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

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!

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.

Ritual Lab & Learn

Brainstorming on the question, “What is ritual?” photo by Mark Schneyer

Introducing Ritual Lab & Learn: An adult education series

What makes something a ritual? Is it the act itself? The intention behind the act? How often it’s performed? Who performs it? On Sunday January 13, 2019, 23 of us gathered to explore these questions as part of the introduction to Ritual Lab & Learn, a new adult education series.

Ritual Lab & Learn will meet twice a month to learn about new Jewish home ritual. We’ll meet at the JCC on Second and Fourth Sundays, 12:30-2:00 pm. The schedule is:

  • January 27:         Daily blessings
  • February 10:       Eating and drinking
  • February 24:       Covering the head/Mezuzah
  • March 10:            Thoughtful speech
  • March 24:            TBD
  • April 14:                TBD

Why is the series called ‘Lab & Learn’? Because there are 2 tracks:

Just Learn: Attend any or all of the sessions. In each class, we’ll learn a new type of Jewish daily home ritual, including where it comes from, how and why it was practiced in the past, and how we might practice it today.

Lab & Learn: Commit to practicing the assigned ritual for a two-week period. During the 2 weeks, you’ll journal on your practice, and meet once with an assigned chevrutah (study partner) to discuss your practice.

Want to sign up for the Lab track, or have questions about which track is right for you? Email Rabbi Ora.

More on the topic of ritual:

Rabbi Ira Stone teaches that ritual practices are a way of ‘interrupting time’ to help us be more human.

Sigal Samuel takes a look at a design lab making rituals for secular people.

Recap of Ayeka Café

Ayeka Café began meeting in January 2018 as a time for AARC members to gather together, ask each other and themselves the question ‘How are you?’ and listen to what emerged. After a good run, our last Ayeka Café meeting was October 4.

Rabbi Ora asked one of Ayeka Café’s regulars, Judith Jacobs, to write about her experiences over the past 10 months.

“The monthly Ayeka Café meetings, facilitated by Rabbi Ora, were an opportunity for Recon members to meet in a less formal setting. I attended these meetings since they began. I found that they offered me opportunities to explore different parts of me.  There were three types of activities in which I engaged. The first involved dyads in which we took turns at being a listener and a talker. Not only did these experiences let me learn about someone else, they let me explore some of my own feelings. A second experience that I enjoyed was a more artistic one. In this I used a drawing pad and colored markers to represent my world, including my two cats – Sonya and Amber. This was just for me and not shared with anyone else. Lastly, one evening I had a rush of words filling my head and took the opportunity to journal these ideas. Again, this was just for me. Each person who attended an Ayeka Café took from it an amplified version of what they brought to the meeting.”

—Judith Jacobs

Thanks to all who participated and shared of themselves.

Stay tuned for an announcement in the coming weeks about “Ritual Lab & Learning,” a new AARC program launching January 2019.

Come Meet Us and Learn about Reconstructionist Judaism

Click on image for full size flyer.

On Sunday afternoon October 21st, AARC Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner, Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg, membership chair Marcy Epstein, and board chair Debbie Field will  lead an introductory session on Reconstructionist Judaism.
“Come Meet Us” will be an excellent opportunity for individuals and families who want to learn more about our congregation.  At the same time our members can deepen their understanding of Reconstructionist values and conception of creative, participatory Judaism.

Come meet us!

October 21, 2018

2-4pm at the JCC

Please RSVP here to help with planning

 

Yom Kippur Afternoon Sessions 2018

AARC Yom Kippur practice is to have afternoon sessions of learning, discussion, meditation, and song between the morning service which ends about 2pm and our community Yizkor service, which begins at 5:30pm.  The hour-and-a-half sessions are at 2:15 to 3:30pm and 3:45 to 5pm.

Workshop led by Rev Joe Summers and Anita Ruben-Meiller

Poor People’s Campaign in Washtenaw County

Justice, justice, you shall pursue…” (Deuteronomy 16:18-21)

2:15-3:30pm

In this time of increased exposure to, and awareness of, the injustices in our world, our country, our state and our community, we may feel called upon more than ever to engage in activities and causes that promote justice. I know I was when I was exposed to a presentation by Rev. Joe Summers and others about the Poor People’s Campaign in March of this year.  Please join me and Rev. Summers to hear about the local and national impact of this past Spring’s 6-weeks of action, “the Call for a Moral Revival” and to find out how the Washtenaw County chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign is moving forward to have an impactful presence as we head towards midterm elections.


