Radical Judaism with the AARC Book Group and Rabbi Ora

The AARC Book group invites you to join our upcoming discussion of a part of the book Radical Judaism: Rethinking God & Tradition, by Arthur Green, on Sunday, February 24, 2019 at 9:45am, at the home of Greg Saltzman and Audrey Newell. You can read the portion we will be discussing in this PDF file. It’s the preface, intro, and first chapter of the book.

Full details, including exact location, are found here. All are welcome. Please RSVP to Greg Saltzman at gsaltzman@albion.edu if you plan to attend.

Rabbi Ora will be leading our discussion of Radical Judaiasm. This is the second year in a row that Rabbi Ora has agreed to join the book group to lead a discussion on a text of her choosing.

We asked Rabbi Ora to provide background on the Arthur Green book. Below are her thoughts.

I first met Rabbi Art Green in February 2010 – after I’d decided to attend rabbinical school, but before I’d chosen RRC and was still considering Hebrew College as an option. At the time and now, ‘Art,’ as he’s often called, was the dean of Hebrew College. I don’t recall many details from the few hours I spent there in his presence – just an overall sense of warmth, joyfulness, and curiosity coming from him. Over the past 9 years, though, I’ve had the chance to study a number of his books, including Radical Judaism, of course, but also his Guide to the Zohar and his beautiful translation of R. Yehuda Leib Alter’s writings, Language of Truth: the Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet.

I wanted our book group to get a taste of Radical Judaism because Art Green so artfully weaves together the theological with the personal. In the Introduction, he shares how he struggled with what some might call a ‘loss of faith,’ but what he calls ‘the pillars of naïve faith [giving] way’ as he came to reject a personal God in favor of a more pantheistic sense of holiness and unity in the world. Green describes how, as a teenager, he could ‘affirm neither particular providence nor a God who governed history,’ and writes: ‘…I am not a ‘believer’ in the conventional Jewish or Western sense. I simply do not encounter God as ‘He’ is usually described in the Western religious context, a Supreme Being or Creator who exists outside or beyond the universe, who created this world as an act of personal will, and who guides and protects it.’

Art Green’s process feels very Reconstructionist to me – both the God-wrestling, and the image of God that he ultimately settles on. Many of us raised in the Jewish tradition go through, at one time or another, a similar kind of wrestling. And that’s precisely what Reconstructionism invites us to do – to not just sit (comfortably or uncomfortably) with the beliefs that have been passed down to us, but to work towards a faith tradition that feels honest, spiritually nourishing, and even transcendent.

Rabbi Ora leading the book group in Feb. 2018. Please join us at Greg and Audrey’s house for the “second annual” on Feb. 24, 2019.

Art Green also has a powerful vision for the role that religion can play in shaping what he calls ‘this moment of transition in planetary and human history’ – a moment in which ‘unless we take drastic steps to change our way of living, our patterns of consumption, and our most essential understanding of our relationship to the world in which we exist, we are at great risk of destroying our earthly home and rendering it a wasteland.’ Art Green sees Judaism’s deep truths as tools to help us rise to these challenges.

We look forward to seeing you on Sunday, February 24. Be sure to RSVP to Greg at the email above. Happy reading!

What To Call Your Rabbi?

Written By: Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

When I first came to be the rabbi of this holy community 17 months ago, a number of you asked what you should call me: Rabbi Nitkin-Kaner? Rabbi Ora? Reb Ora? Just ‘Rabbi’? Just ‘Ora’? It was my first congregational role post-ordination, and I was still adapting to my new title. I also wanted to be open to what each of you was most comfortable calling me. And so I likely said to you, “please call me whatever you feel most comfortable with,” with a default suggestion of ‘Rabbi Ora.’

