High Holidays 2020 Was An Epic Team Effort! Thank You To All Of Our Volunteers!!!

One of the qualities that makes our congregation a warm and welcoming organization is the sense of family and responsibility that we hold for one another. When someone gets involved in the workings of AARC, it becomes apparent to them that each and every member brings something valuable to the table, be it music, writing, community building, law, activism, education, technological expertise, etc. We could not be who we are without every single one of us. It is a rare honor to be a part of such an organization, one that everyone believes in and values.

In this spirit, we would like to take time to recognize the list of wonderful volunteers that helped make the High Holidays happen this year. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you!!

Haftorah readers: Melissa Meiller, Molly Kraus-Steinmetz, Carl Gombert, Rose Basch, Ruby Lowenstein, Tommy Cohn, Noah Resnicow, Ari Basch, Otto Nelson, Miriam Stidd, Jacob Schneyer, Eli Kirshner, Sam Ball, Jasmine Lowenstein, Brayan Zivan, Lillie Schneyer, Elliot Bramson, Zander McLane

Zoom Gabbais: Hannah Davis, Rebecca Kanner, Brenna Deichman, Debbie Gombert, Jeff Baasch, Deborah Fisch, Mark Schneller, Amy Tracy Welles

Discussion monitors: Clare Kinberg, Debbie Field, Emily Eisbruch

Tishrei Bag Committee: Laurie White, Carol Levin, Jen Hall, Evelyn Neuhaus, Clare Kinberg

Tishrei Bag Construction Crew: The Meadows Family, The Reichman Family, The Levin Family, The Dieve Family, The Jackson Family

Welcoming remarks: Deborah Fisch, Sam Bagenstos, Dave Nelson

Tech Committee: Mark Schneyer, Erica Ackerman, Stephanie Rowden, Hannah Davis

Haftarah Video: Stephanie Rowden and Andy Kirschner

Torah readers: Deborah Fisch, Evelyn Neuhaus, Tara Cohen, Deb Kraus, Molly Kraus-Steinmetz, Amie Ritchie, Rena Seltzer, Tommy Cohn, Gabrielle Pescador, Keith Kurz, Jonathan Weinberg, Avi Eisbruch, Janet Kelman, Lori Lichtman

Children’s services: Clare Kinberg, Laurie White, R. Ora

Poetry readers: Stacy Dieve, Kira Berman, Debbie Gombert, Laurie White, Evelyn Neuhaus, Vicki Goldwyn, Janet Greenhut

Singers/Musicians: Etta Heisler, Hannah Davis, Debbie Gombert, Margo Schlanger

Shofar Blower: Etta Heisler

Equipment: Dave Nelson, Stephanie Rowden, Andy Kirschner, Hannah Davis, Clare Kinberg, Gabrielle Pescador, Peter

Workshop Leaders: Anita Rubin-Meiler, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Alan Haber, Lori Lichtman, Emily Eisbruch, Deb Kraus

Community Yizkor: Claudia Kraus-Piper and Leora Druckman

Board: Deborah Fisch, Rebecca Kanner, Stacy Dieve, Rena Basch, Eric Bramson, Erica Ackerman, Carol Ullman, Sam Bagenstos,

Logistics/Planning Team: Dave Nelson, Deb Kraus, Gillian Jackson, Clare Kinberg, Deborah Fisch, Rebecca Kanner

Of course, if we accidentally omitted anyone’s name, we beg your forgiveness! The comments are open to anyone who would like to offer more gratitude to our amazing community.

Kol Nidrei 5781 Sermon: The Whole World is a Brief Bridge

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner
Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od; vaha’ikar lo lefached klal. 

This song has been bothering me for the last thirty years.

It started when I was a kid, maybe eight years old. During Sukkot that year, we were sitting in our family sukkah, finishing up the holiday meal, when my father announced that we were going to try to make our sukkah levitate. He said this was an ancient mystical belief: that if you sang the right song enough times, with enough fervor, the sukkah would start to rise up off the ground with you in it, and you would fly. 

And then my father began singing the song he thought would get us in the air: ‘Kol haolam kulo.’ Once, twice, three times, ten times, fifty. I think he was shooting for two hundred rounds that night. I don’t think we actually got there, but at some point during those endless repetitions, the song became the mystical equivalent of ‘Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’ I did not feel transported, only annoyed. And our sukkah, sadly, never flew. 

In my twenties, I started thinking about the lyrics of the song, attributed to Rebbe Nachman of Braslav: ‘Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od; vaha’ikar lo lefached klal.’ ‘The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is to have no fear at all.’ 

What? If the whole world is a very narrow bridge, the only reasonable response is to live in fear! If you see the world as a ridge between two chasms, how can you be anything other than afraid? And yet Rebbe Nachman seemed to be saying: The whole world is fearful, fear-filled, and? We should have no fear. This felt like a maddening puzzle, suggesting a type of inner transcendence as unlikely as a levitating sukkah.

A decade later, I was in rabbinical school. And I learned that the lyrics might actually have been mis-recorded. Rebbe Nachman may not have actually said, ‘lo lefached klal’ – to have no fear at all. In his book ‘Likkutei Moharan,’ he’d actually written ‘lo yitpached klal’ – that we should not make ourselves afraid. 

These two possible messages from Rebbe Nachman seem to align with the two types of fear we all struggle with.

The first type is basic fear, which in Hebrew is pachad. Pachad is fear on its most primal level, fear that spurs us to meet our basic needs for food, shelter, life. Pachad is key to our survival.

