Not Your Grandma’s Haggadah

You may feel it’s time to retire your Grandma’s old Haggadah. Or perhaps you’re considering putting it in a drawer and trying something new, just this once. If so, this Passover you can celebrate with Haggadot ranging from one based on Hamilton, The Musical to another in the form of a graphic novel. You can even make your own on www.haggadot.com!

It seems fitting that we increasingly move beyond simple readings of the traditional story to more actively engage with our heritage. When Clare was practicing the Four Questions with Beit Sefer students last Sunday, she remarked, “Not only is Passover a holiday for asking questions, asking questions is what Judaism is all about!” Clare was of course correct that Judaism, and in particular Reconstructionism, begs us to interact with the material in order to ask questions, to learn, and to incorporate new ways of thinking into our lives. What better time to do this than at the Seder table with our friends and family?

In this week’s blog I have selected some new and interesting Haggadot for you to explore and potentially make use of this Passover. Enjoy!

Rabbi Ora has recommended Velveteen Rabbi, the website of Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. There you will find a Haggadah that focuses on poetry, mindfulness, systems of oppression, and a theology of liberation.

The Reconstructionist movement’s Haggadah features recommended outlines according to your demographic (younger children, older children, women, and interfaith families).

The American Jewish World Service’s Haggadah focuses on global justice.

Last but definitely not least, I couldn’t fail to celebrate the newly published work of AARC’s very own Carol Levin! Haggadah Reggata! is written especially for children and features beautiful, fanciful watercolor illustrations.

Whether these creative Haggadot inspire you to try something new this year or you decide to stick with Grandma’s old faithful, I wish you a peaceful and thought-provoking Passover!

AARC’s Megillah Ark

The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation is proud to present one of our hand-crafted sacred objects, a Megillah Ark created by Alan Haber, with components crafted by Idelle Hammond-Sass. The Ark is a beautiful piece of artistry specifically designed to shelter a hand-illustrated scroll of the Book of Esther or Megillat Esther. For more on the Scroll of Esther acquired in 2016, see Barbara Boyk Rust’s blog post. Please enjoy this description of the symbolic elements of Ark in the artist’s own words:

I made it like a city within which to live and be safe, with 6 walls to hold the story. Each of the wall boards has two tenons like the boards of the tabernacle. In the front are the city gates, Boaz and Joachim. In the back is a dark post, ready also to serve as gallows. The wall boards on each side of the gate have the smile of Vashti, in the grain, through which the story unrolls.

The story scroll is held tied between 2 pieces of rosewood attached to a piece of white holly wood, which serves as the handle to draw the story out between the city gates, though the smile of Vashti. The gate is closed, with the story inside, and latched  by a piece of ebony wood, tied with a blue thread. When the gate is unlatched, the ebony latch bolt is inserted and held at the top of the gallows post and the blue thread serves as the rope and noose. The crown of Esther is on top of the central post holding the scroll, and is turned to unroll the story, and turned back to re-roll. Mordecai sits at the base of the city gate and aligns Esther when the story is returned to within the city and the latch retied. The city walls and earth below and roof above are all of cherry wood … surely a favorite of Esther, without ointments and oils.

– Alan Haber, 2019

According to Idelle Hammond-Sass, the scroll was designed by an Israeli woman artist she saw at the Janice Charach Epstein Gallery. Says Idelle:

Barbara Boyk-Rust and I purchased it, hoping to have a housing created for it. It is color-offset, richly decorated and signed.
We arranged to collaborate with Alan and I made a brass Crown etched with the Hebrew for Megillat Esther, which fits the fulcrum of the turning for the scroll. It has designs pulled from the scroll itself. Barbara and I also visited the Megillah container Alan made for Beth Israel and helped to fund the project.

Idelle Hammond-Sass, 2019

Purim Fun at AARC

AARC’s Purim celebration last Friday was a blast! Rabbi Ora, dressed at Mr. Rogers, opened services with an original composition that welcomed us to Purim; it was set to the tune of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” In addition to our regular Shabbat songs, our abbreviated Shabbat service included many silly lyrical compositions written by Rabbi Ora, who astounds and amazes us every Purim! See her upside-down Megillah reading from last year!

