An Informative and Engaging Shavuot!

by Emily Eisbruch and Gillian Jackson

Our delicious Shavuot Desert Potluck provided by AARC! Photo Credits: Emily Eisbruch

In honor of the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai, AARC celebrated Shavuot this year by engaging in learning and discussion. We were joined by Kehillat Israel from Lansing. The evening was structured around discussion groups on interesting and relevant topics.

The first two discussion groups were led by congregation members Clare Kinberg from AARC and Ken Harrow from KI.

Clare Kinberg leading a discussion on ‘Jewish Time’ on Shavuot.

Clare Kinberg led a discussion about the Jewish concept of time and how it relates to the story of Ezra. A lively discussion followed regarding the different ways that Jews interpret history and time as it is written in our sacred texts.

Ken Harrow leading a discussion on ‘The Events at Sinai’ on Shavuot.

Ken Harrow led a discussion about the events at Sinai. In his session he focused on how to contextualize the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the commandments. Ken emphasized relationships to works of art, demonstrating our connections with facial expressions.  Ken shared slides with examples from famous artworks, including self-portraits from Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

After enjoying a potluck of delicious deserts provided by members of AARC, we embarked on even more engaging opportunities for learning with Rabbi Ora and Rabbi Zimmerman.

Rabbi Ora leads a discussion on ‘Jewish Perspectives on Abortion’

Rabbi Ora led a discussion on Jewish Perspectives on Abortion. The discussion was a fascinating exploration of various texts that reference abortion. Looking at the issue from the perspective of various Jewish Sects, Rabbi Ora showed how the Jewish people have struggled to codify when and how a woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.

Rabbi Zimmerman leads a discussion on the Green New Deal.

Rabbi Michael Zimmerman’s session on “The Torah of the Green New Deal” looked at  Judaism’s approach to caring for the planet.  He shared a handout with biblical and other references urging stewardship of the land, including text from House Resolution 109 on the Green New Deal.  The group discussed the relationship between Jewish teachings on charity and preservation of the earth.

All and all much knowledge was passed and given. It was truly an enriching evening during which the two congregations were able to get to know each other and enjoy lively discussion!

Jacob Resnick’s Bar Mitzvah Dvar: K’doshim

Shabbat Shalom and good morning. Today, I’ll be teaching you about my Torah portion K’doshim, which is in the book of Leviticus.

K’doshim means holy in hebrew. In my Torah portion, God gives Moses many commandments to give to the Israelites, the first one being, “You shall be holy.” Some of the commandments are basic rules that most of us still try to follow today like “You shall not steal” or “your shall not defraud your fellow”.


Others are more dated like “You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruits of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” This commandment is dated because most of us don’t have vineyards now, but as Jewish people we like to take principles from the Torah and see how we can apply them to today’s world. With the law about leaving fallen fruit for strangers, I think this ancient law can teach us to not be greedy and save some of our wealth to give to people who don’t have much.

Another similarly dated commandment in my Torah portion is, “ If anyone insults either their mother or father he shall be put to death.” Instead of killing disrespectful children, today we have other less extreme punishments like getting grounded, but the principle of respecting your parents is still applied today.

The commandment or law from my Torah portion that I want to focus on today is a prohibition against worshipping Molech, where God tells Moses,

”Say further to the Israelite people: Anyone among the Israelites, or among the strangers residing in Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones. And I will set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he gave of his offspring to Molech and so defiled My sanctuary and profaned My holy name.”

If you didn’t know, Moloch is the name of a biblical Canaanite god. Moloch is usually depicted as a statue of a person with a bull’s head, and a furnace in its belly. Biblical historians believe the Canaanites worshipped Molech by offering it their children to be burned as sacrifices.

The Canaanites were an ancient people who lived in the land of Canaan, an area which most likely included parts of modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The Canaanites were neighbors to the ancient Israelites once the Israelites entered the Land of Israel. So clearly, it was a concern that the Israelites might start to take on Canaanite traditions, including child sacrifice.

In my Torah portion alone the prohibition against Molech is mentioned four times.

Rabbi Ora taught me that it is not common in the Torah for words or ideas to be repeated without a reason. So the question I had is – Why is this law against worshipping Molech and child sacrifice repeated by God so many times?

