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 karynschoem@gmail.com.

Karyn Schoem working on the AARC Community Chuppah.

Beit Sefer Gets Close in for Simchat Torah

Rabbi Ora and congregants unroll our Torah scroll, believed to be over 200 years old.

Beit Sefer learning about Simchat Torah and preparing to search the scroll for specific words.

Searching the scroll

 

AARC board member and Beit Sefer parent Caroll Ullmann getting close to the Torah with her kids.

Dave Nelson sharing the Simchat Torah blessing.

 

Parading for Simchat Torah with our Etz Chaim tapestry in the lead.

Our new ner tamid, “Forest Dawn”

Forest Dawn, by Idelle Hammond-Sass. Photo by Patrick Young

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.”

Idelle in her studio.

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.

Detail of Forest Dawn, photo by Patrick Young.

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.

 

May AARC Mail Call! (Wimple Edition)

by Dave Nelson

Our 250-year-old Torah’s century-old wimple

When you find a 11-foot, 112-year old wimple in the mail!

As noted in the past, most of the postal mail the AARC receives takes the form of bills, checks, services we don’t need, scams, and benign crazy talk—but we also get some really nice or interesting notes from really nice and interesting people. May was a bit thin for mail, but the one piece of non-bill, non-check, non-request, non-scam mail we did get was a doozy: A package from Rabbi Ralph Ruebner in Skokie, IL containing our wimple!

What’s a “wimple” (apart from a nuns’ hat)?  This:

The wimple is an ornate, embroidered or painted cloth used to bind up a Torah scroll after it has been read. It is made from swaddling cloth used to bind a baby at his circumcision. Thus, almost from the moment of birth, a direct link is established between the child and the Torah.

The custom of preparing a wimple—the word means “cloth” or “veil” in old German—began about 400 years ago in Germany and spread from there to Alsace, Switzerland, France and the Low Countries. As German Jews emigrated to other lands, especially America, they brought the custom with them but it has remained confined to a limited section of Ashkenazic Jewry. (source)

This wimple, our Torah’s wimple—originally used to bind “Robert Hessel (corrected from Hefsel, after learning about the “Long s” see comment below) Hambuch” measures roughly 11 feet long, and is hand-painted with text and other decorative elements.  It has some … interesting discoloration whose precise nature—given its original ritual duty—I decline to meditate on.

Here’s a look at the full wimple (which, given its dimensions, is challenging to photograph) via video:

our wimple’s central panel

As you no doubt recall from your frequent perusal of the AARC Board Meeting Minutes (meticulously taken by your dedicated secretary), although we’ve had the same interestingly idiosyncratic Torah for several decades, its ownership was long unclear (due to leadership and administrative changes both in our little Hav and the congregation who loaned us the Torah to begin with).

Last year we had the good fortune to finally hear from the current Board of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation/ Congregation Ezra-Habonim of Skokie, IL. (Niles Township Jewish Congregation lent us our Torah ~20 years ago, shortly before they merged with Congregation Ezra-Habonim).  Soon after we officially (and emphatically) purchased our Torah.

Detail of the baby’s name inscribed on the wimple; love this rainbow gradation!

Rabbi Ralph Ruebner of Skokie was kind enough to send the wimple along to be reunited with our Torah, as well as these details about this wimple, wimples in general, and the history of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation/ Congregation Ezra-Habonim, and German Jews in middle America.

A detail from near the tail end of the wimple

 

 

 

 

Eytz Chayim: An Introduction to our Torah Table Tapestry

by Marcy Epstein

Torah Table Tapestry, photo by Nancy Meadow

It almost feels like an age ago when our congregation was a havurah, a thing of steady roots and fresh growth in every direction. Trees are a primary metaphor for us, one that is so powerful–from the Ten Sephirot, to the Cedars of Lebanon, back to the Tree of Knowledge and the mishnaic tree from under which the earth for Adam and Eve was formed. Since we are a branch of Reconstructionist Judaism and a species of Jewish life here in Ann Arbor, the secondary metaphors for us of growth and maturity, stability and change, tradition and the necessity for new ground, all make perfect sense.

