international team of scientists, public health entities, and pharmaceutical infrastructure etc., the day has indeed arrived. Some members of our congregation have already received their first doses, and though we know the future is uncertain, we are filled with hope.

After surviving so many months of adversity, there is so much to be grateful for. And, as we mark 400,000 lives lost in this country alone, we also struggle with how to mourn what and who we have lost. Certainly it will take many years to process this unique moment in history, but for now–we can open the doors to gratitude with prayer.

Such an immense gratitude and welling of emotion for this momentous time can be hard to express. Ritualwell, an online resource for Jewish ritual and prayer, has compiled a half-dozen new prayers and blessings, written in the last month, to help us express our gratitude on the occasion of receiving the vaccine. Please enjoy a sample of the blessings below, and feel free to share your own in the comments!

A Blessing of Gratitude for the COVID-19 Vaccine

by Trisha Arlin

Blessed Holy Wholeness:

As we roll up our sleeves

To receive this vaccine,

We take note

Of the inspiration and efficiency,

The hard work and creativity,

And the accumulation of knowledge and science

That brings us to this moment. 

No miracles were wanted or needed

For this vaccine

And for that we are grateful. 

Amen

Love Your Neighbor: A Blessing on Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine

by Rabbi Ahuvah (Amy) Loewenthal

To You who enliven all flesh, To You who guides all creatures: See me as I enact Your commandment “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Ruakh Kol Basar, Adon Kol haBriot: Hareni m’kabel/m’kabelet alai mitzvat asei shel “v’ahavta l’reakha kamokha.” 

From Darkness to Light: A Meditation on Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine

by Rabbi Rebecca Kamil

As we move from darkness to light

May we take this vaccine as a sign of what is to come

A world reopened and renewed 

Embracing family and friends 

Gathering together in joy 

May we also be mindful of what has been 

The lives lost

The sorrow felt

And may the past and present intertwine 

Giving us hope for the future 

Zoom Art Workshops: Hanukkah Art and Midrash Workshop with Carol Levin and Idelle Hammond-Sass

Written By: Carol Levin and Idelle Hammond-Sass

Recon Zoom meetings took many forms in 2020 – including creative art workshops. Our Yom Kippur workshop focused on Jonah and the Whale. For Hanukkah, we shared Rabbi Shefa Gold’s readings about rededication and resilience, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Gorbachev’s connection to Hanukkah, and third century sages, Rav and Shmuel, on lighting the lights. We reflected on art, parsed the Blessing for Creating, by Rabbi Adina Allen from the Jewish Studio Project and interpreted the ancient and contemporary midrash with our own visual and written commentary.  

We’re planning more Zoom Art Workshops for 2021

Idelle & Carol

Art by Rita Gelman

Marcy.jpg

Art work by Marcy Epstein

Spread-the-Light.png

Art work by Carol Levin

Art work by Gillian Jackson

AARC Triumphantly Lights Up Hanukkah Amidst the Pandemic

Photo Credit: Rebecca Kanner

I can’t be alone in feeling that our small community is getting pretty good at finding ways to celebrate the Jewish year online. Hanukkah 2020 was a triumph of spirit, fostering a depth of connection over the web that many might have thought impossible a year ago. I am inspired by our community’s commitment to stick together and create meaningful experiences for one another during this difficult time.

AARC Hanukkah celebrations kicked off with a lively evening hosted by members Sharon Haar and Robin Wagner. Following candle-lighting, we learned the online party game Psych! (“trivia meets cards against humanity”) under Sharon and Robin’s instruction. The hallmark of this very well-attended event was FUN!

Our congregation collaborated for socially-distanced Hanukkah celebrations twice: once with the Jewish Federation, and again with Temple Beth Israel. It was a joy to share in the celebrations with the larger Jewish community of Ann Arbor.

On Sunday, members Carol Levin and Idelle Hammond-Sass hosted an “Art and Midrash” workshop centered on the Hanukkah story. This well-loved duo will be continuing their Art and Midrash series throughout the winter and spring–more details to come!

Marcy Epstein led a candle lighting and lively yet challenging night of Hanukkah based trivia. Attendees were also delighted with Marcy’s musical gifts of Hanukkah song and prayer.