17 months in, and several of you have continued to check in about how to address me. With a firmer sense now of my preference and its roots, I’m sharing this learning with you today:

In the near-2,000-year history of the role of rabbi, women have officially occupied this role for less than a century. The first modern woman rabbi that we know of, R. Regina Jonas, was ordained by Germany’s Reform movement in 1935. The next time Reform Judaism ordained a woman rabbi was in the United States in 1972, with R. Sally Priesand. Our Reconstructionist movement ordained its first woman rabbi, R. Sandy Eisenberg-Sasso, in 1974; then the Conservative movement with R. Amy Eilberg in 1985; and in 2009, Sara Hurwitz became the first Orthodox woman given the title of ‘maharat.’

One could argue that 5 decades of women rabbis in North America has given our Jewish communities sufficient time to get comfortable relating to rabbis who are not cisgender men. But the reality is that systemic misogyny (both in historical Judaism and in the non-Jewish world) continues to inform how women rabbis are regarded; women rabbis are consistently afforded less respect and confidence than our male counterparts.

In December 2017, Rabbi Jordie Gerson published an article in the Forward entitled “I Am the Rabbi, Not His Assistant: We Must Fight the Erasure of Female Clergy.” R. Gerson shares example after example of women and men, Jews and non-Jews, clergy and laypeople assuming she could not possibly be ‘the’ solo rabbi or speak from a position of grounded, educated Jewish authority.

R. Gerson writes: “This is demoralizing and exhausting. And it erases slow and painful advances it’s taken millennia to overcome – in a tradition whose right wing still scoffs at women rabbis.”

R. Gerson goes on to assure the reader that female clergy across faith lines share these experiences, including consistently being called by only their first names in situations where male clergy are called ‘Rabbi’ or ‘Reverend’ or ‘Imam’ [Last-name].

On the heels of R. Gerson’s article, Rabbi Dr. Kari Hofmaister Tuling published an article in the Forward entitled, “Want to Help Women Rabbis Get the Respect They Deserve? Here’s a List.” The very first point on the list: “Refer to every colleague as ‘Rabbi’ [Last-Name] regardless of how cute or young or approachable or bubbly or fun she is.”

R. Dr. Hofmaister Tuling’s suggestion is an invitation and a challenge to all of us to invest in progress and claim respect for women clergy everywhere.

And, it’s also important to recognize that every community is different and has unique values and needs.

In Reconstructionist Judaism, and particularly in our community, we pride ourselves on being warm, welcoming, and somewhat informal. Given that, I suspect it would be overly distancing and stiff to be called ‘Rabbi Nitkin-Kaner’ by our members. So how do we balance a commitment to warmth with a commitment to allyship; how do we balance the value of closeness with a sense of confidence in the rabbi’s role?

There is power in naming and in being named. In light of what I’ve shared with you, I invite you to continue empowering me to be your rabbi, in the fullness of what that looks like within our community and beyond. And to answer the title’s question? Please, call me ‘Rabbi Ora.’

Welcome New Members Ella August and Joe Eisenberg!

Ella and Joe on vacation with Joe’s daughters (Ella’s stepdaughters), Thea and Sophie.

New member Ella August writes:

Joe and I had our first “real” conversation while waiting for our faculty meeting to begin at the University of Michigan School of Public Health eight years ago. Neither of us had been early to a faculty meeting before or after that day so we figure it must have been fate. We had served on a committee together and had passed in the hallway but hadn’t actually had a one-on-one conversation before this particular faculty meeting.

Joe has two children: Thea, a student at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and Sophie, 23, who lives in Napa, California. They return home for summer vacations and visits.

Joe grew up in a nice Jewish family in the San Fernando Valley and then lived in Northern California for many years before relocating to Michigan. I am a Michigan native and am still mentoring Joe on how to be Midwestern. I think he’s starting to catch on.

I am an aspiring Jew, working with Rabbi Ora on conversion. Things I love about Judaism: the focus on community, the home-based practices (what I sometimes call the “do-it-yourself spirit”), the holidays, and the questions. Things I love about Jewish people: their sense of humor, their sense of community, their focus on education and family, and their Yiddish expressions.

