Cultivating Friendships, Community through the Sukkot Retreat

By Carol Lessure (based on welcome remarks made during Yom Kippur Services 5775)

As a community, we have much to be grateful for. I thought of this when I responded to my 10 year old son, our sceptic, about why we are Jewish and participate in High Holiday services. It is in part because we want to be a part of this community.

I also thought of this when I read a recent editorial by David Brooks in the New York Times pondering what he would do if in some fantasy world he had $500 million to give away. What did he conclude? Well, he decided he would try to set up places that cultivate friendships.

He envisions places that are NOT networking programs but some place that offers something more profound.

He would create places that “give you challenging activities to do together.” We put on High Holiday services for several hundred members and guests in a temporary location each year.

He said, “nothing inspires friendship like selflessness and cooperation in moments of difficulty.” I naturally think of our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs that we all pitch in to support each other within this small DYI congregation. We also have a Mitzvah Corps available to help members during life transitions and other times when support is needed.

“You also want to give moments when people can share confidences, about big ideas and small worries,” wrote Brooks. (Yes, we’ve got that covered.)

He envisioned a string of adult camps or retreat centers that would gather people together in seclusion. We’d prepare and clean up our meals together, and eating our meals would go on for a while. In the morning, we would read about and discuss big topics. In the afternoons, we’d play sports, take hikes and build something complicated together. At night, there’d be a bar and music.

Well that brings me back to our resident skeptic because Brooks is kind of describing our Fall Sukkot Retreat. My skeptical son has been asking me when it will be . . . since August.

As part of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, he and the rest of my family have gained a community where we don’t network, but really delve into both intellectual and spiritual topics. We wrestle with G-d and our own perceptions of belief. After lurking around for many years, we became members and have never looked back. Through AARC, we have gained a bit of that friendship circle, of that community, that David Brooks describes.

So, David Brooks does not have $500 million, and he is not here to give us a grant to make our circle bigger. But it takes far less than that to become a member of our community. In fact, we invite people to give what they can within a range. By becoming a member you make a commitment to this community and its future, and as one that did not sign up right away I can tell you that if feels good to take that step forward.

That said, I always enjoy seeing all the guests that join us for High Holidays. I thank you all for enriching us with your participation in services this year and years past.

If you want to really experience our community come to Fourth Friday on October 24 at the JCC. We eat a communal meal after services and do the dishes together. If you aren’t coming to the Fall Sukkot Retreat this year, mark your calendars for October 2 – 4, 2015. I am pretty sure that we’ll be there.

Read more about and sign up for the Sukkot Retreat

A D’var Torah about the Akedah

by Margo Schlanger

ShofarThe traditional Torah portion for the first day of Rosh Hashanah is about the birth of Isaac and the near-death of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by a woman whose name we never find out – Hagar, the name given in the Torah, means “foreigner.”  Ishmael, of course, is the father of the Ishmaelites.  In the Muslim tradition, he is the Muslim patriarch, ancestor of Muhammed, and more generally of the Arab Muslims.

It’s the relationship between that first day’s parsha and the parsha for today, Rosh Hashanah’s second day, that I want to talk about.  Today’s parsha is Akedah, the binding of Isaac.  As we all know, it’s a difficult portion.  If the project of our Torah reading is to find inspiration and edification, that’s a tough undertaking from a story that seems to portray just about everyone behaving badly.

How can we reconcile ourselves to a God who says to Abraham “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you”?  And if the answer to that question is, it’s a test, then that raises another question:  How can we admire an Abraham who is so bold, so compassionate, as to argue with God over strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, but not bold enough and compassionate enough to argue with God about the command to murder his own child?  If it’s a test, didn’t Abraham fail, when he set so silently to obey?

These are not new questions.  [Read more…]

Erev Rosh Hashanah Message

Rabbi Michal Woll

Rabbi Michal Woll
Photo: Stephanie Rowden

Rosh Hashanah may be the most complicated of our holy days, for its identity is fractured. In biblical tradition it was simply “day of blowing the horn.” Over millennia other purposes and themes have been layered upon it – the new year, the day of judgment, the day of remembrance, the day of crowning God, the day the world was made. I was inspired some months ago to focus this year on the last one – RH as the anniversary of creation, and tomorrow we will read a traditional alternative to the conventional torah reading – the first chapter of genesis, the original creation story.

Jews don’t seem to need to argue so much with this version of creation. One possible reason is that our tradition recognizes that the world is constantly being recreated and renewed. We sang at the opening of the service – chadesh yameinu kekedem – renew our days as of old, like at the beginning. We find in the morning liturgy: b’tuvo m’chadeish bechol yom tamid ma’aseih v’reishit – with divine goodness you renew, each day, continually, the work of creation. We too are renewed each day, reminded with the elohai neshamah – each morning we find a pure breath, a clear soul, ready for a new imprint that we make with our daily lives.