On the fourth night of Hanukkah, member Etta Heisler followed her candle-lighting with a dramatic reading of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel and Trina Schart Hyman. Children and adults alike were charmed by Etta’s narrative prowess and varied character voices!

The seventh night found us at the “Latke vs. Hamentaschen” debate hosted by Rabbi Ora. It was a heated debate with a real humdinger at the end. We will have to see if the outcome changes during Hanukkah next year – new AARC tradition? – or perhaps also on Purim!

Rena Basch won the prize for the best props! Photo Credit: Rebecca Kanner

We wrapped up the week with a family candle-lighting hosted by Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg. The students recited prayers and sang classic Hanukkah songs with the community. The Beit Sefer night was a sweet way to wrap up a busy week of community events.

Thank you to everyone who hosted a Hanukkah event and to everyone who attended! This great season of celebration is one we can recall with great fondness next Hanukkah, when we hope to be together in person again.

Photo credit: https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-svuyq

Welcome New Members Paula, Bori, and Adiv!

Paula, Bori, and Adiv have been attending services since this summer and are now excited to become official AARC members! Paula and Bori moved from Boston in July and feel lucky to have found such a welcoming community here. 
Bori is a medical student at the University of Michigan and Paula is a medical assistant currently working towards a nursing degree and staying home with Adiv, who was born in September. In their free time, they enjoy hiking and camping, playing music, and taking family walks with their dogs, Henry and Arthur. 

A warm welcome to our newest member household!

Welcome Back, Ahuvia Family!

Hello everyone,

We’re Aura and Aaron Ahuvia, and we are happily returning to our home, Ann Arbor, after a few years of being away. We are super-excited to meet you all, and to get re-acquainted! We’ve had some excellent adventures, first in Woodstock, NY, then in the Detroit burbs where Aura was working as a congregational Rabbi. We were so happy that things finally worked for us to return home, even though we never anticipated the move taking place during a pandemic!

When we’re not painting the walls of our new house, or playing with our new dog, Nikki, Aaron is a professor of Marketing and Consumer Psychology at U-M Dearborn, and Aura is a rabbi ordained through the Jewish renewal movement, known as ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Aura plans on teaching online for the time being, while Aaron is enjoying his year of sabbatical to work on his book (working title: The Things We Love). When participating in AARC events, Aura looks forward to being a “Jew in the pew,” i.e., she will not be performing rabbinical roles under the auspices of the AARC.  You can call her “Aura.” 

Kid update: Some of you will remember our sons, Isaac and Jonah. Isaac just entered a PhD program this fall in clinical psych at SUNY Stonybrook, on Long Island. He’s really enjoying his coursework and peers, albeit mostly remotely for now. Jonah put his undergraduate work on pause when the pandemic hit and is working and living with us for the time being. 

We have a long history with AARC (or “The Hav” as we will probably never stop calling it) and are very pleased to see it thriving. We can’t wait to get back into the swing of things. 

Aura & Aaron

Workshops on “Art and Midrash”

by Idelle Hammond-Sass

Idelle Hammond-Sass and Carol Levin will hold a Hanukkah workshop on Sunday morning, December 13, 10-11:30am. To participate, sign up here.

I’m excited to be offering Zoom workshops on “Art and Midrash” for AARC. In this first blog, I talk about our Yom Kippur workshop on Jonah (and the Whale). On that day, our small group began with the study of the haftarah text and midrash about the reluctant prophet. We then took twenty minutes to put our images and words on paper. Finally, we shared our results, saying what the art meant to us.

As artist and author Pat Allen says, “Art is a way of knowing.” Art is a useful tool for understanding stories and themes. The use of drawing and color to explore themes can open our imagination to the story. We discover images through associations and connections. In this context, it doesn’t matter so much what our art looks like; we need to leave our inner critics out of the picture and focus on what the art says to us!

During the pandemic, how many of us have been affected by our own isolation? Have we felt that this time has frustrated our inclinations to be of help to others, do our work, deliver a message, even feel safe in our own spaces? Or has it been a retreat, a time of introspection and discovery?