I feel like God mentions this law so many times because it’s such a sensitive moral issue. We know that the Ten Commandments outlaw killing in general. The killing of anyone is wrong, but it is especially difficult to read of parents killing their children, because the child doesn’t have a choice and the child has no possible hope of a future.

I think God repeated the prohibition against Molech so many times because God needed to let the Israelites know that sacrificing your child is an unforgivable crime.

As someone who is adopted, and thinking more about this commandment, I see some connections between ancient children not having a choice on whether they got sacrificed, and me not having a choice on whether I was adopted. Obviously being adopted is not the same thing as being sacrificed, but there are some similarities.

One big similarity is that being adopted means being picked up and moved, not having a say on what’s going on. Being adopted means leaving this whole other life behind that you don’t even get a chance to try. Looking more into this law it was like looking into my life, and questions came up: Questions like not knowing why I was being given up, which was probably similar to the biblical kids not knowing why they were being sacrificed.

So, some of the challenges of being adopted are not having a choice, not knowing why you were being given up, and leaving a whole other life behind. Those are all the hard aspects of adoption, but there are more good ones. If I wasn’t adopted then I wouldn’t have met all the people in this room today, my friends, family, and this congregation. I probably wouldn’t have the great education and privileges I have today. I also wouldn’t be able to embrace being Jewish which I’m proud to be.

To me there’s nothing wrong with being adopted because I’m probably having a better life than if I wasn’t adopted.

Despite this, when I introduce myself as being adopted to other people, I notice people often seem to feel some discomfort in talking about it. Sometimes I get the response of, “Oh I’m so sorry for you.” I sometimes think that in that moment people are imagining themselves in my position and thinking about what would be different for them if they had been adopted. This could make them feel sad so then they say they are sorry for me. Or maybe they just feel uncomfortable with something that’s unfamiliar and don’t know what to say.

I’m speaking about my adoption today — the things that are hard about being adopted and the things that are good — and how I feel about it because I would like people to not get uncomfortable when talking to me about it. I want to let everyone know that I am comfortable having conversations about being adopted. I’m not necessarily saying that I want to talk about my adoption all the time but I am saying that when the topic does come up naturally I want both sides to feel comfortable when talking about it.

In our congregation, we have a custom of asking the community a question to generate discussion towards the end of a dvar Torah. I have 2 questions for you today.

The first question I have is, are there other contemporary issues where children don’t have control over what happens to them and they are penalized because of it?

The second one is, are there any topics that you feel are hard to talk about that shouldn’t be that hard to talk about?

Thank you all for your answers and a good discussion.

To conclude, I would like to thank Caroline, my mom, and Paul, my dad, for being there for me, and the rest of my family for coming today. Our great Rabbi Ora for helping me prepare my dvar Torah and having good conversations with me about my Torah portion. Deb who has helped me learn my Torah portion, my Haftorah, and the blessings that go with them. All my friends for supporting me and making me laugh. Martha our exchange student who puts up with me when I’m crazy. Lyndon who helps me practice my bass and Derek who is the best bass teacher in the world. My congregation who has been welcoming since the time I joined it. And finally thank you all for coming, Shabbat Shalom!

Safety and Security at the AARC

by Dave Nelson, AARC Safety Coordinator

Given the recent attacks on American synagogues–and a general rise in
anti-Semitic crime in the U.S. and abroad over the last two years–it’s
natural to worry.

Please be reassured that the entire Jewish community of Ann Arbor–in
coordination with the greater Jewish community of Southeastern Michigan,
national Jewish organizations, and law enforcement–are working to assure
your safety without compromising our commitment to openness and
lovingkindness. Many of these broad, community-wide safety and security
initiatives aren’t new–but they’re now being pursued with greater
coordination, diligence, and a tad more urgency.

That said, our participation as a congregation is new–hence my role, as
“AARC Safety Coordinator.” As a smaller congregation that uses several
locations throughout the year, we have different safety and security
concerns than other congregations. Working with the local Jewish Community Security Committee gives the AARC access to tools that increase our security, and resources that allow us to formulate our own safety best
practices–ones that address our specific safety concerns while reflecting
and promoting our congregational values.

