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 !!!

The ‘Border’ is around the corner

by Idelle Hammond-Sass

In Ann Arbor and the Detroit area, several churches and synagogues have become “sanctuary congregations.” Being a sanctuary congregation can include participating in a range of actions, from educating the public about immigration issues to becoming a haven for guests who need sanctuary to evade deportation.

Ann Arbor Friends Meeting recently accepted a guest in Sanctuary and a coalition of congregations is coordinating logistics. You may also be interested in reading about the guest and how he came to be in Sanctuary here: press release/sanctuary .

“Doorminders” are on 24-hour rotation to make sure the place is secure and to screen visitors. Washtenaw Congregational Sanctuary, which includes Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary (a group of local Jewish congregations) is a member of this effort.


Washtenaw Congregational Sanctuary (WCS) is an interfaith coalition of congregations, and unaffiliated individuals, throughout Washtenaw County who have joined together to support immigrants and their families in our community. The group is led by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) and the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR). WCS formed in January 2017 in response to intensified and increasingly unjust activities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our community.

It Takes a Village

It takes a lot of people to maintain a 24-hour watch. Doorminders are scheduled in three shifts: 8am – 4pm, 4pm – 10pm, and 10pm – 8am. Training is necessary to be a doorminder, but is very short and simple. My experience as a doorminder was very positive, with ample support, information and comfortable surroundings (wifi, etc.). A large pool of people is needed in the event that a new guest arrives in sanctuary, and to enable shift splitting when necessary.

The next Doorminder Training is February 9th, 2019, at 1pm, Friends Meeting House, 1420 Hill St. Ann Arbor, MI. RSVP on Eventbrite is encouraged for the training. The doorminder signup is as simple as “Signup Genius.” Occasionally, there may be other needs, such as a ride to medical treatment.

In addition, I encourage you to join the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary email list (a2jewishsanctuary@googlegroups.com) to find out about actions, such as rides to Detroit for check in to ICE, USCIS, and other types of support. AARC member Laurie White helps coordinate rides at lonawhite1@gmail.com. For more information see the website .

Recap of Ayeka Café

Ayeka Café began meeting in January 2018 as a time for AARC members to gather together, ask each other and themselves the question ‘How are you?’ and listen to what emerged. After a good run, our last Ayeka Café meeting was October 4.

Rabbi Ora asked one of Ayeka Café’s regulars, Judith Jacobs, to write about her experiences over the past 10 months.

“The monthly Ayeka Café meetings, facilitated by Rabbi Ora, were an opportunity for Recon members to meet in a less formal setting. I attended these meetings since they began. I found that they offered me opportunities to explore different parts of me.  There were three types of activities in which I engaged. The first involved dyads in which we took turns at being a listener and a talker. Not only did these experiences let me learn about someone else, they let me explore some of my own feelings. A second experience that I enjoyed was a more artistic one. In this I used a drawing pad and colored markers to represent my world, including my two cats – Sonya and Amber. This was just for me and not shared with anyone else. Lastly, one evening I had a rush of words filling my head and took the opportunity to journal these ideas. Again, this was just for me. Each person who attended an Ayeka Café took from it an amplified version of what they brought to the meeting.”

—Judith Jacobs

Thanks to all who participated and shared of themselves.

Stay tuned for an announcement in the coming weeks about “Ritual Lab & Learning,” a new AARC program launching January 2019.

L’chaim, Rosh Hashanah poem

by Seth Kopald

It amazes me that we know so little about birth until we become parents and how little we know about dying until we watch someone close to us reach the end of his or her life. It is as if we are protected from our impermanence. The fact that we were once ​not​ here and someday we ​won’t be​ is veiled, keeping us unaware that life is truly a gift that should be celebrated. There are many distractions to life. Of course there are the electronics and screens, but more than that, we often forget to live in the now. We spend our time worrying about the future or vexed in the past. By doing so, we overlook what is right in front of us – our children, our friends, our family, the beauty of the earth. So I wrote this poem hoping to inspire you to live now and be here for yourself and for those around you. L’chaim! To Life!

L’chaim!

Choose living
over distraction
consumption
hiding
numbing
running away

Choose living
over protection
anger
irritation
worry
fear

Be engaged
Pick life goals that align with your values
what you see as your purpose.
Goals without agendas:
like needing to be being perceived a certain way
Release the burden of assuming people’s expectations

Do you want to be rich?
First become enriched through your work and service to others.

At times we are not our best selves
we say and do hurtful things

It’s bound to happen
being human and all
We can count on our flaws
old friends, part of who we are.