Text study led by Michal and Josh Samuel

Jonah, the very odd prophet

What is the book of Jonah trying to tell us?

2:15-3:30pm

 

 


Sing, Chant, Walk led by Deb Kraus

3:45-5pm

For the past two years on Yom Kippur afternoon, I have found myself outside with other members, singing and chanting our way through the afternoon between services. It’s been deeply meaningful to us, and a great way to pass the time. You are welcome to join us for all or part of this time. I’ll provide some song sheets but we will also have machzors nearby to aid us in our efforts.  We’ll meet outside if we can and inside if we can’t.


Workshop led by Deborah Fisch

Reproductive Justice: Who is Offered Up to Molech?

Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up to Molech … (Leviticus 18:21)

3:45-5pm

 

 

Concern for children ranks high in our sacred texts, particularly around Yom Kippur. The Binding of Isaac (the Akedah) rejects child sacrifice, in contrast to prevailing custom at the time. This rejection is codified by the verse in Leviticus.

Fast forward several thousand years to see what Jewish law and American law have to say about the primacy of children’s welfare … and a figure who is absent in these conversations: the mother. Who knows what is best for the child? Whose welfare matters more? This workshop uses the lens of Reproductive Justice to examine law and custom around pregnancy and childbirth. The mother/birthing person and fetus: whose rights prevail?

Us, God and Challah

touching the challah

“Everyone touch someone who is touching the challah!”

by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

It’s hard for me to resist an easy pun, so when I decided to teach a Shavuot session on challah and how this seemingly innocuous bread is rooted in a fraught relationship between the Jewish people and God, I couldn’t help myself; I named the session, “A Long and ‘Twisted’ Relationship: Us, God, and Challah.”

We began our tikkun leil session by each sharing a memory of challah from our childhoods. We then asked and attempted to answer the question: Why do we eat challah on Shabbat?

Looking through Numbers 15 (click here to access the entire source sheet/study guide), we learned that the mitzvah of challah comes from a commandment in the Torah to set aside a loaf of bread for God “as a gift.” And why 2 gift-loaves, and not just one? Because as the Israelites wandered in the desert, God “rained down bread” for them from the sky – aka manna – and on Fridays, two portions of manna fell, so that the Israelites would not have to gather food on Shabbat.

As we read through the manna story, it became clear that manna was 1. Given by God quite begrudgingly, and 2. That the Israelites mistrusted that God would continuously and consistently provide them with food. The episode of the manna quickly became a test of Israelite faith; the Israelites were ordered by Moses to gather only as much manna as they could eat each day; any manna stored for the following day would rot and become infested with maggots.

The rabbis of the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras had a field day with this enmeshed relationship as the Israelites sought safety and comfort in sustenance and God used food to teach them a lesson. The rabbis considered a variety of lenses through which to understand the relationship:

Rabbi Tarfon imagined God gently extending a hand each morning to deliver the manna like dew, and he imagined that at the same time, God collected Israelite prayers and returned with them to heaven.

Rabbi Shimon wondered why the manna didn’t simply descend once a year, and suggested alternately that 1. God wanted closeness with the Israelites, and thought that their reliance on daily deliveries of manna would reinforce the bond; 2. God wanted to reassure the hungry Israelites that they would consistently be provided for; or 3. God didn’t want to burden the Israelites by making them carry a year’s worth of manna as they trekked through the desert.

So: what are your earliest memories of biting into this sweet and complicated bread? How does challah keep you anchored to God, your ancestors, or tradition?

On the ground learning

Jewish/Arab education and organizing in Israel and Palestine

An evening of stories in support of the bilingual storybook and curriculum Sweet Tea with Mint

Thursday, June 14, 7-9pm
Temple Beth Emeth, lower level
2309 Packard, Ann Arbor
Click here to view and save a flyer for the event

Sweet Tea with Mint

Several members of our community have made trips to Israel/Palestine recently, specifically visiting organizations of Israeli and Palestinian educators and activists who, amidst a present of terrible conflict,  are working toward a viable future for the region’s peoples. On June 14th, they will be telling stories from their trips at an event organized to raise money for a bilingual educational project.

Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories is the heart of a new educational curriculum that was developed by Hagar: Jewish-Arab Education for Equality in Beer Sheva. The anthology is composed of six stories focusing on Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays, written by distinguished children’s writers in Hebrew and Arabic. Hagar is dedicated to creating a shared space for Jewish and Arab residents of the Negev – a space based on the foundations of multiculturalism, bilingualism and equality.

The storytellers at the event include AARC members Rebecca Kanner, Alice Mishkan and Debbie Zivan. Clare Kinberg, AARC Communications Coordinator will MC.

Rebecca traveled to Israel/Palestine in May 2017, her first visit in over 30 years.  She was part of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV) delegation of over 100 Jewish activists from around the world.  CJNV was in a coalition with 5 Palestinian, Israeli and diaspora groups that created the Sumud Freedom Camp in the West Bank village of Sarura, in South Hebron.

Alice just returned from her third year leading a study abroad to Israel and Palestine through the University of Michigan. This year, Michigan students partnered with Palestinian students at Sakhnin Teacher’s College. Students learned about the differences in educations systems for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Jewish Israelis. Students compared these to education systems in the United States, and learned about how education can be a tool for social change.

Debbie is just back from a family trip to Israel/Palestine for her nephew’s wedding. In addition to visiting with family (half of whom live on settlements), Debbie and family toured Hebron, the Jerusalem Hand in Hand school and stayed overnight in Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salaam. The combination of celebrating with family, seeing examples of how Arab and Jewish Israelis are prioritizing pathways to peace and a dual narrative tour that stressed the wrongs of the “other side” made for an interesting trip – a trip that created a sense of urgency to find ways to make a difference.

Hagar’s director of Director of Partnerships and Resource Development, Karen Abu Adra, will also be present to tell us more about the school and its importance to the Negev region. Karen is originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania but has been married to a Bedouin dentist from Segev Shalom, Israel and living in Israel since 1993. They have three adult sons.  Karen taught English for 13 years in a Bedouin high school in the Bedouin city of Rahat and has been working for Hagar for a year and half.

There is a very nice connection between Hagar and the Reconstructionist movement. Hagar’s Executive Director, Sam Shube, writes:

My name is Sam Shube and I’m CEO of the Hagar Association. I served as director of Kehillat Mevakshei Derech in Jerusalem, Israel’s first Reconstructionist congregation.  Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, z”l, was a member of Mevakshei when he lived in Israel.  The motive force for its establishment was Rabbi Jack Cohen, z”l, one of Kaplan’s leading students in Israel, a man I knew and loved.  Other Reconstructionist leaders of Mevakshei have included Jewish educator Norman Schainin.  Though I am not an ordained rabbi, my Master’s Thesis was on Kaplan and John Dewey, and I’ve always adhered to Kaplan’s views on Jewish civilization and democracy.  (I’m still a member of Mevakshei, where I occasionally read Torah and give a sermon).

I’ve lived in Israel for over 30 years (I did my undergraduate work at JTS and Columbia) and served in a variety of nonprofits. Of everything I’ve seen in this country, however, Hagar — the bilingual school in Beer Sheba — is the most familiar reflection of Kaplan’s idea of community.  Hagar’s Arab and Jewish families are intensively active on a day-to-day level, organizing field trips and fundraisers, and providing mutual assistance.   Last night at our Iftar celebration (the traditional Ramadan break-fast), Jewish and Arab families helped their children prepare gifts for hospitalized Gazan children – at the very time when Israel and the Hamas were trading rockets and artillery just a few miles to the west.   And I myself used to platform to raise funds from parents for scholarships to help needy families cover tuition fees.   Other recent community events have included discussions on the Moslem and Jewish connection with Jerusalem, and a visit to a Beer Sheba mosque.

Hagar’s community is remarkably diverse.  It includes Arabs from urban centers in northern Israel and Bedouins’ from the Negev, Jews from underserved neighborhoods in town and professors from the university.  Our community welcomes LGBT families, something not to be taken for granted in the more traditional environment of both Jewish and Arab communities in southern Israel.   In fact, the very existence of an Arab Jewish school in Beer Sheba – as opposed to more culturally liberal parts of Israel – is a miracle in and of itself.