Welcome Sherry and Steve Lessens

Sherry and Steve Lessens returned to Ann Arbor this past summer after a forty year “break.”  Sherry grew up in a Cleveland suburb, and Steve is from the small town of Lowell, MI. They met as undergrads at the University of Michigan and married during grad school.  Steve went to U of M med school and Sherry got a Masters in Counseling while working in Plymouth.  Steve’s residency took them to Milwaukee for a short time, and they finally ended up in Shelby, MI for thirty-eight years.  Shelby is a very small town (1800 people!) along Lake Michigan that is very rural, very conservative, and quite poor. While Steve served as a family doc, Sherry worked as an elementary school counselor. Their temple, B’nai Israel was 30 miles away in Muskegon, but it grew to be an important part of their lives. The membership is less than 80 families, but it includes all denominations of Judaism, and the members became dear friends. Leaving was hard.

The Lessens family includes two children.  David is a family doc in Anchorage, married with two small children, and Jennifer and her husband with two boys live nearby in Okemos.
Once both Steve and Sherry retired, they immediately chose to return to Ann Arbor. They missed the culture, the people, the music, and the availability of great public transportation, to say nothing of being so much closer to a temple, to their daughter,  and getting away from ALL THAT SNOW!! AARC seemed like the perfect fit once they attended the small Friday night service this August at Hillel. They are both anxious to meet new people and expand their religious experiences.

Welcome Kopald Family: Seth, Kathy, Ahava, Clara, and Levi

We are very happy to be a part of AARC.

Our families easily merged together over the last three years, but officially this past July, Kathy and I were married.  At the end of October,  we moved into our renovated home.  We have three wonderful teenagers: Ahava, Clara, and Levi and our dog Hazel.  I was born and raised in the Detroit area, moved to Oregon after college and then to Ann Arbor when Ahava was two.  Kathy, born and raised in Port Austin, came to Ann Arbor to study at U of M.  She fell in love with Ann Arbor and made her home here.  I feel like the luckiest guy in the world that Kathy and Clara have come into our lives and we are truly one happy family.  I have been in the field of Early Childhood Education my working life and now design and build specialty construction projects.  I also work with people as an Internal Family Systems Practitioner.  Kathy is a designer and artist, who works at U-M designing websites and leading and designing high profile campaigns for the Office of the Vice President for Communications.

I found AARC in my search for the right fit for a Jewish community.  I have tried many and like parts of each, but nothing felt just right, until now.  After attending AARC High Holiday services in the past and many events as a member, I believe I found our community.  I think the AARC is an accepting and welcoming group that allows people to be themselves and let their light shine. We look forward to meeting all of you.

Alice Mishkin: new member, familiar face

I first got involved in AARC back when it was the Havurah. While an undergraduate at Michigan, I taught kindergarten to a class full of Elis (who are all now heading to college themselves!). Originally from East Lansing, and having grown up in Kehillat Israel, I found a lot of comfort in the DIY nature of the Havurah.

After graduating from U-M, I spent time in DC, New York, Tel Aviv and the West Bank working with Jewish nonprofits doing human rights and social justice work. I returned to Ann Arbor to complete my Masters in Social Work and Jewish Communal Leadership, and found myself drawn back to the comfort of the AARC community.

I now teach courses in social justice and social identity at U-M and work as a lead organizer with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, an international nonprofit committed to nonviolent resistance to the Occupation.

I live on the West Side with my partner and when these cold, dreary winter months are over you’ll find us taking walks around the West Side, restocking our coffee supply at Argus, and attempting to grow our garden.

After attending a yoga/meditation shabbat last month, I was delighted when Debbie reeled me into joining the AARC and I’m looking forward to being a full member of the community (most importantly getting a permanent name tag)!


Introducing Carol Ullmann, Matt McLane, Zander and Ellie

New members Carol Ullmann and Matt McLane both grew up in Michigan, Carol in Rochester Hills and Matt in Portland, not far from Lansing. They met through mutual friends in Ann Arbor while in college. Except for a 2 year “exile” in Northville, they have lived in east A2/west Ypsi/Pittsfield Township since 1999.

Carol and Matt have two delightful children. Zander is a 6th grader at Scarlett and a Boy Scout in Troop 7. He wants to be a programmer. He loves to read, especially books by Rick Riordan. He also loves to cook, play trumpet, draw, and design video games.

Elinor is a 2nd grader at Carpenter Elementary and a Brownie Girl Scout (currently selling cookies!). She loves to go camping and fishing, play board games, and do anything that involves hanging out with other people.