The Haftarah text reads: “And the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” (Jonah 1:17). Rabbi Tarphon’s midrash is vibrantly visual and imaginative:

That fish was specially appointed from the six days of Creation to swallow up Jonah, as it is said, “And the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (ibid.). He entered its mouth just as a man enters the great synagogue, and he stood (therein). The two eyes of the fish were like windows of glass giving light to Jonah.
Rabbi Meir said: || One pearl was suspended inside the belly of the fish and it gave illumination to Jonah, like this sun which shines with its might at noon…” 

Nedarim 38a:15 נדרים לח א:טו

drawing by Rita Gelman

Sally George Wright expressed her workshop experience as, “The drawing, and seeking a verbal way of explaining, helped me identify what I need to work on for the New Year. This was much better than trying to identify major ways I missed the mark. Turning back became, how can I move forward?”

Picture 2

Evelyn Neuhaus, documentary filmmaker (NEVER A BYSTANDER), connected with a video we watched. Evelyn saw that Jonah’s warning to the people was an act of generosity and realized that her film on Irene Butter was also an act of generosity. Her drawing expresses feelings about generosity, compassion, and lovingkindness.

Witnessing our artwork by writing helps us notice things about our art, finding meaning in the images, colors, or marks. Free writing, making word associations, noticing the choices we make in our drawings can lead to new meanings. Sometimes it may lead to more writing, such as this poem by Carol Bloom Levin, author and illustrator of Haggadah Regatta.

Sanctuary 2020

On Yom Kippur, we read how Jonah 
was swallowed alive by a whale. 
For some, it’s a frightful tale
about facing fears alone.
But during this pandemic year
the message for me is hope.

Isolation is opportunity 
to atone.
Sheltered within the dark, 
Jonah’s prayers bring 
him resolve to accept 
responsibility.

Chaos invites a reckoning 
and lockdown awakens the call
to refocus perspective
on humanity. 

As light fills my sanctuary
I peer into its heart, 
ever grateful to
connect. 

 Swimming Toward the Light, Out of the Depths
Another insight into the creative process came from yours truly, Idelle Hammond-Sass. When I began this drawing, I found myself making circles, imagining water, turbulence, the unknown. I wrote, “the opening is small, I can get out – I am out of turbulent waters of judgment and fear. Becoming. She swims, I swim up and out, moving, limbs in motion… The place of potential, of release, air, of forgiveness, love – all possible.”


Next in the series: 

Hanukkah workshop on Sunday morning, December 13, 10-11:30am. 
Co-hosts Carol Levin and Idelle Hammond-Sass explore Hanukkah themes of resilience, resistance, and persistence. Bring your light into the darkest time of the year!

Idelle Hammond-Sass is an Ann Arbor artist, jewelry designer and Open Studio Process facilitator.

AARC Members Plan for a Robust Winter of Programming

What a blessing it is to belong to a community whose members take ownership of the collective and are truly accountable to one another. On November 15, almost every AARC household gathered for our Annual Membership Meeting, this year on Zoom, in order to honor the multitudes of volunteers over the last year and make plans for the year to come. The meeting format serves as evidence that AARC members are the rubber that meets the road when it comes to working together to build up this community. It took nearly the first half of the meeting to simply thank everyone who had made contributions to the congregation in the last year! In the second half, members split into groups to brainstorm ways to make our programming during this winter even better.

Several programming ideas came up more than once. These are summarized below, each accompanied by a sign-up genius so that members can continue to organize to implement their ideas. If you have another idea that you would like to add to this list, please email Gillian or comment below.

