Seth Kopald’s Simchat Torah Shabbat D’var Torah

Rabbi Ora asked me these questions: “What is a metaphor/image that speaks to your experience of simcha (joy), and why? And what, if anything, is Jewish/spiritual about simcha for you?” 

From my personal experience, and based on the work I do with people everyday, Joy seems to emerge when we return to our natural, birthright qualities of our true Selves. I believe our natural qualities include curiosity, compassion, creativity, playfulness, and the capacity to feel joy. I believe we are all born with a light inside, connected to G-d, the universe, to life itself. That light carries and supports our freedom to express who we are. A light that allows joy to flourish, if it is allowed to shine unencumbered. 

Yet life seems to carry hurtful experiences that appear to dim or almost extinguish our light, sometimes beginning in the womb. On the other hand, when children receive unconditional love, when people around them value what they bring, their uniqueness of expression and thought, children don’t need to take on beliefs like feeling they are too much or not enough. They can shine their light with joy and perhaps carry that into adulthood. Simultaneously, our culture and even our religion can impose burdens on us as well. Of course, Judaism carries many gifts, rich in tradition: learning, sacred rituals, and resilience. For me, I realize that I have taken on intergenerational burdens tied to my understanding of what it means to be Jewish. I have always felt like I have to look over my shoulder for my own safety, and perhaps I need to hide, like our ancestors did in caves. 

A week or so ago, I looked inside myself and asked my system if I carried such legacy burdens. I saw myself sitting at the Passover table as a young child. I heard a voice in me say, “we must suffer” and when I asked why, it said, “in order to survive.” I looked around the 1970s table. I was with my family, no joy and little unconditional love, but there was more heaviness. The story of Passover. The gift of freedom came with a cost – the suffering we endured – slavery, witnessing plagues, death of sons, seas swallowing people, angels shushed for cheering, and we decided to never go into the promised land. To this day, my system has never allowed me to go to Israel, as if I still carry the burden of slavery in Egypt. This young part of me showed me the burdens that cover my joy during Passover, burdens I still carry today. 

This inner experience happened the same day I saw Rabbi Ora’s email inviting me to give this dvar torah. The depth of the timing felt sublime. I asked myself: Where is the joy? Where is the joy of the Jewish people? Is it in Israel, where people feel they have a homeland? I cannot say. Is it in the siddur? The one I was forced to get through in Hebrew school? No. As I explored this topic more deeply within myself, I saw the contrasting Jewish experiences I have had in my life.

You see, Joy was in the siddur at Summer camp. There was a loving Jewish community in which I lived for four weeks at a time. I went to both sessions, so eight weeks of Joy. We prayed every morning in a circle, swaying together, our voices filling the Beit Am. The dancing, the discussions, the ease of being together. Joyfully singing the birkat hamazon after every meal. The machine of Society gone, our burden of suffering paused. The sadness carried in the songs we sang felt more like a beautiful sadness, one that tied us all together. Then it was time to go home again, back to Hebrew school where I wanted to say to the Rabbi, “This isn’t being Jewish! This is a fashion show. We are running through the motions. No kavanah. It’s not from the heart.” Ironically, when I studied for my bar mitzvah, which was shared by another boy, an old school rabbi showed up for me and helped me learn my torah portion. He literally slammed his fist on the desk and shouted with passion, “You have to sing loud, and slow, From Your Heart!” One of the best moments of my Jewish life – sitting across the table from this mysterious rabbi. He felt like a wizard to me. And there we were on my bar mitzvah day, the other boy racing through, I drummed up my courage and sang from my heart. 

At camp, on kabbalat shabbat, we heard a story of a young boy who lived in an orthodox village. He walked into the synagogue one day, the old men davening in a murmur. The boy, not knowing the prayers, started singing what he knew, the Hebrew alphabet. He sang the alphabet with joy, no words, a nigun from the heart — and he was hushed by the men, shaming his natural love for G-d. The Rabbi stopped the service and shared what he saw: the boy was the only one truly praying. 

