Meet the Mitzvah Committee

Written By: Anita Ruben-Meiller

“Let the good in me connect to with the good in others, Until all the world is transformed through the compelling power of love” – Reb Nachman of Breslov

I am writing to you as the new(ish) coordinator of the Mitzvah Committee, having stepped into that role in January, following our annual congregational meeting. The other members of the committee are Stephanie Rowden, Mike Ehmann, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Amie Ritchie and Rena Basch.

Historically, the Mitzvah Committee has helped to coordinate assistance to meet several of the needs of our members. The requests that we receive are mostly for rides and meals. Occasionally we receive requests to help get volunteers to assist with the practicalities of organizing the space for the celebration of B’nai Mitzvot or for holding a shiva observance. Very occasionally we receive requests to offer healing chants at times of illness.  The hope of the committee is to make a personal connection that allows the coordination of assistance to create ease for the member in need. Towards this end, we have divided ourselves into teams to handle certain kinds of requests. While all initial requests will come through me via email at anita1018@sbcglobal.net or text message at 734-255-2619, requests for rides will be passed on to Rena and Mike; and requests for meals will be passed on to Idelle and Stephanie.

In the past few years, members of the congregation have completed a survey letting the committee know what kind of helping tasks we might be able to call on you for. We are asking that you take a moment to update your info if your availability has changed or add your name if you are ready to volunteer now.

I know that when I was ill and had surgery some years ago, and still had kids at home to tend to, I was deeply moved by and grateful for the generous assistance that came in the form of meals delivered for us to enjoy. I know from speaking with a congregational member, Amy Rosenberg, that the help that was coordinated and delivered through members of the Mitzah Committee made it possible for her to not only have rides to visit Marc when he was hospitalized, but also to have emotionally supportive conversations.

I hope you will both volunteer for and take advantage of the services we can provide to make life a bit easier during challenging times.

Introducing The New Robert Belman Award for AARC Teens and Young Adults

Written By: Erica Ackerman

The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation is pleased to announce the Robert Belman Award, which is granted in support of social justice activism. The award was established by AARC members Dale Belman and Amy Tracey Wells in memory of Dale’s brother Bob, who died tragically in 2018. Bob was a supporter of charitable organizations and liberal causes who gave freely of his time and money. He was a business owner with a love of rebuilding and racing European sports cars, who pursued track racing, auto-crossing, and road rallying. 

The Robert Belman Award is a grant of up to $1000 available to Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation b’nai mitzvah graduates who are or wish to engage in social justice action. Each year, $1000 will be available to be split between up to five awardees. Examples of qualifying activities include internships, leadership training, volunteering, or participation in a course through an organization such as the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Financial need will be one consideration in choosing recipients.

To qualify for the award, applicants must:

1. Be an AARC b’nai mitzvah grad up to 26 years old
2. Have a current association with the AARC (for example, parents are members or the applicant attends services)
3. Be able to articulate a focused need and time-frame for their activity

Example descriptions of the activity might be “Volunteer Coordinator at Cabrini Green Legal Aid from Sept 2019-May 2020,”  “Housing Justice Organizer with Jane Addams Senior Caucus from Sept 2019-May 2020,” or “Volunteer with the Sunrise Movement, Summer 2019.”*

The award is a lump sum given as an outright grant. It would be awarded based on both need and the nature of the social justice work or study. The money would be disbursed upon receipt of a copy of a letter from the organization stating that the applicant will be doing an internship, workshop, volunteering, etc.

Upon completion of the activity, awardees are asked to write a short essay about their work and its impact. The essay will be shared with members of the AARC.
A link to the application form will be sent out soon in an email to AARC members.

Beit Sefer Picnic and Native Tree Planting

Photos and Article Credit: Fred Feinberg

On Sunday, May 5, Beit Sefer students, teachers, and parents congregated (as congregations do!) at Country Farm Park for not only our annual picnic, but to help plant indigenous fruit trees at County Farm Park’s Pollinator Garden. We all first learned about indigenous vs. non-native species, then donned protective gloves and took up hoes, handsaws, and strangely powerful branch clippers. 

Implements in hand, we helped take several non-native honeysuckle trees down to stumps, clear away debris, and prepare the ground for planting trees and shrubs native to our area — paw paw, American plum, persimmon, and chestnut — learning about each from a park representative. While Gdolim and Yeladim cut away and hauled large branches, Ktanim cleared a patch of ground shrubs and aerated the soil, under the watchful eye and aching backs of parents and teachers.

