Meet Laura Shpiro and Justin Edmondson

Laura wrote last week about the thoughts on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. But we haven’t yet introduced her, and Justin, to the congregation, although they joined a few months ago.  So here’s Laura’s profile of the two of them.  Welcome!

Laura & Justin Shpiro

Justin and I moved from Los Angeles to Ann Arbor in October 2011.  Justin was in Los Angeles completing his post-doctoral fellowship in Theoretical Heliophysics at Jet Propulsion Labs.  I was born and raised in LA, except for the four years I spent at Brandeis, and even attended law school in my beloved city of Los Angeles.  Justin and I met on JDate (and I am a big proponent of the site!), and fell in love pretty darned quickly.  When his fellowship ended, it made sense for him to choose a position at the University of Michigan, where he obtained all three of his degrees.  Plus, Momma Mary Lou (Justin’s mom) lives in Ann Arbor, making the moving to Ann Arbor a no-brainer. Since every region has use for social justice attorneys,  I had little excuse not to pick up and move.  Plus, you know, I love the guy.

Although it took us three years to join AARC, we knew it would be our home within a month of moving to Ann Arbor.  We are rather political, extremely liberal, and believe the answer to a better world lies in tikkun olam.  Indeed, our most heated argument is over who is further left, politically.  Obviously, the answer is that I am.  (The writer of history is she who wields the pen!)

Our first experience with AARC was attending High Holiday services; looking around the room, we knew we had found our home.  The more AARC congregants we meet, the more we fall in love with the congregation.  We’re looking forward to many years together!

Shalom, ahava v’tzedek (peace, love and justice),

Hope lives when people remember

From member Laura Shpiro:

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I’ve read many articles about this, but none of them truly captured the sentiment I wanted to share with you.

My grandfather, his mother and his sisters survived the trip to Auschwitz. (My grandmother’s mother died in the cattle car on their way to a different camp.) When they got off the car, my grandfather was separated from his mother and four sisters. They were sent to the gas chamber, and that’s the last time he ever saw them.

Even though I grew up with the stories in my blood, it’s still impossible to comprehend the massive number of people who were murdered. There are about 4.2 million Jewish people throughout the USA. That’s still 2 million fewer than were murdered. There are about 13 million Jews in the world. The population would be at least 50% greater if not for the Holocaust (figure many of those who were murdered would have reproduced).

I read a survivor’s quote today. Her best revenge on the Nazis was surviving. Surviving and thriving, I say! My late grandparents have four great-grandchildren today, and that’s only from 2 out of 6 grandkids! Our lives are their revenge.

And, as anti-Semitism rises around the globe, we must quell it in the name of tolerance and peace. “Hope lives when people remember.” Remember, always

We are their legacy.

Time to think about Camp Tavor

Thanks to Shani Samuel for sharing her thoughts on Camp Tavor.

My name is Shani Samuel and I help out at the AARC Beit Sefer on Sundays as a teachers assistant and tutor for the 3rd and 4rth graders of the AARC. Although my role is as a teacher, I am still in the process of learning. It might sound a bit strange, but a lot of that learning comes from my summer camp, Camp Tavor.

Tavor-Shani2Tavor provides a framework for informal education where kids between 3rd grade and college age can discuss and learn about Judaism, and topics related to it, in a way which engages and encourages each child to think about and develop their own Jewish identity.

Tavor is my home away from home, and the friends I made there are some of my best. It is an open and accepting environment, where people can really be themselves, and can connect to each other without all the cliquishness and pretension that they face at home.

For more info on Camp Tavor, please visit the Camp Tavor website.

All are welcome at either of two upcoming Ann Arbor info sessions on Camp Tavor

Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015,  4:30pm-6:00pm
at the Home of Dana Horowitz and Avram Kluger
2510 Kimberley Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday, Feb. 9, 2015,  3:00-4:00
Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor
2937 Birch Hollow Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Questions?  Call Brittany, 224-619-5969

Also feel free to ask the Lessure/Engelbert family,  Zivan family,  Lowenstein family,  Samuel family,  Deb Kraus, Eisbruch family or  Salzman/Newell family about their kids’ Tavor experience.

Interfaith Musical Chairs: Learning About Our Religious Community

By Ellen Dannin

Ellen-Dannins-candlesticks3On Sunday afternoon, January 11, I was one of about 30 people – each of whom was leading a small circle of up to 4 people in an introduction to one of Ann Arbor’s religions. It was part of an event sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Washtenaw County and the dynamics were a bit like speed dating. The person leading each group got twenty minutes to provide information about the religion to the rest of the circle. Proselytizing was forbidden. Giving people information and bringing in some item that is important to the religion was encouraged.

