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.

Welcome new members Gillian, Alex, Wesley and Wade Jackson

We are so glad to be new members of AARC! We are a family of four: Myself (Gillian), my husband Alex, our 5-year-old Wesley, and our 3-year-old Wade.

We recently relocated to Chelsea from Asheville, NC. We wanted to be closer to family and soon after setting that intention, Alex found his dream job doing sustainable architecture in Ann Arbor. Before living in NC, Alex and I both did undergrad at U of M and Alex got his Masters of Architecture at U of Oregon. Before becoming a stay at home mom, I worked as a medical assistant.

As a family we enjoy gardening, canoeing, hiking, spending time with friends/family, cooking and general adventuring. Wes is starting kindergarten this year and Wade is starting preschool. Wes will also start his second year of Beit Sefer this fall.

I was delighted to find AARC last year during the high holidays. I was raised Reform but hadn’t found a synagogue I resonated with personally until now. I appreciate how the Reconstructionist tradition upholds our culture and traditions with a more humanist and naturalist tilt. I spent a lot of time in Hebrew school as a kid and it was an important part of my identity. I’m glad to be back in the fold and to share it with my own family. I’ve enjoyed everyone I’ve gotten to know over the year and look forward to years to come!

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