Afterward, Stacy Weinberg Dieve presented our hardworking teachers and helpers — Clare, Shlomit, Aaron; Zander, Avi, Rose — with tokens our our collective appreciation. We all then gathered at the Pavilion to sing a Hebrew prayer and learn a two-part round from Rabbi Ora, after which we feasted on a variety of seasonal, vegetarian dishes prepared by Beit Sefer families: vegetable casserole, brioche, fruits, challah. The weather was literally perfect, and the children spent the time afterward running and frolicking in the playground. All in all, a wonderfully successful day!

Planning to Plant Trees

AARC Plans to Plant Trees to Celebrate Tu B’Shvat

It may be hard to imagine a bright sunny day in spring where AARC’s Beit Sefer students will frolic in a green meadow, picking out spots to plant new trees. But worry not! Under the guidance of Beit Sefer director, Clare Kinberg, students and their parents are making plans to do just that!

Entrance to our planting site, County Farm Park

Plans are in the works to plant fruit trees in County Farm Park’s Permaculture garden. Stay tuned for more info about our very exciting planting day!

Tu B’Shvat, or the New Year of the Trees, reminds us that in these dark days of winter, our trees are resting a slumber necessary to foster new growth. Tu B’Shvat is often celebrated as an ecological conservation day in which Jews around the world plant trees in honor of the holiday. We will remember this moment with gratitude in the spring when we are reveling in our advanced planning to enjoy this special tree planting activity.

An example of a Sugar Maple tree available through the Washtenaw Conservation District

Beit Sefer will be planting some fruit trees. If you are inspired by this and would like to order your own native trees or shrubs visit Washtenaw Conservation Districtto order for your home.

The ‘Border’ is around the corner

by Idelle Hammond-Sass

In Ann Arbor and the Detroit area, several churches and synagogues have become “sanctuary congregations.” Being a sanctuary congregation can include participating in a range of actions, from educating the public about immigration issues to becoming a haven for guests who need sanctuary to evade deportation.

Ann Arbor Friends Meeting recently accepted a guest in Sanctuary and a coalition of congregations is coordinating logistics. You may also be interested in reading about the guest and how he came to be in Sanctuary here: press release/sanctuary .

“Doorminders” are on 24-hour rotation to make sure the place is secure and to screen visitors. Washtenaw Congregational Sanctuary, which includes Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary (a group of local Jewish congregations) is a member of this effort.


Washtenaw Congregational Sanctuary (WCS) is an interfaith coalition of congregations, and unaffiliated individuals, throughout Washtenaw County who have joined together to support immigrants and their families in our community. The group is led by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) and the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR). WCS formed in January 2017 in response to intensified and increasingly unjust activities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our community.

It Takes a Village

It takes a lot of people to maintain a 24-hour watch. Doorminders are scheduled in three shifts: 8am – 4pm, 4pm – 10pm, and 10pm – 8am. Training is necessary to be a doorminder, but is very short and simple. My experience as a doorminder was very positive, with ample support, information and comfortable surroundings (wifi, etc.). A large pool of people is needed in the event that a new guest arrives in sanctuary, and to enable shift splitting when necessary.

The next Doorminder Training is February 9th, 2019, at 1pm, Friends Meeting House, 1420 Hill St. Ann Arbor, MI. RSVP on Eventbrite is encouraged for the training. The doorminder signup is as simple as “Signup Genius.” Occasionally, there may be other needs, such as a ride to medical treatment.

In addition, I encourage you to join the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary email list (a2jewishsanctuary@googlegroups.com) to find out about actions, such as rides to Detroit for check in to ICE, USCIS, and other types of support. AARC member Laurie White helps coordinate rides at lonawhite1@gmail.com. For more information see the website .

Resources for Responding to Pittsburgh Tragedy

Tree of Life painting by Yitzchok Moully, posted on Facebook with a “please share”

Last Saturday evening, in the hours after the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I tried to prepare myself for facing our Beit Sefer students on Sunday morning. After consulting many other Jewish professionals and teachers of young children, I determined that the best way forward was to check in with the teachers, be prepared to reassure and comfort, and to let the students be the guide to how much information to share, by answering questions but not going into extra detail.

As it turned out, none of the younger kids brought it up and so we went on with our planned lessons. The oldest class did have a discussion about anti-Semitism, not really focused on Pittsburgh. I arranged for a room for parents to talk to each other, and I invited Laurie White to lead the school in song for the closing half hour.

All in all, I was over-prepared for last Sunday. But now, going on a week later, I have a sense that more of the Beit Sefer students will have heard about the massacre and may have further questions and reactions. I’m glad I began my preparation immediately.

