Otto Nelson’s Bar Mitzvah Dvar: Chukat

Shabbat Shalom, everyone!
Welcome to my bar mitzvah! I hope you’ve been enjoying it so far.
My torah portion is Chukat.
It’s a bit of an inconsistent portion, because it starts with Adonai (also known as G-d) detailing a purification ritual to be used after contact with the dead, which I am focusing on, but about a third of the way in it jumps to the story of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness.
The aliyah (section of Torah) I just read is Numbers, chapter 19, verses 18 to 22.
My aliyah focuses on the details of the purification ritual.
According to the Torah, this purification ritual is required after contact with a human body, grave, or bone.
It was believed that contact of this sort makes a person spiritually or ritually unclean.
Purification involves sprinkling water containing the ashes of a Red Heifer (mentioned earlier in my Torah portion) on the unclean person, after which they must wash themselves and their clothes and remain isolated from others for a period of 7 days.
If they do not undergo this ritual they are cut off from the congregation, a punishment known as Karet. Rabbis were and are not sure exactly what this punishment entails, but some theories are premature death, death without children, or generally very bad things.
On that happy note:
You may have noticed that these laws about death and contact with the dead seem very strict, and a bit strange, which brings up the question: Why were these laws created?
I think one reason is for the sake of physical purity (I’ll talk about that later), in that it helps avoid the spread of disease. However, I think it was mainly for religious purity. I think the ritual was designed to keep the perceived sanctity of the congregation by acknowledging the dead but not allowing them to negatively impact the community.
However, I think now we should look at what other people think the purpose of this ritual is, through rabbinical commentary. A traditional addition to a D’var torah, rabbinical commentary is essentially looking back at observations on the Torah portion made by past Jewish scholars to see what they think (Like looking at the comments on a YouTube video, except generally more positive and much older).
Rabbi Joseph Bechor Shor, a rabbi who lived in France in the 13th century, speculated that the purification ritual was to assist with physically letting go of the dead, and avoiding the practice of incorporating dead bodies into physical objects and adornments, a tradition among several neighboring tribes at the time and place the Torah was written. He also held that it is a natural tendency to physically cling to loved ones who have died, and that the ritual exists to warn Jews against this tendency. However, Rabbi Samson Hirsch, a 19th century German rabbi, claimed that the meaning was more symbolic, showing the Jewish people that there is a possibility of redemption from sin, such as the sin of touching a dead body.
Additionally, allow me to note that Rabbi Yochanan (A first century rabbi who saved Judaism in a super-dramatic way that should REALLY be made into an action film), Rabbi Isaac (A student of Yochanan), and Rabbi Joshua of Sikinin (A lesser-known Talmudic rabbi), believed that the ritual is not made to be understood or have a reason behind it.
Now, the reasons I just quoted are more spiritual reasons for this ritual,
but I also want to mention possible practical or medical reasons.
A possible medical reason for the ritual was to use water to wash off bacteria from the person and their clothes, which were possibly infected from diseases carried by dead bodies, and then put the person in a quarantine for any remaining germs or effects to die off.
Strange thing is, the biblical purification ritual in my Torah portion seems in line with modern medical practices. However, this is thousands of years before modern medicine. So how could the ritual use ideas similar to those of contemporary medical science?
Personally, I think that the connection is coincidental. After all, when we do something that works, we continue to do it. And in ancient times, the health benefits of certain rituals could be seen as divine signs to continue them.
At the core of this ritual is purity. But what is purity? Physical purity? Religious purity? And what do these things mean in today’s world?
Personally, I think that the idea of purity, both religious and physical, is really mostly a social construct. Although how clean or healthy you are can affect physical purity, I think what you and others think about you is most of what’s taken into account. And the case of religious purity is even more heavily opinion-focused.
In today’s world, purity does not seem to be as common a topic, at least not obviously. However, I think that these ideas of purity still exist, just in a more cloaked form. When people make decisions based on physical health or look, I think that’s really just a different form of the idea of physical purity. And when people make decisions based on what they think of another person’s religion or culture, I think that’s just another branch of the idea of religious or ethical purity.
But now to my mitzvah project.
Because my portion is focused on purity and purifying, for my project my friend Eli (who had his Bar Mitzvah last month) and I swept up the memorial garden behind the JCC, planted new plants, added mulch, and weeded it, in a way restoring natural purity to it. Also, my Mom and I worked with a community organization known as NAP herps that monitors frog and salamander populations, which are indicators of natural vibrancy and purity. Finally, my family and I planted 150-something native butterfly bushes in my grandparent’s land in west Michigan, to restore some natural, native purity.
Anyway…
At this point, I have discussed purity in today’s world, talked about my mitzvah project, asked a rhetorical question and then answered it, given the interpretations of rabbis over the centuries, and given medical and spiritual reasons for this ancient ritual. I know at this point ya’ll are probably getting hungry for the luncheon, and I relate, so I’ll make this quick.
In our congregation, it’s customary for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah to ask a question of the congregation (Don’t worry, this one’s not rhetorical), so here’s mine. Throughout my D’var torah, I’ve explored many questions about purity. But now I have a question about purity for you to discuss, and that’s “What does purity, and for that matter impurity, mean to you?”

