Upcoming Kid, Teen, and Family Events Happening around Jewish Ann Arbor!

This winter and spring around Jewish Ann Arbor are filled with meaningful family events. Take a look these upcoming programs — we hope to see you there!

LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton with Keshet

Keshet, a Jewish non-profit that advocates for LGBTQ equality, will host the Midwest/Mountain Area LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton in Detroit this year! This event brings together LGBTQ teens from around the Midwest and Rocky Mountain area to celebrate Shabbat together and “explore the intersections of our Jewish and LGBTQ identities.” Keshet hosted the LGBTQ advocacy training that members of our congregation attended in the Fall. AARC is involved in a year long leadership program to make our congregation more welcoming to the LGBTQ community. For a refresher on this important work, see this blog post from last December.

Talking to Children About Race with Bend the Arc Ann Arbor

Bend the Arc Ann Arbor will host an event aimed at engaging Jewish children in conversations about race. The goal of this workshop is to learn about raising children who are empowered to act against racism. For details on this event, visit Bend The Arc’s Facebook page.

Yiddish Book Center’s Summer Learning Programs

The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts will host various learning programs focused on Yiddish literature for high school students, college students, and young adults. Most programs take place on the campus of the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts. Scholarships are available!

Foundations of Jewish Family Living Series

The PJ Library and the Ann Arbor Orthodox Minyan will host a year-long series beginning in February to explore Jewish family values across all Jewish denominations. This monhly series will be hosted by the JCC of Ann Arbor. The cost is $50 for the entire series. For more info, visit the Melton School’s website.

AARC Joins JCC/St. Joe’s “Stop the Bleed” Training

Take this Free Training!
Learn the Single Most Important First Aid Skill!

By Dave Nelson, AARC Safety Coordinator

The JCC and Community Security Committee will host a “Stop the Bleed” first-aid training on February 4 at the JCC. If you have enough hand strength to wring out a wet washcloth, you should attend and learn these skills. This excellent hands-on training is run by St. Joseph Mercy Hospital’s Trauma Center. In one hour, you’ll learn everything you need to know to give someone a fighting chance after an accident, disaster, or violent attack.

Our local first responders can generally reach the scene of an accident or injury in around seven minutes. But someone who is bleeding severely will die from blood loss within five minutes. A national effort is underway to train as many people as possible to recognize and treat life-threatening bleeding. You are the help until help arrives.

AARC has already begun to distinguish itself as a congregation that works to be both safe and welcoming: We refuse to hire armed security, or search people at the door, or limit access to our services and gatherings. Instead, we choose to train ourselves to be better equipped to offer a safe space and protect those who gather with us. This is a great opportunity to further expand our capacity to help when help is needed, and keep ourselves open to those around us who may struggle to find a spiritual home and feel safe there.

See you at the training!


WHEN: Tuesday, February 4, 9 am-10:30 am
WHERE:  Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor COST: Free!
REGISTER: email Events@JewishAnnArbor.org


Welcome Pritchard Family!

Clare and Andy Pritchard with their daughters, Elena and Maggie.

Our family is glad to have found AARC. Our names are Clare (that’s me), Andy, Elena (age 8) and Maggie (age 6). Andy and I are from Michigan originally and lived in Ann Arbor for about 10 years before moving to Maine for work. We had our children in Maine and moved back to make Ypsi our home in 2016.

We’ve been dabbling in Jewish activities/congregations in the area but feel most comfortable at AARC. Thank you for welcoming us to your community! Our kids LOVE beit sefer and we look forward to being involved over the years. It is also special to note that I first heard about AARC through my good friend Allison Ivey, who I met at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor back in 1997!


My background is in nursing and I currently work at IHA in Clinical Operations. Andy is a public health professional who works as an Independent Consultant. We enjoy the outdoors, traveling, the Corner Brewery, Cultivate, making things with our hands, and making the world a better place. 

A Lovely Hanukkah With AARC

It has been another season of light and love at AARC in celebration of Hanukkah. The week began with a fun Hanukkah-themed day of learning at Beit Sefer. Over the week, many AARC families hosted friends, family, and congregants for home-hosted Hanukkah celebrations. On Friday night, we all gathered together for the congregation wide Hanukkah party during Fourth Friday Shabbat.

Fourth Friday Shabbat Hanukkah Celebration was a festive night that included a community candle lighting, festive music, and a latke cook-off!

Esteemed judges Sally Fink and Anita Rubin-Meiller hard at work evaluating the admirable qualities of each latke entry.

Beit Sefer’s annual life-sized menorah!