In our Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, I see heart connection often. Rabbi Ora is a model for us. She allows her natural light to shine. Her words take us to deep understanding and compassion and she shares her heartfelt niguns with us all. One of our congregants led us in a nigun over the high holidays, her heart open and her voice connected deeply. She let her light shine. 

On this day we celebrate Simchat Torah with our new friends at Congregation Agudas Achim. 

The torah itself seems to hold the light that we all share inside, I feel its resonance. It’s not the words or the stories inside the torah scrolls, it’s the gestalt of it all that resonates with me. And today we roll it back to the beginning, B’reshit, when G-d sparked the first light of creation, the light that is within all of us. “G-d saw the light that it was good.” Yes, when I feel my light and the light of others, it does feel good. 

Our light may be covered, like the clouds cover the sun, but it is there nonetheless. Perhaps today as we roll back to the story of creation, the beginning of what we see as life itself, we can begin to unload the burdens we gathered along the way and those given to us by our lineage. Let the clouds part even briefly, so we can go back to our natural state and feel our light and the innate birthright qualities of that light. To me this is Joy, the return to ourSelves, and that is what I wish for all of you today. 

The Jews of old had light, and happiness and joy — may it be so for us! Esther 8:16

Inspired by my ancestors and the work of Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model and all the wonderful IFS leaders.

One Farmer’s COVID Holiday Thoughts, October 2020

By Carole Caplan

This year—in this unusual and uncertain year—unable to gather in community, I chose instead to pray outside.

The words and songs of the service streamed out of my phone which sat neatly tucked into my tool belt

I had been weeding as I prayed along, enjoying the morning sunshine and the cool fall air.

I think it was out somewhere between the rows of fading sunflowers and the newly planted kale that I surprisingly ran into God…or perhaps it was that God, equally as surprised, ran into me.

The familiar tunes had tugged at my heart, and suddenly—without thinking—I had sprung up and began to dance, twirling to the music with the sun on my face and laughing like a little girl.

As the laughter turned to tears—you know, as it often does when we allow ourselves to open past the veneer of the everyday—I had an undeniable sense of being connected to these growing and dying things around me, to the cycles of the seasons they follow—and to the rhythms they look to teach me about year after year. 

Similarly, I felt connected to a growing and dying peoplehood, a Jewish project spanning space and centuries that was reaching out to me there in the field that very day.

For a moment I felt completely a part of, not apart from, and I felt it deep inside my bones.

As a farmer, the agricultural content of our Jewish teachings and rituals are not lost on me as I steward this small piece of land.

On Sukkot we are told to build huts to dwell in—structures consciously designed to be unstable—a roof which lets the rain in, and walls fragile enough to be blown over with the next big wind. We wave water-dependent species in all directions, and as Sukkot closes, we beat water-loving willows on the ground as we pray for rain—rain that might come at just the right time and in just the right amounts. At the same time, as farmers we are gathering in the harvest, the tactile abundance of the year which might nourish us through the cold months ahead. We buy seed and we plan for a harvest we can only trust will one day come to be.

As Jews, I think we are called to live precariously amidst the plenty precisely to remind us that despite our efforts for control, the future remains unknown. And even given that unknown, we are called to remember that this is not to be the time of our worry, but rather it is called the time of our rejoicing. The teachings seem eager to imply that joy is the fertile ground in which we can plan and plant for happiness. Happiness that might come from choices well made, and from a life well lived, but one that nonetheless, is not guaranteed.

The teachings seem eager to imply that joy is the fertile ground in which we can plan and plant for happiness.

In the bounty of the winter squash piled high in the barn awaiting market, gratitude comes easily for me and helps me access that type of joy. And with that joy, there inevitably comes hope. Farmers are incredibly hopeful people, you know. We have to be. The odds of seeds growing and plants reaching maturity against the realities of droughts, of floods, of untimely frosts and heat spells, of pests and disease…well, it’s all a practice of patiently tending what is in front of you today, despite the knowledge that disappointments and failures abound. Yet what remains certain to the farmer is that growth is possible, and that alone seems to provide the energy for one to endure, to remain adaptable, and to do the hard work that needs to be done.