  • Provide more congregation-hosted gatherings for members to celebrate Jewish holidays and provide opportunities for Jewish learning. Rabbi Ora and staff are working on upcoming Jewish educational programs, but members are needed to help host social and/or holiday gatherings. In that vein, we encourage a different household to host each night of Hanukkah this year. The format is very flexible: you can simply light candles and share a story, or you could host a game night, a discussion group, an art activity … the only limit is your imagination! Sign up here to host a night of Hanukkah. We will create a Zoom link for you on our congregation Zoom account at your requested time.
  • Establish additional community gatherings that accommodate different schedules. Many of us have been participating in weekly Mishpocha groups, where members come together to share their lives and provide meaningful community connection during this time of isolation. One suggestion was to form a new Mishpocha group that meets later in the evening to accommodate parent schedules. If you would like to sign up for this group, please sign up here. If you would like to suggest a different time for a Mishpocha group, please email us and we will add another sign-up genius.
  • Put together an AARC Social Justice Working Group. This group would be self-directed initially in deciding how to pursue social justice work on behalf of our congregation. If you would like to participate in this Social Justice Working Group, please sign up here
  • Open up an Israel/Palestine discussion and/or working group. This may or may not include the formation of a Beit Din (court of ethics) for the Ann Arbor area. Some members suggested we must work harder to engage with the political issues happening in the Middle East. If you would like to be a part of this Israel/Palestine Working Group, please sign up here.

Thank you to everyone for generating enough ideas to keep us busy for months to come! The comments will be open on this blog. If you would like to add another idea, please do so below or email Gillian!

What Comes After the Paint and Swastikas

By David Erik Nelson

You almost certainly heard about the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids shortly before the election, where “TRUMP” and “MAGA” were spray-painted over the names of the honored dead.

[source]

Maybe these pictures worried you. Maybe they frightened you. Maybe they embarrassed you—because, let’s be honest: it’s shameful to be bullied, to get the “Kick Me!” sign pasted to your back again and again, century after century.  

Or maybe you didn’t feel much of anything. Maybe you’ve grown numb; one more slap in the face at the tail end of four years of unprovoked suckerpunches, it can all sort of blur together. I get that.

I don’t exactly have words for how it made me feel.

I saw these pictures of the Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids, and I immediately thought back to the swastikas spray-painted on Temple Jacob last winter, way up in the Upper Peninsula town of Hancock. And I thought about the dozens of swastikas and slurs that defaced our local skatepark back in 2017.

(I go to that skatepark a lot. It was hard not to take it personally.)

And I thought about the increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes here in America over the past four years. I thought about the increasingly violent nature of those crimes.

I thought about the bomb threats. And the synagogue shootings. And the stabbings. And the rallies. And the men with guns in the capitol.

And so on.

And I felt hopeless. And I was afraid.

So I emailed the rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Israel, who maintain the cemetery in Grand Rapids that was desecrated on election’s eve. I wrote to voice our support and solidarity, and to ask what they might need to restore the cemetery.

Rabbi David J.B. Krishef replied almost immediately:

“Hi Dave — the cemetery was cleaned by a small group of people who live around the corner and took it upon themselves to clean the stones without even letting us know what they were doing, and a few other people, including one from Ann Arbor, who drove in and decided to wash the paint off. We are grateful for all of the love and support and positive notes we’ve received.” 

It dawned on me that this second half of the story is rarely reported, but often the case:

A lone jackass skulks around smearing his petty foulness in the dark; the whole community—not just Jews, but people from all over the community unwilling to let ugliness linger—return in the light to set things right.

That’s what happened in the cemetery in Grand Rapids. And when I went back and checked, I discovered it’s also what happened at Temple Jacob in Hancock.

And that’s what happened here in Ann Arbor, too; I know, because I saw it: I went to the skatepark the day after it was tagged. The city had already power-washed away the paint. And unknown members of the community at large had come through with colored chalk and, every place where there’d been a symbol of hate, replaced it with a message of welcoming and love:

[source]

What I saw in Ann Arbor was not the exception; it was the rule, even now, in this time of widely reported “unprecedented division and unrest.” And maybe it feels like we’re mired in a time of unprecedented division and unrest because we only report the first half of the story—the smeared paint, the thrown punch, the shots fired—and then move on to the next catastrophe, without checking back to see what comes after the paint and the screaming: a nation of folks ready to take it upon themselves to fix whatever any single angry loner chooses to break.