Beit Sefer students enjoying edible dreidels. Yum!

Menorah lighting from a home-hosted Hanukkah gathering at Marcy Epstein’s house.

AARC Attends LGBTQ Advocacy Training with Keshet

On Thursday November 7th, Rabbi Ora, Gillian Jackson, and Judith Jacobs joined congregations and Jewish organizations from all over Metro Detroit to learn how to be more inclusive and how to advocate for LGBTQ communities. The training was led by Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality of LGBTQ Jews and families. Emily Saltzman, dynamic leader from Keshet, was joined by representatives from Nextgen Detroit Pride and Stand with Trans. The training provided a framework for understanding LGBTQ core concepts such as sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Participants also learned about the history of LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish communities and the challenges that LGBTQ-identifying people face in our culture. The seminar concluded with an opportunity for each organization to form goals to improve its LGBTQ advocacy.

The training in Michigan grew out of a 2018 survey, the “State of Equality Index,” that reviewed areas of the US for positive policies supporting LGBTQ equality. Michigan scored as an area of high priority; this means we have many areas of law, health and safety measures, and religious recognition that must be updated to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.

As our blog about welcoming remarked, Judaism has a rich history of gender diversity and inclusion. However, modern Jewish culture still has a long way to go until our organizations make LGBTQ individuals feel safe, welcomed, and respected. Keshet suggested that organizations provide leadership on LGBTQ inclusion through programming, policy, and culture. AARC has taken steps to improve our organization on all of these fronts.

The AARC action plan includes the formation of a LGBTQ inclusion policy, a new LGBTQ welcoming section of our website, visible LGBTQ welcoming signs at our welcome table, and the organization of a new annual Pride Shabbat. If you would like to take part in the planning or implementation of any or all of these new initiatives, please email me or speak with Rabbi Ora. We look forward to hearing from you!

A Meaningful Human Rights Shabbat with Kehillat Israel

This past Saturday, AARC made the journey to Congregation Kehillat Israel in Lansing to share in celebration of Human Rights Shabbat, an annual celebration initiated by T’ruah, a Rabbinic Organization advocating for human rights in North America, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The annual Human Rights Shabbat initiative is intended to educate Jewish Communities about the intersection between Jewish values and the values of International Human Rights. It is typically celebrated on the Shabbat closest to the anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Kehillat Israel and AARC chose to focus their Human Rights Shabbat on bringing together children and families to learn and build community. Rabbi Michael Zimmerman and Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner led all of us in a beautiful Shabbat morning service that asked congregants, “What does the story of Isaac and Esau teach us about justice, forgiveness, and identity?”

Services were followed by a potluck lunch that featured not only delicious foods from both congregations, but also much enjoyable conversation between new friends and old. After lunch, Rabbi Ora led the adults in a conversation entitled, “Who Deserves Punishment? Considering ‘Goodness’ and ‘Badness’ through a Jewish Lens.” The thoughtful and stimulating conversation examined not only Jewish moral thought on crime and punishment, but also its relevance to current political policy on incarceration and the resulting reality in human terms.

Many thanks to everyone who attended last Saturday and special thanks to our hosts, Congregation Kehillat Israel, for including us in this Shabbat exploration of human rights.

Sam Ball’s Dvar Torah: Lech Lecha

Hello everybody! Thank you for coming to my bar mitzvah! The name of my parshah or my torah portion is Lech Lecha, which is in the book of Genesis. Lech Lecha means “Go forth,” which is what God said to Abram: “Go forth from where you call home and go to the place where I tell you.” And Abram and Sarai did. By the way, Abram and Sarai are called Abram and Sarai because they hadn’t yet gotten their second names of Abraham and Sarah from God.

First Abram and his wife Sarai went to Canaan. They then went to Egypt. When they got to Egypt, Pharaoh saw how pretty Sarai was. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s palace and she received lots of gifts, like cattle and camels and slaves. After some time in Egypt, Abram and Sarai left to go back to Canaan.

Ten years passed in Canaan and Sarai, who wanted to get pregnant, still couldn’t. After ten years of not being able to get pregnant, Sarai gave up in frustration. So she gave her slave named Hagar to Abram and Hagar got pregnant very quickly. Once she became pregnant, Hagar began to act like she wasn’t a slave. Hagar mocked Sarai and refused to do what she was told. As it says in my parshah, “. . . her mistress was lowered in her esteem. . . .” 

