Workshops on “Art and Midrash”

by Idelle Hammond-Sass

Idelle Hammond-Sass and Carol Levin will hold a Hanukkah workshop on Sunday morning, December 13, 10-11:30am. To participate, sign up here.

I’m excited to be offering Zoom workshops on “Art and Midrash” for AARC. In this first blog, I talk about our Yom Kippur workshop on Jonah (and the Whale). On that day, our small group began with the study of the haftarah text and midrash about the reluctant prophet. We then took twenty minutes to put our images and words on paper. Finally, we shared our results, saying what the art meant to us.

As artist and author Pat Allen says, “Art is a way of knowing.” Art is a useful tool for understanding stories and themes. The use of drawing and color to explore themes can open our imagination to the story. We discover images through associations and connections. In this context, it doesn’t matter so much what our art looks like; we need to leave our inner critics out of the picture and focus on what the art says to us!

During the pandemic, how many of us have been affected by our own isolation? Have we felt that this time has frustrated our inclinations to be of help to others, do our work, deliver a message, even feel safe in our own spaces? Or has it been a retreat, a time of introspection and discovery?


The Haftarah text reads: “And the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” (Jonah 1:17). Rabbi Tarphon’s midrash is vibrantly visual and imaginative:

That fish was specially appointed from the six days of Creation to swallow up Jonah, as it is said, “And the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (ibid.). He entered its mouth just as a man enters the great synagogue, and he stood (therein). The two eyes of the fish were like windows of glass giving light to Jonah.
Rabbi Meir said: || One pearl was suspended inside the belly of the fish and it gave illumination to Jonah, like this sun which shines with its might at noon…” 

Nedarim 38a:15 נדרים לח א:טו

drawing by Rita Gelman

Sally George Wright expressed her workshop experience as, “The drawing, and seeking a verbal way of explaining, helped me identify what I need to work on for the New Year. This was much better than trying to identify major ways I missed the mark. Turning back became, how can I move forward?”

Picture 2

Evelyn Neuhaus, documentary filmmaker (NEVER A BYSTANDER), connected with a video we watched. Evelyn saw that Jonah’s warning to the people was an act of generosity and realized that her film on Irene Butter was also an act of generosity. Her drawing expresses feelings about generosity, compassion, and lovingkindness.

Witnessing our artwork by writing helps us notice things about our art, finding meaning in the images, colors, or marks. Free writing, making word associations, noticing the choices we make in our drawings can lead to new meanings. Sometimes it may lead to more writing, such as this poem by Carol Bloom Levin, author and illustrator of Haggadah Regatta.

Sanctuary 2020

On Yom Kippur, we read how Jonah 
was swallowed alive by a whale. 
For some, it’s a frightful tale
about facing fears alone.
But during this pandemic year
the message for me is hope.

Isolation is opportunity 
to atone.
Sheltered within the dark, 
Jonah’s prayers bring 
him resolve to accept 
responsibility.

Chaos invites a reckoning 
and lockdown awakens the call
to refocus perspective
on humanity. 

As light fills my sanctuary
I peer into its heart, 
ever grateful to
connect. 

 Swimming Toward the Light, Out of the Depths
Another insight into the creative process came from yours truly, Idelle Hammond-Sass. When I began this drawing, I found myself making circles, imagining water, turbulence, the unknown. I wrote, “the opening is small, I can get out – I am out of turbulent waters of judgment and fear. Becoming. She swims, I swim up and out, moving, limbs in motion… The place of potential, of release, air, of forgiveness, love – all possible.”


Next in the series: 

Hanukkah workshop on Sunday morning, December 13, 10-11:30am. 
Co-hosts Carol Levin and Idelle Hammond-Sass explore Hanukkah themes of resilience, resistance, and persistence. Bring your light into the darkest time of the year!

Idelle Hammond-Sass is an Ann Arbor artist, jewelry designer and Open Studio Process facilitator.

AARC Members Plan for a Robust Winter of Programming

What a blessing it is to belong to a community whose members take ownership of the collective and are truly accountable to one another. On November 15, almost every AARC household gathered for our Annual Membership Meeting, this year on Zoom, in order to honor the multitudes of volunteers over the last year and make plans for the year to come. The meeting format serves as evidence that AARC members are the rubber that meets the road when it comes to working together to build up this community. It took nearly the first half of the meeting to simply thank everyone who had made contributions to the congregation in the last year! In the second half, members split into groups to brainstorm ways to make our programming during this winter even better.

