Preparing for the High Holidays

by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld and Rabbi Joy Levitt

elul The process of change is a challenging one. The Jewish tradition considered that Rosh ha-Shanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) didn’t give us enough time to reflect on the past year and engage in teshuva–change or repentance–in preparation for the new year. Therefore the month before the High Holidays, the month of Elul, became the starting point of this engagement with change. The first of Elul this year will be August 16.

At AARC’s Elul Shabbaton (August 14-15), we will begin with a Friday night service. Three weeks before, on the 9th of Av, we hit rock bottom in the annual festival cycle. The fast of Tisha b’Av marks the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and the spiritual exile of Jews both as a people and as individuals. From that low point of existential aloneness, we move to reconciliation or more simply reconnection to God, to others around us and to ourselves. The rabbis found a hint of this in the name of this month, Elul. The Hebrew letters of Elul are the first letters of the verse Ani le-dodi ve-dodi li–I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. These words are from Song of Songs, a book of love and connection. Shir ha-Shirim/Song of Songs will be our overarching theme for the Friday night service.

The Shabbaton continues on Shabbat afternoon with a short minha/afternoon service. The Shabbat minha service has as its theme a sense of oneness underlying the universe. We also read a short Torah portion that focuses on a call to pursue justice/tzedek. After all, we are to engage in teshuva/change not just to feel better about ourselves but to engage in making the world a more just and compassionate place.

Following minha, the teens will meet with Joy to help plan children’s programming for Rosh ha-Shanah. Everyone else is invited to study with Michael some Hasidic texts about change/teshuva. Rabbinic Judaism’s attitude toward misdeeds can be summarized by the phrase “just say no.” Hasidism had a more complicated response. It suggested that transformation comes about by accepting the truth about yourself and then striving to change it rather than dwelling on your past failures.

Finally, both of us together will share our own Jewish journeys. It will be an opportunity to get to know us, and for us to get to know you. It will also be an opportunity for people to share pieces of their own spiritual journeys as we as individuals, and as a community, begin preparing for the High Holidays.

Please join us.


Click here for more information about Rabbis Levitt and Strassfeld, who will be leading AARC’s High Holiday services, as well as this Shabbaton.  Rabbi Strassfeld will also return for two other Shabbatonim this year.

All events at the JCC, 2935 Birch Hollow Drive.

  • Friday, August 14: Kabbalat Shabbat service and pot-luck, 6:15 (niggunim), 6:30 (service).  Pizza for the kids at 6:15; childcare is available.  (Let us know if you need pizza and/or childcare)
  • Saturday, August 15:
    • 2 pm: Minha, with Torah service: 2 pm (Molly Kraus-Steinmetz will read Torah)
    • 3 pm: Teens prepare for High Holidays and kids’ service.  Adults study Hasidic teachings about teshuva
    • 4 pm: Jewish Journeys conversation.

 

 

January Community Learning–Sunday morning

Everyone is invited to join the Beit Sefer students in their learning about mitzvot/commandments. Our study will dovetail with the second session of the guided reading series that began last week (yes, you can still join this!) We will explore the nature and history of Judaism’s system of laws and ethics, its evolution over the centuries and what our own relationships with this concept in our lives.

Join us at 10am on Sunday, January 18th at the JCC. Preparatory reading materials will be available via email in advance or at 9:30 that morning.  To receive/reserve study materials or for any other questions about learning at the AARC contact Rav Michal.

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.

JonAndMichalPhoto

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…]

This Sunday – Community Learning

Join us for our kick off of AARC Sunday Community Learning. As our beit sefer students begin a unit exploring Shabbat traditions, we invite teens, parents, and adult community members to a parallel learning opportunity:

AARC Community Learning:  Shabbat
Sunday, November 9, 9:30 am
JCC of Ann Arbor, 2935 Birch Hollow Drive

This morning of adult learning will consist of two parts. We begin with a review of shabbat traditions from the Torah to modern halachah to progressive, contemporary approaches. After a coffee break and nosh we will explore possibilities for bringing shabbat consciousness into our lives. Positive RSVPs always appreciated for space and nosh planning to ravmichal@aarecon.org.

 

 

 

Erev Rosh Hashanah Message

Rabbi Michal Woll

Rabbi Michal Woll
Photo: Stephanie Rowden

Rosh Hashanah may be the most complicated of our holy days, for its identity is fractured. In biblical tradition it was simply “day of blowing the horn.” Over millennia other purposes and themes have been layered upon it – the new year, the day of judgment, the day of remembrance, the day of crowning God, the day the world was made. I was inspired some months ago to focus this year on the last one – RH as the anniversary of creation, and tomorrow we will read a traditional alternative to the conventional torah reading – the first chapter of genesis, the original creation story.

Jews don’t seem to need to argue so much with this version of creation. One possible reason is that our tradition recognizes that the world is constantly being recreated and renewed. We sang at the opening of the service – chadesh yameinu kekedem – renew our days as of old, like at the beginning. We find in the morning liturgy: b’tuvo m’chadeish bechol yom tamid ma’aseih v’reishit – with divine goodness you renew, each day, continually, the work of creation. We too are renewed each day, reminded with the elohai neshamah – each morning we find a pure breath, a clear soul, ready for a new imprint that we make with our daily lives.

And our obligation following the second biblical creation story – the expulsion from Eden, which will be read and discussed a few weeks from now – is not to atone for the mistake of Adam and Eve but to strive to repair the gap between the world as we find it and the original vision of paradise. Unfortunately our job is not as easy as God’s was. God exclaimed: let there be light, and there was. As we will sing in the morning – baruch she’amar v’hayah ha’olam – blessed is the one who spoke and the world was. Wow – like magic. In fact, this moment is imbedded in the common language of conjuring and magic. Abra-cadabra is not merely gibberish syllables, but Talmudic Aramaic. A’bra – I create – the same root as the first line of torah – breishit bara elohim – in the beginning god created. Dabra – I will speak – related to the most common phrase in torah – vaydaber adonai el moshe – and God spoke to Moses. Abra cadabra – I create just as I speak. [Read more…]

Entering Elul – Participation and Creation

It is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the preparatory month leading towards Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally the time to begin serious reflection on the year that has passed in order to prepare for the one ahead.The month is ritualized with prayers of selichot/forgiveness and a blast of the shofar each day to help keep us aware and on track.

This year, we will be doing the alternative reading for Rosh Hashanah, the story of creation. Reflecting the tradition that  Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation, the passage is also is a reminder of the continual work of creation and re-creation, in the world and in our own lives.
In keeping with these themes of preparation and re-creation, I invite you each to consider two questions:
1. How might I contribute to our high holiday experience this year?
2. What do I want to create or re-introduce into my life in the coming year?
I doubt many of us will hear a shofar each day this month, but perhaps you can infuse your usual first morning sound – whether an alarm clock or the timer on your coffee maker – with a reminder of the holy time to come.

 

A Blessing for New Website!

Yashar koach to project coordinator Mark Schneyer, as well as Margo Schlanger and the rest of the website team, for a wonderful product and successful launch. May your efforts broaden our outreach and deepen our in-reach, enhance our presence in the world and our connections to one another, and provide years of information, education, rumination and registration.

In the words in the psalmist:

May the sweetness of the DIVINE ONE be upon us. The work of our hands establish for us; yes, the work of our hands – establish it!  (90:17)