Sarai was angry after being mocked by Hagar, so Sarai treated Hagar very disrespectfully. So Hagar ran away. An angel found Hagar and told her to go back to Sarai and Abram’s house because God promised to grant her a great multitude of descendants. Hagar went back and later gave birth to Ishmael.

Why did Sarai act the way she did? I think that at first, Sarai wanted someone to blame for her not being able to get pregnant, so she experimented by giving Hagar to Abram. Maybe she thought that if Hagar wasn’t able to pregnant, then the problem would be with Abram. But since Hagar did get pregnant, maybe Sarai knew that the problem was with her. And instead of accepting this fact, she denied it and treated Hagar poorly by oppressing Hagar and returning her to her former slave status.

I also think that maybe Sarai gave Hagar to Abram because Sarai wanted to be faithful to the role God had promised her, that she would be the mother of a great nation. But when Hagar started acting less like a slave and more like Abram’s wife, Sarai became angry that her role as Abram’s partner was taken. I believe that for these reasons, it was a contest of priorities for Sarai.

So far I’ve only talked about Sarai’s feelings. But what about Abram’s?

Before Sarai returned Hagar to her slave status, she counseled with Abram, complaining about Hagar. Abram said “. . . your maid is in your hands, deal with her as you think is right.” Essentially Abram said, she is your slave; do what you will to her. I think that Abram was either feeling that the situation wasn’t his problem and he shouldn’t be the one to deal with it. Or he felt that if he interfered that he would make the situation worse.

How did Hagar feel about all of this? 

I believe that Hagar was feeling that she was being cheated. The reason for this is first Hagar was a slave and she then was raised from her status of slave to wife. Then she was put back down to slavery even while she was pregnant with Ishmael. I would feel cheated if I was raised in status and then put back down again because someone was feeling jealous. I believe that Hagar thought that she was being cheated of what she rightly deserved as the person who was pregnant with Abram’s son.

I think the reason that we have all of these stories in the Torah is so that we can learn from them the easy way and not have to learn them the hard way. The easy way is getting the lesson early and not having to experience the challenging situations for ourselves. And the reason we go deeper into the Torah’s characters in the stories is because we need to understand their opinions and motivations if we are going to understand the story itself. 

Why do we have stories in general? I have learned about the collective unconscious, which is a part of our minds that connects us to everyone else, even though we don’t know it, and causes people everywhere to invent the same stories. Humans of all history and cultures have the same basic storyline for all our myths and legends – a storyline of people seeking something they need, like Jason and the Argonauts or King Arthur and his quest to find the Holy Grail, or the Buddha searching for Enlightenment or Moses and the Exodus. We all tell similar stories because there is a link between humans. Stories teach us about being human by giving us meaning.

When I read a story, I get sucked into the world of it, and the real world around me goes away. I don’t become the characters, but I observe the characters, and I can see from their point of view, like looking through their eyes. Stories show us that we are always connected with everyone else, even when believing that we are alone. 

The Torah is full of both stories and laws. Laws give us practical guidance of what not to do, like don’t murder or steal. While those are actions that we shouldn’t do, stories help us understand how to navigate emotions and thoughts ethically.

The stories in the Torah help us learn and grow and discover how to be good people. God uses stories to teach us because if we only had strict laws, we wouldn’t be able to think for ourselves and there would be no freedom. We have a considerate and forgiving God who wants us to interpret and understand. God lets us make mistakes so we can learn from them.

This takes me back to Sarai. God didn’t interfere in her life except minimally, and allowed Sarai to make her own mistakes. Sarai wasn’t perfect, and Abram wasn’t perfect. They made mistakes and improved from them. And the stories about them impact us even today because Sarai and Abram were so human. We can relate to them because we deal with the same issues and temptations, jealousy, guilt, hatred and joy.

Stories connect us all. Maybe the collective unconscious is there because we all have a little bit of God in all of us, and the little bit of God is the connection.

In our congregation, we have a custom of asking the community a question to generate discussion towards the end of a dvar Torah. I have a couple of questions for you at this point: “Why do you think stories are important and what stories have helped you find meaning in your lives?”

I want to thank all of you for coming to my bar mitzvah. I appreciate it. Thank you especially to those who are coming out of town. I want to thank Deb for tutoring me and giving me lots of support to help make this happen. I want to thank Rabbi Ora for helping me make this speech. And most of all, I want to thank my loving, supportive parents for making this happen!

Shabbat shalom!

Meet the Mitzvah Committee

Connection: an essential ingredient of a caring community

Written by: Anita Rubin-Meiller

“Mitzvah comes from the root word tzavta, which means connection. There are 613 mitzvot, and therefore, 613 ways to connect to G-d.”