My personal information focused on lighting shabbat candles on the candlesticks that my great-grandmother brought with her when she left Turkey in 1915.

The item I brought was my personal copy of the Reconstructonist siddur. I showed people how it reflected values important to Reconstructionist Judaism — in particular, the high priority we place upon inclusiveness. Our siddur lets people be on the same page literally and figuratively. It invites us all to participate, even if we cannot read Hebrew. It gives us ways to be creative with services. On many pages it provides information that increases our knowledge and enhances our practice. And it is a beautiful book with lovely and creative images. In short, it is a perfect example of hiddur mitzvah — expanding on and beautifying each mitzvah.

Fun AARC outing to Asian Legend and Michigan/State Theaters

By Emily Eisbruch

Enjoying Chinese dinner and a movie turned out to be the perfect way to share a great time with AARC friends on Christmas 2014.  Thanks to Mike Ehmann for graciously and efficiently coordinating a group of 33.

The Chinese dinner kicked off at Asian Legend Restaurant on East William Street about 5pm.  That place was hopping, both when we arrived and even more so when we left about 70 minutes later.  The dinner was buffet style, making it quick and easy to get firsts and seconds! (Appreciation goes to the staff at Asian Legend for welcoming our group and making everything quite seamless.) As you can see from the photos, there were plenty of smiles and lots of schmoozing.

In addition to Rav Michal and Jon and Sima joining, we had a fun surprise visit from our former Rabbinical Intern, Aura Ahuvia, now a Rabbi at Woodstock Jewish  Congregation in NY.

Along with quite a few others, my husband Avi and son Gil and I headed to the Michigan Theater after dinner to see  “The Imitation Game” about Alan Turing.  What did we think of the film? Glad this movie got made, glad we saw it, though at times it seemed overly produced to be clever and even cute. Is it ridiculously geeky to wish they had revealed a bit more about code breaking and the way the bombe (the cryptanalytic machine at Bletchley Park) worked?  Okay, I guess that’s what Wikipedia is for.

Thanks again to all the friends who made Dec. 25, 2014 special and fun.

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Hanukkah – Six more nights to go! (by Carol Lessure)


Hanukkah! Whether you spell it with an H or Ch, this little festival always provides my family with much fun and delight. What better way to illuminate our path into those long winter nights than with a communal candle lighting? We have three upcoming opportunities at AARC to celebrate together.  We return to the JCC this year for a latke dinner and musical Hanukkah party; plus two hosts are offering home based celebrations for all to enjoy. Click on this google document to register and for more information on locations: just scroll down and add your name to the event you plan to attend.

Erev Shabbat Dinner (12/19)
Host: Mike Ehmann,
Please let Mike know that you are coming and what you plan to bring to share.

The AARC Hanukkah Party and Latke Feast (12/20)
We will start with Havdalah around 5:45 (a great way to practice what we learned at Shabbat Seder). Then we’ll have a  communal lighting of our chanukkiahs. There will be latkes and a light meal, live music by band members Paul, Laurie and Jesse, dreidel  (of course) plus other games from the Lessure Engelbert family.

Please RSVP so we can have enough latkes, salad, fruit and chocolate gelt!  (Pst: there will be some wine for grownups too.) All you need to bring is your appetite, chanukkiah with 6 candles, and helping hands.  Dinner is $10 for adults/ $5 for children under 12.

The Last Night of Hanukkah (12/23)
Hosts: Rav Michal, Jon and Sima
Your hosts will prepare donuts, and you can bring a dish to share. Contact Rav Michal for more details and be sure to sign up so they know who is coming.

Hanukkah 2013 at Michal's House

Rabbi Michal, Jon, and Sima Travel to Duluth to Talk Intermarriage

From member Emily Eisbruch and Rabbi Michal:

Rabbi Michal, Jon Sweeney and their daughter Sima recently traveled to Duluth, MN to participate in a Friday night presentation and a Sunday morning discussion on Intermarriage.  They were sponsored by Temple Israel in Duluth, which is affiliated with both the Union for Reform Judaism and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.  We thought it would be great to learn about their experience in Duluth. They have kindly agreed to participate in a bit of Q&A for this blog.


Jon Sweeney & Rav Michal

Q: We know that you have spoken in the past on intermarriage and it was  the theme of your 2013 book “Crazy Mixed Up Love.”   How did the trip to Duluth come about?

A: Rabbi David Steinberg is a Reconstructionist colleague of mine and a friend of ours with an interest in the topic. The synagogue has an annual interfaith themed funded lecture program, which was officially our host.

