March Events at AARC

As we mark a full year of life during a pandemic, the ability of this congregation to rally its resources in order to create robust programming is evident. Each weekend this month we have programs to help us process the past year and prepare for our next holiday celebration–Passover! All events are on Zoom, and links will be sent out in the AARC mailer the week before the event. If you would like to attend and do not receive our mailer, please email us for the link; everyone is welcome!

Make your Own Haggadah Workshop, Sunday, March 7, 1-2:30 pm.

Two of our congregation’s most creative Debbies, who have collaborated on many a seder through the years, will host a discussion about creating your own haggadah for this year’s sederim.

Topics that will be covered:

Five things you need to consider before embarking
Knowing your audience
Helpful resources
Consistency of content and message: how to balance tradition and innovation
What elements you shouldn’t mess with

Join us for what should be a free-wheeling conversation on Zoom!

Tech Tips from Teachers on Leading Your Zoom Seder, Sunday March 14, 2 pm.

Teachers Patti Smith and Sharon Haar will lead a workshop on how to plan a virtual seder with friends and family over Zoom. 

Havdalah and Healing: Marking One Year of the Pandemic in Our Lives, Saturday March 13, 6:30-7:30 pm.

Join AARC to mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic with a ritual to hold our personal and collective losses and our hope for healing. We will mourn the loved ones we have lost, acknowledge the changes in our lives, and set hopes and intentions for healing and better days to come.

Community Melave Malkah: Saturday March 13, 8 pm.

Author Menachem Kaiser will read from his debut memoir Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure (out March 16, 2021 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The memoir is an incisive and engaging ‘3G’ story of a young man returning to his family’s ancestral home on the Polish-German border in search of a connection with a grandfather he never met—and the relatives he never knew he had. AARC is co-sponsoring this event: Register Here.

‘Dayenu’ Art Workshop, Sunday, March 21, 3- 4:30 pm with Carol Levin and Idelle Hammond-Sass

Join us on a journey into Dayenu (‘Enoughness’) through images, discussion and art-making: 

  • We’ll explore Dayenu pages from a selection of haggadot chosen for their uniqueness and appeal to different audiences. Dayenu!
  • We’ll discuss how the Exodus story and seder themes resonate with us. Dayenu!
  • We’ll reflect on everyday miracles from our own experiences. Dayenu!
  • We’ll take time to make art, write, and share. Dayenu! 

Bring your art materials to the workshop. Bonus: Turn your art into an e-card, social media post or a page in your own Haggadah!

Getting Rid of Our Chametz: A Spiritual and Gastronomical Exploration, Wednesday March 24, 7-8:30 pm

The pre-Passover ritual of bedikat chametz is a kind of leavened-product treasure hunt, where we search for hidden chametz in order to be able to enter into Passover—our freedom holiday—a little less encumbered. In this 2-part workshop, we’ll:

1.      Learn about the bedikat chametz ritual with Rabbi Ora, and use its framework to reflect on what we can spiritually leave behind as we enter a new season (7-7:50 pm)

2.      Get rid of our literal chametz with a Napolitano-style pizza-making workshop led by Rabbi Ora’s partner, Asa, a dedicated pizza hobbyist (7:50-8:30 pm)

Hamantaschen Reflections From Past and Present

By Gillian Jackson and Carol Lessure

Spending time in the kitchen making food together is one of those particular situations that no matter who you are with, good conversation and connection are surely to come. Some of my fondest memories are of time spent in the kitchen with loved ones. Last weekend’s Hamantaschen workshop did not disappoint! Etta Heisler and Laurie White provided some invaluable tips and techniques to help their fellow bakers perfect their Hamantaschen craft. In addition to their priceless anecdotes, members were given the opportunity to simply spend time together in the kitchen, and what a privilege this seems to be during this time of isolation!

Carol Lessure wrote a lovely reflection on the community that is built around times in the kitchen in ‘normal times.’ Enjoy!

AARC has always enjoyed silly, fun times during Purim. We have had many a Megillah reading, and lots of spiels, tons of costumes and of course yummy food enjoyed together.  Last year, we had two face to face celebrations – crazy right?  