Members of the AARC who’d like to participate in–or simply learn
more about–our ongoing safety and security initiatives should keep an eye
on their inboxes; details will follow via email.

Beit Sefer Picnic and Native Tree Planting

Photos and Article Credit: Fred Feinberg

On Sunday, May 5, Beit Sefer students, teachers, and parents congregated (as congregations do!) at Country Farm Park for not only our annual picnic, but to help plant indigenous fruit trees at County Farm Park’s Pollinator Garden. We all first learned about indigenous vs. non-native species, then donned protective gloves and took up hoes, handsaws, and strangely powerful branch clippers. 

Implements in hand, we helped take several non-native honeysuckle trees down to stumps, clear away debris, and prepare the ground for planting trees and shrubs native to our area — paw paw, American plum, persimmon, and chestnut — learning about each from a park representative. While Gdolim and Yeladim cut away and hauled large branches, Ktanim cleared a patch of ground shrubs and aerated the soil, under the watchful eye and aching backs of parents and teachers.

Afterward, Stacy Weinberg Dieve presented our hardworking teachers and helpers — Clare, Shlomit, Aaron; Zander, Avi, Rose — with tokens our our collective appreciation. We all then gathered at the Pavilion to sing a Hebrew prayer and learn a two-part round from Rabbi Ora, after which we feasted on a variety of seasonal, vegetarian dishes prepared by Beit Sefer families: vegetable casserole, brioche, fruits, challah. The weather was literally perfect, and the children spent the time afterward running and frolicking in the playground. All in all, a wonderfully successful day!

Not Your Grandma’s Haggadah

You may feel it’s time to retire your Grandma’s old Haggadah. Or perhaps you’re considering putting it in a drawer and trying something new, just this once. If so, this Passover you can celebrate with Haggadot ranging from one based on Hamilton, The Musical to another in the form of a graphic novel. You can even make your own on www.haggadot.com!

It seems fitting that we increasingly move beyond simple readings of the traditional story to more actively engage with our heritage. When Clare was practicing the Four Questions with Beit Sefer students last Sunday, she remarked, “Not only is Passover a holiday for asking questions, asking questions is what Judaism is all about!” Clare was of course correct that Judaism, and in particular Reconstructionism, begs us to interact with the material in order to ask questions, to learn, and to incorporate new ways of thinking into our lives. What better time to do this than at the Seder table with our friends and family?

In this week’s blog I have selected some new and interesting Haggadot for you to explore and potentially make use of this Passover. Enjoy!

Rabbi Ora has recommended Velveteen Rabbi, the website of Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. There you will find a Haggadah that focuses on poetry, mindfulness, systems of oppression, and a theology of liberation.

The Reconstructionist movement’s Haggadah features recommended outlines according to your demographic (younger children, older children, women, and interfaith families).

The American Jewish World Service’s Haggadah focuses on global justice.

Last but definitely not least, I couldn’t fail to celebrate the newly published work of AARC’s very own Carol Levin! Haggadah Reggata! is written especially for children and features beautiful, fanciful watercolor illustrations.

Whether these creative Haggadot inspire you to try something new this year or you decide to stick with Grandma’s old faithful, I wish you a peaceful and thought-provoking Passover!

Letter from Rabbi Ora

My dear community,

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the devastating news of the Islamophobic terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.

This morning, I sat down with community rabbis to write the following letter, which we sent to Imam Abdullah Al-Mahmudi of the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor:

“Our hearts are breaking. When we woke this morning to the news of the terror attacks against Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, the first thing we thought of was the Ann Arbor Muslim Community. White supremacy, whether in Christchurch, Ann Arbor, or anywhere else in this world is a threat to us all. The murder of innocents, especially in prayer, is a terrible affront to humanity.

“As a Jewish community, we express our grief and moral outrage over this Islamophobic act of terror in New Zealand—the murder of 49 innocents in prayer.

“Both the Muslim and Jewish traditions believe that whoever destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed the entire world; and whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the entire world. (Surah 5:32, Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

“We recognize that last night, whole worlds were lost. We hold you in our hearts, and grieve alongside you.”