The second type of fear is hitpachdut, or worry. Hitpachdut is the fear of change, fear of anticipated losses, fear that the world we anchored ourselves to is becoming unmoored. Hitpachdut is the fear that curls up our stomachs like an ouroboros, feeding on itself.

Both types of fear, pachad and hitpachdut, crop up again and again in the Torah. But they’re expressed most personally and poignantly in the Book of Psalms, which some of you studied with me during the month of Elul. 

If you’ve come to services on Shabbat, you’re probably familiar with psalms that celebrate nature, or psalms that praise God. But a sizeable proportion of the Book of Psalms is actually dedicated to expressing fear. So, we have 3,000-year-old poems in which the poet writes about being terribly sick, bent double with pain and afraid of dying. And we have poems in which the psalmist worries about enemies attacking without warning. And we have descriptions of a world that once seemed ordered now turned upside down, and the prayer, “If only I had wings like a dove, I would fly off and find rest in the wilderness…refuge from the streaming wind and the storm” (Psalm 55:7-9).

We can see from the Book of Psalms that our ancestors didn’t shy away from naming their fears. They described the world as it really was. They refused to pretend. And they insisted that their fears were a proper topic of conversation with the Holy One. 

The whole world is a very narrow bridge: Nearly seven months ago, we were thrust out onto a bridge we never imagined ourselves crossing. 

The pachad-fears, the most basic fears of this time, are real: we’re afraid of getting sick with a virus that could kill us or leave us with a compromised immune system. We’re afraid our loved ones will get sick, will die. We’re afraid we’ll lose our jobs and not be able to access health care or feed our families. These fears are real and legitimate. And it would be suicidal, homicidal to try to model ourselves on the first meaning of ‘Kol ha’olam kulo,’ to say ‘I have no fear at all,’ and refuse to adapt. Our fears keep us wearing masks, washing our hands, refraining from gathering in large groups. Our fears protect us and others. They keep us alive.

If our basic fears help us manage threats in the present, our worries right now—hitpachdut—are about what we might lose in the future. They’re what keep us up at night, not because of physical pain, but psychic pain: Will my child make it through this pandemic without lasting trauma? What if my elderly parent dies and I can’t be there to say goodbye? What will happen if the current president refuses to leave office? When will catastrophic climate change make its way to where I live? Hitpachdut is the fear that feeds on uncertainty. It keeps us worrying and wondering and it makes our hearts clench with love. It reveals what we hold most dear.

Our whole world now is a very narrow bridge. Since we’ve got all these fears, what should we do with them?

Well, we can name and claim our fears, like our ancestors, and find connection in that act of naming—connection to the Holy One, or to one another. We can be witnessed in our fears, and mend some of the frayed edges of our lives by letting people know what we’re going through. And we can get curious about our fears, as both a useful reality check and an opportunity to explore how we engage with the world. When pachad comes up, we can ask ourselves, is this thing I’m afraid of a genuine threat to my physical safety? When hitpachdut, when worries arise, we can ask ourselves, what does this feeling reveal about who or what I care about? 

There are lessons to be learned from our fears. But we would be doing ourselves and our world a profound disservice if we only stayed there.

Going back to Rebbe Nachman’s song, the song that’s been bothering me for thirty years now: The song ends with the word ‘klal,’ which has been translated as ‘at all’, but really means ‘totality’ or ‘whole.’ The song is saying, do not make fear the klal, the whole. Regardless of which type of fear we find ourselves dominated by, we cannot let it become the totality of our vision. And on this point, I think, Rebbe Nachman is right.

Pachad and hitpachdut—survival-fear and worry-fear—can both be all-consuming. Both of them, if we make them the main focus of our day-to-day lives, can be paralyzing. This is because fear narrows our vision and focuses it on boundaries. Fear confines us; and we are already so confined, in our homes, on Zoom, waiting for an uncertain future to unfold.

So where do we go from here? How do we not get stuck? You’ll hear people suggest trust as the remedy for fear, or hope, but I want to offer a different idea: that we actually need to lean into a third type of fear, yirah.

This idea is actually based on the deathbed blessing of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, who I spoke about on Rosh HaShanah. As Yochanan lay dying, decades after he climbed out of a coffin to birth a new Judaism, his students gathered around him and asked him for a blessing. Yochanan said: ‘May it be God’s will that you fear Heaven as much as you fear flesh-and-blood’ (Berachot 28b). 

Yochanan lived through destruction. He understood how overwhelming fear can be, and how, when we’re in its grip, it’s difficult to look to what’s beyond it. So Yochanan blessed his students with a fear beyond ordinary fear: yirah, fear of Heaven—or what we would call nowadays ‘awe.’

Awe may seem like an antiquated idea; maybe we associate it with hushed sounds, heavenly choirs, lofty architecture, or a God we don’t quite sense or believe in. Maybe we think of awe as a feeling that our ancestors knew, but that we, with our modern-day worries and fast-paced lives, don’t get to experience. But awe isn’t about emotion. It’s not about being moved or spiritually elevated. It’s about vision: our sense of how we fit into the world.

If we are living only in our fear, we are missing seeing the wider world. Which could mean that we are forgetting to notice beauty, connection, and goodness. That, in and of itself, would be a mistake, even a desecration of God’s creation. But more importantly, if we are living only in pachad or hitpachdut, we are profoundly limiting ourselves. We are saying: ‘I give up. I can do nothing to shape this world.’ We are confining ourselves to the dustbin of history before we’ve returned to dust. 