If hope holds space for possibility and roots itself in joy, then perhaps joy is a fertile and abundant attitude waiting for us right outside the doors and walls we build as we attempt to keep ourselves safe. So, I invite you to join me outside. Come out to the farm sometime. Put your hands in the dirt. Soften. Connect. Find yourself to be a part of life. And listen. Joy dwells here, I am sure, and is calling out to each of us echoing our ancient texts: May we be grateful, may we be blessed, and may we merit to live many days upon the soil.

Photo: Pezibear

Shabbat Shuvah Sermon: The Importance of Reset Buttons in a Year of Upheaval and a Time of Tshuvah

Deborah Kraus

Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As the name implies, it continues the holiday themes of t’shuvah, repentance and return.

Before I begin, I want to say something because as I struggled to write this drash, I couldn’t quite rid myself of the thought, “people don’t want to hear about this.  They want something really political that speaks to the moment.” 

Nonetheless, I persisted, and wrote this anyway.  Primarily because it’s what I agreed to write, but also because of my strong belief that if we don’t figure out how to help ourselves in times like this, we can’t have the energy to help others or the world.

In this week’s Brene Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us (which I highly recommend) she refers to an article by Adrian Farrow, entitled “Your Surge Capacity is Depleted; it’s Why You Feel Awful.”  It’s about how we cope (or don’t) when an acute situation, like the pandemic, becomes a chronic one.  It includes the term “resilience bank account,” which for most of us was depleted a long time ago and discusses how to get it back, most notably “to step into a more spacious mental space that allows you to do things that are constructive instead of being mired in a state of psychological self torment.”

And with that intro, here goes. 

Like many of us, I think of High Holidays as being the great time of resetting.  If we only do it once a year, this feels like the right time.  

How have we gone off our course?  

How might we even want to redefine our course?  

Is our course even possible any more?

Of course, this has been a particularly challenging year, even for those of us privileged enough to not have the rug pulled out from under us on a regular basis (I count myself among you if that is not yet clear)!  Think back to March and the frantic search for disinfectant wipes and toilet paper, when we were first confronted with the question of what is truly necessary to sustain us through what we thought was just going to be the next few days, maybe weeks.

And as days and weeks turned into months, and plans changed and were canceled, when we all started to ache for our connections and began to feel trapped in our homes, when those in our midst began to really annoy us—we did another reckoning of what was truly necessary, this time to sustain us through the few next months.

And, need I remind any of us that the problems of the world didn’t stop.  There were more black people killed with the subsequent long awaited beginning of a racial reckoning, there have been wildfires and disastrous hurricanes, there’s a recession, and of course there’s the almost complete erosion of democracy and the culture of caring in our country.  Topped off by the passing last Friday night of our hero and icon, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

While “reset button” is not the word most people think of first in referring to 2020, (I believe that word would be…never mind; you fill in the blank), this whole year has been one long series of reset buttons as COVID has magnified every single crack in ourselves, our families, our communities, our nation and our world.

We have proven to ourselves both how adaptable we can be, as well as how inflexible we can seem when there’s even just a little extra stress, a little unexpected anything.  At some point in the last 6½ months, we have all been at our breaking points a few times.

In fact, rather than being THE resetting time, the High Holidays this year feels like a time to look around us and inside ourselves and all breathe a sigh of relief for having gotten though to this occasion.  Shehechiyanu!

Nonetheless, when Rabbi Ora asked what I’d like to do a reflection on for High Holidays this year, I suggested this concept of reset buttons.   I think of bowling alleys from my youth, impatiently pushing the button when the pins got stuck or my preferred bowling ball did not immediately return.  Or we could think about the restart mechanism on our laptops and phones: we’ve learned that the first thing to try when something freezes or malfunctions is to restart it.

For some of us this reset has meant taking inventory.  

