Rebukes and Sacred Disagreements

By Carol Lessure

w-hillel-shammai-1423642404I started Sunday off with a nasty argument with Jon, my life partner, over something relatively unimportant. We were coping with daylight savings time, a mysterious rash on the face of our eldest son, while the younger one was late for religious school. I was trying to get us out the door because I planned to attend a Sunday morning text study. So I left in a huff, not feeling very kindly towards Jon. [Read more…]

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!

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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.

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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.

Magical Hanukkah Lights

Beit Sefer G'dolim with their Hanukkah flames

G’dolim with their Hanukkah flames

Beit Sefer Yeledim with their Hanukkah flames

Yeledim with their Hanukkah flames

Paul with his traditional Jewish banjo teaching I Had a Little Dreidel

Paul with his traditional Jewish banjo teaching I Had a Little Dreidel

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Families with Young Children Light the Lights

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Making Sufganiyot

 

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Finishing Sufganiyot

 

Playing with the Gelt

Playing with the Gelt

 

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Feeling the magic

Feeling the magic

Fun at the annual bbq.

This year at Olson Park:

Shabbaton: Privacy/Security/Inclusivity/Salad

By Dave Nelson

Dave Nelson and a goat
On the weekend of August 14 AARC was pleased to host a shabbaton with Rabbis Michael Strassfeld and Joy Levitt, who will be visiting us several times this year, including for High Holy Day services. Strassfeld and Levitt are two of the most distinguished rabbis currently working in the Reconstructionist movement, and the mid-August Shabbat evening service they led was fresh and lively—a promising glimpse of what we might expect for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Joy’s Kabbalat Shabbat sermon was concise and graceful.  She deftly explored what appeared to be trivial (and somewhat contradictory) rabbinical opinions on the proper construction of courtyard entryways: Who can be obliged to chip in to pay for it, how the doorhandles are to be mounted, where a gatehouse should be located, and so on.  But she teased out a very powerful, surprisingly relevant message about how we are morally obligated to work together to maintain our privacy and security, without inadvertently fostering exclusivity.  While there are obvious overtones here—especially in an age of shared and contested borders, gated communities, large-scale protests, and larger-scale dumps of hacked databases—what the rabbi chose to highlight was the slightly more subtle moral hazard: When we become too wholly focused on maintaining our own security and privacy, we make ourselves entirely inaccessible to the cries of those in need of our assistance.

As ever, the potluck was delicious and diverse.  Quinoa and kale were in surprisingly short supply, but a variety of exceedingly fresh tomato and cucumber salads more than compensated for this omission.

At Farm Education Day and Sustainable Food Fest

Despite periodic torrential rain, Matthaei Botanical Gardens was a beautiful place to be on June 14 for the Farm Education and Sustainable Food Fest. Marcy Epstein, Carol Lessure and Idelle Hammond-Sass talked to many people at the AARC table.

Despite periodic torrential rain, Matthaei Botanical Gardens was a beautiful place to be on June 14 for the Farm Education and Sustainable Food Fest. Marcy Epstein, Carol Lessure and Idelle Hammond-Sass talked to many people at the AARC table.

 

Blair Nosan from Hazon Detroit taught 40 people how to make sauerkraut.

Blair Nosan from Hazon Detroit taught 40 people how to make sauerkraut.

Massaging the salt into the cabbage

Massage salt into the cabbage

Add flavors

Add flavors

Pack into jar.

Pack into jar.

 

There you have it.

There you have it. “Food Fest Sauerkraut June 14 2015”

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Learning where the food comes from.

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Challah Rising irresistible samples!

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Oh the flavors of local food!

Local food, in so many flavors!

Delicious.

 

 

 

 

Food/Land/Justice in the Washtenaw Jewish News

Here are the five articles from the Washtenaw Jewish News about our Food, Land, & Justice activities in 2014/2015, the Shmita year.

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