Thanks to Hannah Davis for this article in the March 2022 Washtenaw Jewish News. Congratulations to Idelle Hammond-Sass on winning the Shmita Prize in the ritual object category.
A Little Stroll Down Memory Lane!
A few editions of the Havurah’s original newsletter, ‘The Grapevine.’
Is everyone ready for a trip down memory lane? Aura Ahuvia has very generously donated her archive of the Grapevine newsletter from 2000-2013. Thank you Aura! We have uploaded a few notable ones here for you to enjoy. Feel free to share memories in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this and would like to check out the rest of the archive, Margo Schlanger has uploaded it here! You will need to log into the member section of the website to access the archive. If you need help with this, let me know!
Reading from the Torah on Yom Kippur, in May 2020 Washtenaw Jewish News
Thanks to Janet Kelman for this article in the May 2020 Washtenaw Jewish News.
Children in the Open Tent
by Clare Kinberg, Beit Sefer director
For the Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service, I transformed our Community Chuppah into Abraham and Sarah’s tent, which was said to be open on all four sides in order to welcome guests. The theme for this year’s Beit Sefer is “Welcome.” We are learning to be welcoming of ourselves, new friends, new community members and immigrants to our country. Based on several Midrashim and a story told by Nissan Mindel on chabad.org, I wrote a story for our families:
Bruchim habaim, welcome to the tent of Abraham and Sarah in Beersheva. We are in the desert and our ancestors Abraham and Sarah have a beautiful garden around their tent, which is open on all four sides, just like this chuppa we sit under. This is a story about their open tent.
Abraham and Sarah were not born in Beersheva; they came from far away. They went on a long round-a-bout journey, walking thousands of miles to get where they finally built their tent and garden. While they were on their journey, some of the people they met were very kind and welcoming, offering them water and food and a place to rest. Sometimes they tried to pass through places where people chased them away shouting “get away,” we don’t want you here.
When Sarah and Abraham built their own tent, they wanted it to be open on all sides to let people who were passing by know that they were welcome. Sarah and Abraham would sit in their tent and listen for travelers. They would welcome them into the tent and feed them.
Out in the garden surrounding the tent, there were two tall date palm trees. The leaves at the top of the trees could see and hear from many miles away. So the trees were the first ones who could see caravans of travelers when they were still far away. And the caravans could see the trees and know there was a place to rest from the hot desert sun.
The trees kept watch for Sarah and Abraham, and when the trees saw a caravan of people who seemed like they came from far away, people who dressed differently and spoke a different language, they would rustle their leaves with a special swishing sound.
When Abraham and Sarah heard the sound of the date palm trees swishing in the special way, they knew they had to do more than wait for the travelers to come to the tent. They knew the travelers might wonder if they would be welcome. So Sarah and Abraham would prepare food and water and they would run out of the tent to greet the strangers and offer them water, food, and good company.
AARC’s Megillah Ark
The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation is proud to present one of our hand-crafted sacred objects, a Megillah Ark created by Alan Haber, with components crafted by Idelle Hammond-Sass. The Ark is a beautiful piece of artistry specifically designed to shelter a hand-illustrated scroll of the Book of Esther or Megillat Esther. For more on the Scroll of Esther acquired in 2016, see Barbara Boyk Rust’s blog post. Please enjoy this description of the symbolic elements of Ark in the artist’s own words:
I made it like a city within which to live and be safe, with 6 walls to hold the story. Each of the wall boards has two tenons like the boards of the tabernacle. In the front are the city gates, Boaz and Joachim. In the back is a dark post, ready also to serve as gallows. The wall boards on each side of the gate have the smile of Vashti, in the grain, through which the story unrolls.
