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.’

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 .