Yom Kippur Workshops 2016

It’s our Yom Kippur tradition at AARC to have several afternoon sessions where we can together study, meditate, and discuss. This year, there will be three sessions; two from about 2:15 to 3:30 pm, and one from 3:45 to 5 pm.

One of the 2:15 sessions will be guided meditation, led by our member, Barbara Boyk-Rust, who writes:

Soul Nourishment: Meditation and Sacred Chant for the Quiet of the Day.
As we fast and pray on Yom Kippur we are asked to be in more direct contact with our spirit and with our connection to God than any other day of the year. While we move toward this during the evening, morning, and late afternoon services, what assists us during the spaces between the services? A walk, a nap, a quiet conversation? Each may be of help. A different way of prayer is also fitting. It is a time of day when we may be longing for sustenance. Together we will create a form of soul nourishment through meditation and offering up a few sacred texts in chant. May this time augment and amplify the expression of our soul on this holy day.

Our member Ellen Dannin will facilitate a conversation about the Book of Jonah:

Yonah – It’s Much More than Just a “Whale”: We will share reading the story of Yonah / Jonah, with time for participants’ contributions, questions, thoughts. Feel free to bring your own texts.

At 3:45, you can choose between a walk, a chat with a friend, or whatever else moves you, and a session that uses Jonah, again, as a starting off point a conversation about solitary confinement. We’ll start with some materials from this T’ruah study guide (which is based on a Yom Kippur d’var member Margo Schlanger gave at AARC in 2013).  But we’ll move fairly quickly into the modern experience of imprisonment and examine the question, What kind of conditions–physical and programmatic–create the best chance of t’shuvah?  Our leaders for this session will be member Margo Schlanger and Ronald Simpson-Bey.

Ronald Simpson-Bey, leading Ann Arbor Yom Kippur workshop

Ronald Simpson-Bey

Ron is the Alumni Associate for JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), part of the steering team of the newly formed Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration in Michigan (MI-CEMI), and co-founder and advisory board member of the Chance For Life (CFL) organization in Detroit. He served 27-years in the Michigan prison system, where he founded many enrichment programs rooted in transformation, redemption, and self-accountability.  In the course of that time, he spent two years in solitary confinement. He was a jailhouse lawyer who got his conviction reversed by the courts and got himself out of prison.  He attended Eastern Michigan University, Mott Community College, and Jackson Community College, and he has worked as a staff paralegal at the former Prison Legal Services of Michigan.

On this day of atonement, join this workshop to better understand American imprisonment, and what kinds of change we need and can help with.

Your Story Adds to our Shofar Service on Rosh Hashanah

Cover of Rachel Barenblatt's machzor/high holiday prayerbook

Cover of Rachel Barenblatt’s machzor/high holiday prayerbook

Deb Kraus is looking for several people to tell 3-5 minute personal stories as part of the Rosh Hashanah day (October 3, this year) Shofar Service. Deb offers some explanation and background:

The Shofar Service, which happens in the later part of the Rosh Hashanah Service, is divided into three parts:  Malchuyot (majesty/sovereignty), Zichronot (remembrances) and Shofarot (call to action). For the last few years, AARC congregants have offered short 3-5 minute personal stories to introduce each section of prayer. This has been a really meaningful way for our members to participate in communal leadership and share an important part of themselves with the community.  For example, in past years, Kevin Norris shared about a health challenge (Shofarot) , Dina Kurz talked about higher power (Malchuyot), and I talked about hiking in the alps (Malchuyot) and (another year) how my daughter Molly and I shared memories of our old house in an attempt to get it sold (Zichronot).  Last year, this is where Clare called us to welcome Jews of all colors (Shofarot). So,  do you have a story to share? Contact me (drdebkraus@gmail.com) with your story idea, and I’ll try to fit it into the service.

In this blog on her site, the Veleveteen Rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt introduces each section of the Shofar Service with a poem, directing our hearts to open to the prayers. Another resource on the Shofar Service is offered by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, with these kavanah/intentions for Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. These may help you get started on finding your story.

