Honoring Marc Lerner

Written by Rick Solomon

Marc, behind his Ypsilanti apartment, March 11, 2010.
Photo: Lon Horwedel, AnnArbor.com

Marc Alan Lerner, September 22, 1951 – February 17, 2019.

Marc, son of (deceased) Betty and Ben Lerner, died from complications of Multiple Sclerosis. He was an author, poet, spiritual seeker, and finder. For thirty years, Marc engaged with his MS in a way that allowed him to not only cope with the disease but to transcend it and arrive at a spiritual philosophy—called Life Skills—that he shared through his books and blogs, for the benefit of others facing a chronic illness. His motto was, “To Struggle is to Grow.” His poetry and writing expressed a mystical love for God. He bore the burden of his disease with an uncomplaining grace that caused him to be described as “re-marc-able.” All who knew him loved him, and he loved us all in return.

Marc was a loving and wonderful husband, brother, uncle, and friend. He will be missed, but he has become a part of who we are. In 2005, as his MS worsened, he moved to Ann Arbor to be nearer to family. Soon after moving, he met the love of his life, Amy Rosenberg, and they became life partners. He continued writing books and poetry, and inspired all who met him to be their better selves.

In 2014 he developed trigeminal nerve damage, one of the most painful medical conditions of MS. He underwent brain surgery, became wheelchair bound, and felt close to death. Facing that struggle with courage, inner wisdom, love, and creativity, he wrote two books about the end of life, The End: A Creative Way to Approach Death and A Poetic View of Hospice. All his books are available atmarclerner.com.

To know Marc was to love him. He was a kind, gentle, and sensitive man who had an amazing capacity for intimacy and wonder. “Amazing” and “incredible” were his favorite words. Despite chronic pain, blindness, and disability, he was creative and witty, with an always present and positive spirit. He never complained about his MS but accepted it as his teacher, as a way to help him go deeper into what he called “the wisdom of the body,” the deepest intuitive source for healing the mind even when the body is broken. He formed deep, lasting bonds of love and friendship; he will be especially missed by his wife, Amy Rosenberg; his brother Dennis and his wife Cindy; brother Rob and his wife Ina; his sister Linda and her husband Rick Solomon; his nieces and nephews; his devoted friend and caregiver Eeta Gershow and friend Michael Andes; his men’s group, and the many followers of his skilled, spiritual approach to life.

On Naming: What Do We Call Our Congregation?

The synagogue space in Temple Beth El

My first memories of participating in Jewish life are physical ones. The congregation that I attended for the first half of my childhood was Temple Beth El, a very large Reform temple in Bloomfield Hills. The sacred space in this synagogue is as large as it as majestic. The ark stands two or three stories high; when the cantor’s voice flows from the equally tall speakers, you feel in your bones that you are in a holy space.

However, it wasn’t until I attended High Holiday services led by Rabbi Ora at a Unitarian Church(!!) that I felt in my heart the genuine holy feeling of being instantly at home with my Jewish faith. Although our meeting spaces are not quite as palatial as my synagogue of origin, I still call our congregation “temple.” Going to temple” means more to me now than it ever has, because what I learn there resonates with me on a level truly deserving of that name.

Carol Lessure calls our congregation “Recon or Hav – that is the name I called it originally when it was a Havurah – and means community to me. Certainly not the same name we used growing up; we went to Temple or Shul.”

Like Carol, many of us call our congregation ‘The Hav” or “The Havurah.” Up until recently our congregation’s official name was “The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah.” In Hebrew, Haver means friend.” A Havurah is a group of friends coming together. Beginning in the 1960s, many young American Jews who felt that traditional Judaism didn’t speak to their experience began practicing in community groups that collectively came to be known as the Havurah Movement. Although our congregation does not go back that far in time, many of those who started this congregation came together out of a similar sense of faith and community.

Our Havurah, sharing in Community and Food! (In true Jewish style)

As their numbers grew, the members of the Ann Arbor Havurah welcomed in more and more peoplle from our community who felt the same feeling of home as I did on my first visit. Eventually, we became the “Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation.” According to former member Danny Steinmetz, the name change “…had implications for the conception of a more formalized, fuller service congregation.” Our congregation has met this goal in a style truly fitting of a Havurah.

Clare Kinberg’s article on members leading services in the absence of a rabbi is a perfect example of how our community continues to practice Havurah Judaism within the Reconstructionist Framework.

