High Holidays 2019

Shofar

Please join the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation this year for the High Holidays. All the information you need is on our High Holidays website.

High Holidays Schedule

  • Saturday, September 21st, 7:30-8:30pm. Selichot gathering at Amy Rosenberg’s House (1501 Avondale Avenue).
  • Sunday, September 29th, 7:00-8:30pm. Erev Rosh Hashanah services.
  • Monday, September 30th, 9:30am-1:00pm. Rosh Hashanah First Day services.
    • Children’s service from 10:30-11:30am.
  • Monday, September 30th, 5:00pm. Tashlich. Gather at the JCC to walk to Mallets Creek.
  • Tuesday, October 8th, 6:45pm. Kol Nidrei gathering and candle lighting. Kol Nidrei begins at 7:00pm sharp.
  • Wednesday, October 9th, 10am-2:00pm. Yom Kippur morning and Torah service.

Please remember to sign up to volunteer! We need lots of help to ensure that High Holidays services run smoothly.

If you are planning to make use of our childcare services, please sign up here. We need accurate numbers in order to staff the childcare center correctly!

Finally, Rabbi Ora encourages members to participate in services by reading and sharing reflections. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

I look forward to seeing everyone in the coming weeks as we welcome the New Year!

Meet Our Guest Cantor for the High Holidays: Gabrielle Pescador

I am a rabbinic student in the Aleph Ordination Program for Jewish Renewal and plan to join its cantorial track next year. The part of Jewish tradition that I connect to most deeply is davening. I am transported by its potential to crack the heart open and invite healing and personal transformation. I feel the interplay of prayer and music in every cell of my body and want to share this experience in a prayer community to lift all of our prayers together. 

Before entering rabbinic studies, I spent several years working on community projects that integrate art, education and social justice, including making documentary films on incarcerated youth and LGBTQ concerns and creating public art events focused on victims of harsh U.S. immigration policies. I am excited to have the opportunity to serve the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, a spiritual community that values diversity, inclusiveness, tolerance, respect, social consciousness, and artistic expression. 

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.

Rabbi Ora on Elul

Written by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

This year, the Hebrew month of Elul begins September 1 — a nice coinciding of the secular and Jewish calendars. I think of Elul as a kind of pumping-the-brakes on the freewheeling expansiveness of summer; even though it’s usually still warm outside, Elul is a whispered reminder: Fall is coming. Slow down. Get a little quieter. And begin turning inwards. 

Why? Because there is work to be done.

It’s tradition to dedicate the 29 days of Elul to reflection, study, and preparation for the coming Days of Awe. Elul challenges us to use each day to re-connect with our values and attune to the yearning of our souls.

Conceptually, the idea is noble, but acting on it is a bit more challenging. Here are a few resources to help you get started: 

  • Learn more about Elul from Rabbi Yael Ridberg at Reconstructing Judaism.
  • Psalm 27 (“Achat Sha’alti”) is traditionally recited every morning in Elul. Here’s Rabbi Brant Rosen’s interpretation of Psalm 27 .
  • Listen to a special episode from the Judaism Unbound podcast, Unbounding Elul.
  • Here’s a simple calendar that helps you set a single intention for Elul and track it throughout the month.
  • Thinking ahead? Sign up now to receive a daily email prompt for reflection during the 10 days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
  • Is your favorite part of the High Holy Days the music? Here are 2 new niggunim we’ll be using this year – you can get a head start on learning them by clicking the links below:

What Does It Mean to Be Welcoming: Ableism and Inclusion

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

A common thread that runs through the research on ability inclusion is how pervasive inaccessibility is in our environment. Ableism is the intentional or unintentional discrimination or oppression of individuals with disabilities. An example of this would be holding a meeting at a table over three feet high, at which a person using a wheelchair is unable to sit at eye level. Or gathering at a space without handicap-accessible restrooms. This week we explore how we might alter our environment at AARC to be more welcoming, functional, and usable for people of all abilities.

We are taught in Leviticus 19:14, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Most of us do not live by all the laws laid out in Leviticus, but this passage does demonstrate that early in Jewish history accommodations for those with disabilities were considered. What might be an “insult” or “stumbling block” in biblical times might equal a lack of accommodation in our time, such as a service that a person cannot hear or a drinking fountain that is at an inaccessible height.