Things Joe loves about Judaism: a sense of community and tradition, and a focus on education that continually questions our practices and beliefs. Joe takes great delight in cooking for the Jewish holidays and is constantly exploring cuisines ranging from Eastern European to Middle Eastern. His latest challenge is creating the perfect falafel: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.

Joe and I run and snowshoe trails together, eat delicious meals in all corners of the world, and enjoy entertaining at our home. You can often find us at Argus Farm Stop, Zingerman’s Deli, or Spencer restaurant, on North Campus admiring the art sculptures, or running through the Arb, Bluffs Nature Area, or Bird Hills.

Planning to Plant Trees

AARC Plans to Plant Trees to Celebrate Tu B’Shvat

It may be hard to imagine a bright sunny day in spring where AARC’s Beit Sefer students will frolic in a green meadow, picking out spots to plant new trees. But worry not! Under the guidance of Beit Sefer director, Clare Kinberg, students and their parents are making plans to do just that!

Entrance to our planting site, County Farm Park

Plans are in the works to plant fruit trees in County Farm Park’s Permaculture garden. Stay tuned for more info about our very exciting planting day!

Tu B’Shvat, or the New Year of the Trees, reminds us that in these dark days of winter, our trees are resting a slumber necessary to foster new growth. Tu B’Shvat is often celebrated as an ecological conservation day in which Jews around the world plant trees in honor of the holiday. We will remember this moment with gratitude in the spring when we are reveling in our advanced planning to enjoy this special tree planting activity.

An example of a Sugar Maple tree available through the Washtenaw Conservation District

Beit Sefer will be planting some fruit trees. If you are inspired by this and would like to order your own native trees or shrubs visit Washtenaw Conservation Districtto order for your home.

New Communications and Event Coordinator for AARC

Welcome Gillian Jackson
Gillian, Wade, Alex, and Wesley Jackson

We are very excited to welcome Gillian Jackson as AARC’s new Event and Communications Coordinator. Gillian will relieve Clare of her event planning duties, facilitating our congregation’s holidays, Shabbat services, and special events. She will also take over the weekly blog, Tuesday Telegraph, and Thursday Mailer. There are lots of small things Clare has picked up to support our congregation over the years and Gillian will be doing her best to do these things as well. You can read about Gillian in her new member blog post from last year.

Clare will still serve as the director of our Beit Sefer, religious school. She will also continue to attend and support our congregation as a cherished member. She is very excited to dive into her new role as editor of the Washtenaw Jewish News.

We thank you in advance for your patience as Gillian learns the ropes and invite your feedback and communication with her as she learns. You may contact her at AARCGillian@gmail.com.

The story behind Haggadah Regatta

by Carol Levin

Haggadah Regatta, my new Passover picture book haggadah, launched this month. You’re all invited to a launch party at the JCC on March 10th, from 3 to 4:30 pm. The February issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News reviews the book about a seder on a little matzah raft. My website  shows a sampling of the art and publication details. For the backstory…

Summer 2016

A three-week visit to help my daughter’s family settle into their new Michigan home assures me that Ann Arbor is the place to be. This East Coast Grams has no doubts about her decision to move. My grandkids, Aaron and Julia, are then at delicious ages (one and three). Naomi and Ben, U-M geology professors, both have Michigander roots. In 1850, my Mom’s family, the Silbermans, founded Detroit’s Temple Beth El. Five generations later, their descendants enjoy the Apples & Honey fall festival for a first look at Jewish Ann Arbor.