And our obligation following the second biblical creation story – the expulsion from Eden, which will be read and discussed a few weeks from now – is not to atone for the mistake of Adam and Eve but to strive to repair the gap between the world as we find it and the original vision of paradise. Unfortunately our job is not as easy as God’s was. God exclaimed: let there be light, and there was. As we will sing in the morning – baruch she’amar v’hayah ha’olam – blessed is the one who spoke and the world was. Wow – like magic. In fact, this moment is imbedded in the common language of conjuring and magic. Abra-cadabra is not merely gibberish syllables, but Talmudic Aramaic. A’bra – I create – the same root as the first line of torah – breishit bara elohim – in the beginning god created. Dabra – I will speak – related to the most common phrase in torah – vaydaber adonai el moshe – and God spoke to Moses. Abra cadabra – I create just as I speak. [Read more…]

Rosh Hashanah with the AARC

By Carol Lessure

The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation invites anyone who is looking for a home for the High Holidays to join us at the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor, 4001 Ann Arbor-Saline Road at the corner of Ellsworth Road. Whether you are a newcomer or long-time resident, curious about Reconstructionist Judaism or looking for a community, you are welcome to join AARC for the holidays. No tickets are needed to attend our musical, participatory High Holiday services, although donations from non-members are appreciated.

For Rosh Hashanah, there will be opportunities to gather informally as well with an oneg following Erev Rosh Hashanah services on Wednesday evening, September 24 and lunches hosted by congregants following services on Thursday, September 25. We will also gather for Tashlich at a home on the Huron River in the early evening where we will use pebbles for our ceremonial casting away of our past deeds. All the details at the links below:

Looking for Hosts for New Year’s Lunch

By Carol Lessure

After Rosh Hashanah morning services, we’d like to offer members and friends the chance to have lunch together at various locations.

You could “host” at a local restaurant or at your home.  Only have room for a couple of people? Don’t worry, no gathering is too small. If you are interested in hosting an event, just add your invite to this list by clicking on the bottom tabs to find an empty tab and filling in your info.

We’ll remind everyone where to find the list of hosts here on the blog and in the Monday Mailer, as well as at the High Holiday registration table.

Let’s revive this tradition from years past and keep the “hav” in the Havurah.

Shana Tova, Carol

Selichot and High Holiday Highlights

As the moon of Elul begins to wane, the new year approaches. Rosh Hashanah begins at the new moon, awaiting the new light, just as the creation story does, in the potential of darkness and void.

We will begin to explore this theme and the liturgy of the season in our Selichot gathering, Saturday evening September 20th. We will meet at 7:30 for pot luck dessert and then continue with Havdalah and the ritual. The gathering will take place at 2960 Lakeview Drive, Ann Arbor. Positive RSVPs always appreciated for planning purposes to ravmichal@aarecon.org or 734 845 2361.

Other highlights of our high holidays together will include:

  • Personal reflections on the special themes of Rosh Hashanah.
  • Tashlich with pebbles for the health of our river and wildlife.
  • Song and study of the Akedah for the second day of Rosh Hashanah on Friday September 26th.
  • Fourth Friday/Shabbat Shuvah service Friday September 26th, featuring seasonal music and a d’var Torah on the Akedah.
  • Inclusion of the Yiskor liturgy in Yom Kippur morning services.
  • A full afternoon of movement, learning and remembering on Yom Kippur day.
  • Sukkot retreat at the Emrich Center in Brighton October 10-12.

As always. everyone is welcome to join AARC for all or part of our celebration/commemoration of these special days.

Entering Elul – Participation and Creation

It is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the preparatory month leading towards Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally the time to begin serious reflection on the year that has passed in order to prepare for the one ahead.The month is ritualized with prayers of selichot/forgiveness and a blast of the shofar each day to help keep us aware and on track.

This year, we will be doing the alternative reading for Rosh Hashanah, the story of creation. Reflecting the tradition that  Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation, the passage is also is a reminder of the continual work of creation and re-creation, in the world and in our own lives.
In keeping with these themes of preparation and re-creation, I invite you each to consider two questions:
1. How might I contribute to our high holiday experience this year?
2. What do I want to create or re-introduce into my life in the coming year?
I doubt many of us will hear a shofar each day this month, but perhaps you can infuse your usual first morning sound – whether an alarm clock or the timer on your coffee maker – with a reminder of the holy time to come.