Many others, such as Seth Kopald and Rabbi Ora, call our congregation “Shul.” Interestingly, Shul comes from the Yiddish word for “school.” Many began calling their congregations shul as a homage to an earlier phrase, Batei Midrash, or “House of Study.” It seems appropriate to call our congregation Shul, since the practice of exploring, debating, and learning is fundamental to how our services are structured.

Whether you call our congregation Temple, Shul, or The Havurah, one thing remains constant: our commitment as Reconstructionists to be inclusive of everyone’s experience. We all come to the table with a lifetime of experience as Jews that informs how we view this congregation. What is important is that when we are together, we are a community that at its core is one of equality, inclusion, and exploration.

Do you have something to say on this topic? Or would you like to contribute to next weeks exploration of “What We Call Ourselves As Reconstructionists?” If so, please email me at aarcgillian@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

On Naming: What Do We Call Ourselves

Drawing inspiration from Rabbi Ora’s blog post on naming last week, we put out the call to members of our congregation to explore what naming means to us in the context of ourselves, our congregation, and as Reconstructionists. For today’s blog post, the first in a series, we explored what we call ourselves.

For many, one of the most sacred parts of belonging to a Jewish community is taking part in the same Jewish rituals throughout our lifetimes that our ancestors have observed for generations. As Reconstructionists, many members of our congregations have chosen to fulfill these rituals in ways that honor these traditions while holding a specific meaning for themselves.

My great grandfather’s pen

When I was a child, the few belongings we had from my great grandfather, Godfrey August Garson, were passed on to me as I was his namesake. Since I was born female, I was given his initials rather than his full name, in the Ashkenazic Tradition.

Just the other day while rustling through a drawer, my son found my great grandfather’s gold pen, engraved with the initials GAG. I told my son that this pen belonged to our ancestor who I was named for; I then got to have a great conversation with him about which ancestor he is named after. Knowing that my name and my children’s names have meaning and are part of a tradition is important to my Jewish identity and sense of self.

Like me, AARC member and Beit Sefer teacher Shlomit was named after an ancestor. However, rather than use the initials, her parents chose a name that sounded like Shlomo, her grandfather’s name, and referred to King Solomon. Shlomit says, “I love its meaning, from the word Shalom, a peace maker. I am working on inner peace with yoga and nature walks, and I work on my communication skills to bring peace to those around me. I’m not royalty like King Solomon, but I do believe we can all make a difference.”

As a parent, participating in a naming ceremony or Brit Milah is one of the first rites of passage we take with our children. Congregant Carol Lessure remembers participating in a group naming ceremony during Fourth Friday Shabbat! This is a perfect example of how Reconstructionists redefine these traditions, in this instance to include our larger community.

In addition to the traditions surrounding our English names, many in our congregation also have Hebrew names. Cherished member Alan Haber received his Jewish name, Eliyahu, at the age of 50. It was given to him by Rabbi Zalman Schachter in recognition of Alan’s work in Israel and Palestine. To Alan, his name means “may he show himself in you to you” and “who made an Ark for the Shekhinah.”

Participating in a Reconstructionist congregation offers so many opportunities for us to express ourselves as Jews and to incorporate these traditions in ways that feel both meaningful and relevant. Naming doesn’t happen only at birth or during a Bris; it can be given to us during adulthood to honor our work. Our names can also serve as guiding lights, reminding us how we embody concepts such as Shalom, or how we honor the ancestors for whom we are named. What does your name mean to you?

In the next two articles, we will explore what we call ourselves as Reconstructionists and what we call our congregation. If you would like to contribute to this discussion, I encourage you to email your ideas to me at aarcgillian@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Welcome New Members Ella August and Joe Eisenberg!

Ella and Joe on vacation with Joe’s daughters (Ella’s stepdaughters), Thea and Sophie.

New member Ella August writes:

Joe and I had our first “real” conversation while waiting for our faculty meeting to begin at the University of Michigan School of Public Health eight years ago. Neither of us had been early to a faculty meeting before or after that day so we figure it must have been fate. We had served on a committee together and had passed in the hallway but hadn’t actually had a one-on-one conversation before this particular faculty meeting.

Joe has two children: Thea, a student at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and Sophie, 23, who lives in Napa, California. They return home for summer vacations and visits.

Joe grew up in a nice Jewish family in the San Fernando Valley and then lived in Northern California for many years before relocating to Michigan. I am a Michigan native and am still mentoring Joe on how to be Midwestern. I think he’s starting to catch on.