Several programming ideas came up more than once. These are summarized below, each accompanied by a sign-up genius so that members can continue to organize to implement their ideas. If you have another idea that you would like to add to this list, please email Gillian or comment below.

  • Provide more congregation-hosted gatherings for members to celebrate Jewish holidays and provide opportunities for Jewish learning. Rabbi Ora and staff are working on upcoming Jewish educational programs, but members are needed to help host social and/or holiday gatherings. In that vein, we encourage a different household to host each night of Hanukkah this year. The format is very flexible: you can simply light candles and share a story, or you could host a game night, a discussion group, an art activity … the only limit is your imagination! Sign up here to host a night of Hanukkah. We will create a Zoom link for you on our congregation Zoom account at your requested time.
  • Establish additional community gatherings that accommodate different schedules. Many of us have been participating in weekly Mishpocha groups, where members come together to share their lives and provide meaningful community connection during this time of isolation. One suggestion was to form a new Mishpocha group that meets later in the evening to accommodate parent schedules. If you would like to sign up for this group, please sign up here. If you would like to suggest a different time for a Mishpocha group, please email us and we will add another sign-up genius.
  • Put together an AARC Social Justice Working Group. This group would be self-directed initially in deciding how to pursue social justice work on behalf of our congregation. If you would like to participate in this Social Justice Working Group, please sign up here
  • Open up an Israel/Palestine discussion and/or working group. This may or may not include the formation of a Beit Din (court of ethics) for the Ann Arbor area. Some members suggested we must work harder to engage with the political issues happening in the Middle East. If you would like to be a part of this Israel/Palestine Working Group, please sign up here.

Thank you to everyone for generating enough ideas to keep us busy for months to come! The comments will be open on this blog. If you would like to add another idea, please do so below or email Gillian!

AARC Bands Together for Comfort and Comradery on Election Day

As most of America settled in for a night of watching poll numbers roll in, a pensive bunch of AARC members opened a night of song with ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King. As the numbers trickled in, comfort was found in classic Jewish songs such as ‘Oseh Shalom’ and ‘Olam Chesed,’ as well as old favorites such as ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ and ‘If I had a Hammer.’ Old friends and new shared thoughts, checked in about what support they might need, and found solace in community.

On the day after the election, the community was welcomed to the weekly Wednesday check-in to discuss how they are doing and what they would like from the community going forward. It is such a blessing to have a community of people invested in providing care for each other during this challenging time! Some ideas for future programming were Jewish learning groups, explorations of Judaism and social justice, interfaith work, and opportunities for personal growth and connection. If you have ideas for programming during the winter months of the pandemic, please email us!

See below for some of the music we enjoyed on Tuesday night.

Beit Sefer B’Aviv B’Yachad באביב ביחד Sunday Relay

This Sunday, Beit Sefer students participated in a social distancing relay, B’Aviv B’Yachad (Spring Together!), that symbolized our ancestors’ journey through the desert. Education scholar and Beit Sefer teacher Shlomit Cohen created the relay journey with the goals of involving every family, celebrating Spring, and challenging the students (and their families) – all while observing social distancing requirements!

The race began with one family traveling by foot, bicycle, car or wing (?!?) to another family’s home. In front of that home, the traveling family took a photo of themselves and sent it to the group of Beit Sefer students. The arrival of the photo acted as the “baton,” prompting the family whose home was pictured in the photo to set out for the next household. Beit Sefer families are located in a long string between Ypsilanti Township and Chelsea, but the distance from one home to the next was easily manageable. School Director Clare Kinberg separately carried a replica tablet of the Ten Commandments to each household.

Please enjoy photos from each stop below. It was a joy to watch the photos come in over the morning and see the smiling faces in our beloved community.

Does this post inspire you to join Beit Sefer for next year? If so, please check out our religious school’s website!

First stop at the Pritchards’!
Zander and Eleanor thought it was a great day for a bike ride to stop number three.
Stop number three was a surprise!
Cara made scones and then got the sillies.
The Feinbergs were prepared for us!
Lovely to see Ava and Noah, Aaron and Erika on this spring day.
Thanks to Shlomit for planning the whole thing!
After Shlomit, we got to see Marcy’s Spring flowers.
Next stop, Aaron’s house.
Miles got his picture taken and hopped on his bike.
Next stop, Sappho and Bass.
Onward to Jack and Brenna.
Time for a socially distanced group pic.
Next stop Meadows!
We made it to the edge of town – hey, Sam and Joey!
Last stop, Wes and Wade!