Yochanan knew that his students needed to see beyond their ordinary fears. And so he blessed his students—as I am blessing us, this evening—with yirah

How do we get to yirah? It starts with looking seriously at the world and ourselves, and asking the question we’ll encounter during tomorrow’s Amidah prayer: ‘where is the place of God’s glory/ayeh mekom kevodo?’ We must ask this question not just during these Yamim Noraim, these Days of Awe, but also particularly at this moment in time, when we find ourselves on a narrow bridge of history. The prayer asks, ‘where is God’s glory?’ And then it answers, as we must, too: ‘The whole world is filled with God’s glory/Meloh chol ha’aretz kevodo.’

Yirah means asking: where is God’s glory? And remembering that it fills the world, and us. Yirah means remembering that we, individually and collectively, contain holy possibilities for creation, lovingkindness, righteous anger, and offering shelter to the smallest bird. Yirah means asking ourselves seriously: Where is there room for me to act beyond the narrowness of my fear?

We are created in the image of the One who Creates, and as long as we exist in the world, we have the capacity, and the commandment, to shape it for good. It is our duty and our birthright, no matter the fire this time, no matter what the future brings, to fill the world with God’s glory. We cannot limit ourselves to only fear, only worry; we must also reach for awe of the world, our place in it, and the tasks that lie before us.

I want to close by coming back to Rebbe Nachman’s song, the song that I think, at least for now, I understand a little better. 

Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od: The whole world is a very narrow bridge. I think I’ve been looking at the bridge all wrong. If the whole world is a very narrow bridge, and I see the world in terms of space, then of course I’ll feel constrained, of course I’ll stay away from the edges, of course I’ll be afraid of the chasm I imagine on either side. But if I look at this narrow-bridged world not from a perspective of space, but a view of time, then its narrowness commands me into yirah

Because if the bridge is narrow because our lives are finite, because we only have so many years in which to live, then Rebbe Nachman’s teaching comes to remind us that we are only here for a short time on this bridge between—depending on your theology—nothingness and nothingness, or everything and everything. And this reality should fill us with awe. And we are commanded—by the brevity of our lives, by the eternity that lives in us, by the eternity that calls to us from either side of this bridge—to live a life that is infused with awe and commanded by awe into action, simply because we are alive today. That, in itself, is an unlikely miracle. 

Now what will you do with that miracle? Start by singing with me: Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od; vaha’ikar lo lefached klal.

Questions for discussion:

“The first type is basic fear, which in Hebrew is pachad. Pachad is fear on its most primal level, fear that spurs us to meet our basic needs for food, shelter, life. Pachad is key to our survival. The second type of fear is hitpachdut, or worry. Hitpachdut is the fear of change, fear of anticipated losses, fear that the world we anchored ourselves is becoming unmoored. Hitpachdut is the fear that curls up our stomachs like an ouroboros, feeding on itself.”

Which type of fear do you find yourself sitting in most often?

“If we are living only in pachad or hitpachdut, we are profoundly limiting ourselves. We are saying: ‘I give up. I can do nothing to shape this world.’ We are confining ourselves to the dustbin of history before we’ve returned to dust.”

When have you found yourself feeling that you can do something to shape our world?

“If the bridge is narrow because our lives are finite, because we only have so many years in which to live, then Rebbe Nachman’s teaching comes to remind us that we are only here for a short time on this bridge between—depending on your theology—nothingness and nothingness, or everything and everything. And this reality should fill us with awe. And we are commanded—by the brevity of our lives, by the eternity that lives in us, by the eternity that calls to us from either side of this bridge—to live a life that is infused with awe and commanded by awe into action, simply because we are alive today. That, in itself, is an unlikely miracle.”

Now what will you do with that miracle? 

Rosh HaShanah 5781 Sermon: Breaking and Birthing

By: Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

I want to begin with a story about a birth that happened 2,000 years ago. This isn’t the birth of a person, but the birth of a city—maybe the most important Jewish city you’ve never heard of: a place called Yavneh. 

In the first century CE, the Jews in the Land of Israel were living under harsh Roman rule. In 66 CE, after years of oppression, they rose up in open revolt against the Romans. The rebellion lasted for years, so long that General Vespasian himself finally came to crush it. In the year 70 CE on the 9th of Av, he commanded his troops to destroy Jerusalem.

The Temple, which had been the heart of Jewish life for centuries, was desecrated, then set on fire. Jewish men, women, and children were killed in the streets. The scale of destruction was shocking, unprecedented. And we have stories of rabbis, who, after the destruction, could only sit in the ruins of the Temple and weep. But there was one rabbi who did more than just mourn. There was one rabbi who, even as Jerusalem was burning, dreamt up a new kind of Judaism. His name was Yochanan ben Zakkai. 

Yochanan ben Zakkai recognized that Temple-based Judaism—the Judaism that connected Jews to God through priests and sacrifices—couldn’t survive the destruction of Jerusalem. So, as the city burned, Yochanan did something audacious: he got ahold a coffin. Then he lay down in it, and two other rabbis carried this coffin to the city gates, where guards were stationed. The guards wanted to stab the coffin to confirm that the person inside was actually dead, and were only convinced at the last second not to desecrate the body. 

The coffin was carried into the Roman camp, and set down in front of General Vespasian. And then Yochanan stood up, and climbed out.  This minor resurrection shocked the general and got his attention. Yochanan then flattered Vespasian, stroking to the general’s ego and calling him ‘emperor.’ And then Yochanan made his request: ‘Just give me Yavneh and her sages.’ And his request was granted. Jerusalem was destroyed, but Yavneh—a small town north of the city—was spared. 