Flawed
like a crystal has inclusions
Crystal clear is stunning for a moment
but inclusions are much more interesting
Imperfection is our beauty
and provides richness to our story

I’m sorry I hurt you
I’m sorry I was a jerk to you
I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me
But I’m here now
reaching toward you
knowing that human connection
family connection
is a powerful earthly force

When we hurt others
invite in curiosity
humility
patience
Invite in 2 minutes of courage
apologize showing your precious vulnerability

When we lean in to life
Lean in
to our family
Lean in
to those that unintentionally hurt us
We release sparks of kindness
that season negative climates

You are the most important person
you standing in front of me
family, friends, coworkers, congregants
the one that might look like an other
You are the most important person
my attention present as if we are all that the I can see

There is no life
in what we think of as the future or the past
Life is only now

Time moves quickly
when we don’t embrace the present
We live in our next meeting
wrestling with self judgement in the past.

Time was extended in childhood
Living fully in the present

As we age
we need intention
Reminders
look through the eyes of a child
embrace our happiness and pain
be willing to show it, like a child, with freedom
See the extraordinary in the ordinary

Letter from Lillie Schneyer

Mark, Jacob and Lillie Schneyer, Debbie Field looking proud at Lillie graduation from Carleton, June 2018.

In June 2018, Lillie Schneyer, daughter of AARC board president Debbie Field and Mark Schneyer, graduated from Carleton College, with majors in sociology and anthropology. Next, she’ll be following in the footsteps of Rabbi Alana, Rabbi Ora, and Molly Kraus-Steinmetz by spending the year doing social justice work through Avodah. Lillie is raising money to support that work, here is a link to her fundraiser!
Below is Lillie’s letter to our AARC community.

Hello, family and friends!

If you know me at all, you know that I like to be useful, try to be a positive force in my community, and, like most people, I am a little unsure of what I want to do with my life. Searching for a job for after college was initially overwhelming; it’s a big world, and I could do so many things. When I found Avodah, it was clearly a perfect fit. Through Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps program, I was matched with a supportive community, an organization that helps people, and a job that will allow me to be useful and learn more about the world.

Thanks to Avodah’s job matching program, I will spend the next year working as a volunteer coordinator at Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) in Chicago. CGLA serves people who have been negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. By helping with expungement and record sealing petitions, other legal services, and partnering with social service organizations, CGLA helps its clients overcome barriers related to their arrests and convictions as they build better lives. As the volunteer coordinator, I’m excited to bring my energy and organizational skills to help make this work possible.

Avodah is making this all happen for me, and I am especially thrilled about the opportunity to live with other young Jewish adults doing similar social justice work. Through the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, I have been lucky to grow up with a Jewish community full of learning and friendship. I hope that next year, the Avodah community will help me discover what being a Jewish adult might look like for me, and and I look forward to the support, challenges, and new friends that it will bring

I am so excited for this unique opportunity, and your support for this campaign would mean a lot as I work to raise $1500 before I leave for Chicago in August. Whatever you feel comfortable donating will be much appreciated, and please reach out to me if you have any questions or want to know more. Thank you for your time!

A letter from Anita about the Poor People’s Campaign

Dear AARC,

Yesterday I participated in the fifth week of rallies and actions with the Poor People’s Campaign. An effort initiated long ago by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., it has been re-awakened  by Rev. William Barber, who speaks of it as a national call for a moral revival.

In 30 or more states, in their Capitol cities, protests have been held each week since May 14. The next local rally will be next Monday, June 18, this time in Detroit, and then on the 25th there will be a national protest in D.C.  Each week has had a theme and a related action of civil disobedience.

You may not have heard about the Poor People’s Campaign and their acts of civil disobedience. Here is a good article about the Poor People’s Campaign, that also answers some of the questions folks are asking about the civil disobedience portion of the campaign and why people were asked to used social media to publicize and promote the demands and goals.

This week’s theme was fair wages and affordable housing. We were joined  in Lansing by a large group from Detroit, D15, fighting for a $15 minimum wage. The civil disobedience took place at the Michigan State Department of Housing Development, where a group called Moratorium Now had a scheduled meeting to try to reverse the decision to use millions of dollars to demolish homes in Detroit and elsewhere instead of helping people in foreclosure.

We were a diverse group racially and age wise. There was a strong clergy presence, and Rabbis Alana Alpert and Ariana Silverman were among them.

Jewish Text Study

EVERYBODY’S GOT A RIGHT TO LIVE: JOBS, INCOME,
THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE AND HOUSING
by Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

I was trained for the civil disobedience action and volunteered to be one of those to be arrested. There is personal and legal support teams for those who volunteer for an action. The movement is well organized and spirits are kept lifted through chant and song. I am writing this to encourage anyone with the inclination and availability to participate next Monday. The Michigan chapter has a web page and a Facebook page.

The Poor People’s Campaign is worth your attention if you feel called to speak for justice in any of these areas: universal healthcare, LGBT rights, gender equality, fair wages, affordable housing, public education, free higher education, an end to racism etc.

