Odile Hugonot Haber on Parashat Shemini

Odile Hugonot Haber Bat Mitzvah Words, April 11 2015

We are reading in Leviticus now, and it is a good time to have a Bat Mitzvah, a recommitment, because in Hebrew, the book of Leviticus and its first chapter are named Vayikra,–“and the Lord Called.” I read in Avraham Burg’s Torah commentary, Very Near To You “When the time comes for the book of Leviticus, with all its sacrifices and their spattered blood, I raised my spines like a hedgehog…” We do too, so how do we understand these passages today?

Odile roasting chestnuts in old city of  Jerusalem after a snowstorm in 2014

Odile roasting chestnuts in old city of Jerusalem after a snowstorm, 2014

The Hebrews came out to the desert led by Moses and Aaron, liberated from slavery, from alienated labor and from the whip of Pharaoh, the ruler and employer. They found themselves suddenly in front of the silence–and beauty–of the desert, a simpler life in accordance with the rhythms of nature. Yes, life in the desert can be humbling, very simple, bringing us back to our core. The few sounds in the silence, the plants that grow against the wind, the crackling of the sand, the trails of little animals, all that immensity of sky, earth and cloud. Definitely a new way of life.

The desert can be very intimidating, such a change! It was important to organize that emerging society, give it some structure and community. Rather than leave them in front of each other in distress to fight and divide, it was time to build on their freedom and support a spiritual life that would nourish them and open their minds and hearts. The tribes had to be kept assembled and form a new identity. So the services were created, the priesthood was formed, the people performed, then the laws were given from on high.

But what about the sacrifices of animals, the spilling of blood? How could it possibly mean something to us now? Very few of us are prepared to spill blood, and yet we are living from the continual sacrifices of others. Our nation and its might of military arsenals is continually spilling the blood of some of the poorest people on earth. Many animal species are moving to extinction because humans are gorging ourselves on materialism while the rest of nature is perishing around us.

The second temple has been long destroyed, animal sacrifices have been eradicated, and many of us here are vegetarian. So what are the sacrifices that Adonai wants to get from us at this time? “The building of the temple and the renewal of the sacrificial service are the climax of the Jewish state’s true rebirth and the redemption of the world,” as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook expressed it, “to build the temple and the sacrificial service is the noblest and highest of aspiration.” It certainly beats materialism and shopping. Yet, Isaiah tells us that God does not delight in sacrifices and in rituals. God instead would like us to do the work of Peace and Justice around us. [Read more…]

AARC Adult Hebrew Class soon to Graduate!

For the past three months AARC members Odile Hugonot-Haber, Mike Ehmann and Sally George Wright have been learning the Aleph-Bet in a weekly gathering graciously hosted by Odile (and Alan.) Coffee, tea, and Washtenaw Dairy donuts, as well as other goodies brought by students or by Rav Michal, who guides them, accompany an hour or so of learning Hebrew phonetics as well as some prayer and translation.

hebrew study

The motivation for the class began with Odile, who wished to learn Hebrew in preparation for her conversion after 20+ years of her activity in the Jewish community. Indeed, Odile will celebrate her formal entry into the Jewish people on Shabbat morning April 11. All are welcome for the 10 am service at the JCC and a light lunch. RSVP’s appreciated for space and food planning purposes (to Odile Hugonot Haber <odilehh@gmail.com>)

How an AARC Member Helped Strike a Blow against Discrimination

by Jonathan Cohn

Women who are pregnant now have stronger protection against workplace discrimination, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court–and a member of the AARC who argued before the Court late last year.

On March 25, the Court issued its decision in Young v. United Parcel Service,  a case in which a pregnant woman (Young) claimed her employer (UPS) would not offer her the same kind of on-the-job accommodations it offered other employees with medical conditions. Young prevailed, winning the right to sue UPS under a law called the “Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”

Young’s lawyer was none other than Sam Bagenstos, who has been a member of the AARC since 2011. Sam, the Frank G. Millard Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, is a nationally recognized expert on constitutional, civil rights, and employment law. A graduate of the University of North Carolina and Harvard Law School, he has worked at the Justice Department and been a clerk to Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This was his third time appearing as an advocate before the nation’s highest court — and the second time that his client prevailed.

In academic and legal circles, Sam is probably best known for his work on laws about disability and discrimination. And it’s that expertise he brought to bear in the Young case, which called upon the Justices to parse the meaning of a 1978 law and what Congress had in mind at the time of enactment. By a 6-to-3 majority, with two conservatives joining the Court’s liberals, the Justices ruled that Congress wanted to make sure employers treated pregnancy no different than other medical conditions.

Sam Bagenstos

Sam (blue tie) outside the Court after the argument.

“The Court made clear that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on considerations of cost or convenience when they accommodate other workers,” Sam said. “The Court recognized that a ruling for UPS would have thwarted Congress’s intent in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This decision is a big step forward towards enforcing the principle that a woman shouldn’t have to choose between her pregnancy and her job.”

AARC members who don’t recognize Sam from his presence at congregation activities may know some of his family members — including his children, Harry and Leila, as well as his wife, AARC Board Chairperson Margo Schlanger.

Margo also happens to be a Michigan law professor and former Ginsburg clerk. No, they didn’t meet while clerking. But if you want the actual backstory, you’ll have to ask them.

By the way, you can listen to Sam delivering his oral argument at the Supreme Court here.

Challah Rising

challah risingAARC member Lori Lichtman is launching a new baking company, Challah Rising Baking Company: “Blessing the World One Challah at a Time,” on March 20 (the Spring Equinox, Solar Eclipse, Super (New) Moon). Lori has been baking challah every Friday since October 25, 2008. She learned from Jen Cohen and continues a tradition that was passed on to her by her father and grandfather. Her grandfather, from Hungary, became a baker when he came to the U.S. Lori uses local ingredients that connect her challah to our very own Michigan farms. Lori’s challah stands alone as she infuses the dough with blessing chants of love (Ahava Raba), Peace (Oseh Shalom), Abundance (Peleg Elohim), and Connecting to G-d’s light (V’eristich li). She does a meditation before kneading each batch of dough, connecting G-d’s light through her crown, heart, hands and into the dough. You can also order special blessings for pre-ordered loaves. Lori has been in prayer circles and uses the challah baking as one of her spiritual practices. She has taught workshops and after her first workshop stood in her garden and the inspiration came to start the business. Lori will be selling her challah (gluten free too!) on Fridays at Argus Farm Stop on Liberty. Please come out to try the deliciousness and blessings! We will also have a Challah Rising loaf at our Fourth Friday Shabbat on March 27, the last Shabbat before Pesach. Challah-leuia!