Engaging with ability inclusion is also not new to modern Judaism. In an effort to celebrate those with disabilities, an interdenominational coalition of Jews have begun to celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month. During the month of February, Jews are encouraged to evaluate their inclusion practices and vow to make improvements. Although it is not February now, we can nevertheless ask ourselves, what can we do to make our congregation more accommodating to those with disabilities?

To start off, AARC will begin by making the following changes:

  • We will hold seats at the front of the room for those who need accommodation to hear or see the Rabbi during services. These seats will be indicated with a small notice taped to the inside of the seat.
  • We will pass around a second microphone to anyone in the general seating area who is speaking or responding to questions, to allow everyone, regardless of hearing ability, to participate in conversation. Even if you believe your voice carries, it might not be e audible by someone with severe hearing loss.
  • We will hold seats at the back of the room for those who need to leave during services.
  • We will provide magnifying glasses for anyone who would find them useful in reading the prayer book or the Torah.
  • We will make sure that aisles are sufficiently wide to accommodate wheelchairs.
  • As a congregation, we will continue to make an effort to provide transportation to services for those who need assistance.

This list of accommodations is just a start! When I reviewed the list with a loved one with a hearing impairment, she pointed out how many of the solutions offered were not in fact effective for her kind of hearing loss. This brought to my attention that to truly begin the conversation about being inclusive to all abilities, we need to bring those in need to the center of the discussion. If there is an accommodation you would like us to include, please comment and join the discussion! You may also email Rabbi Ora (rabbi@aarecon.org) or me (aarcgillian@gmail.com) directly. We will all do our best to widen our focus as much as possible in order to make people with all abilities feel welcome at AARC!

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.

Upcoming Dates To Put On Your Calendar: Annual BBQ Picnic, Fourth Friday Shabbat, The First Day of Beit Sefer, and a New Blog Series

Annual BBQ Picnic

Sunday August 18th, Noon-2ish. Olson Park.

From the Annual Picnic 2015
Olson Park https://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/parks-places/pages/Olson.aspx
1515 Dhu Varren Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
AARC will provide drinks, charcoal and paper products. You bring something to grill, a side dish to share, and your summer stories! The BBQ will be at a new location this year, Olson Park.
Our annual BBQ picnic is a very nice time for all ages to relax together, introduce new people to the congregation, reconnect after summer travels.
Thinking of joining? New member? Want to meet Rabbi Ora? Everyone welcome!

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Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat

August 23rd 6:30pm, JCC of Ann Arbor

Come connect with community, rest, recharge, rejuvenate. Everyone welcome. Please volunteer to buy or bake challah, help set up, greet people, and do dishes after the meal.
  • Tot Shabbat, 5:45-6:15. With Rabbi Ora and Clare, singing and a story. RSVP requested but not required, by emailing Clare, ckinberg@gmail.com Opens in new tab Opens in new tab. Pizza for tots and other children at 6:15pm.
  • Kabbalat Shabbat/Welcoming Shabbat musical service with Rabbi Ora begins at 6:30. Elementary age children are encouraged to join the adult service during first half hour.
  • Potluck dinner for all, 8pm. Please bring a delicious, generously portioned, vegetarian dish to share after the service. **Nothing with nuts! The JCC is a nut-free building.**

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First day of Beit Sefer/ Religious School

Sunday September 15, 9:30am-11:30am

There will be a parent meeting during the first session of Beit Sefer beginning at 10:00 in the Gelman Lounge. Clare Kinberg will be in touch with families prior to the start of Beit Sefer to discuss class assignments.

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Blog Series on what it means to truly be a ‘Welcoming Congregation’

AARC will be hosting a new blog series that explores how we might truly engage in the process of making everyone feel welcome in our congregation. Some topics we will be exploring will include gender inclusion, accessibility, and appropriate touch.

Lots to look forward to ahead, and all of this is leading up to the High Holidays! I look forward to seeing everyone soon at these fun and engaging events!

Meet the Yahrzeit Committee

The Yahrzeit Committee is a benevolent band of volunteers that dedicates their mitzvah work to honor the memories of our loved ones. The committee maintains a database of Yahrzeits submitted to them, which then appear in the Tuesday Telegraph in the relevant week. As time allows, congregants may receive a handwritten letter acknowledging the Yahrzeit.