What is truly essential to live a contented life?  

Who is essential, both to society and to us?  

and

How are we adjusting? 

What have we learned from this experience?  

And I figured since I posed the questions and have another couple of minutes, I should answer them!

First, I have a renewed sense of my privilege.  I am lucky enough to be able to work from home and that I have a home that I love.  Much as I miss my daughter, I am glad she is launched, because anyone who is in transition has had such a harder time.  I have enough money to see me through. I live, as most of us do, in a bubble that has kept us safe because others take their health seriously and have the resources to do so. And most of us have skin color deemed not threatening.  I’m absolutely not trying to minimize what this pandemic has been like for anyone with a less full backpack of privilege.  

Next, I have become even clearer on what I need to be psychologically OK and that is connections.  At least once a day, I need a quality connection, outside of my work (which is full of them; I am a psychologist and connecting is my job).  And connections have abounded.  My close friends have become closer, generally through our weekly walks, usually, but not always, on the phone.  In fact, one of my closest friends moved to NJ during this time and I venture to say that in terms of our connection, I barely noticed.

Third, there’s been a renewed commitment to my health.  Being of the age bracket deemed vulnerable, and having had some health concerns that make me more so, I doubled down.  Walking at least my 10K steps and logging my food every day has turned into a discipline that reminds me to “change the things I can” when there’s so much of this world that I need to “accept that I cannot change.”

Fourth, I have learned I can do with less.  Life is simpler.  And I’ve been relieved to have more time to myself.  There has been less FOMO; I mean we’re all missing out!  The great equalizer!

But the next one is in direct contradiction to this last one.  While I can do with less, and my history is to “adapt, adapt, adapt,” my newest realization is that I some areas, pushing for more is a radical act.  None of us know how much time we have left in the world, and as Nadine Stair’s poem says, 

“If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.

So instead of saying an automatic “no” to my wants, I’m figuring out what parts of my wants can be possible.   Which is why I’m coming to you tonight from Glen Arbor, aka “my happy place,” where I have been since second day Rosh and will be till next Wednesday.  Yup, I’m spending Yom Kippur contemplating at the lake.

This great idea wasn’t mine.  But I’m glad someone asked me why, if I hadn’t gotten enough lake on my vacation, why I couldn’t go back up, since work is portable right now.  That’s the thing: despite my persona, I just don’t think outside the box enough. 

I imagine that’s what Nadine was thinking when she wrote that poem.

Because if not now, when?

In summary, I’ve stopped saying, “I can’t wait till things get back to normal,” 

because no one knows if that will ever happen, or what the new normal will look like,

because I believe that the real test of this reset button and this time of reflection is in what we will automatically go back to by next year,

And lastly,

because I believe that if we have learned nothing in this time– if we reset automatically to how things were– that  will have been the true missed opportunity.

Questions for Discussion:

What are the things you have learned through this pandemic and which of these lessons do you want to keep or expand upon as we think about post-pandemic?

Despite all the death, financial problems and governmental heartlessness, are there ways that the pandemic has been good for the world?

Does this concept of extended time of reset resonate for you, and if so, has it changed your high holiday experience?  If so, how?

Unique Opportunity to Commemorate Tisha b’Av 5780/2020

By Rebecca Epstein

Bend the Arc Demonstration in Dearborn. Photo Credit: Rebecca Epstein

Tisha b’Av (literally the 9th of Av) is a day of collective mourning, the saddest day of the Jewish year. It marks the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE, but also symbolizes other tragedies, including the Holocaust and Pograms. The day is traditionally observed by fasting and reading the Book of Lamentations. Lamentations is a collection of five poems about the destruction of the Temple. Its theology is straightforward: God inflicted this terrible punishment because Israel was sinful. According to the Babylonian Talmud, the sin was sinat inam, baseless hatred, that is, the cruelty of our speech and actions toward others. However, the rabbis taught that transgression is also the ill feelings we carry in our hearts, which damage those who hold them and destroy those they are aimed against. Today, Tisha b’Av serves as a call to name systemic racism as the source of baseless hatred in our time and to take action to eradicate its roots and results. Mourning what is lost should inspire us to build a better future.