Our bodies take the form of trees, while our Torah is spoken of as scroll (the spiral extrusion of a tree’s rings, as exegesis) and as a Tree of Life,  and Eytz Chayim. Trees grow among each other, as we have. Some of us are wiser for the proximity, others have felt the bittersweet tension of sharing the sun. Some of us are saplings, and we live within this tree as to create trees of life of our own, through our children, our work for justice, or our creativity. And while we relate to trees, we are also not trees. We are the recipients of trees. We breath off them, eat of them, draw sap, even wipe our bottoms and create some of our most holy texts from them. They seem within human domain, but they far exceed it. Thus Eytz Chayim.

A close up of the wall hanging we use as a backdrop on special events.

Over the 14 years that I have been active with the AARC, I have noticed the obvious, intentional expression of our community through wood. Wood is an expression of our living Torah, however we came to define that. During the gelilah (dressing the Torah), I noticed the swirls of tree and flame on our homemade Torah cover, made by several bat mitzvah and their families. Our Torah ark, so elegantly built by Alan Haber, was made from our city’s trees, no metal, as though to say that our Torah is among its own kind, among trees. I saw at high holidays the beauteous  backdrop, a wall hanging of leaves and boughs made by a Canadian artist and bestowed to us by another group of families with quickly-growing children. With Allison Stupka, I edited our Grapevine newsletter, which displayed our insignia of arching vine and laurel. Our Ann Arbor congregation has more than its fair share of artists, tzaddikim, and tree huggers. And trees.

Our traveling Torah is dressed and ready to roll.

Six years ago, in a conversation between Debbie Zivan and me on my front porch, we momentarily saw the cycle of growth in our community. It was as though we could sense the rings of growth brought to the Hav. Our community was on a long and arduous path, a liturgical and rabbinical journey, its life-cycle in motion with the Mitzvah Corp, our Beit Sefer, and our holidays together. We brought to the Board our feelings that while we may not own a building, though we are happily mishkanic (spiritually portable), we still needed more beautiful artistry. Our Reconstructionist community deserves the sort of beauty and artistry that went into the first tabernacle, the one priests carried long ago to contain the Torah, from which other rings of growth emanated: the Kohanim as caregivers and priests, the sanctuary and bima that came after, the gates of new cities, Holy Temples that were built, destroyed, and recreated throughout the Jewish world.  Or, at least, that was the lofty thinking that ran through my head and now tampers with my memory of the beginning of our tapestry. More to the point, we wanted a handsome, adjustable table for Shabbat, simchot, and holidays, and we saw this table paired with a beautiful tapestry created in the tradition of the mishkan.

The mishkan of Exodus was wood long before it received the parchment scrolls (also wood, also itself), a wonderful idea of living humbly and reflectively.  Jacob and his sons planted acacia trees in Egypt with plans to bear the wood as it seasoned, specifically as construction material for the ark. And as Exodus says, the artistic scion Bezalel and the humble, careful Ohaliab coordinated among diverse tribes and artisans; woodcarvers, metalworkers, weavers and sewers, enamelists, and craftspeople donated their best work so that the mishkan would fit the Biblical prescription. We became numerous like this, almost mystically as fast: Alan gave continuity to a Torah table, and Jack Edelstein committed some of his finest walnut and cherry (Ann Arbor) wood. Dale Sass, Debbie, and others joined them in designing the function of our fine table, slipping more tree matter (our congregants’ prayers) into its joints and grooves.

Meanwhile, a group of us also came together to create the tapestry to hang in front of the table, also metal workers and weavers, quilters and knitters, beaders and embroiderers, found object artists: Nancy Meadow, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Chava Israel, Janet Greenhut, Leora Druckman, Allison Stupka, and myself.  Friends from our artist circles joined us, too, to help boost production and morale: Elena DeLoof, Rabbi Michal, Michal Samuel, and Claudia Kraus-Piper.

We were very different people with various mediums, personalities, styles, skills, and rhythm through which to see a tapestry for the Torah table, so we took much longer than we ever expected to complete the tapestry. This could have been the Tower of Babel story rather than Eytz Chayim or Exodus. For four years, our group grew and regrouped, and our tapestry moved from dining table to studio to dining table, over 100 Sundays. Not by design, we were all women, and we came to the project for so many reasons: for mysticism and sacred creation; for a reconstruction of avodah and mitzvah; for grief over our dead mothers and their ways of mending, connecting, and creating; for the companionship of grown ups and for sharing our techniques with children; for communal art; for the Torah and its new table; for the b’nai mitzah we imagined reading from the bima; and for posterity. We were making something we hoped would last for centuries.  Our Torah itself comes from Chicago and a long way before. While we worked away at the Torah Table Tapestry, our first rabbi was hired, the Torah was purchased from its long lease, its longevity assured by careful repair. We wanted the same for its cloth.

