Letter from Rabbi Ora

My dear community,

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the devastating news of the Islamophobic terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.

This morning, I sat down with community rabbis to write the following letter, which we sent to Imam Abdullah Al-Mahmudi of the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor:

“Our hearts are breaking. When we woke this morning to the news of the terror attacks against Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, the first thing we thought of was the Ann Arbor Muslim Community. White supremacy, whether in Christchurch, Ann Arbor, or anywhere else in this world is a threat to us all. The murder of innocents, especially in prayer, is a terrible affront to humanity.

“As a Jewish community, we express our grief and moral outrage over this Islamophobic act of terror in New Zealand—the murder of 49 innocents in prayer.

“Both the Muslim and Jewish traditions believe that whoever destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed the entire world; and whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the entire world. (Surah 5:32, Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

“We recognize that last night, whole worlds were lost. We hold you in our hearts, and grieve alongside you.”

In response to the news of the shootings, a colleague of mine, Rafael Shimunov, wrote: ‘When you kill someone praying, you are killing them at the moment they closed their eyes, turned their back to the door, tuned out every sound and decided that this will be the moment they will trust the rest of humanity the most.’

This afternoon, I will be standing outside the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor as our Muslim brothers and sisters attend Jumu’ah, Friday prayer, along with Rabbi Josh Whinston, Rav Nadav Caine, Reb Elliot Ginsburg, and members of their communities. Please: if you’re able, join us, to remind those grieving that they can continue to trust the rest of humanity.

Holding you, and holding onto hope for a Shabbat of shalom,

Rabbi Ora

Welcome New Members Ella August and Joe Eisenberg!

Ella and Joe on vacation with Joe’s daughters (Ella’s stepdaughters), Thea and Sophie.

New member Ella August writes:

Joe and I had our first “real” conversation while waiting for our faculty meeting to begin at the University of Michigan School of Public Health eight years ago. Neither of us had been early to a faculty meeting before or after that day so we figure it must have been fate. We had served on a committee together and had passed in the hallway but hadn’t actually had a one-on-one conversation before this particular faculty meeting.

Joe has two children: Thea, a student at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and Sophie, 23, who lives in Napa, California. They return home for summer vacations and visits.

Joe grew up in a nice Jewish family in the San Fernando Valley and then lived in Northern California for many years before relocating to Michigan. I am a Michigan native and am still mentoring Joe on how to be Midwestern. I think he’s starting to catch on.

I am an aspiring Jew, working with Rabbi Ora on conversion. Things I love about Judaism: the focus on community, the home-based practices (what I sometimes call the “do-it-yourself spirit”), the holidays, and the questions. Things I love about Jewish people: their sense of humor, their sense of community, their focus on education and family, and their Yiddish expressions.

Things Joe loves about Judaism: a sense of community and tradition, and a focus on education that continually questions our practices and beliefs. Joe takes great delight in cooking for the Jewish holidays and is constantly exploring cuisines ranging from Eastern European to Middle Eastern. His latest challenge is creating the perfect falafel: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.

Joe and I run and snowshoe trails together, eat delicious meals in all corners of the world, and enjoy entertaining at our home. You can often find us at Argus Farm Stop, Zingerman’s Deli, or Spencer restaurant, on North Campus admiring the art sculptures, or running through the Arb, Bluffs Nature Area, or Bird Hills.

Reconstructionist “Virtual Bet Midrash”

jewish_recon_logo_0Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (JRC), the Reconstructionist movement’s umbrella organization, is offering a new distance learning opportunity that individuals all over the country can participate in. The “Virtual Bet Midrash” (Virtual House of Study) is a series of learning sessions taught by leaders in the Reconstructionist movement. Each session is presented using a conference call format, and subsequently made available as a recording. The series runs from February through April 2015. The next teaching will be February 19, “Jewish Prayer in a Time of Eco-Crisis,” taught by Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde. Rabbi Jacobs-Velde is the co-founder of ZMANIM (www.zmanim-seasons.org), an organization that explores and celebrates connections between Judaism and the natural world. For a full listing of the sessions and to register, go to Virtual Bet Midrash.

Getting together with a friend may be a fun way to study. If you do decide to take part, let me (Clare) know; we’d love to have you write a blog post about the session or the series!

Interfaith Musical Chairs: Learning About Our Religious Community

By Ellen Dannin

Ellen-Dannins-candlesticks3On Sunday afternoon, January 11, I was one of about 30 people – each of whom was leading a small circle of up to 4 people in an introduction to one of Ann Arbor’s religions. It was part of an event sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Washtenaw County and the dynamics were a bit like speed dating. The person leading each group got twenty minutes to provide information about the religion to the rest of the circle. Proselytizing was forbidden. Giving people information and bringing in some item that is important to the religion was encouraged.

My personal information focused on lighting shabbat candles on the candlesticks that my great-grandmother brought with her when she left Turkey in 1915.

The item I brought was my personal copy of the Reconstructonist siddur. I showed people how it reflected values important to Reconstructionist Judaism — in particular, the high priority we place upon inclusiveness. Our siddur lets people be on the same page literally and figuratively. It invites us all to participate, even if we cannot read Hebrew. It gives us ways to be creative with services. On many pages it provides information that increases our knowledge and enhances our practice. And it is a beautiful book with lovely and creative images. In short, it is a perfect example of hiddur mitzvah — expanding on and beautifying each mitzvah.