This Tisha b’Av, Bend the Arc Jewish Action: Greater Ann Arbor invites AARC to mourn the overwhelming violence against Black people in this country and commit to working to transform the systems and institutions that uphold and perpetuate this violence. 

Join Bend the Arc for a protest that is also a religious service, with lay-led rituals and readings connecting our Jewish mourning with calls to #DefundthePolice. No knowledge of the holiday or the Jewish ritual is needed; explanations will be provided. If you have them, we encourage you to wear kippot and/or tallit. Note that a tradition of this holiday is sitting on the ground.

Time: Wednesday, July 29 10:00 – 11:00 a.m.
Location: East Ann Arbor, outdoors, exact location information available to registrants only.

*** Plan on wearing a mask and keeping 6 feet away from fellow attendees***
    
Register here

As an alternative to this in-person event, or in addition to, contact your county commissioners and city councilmembers. Ask them to defund the police and redirect those funds to social services like public health. Questions can be directed to rebeccadanaepstein@gmail.com.

AARC To Co-Host Rabbi Arik Ascherman Lecture on “The Challenges For Torat Tzedek”

Co-written by Gillian Jackson and Martha Kransdorf.

On Thursday, May 14th at 1pm, Rabbi Arik Ascherman will give an online lecture about the work of the Israeli human rights organization Torah Tzedek and social justice in Israel in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic. AARC will co-host the event, along with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, Beth Israel Congregation’s Social Action Committee, the Jewish Cultural Society, Pardes Hanna, and Temple Beth Emeth’s Social Action Committee.

AARC’s Martha Kransdorf has been instrumental in the organization of this event. Martha urges AARC members to sign up on the JCC’s website to reserve a spot for the lecture.

Rabbi Ascherman was scheduled to visit us in late March but like so many, had to cancel his trip. We hope to reschedule his in-person appearance at some point in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, we are lucky to be able to hear his perspective on the current complex developments in Israel. Perhaps you have had a chance to hear and learn from Rabbi Ascherman during previous visits; perhaps this will be your first time. Whatever the case, we are certain you will find him to be an inspirational speaker, particularly in his insistence that peace and human rights are achievable.

We look forward to seeing you there!

New COVID-19 page on website with updates and resources

By Mark Schneyer

AARC’s website now features a page on pandemic-related issues for the benefit of our community. It includes:

  • The latest updates on how we are shifting services and programming online and how you can participate;
  • Links to resources to get or give help in our community; and
  • A cumulative and continually updated list of Rabbi Ora’s links to music, meditation, chanting, and rituals, as shared in her emails.

The page can be reached from the menu throughout the site and directly at https://aarecon.org/covid-19-information-resources/. I hope you’ll check it out soon and continue to seek it out whenever you need it during this challenging time.

Sam Ball’s Dvar Torah: Lech Lecha

Hello everybody! Thank you for coming to my bar mitzvah! The name of my parshah or my torah portion is Lech Lecha, which is in the book of Genesis. Lech Lecha means “Go forth,” which is what God said to Abram: “Go forth from where you call home and go to the place where I tell you.” And Abram and Sarai did. By the way, Abram and Sarai are called Abram and Sarai because they hadn’t yet gotten their second names of Abraham and Sarah from God.

First Abram and his wife Sarai went to Canaan. They then went to Egypt. When they got to Egypt, Pharaoh saw how pretty Sarai was. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s palace and she received lots of gifts, like cattle and camels and slaves. After some time in Egypt, Abram and Sarai left to go back to Canaan.

Ten years passed in Canaan and Sarai, who wanted to get pregnant, still couldn’t. After ten years of not being able to get pregnant, Sarai gave up in frustration. So she gave her slave named Hagar to Abram and Hagar got pregnant very quickly. Once she became pregnant, Hagar began to act like she wasn’t a slave. Hagar mocked Sarai and refused to do what she was told. As it says in my parshah, “. . . her mistress was lowered in her esteem. . . .” 