The tapestry itself is layered with this history and a hope for our congregation’s long and happy life. When I describe how the Tapestry formed and what it means, it may sound contrived, like a thank-you list.  But I assure you that it was the opposite: we avoided contrivance. We never said no to daring ideas and nudged each other out of our comfort zones. It took a month or two just to get our ideas out on paper. We imagined a few things before we saw the tree, a whole tree. Idelle and Chava were entrusted to draw and assemble the design of this tree based on so many parameters and wishes that it was a miracle that we could exhibit it for community feedback at Rosh Hashanah four years ago.

It also feels like a miracle that we were able to recreate Idelle and Chava’s vision. We decided on a great tree that would be seen all at once, roots, trunk, branches, leaves, and cherry fruit, laid out in a large circle that contained four seasons, four states of the tree above and at ground. This would be a Michigan cherry tree in the endless cycle of its splendor (right now, my backyard cherry tree is heavy with ripening, imperfect spheres). Our easiest challenge was accepting our mistakes and allowing the layers of the design to form both from design and from intuition. Our hardest challenge was to find love rather than criticism for our work or the work  of others, and then also the long tasks of presentation and colorization.

Torah Table Tapestry, in progress, about two years from finished.

One thing that was so important to us as Reconstructionist artists was that the material be largely donated, that it would come from our community. One of our group donated yards of her finest blue raw silk for the base of the picture, and another donated heavy red damask for the exterior and back. AARC’s community responded to our call for meaningful materials with more richness than we could ever have expected. Here are just some samples of the cloth that became our tree: someone’s wedding gown and dress shirt, someone’s birth shirt, someone’s bounty of silk ties, someone’s skirts from her days of Orthodoxy; a hippie shirt; a slip and someone’s cape; someone’s elderly mother’s dress, someone’s young son’s pajamas, someone’s entire sample box. We also received with awe the materials of two AARC members who have passed away, Lisa Gayle’s Guatemalan scarf and Nancy Denenberg’s colorful shawl (these line the sheath for the tapestry). There were dozens of stories behind these cloths, and our group found ways to include every single one, even the fuzzy pajamas.

From these we established the first layers of the tapestry, a range of blue and gray silks from darker to lighter to represent day and night, all sorts of weather. We sorted a mountain of cloth into seasons. We learned and unlearned as we went. We disciplined ourselves to learn each other’s crafts. Chava shared her techniques for application and beading for the sparkle of snow and flowers, for the cherries. Janet taught us to embroider leaves as they grew and fell, snow, the difficult horizon and mountains. Over the years, we needed to redesign and reflect, with Idelle sharing how things could be seen. Nancy and I often experimented with stitching and blending the outer layers, meeting nearly every Sunday. Leora reminded us of the wonderful kavanah going into the tapestry, as months suddenly past between viewings, like her own found objects.

Layers went on, layers came off. The horizon shifted. Leaves changed color, the ground (like humanity to the divine) mirroring the time and decor of the tree’s canopy. The tapestry seemed to become beautiful right before our eyes, and then there were times when the work seemed endless, fruitless. We took pictures of cherry trees and talked about how they are unique among trees. We sneaked in a squirrel, a pair of birds, a bit of spilt wine, and dandelions. We learned to stop questioning ourselves and just give this freely. Our children went to school, went away, came back from college, and parents and siblings passed away. We changed jobs, fell very ill, cared for our sick, came on and off the Board, lived through Art Fair, watched Torah being read for the first time on its new table, wondered and plugged away. We met under my Sukkah two years ago just to figure out the tapestry’s endgame. The tapestry had required so much of our energies, and we were so grateful for Claudia’s infusion of skill and verve in our last months. Julia Piper spent over two hours untangling our floss. Mollie Meadow pored over the tree for missing stitches. Cherries joined the seven species to embellish all four corners. We hired a local tailor to put on the tapestry’s backing, make the bag of memorial cloths.