(How) Should A Person Pray? A Study of Berakhot with Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Ora-Nitkin-Kaner3The concluding public session of our weekend Shabbaton with Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner, will be an adult (and interested teen!) study session on the topic  of prayer. Rabbi Ora writes, “The rabbis of the Talmud had an uneasy relationship to prayer. They found it to be mysterious, potentially dangerous, and physically and emotionally overwhelming, and they couldn’t decide whether it was better to pray with too much feeling or too little. (The rabbis, unlike Goldilocks, found nothing that was ‘just right.’)”

All are welcome to join us as we study from Talmud Berakhot and deepen our understanding of our rabbinic tradition’s relationship to prayer, as well as our own. No Hebrew knowledge or previous Talmud study necessary.

Sunday July 24, 2016 10-12noon at the JCC 2935 Birch Hollow Dr.

Please RSVP for this session and all of the other Shabbaton events here. You are welcome even if you don’t RSVP, but it sure helps us plan if you do let us know you are coming.

  • Tot Shabbat, Friday 7/22, 5:45 to 6:15 PM, JCC
  • Kabbalat Shabbat & Potluck, Friday 7/22, 6:30 PM, JCC
  • Shabbat Morning Service, Saturday 7/23, 10 am, JCC
  • Family-Friendly Dessert and Havdalah, Saturday 7/23, 8-9:30 pm, home of the Samuel family
  • Adult Learning, Sunday 7/24, 10:00 AM, JCC: (How) Should A Person Pray?

 

Rosh Hodesh Nissan, Miriam, and tzaraat

lia rosen

Jews celebrate the New Year in the fall, still, Nissan is considered the first month of the year because it is the first month in which we were a free people. In midrash and legend, the first Rosh Hodesh was marked by Moses as the preparations for the Exodus began in earnest. If you didn’t begin spring cleaning on the day after Purim (some people really do this!), this week is a good time to begin to rid the house of hametz/bread and any of the things you wish to discard.

Nissan is also the month, according to legend, in which Moses’ sister Miriam, died. Chabad.org records this piece of “Jewish History” as “Miriam’s Passing (1274 BCE) Miriam, the sister of Moses, passed away at the age of 126 on the 10th of Nissan of the year 2487 from creation (1274 BCE) — 39 years after the Exodus and exactly one year before the Children of Israel entered the Holy Land.” I love the exactness of this (although the date of Nissan 10 is disputed).

This week’s parsha, Tazria, describes how to diagnose and treat a skin disease, tzaraat, which later afflicts Miriam. This connection between Rosh Hodesh Nissan, Miriam, and tzaraat is rich material for poetry and drash. Here are a few; we’ll share more on Saturday morning, hope you can make it.

Snow/Scorpions & Spiders

by Girls in Trouble

Well my mother named me bitter
Although as a child I was so kind
Hiding myself in the trees to watch over my brother
But still my name was bitter
Bitter the taste of the sea
Bitter the cries of the horses drowning behind us
If anybody had asked me
I might not have chosen to go
But everyone knows
Sometimes you don’t have a choice
So when he said You’re banished,
Seven days in the desert alone
I just started walking
I knew there was nothing to say
The scorpions and the spiders
Crawled up to me and stopped in my shade
Together in silence they watched
As the sun crossed the sky
And if your father spit in your face
Wouldn’t you want to leave that place
And if your skin should turn to snow
Wouldn’t you have to go
And if your G-d should turn from you
wouldn’t you turn too.
Still I don’t regret a minute
And I don’t regret an hour
of the week that I lived all alone
at the top of the mountain
Though no voice came down from heaven
and I never saw words written in fire
I did see the birds of prey pick all the carcasses clean
If anybody had asked me
I might not have chosen to go
But everyone knows
Sometimes you don’t have a choice
And if your father spit in your face
Wouldn’t you want to leave that place
And if your skin should turn to snow
Wouldn’t you have to go
And if your G-d should turn from you
wouldn’t you turn too.
[Suggested by Rabbi Alana]
Poem in Praise of Menstruation

by Lucille Clifton

if there is a river
more beautiful than this
bright as the blood
red edge of the moon          if
there is a river
more faithful than this
returning each month
to the same delta          if there
is a river
braver than this
coming and coming in a surge
of passion, of pain          if there is
a river
more ancient than this
daughter of eve
mother of cain and of abel          if there is in
the universe such a river          if
there is some where water
more powerful than this wild
water
pray that it flows also
through animals
beautiful and faithful and ancient
and female and brave
[suggested by Margo Schlanger]