Alan Haber and Idelle Hammond-Sass display AARC’s newest sacred object, a handmade Megillah ark to hold the Megillah scroll.

Alan Haber revealed the handmade Megillah ark that he constructed to hold the beautiful Megillah scroll acquired by Barbara Boyk Rust and Idelle Hammond-Sass.

Members Rebecca Ball, Dina Kurz and Debbie Field dressed as their personal hero, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

For this year’s costume theme, members dressed up at their personal heroes. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsbergs was a hero in triplicate!

Purim costume parade.

After services, we enjoyed a delicious potluck followed by a performance by Beit Sefer students, a costume parade, and dancing!

Stacy Dieve (a.k.a. Albert Einstein) reads from the Megillah.
Dina Kurz (a.k.a. Ruth Bader Ginsberg) reads from the Megillah.
Dave Nelson reads from the Megillah.

Purim Mania!

A summary of Purim Happenings around Ann Arbor

The weeks leading up to Purim have been eventful; the Beit Sefer kids have been celebrating for two weeks now! Last week the children made Hamentaschen with the Hebrew Day School and this weekend they attended the Jewish Cultural Society’s Purim Festival. I think this year the students will have the whole story down before Friday Services!

But the fun doesn’t end there! There is still lots of Purim fun happening around town this week, culminating in our very own Purim service, Megillah reading, potluck, and games on Friday night!

AARC Purim Service, Potluck and Games. Friday, March 22nd, 6:30pm.

Our theme this year is “Dress Up As Your Personal Hero!” We will read the Megillah as a community after an abbreviated Shabbat service. After Megillah reading, we will hold a vegetarian community potluck followed by songs and games. We still need folks to sign up to read from the Megillah, bring Challah, and help clean up. Please sign up here!


Hamentaschen Making Party, Marcy Epstein’s House. Thursday, March 21st, 6:30-8:30pm.
Please join us for this fun event! We will bake hamentaschen for our Purim celebration and also make mishloach manot for friends and elders in our community. Friends will gather to share Purim stories, eat snacks, and celebrate the equinox and Worm Moon!! RSVP to Marcy at dr_marcy@hotmail.com; plan to bring a hamantaschen filling of your choice.

Other Purim events in the community this week:

Purim Dinner and Play at Beth Israel. Wednesday, March 20th, 6pm. Kick off your Purim celebration by watching the BIRS students perform their annual Purim Shpiel, to be followed by a family-friendly dinner. Children (high school aged and younger) are free; adults are $8.00 per person. Our menu is vegetarian chili and a baked potato bar! RSVP by Friday, March 15. Click here to sign up online.

Megillah Reading at Temple Beth Emeth, March 20th, 6pm.

Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, March 20th, 6:30pm. This event will include a family-friendly celebration at 6:30 p.m. with pizza and hamantaschen, face painting, Purim games, and costumes galore!

Detroit Jews for Justice, March 19th 5-8pm.
This congregation is creating a short play, dance party, costume contest, and a beautiful spread of nosh (including hamentaschen of course).

Wow, that is a lot! I hope that everyone gets their fill of Purim fun. I look forward to seeing everyone this Friday. Chag Purim Sameach!

Letter from Rabbi Ora

My dear community,

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the devastating news of the Islamophobic terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.

This morning, I sat down with community rabbis to write the following letter, which we sent to Imam Abdullah Al-Mahmudi of the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor:

“Our hearts are breaking. When we woke this morning to the news of the terror attacks against Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, the first thing we thought of was the Ann Arbor Muslim Community. White supremacy, whether in Christchurch, Ann Arbor, or anywhere else in this world is a threat to us all. The murder of innocents, especially in prayer, is a terrible affront to humanity.

“As a Jewish community, we express our grief and moral outrage over this Islamophobic act of terror in New Zealand—the murder of 49 innocents in prayer.

“Both the Muslim and Jewish traditions believe that whoever destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed the entire world; and whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the entire world. (Surah 5:32, Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

“We recognize that last night, whole worlds were lost. We hold you in our hearts, and grieve alongside you.”

In response to the news of the shootings, a colleague of mine, Rafael Shimunov, wrote: ‘When you kill someone praying, you are killing them at the moment they closed their eyes, turned their back to the door, tuned out every sound and decided that this will be the moment they will trust the rest of humanity the most.’