Carol works with AARC member Dave Nelson as a freelance writer, and it was Dave who invited Carol and Matt to check out AARC. After Carol and Ellie attended a Fourth Friday Shabbat service and potluck last May, the family decided the congregation was a good fit for their family. They signed the kids up for Beit Sefer and have been active since.

In describing themselves, Carol says, “Matt is a very capable outdoorsman, a kid at heart, and is assistant scoutmaster for Troop 7. He likes to fearlessly make stuff and is currently building a teardrop camper. I am deeply involved in fiber arts. I write, grow food, teach knitting, and am co-owner of Washtenaw Wool Company, which sells hand-dyed yarn and spinning fiber on Etsy and to local retailers.

New Members Howie Brick and “D” Schwartz

Originally from Long Island (with accents to prove it), Howie and I attended the University of Michigan as undergrads and graduate students. We left Ann Arbor finally (or so we thought) in 1980. At that time, Howie had nearly finished his PhD in American Culture while I had completed an MA in Asian Studies.  The following years found us on the academic ramble, following Howie’s career as a historian of the 20th century USA, from New York, to Chicago, to Boston, to Eugene, OR, to St. Louis. (Yes. We share some history with Clare K.!) All the while, I was doing my thing as a writer and editor in university communications offices. Somewhere in there, we raised two children, Michael and Jessye, who are now grown and out of the house. We were shocked when Michigan came calling again in 2008, but here we are.  I am now enjoying my postwork life, while Howie gives his best to the university.
I am happy to join all the other Debras, Deborahs, Debbies, and Debs. I go by all of those names, so whatever makes you happy, makes me happy. My St. Louis rabbi just calls me “D.”
[Editor’s note: We always ask new members to introduce themselves to the community with a little blog post. Debbie (and Howie occasionally) have been showing up at services for several years, and Debbie and I always have something to talk about (explained above, Eugene! St. Louis!). If you are a new member, or even if you have been a member for a long time, but have never had a profile blog post, contact me (ckinberg@gmail.com), because I’d like to profile you!]

Dafna Eisbruch Writes from Israel

Me, in the back row in the pink shirt, and the friends in my kvutza, or commune. We’re all olim from Habonim Dror America and Australia, and we live in an apartment in Haifa with a beautiful view of northern Israel and the sea

Me, in the back row in the pink shirt, and the friends in my kvutza, or commune. We’re all olim from Habonim Dror America and Australia, and we live in an apartment in Haifa with a beautiful view of northern Israel and the sea

Hi AARC members and friends!

I’m writing to you from Israel to share with you a bit about what I’m up to these days since my childhood in the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah. I work with an organization called Dror Israel, which is a social and educational movement established by graduates of the youth movement Habonim Dror and its Israeli counterparts. We work in all sectors of Israeli society, educating towards equality, faith in humanity, social cohesion and mutual responsibility. We see ourselves as the continuation of the kibbutz movement’s legacy–if a hundred years ago, Israel needed farmers to feed the nation and establish its borders, today Israel needs educators who can unite Ethiopians, Arabs, Russians, Mizrachim and Ashkenazim around a common vision for coexistence and shared society.  We live in communes (“urban kibbutzim”) and run many different types of educational projects.

A meeting between Arab kids I work with in the town of Kfar Manda, and Jewish kids from Afula. They made a wall painting together in Hebrew and Arabic of a quote by poet Saul Tchernichovsky: “Because I still believe in humanity and its brave spirit.”

A meeting between Arab kids I work with in the town of Kfar Manda, and Jewish kids from Afula. They made a wall painting together in Hebrew and Arabic of a quote by poet Saul Tchernichovsky: “Because I still believe in humanity and its brave spirit.”

My main job is in the youth movement, the Noar HaOved veHalomed (Working and Learning Youth). It’s the second biggest youth movement in Israel (with 85,000 participants, it ranks after the scouts and before Bnei Akiva) and is active in most cities and many kibbutzim and Arab villages in Israel, running weekly activities for kids from fourth grade and upwards. Teenagers go to leadership camps and learn to be counselors for elementary schoolers, as well as learning about issues affecting society and meeting with youth from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The motto of the Noar HaOved veHalomed is “our home is open to every girl and boy,” and we believe that building a youth movement where everyone has a place will help us to build a society where everyone has a place.

