January Community Learning–Sunday morning

Everyone is invited to join the Beit Sefer students in their learning about mitzvot/commandments. Our study will dovetail with the second session of the guided reading series that began last week (yes, you can still join this!) We will explore the nature and history of Judaism’s system of laws and ethics, its evolution over the centuries and what our own relationships with this concept in our lives.

Join us at 10am on Sunday, January 18th at the JCC. Preparatory reading materials will be available via email in advance or at 9:30 that morning.  To receive/reserve study materials or for any other questions about learning at the AARC contact Rav Michal.

Never a Bystander: Free Screening Followed by Q&A

Filmmaker Evelyn Neuhaus and film subject Irene Butter at the premiere in May, 2014.

Filmmaker Evelyn Neuhaus and film subject Irene Butter at the premiere in May, 2014.

AARC Member Evelyn Neuhaus has created a documentary about Irene Butter, who has spent nearly 30 years visiting schools and inspiring countless children to find the courage to take compassionate action and transcend obstacles.  The film is about making courageous choices in the face of injustice.  It’s 30 minutes long and will be screened this Sunday at the JCC, followed by Q&A with Evelyn and Irene Butter.

Sunday, January 11, 4pm at the JCC (2935 Birch Hollow Drive).  Admission is Free

More information about the film is available at its website.  A flyer for the screening is here.

Fun AARC outing to Asian Legend and Michigan/State Theaters

By Emily Eisbruch

Enjoying Chinese dinner and a movie turned out to be the perfect way to share a great time with AARC friends on Christmas 2014.  Thanks to Mike Ehmann for graciously and efficiently coordinating a group of 33.

The Chinese dinner kicked off at Asian Legend Restaurant on East William Street about 5pm.  That place was hopping, both when we arrived and even more so when we left about 70 minutes later.  The dinner was buffet style, making it quick and easy to get firsts and seconds! (Appreciation goes to the staff at Asian Legend for welcoming our group and making everything quite seamless.) As you can see from the photos, there were plenty of smiles and lots of schmoozing.

In addition to Rav Michal and Jon and Sima joining, we had a fun surprise visit from our former Rabbinical Intern, Aura Ahuvia, now a Rabbi at Woodstock Jewish  Congregation in NY.

Along with quite a few others, my husband Avi and son Gil and I headed to the Michigan Theater after dinner to see  “The Imitation Game” about Alan Turing.  What did we think of the film? Glad this movie got made, glad we saw it, though at times it seemed overly produced to be clever and even cute. Is it ridiculously geeky to wish they had revealed a bit more about code breaking and the way the bombe (the cryptanalytic machine at Bletchley Park) worked?  Okay, I guess that’s what Wikipedia is for.

Thanks again to all the friends who made Dec. 25, 2014 special and fun.

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Hanukkah – Six more nights to go! (by Carol Lessure)


Hanukkah! Whether you spell it with an H or Ch, this little festival always provides my family with much fun and delight. What better way to illuminate our path into those long winter nights than with a communal candle lighting? We have three upcoming opportunities at AARC to celebrate together.  We return to the JCC this year for a latke dinner and musical Hanukkah party; plus two hosts are offering home based celebrations for all to enjoy. Click on this google document to register and for more information on locations: just scroll down and add your name to the event you plan to attend.

Erev Shabbat Dinner (12/19)
Host: Mike Ehmann, mtehmann@comcast.net
Please let Mike know that you are coming and what you plan to bring to share.

The AARC Hanukkah Party and Latke Feast (12/20)
We will start with Havdalah around 5:45 (a great way to practice what we learned at Shabbat Seder). Then we’ll have a  communal lighting of our chanukkiahs. There will be latkes and a light meal, live music by band members Paul, Laurie and Jesse, dreidel  (of course) plus other games from the Lessure Engelbert family.

Please RSVP so we can have enough latkes, salad, fruit and chocolate gelt!  (Pst: there will be some wine for grownups too.) All you need to bring is your appetite, chanukkiah with 6 candles, and helping hands.  Dinner is $10 for adults/ $5 for children under 12.

The Last Night of Hanukkah (12/23)
Hosts: Rav Michal, Jon and Sima
Your hosts will prepare donuts, and you can bring a dish to share. Contact Rav Michal for more details and be sure to sign up so they know who is coming.

Hanukkah 2013 at Michal's House

Latke Secrets

alicia_jen_latkes(Note: Jen Cohen published this recipe on our former website after our 2012 Hanukkah party. I thought it would be wise to publish on this new site as a reference for our latke-making for years to come.)