Spring 2017

Naomi and I begin to plan for a seder at my house. We agree to make it kid friendly. We need a haggadah that works for us all. My Amazon search yields a riot of fun picture books for toddlers. I find family haggadot geared to older children. What’s missing from the book list?  A beginner’s haggadah for Aaron and Julia. I’m a writer, and an artist and a do-it-yourselfer. Decades ago, I wrote A Rosh Hashanah Walk, (Kar-Ben Publishers, 1987) . An idea for a new holiday tale sprouts. While kayaking on the Huron, I spy a matzah raft with some old friends on board. When I was little, I discovered talking shoes at my Daddy’s shoe store. These shoes are my crew.

In two-weeks time, I feverishly sketch, and write and weave seder essentials into the haggadah. Staples at Westgate produces the beta version. Aaron’s pal Jack and his folks, Brenna and Ben, join us for seder. The read-aloud gathers steam as we go around the seder table asking, “Who is?” and telling, “how” and “why” and having a foot-stomping good time.  When the seder is over, a year of revisions begins.

Fall 2017

Indie authors at the Kerrytown Bookfest point me to the Thomson-Shore table. The book printers &  publishers are having a fall open house. Touring the Dexter plant, I muse about self-publishing. I’m not there yet. The revisions continue.

Spring 2018

I upload files to Apple to print a full color book. The new  8”x 8” format is easier for little hands. Pastel crayon illustrations replace rough sketches. The original protagonist, a weathered captain, bows out. Two kids, a boy and a goat, now lead the seder crew. Digital goat tracks urge viewers on from page-to-page. Text is color-coded to cue readers.

Post-Seder brings more revisions: I focus on pacing and page-turns; I paint watercolor illustrations; I think the book is ready.  My Ann Arbor SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) group say, “It’s ready.” Query letters to agents and publishers are mailed. And I wait. I attend writer’s conferences. And I wait…

Summer – Fall 2018

I return to Thomson-Shore and meet with their Creative Director, Tamra Tuller. Tamra’s clear observations and feedback convince me to do it. Under her mentoring, I produce new illustrations, change layouts and select fonts. She guides me through the design process and skills needed to convert finished art into files. Wordsmith friends, Elaine Sims and Marion Short, help with final edits. Rabbi Ora refines phrases to suit a young audience. Clare Kinberg addresses sensitive issues as a librarian-educator-communicator. Phonetics maven Terri Ginsburg helps verify family-friendly Hebrew transliteration. Peretz Hirshbein (JCC Early Childhood Center Director) and Jessica Gillespie (PJ Library Director) facilitate the book launch and family Passover event. Thank you Ann Arbor.

Winter 2019

Shehechiyanu !!!

The ‘Border’ is around the corner

by Idelle Hammond-Sass

In Ann Arbor and the Detroit area, several churches and synagogues have become “sanctuary congregations.” Being a sanctuary congregation can include participating in a range of actions, from educating the public about immigration issues to becoming a haven for guests who need sanctuary to evade deportation.

Ann Arbor Friends Meeting recently accepted a guest in Sanctuary and a coalition of congregations is coordinating logistics. You may also be interested in reading about the guest and how he came to be in Sanctuary here: press release/sanctuary .

“Doorminders” are on 24-hour rotation to make sure the place is secure and to screen visitors. Washtenaw Congregational Sanctuary, which includes Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary (a group of local Jewish congregations) is a member of this effort.


Washtenaw Congregational Sanctuary (WCS) is an interfaith coalition of congregations, and unaffiliated individuals, throughout Washtenaw County who have joined together to support immigrants and their families in our community. The group is led by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) and the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR). WCS formed in January 2017 in response to intensified and increasingly unjust activities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our community.

It Takes a Village

It takes a lot of people to maintain a 24-hour watch. Doorminders are scheduled in three shifts: 8am – 4pm, 4pm – 10pm, and 10pm – 8am. Training is necessary to be a doorminder, but is very short and simple. My experience as a doorminder was very positive, with ample support, information and comfortable surroundings (wifi, etc.). A large pool of people is needed in the event that a new guest arrives in sanctuary, and to enable shift splitting when necessary.