Before the revolt, Yavneh had been an insignificant backwater where a few rabbis studied and debated Torah. Their way of life—based around Torah learning—hadn’t really made a dent in Judaism up until that point: the Jerusalem Temple had been the focus. In Yavneh, Yochanan ben Zakkai and his fellow rabbis birthed a new kind of Judaism: the Judaism that we practice, today. 

Temple Judaism had been full of warring Jewish sects, each insisting that their interpretation of Torah was the only right one. In contrast, the rabbis of Yavneh encouraged vigorous debate. This laid the groundwork for what later became the Mishnah, and then the Talmud. Rather than trying to rebuild the Temple, the rabbis of Yavneh created synagogues, and these synagogues became places of Jewish worship, and Jewish study, and Jewish community-building. In Yavneh, Judaism stopped being a centralized, sacrificial cult, and evolved into a more democratic and diverse way of life.

This was the birth of rabbinic Judaism. It was a Judaism that would spread across the Middle East to North Africa, then Asia, Europe, and eventually North America. Our Judaism, us sitting here today, is because of Yavneh. We are its inheritors. 

So what? Why am I speaking with you about Yavneh today? Because we, like Yochanan, are living through a time of shatter in this country. 

We saw the cracks in the veneer years ago. We saw the fault lines in 2016 and 2017, the growing fractures in 2018, 2019. And this year, and these last 6 months in particular, we are seeing chasms. 

On December 31st 2016, American Sikh lawyer and activist Valarie Kaur gave a powerful speech at an AME Church in Washington, DC. She spoke about her fear that her brown son, who was just a toddler at the time, would grow up to be seen “as foreign, as suspect, as a terrorist, just as black bodies are still seen as criminal, brown bodies are still seen as illegal, trans bodies are still seen as immoral, indigenous bodies are still seen as savage, the bodies of women and girls still seen as someone else’s property.” Ms. Kaur said in 2016 that the future of this country looked dark. “But,” she went on to say, “The mother in me asks what if? What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” 

In light of the devastation of these last 4 years, of these last 6 months, of the nearly 200,000 dead in this country alone because of a willfully incompetent administration that lets its people die in a plague, we cannot pretend this is not the darkness of the tomb as we grieve and as we rage over everyone and everything we’ve lost. 

We are living through a time of shatter. 

The Hebrew word for shatter is shavar. Shavar also means brokenness, destruction, calamity. It’s from the word shavar that we get the shofar call shevarim: Three cries, three articulations of grief punctuated by gasps. 

Shevarim is the sound of this moment: not just the new year, but this moment, September 19th 2020 in the United States of America. 

Like the shofar, we are crying out: ‘Look! Things are not ok!’

Like the shofar, we are crying out: ‘How do we get through this?’

Like the shofar, we are crying out: ‘This hurts! This hurts! This hurts.’

It feels, right now, like we are in the darkness of the tomb. It feels, lately, like death is winning, like destruction is everywhere. It feels like we are moving from crisis to crisis, barely able to catch our breath. It hurts. And there is devastation. And things are not ok.

And so I need you to remember Yochanan ben Zakkai, who, in a time when everything around him was on fire, sidled up alongside death in order to give birth to a legacy that is ours, today. I want you to remember Yochanan, who climbed into a coffin in order to birth the Judaism we needed. Our religion, us gathering here today, was midwifed by one person, 2,000 years ago, who had an audacious vision for a life that included mourning what was lost, but also imagining how different the future could be.

Like Yochanan, we are living through a time of shatter. 

This shatter means that we may never regain the lives we had before. We have to grieve all that’s being lost. But grieving should also be accompanied by dreaming. Because living through a time of shatter now doesn’t mean that there is only loss ahead. It means that we also have a chance, more than ever before, to be dreaming and building towards the future that we know will be different, whether next month, next year, in five years, ten years, in the lives of our children or our grandchildren our or great-grandchildren.

Coming back to the Hebrew word for shatter, shavar. The Hebrew for crisis also comes from shavar. The word for crisis is mashber. But: mashber also means birthing stool. In our tradition, in our language, crisis, and birthing stool, are one in the same.

Every person who has ever labored to push out a baby knows that birth is messy. That birth is dangerous. That it is painful, so painful. And that it is powerful, and awe-inspiring. And we give birth again and again because ultimately, the hope of bringing new life into this world, of bringing about a new world, is worth it. 

Labor is a crisis that shatters bodies and hearts. It takes all our energy, all our effort. And it is the purest moment of creation that we as humans know.

It’s no coincidence that much of the Torah we read on Rosh HaShanah retells stories of difficult births and new worlds longed for. We have Sarah, who gives birth to Isaac at age 99. And Hagar, who births Ishmael, and then saves his life with a prayer. We have Hannah, who pleads to God for a child after years of infertility, and gives birth to Samuel, who becomes a prophet. And of course, the alternate Torah reading for today is Bereshit, literally the story of the creation of our world.

Rosh HaShanah, with its stories of shatter, of breach and of birth, reminds us of all that’s possible.

Almost four years ago, Valarie Kaur suggested that this era is the darkness of the womb, and not the tomb. I think, now, we can see that it’s both. This is breaking, and birth. This is shatter; and with it, the tearing of the veil to make way for a new vision. 