This afternoon, I will be standing outside the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor as our Muslim brothers and sisters attend Jumu’ah, Friday prayer, along with Rabbi Josh Whinston, Rav Nadav Caine, Reb Elliot Ginsburg, and members of their communities. Please: if you’re able, join us, to remind those grieving that they can continue to trust the rest of humanity.

Holding you, and holding onto hope for a Shabbat of shalom,

Rabbi Ora

Honoring Marc Lerner

Written by Rick Solomon

Marc, behind his Ypsilanti apartment, March 11, 2010.
Photo: Lon Horwedel, AnnArbor.com

Marc Alan Lerner, September 22, 1951 – February 17, 2019.

Marc, son of (deceased) Betty and Ben Lerner, died from complications of Multiple Sclerosis. He was an author, poet, spiritual seeker, and finder. For thirty years, Marc engaged with his MS in a way that allowed him to not only cope with the disease but to transcend it and arrive at a spiritual philosophy—called Life Skills—that he shared through his books and blogs, for the benefit of others facing a chronic illness. His motto was, “To Struggle is to Grow.” His poetry and writing expressed a mystical love for God. He bore the burden of his disease with an uncomplaining grace that caused him to be described as “re-marc-able.” All who knew him loved him, and he loved us all in return.

Marc was a loving and wonderful husband, brother, uncle, and friend. He will be missed, but he has become a part of who we are. In 2005, as his MS worsened, he moved to Ann Arbor to be nearer to family. Soon after moving, he met the love of his life, Amy Rosenberg, and they became life partners. He continued writing books and poetry, and inspired all who met him to be their better selves.

In 2014 he developed trigeminal nerve damage, one of the most painful medical conditions of MS. He underwent brain surgery, became wheelchair bound, and felt close to death. Facing that struggle with courage, inner wisdom, love, and creativity, he wrote two books about the end of life, The End: A Creative Way to Approach Death and A Poetic View of Hospice. All his books are available atmarclerner.com.

To know Marc was to love him. He was a kind, gentle, and sensitive man who had an amazing capacity for intimacy and wonder. “Amazing” and “incredible” were his favorite words. Despite chronic pain, blindness, and disability, he was creative and witty, with an always present and positive spirit. He never complained about his MS but accepted it as his teacher, as a way to help him go deeper into what he called “the wisdom of the body,” the deepest intuitive source for healing the mind even when the body is broken. He formed deep, lasting bonds of love and friendship; he will be especially missed by his wife, Amy Rosenberg; his brother Dennis and his wife Cindy; brother Rob and his wife Ina; his sister Linda and her husband Rick Solomon; his nieces and nephews; his devoted friend and caregiver Eeta Gershow and friend Michael Andes; his men’s group, and the many followers of his skilled, spiritual approach to life.

On Naming: What Do We Call Our Congregation?

The synagogue space in Temple Beth El

My first memories of participating in Jewish life are physical ones. The congregation that I attended for the first half of my childhood was Temple Beth El, a very large Reform temple in Bloomfield Hills. The sacred space in this synagogue is as large as it as majestic. The ark stands two or three stories high; when the cantor’s voice flows from the equally tall speakers, you feel in your bones that you are in a holy space.

However, it wasn’t until I attended High Holiday services led by Rabbi Ora at a Unitarian Church(!!) that I felt in my heart the genuine holy feeling of being instantly at home with my Jewish faith. Although our meeting spaces are not quite as palatial as my synagogue of origin, I still call our congregation “temple.” Going to temple” means more to me now than it ever has, because what I learn there resonates with me on a level truly deserving of that name.

Carol Lessure calls our congregation “Recon or Hav – that is the name I called it originally when it was a Havurah – and means community to me. Certainly not the same name we used growing up; we went to Temple or Shul.”

Like Carol, many of us call our congregation ‘The Hav” or “The Havurah.” Up until recently our congregation’s official name was “The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah.” In Hebrew, Haver means friend.” A Havurah is a group of friends coming together. Beginning in the 1960s, many young American Jews who felt that traditional Judaism didn’t speak to their experience began practicing in community groups that collectively came to be known as the Havurah Movement. Although our congregation does not go back that far in time, many of those who started this congregation came together out of a similar sense of faith and community.