Sarai was angry after being mocked by Hagar, so Sarai treated Hagar very disrespectfully. So Hagar ran away. An angel found Hagar and told her to go back to Sarai and Abram’s house because God promised to grant her a great multitude of descendants. Hagar went back and later gave birth to Ishmael.

Why did Sarai act the way she did? I think that at first, Sarai wanted someone to blame for her not being able to get pregnant, so she experimented by giving Hagar to Abram. Maybe she thought that if Hagar wasn’t able to pregnant, then the problem would be with Abram. But since Hagar did get pregnant, maybe Sarai knew that the problem was with her. And instead of accepting this fact, she denied it and treated Hagar poorly by oppressing Hagar and returning her to her former slave status.

I also think that maybe Sarai gave Hagar to Abram because Sarai wanted to be faithful to the role God had promised her, that she would be the mother of a great nation. But when Hagar started acting less like a slave and more like Abram’s wife, Sarai became angry that her role as Abram’s partner was taken. I believe that for these reasons, it was a contest of priorities for Sarai.

So far I’ve only talked about Sarai’s feelings. But what about Abram’s?

Before Sarai returned Hagar to her slave status, she counseled with Abram, complaining about Hagar. Abram said “. . . your maid is in your hands, deal with her as you think is right.” Essentially Abram said, she is your slave; do what you will to her. I think that Abram was either feeling that the situation wasn’t his problem and he shouldn’t be the one to deal with it. Or he felt that if he interfered that he would make the situation worse.

How did Hagar feel about all of this? 

I believe that Hagar was feeling that she was being cheated. The reason for this is first Hagar was a slave and she then was raised from her status of slave to wife. Then she was put back down to slavery even while she was pregnant with Ishmael. I would feel cheated if I was raised in status and then put back down again because someone was feeling jealous. I believe that Hagar thought that she was being cheated of what she rightly deserved as the person who was pregnant with Abram’s son.

I think the reason that we have all of these stories in the Torah is so that we can learn from them the easy way and not have to learn them the hard way. The easy way is getting the lesson early and not having to experience the challenging situations for ourselves. And the reason we go deeper into the Torah’s characters in the stories is because we need to understand their opinions and motivations if we are going to understand the story itself. 

Why do we have stories in general? I have learned about the collective unconscious, which is a part of our minds that connects us to everyone else, even though we don’t know it, and causes people everywhere to invent the same stories. Humans of all history and cultures have the same basic storyline for all our myths and legends – a storyline of people seeking something they need, like Jason and the Argonauts or King Arthur and his quest to find the Holy Grail, or the Buddha searching for Enlightenment or Moses and the Exodus. We all tell similar stories because there is a link between humans. Stories teach us about being human by giving us meaning.

When I read a story, I get sucked into the world of it, and the real world around me goes away. I don’t become the characters, but I observe the characters, and I can see from their point of view, like looking through their eyes. Stories show us that we are always connected with everyone else, even when believing that we are alone. 

The Torah is full of both stories and laws. Laws give us practical guidance of what not to do, like don’t murder or steal. While those are actions that we shouldn’t do, stories help us understand how to navigate emotions and thoughts ethically.

The stories in the Torah help us learn and grow and discover how to be good people. God uses stories to teach us because if we only had strict laws, we wouldn’t be able to think for ourselves and there would be no freedom. We have a considerate and forgiving God who wants us to interpret and understand. God lets us make mistakes so we can learn from them.

This takes me back to Sarai. God didn’t interfere in her life except minimally, and allowed Sarai to make her own mistakes. Sarai wasn’t perfect, and Abram wasn’t perfect. They made mistakes and improved from them. And the stories about them impact us even today because Sarai and Abram were so human. We can relate to them because we deal with the same issues and temptations, jealousy, guilt, hatred and joy.