Q: What were you expecting and what did you find in Duluth? Any surprises concerning the city or the congregation?

[Read more…]

Mazel Tov, Avi!

Avi became Bar Mitzvah on Saturday, December 6.  Here’s his thoughtful d’var torah, on Jacob and Esau and their reconciliation.


Avi, at his Bar Mitzvah

Shabbat Shalom!

My parshah is VaYishlach (and he went), set in the book of Genesis. And he went refers to Jacob leaving Laban’s house to slowly work his way home again after “being paid” and accruing a lot of wetalth, including loads of goats and sheep from Laban, two wives, a large family, and lots of slaves.

The Parshah is about the Jacob and has three small stories within it:

First, Jacob wrestling with the being, where Jacob bumps into some being in the night and wrestles it. As the day is breaking, the being asks to be let go, and Jacob says he will let it go only if it will give him a blessing. He gets the blessing and the name Israel.  By the way my haftorah, Hosea 11-12 references this moment, connecting it to my parshah.

The middle of the parashah describes how Jacob, on his way home after running from Esau twenty years earlier, realizes that he will now have to confront his brother.

The end of the parashah tells the story of the possible rape of Dinah. I am not going to discuss this in my D’rash today, but if you don’t know about it then you should read it yourself. It is interesting and important.

Let us begin with the story of the wrestling. [Read more…]

More on Shmita: December 7 Event

Bus Tour Picture

From the last Shmita event, the Food, Land, & Justice Bus Tour (Sept. 14, 2014)

By AARC Member Carole Caplan, for the Washtenaw Jewish News

On December 7, 2014, the community is invited to gather at St. Joe’s Hospital to explore how the Jewish teachings of Shmita are coming to life through the impact of regional institutions and their commitments to local, healthy food.

Meet at St. Joe’s Women’s Health Center, 5320 Elliot Dr, Ypsilanti.
For information, contact Carole Caplan at, or Idelle Hammond- Sass at

For the year’s Shmita activities, see this page.

The event is a continuation of an exciting year-long exploration of the teachings of Shmita, funded by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor late last winter. “For me, the commandments of shmita can be seen as a built-in seventh year wake-up call,” said AARC member Carole Caplan, who is co-chairing the event with fellow congregant Idelle Hammond-Sass. Caplan explains that “Shmita, which means ‘release’, is the opportunity to become conscious of our relationships with each other, with the environment, and with our understanding of true health, nourishment, and ‘enough-ness’. Just as Shabbat is an opportunity to re-set our ideas about production and consumption on a personal level, Shmita provides us with a unique and important opportunity to re-imagine and reset our practices regarding food production and consumption in and beyond our own homes out into our communities.”

AARC member and owner of Locavorious, Rena Basch, agrees. “Modern philosophy on how to celebrate and honor the Shmita years recommends we take the time to re-imagine society, re-lease the land and re-think farming”. Basch, who began working in the local sustainable food movement in 2006, founded Locavorious, a locally grown frozen fruit and vegetable CSA here in Ann Arbor. “Do you wonder how we, and our community, our congregations, our schools, and our institutions can support the values and intentions of this Shmita tradition?” Basch questioned. “This event will introduce us [Read more…]

Why another book club?

By Judith Jacobs

When I first heard that the AARC was forming a book club, I thought it was a good idea. After thinking about it, I asked myself “Why join another book club, when you already belong to two?” I decided to give it a try and here is what I learned:

The book selection can be described as eclectic. We read about China’s reaction to protests and the tragedies at Tiananmen Square and how they have ben wiped from people’s memories and are not considered a significant part of China’s history. We enjoyed visiting The Worlds of Sholom Aleichem. I found that a particular delight because his world in Russia was my family’s world and he left Russia around the time my great uncle left. “The Seven Beggars was a disaster for me. I did not understand anything that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was telling us. Our last book, The Dalai Lama’s Cat, was an absolute delight. What could be bad? Here was a book about a prescient cat and Buddhism.

The real treat of the book club has been getting to know members of the congregation in a whole new way. People’s stories always are interesting and such a diverse group of people brings many different perspectives to the discussion.

Try the book club. It will be a different take on the AARC.

Books read so far:

  • November: The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie.
  • October:  “The Seven Beggars,” a short story by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
  • September: The Worlds of Sholom Aleichem: The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevye, by Jeremy Dauber
  • August: The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, by Louisa Lim.

[Book club meetings are on the Calendar, and are included in the Monday Mailer–subscribe at the right on this page.]