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And to conclude, I would like to thank everyone who has helped me reach where I am today.
Thank you to:
-My Dad, David Erik Nelson, and my Mom, Cara Jeanne Spindler for helping and supporting me throughout my Bar Mitzvah and my life.
-My little sister Aziza, for, uhh…
Hmm…
Teaching me, and pushing me to my limit of, patience and understanding…
-Linda, Mojo, Riley, Danny, Justin, Ava, Henry, Vince, Sarah, Hannah, and anyone else who lives outside of the state and were willing to take the time and effort to come here
-My tutor, Deb, for helping me through my torah and haftarah portions.
-Rabbi Ora, for helping with my D’var torah.
-Anyone who has supported me in my life, be it a friend, family member, pet…
-And finally, everyone who came here to my bar mitzvah today! Thank you all so much!

An Informative and Engaging Shavuot!

by Emily Eisbruch and Gillian Jackson

Our delicious Shavuot Desert Potluck provided by AARC! Photo Credits: Emily Eisbruch

In honor of the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai, AARC celebrated Shavuot this year by engaging in learning and discussion. We were joined by Kehillat Israel from Lansing. The evening was structured around discussion groups on interesting and relevant topics.

The first two discussion groups were led by congregation members Clare Kinberg from AARC and Ken Harrow from KI.

Clare Kinberg leading a discussion on ‘Jewish Time’ on Shavuot.

Clare Kinberg led a discussion about the Jewish concept of time and how it relates to the story of Ezra. A lively discussion followed regarding the different ways that Jews interpret history and time as it is written in our sacred texts.

Ken Harrow leading a discussion on ‘The Events at Sinai’ on Shavuot.

Ken Harrow led a discussion about the events at Sinai. In his session he focused on how to contextualize the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the commandments. Ken emphasized relationships to works of art, demonstrating our connections with facial expressions.  Ken shared slides with examples from famous artworks, including self-portraits from Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

After enjoying a potluck of delicious deserts provided by members of AARC, we embarked on even more engaging opportunities for learning with Rabbi Ora and Rabbi Zimmerman.

Rabbi Ora leads a discussion on ‘Jewish Perspectives on Abortion’

Rabbi Ora led a discussion on Jewish Perspectives on Abortion. The discussion was a fascinating exploration of various texts that reference abortion. Looking at the issue from the perspective of various Jewish Sects, Rabbi Ora showed how the Jewish people have struggled to codify when and how a woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.

Rabbi Zimmerman leads a discussion on the Green New Deal.

Rabbi Michael Zimmerman’s session on “The Torah of the Green New Deal” looked at  Judaism’s approach to caring for the planet.  He shared a handout with biblical and other references urging stewardship of the land, including text from House Resolution 109 on the Green New Deal.  The group discussed the relationship between Jewish teachings on charity and preservation of the earth.

All and all much knowledge was passed and given. It was truly an enriching evening during which the two congregations were able to get to know each other and enjoy lively discussion!

Beit Sefer Picnic and Native Tree Planting

Photos and Article Credit: Fred Feinberg

On Sunday, May 5, Beit Sefer students, teachers, and parents congregated (as congregations do!) at Country Farm Park for not only our annual picnic, but to help plant indigenous fruit trees at County Farm Park’s Pollinator Garden. We all first learned about indigenous vs. non-native species, then donned protective gloves and took up hoes, handsaws, and strangely powerful branch clippers. 