By Jennifer Cohen

The big secrets are
– alternating potato and onion when grating,
– squeezing out the excess liquid before frying, and
– firmly packing the ice cream scoop to shape the latkes.

Also, make them with happy thoughts in your heart and they’ll always taste just right.

Basic potato latkes

5 medium Yukon Gold (or other golden) potatoes
1 large sweet onion
2 Tablespoons flour
1 large egg
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil, like canola

1. Scrub potatoes well and remove any obvious blemishes; no need to peel thin skinned potatoes like Yukon Gold. Cut to fit into food processor. Cut onion into 4 chunks and remove papery outer skin. Using grating blade in food processor, grate chunks of potato, then a chunk of onion, then potato, etc. Always alternate between potato and onion to keep mixture from blackening. When finished, place onion and potato in the center of a kitchen towel. Wrap into a ball and squeeze firmly to get rid of as much liquid as possible.

2. Put potato and onion back into large mixing bowl and add egg, flour, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. At this point, if the mixture seems too dry, you can add another egg. You will drain off excess liquid when you pack the ice cream scoop, so no worries about the batter being too wet.

3. Heat a generous amount (at least 1 inch) of oil in a large skillet over medium high flame. Using your hands, firmly pack an ice cream scoop, tilting it to the side to let any extra liquid drain back into the mixing bowl. Drop mounds of mixture into hot oil. Fry and turn only once, pressing down after the turn. When golden and crisp on each side, drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

The Twists

Potato, Carrot and Parsnip: substitute 3 potatoes, 1 large carrot and 1 large parsnip for the 5 potatoes in the basic recipe.

Potato, Beet and Sweet Potato: substitute 3 potatoes, 1 large beet and l large sweet potato for the 5 potatoes in the basic recipe. My trick is to grate the beet a day or two in advance and keep it in a container in the refrigerator. This helps it dry out so that it doesn’t bleed.

Zucchini: this was a last minute brainstorm idea and we used only zucchini, onion, flour, egg, salt and pepper. I think we could improve it, using one potato, maybe 6 or so zucchini and enough matzoh meal to help hold them together. Stay tuned…

For the 2012 Hanukkah Party we tried a few new twists:

  • Potato-Beet with Fresh dill and horseradish sour cream
  • Sweet Potato with coconut and pineapple-jalapeno salsa
  • Carrot-Parsnip (no potatoes at all!)

Also see: Jen’s challah recipe.

Rabbi Michal, Jon, and Sima Travel to Duluth to Talk Intermarriage

From member Emily Eisbruch and Rabbi Michal:

Rabbi Michal, Jon Sweeney and their daughter Sima recently traveled to Duluth, MN to participate in a Friday night presentation and a Sunday morning discussion on Intermarriage.  They were sponsored by Temple Israel in Duluth, which is affiliated with both the Union for Reform Judaism and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.  We thought it would be great to learn about their experience in Duluth. They have kindly agreed to participate in a bit of Q&A for this blog.


Jon Sweeney & Rav Michal

Q: We know that you have spoken in the past on intermarriage and it was  the theme of your 2013 book “Crazy Mixed Up Love.”   How did the trip to Duluth come about?

A: Rabbi David Steinberg is a Reconstructionist colleague of mine and a friend of ours with an interest in the topic. The synagogue has an annual interfaith themed funded lecture program, which was officially our host.

Q: What were you expecting and what did you find in Duluth? Any surprises concerning the city or the congregation?

[Read more…]

Mazel Tov, Avi!

Avi became Bar Mitzvah on Saturday, December 6.  Here’s his thoughtful d’var torah, on Jacob and Esau and their reconciliation.


Avi, at his Bar Mitzvah

Shabbat Shalom!

My parshah is VaYishlach (and he went), set in the book of Genesis. And he went refers to Jacob leaving Laban’s house to slowly work his way home again after “being paid” and accruing a lot of wetalth, including loads of goats and sheep from Laban, two wives, a large family, and lots of slaves.

The Parshah is about the Jacob and has three small stories within it:

First, Jacob wrestling with the being, where Jacob bumps into some being in the night and wrestles it. As the day is breaking, the being asks to be let go, and Jacob says he will let it go only if it will give him a blessing. He gets the blessing and the name Israel.  By the way my haftorah, Hosea 11-12 references this moment, connecting it to my parshah.

The middle of the parashah describes how Jacob, on his way home after running from Esau twenty years earlier, realizes that he will now have to confront his brother.

The end of the parashah tells the story of the possible rape of Dinah. I am not going to discuss this in my D’rash today, but if you don’t know about it then you should read it yourself. It is interesting and important.