Rosh HaShanah is the birth day of the world, the anniversary of the moment the Holy One spoke life into existence, and named it ‘good’. Rosh HaShanah reminds us that we are God’s partners in creation. Rosh HaShanah, more than any other day, is the time to begin birthing new visions and new worlds.

I want you to remember all our ancestors, Sarah, Hagar, Hannah, Yochanan, and all those whose names we don’t know who labored after them. All our countless ancestors who dreamed and birthed and did not stop dreaming, did not stop creating, and named us as their inheritors of a tradition that reminds us, never more than today, that we are made in the image of the One who creates light out of darkness.

Trust this. Trust that this is a birth. We will need to breathe life into it. We will need to give it our patience, our fierceness, our imagination, the whole of who we are. 

It will be messy. And it will be worth it.

May we, and the world we are birthing, be inscribed together in the Book of Life. And let us say, amen.

Questions for discussion:

“Shevarim is the sound of this moment: not just the new year, but this moment, September 19th 2020 in the United States of America. Like the shofar, we are crying out: ‘Look! Things are not ok!’ Like the shofar, we are crying out: ‘How do we get through this?’ Like the shofar, we are crying out: ‘This hurts! This hurts! This hurts.’”

What are you crying out right now?

Whose cries are being heard, and whose voices are going unheard?

“Almost four years ago, Valarie Kaur suggested that this era is the darkness of the womb, and not the tomb. I think, now, we can see that it’s both. This is breaking, and birth. This is shatter; and with it, the tearing of the veil to make way for a new vision.”

Do you agree feel that this is a time of shatter?

What new vision are you dreaming up?

Shabbat Shuvah Sermon: The Importance of Reset Buttons in a Year of Upheaval and a Time of Tshuvah

Deborah Kraus

Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As the name implies, it continues the holiday themes of t’shuvah, repentance and return.

Before I begin, I want to say something because as I struggled to write this drash, I couldn’t quite rid myself of the thought, “people don’t want to hear about this.  They want something really political that speaks to the moment.” 

Nonetheless, I persisted, and wrote this anyway.  Primarily because it’s what I agreed to write, but also because of my strong belief that if we don’t figure out how to help ourselves in times like this, we can’t have the energy to help others or the world.

In this week’s Brene Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us (which I highly recommend) she refers to an article by Adrian Farrow, entitled “Your Surge Capacity is Depleted; it’s Why You Feel Awful.”  It’s about how we cope (or don’t) when an acute situation, like the pandemic, becomes a chronic one.  It includes the term “resilience bank account,” which for most of us was depleted a long time ago and discusses how to get it back, most notably “to step into a more spacious mental space that allows you to do things that are constructive instead of being mired in a state of psychological self torment.”

And with that intro, here goes. 

Like many of us, I think of High Holidays as being the great time of resetting.  If we only do it once a year, this feels like the right time.  

How have we gone off our course?  

How might we even want to redefine our course?  

Is our course even possible any more?

Of course, this has been a particularly challenging year, even for those of us privileged enough to not have the rug pulled out from under us on a regular basis (I count myself among you if that is not yet clear)!  Think back to March and the frantic search for disinfectant wipes and toilet paper, when we were first confronted with the question of what is truly necessary to sustain us through what we thought was just going to be the next few days, maybe weeks.

And as days and weeks turned into months, and plans changed and were canceled, when we all started to ache for our connections and began to feel trapped in our homes, when those in our midst began to really annoy us—we did another reckoning of what was truly necessary, this time to sustain us through the few next months.

And, need I remind any of us that the problems of the world didn’t stop.  There were more black people killed with the subsequent long awaited beginning of a racial reckoning, there have been wildfires and disastrous hurricanes, there’s a recession, and of course there’s the almost complete erosion of democracy and the culture of caring in our country.  Topped off by the passing last Friday night of our hero and icon, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

While “reset button” is not the word most people think of first in referring to 2020, (I believe that word would be…never mind; you fill in the blank), this whole year has been one long series of reset buttons as COVID has magnified every single crack in ourselves, our families, our communities, our nation and our world.

We have proven to ourselves both how adaptable we can be, as well as how inflexible we can seem when there’s even just a little extra stress, a little unexpected anything.  At some point in the last 6½ months, we have all been at our breaking points a few times.

In fact, rather than being THE resetting time, the High Holidays this year feels like a time to look around us and inside ourselves and all breathe a sigh of relief for having gotten though to this occasion.  Shehechiyanu!

Nonetheless, when Rabbi Ora asked what I’d like to do a reflection on for High Holidays this year, I suggested this concept of reset buttons.   I think of bowling alleys from my youth, impatiently pushing the button when the pins got stuck or my preferred bowling ball did not immediately return.  Or we could think about the restart mechanism on our laptops and phones: we’ve learned that the first thing to try when something freezes or malfunctions is to restart it.

For some of us this reset has meant taking inventory.  

What is truly essential to live a contented life?  

Who is essential, both to society and to us?  

and

How are we adjusting? 

What have we learned from this experience?  

And I figured since I posed the questions and have another couple of minutes, I should answer them!

First, I have a renewed sense of my privilege.  I am lucky enough to be able to work from home and that I have a home that I love.  Much as I miss my daughter, I am glad she is launched, because anyone who is in transition has had such a harder time.  I have enough money to see me through. I live, as most of us do, in a bubble that has kept us safe because others take their health seriously and have the resources to do so. And most of us have skin color deemed not threatening.  I’m absolutely not trying to minimize what this pandemic has been like for anyone with a less full backpack of privilege.  