Another project I’m involved in is a new coexistence museum exhibit on Kibbutz Eshbal, a kibbutz belonging to Dror Israel. The exhibit explores Arab and Jewish culture in the Galilee region, the everyday experience of meeting someone from the other culture in common settings like the mall or the hospital, racism and examples of racism in Israeli society, apathy and its effects, dilemmas of building a shared society (what should be together and what should remain unique and separate?) and profiles of Arabs and Jews working to build partnerships between Arab and Jewish communities in the Galilee. It’s geared toward high school groups, who discuss the challenging questions raised in the exhibit together with a guide. The goal of the exhibit is for students to critically examine the existing relationship between Jews and Arabs, and to invite them to be partners in shaping positive relations. 

High school students from Carmiel discuss the coexistence exhibit with a guide. Since its opening last month, 200 students have visited the exhibit.

High school students from Carmiel discuss the coexistence exhibit with a guide. Since its opening last month, 200 students have visited the exhibit.

A third significant project that Dror Israel runs– and that many of my friends led this year–is a yearly trip to Poland for Israeli high school students to learn about the Holocaust. Visiting Poland is a rite of passage for Israeli eleventh graders, and many students go on trips sponsored by their schools – but those trips can sometimes use the Holocaust to teach problematic nationalistic values, in the spirit of “never again to us at any cost, we must build a strong army to defeat our enemies.” The Noar HaOved veHalomed trip, in contrast, teaches students about the history of European anti-semitism, the rise of Nazism, the ghettos, extermination camps and Jewish rebellion with a focus on understanding human morality. Students learn that they always have a choice between acting to create a just society based on equality, or acting apathetically towards the inequalities in society and thus enabling human suffering. Eight hundred students from all sectors of society participated in the Noar Haoved veHalomed journey to Poland that took place this March. 

Students leading a memorial ceremony for their peers at Łopuchowo, the site of a Nazi massacre of Polish Jews

Students leading a memorial ceremony for their peers at Łopuchowo, the site of a Nazi massacre of Polish Jews

While the cost of traveling to Poland is high, the movement is committed to making the trip available to all youth including high-risk youth. To this end, there is a scholarship fund for the trip. If anyone is interested in donating, here is a link to the fund (in Hebrew).

Those who are interested and social media-savvy can check out the Noar Haoved veHalomed on Instagram.

We also run Habonim Dror’s Israel programs, MBI (a summer tour for students entering eleventh grade) and Workshop (a gap year for high school graduates)! Both programs are cool ways for Jewish kids to experience Israel in ways that speak to AARC’s humanist Jewish values. MBI students meet Israeli kids their age from the Noar HaOved veHalomed, and Workshop participants volunteer in the youth movement.

I think often of my Jewish upbringing at the AARC and love reading the blog to catch up on what’s going on with you. Sending good wishes and happy Passover from Israel,


Dafna Eisbruch




Meet our newest member, Patti Smith!

Welcome to AARC’s newest member, Patti Smith!
Patti Smith and Ken Anderson
Here’s what Patti writes about herself:
Since the age of 5, I wanted to live in Ann Arbor. I finally made it happen in my late 20s. I began adult life as a legal aid attorney, but quickly realized that was not going to work out. I switched careers to become a special ed teacher in my mid-30s. I am a late bloomer, but finally settled!
I am married to Ken Anderson, stepmom to two kitty cats (Ali and Cyrus), and we live happily in a very small house near Kerrytown. I am also a writer: I’ve published two local history books, and I write for Concentrate Media and Mittenbrew), and am currently working on selling my YA book. I am involved in the a2Geeks, 826Michigan, the Ann Arbor Film Fest, the Ann Arbor Storytellers’ Guild, the city’s arts commission and recreation advisory commission, and like to do improv and box. I also enjoy hosting dinner parties and recently decided to start hosting salons and be my Gertrude Steinest!
And here’s one of the books.  I think Patti is our new Ann Arbor expert!    Please welcome her when she’s next with us.

Barbara Boyk Rust: Spiritual Leader and Teacher

BBRustBarbara Boyk Rust was one of AARC’s founding members.  Eighteen months ago, she was ordained as a spiritual teacher and leader by a Bet Din of four leaders.  Her approach to Jewish observance centers around meditation and sacred chant.  Along with member Allison Stupka, Barbara will be leading our Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday, December 18, at 6:30. Here, Barbara shares with the community some of her thoughts about her recent ordination process:

What prompted you to undertake the process of ordination? What was the preparation like?

Before moving further into spiritual leadership I needed the review and affirmation of others whom I hold as teachers, mentors and guides.  I needed them to say either “yes” or “no” to my sense of being called to teach and lead in a spiritual context.

