Written by Rebecca Kanner and Emily Eisbruch for the Washtenaw Jewish News
Lots changed during the COVID 19 pandemic, including, for many of us, how we worshiped and how we socialized. What a joy to experience the happy reconnections in the summer of 2021, as vaccines enabled the resumption of many in-person events. Now, on the brink of the New Year 5782, the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation (AARC) is taking stock of lessons learned during the pandemic and taking steps to capture and continue some of the positive innovations.
As one example, the pandemic inspired an increase in creative outdoor activities for the AARC Beit Sefer (religious school). A Tu B’Shvat program centered on Ann Arbor’s champion trees and a bike/hike relay experience connecting Beit Sefer families are two examples. “The healthy connection with the outdoors, and focus on Jewish environmental education is an emphasis we plan to continue,” says Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg. “For the upcoming school year we have plans for a monthly Beit Sefer program at The Farm on Jennings, a farm providing a diverse selection of certified naturally grown produce and flowers, owned and operated by AARC member Carole Caplan.”
At the congregational worship level, we recently invested in state-of-the-art equipment to deliver hybrid worship experiences that are meaningful both for in-person and online participants. According to Seth Kopald, who is a Board member and part of the AARC’s Tech Committee, “We bought quality equipment so everyone will hear and see things clearly, and hopefully it will help those on Zoom engage on a deeper level. We really want people to feel a part of the services and other events. We are together even when we are apart.” In July, the AARC was pleased to convene an outdoor Kabbalat Shabbat service and to kick off using the new sound system, with the event streamed live on Facebook.
In another innovation, color-coded name tags (using green, yellow or red circle stickers) were offered for those in-person at the July Kabbalat Shabbat. The colorful stickers were applied on name tags to indicate an individual’s comfort with hugs versus handshakes versus socially distanced smiles. The stickers provide an easy mechanism for people to signal their level of readiness (or not) for friendly physical connection. The congregation will decide whether to continue offering the stickers moving forward.
Mishpocha groups, formed during COVID to facilitate AARC members keeping in touch, have proved highly successful. AARC members serve as hosts for small groups that meet weekly or biweekly on Zoom, providing a cohort for check-in, support, and even sometimes for sharing music, poetry and short stories. The friendships and new bonds continue as we emerge from the pandemic, and the Zoom check-ins may also continue.
Here’s a friendly reminder that High Holiday services are a great time to check out the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation. Our live-streamed services are open to all. For more details, we invite you to visit the AARC website at https://aarecon.org/ or reach out to Gillian Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see this article in the September 2021 Washtenaw Jewish News, scroll to Page 8 here.