Next, I have become even clearer on what I need to be psychologically OK and that is connections.  At least once a day, I need a quality connection, outside of my work (which is full of them; I am a psychologist and connecting is my job).  And connections have abounded.  My close friends have become closer, generally through our weekly walks, usually, but not always, on the phone.  In fact, one of my closest friends moved to NJ during this time and I venture to say that in terms of our connection, I barely noticed.

Third, there’s been a renewed commitment to my health.  Being of the age bracket deemed vulnerable, and having had some health concerns that make me more so, I doubled down.  Walking at least my 10K steps and logging my food every day has turned into a discipline that reminds me to “change the things I can” when there’s so much of this world that I need to “accept that I cannot change.”

Fourth, I have learned I can do with less.  Life is simpler.  And I’ve been relieved to have more time to myself.  There has been less FOMO; I mean we’re all missing out!  The great equalizer!

But the next one is in direct contradiction to this last one.  While I can do with less, and my history is to “adapt, adapt, adapt,” my newest realization is that I some areas, pushing for more is a radical act.  None of us know how much time we have left in the world, and as Nadine Stair’s poem says, 

“If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.

So instead of saying an automatic “no” to my wants, I’m figuring out what parts of my wants can be possible.   Which is why I’m coming to you tonight from Glen Arbor, aka “my happy place,” where I have been since second day Rosh and will be till next Wednesday.  Yup, I’m spending Yom Kippur contemplating at the lake.

This great idea wasn’t mine.  But I’m glad someone asked me why, if I hadn’t gotten enough lake on my vacation, why I couldn’t go back up, since work is portable right now.  That’s the thing: despite my persona, I just don’t think outside the box enough. 

I imagine that’s what Nadine was thinking when she wrote that poem.

Because if not now, when?

In summary, I’ve stopped saying, “I can’t wait till things get back to normal,” 

because no one knows if that will ever happen, or what the new normal will look like,

because I believe that the real test of this reset button and this time of reflection is in what we will automatically go back to by next year,

And lastly,

because I believe that if we have learned nothing in this time– if we reset automatically to how things were– that  will have been the true missed opportunity.

Questions for Discussion:

What are the things you have learned through this pandemic and which of these lessons do you want to keep or expand upon as we think about post-pandemic?

Despite all the death, financial problems and governmental heartlessness, are there ways that the pandemic has been good for the world?

Does this concept of extended time of reset resonate for you, and if so, has it changed your high holiday experience?  If so, how?

A Guided Personal Tashlich

By: Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

The guided meditation above is based on Tashlich; you can use it as an alternative to an outdoors Tashlich or to enhance the ritual.

Last year for Tashlich, we gathered at Mallett’s Creek on Rosh Hashanah afternoon. We were blessed with a warm autumn late-afternoon sun, and we stood for a long time on the bridge over the creek, singing together: ‘Loosen, loosen baby. You don’t have to carry the weight of the world in your muscles and bones. Let go, let go, let go. Holy breath and Holy Name: will you ease, will you ease this pain.’ 

God-willing, next year we’ll gather and sing together as a community again. For this year, we’re offering a guided personal Tashlich ritual to do on your own, with family, or with friends—please just take care to be COVID-safe.

How to do Tashlich this year:

1. Look for a natural body of water that you can access easily. Tashlich is an invitation to cast our sins away into a body of water like a river, spring, lake, pond, or well. Most people prefer natural, flowing bodies of water because it gives the effect of our past deeds being swept away by the current. If you don’t live near a natural body of water or can’t manage to get to one, you can use running water from a hose or faucet. 

2. Try performing Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah. Tashlich is supposed to be performed on the first or second day of Rosh Hashanah. If, however, you’re unable to perform the ceremony on Rosh Hashanah, Tashlich can be done any day during the Days of Awe until Yom Kippur

3. Examine what you’ve struggled with in the past year before doing Tashlich. Tashlich requires that we review our behavior over the last year before we can cast away our deeds. Remember that everyone struggles with mistakes, misdeeds, and accidents, so don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself during this period of review. Keep in mind, however, that the goal of Tashlich is to move forward in the year, rather than to dwell on the past.

4. Collect your “sins” in your pockets. We have provided you with seeds to act as physical symbols of your sins; seeds are safer than bread for the wildlife that live in nearby creeks. Although some people discourage tossing actual items because it stems from superstitious practices, it can be helpful, especially for young people, to visualize our misdeeds being carried away by the water.

5. Walk to the body of water or basin. As you do, try singing, if it feels appropriate. Here are some possibilities (click on the links to hear the songs):

  1. Eili, Eili: Eili, Eili shelo yigameri l’olam. Hachol v’hayam, rishrush shel hamayim, b’rak hashamayim, t’filat ha-adam.
  2. Hashiveini: Hashiveini, ve’ashuvah x2 Chadeish, chadeish, chadeish, yameinu k’kedem x2
  3. Avinu Malkeinu: Avinu malkeinu, choneinu va-aneinu ki ein banu ma-asim. Asei imanu tzedakah vachesed v’hoshi-einu.

6. Read a biblical prayer. The source passage for Tashlich comes from the last verses of the prophet Micah (7:18-20). These verses tell why we practice Tashlich:

7. Cast your sins into the body of water. After your prayer, reach into your pockets and grab the seeds or metaphorical sins, and throw them into the water. Once you let go of them, breathe out and watch them wash away. Only do this when you feel ready. It might take you longer than some other people to prepare for this moment, but don’t feel rushed. 