Our Havurah, sharing in Community and Food! (In true Jewish style)

As their numbers grew, the members of the Ann Arbor Havurah welcomed in more and more peoplle from our community who felt the same feeling of home as I did on my first visit. Eventually, we became the “Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation.” According to former member Danny Steinmetz, the name change “…had implications for the conception of a more formalized, fuller service congregation.” Our congregation has met this goal in a style truly fitting of a Havurah.

Clare Kinberg’s article on members leading services in the absence of a rabbi is a perfect example of how our community continues to practice Havurah Judaism within the Reconstructionist Framework.

Many others, such as Seth Kopald and Rabbi Ora, call our congregation “Shul.” Interestingly, Shul comes from the Yiddish word for “school.” Many began calling their congregations shul as a homage to an earlier phrase, Batei Midrash, or “House of Study.” It seems appropriate to call our congregation Shul, since the practice of exploring, debating, and learning is fundamental to how our services are structured.

Whether you call our congregation Temple, Shul, or The Havurah, one thing remains constant: our commitment as Reconstructionists to be inclusive of everyone’s experience. We all come to the table with a lifetime of experience as Jews that informs how we view this congregation. What is important is that when we are together, we are a community that at its core is one of equality, inclusion, and exploration.

Do you have something to say on this topic? Or would you like to contribute to next weeks exploration of “What We Call Ourselves As Reconstructionists?” If so, please email me at aarcgillian@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

On Naming: What Do We Call Ourselves

Drawing inspiration from Rabbi Ora’s blog post on naming last week, we put out the call to members of our congregation to explore what naming means to us in the context of ourselves, our congregation, and as Reconstructionists. For today’s blog post, the first in a series, we explored what we call ourselves.

For many, one of the most sacred parts of belonging to a Jewish community is taking part in the same Jewish rituals throughout our lifetimes that our ancestors have observed for generations. As Reconstructionists, many members of our congregations have chosen to fulfill these rituals in ways that honor these traditions while holding a specific meaning for themselves.

My great grandfather’s pen

When I was a child, the few belongings we had from my great grandfather, Godfrey August Garson, were passed on to me as I was his namesake. Since I was born female, I was given his initials rather than his full name, in the Ashkenazic Tradition.

Just the other day while rustling through a drawer, my son found my great grandfather’s gold pen, engraved with the initials GAG. I told my son that this pen belonged to our ancestor who I was named for; I then got to have a great conversation with him about which ancestor he is named after. Knowing that my name and my children’s names have meaning and are part of a tradition is important to my Jewish identity and sense of self.

Like me, AARC member and Beit Sefer teacher Shlomit was named after an ancestor. However, rather than use the initials, her parents chose a name that sounded like Shlomo, her grandfather’s name, and referred to King Solomon. Shlomit says, “I love its meaning, from the word Shalom, a peace maker. I am working on inner peace with yoga and nature walks, and I work on my communication skills to bring peace to those around me. I’m not royalty like King Solomon, but I do believe we can all make a difference.”

As a parent, participating in a naming ceremony or Brit Milah is one of the first rites of passage we take with our children. Congregant Carol Lessure remembers participating in a group naming ceremony during Fourth Friday Shabbat! This is a perfect example of how Reconstructionists redefine these traditions, in this instance to include our larger community.

In addition to the traditions surrounding our English names, many in our congregation also have Hebrew names. Cherished member Alan Haber received his Jewish name, Eliyahu, at the age of 50. It was given to him by Rabbi Zalman Schachter in recognition of Alan’s work in Israel and Palestine. To Alan, his name means “may he show himself in you to you” and “who made an Ark for the Shekhinah.”

Participating in a Reconstructionist congregation offers so many opportunities for us to express ourselves as Jews and to incorporate these traditions in ways that feel both meaningful and relevant. Naming doesn’t happen only at birth or during a Bris; it can be given to us during adulthood to honor our work. Our names can also serve as guiding lights, reminding us how we embody concepts such as Shalom, or how we honor the ancestors for whom we are named. What does your name mean to you?

In the next two articles, we will explore what we call ourselves as Reconstructionists and what we call our congregation. If you would like to contribute to this discussion, I encourage you to email your ideas to me at aarcgillian@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

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.’