Early rabbinic ordination, smicha or smichut l’rabanut, involved the laying on of hands from one rabbi to the next.  Some of the meanings of smicha are to rely on, or to be authorized.  Though I am following a unique path, it did not feel appropriate to me to take further steps authorized by myself alone.  Using a template similar to the origins of Jewish rabbinic ordination I held myself accountable to those who teach me and those whom I serve for recognition, validation and affirmation of this step of my journey as a spiritual leader and teacher.

Part of what I shared with them was the story of my journey, recapped briefly here:

I have been pursuing my spiritual path consciously since my mid-teens.  For more than half my life now, individuals, families and communities have asked me to serve as creator, facilitator and leader of holiday and life cycle celebrations.  Long ago, Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi said something to the effect of, ‘if 200 people think you’re a rabbi, you’re a rabbi.’  While I met that criteria long ago, I decided not to complete rabbinic training through the Aleph Rabbinic Program though I was enrolled in it for some years while I completed an interdisciplinary doctorate at The University of Michigan in Higher Education and Clinical Psychology. [Read more…]

Member Profiles: Mark and Erica Ackerman

erica ackerman mark ackermanMark and Erica Ackerman have lived in the Burns Park area of Ann Arbor since 2001. Mark is a professor at UM in the School of Information and in the Division of Computer Science and Engineering in the College of Engineering where he does research in human-computer interaction (social computing). Erica is a web developer at the University, as well. They have two grown children, Rebecca and Zachary. Rebecca is a data analyst for a non-profit in New York City, and Zach was recently elected to the Ann Arbor City Council. You can read an interview with Zach about his election here.

Among other things, Mark is a news junkie, and Erica is active in the Democratic Party and has a passion for fighting global warming. An example of Erica’s blogging on the subject can be seen here. Mark and Erica began coming to AARC High Holiday services several years ago, and have gradually gotten more involved in the congregation.

Q&A with City Council Primary Winner Zachary Ackerman

Zachary Ackerman, 21 year old U-M student and son of AARC members Erica and Mark, won the August 4, 2015 primary for 3rd ward City Councilperson and will run unopposed in the November election.  In the busy days following his primary victory, Zach kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his experiences, including his Jewish upbringing.

Emily Eisbruch (EE): Congratulations Zach!  How do you balance your campaign with the responsibilities of being a University of Michigan student?
Zachary Ackerman (ZA) : Balance in one’s personal life is always difficult to strike. Luckily, being a student allows for flexibility. This summer, when I really hit the campaign trail running, I was working full time at the University’s IT department. From time to time, people will express concern about how I will balance work on Council with work as a student. The reality is that I will only be both a student and a representative on Council for one or two meetings.

EE: How has this campaign experience compared to your expectations? What have you learned?  What are your hopes moving forward?
ZA: I’ve worked professionally for Democratic politicians for a number of years, but being the candidate is very different. Knocking on fifty strangers’ doors a day is really putting yourself out there. What I found most interesting and most valuable is how different each household, each street, and each neighborhood in the Third Ward really is. It was critical that I did knock every door in the ward because every household proved to have its own concerns with the City. I look forward to getting to work to address those priorities.

EE: How, if at all, did Jewish upbringing or education feed into your interest in public service?
ZA: I was raised on stories of my great-grandparents and my grandfather. My grandfather’s parents came to the United States in the wake of the Russian pogroms. Like so many they had nothing to their names but their faith and family. They settled in Columbus, OH and opened up a small tailor shop, which went on to serve the growing Jewish community of Columbus. It was there that they helped found an Orthodox congregation and raised my grandfather. My grandfather died young from wounds he sustained in Italy in WWII, but he used his short life to its utmost. After the war, he became a pharmacist, serving the community his parents had helped root. As the owner of Ackerman Drug, he helped local kids pay their way through school, and filled prescriptions for the sick and indigent. I was raised to be a mensch like my grandfather. I was raised to believe community can and should take care of its own.

EE: Tell us about your Jewish background.  Did you participate in Jewish activities growing up?
ZA: I grew up a member of the Beth Israel congregation here in Ann Arbor. There, I attended Hebrew school three times a week and became a bar mitzvah (my Torah portion was Ki Tavo). A few years ago, my parents joined the AARC. Since then, I’ve joined them for High Holiday services and look forward to seeing everyone again soon.

: Thank you Zach, and we hope to see you soon at the AARC also!