The story scroll is held tied between 2 pieces of rosewood attached to a piece of white holly wood, which serves as the handle to draw the story out between the city gates, though the smile of Vashti. The gate is closed, with the story inside, and latched by a piece of ebony wood, tied with a blue thread. When the gate is unlatched, the ebony latch bolt is inserted and held at the top of the gallows post and the blue thread serves as the rope and noose. The crown of Esther is on top of the central post holding the scroll, and is turned to unroll the story, and turned back to re-roll. Mordecai sits at the base of the city gate and aligns Esther when the story is returned to within the city and the latch retied. The city walls and earth below and roof above are all of cherry wood … surely a favorite of Esther, without ointments and oils.– Alan Haber, 2019
According to Idelle Hammond-Sass, the scroll was designed by an Israeli woman artist she saw at the Janice Charach Epstein Gallery. Says Idelle:
Barbara Boyk-Rust and I purchased it, hoping to have a housing created for it. It is color-offset, richly decorated and signed.Idelle Hammond-Sass, 2019
We arranged to collaborate with Alan and I made a brass Crown etched with the Hebrew for Megillat Esther, which fits the fulcrum of the turning for the scroll. It has designs pulled from the scroll itself. Barbara and I also visited the Megillah container Alan made for Beth Israel and helped to fund the project.
Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner Installed under Community-Crafted Chuppah, in Feb. 2019 Washtenaw Jewish News
This article appeared in the February 2019 Washtenaw Jewish News.
Creativity on Display in Community Chuppah
The creativity and collaborative nature of our Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation (AARC) were on display at the joyous installation ceremony for Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner on December 15, 2018.
A beautiful Chuppah was decorated with thirty colorful cloth squares created by our community, forming the artistic centerpiece of the event.
Much appreciation goes to the Chuppah project coordinators:
We are creating a record detailing who made each square in the Chuppah, along with their comments about the process and its meaning. If you contributed a Chuppah square, please add your information to this Google Doc by January 31, 2019.
The Nancy Denenberg Fund paid for the chuppah materials, and Nancy’s sister contributed a square in her memory. Nancy, who passed away in 2006, was one of the founders of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah, which later became the AARC. The community Chuppah commemorates Nancy’s interest in the arts and in building a nurturing community.
Rabbi Ora’s installation also featured music performed by congregation members, a Shabbat ceremony with thought-provoking dvars by Rabbi Ora and our guest speaker Rabbi Shelley Goldman.
A delicious meal was catered by El Harissa and coordinated by Stacy Weinberg Dieve and Kathy Kopald. Deborah Fisch, Lori Lichtman, Bob Lichtman, Adrianne Neff and Nancy Meadow contributed challahs and amazing desserts.
We are looking forward to seeing how the Community Chuppah is enjoyed in the future as our congregation celebrates significant events and milestones. For more about the congregation’s ritual art pieces, see the blogs on the Torah Table, Torah Table Tapestry, Ner Tamid, and Yad. Additional blogs on the AARC’s other hand-crafted ritual objects are coming in 2019.
Beeswax Candles by Karyn Schoem
By Sarai Brachman Shoup, AARC Community Chuppah project coordinator.
Karyn Schoem is a Beth Israel member with quilting experience who has volunteered to put our community chuppah together. An artist, she also makes beeswax Shabbat candles – Or Haneshama (“Light of the Soul”). I bought some and thought they were really nice. They also smell great!
The candles are 100% beeswax from Lesser Farms in Dexter. They burn cleanly with no dripping and have an approximate burn time of 3 hours. No toxins are emitted while burning. She melts the wax in her kosher kitchen or in a solar box. She uses silicone molds. The wicks are 100% cotton and lead-free.
Since Karyn is contributing to our community through her volunteer work, I thought it might be nice to let people in the congregation know about her candles (It is OK with her). They are $5 for a pair and $14 for a pack of six. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Beit Sefer Gets Close in for Simchat Torah
Our new ner tamid, “Forest Dawn”
AARC has a new ner tamid/Eternal Light to grace our aron hakodesh, the ark that holds our Torah. Two years ago, during Yom Kippur 2016, AARC then board chair Margo Schlanger gave a talk to the congregation about our need for a ner tamid to join our other community-made sacred objects: ark, Torah table, tapestries, yad, and Torah cover. Thanks to the artistry of congregant Idelle Hammond-Sass, we were able to welcome the new ner tamid during the High Holidays.