Let us begin with the story of the wrestling. [Read more…]

Welcome Rachel and Bryan

Our newest members are Rachel Baron Singer and Bryan Singer. Here’s Rachel’s introduction:

“Bryan is a postdoctoral student in the Biopsychology Department at the University of Michigan, and I’m currently working towards a Masters degree at Wayne State University in Library and Information Science.

Bryan and Rachel

Bryan and Rachel

We moved from Chicago to Ann Arbor in January 2013 with our pet rabbits, Pierrot and LeFou, and have settled in relatively well, despite our firm refusal to switch allegiances from the Chicago Dog to the Coney.

Because neither of our hometowns had Jewish communities large enough to support more than one synagogue, we were both raised in the Reform movement by default. However, we’ve long identified with the tenets of Reconstructionism, and are very excited to finally belong to a Reconstructionist congregation.

Outside of his research, Bryan’s passions include hiking, photography, travel, and the Chicago Bulls. Meanwhile, I enjoy writing about film studies, collecting vintage Nancy Drew novels, learning about mid-century modern architecture, and supporting West Bromwich Albion F.C. in the English Premier League (don’t worry, nobody else has heard of them, either).

Pierrot and LeFou

Pierrot and LeFou

We very much enjoyed attending AARC services for the high holidays and look forward to meeting the other members!”


More on Shmita: December 7 Event

Bus Tour Picture

From the last Shmita event, the Food, Land, & Justice Bus Tour (Sept. 14, 2014)

By AARC Member Carole Caplan, for the Washtenaw Jewish News

On December 7, 2014, the community is invited to gather at St. Joe’s Hospital to explore how the Jewish teachings of Shmita are coming to life through the impact of regional institutions and their commitments to local, healthy food.

Meet at St. Joe’s Women’s Health Center, 5320 Elliot Dr, Ypsilanti.
For information, contact Carole Caplan at carolecaplan@livebychoice.com, or Idelle Hammond- Sass at Hammond_sass@msn.com

For the year’s Shmita activities, see this page.

The event is a continuation of an exciting year-long exploration of the teachings of Shmita, funded by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor late last winter. “For me, the commandments of shmita can be seen as a built-in seventh year wake-up call,” said AARC member Carole Caplan, who is co-chairing the event with fellow congregant Idelle Hammond-Sass. Caplan explains that “Shmita, which means ‘release’, is the opportunity to become conscious of our relationships with each other, with the environment, and with our understanding of true health, nourishment, and ‘enough-ness’. Just as Shabbat is an opportunity to re-set our ideas about production and consumption on a personal level, Shmita provides us with a unique and important opportunity to re-imagine and reset our practices regarding food production and consumption in and beyond our own homes out into our communities.”

AARC member and owner of Locavorious, Rena Basch, agrees. “Modern philosophy on how to celebrate and honor the Shmita years recommends we take the time to re-imagine society, re-lease the land and re-think farming”. Basch, who began working in the local sustainable food movement in 2006, founded Locavorious, a locally grown frozen fruit and vegetable CSA here in Ann Arbor. “Do you wonder how we, and our community, our congregations, our schools, and our institutions can support the values and intentions of this Shmita tradition?” Basch questioned. “This event will introduce us [Read more…]

Why another book club?

By Judith Jacobs

When I first heard that the AARC was forming a book club, I thought it was a good idea. After thinking about it, I asked myself “Why join another book club, when you already belong to two?” I decided to give it a try and here is what I learned:

The book selection can be described as eclectic. We read about China’s reaction to protests and the tragedies at Tiananmen Square and how they have ben wiped from people’s memories and are not considered a significant part of China’s history. We enjoyed visiting The Worlds of Sholom Aleichem. I found that a particular delight because his world in Russia was my family’s world and he left Russia around the time my great uncle left. “The Seven Beggars was a disaster for me. I did not understand anything that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was telling us. Our last book, The Dalai Lama’s Cat, was an absolute delight. What could be bad? Here was a book about a prescient cat and Buddhism.

The real treat of the book club has been getting to know members of the congregation in a whole new way. People’s stories always are interesting and such a diverse group of people brings many different perspectives to the discussion.

Try the book club. It will be a different take on the AARC.

Books read so far:

  • November: The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie.
  • October:  “The Seven Beggars,” a short story by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
  • September: The Worlds of Sholom Aleichem: The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevye, by Jeremy Dauber
  • August: The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, by Louisa Lim.

[Book club meetings are on the Calendar, and are included in the Monday Mailer–subscribe at the right on this page.]