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg

I appreciate this definition of mitzvah, which goes beyond doing a good deed or following a commandment, and adds connection as an essential ingredient. Certainly, in this past year of chairing the committee, the experience of connection is what stands out. Whatever we engage in involves connection: arranging for help to set up for the joyful celebration of a B’nai Mitzvah; accompanying someone in their grief and assisting with shiva; doing our best to find someone a ride to services and events; or gathering together for our quarterly “coffee and catch up.” Connection is not only the heart and soul of our mission, it is what makes the efforts worthwhile.

As we approach the annual congregational meeting, I want to pique your curiosity about this important committee and ask that you consider joining in our efforts. At the moment six of us pair up to take care of requests as they arise. While we have done well pitching in this year, it is apparent to us that we could use additional members, as we are not always able to be available when needed. 

The mitzvah committee is designed to assist in meeting commonly arising needs of our congregation’s members. This past year we helped with the Bar Mitzvah celebrations of Jacob Resnick, Eli Revzen, Otto Nelson, and Sam Ball. We assisted with the shiva observances in the homes of Amy Rosenberg, Deborah Fisch, and Carol Lessure. We helped organize a meal train for Alice and Ryan as they welcomed their little one. And we did our best to try to secure rides for members when there was a need. 

The committee currently consists of Rena Basch, Mike Ehmann, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Amie Ritchie, Stephanie Rowden, and me. We have enjoyed deepening the connection among us in meetings over coffee at York, with conversations about how we have felt supported or challenged in the past few months. We would love to welcome you to our next meeting on February 9th.

If you are not able to join the committee, please consider completing our survey so that we may call on you for specific tasks when the need arises. The survey can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1HNkIfCEHWaN1T-EevfbrPx8E8n7UVm9icNtVhVIoEqc/edit

Please come to our “roundtable” at the December 8th congregational meeting to learn more!

Lots of Chanukah Fun in Store!

A 2018 home-hosted Chanukah celebration.

Believe it or not, the winter holiday season is upon us! The Festival Committee has been hard at work planning loads of Chanukah fun for us.

Our celebration begins with home-hosted Chanukah gatherings from December 22nd to December 29th. Each day, members can gather at a different family home. Hosts might choose to offer dinner, deserts, lunch, tea, or a special activity. In previous years, hosts have shared cookie-making parties, latke dinners, cocktails, and so much more! Members can sign up to host or attend a Home Hosted Shabbat on a day that works for them. Home-hosted Chanukah celebrations are a fun way to get to know AARC families in an intimate, haimish setting.

In addition to our home-hosted Chanukah celebrations, AARC will hold a Chanukah party on December 27th at the JCC. The evening’s events begin with candle lighting at 6 pm. Everyone is encouraged to bring a menorah/hanukiah. A regular Kabbalat Shabbat service follows, but in addition to the usual potluck, you can expect a latke contest, music, and dreidel games. If you would like to participate in the latke contest, please sign up here!

Many thanks to our hard-working Festival Committee for planning these Chanukah events! We hope to see you at one of them. Happy holidays!

A Lovely Sunday Morning Hagbah Training for AARC Members

All photos by Ella August

Keith Kurz teaches Gillian Jackson, Etta Heisler, Dave Nelson, and Eric Bramson how minimize wear on the parchment while rolling the Torah.

It was a lovely Sunday morning, crisp and sunny, when a handful of tall and strong AARC members gathered to learn Hagbah, the raising up of the Torah after a Torah reading on Shabbat or other occasion. Although the practice may sound straightforward, it requires knack and nuance. For example, when lifting the open Torah off the table, one must push down on the lower handles while pivoting the Torah upwards, rather than lifting it directly up. This and many other handy tidbits were passed down by our teacher, Keith Kurz.

Members took turns picking up, raising, and holding the Torah under the careful support of Hagbah spotters. Participants also learned the proper way to perform Gelilah, the dressing of the Torah.

As a result of this training, AARC now has many able and willing members available for Hagbah and Gelilah. Thank you to Keith Kurz and all the participants who volunteered to learn this important skill for our congregation!

To learn more about the history of our Torah, please check out these blogs by Clare Kinberg and Dave Nelson.

Etta Heisler and Eric Bramson practicing Gelilah.
Etta Heisler sporting a winning smile after mastering Hagbah.
Eric Bramson was strong and confident while lifting the Torah. Well done, Eric!
Brenna Reichman was an excellent Hagbah spotter – calm and supportive as always!
This was Gillian’s first time holding the Torah!