Another Renewing Sukkot Campout for AARC Families

Rabbi Ora shaking the Lulav with Beit Sefer Students on Sukkot

AARC families gathered this year on Carole’s farm to celebrate Sukkot. The campout began with a group effort to build the Sukkah. The children diligently created paper chains and tissue paper flowers while the parents and some older teens worked with hammers and nails.

AARC parents enjoying the fire after working hard to construct the Sukkah!

Once the Sukkah was complete, families enjoyed a cookout and a night under the stars!

On Sunday morning, Rabbi Ora joined in to bless the Sukkah, sing songs, and shake the lulav with the children and their families.

Beti Sefer students shaking the lulav and the etrog

The whole campout was a beautiful way to welcome in the New Year: with community, love, and the great outdoors!

Children in the Open Tent

by Clare Kinberg, Beit Sefer director

Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service 2019, photo by Nancy Meadow

For the Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service, I transformed our Community Chuppah into Abraham and Sarah’s tent, which was said to be open on all four sides in order to welcome guests. The theme for this year’s Beit Sefer is “Welcome.” We are learning to be welcoming of ourselves, new friends, new community members and immigrants to our country. Based on several Midrashim and a story told by Nissan Mindel on chabad.org, I wrote a story for our families:

Bruchim habaim, welcome to the tent of Abraham and Sarah in Beersheva. We are in the desert and our ancestors Abraham and Sarah have a beautiful garden around their tent, which is open on all four sides, just like this chuppa we sit under. This is a story about their open tent.

Abraham and Sarah were not born in Beersheva; they came from far away. They went on a long round-a-bout journey, walking thousands of miles to get where they finally built their tent and garden. While they were on their journey, some of the people they met were very kind and welcoming, offering them water and food and a place to rest.  Sometimes they tried to pass through places where people chased them away shouting “get away,” we don’t want you here.

When Sarah and Abraham built their own tent, they wanted it to be open on all sides to let people who were passing by know that they were welcome. Sarah and Abraham would sit in their tent and listen for travelers. They would welcome them into the tent and feed them.

Out in the garden surrounding the tent, there were two tall date palm trees. The leaves at the top of the trees could see and hear from many miles away. So the trees were the first ones who could see caravans of travelers when they were still far away. And the caravans could see the trees and know there was a place to rest from the hot desert sun.

The trees kept watch for Sarah and Abraham, and when the trees saw a caravan of people who seemed like they came from far away, people who dressed differently and spoke a different language, they would rustle their leaves with a special swishing sound.

When Abraham and Sarah heard the sound of the date palm trees swishing in the special way, they knew they had to do more than wait for the travelers to come to the tent. They knew the travelers might wonder if they would be welcome. So Sarah and Abraham would prepare food and water and they would run out of the tent to greet the strangers and offer them water, food, and good company.

L’Shana Tova! AARC Welcomes in 5780

What a wonderful Rosh Hashanah at AARC this year! We were joined by many new friends for flowing, joy-filled, and inspiring services.

Rabbi Ora encouraged us to consider our image of what we would like the world to be and “be a prophet” for our vision. These inspiring directives helped us to focus on our vision and goals for the coming year.

A heron at Mary Beth Doyle Park, photo Sept 7 2017 by Evelyn Neuhaus

We began Tashlich meditation with Loosen, Loosen by Aly Halpert. Our guided meditation prompted us to reflect on what we want to let go of in our lives and how we want to transform this letting go into the creation of good in our lives. Participants let go by casting stones and leaves into Malletts Creek.

Please join us for Yom Kippur services, beginning on October 8th at 6:45pm for Kol Nidrei. Yom Kippur day services begin October 9th at 10am. Services are followed by Yoga, Meditation, and Chanting workshops from 2:30-4:30pm. Yizkor begins at 4:45pm, followed by Ne’ilah and Shofar at 6:30pm. The day wraps up at 7:45pm with a Break-The-Fast meal. We hope to see you there!

Follow-up on the Welcoming Blog Series: The Act of Welcoming is Happening All Over Town!

The need to reach out to our community and express openness and welcome is not singular to our congregation. It seems that many around our community are feeling the need to organize events that send the message of welcome to those around us.

It is not surprising, given our current political climate, that we are all opening our arms to each other in order to say “You are loved, I value you, and you are welcome here.” We are always looking for ways to balance the scales in our lives. The heavy weight of hostility coming from our administration calls us to add weight to our own messages of welcome.

Our own Beit Sefer is using “Welcoming” as the theme of the school year. Students learned this previous Sunday how as a people, Jews have relied on other welcoming us in our Diaspora. Over the course of this school year, Beit Sefer students will study our relationship with immigrants and immigration, how to be welcoming with each other, and about how welcoming has been taught in our religious texts.

Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County is holding Welcoming Week this week. JFS’s website explains that this event is meant to emphasize that “being a welcoming community for all makes everyone stronger economically, socially, and culturally.” JFS has invited Ann Arbor businesses to advertise themselves as “Welcoming Businesses.” Shoppers can get discounts at some locations by showing an “I’m A Welcomer” packet when they shop. More information is available at JFSannarbor.org.

The Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary and Immigration Network has launched the “Butterfly Project: Migration is Beautiful, Never Again is Now.” This project aims to blanket the town with tiles and pictures that illustrate the beauty of migration, demonstrating to the immigration community through visual arts that they are welcome, wherever they are. If you would like to participate in this project, please contact AARC member Idelle Hammon-Sass at Hammond_sass@msn.com.

Our blog series focused on ways we can make everyone feel welcome in our congregation – how we as Reconstructionists can build upon our Jewish tradition to be more inclusive in our interactions with each other and our guests. Perhaps we can use the momentum from our very important work to take part in other acts of welcoming happening in our community! Do you know of any other welcoming efforts happening right now? Please share them in the comments!

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.