‘Who is a God like You, Forgiving iniquity and remitting transgression; Who has not maintained wrath forever against the remnant of God’s own people, Because God loves graciousness, God will take us back in love; God will cover up our iniquities, You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will keep faith with Jacob, loyalty to Abraham, as You promised on oath.’

8. Offer a prayer about your hope for the year. Talk to God out loud about who you are and who you’d like to be in the coming year. If you need help with words, try answering some of these questions:

  • Am I using my time wisely? If not, how can I?
  • How do I want to be there for the people who need me? 
  • What new insights and knowledge do I want to acquire this year?
  • What would it look like to live more fully this coming year?
  • How can I trust more in You, or, how can I more closely align with what is holy in the world?

Special High Holidays Delivery!

AARC Members Will Receive Tishrei Bags in Support of the High Holidays At Home

The High Holidays cannot help but be different this year, but thanks to the hard work of our Tishrei Bag Committee, all of our members will be able to celebrate with a set of thoughtfully curated items. Engaging with ritual objects is an important part of the chagim; the Tishrei Bag project supports us in uniting with our fellow members from our own homes through the vehicle of these shared objects.

The Tishrei Bags will include:

  • Apples and honey
  • 2 pairs of holiday candles for Erev Rosh Hashana and Erev Yom Kippur
  • A yahrzeit candle for Yizkor
  • Bird seed for Tashlich
  • Recipes
  • Special gifts from Beit Sefer families
  • High Holidays schedule and handouts
  • High Holidays prayer book (machzor)

Members can receive their Tishrei Bags in either of two ways: You can pick your bag at 2815 Pebble Creek on September 13th from 1:30-4 pm, or a member can deliver the bag to your house. If you do not pick up your bag on the 13th, a volunteer will bring it to your home.

A special thank you to the Tishrei Bag Committee: Laurie White, Carol Levin, Clare Kinberg, Jen Hall, and Evelyn Neuhaus. Thank you also to our volunteer delivery crew and to the Meadows family for assembling the bags! It takes a village! Please email us if you have any questions about the Tishrei Bags.

Child and Family Programming for High Holidays 2020

AARC offers an engaging and flexible series of High Holidays learning opportunities and services for children and families, led by AARC Beit Sefer (religious school) Director Clare Kinberg. To take part, please fill out the Child and Family Programming Form; we will respond with the necessary Zoom links.

In order to accommodate the busy schedule of most families, parts of the High Holidays services will be pre-recorded. This allows you to watch the programming at a time that works for your family. Other learning opportunities will take place online via Zoom, to provide our little ones with an opportunity to learn while engaging with one another.

Schedule:

  • Saturday, September 19th, 9:30am. Children’s Activity on Zoom. Fill out the registration form to receive the Zoom link.
  • Saturday, September 19th. Watch Rosh Hashanah Children’s Services at your leisure. Video will be posted here the week before the High Holidays.
  • Monday September 28th, 9:30am. Children’s Activity on Zoom. Fill out the registration form to receive the Zoom link. (You only need to fill out his form once for the High Holidays).
  • Monday September 28th. Watch Yom Kippur Children’s Services at your leisure. Video will be posted here the week before the High Holidays.

If you have any questions about this programming, please email us. We looking forward to sharing this sacred time together!

Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service Video:

Yom Kippur Children’s Service Video:

High Holiday Workshops 2020

One of the silver linings of the “High Holidays at Home” format is added flexibility with workshop locations, times, and formats. In this spirit, we will be hosting a range of workshops and classes throughout the High Holiday period. Zoom links will be sent out to members in early September. If you would like to attend as a guest, please fill out the High Holidays Registration Form.

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Challah Baking Workshop

Friday September 11th, 10am-noon

Participants will learn how to prepare Challah dough, braid a special Rosh Hashanah crown, and recite special prayers during the preparation. To learn more about Lori’s process, please see our Challah Blog!

This workshop is created and facilitated by AARC member Lori Lichtman.

To attend this class, please sign up here. Zoom link will be sent to registrants before the event.


The Story of Sarah and Hagar in Art, Poetry, and Our Own Reflections

Saturday, September 19th, 2pm

On Rosh Hashanah we read the story of Sarah and Hagar, with its themes of family trauma, isolation, jealousy, survival, and reconciliation. In this workshop, we’ll reflect on how the story of Sarah and Hagar resonates with us today.  We’ll share our reactions to various artistic depictions of the story, read a poem or two, and then exchange our reflections.

This workshop is created and faciliated by AARC member Emily Eisbruch.

To attend this class, sign up here. Zoom link will be sent to registrants before the event.

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Birth/Fertility and Its Opposite: Personal Reflections

Saturday, September 19th, 4pm

In today’s Torah and Haftarah selections, both Sarah and Hannah, after struggles with infertility, are blessed with children. These stories can sometimes be a point of pain for those of us who do not feel like we were so blessed.  What has the journey of fertility and infertility been like for us?  Have your thoughts and feelings changed through the years?  If you have a story or thought you’d like to share, or just want to come and listen to others, please join us on Rosh HaShanah Day 1 afternoon.

This workshop is created and facilitated by AARC member Deb Kraus.

To attend this class, sign up here. Zoom link will be sent to registrants before the event.

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Cultivating Self-Forgiveness: A Practice for the Days of Awe

Thursday, September 24th, 7pm

This experiential offering will guide you through coming into a deep and quiet space within yourself, noticing the ways you may have “missed the mark” this past year, and engaging in a practice of self-forgiveness.