Sent Out of the Camp

A d’var Torah for Parashat Tazria by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

This week’s parashah deals with a somewhat puzzling disease, called tzara’at, often translated as “leprosy.” As the Torah describes it, it’s an affliction that could appear on human skin, on clothes, or even infect houses.

It’s not clear if the affliction is truly physical, as Leviticus seems to indicate, or if it’s a physical manifestation of spiritual distress, as a number of commentators suggest. However, either way, the solution to the problem is isolation. The afflicted party is shut up for a week or more, forced to live outside the camp, away from the rest of his or her community.

On the one hand, this quarantine is traditionally understood not as a punishment, but rather a time to recover and protect others from infection. One could also imagine it as something of a retreat—a time for someone who is physically or spiritually unwell to recuperate and regain strength.

On the other, well, I can’t help but think about what it must have been like to be told that you must be cast away from loving, human connection as a result of contracting an ailment or stumbling interpersonally. What kind of impact did being sent away from the camp have on the afflicted?

Between 80,000-100,000 prisoners are in solitary confinement in the United States on any given day, many for rather minor infractions. Despite the fact that more than 15 hours in solitary confinement may begin to have an adverse impact on a prisoner’s mental health, the average sentence in solitary can run, depending on the state, anywhere from 23 months to 7.5 years, and longer for those on death row. Many argue that, in light of the significant mental harm that it causes, solitary confinement should be classified as a form of torture.

Joe Giarratano, a prisoner at Virginia’s Wallens Ridge State Prison, reflects:

Human beings are social creatures. We need psychological, intellectual, spiritual, environmental stimulation to function properly, to grow and develop. Without that stimulation we deteriorate. I do not care how strong one is mentally; solitary confinement will adversely affect you. I have literally watched grown men deteriorate before my eyes, and go mad. There were times during my… stint that I lost it and began to hallucinate and lose my grip on reality. What the public needs to realize is that eventually all of those who experience that will be released back into society, far more broken than when they went in.

Many traditional commentators attempt to cast the metzora, the one with this strange Biblical leprosy, as responsible for their own suffering—for example, citing a tendency towards malicious gossip as the reason the person needed to be exiled. But there’s another textual tradition that regards them with a softer eye.

For, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a-b) tells us, no less than the Messiah will be found sitting among the lepers, and will be known as “the leper scholar.” That is to say, the one who will bring healing and redemption to the world aligns her- or himself with those who have been forced into isolation. And the Sifra, the ancient midrash on Leviticus, tells us that, even in the lepers’ isolation, “the Divine Presence still abides among them.”

It’s on God to be with those who suffer. It’s on us to prevent unnecessary suffering, insofar as we are able. When we push for just and humane reforms to our contemporary prison system, we engage in the work of the Messiah.

Come see a sofer at work, fixing our Torah

AARC’s Torah is old and much-loved. In fact, it seems to be over 200 years old. In recent years, it’s gotten a bit unstable; there are a number of tears in the scroll, and the stitching at the edges is coming unraveled.  Hagba–the display of the Torah to the Congregation, after it is read–has gotten a little too exciting.

So we’re pleased to say that Rabbi Moshe Druin, of Sofer On Site, will be visiting us on Tuesday, March 29, to fix all the stitching/tears.  He’ll work at the JCC, and you’re invited to come and watch.  Kids and adults–come by at 2:30 or 3.  Sofer on Site frequently does community events for Torah restorations.

Also, if you are able to be there for a bit and take some pictures, please let me know (email me at margo.schlanger@gmail.com).