All this time, Chava beaded the lettering in Hebrew calligraphy in the silvery ornateness recalled by the original mishkan. I think this was a labor of love, perfection, and responsibility for her, reminiscent of Bazalel and Ohaliab. The saying that goes around our Torah tapestry (for we dedicated it to our congregational use last Rosh Hashanah) means in English, referring to the living Torah, from the Mishna 7b (3:18): “It is a tree of life for those who take hold of it, and those who support it are fortunate.” We attached each word separately, creating the arc above and below the tree. There is another truth from Mishna on the Tree of Life which I felt true over the more than four years we worked the tapestry. We had finished just in time for Rose Basch’s bat mitzvah, and we marked our first year as the AARC. The teaching is this: ‘For length of days, years of life, and peace will they [the Torah’s teachings] increase for you’ (3:2).”

Yad by Idelle Hammond-Sass, with wood box by Dale Sass.

The Torah Table Tapestry and AARC’s artistic tradition continues to grow. Our group is resting for the year (after Shmita), but soon we hope to share the tapestry and the story of its creation with other congregations, perhaps even to have it displayed among other Judaica and fiber art shows. For our repaired Torah, Idelle and Dale have created a beautiful yad of wood and metal to mark our place as we chant. Idelle is also starting on a beautiful piece of wrought metal to turn into our eternal light. And just as the artists of the Temple turned from the Tabernacle to the next growth, we are thinking about what needs to be made next. Likely it comes from the earth, maybe from the increase of trees, and their beauty. Even if you haven’t made anything before, join us. It takes everyone to see the Mishkan on its path, and Eytz Chayim is for us all.

How we are still a havurah.

by Margo Schlanger
Margo Schlanger

Margo Schlanger

As co-chair, this was my congregational welcome on Yom Kippur this year:

L’shanah tovah. I am Margo Schlanger; I am nearing the end of my time as board co-chair for the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, which has been a very great privilege. It’s also my privilege to welcome both members and friends to this service, whether you’ve been a part of our community for its full 23 year history, or are new to us today, or something in between.

This is a community that is very dear to me, and I want to tell a little story that captures a small part of why. It’s about our ner tamid, our eternal light. You may notice – we don’t have one. That’s because we don’t have a stationary ark. 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? Well, it turns out that ours is far from the first travelling ark. And so, many learned rabbis have debated the question: how do you fit a ner tamid to a travelling ark. They’ve come up with the sensible answer that the ner tamid needs to be out, and lit, with the ark – but it need not be out or lit when the ark itself is put away.

So for our ner tamid, we realized we need something that can be out, and lit, for something between an hour or two at minimum, but about a day, at maximum.

AARC started as a havurah – a lay-led fellowship. Volunteer solutions are in our DNA. On this one, it turns out we have a great amateur electronics maven, Dave Nelson. So Dave figured out a way to run a battery-chargable LED light for a day at a time. This took considerable experimentation and adjustments to the electronics, but Dave finished that a few weeks ago. And now comes the fun part: we can, as a community, create a sacred object. Like our Ark, Torah Table, Tapestries, Yad, Torah Cover. All are created by members, inspired by their aspirations for what our community means. The ner tamid will be the next such object, and like the others, will symbolize our Jewish community as well as the objects it depicts. Many people will have a hand in making it. Some will pay for precious materials; some will do work; some will kibbitz about design. We’ll all together enjoy the result.

LED light that Dave has made into the guts of our Ner Tamid

LED light that Dave has made into the guts of our ner tamid

Another synagogue's portable ner tamid.

Another synagogue’s portable ner tamid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as you must have expected, here’s the point; the ner tamid is real. But it’s also a small metaphor for our community as a whole. We need many people to have a hand in making it, and we need everyone to bring both their talents and their resources to bear. This is a transitional year for us, as we hopefully bring our rabbi search to a close. If you’re a member, and have already renewed your membership, thank you. If you’re a member and haven’t done that yet, thanks for doing it very soon. Either way, please think about how you can help enable our community to flourish, so it can give you and others what it is they need. And if you’re not a member, please consider yourself welcome to all our events, and please consider joining us more officially. It’s easy, and we’re very nice people. Or, if you prefer, consider supporting these ticketless open services. There are donation envelopes at the welcome table out front. Please support this community—your community—as generously as you can.