When Gillian reached out to me about a Hamantaschen-baking workshop online, it reminded me of the many years that the Lessure Engelbert family hosted Hav families and friends to bake cookies in our home. 

It all started with a call for homemade Hamantaschen for dessert at a catered luncheon followed by a Purim spiel a decade ago. Then, the Beit Sefer requested some to fill Mishloach Manot. I thought it would be more fun to tackle the big baking task together. What followed was a 7-year tradition of baking cookies at our home. At first, the little ones needed lots of supervision and quickly tired of the task; a few years later and the tweens took over and the adults could visit over coffee and snacks. Then families with younger ones came over and the teenagers showed them how to do it.  

We figured out that people just liked hanging out – so we started popping pizzas into the oven after the cookies baked. Each family would bring a side dish to share for dinner. Our boys were happy to host and soon the tweens and teens would gravitate downstairs for Wii games while adults hung out on the main floor.

One year, I woke up with a fever and chills. I kept to our bedroom and the cookie-baking went on without me. It is truly a testament to our community spirit that not only did the cookies get made, but our guests left the main floor and kitchen cleaner and tidier than they found it! Not only that, but no one came down with whatever I had.  Obviously, this happened long before we’d heard of COVID-19. 

We thought it would be fun to share these memories and some vintage photos – may we be together again next year!

Carol’s “Best Hamantachen” (recipe is from Leva Lessure – aka Carol’s mom). Published in “Nobody Cooks Like Jewish Women” – NCJW National Capitol Area Section, 1992:

1 cup shortening (butter, margarine)

3 eggs (or make flax “eggs” with 1 tablespoon of fresh ground flax with 3 tablespoons of water for each egg you are substituting)

1 cup sugar

           Cream sugar and butter together, add eggs one at a time

1 tsp of vanilla

3 tablespoons of honey (or agave for the vegans)

2 tablespoons of orange juice

              Add these ingredients and mix well

4 cups flour

3 tsp of baking powder

½ tsp of salt

              Sift the dry ingredients together – esp. baking powder so it doesn’t clump

              Slowly add in dry ingredients into the blended wet ones

Once all the ingredients are well blended, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Take out only a small amount at a time and keep dough refrigerated – it will become very sticky when warm and difficult to roll and cut.

Cut two inch circles with a juice glass or cookie cutter, add a small spoonful of filling in the center and pinch the sides to form a triangle – leave a hole in the middle so that filling can be seen.

Baked on greased cookie sheets at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes until edges begin to brown. Cool for 5-10 minutes because filling stays hot longer than the cookies.

We prefer Solo brand fillings: Poppyseed, Prune and Apricot are traditional in our family. Cherry, chocolate and sweet cream cheese are good too!

A Mitzvah Committee Update

By: Anita Rubin-Meiller

Dear Chevre,

For many years, the Mitzvah Committee has been functioning to meet the needs of AARC members in a variety of ways. These include offering rides to services or medical appointments; providing meals during an illness or after the birth of a child; assisting with shiva set-up, and with preparing the space for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  There are currently 7 members on the committee.

In the year prior to pandemic lock-down, we met once a quarter for personal sharing, reviewing how the committee was functioning, and considering new ideas. Just before lock-down, some of our members were gearing up to offer new support groups, one for folks with aging parents and one for parents of teens. These were put on hold, as were the quarterly meetings.

On January 31, we had our first virtual gathering and noted that although we hadn’t been seeing each other in person, we were still functioning. Our members helped to organize and provide ongoing phone support for congregants; took part in providing meals for new parents; helped connect former members with Rabbi Ora for shiva support; and helped with groceries here and there for folks who felt too at risk to get to a store.

We continue to be open to looking at new ways to serve the AARC community, increase involvement from other members, and perhaps extend beyond our congregation with a community project. We welcome your requests for assistance and your interest in volunteering. Please fill out this mitzvah committee form if you feel ready to be part of the team. Initial contact can be made with Anita Rubin-Meiller, the committee chair, at Our next quarterly meeting will be on Sunday, April 25th

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ― Leo Buscaglia

February Events at AARC

Join us in the month of February to bring levity and inspiration to your winter days! We have a Purim workshop, a Purim-tastic Shabbat, a Mishloach Manot exchange, and a new program about food and land justice to enrich and enliven you!