What is a Yahrzeit? A Yahrzeit is the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Jews celebrate their loved one’s Yahrzeit every year to honor the person’s memory and legacy. When we light the Yahrzeit candle, we are honoring the person as well as the greater cycle of life and death.

Jewish adults honor their loved ones by reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish during services. Because there is an opportunity immediately before the prayer to pronounce the name of the departed, Kaddish facilitates both a personal remembrance of the person as well as their recognition by the community. To learn more about Yahrzeit and Jewish rituals regarding death and dying, see this comprehensive article from RitualWell.

If you would like to add your loved ones to the Yahrzeit database, please email a note about them as well as the name and date of their death to rnmik@yahoo.com or aarcgillian@gmail.com.

Jewish Activism is Alive and Well #NeverAgainIsNow

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/07/01/neveragainisnow-36-arrested-hundreds-jewish-protesters-block-road-migrant-detention

Many times in the last few months, Rabbi Ora has drawn connections between the story of the Jews in exile in Torah to our current treatment of those in exile in America. It is quite the coincidence that during the current political tumult over how we treat immigrants, Jews have been reading about our exile from the promised land in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. So often in our history we have been forced into exile, and in various ways, our drive towards justice has propelled us forward.

The phrase “Never Again” is burned into the Jewish lexicon. We have vowed to never again allow ourselves or others to be subject to the cruelty of the Holocaust. It is with this in mind that activists around the U.S. have launched the #NeverAgainIsNow campaign to oppose the mistreatment of immigrants in America. Jewish leaders throughout the country are currently organizing protests to demonstrate against the Trump Administration’s efforts to imprison immigrants whom they believe to be “illegal.”

Closer to home, Bend the Arc: Ann Arbor organized a family picnic this weekend focused on immigration. Participants engaged in a kid-friendly service project to provide supplies to newly settled refugee families and read a book titled The Lost and Found Cat. This event served not only to teach children about service, but also to built momentum around Bend the Ark’s immigration reform campaign.

Our own congregation has been joined a community interfaith effort to combat antisemitism and violence against both Jewish and Muslim communities. In addition, our own Margo Schlanger recently co-wrote an article in Slate addressing ways to help immigrants detained at the border and at home.

Other instances of Jews around the country organizing against immigration detention include:

These are just a few examples of the “Never Again” movement that is rising up to speak against unfair detention policies of the Trump Administration. I am proud of the Jewish community’s participation and leadership. Be sure to check out the articles above and, if you are able, volunteer for a local event!

Meet the Mitzvah Committee

Written by: Anita Ruben-Meiller

“Let the good in me connect to with the good in others, Until all the world is transformed through the compelling power of love” – Reb Nachman of Breslov

I am writing to you as the new(ish) coordinator of the Mitzvah Committee, having stepped into that role in January, following our annual congregational meeting. The other members of the committee are Stephanie Rowden, Mike Ehmann, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Amie Ritchie and Rena Basch.

Historically, the Mitzvah Committee has helped to coordinate assistance to meet several of the needs of our members. The requests that we receive are mostly for rides and meals. Occasionally we receive requests to help get volunteers to assist with the practicalities of organizing the space for the celebration of B’nai Mitzvot or for holding a shiva observance. Very occasionally we receive requests to offer healing chants at times of illness. The hope of the committee is to make a personal connection that allows the coordination of assistance to create ease for the member in need. Towards this end, we have divided ourselves into teams to handle certain kinds of requests. While all initial requests will come through me via email at anita1018@sbcglobal.net or text message at 734-255-2619, requests for rides will be passed on to Rena and Mike; and requests for meals will be passed on to Idelle and Stephanie.

In the past few years, members of the congregation have completed a survey letting the committee know what kind of helping tasks we might be able to call on you for. We are asking that you take a moment to update your info if your availability has changed or add your name if you are ready to volunteer now.

I know that when I was ill and had surgery some years ago, and still had kids at home to tend to, I was deeply moved by and grateful for the generous assistance that came in the form of meals delivered for us to enjoy. I know from speaking with a congregational member, Amy Rosenberg, that the help that was coordinated and delivered through members of the Mitzvah Committee made it possible for her to not only have rides to visit Marc when he was hospitalized, but also to have emotionally supportive conversations.

I hope you will both volunteer for and take advantage of the services we can provide to make life a bit easier during challenging times.