L’shanah tovah!

 

The Curious Case of the Too-Tall Traveling Torah

by David Erik Nelson
Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Here at the AARC we are blessed with a very weird Torah that gets a tremendous amount of love.

Most Torahs rarely travel more than a dozen feet at a time, from ark to torah table. Ours gets hauled through the JCC, chauffeured to b’nei mitzvah venues, and schlepped across town to the Unitarian Universalist building for High Holidays. It is a remarkably well-loved—and notably well-traveled—oddball of a scroll. It is also old, a little delicate, and very unwieldy. Our traveling Torah badly needed a traveling case—something with wheels and handles, easy to maneuver, and able to protect our scroll from a sidewalk stumble, fender bender, or sudden downpour.

Anyone who’s been called to the AARC bimah (such as it is) has no doubt noted our scroll’s large Kabbalistic script (embellished with many little hooks, hats, and curly tails)—a relative rarity among “high use” Torahs like ours.  This calligraphy is a hallmark of Torahs crafted in the last great center of Kabbalistic learning, in Prague.  You may have noted our Torah’s age—the scroll is almost certainly several hundred years old.  If you’ve ever done hagba, you have first-hand experience of how unwieldy it can be to handle. But few folks point out how extremely tall the thing is.

Notes, measurements, and rough sketch

Notes, measurements, and rough sketch

Most Torahs are about two feet tall, in accordance with suggestions made by Moses Maimonides back in the 12th Century, and might weigh around 30 pounds. Ours—in accordance with the fashion of the Kabbalists of Prague—is almost four feet tall. I have no clue what it weighs, but I know it is a bear to haul up over your head.

As Amazon shoppers, you no doubt imagine that there is a robust, highly competitive global market for Torah travel cases. Thus you will be shocked (shocked!) to learn that there is a very limited selection of torah-specific travel cases for 47-inch tall Torahs.

In fact, that selection is limited to zero.

"The Vault" Hardside Golf Travel Bag

“The Vault” Hardside Golf Travel Bag

For that matter, there is a very limited market for travel cases for anything that’s four feet tall, a foot wide, and just shy of eight inches deep. No instrument case is long enough and wide enough, no gun case is deep enough, even cases for synthesizers and keyboards either fall short or are far too large—and either way, they are extremely expensive and heavy.

Fortunately, golfers love to travel. Two companies make bare-bones, hard-sided, lockable, wheeled, extra-large cases to protect those precious clubs. Our ancient, mystic Torah fits perfectly in one of these cases. Appropriately enough, this product is named “The Vault.”

And we now own it.

With the addition of a padded, custom-crafted foot-hold, The Vault holds our well-loved Torah snug as a bug in a rug. When not in use, the case tucks perfectly into the back corner of the official “office” (storage closet) of Ann Arbor’s only Reconstructionist congregation.

Now our Torah can wander in style.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Torah Tikkun

Rabbi Druin sewing the AARC torah, March 29, 2016. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin sewing the AARC torah, March 29, 2016. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

According to Rabbi Moshe Druin, of “Sofer on Site,” our Torah is between 200 and 250 years old; it has many distinctive letters that associate its scribe with the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel. It will be challenging and fun to look for corroboration of this interesting information. Rabbi Druin speculated that this Torah came to the U.S. from Europe before WWII. Dave Nelson, who was there when Rabbi Druin opened the Torah, was particularly impressed with the age of the scroll, and with the fact that, if properly cared for, how the torah can be used indefinitely, connecting us with Jews past and future.

Rabbi Druin unfurls the whole torah to begin work. Photo by Dave Nelson

Rabbi Druin unfurls the whole torah to begin work. Photo by Dave Nelson

Rabbi Druin points to another distinctive embellishment to the letter pey in the AARC torah.

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive embellishment to the letter pey in the AARC torah.

In addition to the special lettering associated with Czechoslovakia of a period 200 or so years ago, Rabbi Druin said that the varying sizes of the 52 pieces of parchment and their unusual height of almost 4 feet were also an indication of the age of the torah. More on this topic in an upcoming blog post.