Implements in hand, we helped take several non-native honeysuckle trees down to stumps, clear away debris, and prepare the ground for planting trees and shrubs native to our area — paw paw, American plum, persimmon, and chestnut — learning about each from a park representative. While Gdolim and Yeladim cut away and hauled large branches, Ktanim cleared a patch of ground shrubs and aerated the soil, under the watchful eye and aching backs of parents and teachers.

Afterward, Stacy Weinberg Dieve presented our hardworking teachers and helpers — Clare, Shlomit, Aaron; Zander, Avi, Rose — with tokens our our collective appreciation. We all then gathered at the Pavilion to sing a Hebrew prayer and learn a two-part round from Rabbi Ora, after which we feasted on a variety of seasonal, vegetarian dishes prepared by Beit Sefer families: vegetable casserole, brioche, fruits, challah. The weather was literally perfect, and the children spent the time afterward running and frolicking in the playground. All in all, a wonderfully successful day!

Mimouna and Interfaith Activism: A Call to Justice Work

The tradition of Mimouna originates in a time in Jewish-Muslim relations when communities shared food and traditions to mark the end of Passover. Before the start of Passover, Jews would give away their flour, yeast, and grain to their Muslim neighbors, who at the end of Passover would celebrate Mimouna by bringing sweets to share with their Jewish neighbors. This organic intermixing of traditions was beneficial to both cultural groups.

This tradition emerged in the same period as feudalism, Chaucer, the Vikings, and the Black Plague. From our current age of space ships, solar panels, and nanotechnology, we may believe that civilization has greatly evolved since then. But the act of being civil hasn’t necessarily grown at all.

A group of AARC member met this weekend in honor of Mimouna to discuss how we might cultivate the spirit of this tradition in our time and community. To spark discussion on the topic, Rabbi Ora provided us with a quote from an Aboriginal activist group in Queensland in the 1970s:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Aboriginal Activist Group, Queensland, 1970s.

This quote suggests that if we are to do good work, we must work together in a way that lifts us all up as one community. The question was brought to the table: how might we begin this process?

After many ideas from different angles and approaches were shared, the group agreed that Rabbi Ora and members of our community would form a committee to engage with the following ideas:

  • The first proposal was to establish an organizational relationship with Islamic groups in our area. Supporters of this idea would like to initiate relationships between our spiritual leaders, supported by a committee.
  • Another congregant suggested we engage in political activism in relationship to Israel, supporting politicians that advocate for peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • A complementary suggestion was to engage with members of the Muslim community one-on-one, based on already-existing relationships. Many members of our congregation are already participating in various interfaith efforts, including an interfaith book club and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice.
  • A final wish was to focus on making a statement. One recommendation was to do so by publishing material in social and print media. Another suggested approach was to craft yard signs, tools for schools, and political support ad campaigns.

If you would like to participate in this interfaith activism committee, please email Rabbi Ora at rabbi@aarecon.org. We will update the community when we have begun taking steps to initiate these goals. What a gift it is to engage in our traditions in a new and invigorating way! L’Chaim!

Beit Sefer Students help lead Saturday Morning Shabbat Services

Last weekend’s Second Saturday Shabbat service was such a treat! We had the pleasure of listening to the thoughts and insight of our brilliant young G’dolim students. In preparation for their bnei mitzvah, the students practiced analyzing the parsha, asking meaningful questions, and participating in the Torah service.

Miles leading the congregation in a discussion about Torah portion Metzora

This week’s “Revolution Hebrew” lesson addressed the meaning of the word Torah. Congregants shared insights into how they felt the Torah had influenced their lives and how they have interacted with the text over time. The G’dolim had a lot to say about this topic. It was fascinating to hear how they are grappling with the material and how they understand the Torah to be a part of their lives.

Sylvie reading the English translation of this week’s Torah portion

One student commented that reading Torah was a process of “receiving knowledge,” while another felt that it was like “swimming in a stream of knowledge.” Another astute G’dolim student questioned the phrase ‘The One” as a way of addressing God, and examined what that means in terms of our understanding of God and Torah. It is amazing that these young students, most of them 12 years old, had the ability to deeply engage with this material.

Sam discussing his interpretation of Metzora

The students rounded out the service with a discussion of lashon hara, or “gossip.” They queried the function of gossip in our society and why it occurs. They asked for input from the congregation and led a lively discussion on the possible role of gossip as a useful tool for understanding ourselves and communicating within a community.