Stories connect us all. Maybe the collective unconscious is there because we all have a little bit of God in all of us, and the little bit of God is the connection.

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 a couple of questions for you at this point: “Why do you think stories are important and what stories have helped you find meaning in your lives?”

I want to thank all of you for coming to my bar mitzvah. I appreciate it. Thank you especially to those who are coming out of town. I want to thank Deb for tutoring me and giving me lots of support to help make this happen. I want to thank Rabbi Ora for helping me make this speech. And most of all, I want to thank my loving, supportive parents for making this happen!

Shabbat shalom!

Meet the Mitzvah Committee

Connection: an essential ingredient of a caring community

Written by: Anita Rubin-Meiller

“Mitzvah comes from the root word tzavta, which means connection. There are 613 mitzvot, and therefore, 613 ways to connect to G-d.”

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg

I appreciate this definition of mitzvah, which goes beyond doing a good deed or following a commandment, and adds connection as an essential ingredient. Certainly, in this past year of chairing the committee, the experience of connection is what stands out. Whatever we engage in involves connection: arranging for help to set up for the joyful celebration of a B’nai Mitzvah; accompanying someone in their grief and assisting with shiva; doing our best to find someone a ride to services and events; or gathering together for our quarterly “coffee and catch up.” Connection is not only the heart and soul of our mission, it is what makes the efforts worthwhile.

As we approach the annual congregational meeting, I want to pique your curiosity about this important committee and ask that you consider joining in our efforts. At the moment six of us pair up to take care of requests as they arise. While we have done well pitching in this year, it is apparent to us that we could use additional members, as we are not always able to be available when needed. 

The mitzvah committee is designed to assist in meeting commonly arising needs of our congregation’s members. This past year we helped with the Bar Mitzvah celebrations of Jacob Resnick, Eli Revzen, Otto Nelson, and Sam Ball. We assisted with the shiva observances in the homes of Amy Rosenberg, Deborah Fisch, and Carol Lessure. We helped organize a meal train for Alice and Ryan as they welcomed their little one. And we did our best to try to secure rides for members when there was a need. 

The committee currently consists of Rena Basch, Mike Ehmann, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Amie Ritchie, Stephanie Rowden, and me. We have enjoyed deepening the connection among us in meetings over coffee at York, with conversations about how we have felt supported or challenged in the past few months. We would love to welcome you to our next meeting on February 9th.

If you are not able to join the committee, please consider completing our survey so that we may call on you for specific tasks when the need arises. The survey can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1HNkIfCEHWaN1T-EevfbrPx8E8n7UVm9icNtVhVIoEqc/edit

Please come to our “roundtable” at the December 8th congregational meeting to learn more!

Happy 5th Birthday to AARC Book Group

Happy 5th birthday to the AARC book group! Launched in 2014 by Jon Sweeny and Judith Jacobs, the group offers a welcoming and cozy environment in which AARC members and friends gather for intellectually stimulating discussion, friendship, networking, and nourishment. Over the years, the reading selections have ranged from a book about Tiananmen Square (our very first meeting) to books about Israel/Palestine, Jewish history and culture, politics, spirituality, death and dying, anthropology, and more.

Carol Levin comments, “My favorite things about the book group have been getting to know everyone (as a newcomer to AARC, it’s a great gateway to the community), stimulating discussion among a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and Greg and Audrey’s fabulous hospitality.”

Speaking of hospitality, appreciation is owed to everyone who has hosted the AARC book group over the years, including a huge thank you to Greg Saltzman and Audrey Newell for being our regular book group hosts, and to Greg for serving as a terrific coordinator. We have recently switched from a Sunday morning spot to a Sunday noon start time, allowing us to welcome Beit Sefer (religious school) staff to our meetings.

Thanks to Audrey for the outstanding lunch on Sept 15, 2019, over which we discussed Michael Sfard’s The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights.

Favorites

Several group participants identified their favorite books from among the many we’ve read and discussed.