The next Doorminder Training is February 9th, 2019, at 1pm, Friends Meeting House, 1420 Hill St. Ann Arbor, MI. RSVP on Eventbrite is encouraged for the training. The doorminder signup is as simple as “Signup Genius.” Occasionally, there may be other needs, such as a ride to medical treatment.

In addition, I encourage you to join the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary email list (a2jewishsanctuary@googlegroups.com) to find out about actions, such as rides to Detroit for check in to ICE, USCIS, and other types of support. AARC member Laurie White helps coordinate rides at lonawhite1@gmail.com. For more information see the website .

Ritual Lab & Learn

Brainstorming on the question, “What is ritual?” photo by Mark Schneyer

Introducing Ritual Lab & Learn: An adult education series

What makes something a ritual? Is it the act itself? The intention behind the act? How often it’s performed? Who performs it? On Sunday January 13, 2019, 23 of us gathered to explore these questions as part of the introduction to Ritual Lab & Learn, a new adult education series.

Ritual Lab & Learn will meet twice a month to learn about new Jewish home ritual. We’ll meet at the JCC on Second and Fourth Sundays, 12:30-2:00 pm. The schedule is:

  • January 27:         Daily blessings
  • February 10:       Eating and drinking
  • February 24:       Covering the head/Mezuzah
  • March 10:            Thoughtful speech
  • March 24:            TBD
  • April 14:                TBD

Why is the series called ‘Lab & Learn’? Because there are 2 tracks:

Just Learn: Attend any or all of the sessions. In each class, we’ll learn a new type of Jewish daily home ritual, including where it comes from, how and why it was practiced in the past, and how we might practice it today.

Lab & Learn: Commit to practicing the assigned ritual for a two-week period. During the 2 weeks, you’ll journal on your practice, and meet once with an assigned chevrutah (study partner) to discuss your practice.

Want to sign up for the Lab track, or have questions about which track is right for you? Email Rabbi Ora.

More on the topic of ritual:

Rabbi Ira Stone teaches that ritual practices are a way of ‘interrupting time’ to help us be more human.

Sigal Samuel takes a look at a design lab making rituals for secular people.

Parashat Bo and Poetry of Presence

Book cover in which several of these poems are published

During Ta-Shma (Come and Learn) and Shabbat morning service (Parashat Bo), Rabbi Ora used poetry and writings of all kinds to connect the parasha to our current lives (some of which led straight through to Sunday’s intro session of the new Ritual Lab & Learn, but that’s another post).
In case you were there and want to read and reflect a bit more, or in case you weren’t there but might still like to read a couple great poems and delve into an interesting article, here are the links. Thanks to Rabbi Ora for providing these:




Tu BiShvat Seder Jan 20

It will come…..

I came out of a meeting yesterday at about 5:20pm, and the sun had not quite set. It was a glorious moment. But did you know that the sunrise in Ypsi/Arbor won’t be before 8am until next week? And did you know on the evening of January 20th, the 15 of Shvat, or Tu BiShvat, the sun will set at 5:34pm? The sun will have been in the sky just long enough to send a message to the bare-limbed trees that yes, Spring will come.

At Tu BiShvat seders, by appreciating the fruits of trees and arbors, we remind ourselves that, yes, Spring will come. The gardens will come back to life, whether we plan for them on not. Why not start planning?

Michal and Josh Samuel have graciously offered to host our AARC Tu BiShvat seder, Sunday evening January 20th, 4-6pm, as the sun sets and as our tradition suggests to us, the trees’ yearly cycle begins, deep beneath the frozen earth.

There will be fruits and nuts and wine. Some ritual and food to share. Details are still emerging (like the sun), but please RSVP here so the Samuels can set the table and be in touch with you about what to bring. The address and contact info are in the RSVP.

Our blog contains many wonderful pieces about Tu BiShvat, its meanings and how we have celebrated in past years. Click here to see them!