We look forward to hearing these students discuss their own Torah portions at their bnei mitzvah!

If you would like to get involved in Beit Sefer or start the process of Bnei Mitzvah,please see our website for more information. Jewish education is vibrant and alive at the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation!

Purim Fun at AARC

AARC’s Purim celebration last Friday was a blast! Rabbi Ora, dressed at Mr. Rogers, opened services with an original composition that welcomed us to Purim; it was set to the tune of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” In addition to our regular Shabbat songs, our abbreviated Shabbat service included many silly lyrical compositions written by Rabbi Ora, who astounds and amazes us every Purim! See her upside-down Megillah reading from last year!

Alan Haber and Idelle Hammond-Sass display AARC’s newest sacred object, a handmade Megillah ark to hold the Megillah scroll.

Alan Haber revealed the handmade Megillah ark that he constructed to hold the beautiful Megillah scroll acquired by Barbara Boyk Rust and Idelle Hammond-Sass.

Members Rebecca Ball, Dina Kurz and Debbie Field dressed as their personal hero, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

For this year’s costume theme, members dressed up at their personal heroes. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsbergs was a hero in triplicate!

Purim costume parade.

After services, we enjoyed a delicious potluck followed by a performance by Beit Sefer students, a costume parade, and dancing!

Stacy Dieve (a.k.a. Albert Einstein) reads from the Megillah.
Dina Kurz (a.k.a. Ruth Bader Ginsberg) reads from the Megillah.
Dave Nelson reads from the Megillah.

Parashat Bo and Poetry of Presence

Book cover in which several of these poems are published

During Ta-Shma (Come and Learn) and Shabbat morning service (Parashat Bo), Rabbi Ora used poetry and writings of all kinds to connect the parasha to our current lives (some of which led straight through to Sunday’s intro session of the new Ritual Lab & Learn, but that’s another post).
In case you were there and want to read and reflect a bit more, or in case you weren’t there but might still like to read a couple great poems and delve into an interesting article, here are the links. Thanks to Rabbi Ora for providing these:




Creativity on Display in Community Chuppah

The Community Chuppah

The creativity and collaborative nature of our Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation (AARC) were on display at the joyous installation ceremony for Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner on December 15, 2018.

A beautiful Chuppah was decorated with thirty colorful cloth squares created by our community, forming the artistic centerpiece of the event.

Much appreciation goes to the Chuppah project coordinators:

  • Sarai Shoup – Installation Committee chair
  • Marcy Epstein and Eileen Dzik – selected and purchased chuppah materials, including the deep blue background for the squares and reverse side fabric reminiscent of a Talit.
  • Marcy Epstein – hosted several workshops at her home to help people with ideas. Techniques included crochet, embroidery, applique, fabric painting, needlepoint, attaching beads and stones, and more.
  • Kathy Kopald – cut the squares and prepared for mailing
  • Sherry and Steve Lessens – mailed out the squares
  • Karyn Schoem – sewed together the entire chuppah
  • Seth Kopald and Alan Haber – Seth made the poles from bamboo from Alan Haber’s yard
  • We are creating a record detailing who made each square in the Chuppah, along with their comments about the process and its meaning. If you contributed a Chuppah square, please add your information to this Google Doc by January 31, 2019.

    Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner at her installation, under our new community-created chuppah, photo by Eric Bramson

    The Nancy Denenberg Fund paid for the chuppah materials, and Nancy’s sister contributed a square in her memory.  Nancy, who passed away in 2006, was one of the founders of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah, which later became the AARC. The community Chuppah commemorates Nancy’s interest in the arts and in building a nurturing community.

    Rabbi Ora’s installation also featured music performed by congregation members, a Shabbat ceremony with thought-provoking dvars by Rabbi Ora and our guest speaker Rabbi Shelley Goldman.

    A delicious meal was catered by El Harissa and coordinated by Stacy Weinberg Dieve and Kathy Kopald. Deborah Fisch, Lori Lichtman, Bob Lichtman, Adrianne Neff and Nancy Meadow contributed challahs and amazing desserts.