AARC Resilience Apparent in Virtual Seders!

Jews have a long history of taking rough stones and polishing them into jewels. At one of our recent virtual check-ins, Rabbi Ora mentioned our collective tendency to manifest reliance, selected for by generations of adversity. This trait is much in evidence this Passover!

Leora Druckman’s virtual seder table

The weeks leading up to Passover were marked with not-so-subtle correlations: the scarcity of wheat, the presence of plague, etc. … But in true Reconstructionist style, we used what we had and produced seders that were gems of both levity and gratitude – and virtual ingenuity! Please enjoy these AARC members’ reflections on their seders:

“For what it’s worth, I actually quite liked it a lot. It should’ve felt cold, I suppose, but for some reason it felt extra special to see everyone do extra work to still make it happen, but also by making sure to connect with each other online against the quarantining in these times. That meant a lot for so many and was not taken for granted. It felt like it reaffirmed relationships, values, our holiday … It felt like that extra special desire to still connect and meet anyway we could, was also in our kids. This Pesach really held extra special meaning none of us could’ve ever appreciated on such a level before.”

– Mark Dieve

“It was nice to talk with family we don’t normally get to see this time of year. I took a pic of our table from the angle of the camera before we sat down.”

– Amie Ritchie

“I shared flowers (via Carole Caplan) and food with several people who usually attend our seder. Two of the three chose to attend other seders – so it was just my brother’s family and my mother sharing ours. That’s good because it took us 20 minutes to connect via Google Meet – chosen because it gave my 85 year old mother closed captions.

“Food deliveries included flowers, matzah ball soup, salads, charoset, chicken dinner ready for the oven, and all the fixings for my mother’s seder plate. She made us brisket. We did a physical distanced food exchange and visited in the sunshine with her for a bit. She was very grateful to have a seder with us.

“The computer was placed at the far end of the Seder Table.”

– Carol Lessure
Carol Lessure’s seder plate delivery package!
Carol Lessure’s seder table
Carol Lessure’s flower delivery via Carole Caplan

“The Eisbruch family enjoyed being able to join with family members and friends in time zones from Israel to California. That was a very special treat.”

– Emily Eisbruch
Deb Kraus’s cat drinking from Miriam’s cup (on cue)

So many members were able to make the most of the day and find ways to share in the depth and joy of the seder in unique and meaningful ways. How was your virtual Passover? Please share in the comments!

Purim Fun 2020

AARC experienced a long weekend of Purim fun!

Beit Sefer students began their celebration with a collaborative Purim party with the Jewish Cultural Society. The children enjoyed Purim-themed games and crafts, savored delicious snacks, and created Mishloach Manot for those in need in our community. It was a joy to celebrate with new friends from JCS; we look forward to further collaborations!

Alan Haber displays his Megillah housing.

The fun continued Monday evening with the rest of the congregation, beginning with a Megillah reading and ending with a dessert potluck. This year’s theme was “Make Some Noise!” After a parade to display the many creative costumes, members shared stories of when they had “spoken truth to power,” during a Moth-style improv storytelling exercise.

Many thanks to the Festival Committee for their hard work in putting together this evening’s events.

Ringmaster Rabbi!
Drake reads the Megillah.

AARC Attends “Stop The Bleed, Save A Life” Training

Most of us do not expect to encounter a situation in which we will be required to provide care a life-threatening injury. Yet these injuries, although rare, can occur anywhere– including places where medical help may not be quickly accessible.

To bridge this gap, several AARC members attended a “Stop The Bleed, Save A Life” training last week offered by St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor and the Community Security Committee. The training was developed by the American College of Surgeons together with a coalition of medical groups following the Sandy Hook and Boston Marathon shootings, with the goal of educating civilians on rapid response to blood loss.

Uncontrolled bleeding is the number one cause of preventable death from trauma. An injured person may experience life-threatening blood loss before an ambulance is able to arrive. If a bystander is able to stop or even slow the flow of blood before the ambulance arrives, the victim’s life may be saved.

The training went over the ABCs of bleeding trauma care: Alert 911. Find the Bleeding. Compress the injury. Using an artificial arm made of foam, we learned various methods of compression, such as wound packing (shown below), applying a tourniquet (shown above), and applying pressure on top of the wound.

