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”


Learning where the food comes from.


Challah Rising irresistible samples!


Oh the flavors of local food!

Local food, in so many flavors!






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.


Klezmer Dance All Age Fun!

Friday May 22nd was really a special and beautiful evening. The room filled with the warmest of blessings for Rabbi Michal. And then the fun really kicked in. Many thanks to Allison Stupka, Barbara Rust Boyk and the whole crew that organized the evening. Let’s have Klezmephonic over again! Nancy Meadow took terrific photos of our klezmer dance party!

klezmer1 klezmer2 klezmer3 klezmer5 klezmer6 klezmer4

What goes into a Mezuzah?

mez pro 3 What goes into a mezuzah? Just ask an AARC Beit Sefer (Religious School) student! On April 26th and Mary 3rd, AARC member and Beit Sefer mom Marcy Epstein led an all-school mezuzah making workshop. The students learned about the difference between the mezuzah case and the scroll inside, and how we have come to name each part as the mezuzah. They discussed why and how Jewish homes have mezuzot on our door frames and demonstrated the ritual of kissing the mezuzah both entering and exiting the rooms of our homes. The students explored the letter Shin and many of the words that it represents, and then they learned about the prayer on the mezuzah scroll, the Shema and the V’ahavta. Marcy shared how these two prayers became so important that we would want them ever present in our homes.mez pro 4

The students rolled out their airdry clay and formed them into beautiful original cases, working with shapes and wood pieces for texture. Then Marcy and the teachers made the letter Shin for each child and set their mezuzot cases to dry, reminding them that over the week they might think about what prayer they would like to say while entering and exiting their bedrooms. The next week, the kids painted and embellished their beautiful cases. They then copied the Hebrew of the Shema and first words of the V’ahavta onto origami paper “scrolls” along with their own original prayers and set them inside the mezuzah cases to make their personalized mezuzot. By adding their own prayers to the scroll in the mezuzah, the students learned about Jewish “lifehacks,” explained by Rabbi James Brandt, director of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay in a January 2015 Jewish Week article “as this generation’s equivalent of ‘do-it-yourself Judaism,’ represented by the groundbreaking 1973 publication of the The First Jewish Catalog (co-edited by Michael Strassfeld), which offered a model of creating Jewish life ‘outside the official system.’”

mez pro 1Marcy hopes that our families might share a mezuzah hanging with the kids, not only so they can know where on the door frame to look for a mezuzah, but also to celebrate their warming embrace of the ancient ways with modern import reflective of their lives.

So, if you ask the students at the AARC Beit Sefer, you might find that in addition to the shema on a scroll, what goes into a mezuzah case is love, care, creativity, and their own heartfelt (or silly, but definitely personal) prayers.mez pro 2


Second Seder was a Night of Questions

2nd seder 2015 1Over thirty AARC members, family, and friends gathered in Rav Michal and Jon Sweeney’s living room, adding chairs several times as we evidently fulfilled the tradition of cramming as many bodies into a space as possible. Our second seder focused on the questions and the questioners: questions that are traditionally asked, questions we could ask, and why we ask. After the seder, I asked several people to comment on the meaningful moments for them.

On our name tags we included a self-descriptive word about what kind of child we were or are. Allison Stupka said, “It was so interesting to hear what kind of children people thought they were. I did not know many of the people I was sitting at the table with, and got to know them through interesting conversation.” Our questions led us to think about why we retell the same story year after year of the Israelites’ slavery and flight to freedom. We asked about transformations in how we tell–and how we hear–the story to give it contemporary meaning. Ellen Dannin said, “Our seder found us struggling with issues of slavery and freedom, of how to build and keep a just society, and of why year after year we should tell our children the story of Passover.”

We talked about contemporary situations of both slavery and injustice, the difference and similarities between the physical bondage of Africans in our country’s first 200 years and the low-waged jobs of people who supply so many of the products we use and depend upon. Martha Kransdorf said, “During the seder, I was struck by questions that drew parallels between the enslavement the Israelites experienced, and the experiences of Palestinians today.” One of our seder’s guests was Laurie White’s roommate, Manal, a Palestinian from Nazareth who is here at the University of Michigan on a yearlong Fulbright. “I appreciated the warm welcome Manal received at her first seder ever, despite years of doing Palestinian-Jewish dialogue work in Israel,” Laurie said.

Rav Michel also gave us a lot to chew on when she suggested that often we have thought of contemporary “plagues” as being the ugly aspects of our society such as racism, sexism, etc. But in the Exodus story, the plagues were decrees of God that challenged the power of the Pharoah. In this light, could contemporary “plagues” (that challenge military/industrial/corporate power) be more like unions, renewal energy and self-sufficient communities? An interesting turn! As Danny Steinmetz said of our second night seder, “Got me thinking about the incredible popularity of the seder and that rituals work best that are designed ground up to teach and to provoke curiosity.”

The potluck food was plentiful and scrumptious. And for those who wonder about my recipe for vegetarian stuffed cabbage, keep posted! Thanks to Rav Michal, Jon, and Sima for hosting our large group, and to Ellen Dannin for help in putting together our ritual.