Shabbat on the farm

Shabbat on the farm

The Just City/Mincha/Farewell to Rabbi Michael

Michael Strassfeld photo

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

March 25 to 26 is our year’s last Shabbaton with Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, who has visited us from New York and led terrific services and events.  He and we will be busy this last weekend:  Our Fourth Friday March 25 will be our community’s Purim celebration–Megillah reading, dinner theatre, shtick, etc.  More details here and here.  Please join us!

 

For March 26, we’ll focus on Shabbat.  At 3 pm, Rabbi Michael will lead text study on the topic of the “Just City.”

the_just_city

The Just City

He writes:  “What makes for a ‘just city’ according to Jewish tradition?  What is the overall responsibility of its citizens to those who are in need? Is there a limit to that responsibility? How do you balance legitimate self-interest with helping the poor? How do you navigate endless needs and issues of fraud? What institutions are necessary for a just city? We will look at rabbinical and biblical texts to help us explore these questions.”

And we’ll conclude with a Mincha service at 4 pm (sharp — it’s a short service), followed by seudah shlishit (shabbat snack).  Rabbi Michael, Erica Ackerman, and Debbie Zivan will read Torah.  All are welcome, at the JCC.  PLEASE RSVP, here. (We need to make minyan, and estimate food.)

Please join us for this discussion, and to say farewell to Rabbi Michael and thank him for his time with us.

Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton

TreeOur Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton was a great success.  Read all about the text study here, and the seder here.

 

 


 

We’re excited to announce a Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton, the weekend of Jan. 22, with three events, all led by visiting Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, Rabbi Emeritus of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism. The Shabbaton will be environmentally-themed throughout.

 

  1. Our regular Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat service and potluck, at the JCC.  This will start with a Tot Shabbat gathering for preschoolers and their families, at 5:45 pm.  Childcare (and pizza for the kids) are available starting 6:15.  (RSVP to Clare Kinberg for either or both.) The service starts at 6:30.  Bring something for the vegetarian potluck dinner that follows.
  2. Saturday text study and discussion: 4 pm
  3. Saturday Tu B’Shevat Seder: 5:30 pm.  With vegetarian supper.  Free, but reservations are required.  RSVP at http://shabbaton-FoodLandJustice.eventbrite.com.  Note: there will be a separate kid-friendly event at the same time, done in time for its participants to join the full group for supper.

Rabbi Strassfeld explains: “The classic Jewish texts about the environment [Deuteronomy 20:19-20; Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8, 10] prohibit the wanton destruction of nature. The stress on wanton destruction implies that the destruction of natural resources is permissible if it benefits human beings. For the text study on Shabbat, we will study other Jewish texts to see how Judaism can help us to create a contemporary environmental ethic rooted in the value of all things.”

The Tu B’Shevat seder that will follow is structured around eating of four different kinds of fruit, coupled with readings, songs and kavanot/reflections. The  Kabbalists of Safed created a Tu B’Shevat seder in the 17th century, loosely modeled on the Passover seder. Over the past several decades, Jews across the world have used Tu B’Shevat as a time to focus on the environment. Rabbi Strassfeld notes, “Our Tu B’Shevat seder will combine the focus on personal growth of the Jewish mystics with contemporary ecological concerns.”  Detroit’s Congregation T’Chiyah and its Rabbi, Alana Alpert, will be joining the Ann Arbor community for the seder, as will several Hazon Detroit fellows.

The events are co-sponsored by AARC and the Jewish Alliance for Food, Land, & Justice.  They are a continuation from last year’s year-long exploration of the teachings of Shmita, and are funded by an impact grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor.  AARC and the Alliance welcome all community members to join any or all these Shabbaton activities; the events are free, but online registration is required.

Our flyer is below.  Please feel free to download, print and share it!