In response to the news of the shootings, a colleague of mine, Rafael Shimunov, wrote: ‘When you kill someone praying, you are killing them at the moment they closed their eyes, turned their back to the door, tuned out every sound and decided that this will be the moment they will trust the rest of humanity the most.’

This afternoon, I will be standing outside the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor as our Muslim brothers and sisters attend Jumu’ah, Friday prayer, along with Rabbi Josh Whinston, Rav Nadav Caine, Reb Elliot Ginsburg, and members of their communities. Please: if you’re able, join us, to remind those grieving that they can continue to trust the rest of humanity.

Holding you, and holding onto hope for a Shabbat of shalom,

Rabbi Ora

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!

The story behind Haggadah Regatta

by Carol Levin

Haggadah Regatta, my new Passover picture book haggadah, launched this month. You’re all invited to a launch party at the JCC on March 10th, from 3 to 4:30 pm. The February issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News reviews the book about a seder on a little matzah raft. My website  shows a sampling of the art and publication details. For the backstory…

Summer 2016

A three-week visit to help my daughter’s family settle into their new Michigan home assures me that Ann Arbor is the place to be. This East Coast Grams has no doubts about her decision to move. My grandkids, Aaron and Julia, are then at delicious ages (one and three). Naomi and Ben, U-M geology professors, both have Michigander roots. In 1850, my Mom’s family, the Silbermans, founded Detroit’s Temple Beth El. Five generations later, their descendants enjoy the Apples & Honey fall festival for a first look at Jewish Ann Arbor.

Spring 2017

Naomi and I begin to plan for a seder at my house. We agree to make it kid friendly. We need a haggadah that works for us all. My Amazon search yields a riot of fun picture books for toddlers. I find family haggadot geared to older children. What’s missing from the book list?  A beginner’s haggadah for Aaron and Julia. I’m a writer, and an artist and a do-it-yourselfer. Decades ago, I wrote A Rosh Hashanah Walk, (Kar-Ben Publishers, 1987) . An idea for a new holiday tale sprouts. While kayaking on the Huron, I spy a matzah raft with some old friends on board. When I was little, I discovered talking shoes at my Daddy’s shoe store. These shoes are my crew.

In two-weeks time, I feverishly sketch, and write and weave seder essentials into the haggadah. Staples at Westgate produces the beta version. Aaron’s pal Jack and his folks, Brenna and Ben, join us for seder. The read-aloud gathers steam as we go around the seder table asking, “Who is?” and telling, “how” and “why” and having a foot-stomping good time.  When the seder is over, a year of revisions begins.

Fall 2017

Indie authors at the Kerrytown Bookfest point me to the Thomson-Shore table. The book printers &  publishers are having a fall open house. Touring the Dexter plant, I muse about self-publishing. I’m not there yet. The revisions continue.

Spring 2018

I upload files to Apple to print a full color book. The new  8”x 8” format is easier for little hands. Pastel crayon illustrations replace rough sketches. The original protagonist, a weathered captain, bows out. Two kids, a boy and a goat, now lead the seder crew. Digital goat tracks urge viewers on from page-to-page. Text is color-coded to cue readers.

Post-Seder brings more revisions: I focus on pacing and page-turns; I paint watercolor illustrations; I think the book is ready.  My Ann Arbor SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) group say, “It’s ready.” Query letters to agents and publishers are mailed. And I wait. I attend writer’s conferences. And I wait…

Summer – Fall 2018

I return to Thomson-Shore and meet with their Creative Director, Tamra Tuller. Tamra’s clear observations and feedback convince me to do it. Under her mentoring, I produce new illustrations, change layouts and select fonts. She guides me through the design process and skills needed to convert finished art into files. Wordsmith friends, Elaine Sims and Marion Short, help with final edits. Rabbi Ora refines phrases to suit a young audience. Clare Kinberg addresses sensitive issues as a librarian-educator-communicator. Phonetics maven Terri Ginsburg helps verify family-friendly Hebrew transliteration. Peretz Hirshbein (JCC Early Childhood Center Director) and Jessica Gillespie (PJ Library Director) facilitate the book launch and family Passover event. Thank you Ann Arbor.

Winter 2019

Shehechiyanu !!!