  • Carol Levin selected Guide For the Perplexed, by Dara Horn. “I love how Horn draws connections between the historical figures Moses Maimonides and Solomon Schechter and relates their lives, and personalities, and ethical questions to today’s world of espionage and intelligence.”
  • Greg Salztman picked as his favorite The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. “I liked the mix of historical fiction and fantasy. The golem was a fundamentally good being, and I could enthusiastically root for her triumph as she faced various perils.”
  • Martha Kransdorf chose Setting Fires, by Kate Wenner, as her favorite book group pick. “I know the shul and the rabbi who were the inspirations for those portrayed in the book, and I certainly know the NYC neighborhood where some of the story occurred. I was also moved by the mystery behind the father of the protagonist and of the arsonist.”
  • Avi Eisbruch’s favorite book group pick is To The End of the Land, by David Grossman. Avi says “I liked the way the rich inner life and maternal struggle of the main character Ora were portrayed as well as how the intersection of private and public/national events were entwined in the story.”

February with Rabbi Ora

The book group was especially well attended the past two Februaries, when Rabbi Ora chose the readings and led the discussion.

We are delighted to announce that Rabbi Ora will again lead the book group on Sunday, February 9, 2020, book selection to be announced.

AARC Book Group discussing Radical Judaism: Rethinking God & Tradition with Rabbi Ora, February 2019.

Join us

Interested in joining the AARC book group? We’d love to have you! Simply reach out to Greg at gsaltzman@albion.edu. You are welcome to come every month or as often as you like. Our selection for Sunday, December 8, 2019 is Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, by Yossi Klein Halevi. The book for Sunday, January 12, 2019 is The Girl from Foreign: A Memoir, by Sadia Shepard.

Happy reading!

What Does it Mean To Be Welcoming: Gender Inclusivity

This blog post is the first in a three-part series exploring what it means for a congregation to be truly welcoming. Each week we will explore a different topic: gender inclusivity, welcoming people of all (dis)abilities, and appropriate touch.

Walking into a place of worship, it’s possible to take our welcome for granted, but that has not always been the case (and continues not to be, in some communities) for LGBTQIA and genderqueer/non-binary Jews. For those of us who are not cisgender, entering new spaces can cause us to feel uncertain how we will be treated. While a community might fervently believe that it is accepting of others, newcomers might not perceive this spirit of acceptance without gestures of explicit welcome.

Since biblical times, Jews have carried on a tradition of engaging with various expressions of gender. In fact, Jewish texts contain references to six different genders.

  • Androgenos – one who has both male and female characteristics
  • Tumtum – one of uncertain or undecided gender
  • Aylonit – one who is born female and transitions to male
  • Saris – one who is born male and transitions to female
  • Male – male biology and identifying
  • Female – female biology and identifying

Because Modern English typically insists upon gendered personal pronouns, we can find ourselves searching for workarounds to accommodate cultural understandings of genders beyond “he” and “she.” Modern English usage often leads us to pause mid-sentence or mid-thought to reconsider the assumptions about gender we are about to make. Just as our Jewish ancestors developed a lexicon to include various expressions of gender, we must do the same in our language.

If we wish to be more welcoming, being mindful of pronoun preferences is a good place to start. When we introduce ourselves, we might add our own chosen pronoun; for example, “Hi, my name is Gillian, you can use she/her pronouns when referring to me.” When we introduce someone new, we might say, “Sally this is Newbie; Newbie – what pronouns do you prefer?” This signals that we are not taking our gender expressions for granted and welcome others to do the same.

AARC will be offering pronoun stickers to add to our member name tags. These little stickers will help all of us avoid any assumptions and assure a special welcome to those whose pronouns are often misused. The new stickers will be on the welcome table beginning at this Friday’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Jewish history is overrun with accounts of our people rendered powerless, discriminated against, and treated as second class citizens. As Jews, we have an obligation to ensure that other marginalized communities never have to face these obstacles when engaging with us. It is in this spirit that I welcome you to practice this new way of interacting with gender and incorporate it into our community when welcoming guests and visitors to our congregation.