Hamantaschen workshop, Sunday February 21st 2:30pm.

Laurie White and Etta Heisler will be leading a delicious workshop on how to make the perfect Purim confection via Zoom. We will provide the recipe on this blog in the days to come. Zoom link will be sent out on our mailer the week before the event; if you do not subscribe and would like to come, please email us. Dough will need to be prepared ahead of time, please see Etta’s website for the recipe.

Laurie White’s Recipe:

Rich Pastry Hamantaschen recipe
2 C. all-purpose flour1/2 C. sugar2 t. baking powder1 C. butter (or margarine)2 eggsGrated rind of 1 orange1/2 C. finely ground walnuts2 T. brandy
1) Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.2) Add the eggs3) Add the remaining ingredients and work with your hands until the mixture forms a ball,  Add more flour if the dough seems to sticky to handle.  Wrap and refrigerate over night.4) Roll out to 1/8-inch thickness on a well-floured board or pastry cloth.  Cut 3’ or 4’ diameter circles, using a cookie cutter or drinking glass.5) Using filling of your choice*, mix filling well.  Drop a teaspoon into the center of each circle, and fold dough to form triangular pockets (You can put a bit of water around the edge to help with sealing. Pinch edges together firmly).
Bake in pre-heated 350 F. oven for 20-30 minutes, until pastries are golden brown.  
Makes 2 1/2 – 3 dozen.

* I like prune jam (2. c.) with the grated rind of a lemon, 1 t. orange juice, 1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts, 1 t. cinnamon (1/4 t. nutmeg):  apricot jam (and add cinnamon and nuts) or poppyseed filling (I usually add yellow raisins, cinnamon and lemon to the commercially prepared version)

Mohn (rhymes with fun) is both the German and Yiddish word for poppy seeds.  Tasch (rhymes with gosh) is the word for purse or pocket.Mohntaschen were a pocket-like pastry filled with poppy seeds and popular with German Jews and non-Jews in the late Middle Ages.   A dish eaten by Jews has always been more satisfying if there exists some connection between it and the history of the Jewish people, so it became “Hamantaschen” and designated as a treat at Purim.As an extra justification for adopting mohntaschen for the traditional Purim pastry, it has been suggested that poppy seeds were a symbol of manna, the food G-d gave to the Jews wandering in Egypt, and also one of the few foods Esther would have eaten in the Court of Ahasuerus since she would have been observing the Jewish dietary laws.

Sunday February 21st, 12-2 pm, join us for the first conversation in a 6-month series on Shmita

AARC and The Jewish Alliance for Food, Land and Justice are partnering with Ekar Farm and other national organizations to explore the connections between the biblical agricultural tradition of Shmita (“release”) — the Sabbatical year — and contemporary issues of economic, environmental, immigration, and food justice. In today’s program — the first in a six-part monthly series — we’ll learn from Nati Passow of Dayenu about Shmita. In the second hour, we’ll gather as a community (via Zoom) to unpack our reactions and consider their local significance. Register for the class here (note the suggested donation of $18), and learn more about the partnership and upcoming programs here. For questions, contact Carole Caplan-Sosin at

Family-Friendly Purim Celebration, Friday February 26

Fourth Friday services this month will be filled with Purim fun! We will witness the creative brilliance and dramatic flair of Beit Sefer families; hear the megillah, and be delighted by the Great Debate Part II: Hamantaschen VS Matzoh Ball Soup. The costume theme this year is creative headwear — come with your wildest hats and your most creative home-made noisemakers!

We will be doing abbreviated megillah readings in English and need some volunteers! If you are interested, we will provide you with your assigned chapter ahead of time. Please sign up here. If you’re interested in being one of the Great Debaters, email Rabbi Ora.

In addition to our Purim celebration, we are also organizing a Mishloach Manot Exchange for members. To participate, sign up here. You will be randomly matched with 2 other households to give 1 and receive 1 mishloach manot package (in a COVID-safe fashion) in advance of Purim. Need some Mishloach Manot inspiration? Check out these fun ideas!