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Several people were able to observe and talk with Rabbi Druin as he worked. Jack Edelstein, who arranged for Rabbi Druin to do the repair, was interested to find that our Torah is much lighter than most of its size because the parchment is not coated with a certain material that torahs are typically coated with, and that the poles that the scroll is attached to are not the original ones; they are a few inches shorter than they should be, which is partially what accounts for the crinkliness of the top and especially bottom of the scroll. Evelyn Neuhaus and Mike Ehmann, Clare Kinberg, Dave Nelson, Danny Steinmetz, and Stephanie Rowden also watched as Rabbi Druin worked.  Evelyn says she felt a closer connection to the Torah after learning so much about it and having so many of its details pointed out.

Evelyn looks on as Rabbi Druin repairs the torah.

Evelyn looks on as Rabbi Druin repairs the torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Now that Rabbi Druin mended and stitched all the parchments that needed it, we should be able to enjoy Hagba–the display of the Torah to the Congregation after it’s read–without stress!

Come see a sofer at work, fixing our Torah

AARC’s Torah is old and much-loved. In fact, it seems to be over 200 years old. In recent years, it’s gotten a bit unstable; there are a number of tears in the scroll, and the stitching at the edges is coming unraveled.  Hagba–the display of the Torah to the Congregation, after it is read–has gotten a little too exciting.

So we’re pleased to say that Rabbi Moshe Druin, of Sofer On Site, will be visiting us on Tuesday, March 29, to fix all the stitching/tears.  He’ll work at the JCC, and you’re invited to come and watch.  Kids and adults–come by at 2:30 or 3.  Sofer on Site frequently does community events for Torah restorations.

Also, if you are able to be there for a bit and take some pictures, please let me know (email me at margo.schlanger@gmail.com).

Shabbat on the farm

Shabbat on the farm

Friendship scroll

By Barbara Boyk Rust

scroll image

Come hear the Megillah read Friday March 25 at the JCC and see this beautiful scroll up close

One of the joys of friendship is sharing each other’s interests, perspectives, and experiences. For me, one of the joys of being friends with an artist is the beauty that I learn about, enjoy, and benefit from that I would not be likely to encounter otherwise. Spiritual teachings claim beauty as the perfection of love and that rings true to me.

When Idelle Hammond-Sass called me several years ago and told me about the beautiful megillah scroll she saw at the Jewish Community Center of West Bloomfield, Michigan I was so taken with her verbal description alone that I welcomed her invitation to share the cost with her for purchasing it.

The scroll is on heavy paper and every segment is adorned with colorful renderings evocative of the spirit of Purim. The artwork is a party unto itself. It was created by Israeli artist Enya Keshet, and Idelle was drawn to the designs which reminded her of Persian miniatures. She was fascinated by the embellishment, so rare in most Judaica, but allowed on a Purim scroll.

Purim has long been a special holiday for me in light of another significant friendship in my life. Many of you knew Nancy Denenberg, of blessed memory. Nancy and I together created high holiday services, Shabbat retreats, and celebrations round the entire sacred cycle. We were also involved in spiriting prayer circles for healing and life cycle transitions over the years of our friendship, from her move to Ann Arbor in the late 1980’s until her death in 2006.

Nancy had a drive to make Jewish meaning in her life relevant to the immediacy of her understanding of loving and healing and sharing in community. She had practiced yoga for many years; later moving into work with Feldenkreis Method, a technique created by an Israeli physicist. She had a strong affinity for dance and became adept at Middle Eastern beledi, belly dance, fostering for herself and others more direct contact with Middle Eastern traditions. These are a few of the many ways Nancy intentionally cultivated Jewish spiritual means to endow her life with beauty, healing, art and creativity.

photo of Nancy Dennenberg

Nancy Denenberg in beledi regalia.

On more than one Purim, Nancy donned her full regalia for belly dancing, and brought others from her troupe to the Hav celebration. Some years ago The Ann Arbor News featured a picture of her leading our costume parade.

For my part, this scroll is a remembrance of friendship, of beauty, of sharing in community. It is a way to offer the power of this artist’s rendering into the annual cycle of our congregation’s celebration of this holiday that asks us to marry the opposites: Haman and Mordechai, forces of good and forces of evil. May we each have a chance to dance our beauty and our joy with the rhythm of blessing and celebration for years to come.