I am an aspiring Jew, working with Rabbi Ora on conversion. Things I love about Judaism: the focus on community, the home-based practices (what I sometimes call the “do-it-yourself spirit”), the holidays, and the questions. Things I love about Jewish people: their sense of humor, their sense of community, their focus on education and family, and their Yiddish expressions.

Things Joe loves about Judaism: a sense of community and tradition, and a focus on education that continually questions our practices and beliefs. Joe takes great delight in cooking for the Jewish holidays and is constantly exploring cuisines ranging from Eastern European to Middle Eastern. His latest challenge is creating the perfect falafel: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.

Joe and I run and snowshoe trails together, eat delicious meals in all corners of the world, and enjoy entertaining at our home. You can often find us at Argus Farm Stop, Zingerman’s Deli, or Spencer restaurant, on North Campus admiring the art sculptures, or running through the Arb, Bluffs Nature Area, or Bird Hills.

New Communications and Event Coordinator for AARC

Welcome Gillian Jackson
Gillian, Wade, Alex, and Wesley Jackson

We are very excited to welcome Gillian Jackson as AARC’s new Event and Communications Coordinator. Gillian will relieve Clare of her event planning duties, facilitating our congregation’s holidays, Shabbat services, and special events. She will also take over the weekly blog, Tuesday Telegraph, and Thursday Mailer. There are lots of small things Clare has picked up to support our congregation over the years and Gillian will be doing her best to do these things as well. You can read about Gillian in her new member blog post from last year.

Clare will still serve as the director of our Beit Sefer, religious school. She will also continue to attend and support our congregation as a cherished member. She is very excited to dive into her new role as editor of the Washtenaw Jewish News.

We thank you in advance for your patience as Gillian learns the ropes and invite your feedback and communication with her as she learns. You may contact her at AARCGillian@gmail.com.

Welcome Marilyn and Len Kirsch!

Len and Marilyn Kirsch recently moved from Long Island, New York to Ann Arbor to be near their daughter Jennifer, her husband Peter, and their grandchild Jacob. Len is a semi-retired aviation and seaport attorney and Marilyn is a retired elementary school teacher. Jennifer is a psychologist in town, and Peter is a dentist working in South Lyons and Milan. Jacob is 19 months and attends the JCC three days a week. They reside near the Briarwood Mall, but will be moving to a Toll Brothers Town House on Scio Church Road in the Spring.  Len and Marilyn belonged to a Conservative Synagogue in Syosset, New York and Len was an elected member of the Syosset School Board for 11 years. They are excited to be part of a dynamic congregation and hope to help the congregation grow in size.

Welcome Jeff Siegfried!

Still photo from a video of Jeff’s dissertation concert Yizkor: In Memoriam, on November 18. Click on photo for the video. The recital was dedicated to the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. It features music that explores Jewish identity, including pieces by Leonard Bernstein, Yinam Leef, Ziv Slama, Ellwood Derr, Ödön Pártos, and Betty Olivero.

Hi! I’m Jeff. I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for a few years now and perhaps like many others I’ve been attending High Holy Days services at AARC only to disappear for the rest of the year. At Yom Kippur this year I realized that I am seeking a deeper sense of nourishment and community and I chose to become a member and to make Shabbat services a steadier practice for me.

I am a doctoral student in saxophone at UM and I live near campus. I grew up in Bellingham, Washington. Prior to my coming to Ann Arbor, I lived in Tucson and Chicago.

I am drawn to the progressive, inquisitive, and welcoming atmosphere at AARC and I look forward to getting to know all of you more. My partner, Ione, was also able to come to a Rosh Hashanah service and wants to come to more events as her schedule allows as well. As the occasion arises, I’d love to be involved in making music in and around AARC events.

My hobbies include cooking, bicycling, reading, and dancing. I can’t wait to get to know all of you better!

Welcome Grayson Neff Family!

Our family is excited to join AARC! We are a family of four: myself (Adrianne Neff), my wife Carla Grayson, and our children Noah Grayson Neff, age 18, and Sylvie Grayson Neff, age 11. We have lived in Dexter for the past 8 years and before that were Ann Arborites for many years. Carla and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this summer. We were married at TBE by Rabbi Levy in 1998, and he re-married us legally when it became possible in 2015.

We live in rural Dexter Township and have a property where we keep chickens and turkeys and enjoy gardening and watching the wildlife in our woods and small pond. I am a Physician Assistant working in urgent care. I enjoy cooking, home improvement projects, boating, and working with our pets and farm animals.  Carla is a lecturer in the Psychology Department at University of Michigan. She enjoys watercolors and coloring, yoga, and gardening.