We hope you are able to join us for this month of enlivening events! If you have any questions, please email us!

Tu b’Shvat in Winter is a Wonderful Thing

Tu b’Shvat in Michigan requires appreciation of snow, roots, cold and anticipation
Aziza learns that trees in winter especially appreciate hugs.
Sappho with a very large Sweetgum tree behind her.
And then Sappho drew it for us.
Jack stayed inside and planted argula….it only took four days to grow this big!
Wes and Wade playing among the winter trees.
Remember what we see above is small compared to what is below.

A Note from Margo Schlanger and Sam Bagenstos

Dear Chevra –

We moved temporarily to Ann Arbor for six months in 2008—and we showed up at the Hav (as this group was then known) pretty much right away.  Our children, Harry and Leila, were 8 and we didn’t want a gap in their Jewish education, so getting them enrolled in the Beit Sefer was a priority for us.  

Very quickly, the Hav became not just a source of Jewish acclimation/education for our kids but a crucial community for all of us. We didn’t move to Ann Arbor for permanent till 2011, but AARC meant it felt like coming home. 

A decade on, we’re moving away, temporarily, to DC.  Sam has started a new job in the Biden/Harris administration, and Margo is luckily able to work remotely for the UM Law School.  The current pandemic has little by way of silver lining, but for us, it does have one: because AARC’s activities are still all virtual, we’re able to remain active members of the community from afar. Virtual services are obviously different from in-person gatherings—but we have already found them to be a really meaningful way to stay connected to our haverim at AARC, and we are thrilled we can continue to do so.

So we just wanted to tell everyone that we’ll be away but not gone, and we hope to see you and to stay in touch.  

Le’shalom u’be’ahavah  

Margo Schlanger and Sam Bagenstos

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. 


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 

Find, Listen to, Hug and Bless a Champion Tree!

Written By: Clare Kinberg

American Sycamore –

For Tu b’Shvat this year (January 28, 2021), the AARC Beit Sefer invites the whole congregation to help us appreciate our amazing local trees.

Tu b’Shvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, is on the full moon in the Hebrew month of Shvat. We celebrate the trees exactly 7 weeks after the first night of Hanukkah, when the celestial lights are dimmest. Seven weeks later, on Tu b’Shvat, the days have lengthened just enough for the tips of the trees to begin to send messages to their roots, “Begin to awaken….” It is cold outside, but the longer daylight tells the trees — and us — Spring is on its way.

Ann Arbor’s Champion Tree Program identifies and catalogs the largest tree of each species within the city. The program was created in 1995 to highlight and recognize these amazing trees and increase awareness and appreciation for outstanding trees that help make Ann Arbor “Tree Town.” There are currently 60 trees in the Champion Tree Registry. You can find them all listed on an interactive map, with information about each tree here. 

Our Tu b’Shvat plan is that during the week of January 23 through January 30, our member households will each pick one tree (or more if you are ambitious) from the registry, visit it, record in photos, drawings, or video what it looks like, and do the following:

1. Listen to the tree by putting your ear to the bark…can you hear the water beginning to rise?

2. Put your arms around the tree and give it a hug!

3. Bless the tree, as something beautiful, a natural wonder, and as something unique (3 blessings are below):

4. When you get home, write a few sentences describing your tree, and email them to Gillian, along with your photo or drawing, so we can share your experience in a future blog!

  • Blessing on Beauty

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam shekahcha lo ba’olamo.

Blessed are you, our God, Ruler of the World, who has such as this in the world.

  • Blessing on Seeing Natural Wonders (from Ritualwell)


Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, oseh ma’aseh v’reshit.

You are blessed, our God, Ruler of the world, Source of creation.


B’rukha At Ya Eloheinu Ruah ha’olam, osah ma’aseh v’reshit. 

You are blessed, our God, Spirit of the world, Source of creation.

  • Blessing on seeing an unusual creature

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, m’shaneh habriyot.

Blessed are You, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes creatures different.

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


Art work by Marcy Epstein


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: