Jewish Summer Learning Opportunities For The Whole Family

Rabbi Ora could not bring herself to leave town for her vacation without being sure that her congregation had ample resources at their fingertips for Jewish learning in her absence! She suggests that anyone interested in engaging with Jewish learning over the summer check out offerings from Hadar.org and Havaya@Home.

Hadar provides daily programming for the whole family all summer long. For kids, they offer a weekly Mishnah, a Parashah Club, and more! Adults will find a myriad of learning opportunities, including Talmud Study, a summer-long grief and mourning in a time of tragedy group, an adult Mishnah group, and more! Check out these offerings and the full schedule of events on Hadar’s website.

Camp Havaya has committed to providing fun camp activities for children who are unable to attend camp this summer. These include a weekly story time Mondays at noon and a Kabbalat Shabbat on July 3rd at 7pm. Take a look at Havaya’s website for more fun learning opportunities for your little ones.

We hope you can find some meaningful content to engage with over the summer. Do you have any interesting online learning resources to recommend? Please share them in the comments!

Food Feature: Challah

Our Roots Weave Together Like Fresh-Baked Bread

This week, I challenged some of AARC’s expert bread makers to share their Challah secrets with the congregation – and they obliged! Everyone’s recipe has a special secret method that brings individuality to their loaves. However, just as the dough seamlessly weaves together, so does the common thread that binds these recipes. Every one of our star bakers brings love into their baking; that’s what makes their Challah so special.

Lori Lichtman brings love, meditation, and prayer into her baking. She learned from AARC member Jen Cohen!

My process includes meditating and bringing the Light of G-d through my crown, into my hands, into the dough and then I sing prayers into the dough. I sing Ahavah Rabah love prayer while kneading, then V’Erestich-Li Olam for binding to G-d while braiding, then Oseh Shalom for painting egg, and Peleg Elohim sprinkling the sesame seeds on top for abundance. I also sing healing prayers if needed or Shehekianu if it’s a celebration. Baking challah is a spiritual practice; it connects us to bring Heaven to Earth, connecting G-d with the Earth’s gifts of wheat and our role helping to transform these gifts to bring goodness to the world.

Lori has made many Challah variations, such as lavender for a gay or lesbian wedding, pumpkin challah for Challah-o-ween, and of course, Raisin Round for Rosh Hashanah.

Our next baker, Nancy Meadow, learned to bake Challah from her mother. Over time she has made it her own. Nancy says, “I use the word ‘recipe’ loosely here, as I vary it weekly, but this is a great starting place.”

There are as many challah recipes as there are challah bakers. You can vary the sweetness, the shape, the flour mix, or add-ins like spice, raisins, cherries, pumpkin, chocolate, etc. It is traditional for challah to be dairy-free (although I know some who use butter instead of oil). The eggs are a key ingredient, making this bread different than most others. The eggs should be the best you can find and should not be skimped on. This is how I make my basic weekly loaf.

Into bowl put, but do not stir:
   1 C warm/hot water
   1 Tbsp yeast
   2 tsp sugar
Wait for yeast to proof, then add
  ¼ C vegetable oil
  1/3 C sugar or honey (more for a sweeter loaf)
  2 tsp salt
  2 whole eggs plus one yolk

Stir until well integrated and then start adding flour ½ cup at a time. You can use all white bread flour or a mix of white and whole wheat. The more whole wheat you add, the more calories you burn while kneading. My weekly loaf has a good bit of whole wheat; my holiday loaves are 100% white, which is more traditional. Start with whole wheat and add white second. Once you have about 2.5 cups mixed in, let the batter sit for 20 minutes to let the yeast really soak into the flour. After this first rest, begin adding flour, no more than ½ cup at a time. Thoroughly integrate each new scoop of flour before adding more. At some point, you will need to remove it from the bowl and start kneading on a flat surface. Knead the dough for 12-18 minutes, adding flour as needed.  In total, plan to use about 5-6 cups of flour. 

Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with damp towel, place in cold oven with the light on for 1-3 hours. (The goal is a warm, dry place where the dough can rest without getting dried out.)
Shape the dough – a braid is traditional. I like a four or six strand braid.  There are a gazillion ways to shape challah; check Youtube or let me know if you want to talk about this more. Place loaves on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Cover shaped challah with the damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes more.  
Brush loaves with a yolk-only wash, then sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds or both.
Bake at 325 for 25-35 minutes.  Loaves are done when the smell and look are right.

Fred Feinberg is the star Challah baker at AARC’s religious school, Beit Sefer. Fred says his home-baked Challah is the only bread his son will eat, so he makes it weekly!

For two loaves or one very large one:

1.5 cups slightly warm water
5 large egg yolks
1.5 teaspoons salt
1/3 – 1/2 cup oil (best: a mixture, up to half olive oil)
5.5 – 6 cups bread flour (depending on how dry your flour is; start with less and add more if it’s too sticky
1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar (best: mostly or entirely brown sugar, with a little honey if you like that)
2.5 – 3 teaspoons active dry yeast (less gives a slower rise, which gives better results, but takes longer)
whites from eggs for brushing

Directions:
Mix water and sugar, then mix with egg yolks lightly. Then add oil (and stir just a bit at most). Put about four cups of the flour on top, then yeast, then mix a bit. Then put remaining flour, mixed with the salt, on top, and mix that in.

Knead for 10-15 minutes or, if you are sane, use a KitchenAid or bread machine. For KitchenAid, use the lowest setting. Do 1-2 minutes, then 1-2 minutes off, then on, for about 10-15 mins total. It is FINE to knead by hand for a minute, then rest 2 minutes, etc., for 4-5 cycles in total, so long as the dough is elastic: not sticky/wet, not very dry.
Cover, leave in a warm place for an hour, then punch down.

Divide in two. Shape each piece into a long rectangle, then slice each into three thinnish slices of about the same weight (a scale helps).
Roll out, then braid three ropes for each challah loaf. It doesn’t need to be perfect. [Large challah: six braids; watch a youtube video on how.]
Put on parchment paper, then into a loaf pan. Let sit and rise, covered with a towel, for another hour, or until the bread is just above the height of the loaf pan.
Brush liberally with the egg whites, mixed with a tiny bit of water and, if you like, some salt.

Put both in oven and bake in a preheated oven at 350-375 (make sure oven is below 400, though) for 30-32 minutes or so,* until the top is brown. Don’t overbake it! Top should be nice darkish brown, but not even slightly burnt; judge based on your oven, and cook a bit longer if the temperature is lower. [If making one large challah, do at least 32 minutes up to 35, depending on oven temperature.]

Either take out immediately or shut off oven and open door for 5 minutes or so. Let rest in pans for a while, maybe 10 minutes total. Then take out and put on rack to cool.
Take photos and put on Facebook!

Our last baker is – me (Gillian)!

Challah was the first bread that I learned how to make. Making good bread requires an understanding of the texture of a finished dough, and I found that learning this tactile sensation was easiest with Challah. Perhaps it was the generations of Challah baking coursing through my veins? My foolproof recipe comes from the book, Secrets of a Jewish Baker, by George Greenstein. My one tip for all you new Challah bakers: set up wine glasses around your loaves for the second rise, draping your tea towel over the glasses. This helps prevent your towel from sticking to the egg wash.

If you would like to watch a Challah-making video before you embark on your own baking adventure, Keshet is hosting a “Rainbow Challah Baking” class. The class takes place on Thursday, June 11th, at 4pm EDT. RSVP here.

Happy baking!

Community Learning Opportunities Within the AARC Tribe of Wisdom!

One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the discovery of new and intimate ways to engage with each other, be it through our Mishpacha Groups, Wednesday Check Ins, Shabbat Services, or independently within the congregation.

Beginning next week, AARC will offer even more programming: free online classes taught by members generously volunteering their time and knowledge to share their skills, wisdom, and knowledge. Zoom links for classes will be sent out via email for security reasons. Look for links in the Thursday and Tuesday mailers the week before the class.