Your participation will require that you have a comfortable and quiet place to sit for 90 minutes; that you have printed off the provided worksheet for self-reflection and have something to write with; and that you have registered so that you can be sent the Zoom link. Our time together will include meditation and guided imagery, journal writing and sharing in pairs or small groups.

This workshop is created and facilitated by AARC member Anita Rubin-Meiller.

Anita is a clinical social worker in private practice with many years of experience in creating and leading workshops and ongoing groups for cultivating self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and compassionate life
review.

To register for this workshop, please email Anita. ______________________________________________________________________________

JONAH (AND THE WHALE): A Teshuva Journey through Art and Midrash with Idelle Hammond-Sass

Sunday September 27, 10am -12pm

Jonah is a traditional Haftarah for the afternoon of Yom Kippur. Join us for this experiential workshop from the comfort of your own home. Gather some art supplies at your desk or kitchen table to make your own ‘visual midrash’!

Using Jonah’s journey as a way in to our own process of Teshuva, we’ll explore Jonah through a brief text reading, followed by drawing to music and reflective writing. Drawing and writing offer two ways to see what comes to the surface, using our imagination to dive deep into the process of making a visual image and seeing what we have created.(optional)

Please bring writing paper, pen/pencil, plain paper 8 ½”x 11 or larger (can be computer paper) any “art” supplies on hand, such as your kids crayons, colored pencils, oil pastels (cray pas), charcoal pencils, markers etc. as well as some random colored paper or magazines (to tear) and a glue stick or tape. Whatever you have around the house is great!

To attend this class, sign up here. Zoom link will be sent to registrants before the event.

AARC To Host A Robust Month of Elul Programming

Throughout history we as Jews have leaned on our traditions to lead us back to ourselves in times of trouble or uncertainty. The month of Elul is one of those traditions: a time of cheshbon hanefesh or an accounting of the soul.

Elul has come at a perfect time this year; many of us are carrying a heavy emotional load due to the current state of affairs. Elul encourages us to take time to look inward and prepare for what’s to come. In this spirit, we are offering a multi-modal Elul experience:

LEARN: Elul Psalms Series, or, What Does a Jew Do With All These Worries, Hopes, and Feelings?

Sunday August 23, 30, and September 6, 2-3:15 pm on Zoom

“All our days slip away.” “Help me stay safe.” “Shield me from the counsel of evil men.” “Look how good and pleasant it was to be together.”

All these phrases are from the Book of Psalms, but they could easily describe our feelings in this moment, too. As we enter into Elul and this unusual season of teshuvah, we’ll use the ancient psalms as an entry point to gentle awareness, creativity, and reflection. Each class will offer a mix of learning, discussion, and writing.

August 23: Introduction and Psalms of Noticing and Gratitude

We’ll talk briefly about what makes a psalm, explore some psalms of gratitude (from the Book of Psalms and contemporary poets), and talk about what it means to be a Jew talking to/about the Holy. Our first writing exercise will serve to ‘prime the pump’ and get words flowing; our second exercise will invite reflection on our values, our voices, and our relationship to the Source. Expect rich discussion and sharing.

August 30: Psalms of Fear and Loss

Today’s focus is psalms of anxiety, fear, and loss. We’ll explore some of these psalms (both classical and contemporary) and then shift into writing together. Our writing exercises will help us give name to our experiences of living through this time of disorientation and grief, and those who wish will be invited to share their reflections in small groups. This session requires particular care because these psalms can evoke or activate difficult emotions. We’ll close this session with a meditative, musical practice designed to help us release our emotions and return to a sense of spiritual safety.

September 6: Psalms of Comfort and Connection

In this session we’ll explore psalms of connection to the Holy and the holiness within ourselves and community. We’ll do a deep dive into a single psalm, exploring how different translations and nuances of language can impact a psalm’s message. We’ll explore psalms both classical and contemporary, and then engage with our final two writing exercises.

LISTEN: Songs of Return, A High Holiday Community Playlist

We’ve started a community playlist on Spotify that already includes some gorgeous niggunim, new melodies, and High Holiday favorites to get us in the teshuvah mood. We want you to listen and enjoy, of course, but also invite you to add your favorites tunes so we can all hear them. To listen, all you need is a free Spotify account. To add music, you’ll need to open the Spotify app on your phone, tablet, or desktop.

BREATHE: Elul Meditation Offerings

A series of pre-recorded meditations from Rabbi Ora and members are now available to stream, below. These themed meditations vary in length and style, and can be listened to on your schedule as many times as you like.

Blessing This Moment (16 min)

Hineini: A Meditation & Chant for Presence (18 min)

Sitting in Divine Light (10+ min)

A Mind-Body-Spirit Integration (6 min)

Gam Zeh Kadosh/This, Too, Is Holy (9+ min)

WRITE: Daily Reflection Prompt

Sign up to receive daily reflection and journalling prompts for the entire month of Elul (August 21-September 18). Created by Rabbi Jordan Braunig, these prompts are “meant to give us time to cozy up to ourselves, to spend a few moments a day with our souls and to maybe learn a thing or two about ourselves.”

SING: Selichot 5780: Creating Holy Space Within

Saturday September 12, 8 pm on Zoom

Our Selichot services will ease us into the High Holy Days with beautiful melodies led by members and Rabbi Ora. In addition to singing and havdalah, we’ll take time to imagine how to create holy space in our hearts and our homes in anticipation of online Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services.

If you have any questions about any of these Elul offerings, please email Gillian.