Beit Sefer Tzedakah Project

By Rebecca Ball

Photos by Sara Goldshlack

Beit Sefer

Being new to the AARC Beit Sefer, and to attending a Beit Sefer in general, my family and I weren’t necessarily sure what to expect this year. We have not been disappointed! The learning and camaraderie and overall fun that my sons have experienced has been so positive. I am extremely impressed by all the thought and work that has been put into the curriculum and activities the students are enjoying.

One activity in particular that has been quite rewarding has been the school-wide Tzedakah Project. For this project, the students decorated their own tzedakah boxes to bring home. They earned money at home by doing chores and other tasks for their parents. The students discussed in class the things they did to earn the money, such as making dinner for the family or shoveling snow or cleaning their rooms. After several weeks of earning money, the students brought in their boxes and voted on the agency to which they would donate. They chose the Humane Society of Huron Valley, and were proud to discover that they had raised over $125 for the animals! Beit Sefer Tzed project

The school then had a volunteer from the Humane Society come to visit with an adoptable dog. She described to the students the programs and supplies towards which the students’ money would go. The children had the chance to pet the dog and learned about showing compassion towards animals. Many were even interested in learning how to volunteer at the facility. The authentic, real-world experience that this project provided helped our young people to live the experience of tzedakah rather than merely hearing about it. Giving tzedakah is a righteous act in Judaism, simple justice and possibly the most enlightened of all the commandments. Our Beit Sefer has beautifully illustrated this joyful obligation for our children.

Let’s Make a Shpiel Recap

Photos and text by Sherri Buroker
Making Purim crafts

Making Purim crafts

Showing off our crowns

Showing off our crowns

Purim joy was evident among AARC members and guests this past Sunday, March 1.

The celebration kicked off with the kids creating groggers, crowns fit for the finest queens and kings, and mini candy Megillahs!

The Beit Sefer classes challenged the entire party with their inventive and original games “Hamantaschen to Hamantaschen” and “Purim Jeopardy,” and the adult “Purim Shpiel” lifted the room in laughter!

Our feast (by Exotic Syrian Bakery) was delicious, our homemade hamantaschen were delectable, and our costumes transformed the party into a colorful display!

Mike displays the feast

Mike displays the feast

As the Megillah was read amid the community, we did not disappoint with our hooting and hollering!

Reading the megillah

Reading the megillah

Along with all these elements, I believe our best Purim spirit was inspired by our energetic cheer”leader,” Rav Michal, and simply witnessing the kids celebrating together.

Purim games

Rav Michal cheering on the kids



Our Tu B’Shevat Seder


by Rachel Baron Singer

Thoughts of trees, fruit, and burgeoning greenery are generally sparse during Midwestern winters, but on the evening of February 3rd (the 15th of Shevat), I was fortunate to attend an event where all three were front and center. To celebrate the New Year of the Trees, members of AARC gathered at the beautiful home of Carole Caplan for a potluck dinner and Tu B’Shevat seder. Growing up, I’d always loved this little holiday where machberot [notebooks] were pushed aside for a day of planting seeds and eating dates at Hebrew school. So I was beyond thrilled to recapture a little bit of that magic as an adult.

Written and led by Ellen Dannin, the seder kicked off with an explanation of the four different types of trees found in the Torah, including the Torah itself—a tree of life! We then shared poems and passages about trees and nature, all of which were personally selected by the attendees. This gave the seder a lovely personal touch, and gave us all a chance to share how we each interpret nature.

10968400_1020311124649870_5364300205119966905_n (2)Finally, we all had the opportunity to sample the various fruits the Kabbalists of 16th century Safed believed mirrored the order of the universe. These were broken into three groups: Fruits that need protection (nuts, pomegranates, coconuts), fruits with an inedible pit to protect their hearts (peaches, dates), and fruits that can be eaten whole (grapes, figs, blueberries). It was a wonderful way to pay homage to nature from a Jewish perspective, and to escape the ice and snow for an evening!

Friendly folks, snacks and more at Sunday Morning Community Learning

Playing the part of roving blogger, I dropped in on the AARC Community Learning group at the JCC on Sunday morning, Jan. 18, 2015.

Community Learning at the JCC on Sunday, Jan. 18. 2015

Community Learning at the JCC on Sunday, January 18. 2015

What I found was a lovely, welcoming group (they had even brought three different kinds of delicious snacks) and a lively, thoughtful, enjoyable discussion. The topic of the day was mitzvot (commandments), a topic chosen to parallel the Beit Sefer students in their learning about mitzvot. Led by Rabbi Michal, the group explored a range of interesting angles, from the abstract to the concrete. These included the concept of holiness as a Jewish thing and a universal thing, ways of attempting to build Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Tzedakah (giving) into our lives and our family patterns, and how we feel about lighting Shabbat candles if we need to blow them out to leave the house before they burn out.

The discussion was based on a few chapters of reading from the book Living Judaism, by Rabbi Wayne Dosick. CommunityLearningBook-Wayne-Dosick Due to busy schedules, not everyone had completed the reading, yet everyone was able to jump in and share their thoughts.

The next Sunday morning Community Learning is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015 at the JCC.  Please Contact Rabbi Michal for more info. All are welcome.