2015-12-Shabbaton-ad

MJ_Strassfeld_photo-B&WRabbi Michael Strassfeld is the author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books and articles, including three versions of the Jewish Catalog, A Shabbat Haggadah: Ritual and Study Texts for the Home; and Jewish Holidays, a guide to the holidays used in many Jewish households.  Since the 1973 appearance of the first Jewish Catalog, subtitled “a do it yourself kit,” Rabbi Strassfeld’s books have been the go-to publications for progressive American Jews seeking explanations, contemporary readings, and resources relating to traditions and holidays.

 

 

Four Worlds of the Tu B’Shevat Seder

by Idelle Hammond-Sass

TreesClappingWatercolorOn Saturday evening January 23, AARC visiting rabbi Michael Strassfeld led about 60 people on a ritual journey through the mystical four worlds of the Kabbalists, exploring the different qualities of each world and our relationship to them. The Tu B’Shevat seder, modeled loosely after the Passover seder, was created by the mystics of S’fad in the 16th century, but the original holiday itself grew out of ancient tithing, and later was associated with planting trees in Israel and caring for the land.

Seder-01-23-2016

In an earlier study session, Rabbi Michael led an exploration of Jewish teachings about the environment.  The Tu B’Shevat seder is more mystical, a product of rabbinic imagination. Each mystical “world” is associated with a category of fruit, its season, an aspect of self, and an intention–and accompanied by a glass of wine. The Haggadah for the Tu B’Shevat seder, put together by Rabbi Michael and AARC co-chair Margo Schlanger, was rich with readings and illustrations that deepened our understanding. And, yes, like Passover, it is structured on fours: four worlds, four glasses of wine, four seasons.

This ancient New Year of the Trees or “Rosh Hashanah L’ilanot” was also associated with the mystical feminine aspect of God, or Shechinah. We added Miriam’s cup to our seder, and said a blessing for Miriam’s well, for without fresh water, the trees and plants cannot flourish. The cup was dedicated to the people of Flint, whose water has been polluted.

Our room was set with a U shaped arrangement of tables beautifully set with platters of fruits and seeds (carefully following the no nuts rule of the JCC) that illustrate the four worlds. The platters were piled high with figs, bananas, grapes, apple, pomegranate, pears as well as olives, dates, apricots, raspberries: Fruits with pits, hard shells and soft, dried and fresh.

Tu B'Shevat Seder Plate

Tu B’Shevat Seder Plate

The beauty of the ritual pairs a mystical sphere or world with a fruit that symbolizes it, as well as mirrors our own spiritual state. For instance in the physical realm of Assiyah (winter, white wine) we ate fruit with protective outer shells, such as banana, pomegranate, or oranges. When we peel away our protection, and can be vulnerable, we can share the sweetness inside. If you are unfamiliar with the Kabbalah, this is a sweet way to become familiar with the four worlds of Assiyah (Physical), Yetzirah (Formation), B’riyah (thought), and Atzilut (Spirit).

A delicious and plentiful dinner was organized by Rena Basch and catered by El Harissa Café. (Khallid explained our menu, featuring a Tunisian egg Tangine, Lablabi, Mama Houria, a carrot dip, with a lovely salad with figs and pomegranate seeds, and poached pears with Michigan fruit sauce.)

This event was co-sponsored by Jewish Alliance for Food Land and Justice with an impact grant through the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor. The seder helped us reach our goals of bringing together people from the wider community and celebrating the deep roots we share in the Tree of Life.  AARC was joined by Rabbi Alana Alpert and members of Congregation T’chiyah of Oak Park, fellows from Hazon Detroit, and many others from the Ann Arbor community.  Like all ARRC events, we could not have done this without volunteers, and a big thank you to all who planned and worked so hard–Margo Schlanger, Clare Kinberg, Carole Caplan and Rena Basch.

For more information on Tu B’Shevat there are many good resources on the web at Hazon.org, and Ritual Well, to name a couple.  The Jewish Alliance for Food, Land and Justice Facebook page is active–come visit!

Harvesting Jewish learning to nurture an environmental ethic

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld leads Tu B'Shevat Text Study

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld leads Tu B’Shevat Text Study

Yesterday, AARC and the Jewish Alliance for Food, Land, and Justice hosted 50 people for two lovely events, led by our visiting Rabbi, Michael Strassfeld.  Tu B’Shevat–the “birthday of the trees”–provided us a great occasion to focus for the weekend on Judaism and the environment.