Our First Class Starts Next Week!

THURSDAY, MAY 7TH, 7-9PM. How to make Finger Fritz with Ella August. In this baking lesson, I will show you how to make a delicious cookie called Finger Fritz. The recipe comes from my husband’s grandmother who was a Viennese pastry chef. You can just watch or follow along in your own kitchen (I will provide a written recipe). If you want to follow along, be sure you have the following ingredients ready: 3 C flour, 1 package dry yeast, 1 C (two sticks) salted butter, 3 egg yolks, 1 C sour cream, 1 C almonds, pecans or hazelnuts (or a blend), 1 ¾ C powdered sugar, 2 – 2 ½  t cinnamon, 1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips. 
Note that this recipe takes two days to make, since the dough needs to sit in the refrigerator overnight. We will make the first part together and then you’ll put your dough in your refrigerator to chill overnight. I’ll have an additional chilled dough on hand and will show you the second part of the recipe.

Zoom link will be sent out to membership in our Thursday and Tuesday Mailers. If you are not subscribed but would like to attend, please email Gillian at aarcgillian@gmail.com

Beginning the week of May 11th:

Tertulia—Spanish coffee conversation with Cara Spindler. Cara will lead us in a Spanish conversation hour. Cara says all are welcome and mistakes are okay!

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Singing Class with Etta Heisler. Join Etta to learn some great songs for group singing from a variety of activist and religious traditions. Etta will teach the songs and provide some background on them; then the group will sing together. A singing class on mute is the perfect time to learn songs if you are self-conscious about your voice! No singing experience is necessary. A playlist will be provided so you can keep singing after the class.

Later this Spring:

In the pipeline for June is The Joy of Public Speaking Via Storytelling and Improv Games with Patti Smith. Patti says, “People consistently list public speaking as their biggest fear. Getting comfortable in front of others is a great skill. Learn to do this by telling stories. I will tell a story and then deconstruct and tell you how I put it together. Then we will all work on a story intro together. {For Improv Games:} You do NOT have to be funny to do improv! Play some simple improv games and improve your confidence!”

In additional, Laurie White and Carol Lessure are hard at work preparing engaging material to share with us in the months to come!

Does this article inspire you to teach a class? Email Gillian at aarcgillian@gmail.com so that we can get you on the schedule!

Online Jewish Resources for Shelter-in-Place

I cannot be the only person who spends way too much time online reading headline after headline about COVID-19. It is exhausting and mentally taxing to contemplate at length something as overwhelming as a global pandemic. In an effort to steer you away from the headlines and closer to an intellectually stimulating diversion, we have compiled a list of interesting Jewish programming available online in the coming weeks. Enjoy!

For Adults:

For Families with Children:

I hope you enjoy this list of resources! A big thanks to Rabbi Ora for her tireless work to gather these resources and be a source of both peace and levity for our community.

Please share any additional resources in the comments section!

Introducing A Taste of Talmud: When Life Meets Prayer

Perhaps even more than the Torah, the Talmud can be thought of as the quintessential Jewish text. Why? Because it’s full of everything that makes Jews Jewish: love of debate, intellectual curiosity, storytelling, humor, and the search for new meaning in inherited text and tradition.

The complete Talmud (in Aramaic) comprises over 2,700 pages of conversation, law, legend, and history. If you’ve never studied directly from a page of Talmud before, it can seem daunting. But AARC’s upcoming course ‘A Taste of Talmud: When Life Meets Prayer’ is here to help you get curious and comfortable through a 5-week immersion in Talmud text. 

We’ll be study directly from the Babylonian Talmud’s tractate Berachot, a rich conversation on the power of prayer, how and why we pray, and what happens when life meets prayer.

This course will take place on Sundays, 1:00-2:30 pm, beginning February 9, 2020. 

** Please note: The first session is an introduction and will be held in the Temple Beth Emeth library. The remaining 4 sessions will be at the Ann Arbor JCC.

Course Schedule: Sundays, 1-2:30 pm

February 9: The ABCs of Talmud Study: By the end of this introductory session, you can expect to be able to define and identify terms like Mishnah, Talmud, midrash, aggadah, masechet, sugya, daf, and gemara, as well as know how to navigate a page of Talmud. (TBE library)

Note: No meeting on February 16

February 23: Berachot Chapter 5: Who should be our model for prayer? Should we follow the model of a heartbroken wife? A repentant philanderer? Who is the ideal pray-er? And how does emotion influence prayer? (JCC)

March 1: Berachot Chapter 5 continued: How should we pray? Should we use our bodies in prayer? What if our bodies are praying ‘right’ but our minds are distracted? (JCC)

March 8: Berachot Chapter 9: What can we pray for? Can you ask God for something frivolous? Can you pray to avert harm? Do you have to pray even if you’re angry at God or frustrated at life?

March 15: Berachot Chapter 9 continued: Who do we pray for? Do we pray for ourselves? For our loved ones? For strangers? Can prayer ever be selfish or unwelcome?

Questions:

Q: Do I need to know Hebrew or Aramaic to participate?

A: No! We’ll be using the Steinsaltz English translation of the original Aramaic.

Q: What if I can’t make every session?

A: The learning will be cumulative, so while the ideal would be to attend every session, drop-ins are welcome.

Q: Do I need to bring any texts to class?

A: Just a notebook in case you want to write anything down. All texts will be provided.

Exciting Opportunities for Learning Abound!

Global Day of Jewish Learning and Other Opportunities for Independent Study

Reconstructing Judaism will participate in the Global Day of Jewish Learning, presented by the Aleph Society on November 17th. The Reconstructionist community is invited to join via live-stream at 1pm Eastern Time to experience Rabbi David Teutsch’s presentation on “Feedback that Works: The Art of Tochecha (the rebuke).”

For a long term project, check out Project Zug, operated by the Hadar Institute. which offers courses in Jewish learning on subjects ranging from “Death Penalty in the Talmud” to “Bob Dylan: A Jewish Journey Between Home And Exile.” By signing up on the website, you can follow a facilitated course led by a rabbi or scholar.

Reconstructing Judaism’s own online initiative, Ritualwell, offers interactive online classes through its Immersions program. Featuring in depth study with rabbis and teachers, the site’s topics include “Ethical Eating,” “Poetry as Sanctuary,” and “Jewish Mysticism.”

Last but not least, our own Rabbi Ora will kick off a new Ta’Shma: Come and Learn series on January 11, 2020; the series continues on subsequent Second Saturdays. I hope you are inspired to take advantage of one of these wonderful opportunities for learning!

Follow-up on the Welcoming Blog Series: The Act of Welcoming is Happening All Over Town!

The need to reach out to our community and express openness and welcome is not singular to our congregation. It seems that many around our community are feeling the need to organize events that send the message of welcome to those around us.

It is not surprising, given our current political climate, that we are all opening our arms to each other in order to say “You are loved, I value you, and you are welcome here.” We are always looking for ways to balance the scales in our lives. The heavy weight of hostility coming from our administration calls us to add weight to our own messages of welcome.

Our own Beit Sefer is using “Welcoming” as the theme of the school year. Students learned this previous Sunday how as a people, Jews have relied on other welcoming us in our Diaspora. Over the course of this school year, Beit Sefer students will study our relationship with immigrants and immigration, how to be welcoming with each other, and about how welcoming has been taught in our religious texts.

Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County is holding Welcoming Week this week. JFS’s website explains that this event is meant to emphasize that “being a welcoming community for all makes everyone stronger economically, socially, and culturally.” JFS has invited Ann Arbor businesses to advertise themselves as “Welcoming Businesses.” Shoppers can get discounts at some locations by showing an “I’m A Welcomer” packet when they shop. More information is available at JFSannarbor.org.

The Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary and Immigration Network has launched the “Butterfly Project: Migration is Beautiful, Never Again is Now.” This project aims to blanket the town with tiles and pictures that illustrate the beauty of migration, demonstrating to the immigration community through visual arts that they are welcome, wherever they are. If you would like to participate in this project, please contact AARC member Idelle Hammon-Sass at Hammond_sass@msn.com.

Our blog series focused on ways we can make everyone feel welcome in our congregation – how we as Reconstructionists can build upon our Jewish tradition to be more inclusive in our interactions with each other and our guests. Perhaps we can use the momentum from our very important work to take part in other acts of welcoming happening in our community! Do you know of any other welcoming efforts happening right now? Please share them in the comments!

What Does it Mean To Be Welcoming: Gender Inclusivity

This blog post is the first in a three-part series exploring what it means for a congregation to be truly welcoming. Each week we will explore a different topic: gender inclusivity, welcoming people of all (dis)abilities, and appropriate touch.

Walking into a place of worship, it’s possible to take our welcome for granted, but that has not always been the case (and continues not to be, in some communities) for LGBTQIA and genderqueer/non-binary Jews. For those of us who are not cisgender, entering new spaces can cause us to feel uncertain how we will be treated. While a community might fervently believe that it is accepting of others, newcomers might not perceive this spirit of acceptance without gestures of explicit welcome.

Since biblical times, Jews have carried on a tradition of engaging with various expressions of gender. In fact, Jewish texts contain references to six different genders.

  • Androgenos – one who has both male and female characteristics
  • Tumtum – one of uncertain or undecided gender
  • Aylonit – one who is born female and transitions to male
  • Saris – one who is born male and transitions to female
  • Male – male biology and identifying
  • Female – female biology and identifying

Because Modern English typically insists upon gendered personal pronouns, we can find ourselves searching for workarounds to accommodate cultural understandings of genders beyond “he” and “she.” Modern English usage often leads us to pause mid-sentence or mid-thought to reconsider the assumptions about gender we are about to make. Just as our Jewish ancestors developed a lexicon to include various expressions of gender, we must do the same in our language.

If we wish to be more welcoming, being mindful of pronoun preferences is a good place to start. When we introduce ourselves, we might add our own chosen pronoun; for example, “Hi, my name is Gillian, you can use she/her pronouns when referring to me.” When we introduce someone new, we might say, “Sally this is Newbie; Newbie – what pronouns do you prefer?” This signals that we are not taking our gender expressions for granted and welcome others to do the same.

AARC will be offering pronoun stickers to add to our member name tags. These little stickers will help all of us avoid any assumptions and assure a special welcome to those whose pronouns are often misused. The new stickers will be on the welcome table beginning at this Friday’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Jewish history is overrun with accounts of our people rendered powerless, discriminated against, and treated as second class citizens. As Jews, we have an obligation to ensure that other marginalized communities never have to face these obstacles when engaging with us. It is in this spirit that I welcome you to practice this new way of interacting with gender and incorporate it into our community when welcoming guests and visitors to our congregation.

What is Tikkun Leil Shavuot?

By Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

The evening of Shavuot finds Jews around the world gathering in synagogues and learning through the night, often fueled by coffee and cheesecake.

This practice of all-night Torah study is known as ‘tikkun leil Shavuot.’ The tradition dates back to 16th century Tzfat; it’s said that the famous kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (more commonly known as the Ari) instituted the practice as a ‘tikkun’ – correction or repair – for an ancient error.

‘Tikkun’ is a familiar first half of the modern phrase ‘tikkun olam’ – that is, healing or repairing the world through acts of social, political, and climate justice. But what breach are we repairing on the night (‘leil’) of Shavuot?

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites following 49 days of rigorous spiritual preparation (the Omer). According to one midrash, the night before the giving of the Torah, the Israelites did what anyone tries to do before an important event – they turned in early for a good night’s sleep. This seemingly innocent decision, however, led to embarrassing consequences. The next morning, when it came time for the Torah to be given, the base of Mount Sinai was empty. The entire Jewish people had slept in. The midrash even recounts that Moses had to wake the Israelites with a shofar, causing G-d to lament, “Why have I come and no one is here to receive me?” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:12b)

In order to rectify this ancient mistake, the Ari instituted a custom of all-night learning: we remain awake to show that, unlike our heavy-lidded ancestors at Sinai, we are ready to receive Torah and God.