AARC keeps a wound care emergency kit supplied by Safety Liaison Dave Nelson in the welcome table supply basket. It contains all the supplies we would need to provide Stop the Bleed care.

Now that a few additional members of our congregation are educated in the best methods to control bleeding in a life-threatening situation, we can take pride in having learned another way to take care of one another. While we cannot be prepared for every eventuality, this training constitutes a good start. The Federation and the Community Safety Committee hope to organize further trainings on related topics.

For more information on “Stop the Bleed, Save A Life” trainings, please visit stopthebleed.org.

Participants from the AARC and the JCC practicing wound packing.

A Lovely Hanukkah With AARC

It has been another season of light and love at AARC in celebration of Hanukkah. The week began with a fun Hanukkah-themed day of learning at Beit Sefer. Over the week, many AARC families hosted friends, family, and congregants for home-hosted Hanukkah celebrations. On Friday night, we all gathered together for the congregation wide Hanukkah party during Fourth Friday Shabbat.

Fourth Friday Shabbat Hanukkah Celebration was a festive night that included a community candle lighting, festive music, and a latke cook-off!

Esteemed judges Sally Fink and Anita Rubin-Meiller hard at work evaluating the admirable qualities of each latke entry.

Beit Sefer’s annual life-sized menorah!

Beit Sefer students enjoying edible dreidels. Yum!

Menorah lighting from a home-hosted Hanukkah gathering at Marcy Epstein’s house.

AARC Attends LGBTQ Advocacy Training with Keshet

On Thursday November 7th, Rabbi Ora, Gillian Jackson, and Judith Jacobs joined congregations and Jewish organizations from all over Metro Detroit to learn how to be more inclusive and how to advocate for LGBTQ communities. The training was led by Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality of LGBTQ Jews and families. Emily Saltzman, dynamic leader from Keshet, was joined by representatives from Nextgen Detroit Pride and Stand with Trans. The training provided a framework for understanding LGBTQ core concepts such as sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Participants also learned about the history of LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish communities and the challenges that LGBTQ-identifying people face in our culture. The seminar concluded with an opportunity for each organization to form goals to improve its LGBTQ advocacy.

The training in Michigan grew out of a 2018 survey, the “State of Equality Index,” that reviewed areas of the US for positive policies supporting LGBTQ equality. Michigan scored as an area of high priority; this means we have many areas of law, health and safety measures, and religious recognition that must be updated to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.

As our blog about welcoming remarked, Judaism has a rich history of gender diversity and inclusion. However, modern Jewish culture still has a long way to go until our organizations make LGBTQ individuals feel safe, welcomed, and respected. Keshet suggested that organizations provide leadership on LGBTQ inclusion through programming, policy, and culture. AARC has taken steps to improve our organization on all of these fronts.

The AARC action plan includes the formation of a LGBTQ inclusion policy, a new LGBTQ welcoming section of our website, visible LGBTQ welcoming signs at our welcome table, and the organization of a new annual Pride Shabbat. If you would like to take part in the planning or implementation of any or all of these new initiatives, please email me or speak with Rabbi Ora. We look forward to hearing from you!

A Meaningful Human Rights Shabbat with Kehillat Israel

This past Saturday, AARC made the journey to Congregation Kehillat Israel in Lansing to share in celebration of Human Rights Shabbat, an annual celebration initiated by T’ruah, a Rabbinic Organization advocating for human rights in North America, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The annual Human Rights Shabbat initiative is intended to educate Jewish Communities about the intersection between Jewish values and the values of International Human Rights. It is typically celebrated on the Shabbat closest to the anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Kehillat Israel and AARC chose to focus their Human Rights Shabbat on bringing together children and families to learn and build community. Rabbi Michael Zimmerman and Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner led all of us in a beautiful Shabbat morning service that asked congregants, “What does the story of Isaac and Esau teach us about justice, forgiveness, and identity?”

Services were followed by a potluck lunch that featured not only delicious foods from both congregations, but also much enjoyable conversation between new friends and old. After lunch, Rabbi Ora led the adults in a conversation entitled, “Who Deserves Punishment? Considering ‘Goodness’ and ‘Badness’ through a Jewish Lens.” The thoughtful and stimulating conversation examined not only Jewish moral thought on crime and punishment, but also its relevance to current political policy on incarceration and the resulting reality in human terms.

Many thanks to everyone who attended last Saturday and special thanks to our hosts, Congregation Kehillat Israel, for including us in this Shabbat exploration of human rights.