“In considering creating a ner tamid, or Eternal Light, I wanted to visualize how to use light as an emanation, coming from an unseen source,” Idelle wrote in her artist’s statement. “Before the sun rises, the light begins to glow and illuminate the world.”
Like the AARC logo, most of our sacred objects include images of trees and leaves. Idelle continues, “My ideas began with leaves and branches, but as the work progressed, these became backlit bare trees flanked by fold formed panels of copper etched with branch stencils. The light offers hope, the promise of a new day and the world being born anew, and of rekindling our connection to divine presence.”
To create our ner tamid, Idelle had to take into account some technical peculiarities. As Margo wrote two years ago, “Our ark travels; it lives in our closet at the JCC, and comes out for our Torah services. So how could we have a ner tamid?” In addition, our new ner tamid has to work with our particular ark, made by Alan Haber, of cherry wood, in the dimensions given in the Torah. So the ner tamid Idelle created is very portable (with a beautiful storage case made by her husband Dale) and uses a battery powered LED light that can be on for several hours, but switched off for storage. Its dimensions and arched shape fit perfectly atop our ark.
We are very grateful to the AARC members who have helped fund this project: Margo Schlanger and Sam Bagenstos, and the Bramson and Gombert families, who contributed in celebration of their sons’ upcoming bar mitzvahs. Support for this project also comes from the Nancy Denenberg Fund, a memorial fund established in Nancy’s memory, which honors her creativity, and love of beauty.
In honor of our congregation’s new ner tamid and Rosh Hashanah being the symbolic “birthday of the world” during which we often teach the Torah’s creation story to the young people, Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg wrote a story for the Children’s Service that connects the ner tamid with the primordial light.
by Clare Kinberg
In the beginning of the beginning, there was nothing at all, there wasn’t even nothing, there was nothing before nothing. There was tohu vavohu, unformed emptiness. Except in the emptiness, there was one thing: there was the power of creation, there was the potential of creation. In this story, that is called God.
And according to the story, the very first thing that the power of creation said was “let there be light, yehi Or. And there was light, vayehi or. This was a very special light, because it was before the sun was created, and certainly before fire or electricity or batteries. It was the first light. And with the first light, everything could be seen, from one end of the universe to the other. Everything was light.
On the second day, God divided the light and separated the waters of heaven and the waters below heaven.
On the third day of creation, the waters on earth scrunched up together, and dry land appeared on earth. And the first light sparked the growth of grass, flowers and trees and fruits and vegetables. And here’s the amazing thing: In each blade of grass a little bit of the first light was hidden.
On the fourth day, the power of creation gathered the first light together and formed the sun and moon and stars, lights that could be seen and used. They are of the first light, but they are only part of the first light.
On the fifth day of creation, God created fish and birds and hid a little bit of first light in each one. And the fish and birds filled the oceans and the sky with sparks of first light.
On the sixth day of creation, God used all of the remaining first light to create millions of animals, dogs and cats and cows and deer and antelopes and monkeys and humans. Each is filled with first light, hidden within our bodies.
On the 7th day, on Shabbat, the power of creation took a rest and noticed how beautiful everything was, how each animal, plant and stone and river and ocean was its own self, yet if you looked closely you could see that bit of first light shining through.
Now all of the first light is still in us and around us, and it is called the Hidden Light, or ha ganuz.
The hidden, first light was God’s first creation, everything is made from it, and when we remember this story, we remember that we are all part of one another. This is a good thing, so there are many lights in Jewish tradition to remind us of the first light. One of these is the ner tamid, the lamp of the eternal light that we keep above the aron hakodesh, the ark where the Torah is kept. Our congregation just last night received a new ner tamid, made by an artist member of our congregation Idelle Hammond-Sass. For her, the first light in the forest reminds her of the first light of creation, and so she made a ner tamid called Forest Dawn Shachar b’yair. Look for it next time you attend an AARC Torah service.