This midrash may not sit comfortably with all of us. Maybe we don’t like the idea of being burdened by our ancestor’s errors, or maybe we simply want to be motivated to learn by something other than correction.

It’s customary to learn from the Oral Torah (Mishnah and Talmud) on Shavuot, rather than from the Torah itself. I think there’s a lesson here: in coming together to learn on Shavuot, we’re doing more than simply correcting an ancient mistake; we are adding our voices to a millenia-old tradition of oral learning, interpretation, and argumentation. On Shavuot, we add to our tradition by offering each other new pathways to accessing wisdom. In this sense, every Shavuot we who learn are contributing to ‘tikkun olam’ – to repairing the frayed threads of our world.

What is AARC up to for Shavuot?

Tikkun Leil Shavuot Special: Kehillat Israel Comes to Ann Arbor!

Saturday, June 8

This year we will enjoy a special celebration for Shavuot in collaboration with members of Kehillat Israel, the Reconstructionist congregation in Lansing.

Kehillat Israel members will spend the afternoon exploring Ann Arbor, and have invited us to join them! If you’d like to participate in an ecological study walk in the Arb led by Rabbi Michael Zimmerman (4-5 pm) and an early dinner at Zingermans (5:15-6:15 pm), sign up here.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot (6:30-9:30 pm at the JCC) will have multiple learning opportunities for adults and teens-and-tweens (Grade 5 and up).

The schedule for adults is:     

 6:15 pm – Gather at the JCC

6:30-7:30 pm – Choose 1 of 2 study sessions    

7:30-8:00 pm – Cheesecake and schmoozing    

8:00-9:00 pm – Choose 1 of 2 study sessions    

9:00-9:30 pm – Jewish summer camp-style Havdalah (led by our teens)

Tentative list of adult ed sessions:    

Ken Harrow – The Events at Sinai    

Rabbi Michael Zimmerman – The Torah of the Green New Deal    

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner – Abortion and Judaism   

Clare Kinberg – Jewish Time

The schedule for teens:

Games, food, fun and a play! Concurrent to the adult study session on Shavuot, we will have two sessions for young people, ages ~ 9- 16. Our Beit Sefer G’dolim class created two pin ball games that are ready to roll! There is a puzzle board game special for Shavuot, a skit and planning for an end of the evening Havdalah. Beit Sefer G’dolim teacher Aaron Jackson will be leading the youth along with teachers from KI in Lansing. Bring the kids for a fun evening, with some learning, too!

If you plan on attending the Shavuot program, please sign up here. If your tween/teen plans on attending, please sign them up here.

Safety and Security at the AARC

by Dave Nelson, AARC Safety Coordinator

Given the recent attacks on American synagogues–and a general rise in
anti-Semitic crime in the U.S. and abroad over the last two years–it’s
natural to worry.

Please be reassured that the entire Jewish community of Ann Arbor–in
coordination with the greater Jewish community of Southeastern Michigan,
national Jewish organizations, and law enforcement–are working to assure
your safety without compromising our commitment to openness and
lovingkindness. Many of these broad, community-wide safety and security
initiatives aren’t new–but they’re now being pursued with greater
coordination, diligence, and a tad more urgency.

That said, our participation as a congregation is new–hence my role, as
“AARC Safety Coordinator.” As a smaller congregation that uses several
locations throughout the year, we have different safety and security
concerns than other congregations. Working with the local Jewish Community Security Committee gives the AARC access to tools that increase our security, and resources that allow us to formulate our own safety best
practices–ones that address our specific safety concerns while reflecting
and promoting our congregational values.

Members of the AARC who’d like to participate in–or simply learn
more about–our ongoing safety and security initiatives should keep an eye
on their inboxes; details will follow via email.