Wild Geese, Mountains, Rivers,

The AARC Enriches Services with Poetry

– Emily Eisbruch, special to the Washtenaw Jewish News January Edition

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

What can be better than poetic verse and vivid imagery to elevate and move our spirits? The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation (AARC) features beautiful and thought provoking poetry in its worship services, led by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner. Here’s a chat with Rabbi Ora about the role of poetry in Jewish services.  

Rabbi Ora, what inspired your interest  in incorporating poetry into Jewish services? 

I grew up attending a Conservative shul in Toronto where Shabbat prayers were usually sung with the same melodies and there was rarely any deviation from the strict ‘keva’ (order of service). When I moved to Philadelphia in 2011 to attend the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I joined Fringes, a chavurah co-founded by feminist activist poet Elliott batTzedek. Fringes services feature a mix of traditional liturgy and contemporary poetry.  I learned from davening (praying) with Fringes that poems can shake up our expectations of what prayer looks and feels like. 

What do you see as the role of poetry in worship services?

Poems crack open our hearts when we’re feeling broken, or tired, or fearful or numb. Poems offer an ‘aha’ moment; they help us feel seen, and less alone. Good poetry reminds us that there is beauty in the world — beauty that we’ve witnessed, and beauty that others have witnessed and bring to us in a gift of words. Poetry is remedy, balm, revolution, or reminder of how interconnected we all are. 

What does poetry provide that the siddur / prayerbook does not?

The siddur is full of gorgeous poetry! The psalms and the prophets are featured widely in our Shabbat siddur, and are profound and powerful poetry. But there are two real challenges to appreciating the poetry of the prayerbook: One, services are usually in Hebrew, and most North American Jews aren’t fluent Hebrew speakers. This means that a lot of the beauty of the language gets lost. And two, any poem that gets repeated again and again will lose a lot of its vividness. Bringing new poetry into services cuts through the lulling effect of repetition. Poetry—if it’s good, if it gets us and we get it—says, ‘Wake up! Pay attention!’

How does poetry compare to music/song in services? 

Poetry is an invitation to awaken to what’s holy in the world and in ourselves. It’s a chance to see things in a new light, or to feel seen. For these reasons, I think of poetry as more of an individual experience — though I do love that moment when, just after our congregation finishes reading a new poem out loud, you can hear a collective murmur of ‘wow’ and ‘yes.’ Singing together is more about the collective experience, feeling the sound of many voices resonating in the room or in our bodies.

What are your favorite sources for poetry to use in services?

Poetryfoundation.org and poets.org are consistently great online sources. Lately I’ve been enjoying drawing from the book Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, by Phyllis Cole-Dai (editor) and Ruby R. Wilson (editor).

Who/what are some of your favorite poets and favorite poems?  

Consistent favorites are Adrienne Rich, Yehuda Amichai, Ada Limon, Ross Gay, Carl Phillips, Mary Oliver, and for services in particular, Rumi and Rainer Maria Rilke. 

Mary Oliver’s ‘Wild Geese’ (shown below) is an antidote to the harshness and shaming that lives in some aspects of our Jewish tradition, our world, and ourselves. 

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves. 
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 
Meanwhile the world goes on. 
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – 
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

To learn more about the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, and see for yourself how poetry is used to enrich the services, please visit aarecon.org, or contact Gillian Jackson at aarcgillian@gmail.com or Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner at rabbi@aarecon.org. 

AARC Bands Together for Comfort and Comradery on Election Day

As most of America settled in for a night of watching poll numbers roll in, a pensive bunch of AARC members opened a night of song with ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King. As the numbers trickled in, comfort was found in classic Jewish songs such as ‘Oseh Shalom’ and ‘Olam Chesed,’ as well as old favorites such as ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ and ‘If I had a Hammer.’ Old friends and new shared thoughts, checked in about what support they might need, and found solace in community.

On the day after the election, the community was welcomed to the weekly Wednesday check-in to discuss how they are doing and what they would like from the community going forward. It is such a blessing to have a community of people invested in providing care for each other during this challenging time! Some ideas for future programming were Jewish learning groups, explorations of Judaism and social justice, interfaith work, and opportunities for personal growth and connection. If you have ideas for programming during the winter months of the pandemic, please email us!

See below for some of the music we enjoyed on Tuesday night.