Shalom,

Anita Rubin-Meiller

Misheberakh for the State and People of Israel: Rabbi Ascherman visits Ann Arbor

 By Martha Kransdorf

In the first week of May, Israeli-American human rights activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman returned to Ann Arbor on a speaking and fundraising tour. My co-pilot, Harvey Somers, and I were the anchor people for his visit here. We’d like to first of all thank AARC for their support and to thank all of the co-sponsors for the May 2 JCC Fundraising Dinner and Community Forum: Beth Israel’s Social Action Committee, Jewish Cultural Society, Pardes Hannah, & Temple Beth Emeth. In addition to Rabbi Ora, rabbis from each of the other congregations were present, and took part in the evening’s program.

Rabbi Ascherman was the head of Rabbis for Human Rights for 21 years, and last fall he founded a new organization, Torat Tzedek, Torah of Justice. At the Community Forum, he described some of the current issues that he is working on, and the list is long and quite moving. His work ranges from meeting with lawyers and interviewing people who have been threatened by settlers, to lobbying at the Knesset on behalf of poor Israelis, to helping Arab shepherds hold onto their flocks when settlers frighten them and scare them away. Torat Tzedek has also been involved helping African refugees fight the Israeli government’s efforts to deport them and helping Bedouin communities hold on to their way of life.

Rabbi Ascherman’s courage and commitment have not wavered. He won’t throw in the towel. He admits that he is somewhat less optimistic than he has been in the past, but his response is to roll up his sleeves and work harder. He urges us, similarly, to react with urgency by becoming more active.

In addition to speaking at the JCC, Rabbi Ascherman spoke at Shir Tikvah in Troy, and he led text studies at Lunch & Learn programs at TBE and at Kehillat Israel in Lansing. His visit wrapped up with an “Open House” at BIC. A busy week, by any account. We are grateful to our communities in Michigan, which contributed over $4000 to Torat Tzedek. If anyone would like more information on Rabbi Ascherman’s work or on Torat Tzedek, please feel free to get in touch with either of us.

Martha Kransdorf ,  mkransdo@umich.edu    734-663-7933

Harvey Somers,  harveysomers@gmail.com   734-780-6907

Rabbi Ascherman blogs regularly in The Times of Israel. On April 19 2018 he included this “Misheberakh — A Loving Prayer of Healing for the State and People of Israel

The Hebrew is followed by a transliteration, and then a translation.

מי שברך קדמונינו אברהם ושרה, יצחק ורבקה, יעקב לאה ורחל, הוא יברך וירפא את החולים, מדינת ישראל ועם ישראל. הקדוש ברוך הוא ימלא רחמים עלינו להחלימנו ולרפואתנו מכל מחלה המקשה עלינו להגשים את הטוב ואת השאיפות לצדק שבליבנו – ביניהן: העיוורון לנוכחותך בכל אדם והעיוורון למציאות; החירשות לקול הדממה הדקה בתוך רעש הפחד וההפחדה, קולות הענות והמלחמה במחנה; והפקודות; האטימות לסבל של האחר/ת;  הרשימו שנשאר מכל מה שסבלנו אנו, השיכרון מכוח ומשלטון; השנאה לחושב/ת אחרת מאתנו; והאהבה היתרה לארץ ישראל ולמדינת ישראל ולעם ישראל ולכל דבר קדוש המסנוור אותנו לקדושתך ולרצונך. אנא, החזק בנו את היצר הטוב והחיות את אמונתנו בעולם מתוקן במלכותך וביכולתנו לקרבו.  שלח לנו במהרה רפואה שלמה, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף, בתוך שאר החולים/ות, השתא בעגלא ובזמן קרים, ונאמר אמן.

Mi sh’beirakh kadmoneinu Avraham v’Sarah, Yitzhak v’Rivkah, Ya’akov, Leah v’Rakhek, hu yivarekh v’yirapeih et ha’kholim, Medinat Yisrael v’Am Yisrael. HaKadosh Borukh Hu yimaleh rakhamim aleinu  l’hakhlamatanu v’l’rfuatanu mi’kol makhalah ha’makshah aleinu l’hagshim et ha’tov v’et ha’sheifah la’tzedek sh’b’libeinu-beiniehen: ha’ivaraon l’nokhakhutkha b’kholadam v’ha’ivaron l’mitziut; ha’khershut l’kol ha’demamah ha’dakah b’tokh ra’ash ha’pakhad v’ha’hafkhadah, kolot ha’onot v’kolot ha’milkhamah b’makhaneh v’hapekudot;   ha’atimut l’sevel shelha’akher/et; ha’rashimu sh’nishar mi’kol mah sh’avalnu anu; ha’shikaron mi’koakh u’mi’shilton; ha’sinah l’khoshev’et akheret m’itanu; v’ha’ahavah ha’yiterah l’Eretz Yisrael v’l’Medinat Yisrael, v’l’Am Yisrael, v’lkhol d’var kadosh ha’misanveir otanu l’kedushatkhah v’l’ratzonkhah. Anah, he’khezeik banu  et ha’yetzer ha’tov v’ha’khayot et emunateinu b’olam mitukan b’malkhutkha u’v’yekholteinu l’karvo.  Shlakh lanu b’meheirah refuah shleimah, refuat ha’nefesh v’refuat ha’guf, b’tokh sh’ar he’kholim, hashta b’agalah’ u’v’zman Kariv, v’nomar amein.