    Our talented band added to the beauty of Rabbi Ora’s installation, photo by Eric Bramson

    We are looking forward to seeing how the Community Chuppah is enjoyed in the future as our congregation celebrates significant events and milestones. For more about the congregation’s ritual art pieces, see the blogs on the Torah Table, Torah Table Tapestry, Ner Tamid, and Yad. Additional blogs on the AARC’s other hand-crafted ritual objects are coming in 2019.

    Dreaming a Holy Community: dvar on Vayigash by Rabbi Shelley Goldman

    Rabbi Shelley Goldman

    Shabbat Shalom.

    This morning I’d like to focus on the Joseph story from the perspective of community organizing and the creation of holy Jewish space. This week marks the third and final Torah portion focused entirely on the exploits and escapades of Joseph. Today we read the dramatic conclusion of the story, where Judah, the fourth of Jacob’s son’s, takes responsibility for the wrong that all the brothers did to Joseph so many years earlier. Judah begs the viceroy of Egypt, who he does not know is Joseph, to take him, instead of his brother Benjamin. But I am getting ahead of myself. We will return to Judah’s impassioned speech in a moment but let’s first look at the dramatic beginning of the story, which we read two weeks ago in Parashat VaYeishev.

    The tale is familiar to all of us. Joseph, his father’s favorite, is sent to “see about” his brothers. We understand the complicated family dynamics at play when a younger sibling tags along with his older brothers. We can imagine how tricky it must have been to have Joseph, the son of his father’s favorite wife, hanging around with the sons of the other wives, Bilhah and Zilpah. It is not a stretch for us to think about what might happen when the favorite son shows up in the special coat that his father gave him (when no one else got any presents) telling tales about his dreams. Dreams that proclaim Joseph a future king, with his brothers and parents bowing low to him, first as sheaves of wheat and then as the sun, moon, and eleven stars. We know that this is not a story that ends well. Or does it? Right now I’d like to focus on four words in Hebrew in our story.

    As Joseph approaches, his brothers say to one another, “Here comes that dreamer! Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we can say, ‘A savage beast devoured him.’ We shall see what becomes of his dreams!” But when Reuben, the oldest, heard it, he tried to save him from them. He said, “Let us not take his life,” we can put him in that pit instead. Then Judah piped up and suggested that they sell him to the traders in the approaching caravan.

    The words that I’d like to focus on are “We shall see what comes of his dreams,” eight words in English or Nireh Mah Yeheyu Chalomotav, four words in Hebrew. These four words exemplify the beauty of Torah study. Words can mean one thing in their Biblical context, or as my Biblical Hebrew teacher Michael Carasik says, “their natural habitat,” and they can mean quite another thing once the commentator has finished her work. This tradition, of reading words wholly out of context and with your own purpose in mind, was begun by the rabbis of the Rabbinic Period, some 2000 years ago. The sages of the Talmud, completed in the year 500, made this style of commentary into high art.

    It is in this tradition of taking words of the Bible and flipping their meaning, that some years ago my teacher, Rabbi Shefa Gold, presented the graduating rabbis of that particular year with a chant, “We shall see what comes of his/her dreams.” In presenting this chant to a group of students who were moments away from becoming rabbis, and fulfilling a dream that was accompanied by years of study, the meaning of the words was flipped from the sarcastic sputter of a jealous brother to a loving send-off by a grateful community. When Joseph’s brothers’ say, “We shall see what comes of his dreams,” while he is lying, without his coat, at the bottom of a pit, the answer that they expect is, “Nothing. Nothing will become of his dreams.” When Rabbi Shefa Gold sings Nireh Mah Yeheyu Chalomotey’ha, “We shall see what comes of her dreams,” she is saying, “I can’t wait to see what you do next!”

    Two weeks ago I spent a few days on a retreat in Chicago dreaming with leaders from Faith in Action affiliates from Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Minnesota. Faith in Action is one of the three major faith-based community organizing outfits in the country. We were taking a breath after the elections to evaluate our non-partisan get out the vote efforts of the past several months. We also continued to dream, this time focusing on the future. The central question of the three days was, “What do you want to see for your state in the next 2, 4, 6, 8 years?” It was a hard question, at first, but it got easier the more that we talked.

    The main “take away” that I left with is this: I hope to help change the narrative in our public conversations from what it is right now – one based on fear, fear of the other, fear of immigrants, fear of people of color, fear of poor people,and, yes, fear and hatred of Jews to one based on love. I want a narrative that says, “I am responsible for my neighbor,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    The current narrative holds that the job of government is to “stay out of people’s lives, except when it comes to law and order.” I humbly submit, along with my fellow dreamers, that the job of government is to protect people and lift us up.