Our son Noah graduated from Dexter High School in June. He will be with us for Rosh Hashanah at AARC, and then will be moving to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he will be joining the Conservation Corps and working on environmental restoration projects in national parks, forests, and our other public lands. Our daughter Sylvie is entering 6th grade in the Dexter schools. She spent 3 weeks at Camp Tavor this summer and met some other kids from AARC there. Sylvie plays lacrosse and field hockey, enjoys video games, photography, and playing with her pet cat and dog, and just started her own business selling eggs from our free-range chickens at the Webster Farmer’s Market.

Carla and I were married at TBE, Noah celebrated his Bar Mitzvah there, and the congregation was a happy home for us for many years. However, in recent years we allowed our involvement to lapse as life events moved us to become less involved with TBE and our Judaism in general. We are currently renewing our commitment to Jewish practice and community, and after much reflection, we realized that our desires, needs and values most closely align with the Reconstructionist movement, and we made the decision to join AARC. We are looking forward to being members of a smaller congregation.

Although we are new members, we already have deep ties to AARC including many dear friends and acquaintances who are members. We spent the High Holidays at AARC last year, and we loved the services and Rabbi Ora. We are eager to meet new people, make new friends, and join in the community and spiritual life of AARC.

Toby Citrin and Phyllis Blumenfeld: Old Friends and New Members

Phyllis and I are approaching our 25th wedding anniversary next year. She’s a retired professor of education, having researched, taught and practiced educational psychology, student engagement and project-based learning at the UM School of Education for almost 40 years. I’m a “nominally retired” adjunct professor at the UM School of Public Health, having researched, taught and practiced public health policy, genetics policy and community engagement for 37 years. Phyllis grew up in Brooklyn (Brighton Beach), studied at Brown (then Pembroke) and received her Ph.D. at UCLA. I grew up in Detroit, attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and spent the next 10 years working in our Detroit-centered family business. After the business was sold I transitioned into academe when a series of voluntary positions in Detroit’s and Michigan’s health systems led to my being invited to join the UM Public Health faculty. Now that I’m reducing my university work-load, I’ve been increasingly active coordinating the Michigan advocacy activities for J Street.

My daughter Ana, from my first marriage, went to the University of California Santa Barbara and “never returned.” She’s now a public interest environmental lawyer defending the California coastal environment from the constant threats of developers. She and her husband, Tim, have given me two awesome grandchildren, Toby “the Younger” and Kaia (pictured here with Ana). Phyllis and I escape the Michigan winters by moving to Santa Barbara for several months each year.

Joining AARC marks for me the fruition of a spiritual path that included the birth of Temple Israel in the 1940s, the creation of Congregation T’Chiyah (now the Reconstructionist Congregation of Detroit) with Carl Levin and our friends in 1977, and a period of membership at Temple Beth Emeth. I’ve had a growing interest in AARC, where I have several valued friends and associates. Visiting a recent service and meeting Rabbi Ora made it clear that AARC would become a cherished spiritual home for us.

Welcome the Hall family to AARC

We are very excited to be new members of AARC! We are a family of four and more, living in two households and with multiple faiths, but united in our journey through life together. We are: Noah, Jennifer, Ella (age 14) and Miles (age 11).  Noah is a law professor at Wayne State University and University of Michigan, Jennifer works at Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Ella is a freshman at Skyline High School, and Miles is a 6th grader at Forsythe Middle School.

Our path to AARC is the result of Miles wanting to explore his Jewish heritage. Noah grew up culturally Jewish in New York and Connecticut, made his bar mitzvah in a Reform temple, but other than that experience, didn’t really spend too much time in a temple at any point in his life.  Jennifer grew up Catholic, attended church every Sunday with her family and graduated from a Catholic high school, but then as a young adult, decided church and religion wasn’t an important part of her life.

When our kids were young, we sought out a faith community to be part of and joined the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, where Jennifer is still an involved member.  This congregation is very welcoming, inclusive of all people, whatever their story and is very much focused on serving the needs of our community.  When our son Miles started asking about his Jewish background and a desire to make his bar mitzvah, we were very pleased to find AARC because it welcomed our family as we are and spoke to all our values of community, inclusivity, and service.

Miles joined the Beit Sefer last year and is looking forward to starting again this fall.  We’ve joined the congregation for a few events, have appreciated how welcomed we’ve already been, and look forward to getting to know everyone more in the future.