May the One who blessed our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, bless and heal the ill:  the State and People of Israel.  May the Holy One of Blessing be full of mercy and us to heal us from every illness that keeps us from fulfilling the good and the aspiration for justice that is within us – Among them: Blindness to Your Presence in every human being and blindness to reality; deafness to the Still Small Voice within the thundering fear and fearmongering, the sounds of war and singing in the camp,  and orders; hatred of those who think differently than us, disproportional love for the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, the People of Israel and every holy thing that blinds us to Your Holiness and Your Will.  Please strengthen within us our good inclination and revive our faith in the possibility of a repaired world under Your Sovereignty and our ability to bring that world closer to reality. Send us complete and speedy healing of body and soul, along with all who are ill, speedily and in our day.  And let us say, Amen.

 

Helping an Asylum Seeker

In mid-February, Margo Schlanger sent a request to ReconChat, one of our congregation’s networking tools, that said in part “the fantastic folks at the National Immigrant Justice Center have gotten an Eritrean asylum seeker out of detention and seek our help to set her on her way to her sponsor. She’s been detained for over a year.” Odile Hugonot Haber and Alan Haber responded that they could help and then sent in this report on their experience.

“There was a letter from Margo Schlanger asking if someone would pick up a NIJC client, Feven, just released from the Detroit ICE Field Office, and to take her to the Greyhound bus in Ann Arbor. She needed to get to Chicago where a friend from her country would be welcoming her, and helping her on the rest of her journey. So we went to the ICE Office in Detroit where the waiting room was full of people awaiting the release of their loved one or friends.

Many children were playing, many Latino people and some people from Africa. After 45 minutes Feven was released accompanied by an officer. She had a backpack. She was petite, her hair magnificently braided, and she spoke a few words of English. We hugged. We wanted to show her a little of Detroit. So we drove through the town and Dearborn and a bit of Ann Arbor. She wanted to see everything, and feel the fresh air. We offered to get some food right away, but she was not hungry.

As we drove we learned a little bit of her story.

She spoke Tigrinya, she was from Eritrea, seeking some kind of asylum from the violence of her village area. With her husband she had flown to Italy, which had once been the colonial overlord of the area. But in Italy there were many, many immigrants and it was difficult getting a job, so they decided to come to the US. They flew to Ecuador and then traveled by bus and foot, mostly walking, through Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras and the length of Mexico until they came to the border at Texas.

At the border, the U.S. officials saw that she did not have a visa, and she was put in jail. First she and  her husband went to a jail in Texas where there were many immigrants. It was a very big jail where the food was varied and they could go outsides at times.

After some time, she was sent to a county jail in Michigan, which held immigrant detainees, and where she was fed only beans and rice and rice and beans, wore only an orange jail suit, and could never go outside. The nights were cold as the prisoners were given only thin sheets and a Cotton spread for the beds. This treatment continued for a year and two months, until she was released, thanks to many people’s good work at the legal end.

We were the first people she saw as a free person in America. Her happiness and relief was beautiful to see. She is a Christian from the Eastern Orthodox Church, and showed us her bible written in her own language, a script we had never seen before.

When we picked Feven up, she was very clean and the clothes she wore, given back to her on release, were fashionable and neat, though her tennis shoes had no laces, because they took the shoe laces away.

Her husband had been sent to a jail in Oklahoma. They were going to meet each other soon, yet  we did not know if he was going to be released. We did hope so. Fifteen months is a to be a long time for people whose major crime was to hope for a better life.

We gave her some food from the Mediterranean Market, a sweater for warmth, and shoe laces.  Her back pack was full. She emptied a yellow bag that had written “Hygiene Kit” on it from the Red Cross from Honduras. We found that she had had some medical problems in Jail.  We would have liked to know more but her English was limited and we did not want interrupt her happiness inquiring of a story now behind her, in her first day in her first hours of freedom. After a lunch, we put her on the Greyhound. We hoped the rest of her journey would be a more pleasant one.

We know she arrived well in Chicago, but haven’t heard more. It was a sweet mission. Maybe we will meet Feven and husband again some time.

Odile Hugonot Haber and Alan Haber