    In this moment of installing a new rabbi in the community, it is good to dream together. What do you want for your community in the next 2, 4, 6, 8 years? What educational programs would you like to see? Are there social action projects that you’d like to undertake together? How do you want to grow and change? Dreaming of a different future, a better future, is a core component of community organizing and radical Jewish life. What will become of our dreams? No one knows, but we can hope that our wildest dreams come to fruition and work to make it so.

    Other core components of being good leaders in the struggle for justice and building Jewish community are the ability to see ourselves as the “guarantors of our fellows” and having the capacity for self-reflection and public confession. This brings us to this week’s Torah portion, Parashat VaYigash, which opens with Judah’s impassioned speech to the Egyptian controller of grain in the time of famine. The speech so moves Joseph that he finally gives up his ruse and admits his identity to his assembled brothers. Judah’s speech is beautiful and as Biblical commentator Avivah Zornberg points out, is striking in that it shows Judah’s development from a devious brother who could willfully lie to his father about his brother being torn to shreds by a wild beast, to a sensitive man, who has lost two children of his own, and does not want his aging father to lose the only other child of his favorite wife, Rachel. Judah becomes the leader of the brothers, even though he is the fourth out of twelve sons, because of his self-reflection and public confession.

    He says to Joseph, “we cannot return to our father without our brother Benjamin because it will kill our father for, Nafsho Keshurab’Nafsho, his life is bound up in his life.” Judah sees himself as responsible for Benjamin and responsible to his father, so much so, that he is willing to be the guarantor, to pay the price himself, for Benjamin’s alleged crimes.

    As I reflect this morning, on my good friend and study partner/hevruta, Rabbi Ora, I am thinking about her qualities as a sensitive and empathic leader. She has a deep capacity to connect to pain, the world’s pain and individual’s pain, too. This means that she is a wonderful conversation partner and pastoral care giver. Her depth and introspection inspire others to examine their own lives. How lucky you are to have her as your leader!

    Rabbi Ora is also a lover of words and books. As a student of fine literature, she weaves gorgeous d’vrei Torah and to this day when I sit down to write, I think about some of the pieces she presented in our Homelitics class.

    Rabbi Ora’s speeches weave together many different sources and are texts that are full of other texts, dazzling with connections.

    My blessing to you this morning, this Kehillah Kedosha, this holy community, is that as you install a new leader in your midst you also remember your individual power and responsibility. Vest your new leader with the authority she needs to lead you and also remember that you, yes, you, and every single one of us are the guarantors of our neighbors and the earth. It is our responsibility to dream, to reflect, to publicly confess and make amends when we have missed the mark. And as the Black Lives Matter Movement has brought to popular consciousness the words of Assata Shakur, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love one another and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” 

    Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so. In this community and in all communities.

    Shabbat Shalom.    

    Holidays at Home with Friends

    Lighting the candles on the last night of Hanukkah 5779 at the Belman-Wells

    Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation started out as a havurah, a smallish friendship group of like-minded Jews who gather for Shabbat and holiday prayer services,  lifecycle events, and Jewish learning.  When we became a congregation and engaged rabbinic leadership, we opened up to growing in numbers and diversity, but we also wanted to retain the warm, low-key feeling of friends gathering.

    Playing games at Patti and Clare’s on the third night of Hanukkah, while the sufganiyot dough rises

    One way we’ve been able to do this is by organizing home-hosted Jewish holidays: Hanukkah candle lightings and Passover seders where old and new friends can gather to celebrate. Lucky for us, Jewish holidays that last many days create many opportunities for small groups. 

    Sixth night of Hanukkah at Mike Ehmann’s, candles burning bright

    The upcoming spring holidays offer opportunities for many different types of celebrations. For Tu b’Shvat this year (just a month away on January 20-21), we are looking for a member who’d like to host a seder in their home. We’ll celebrate Purim at the JCC, and we will again organize a Passover seder sign up so that everyone who wants to be at a home Passover seder will be able to. If you can host a wheelchair accessible seder for Tu b’Shvat or Passover, please let us know. We’ll celebrate Mimouna together again at the end of Passover, at the JCC.