Another post will talk about the Tu B’Shevat seder.  In this one, I want to share with people who couldn’t make it to the afternoon text study some of the passages and insights offered by Rabbi Michael.

We started with two verses from Deuteronomy (20:19-20):

When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees may you destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls.

It’s an interesting passage, with several ideas in it.  For starters, the text suggests that even in war, ethical constraints remain–and not just the most urgent ethical constraints, dealing directly with human lives.  Fruit trees take many years to grow, and of course they are important sources of food.  So this rule against their destruction may be founded on the obligations the current generation has to the future.

It’s a limited point, though; the explicit permission to use other, non-fruit-bearing, trees as battering rams and so on makes that clear.  This is not a modern environmentalism; it’s expressing something narrower. Still, we learned, Maimonides extended the concept somewhat:

It is forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees outside a (besieged) city, nor may a water channel be deflected from them so that they wither. . . . [This applies] not only to cutting it down during a siege, but whenever a fruit-yielding tree is cut down with destructive intent.  . . . It may be cut down, however, if it causes damage to other trees or to a field belonging to another man or if its value for other purposes is greater (than that of the fruit it produces).  The Law forbids only wanton destruction.  . . . Not only one who cuts down (fruit-producing) trees, but also one who smashes household good, tears cloths, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys aricles of food with destructive intent, transgresses the command Thou shalt not destroy (bal tashit). 

So according to Maimonides, the passage in Deuteronomy amounts to a comprehensive ethical ban on “wanton destruction,” whether in time of war or not, whether of a fruit tree or something else.  This is broader, for sure–but still very limited.  It reaches only wanton destruction: destruction that is for no appropriate purpose.  And the focus remains on present-day human purposes.  It seems to me the passage from Maimonides doesn’t quite capture the cross-generational insight from the original Torah passage.  But that’s what we moved to next. [Read more…]

Experience POLIN

Cover to the POLIN catalog

Cover to the POLIN museum catalog. Polin, Hebrew for Poland, also means “Dwell here.”

“Museums can be agents of transformation that can move a whole society forward,” Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said in her opening to her January 13, 2016 lecture  at the U-M Museum of Art’s Stern Auditorium. That may sound like an audacious and grandiose statement, but after listening to Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the chief curator of the core exhibition at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews–which literally stands on the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto–few in the audience were doubters. Born in Toronto in 1942 to Polish immigrant parents, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett articulates a vision of recovery of 1000 years of Polish Jewish life that transports museum visitors into the world Ibrahim Ibn Yakub found on his journey in the 10th century, and through multimedia exhibits, brings them into the experience of Jewish life in Poland into the 20th century.

What makes Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and her collaborators special is their articulation of principles for the museum and their creative adherence to those principles in every aspect of the museum. When the museum opened in 2014, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett published an essay “A theater of history: 12 principles,” which begins, 

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews was created from the inside out. Before there was a museum, before there was a building, before there was a collection, there was a plan for the exhibition. The story – the thousand-year history of Polish Jews – came first. All else followed. The museum and the story it tells in the core exhibition will be an agent of transformation. Polish visitors will encounter a history of Poland, but in a way they have not experienced before. Jewish visitors will discover a history of what was once the largest Jewish community in the world and a center of the Jewish world – an estimated 70 percent of Jews today, more than 9 million people, are thought to descend from this territory. All visitors will encounter a Poland about which little is known and much misunderstood, a country that was one of the most diverse and tolerant in early modern Europe, a place where a Jewish minority was able to create a distinctive civilization while being part of the larger society.

Her essay–which in a move both simple and radical, she posted on Facebook–outlines in easily understandable language, extraordinary ideas about the presentation of  history and culture. Her lecture at U-M was this essay with slides, and information from over a year of experience with ongoing programming and over a million visitors to the museum. Leaving the lecture, many in the audience could be overheard making plans to visit POLIN.