I would really appreciate hearing from any of you who have questions, advice, or anecdotes to share from your family’s experiences in dealing with this tragedy. I saw many of you at the community vigil at TBE on Sunday evening, which I found to be moving and strengthening.

A huge crowd at the Oct 28 vigil at TBE

I have received many helpful resources for responding to the tragic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and I want to share just a few of them here.

From Rabbi Joshua Lesser, “THE TREE OF LIFE: Navigating Conversations With Our Children After Acts of Violence and Anti-Semitism.”

From Moving Traditions and Rabbi Tamara Cohen, “Guidance for Jewish educators and parents: Helping Teens in the wake of Pittsburgh.”

Resources for Interfaith families on anti-Semitism.

An article by Jewish activist Dove Kent and AME Reverend Jennifer Bailey, “Charleston to Tree of Life: White Nationalism is a Threat to Us All,” reminds us that this week’s shooting in a synagogue is part of continuing terrorism, and that we have foundations of solidarity to build on.

A video from the Pittsburgh protest of Trump’s visit, organized by Bend the Arc, is balm.

 

And finally, the Jewish community worldwide is calling for Nov 2-3 to be a #ShowUpforShabbat shabbat. This article from The Forward reminds us that “this Shabbat is a good time to remember that racial profiling has zero place in Judaism and Jewish spaces.” AARC does not have shabbat services this Friday or Saturday, but our congregants are welcome at any of the area’s services, a list of which will be sent to you soon.

by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch:

“Poem Without an End”

Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
me,
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum

 

 

“How can our water not be fine?”

Today makes 1660 days without access to tap drinkable water. What’s even scarier is there are places all around the country with water worse then Flint and they have no idea yet. — Mari Copeny (@LittleMissFlint) September 11, 2018

By Mark Schneyer

In her Rosh Hashanah sermon this year, Rabbi Ora urged us to “Choose Life,” and focused our attention on issues that prevent people from having access to clean water. I thought it would be useful to list some of the people and organizations mentioned in her sermon, as well as a few related ones::

Finally, Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who stood up to advocate for the kids of Flint at a time when the state of Michigan claimed there was no problem with Flint’s water, has written a new book, What the Eyes Don’t See, telling the story of her fight and some of her own history as well. She spoke tonight in Ann Arbor, and said the title of the book refers both to the invisibility of lead in water as well as “problems we choose not to see.”

She described her inner dialogue when she was deciding to go public with the truth she was learning. “How can our water not be fine?” she said she asked herself. The government had experts testing and overseeing and enforcing the law, the water must be clean. But the evidence told her otherwise and she launched her fight.

 

#MoralEmergency

On July 2, 2018 in La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, Bend the Arc published a translation of the Declaration of a State of Moral Emergency, signed by over 200 Jewish organizations and more than 18,000 American Jews in response to the Trump administration’s separation and detention of immigrant families.  Reconstructing Judaism, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and many Reconstructionist congregations are among the signers. Here is a link to a pdf of the full-page ad.

For more ways to get involved with other local Jews organizing to serve our immigrant neighbors threatened with deportation, see the blog and website “We Were Strangers MI.”

 

To this country, in whose promise we still believe, to the millions of people who are outraged and horrified, and especially to the thousands of children who have been separated from their families, we declare our nation to be in a state of moral emergency.

This Administration has established border policies unprecedented in their scope and cruelty, that are inflicting physical, mental, and emotional harm on immigrants and punishing those seeking refuge at our borders.

We are anguished by the stories and images of desperate parents torn from their babies and detention facilities packed with children. We shudder with the knowledge that these inhumane policies are committed in our name, and we lift our voices in protest.

The Jewish community, like many others, knows all too well what it looks like for a government to criminalize the most vulnerable, to lie and obfuscate to justify grossly immoral practices under the banner of “the law,” to interpret holy scripture as a cover for human cruelty, to normalize what can never be made normal. We have seen this before.

When crying children are taken from their parents’ arms, the American Jewish community must not remain silent.

To those who are targeted by these cruel policies, know that the Jewish community hears your cries. We will take risks to support you, and we will demand that our nation’s leaders take action. We will not abide the claim that people didn’t know or understand the extent of your suffering; we will not allow your torment to be in vain.

Our government can persist in this inhumane behavior only if good people remain silent.

And so we declare a state of moral emergency, and we rise to meet this moment. Even as our democratic institutions are under duress, we raise our voices and take decisive action. United by the wisdom of our tradition, we stand with immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, with the children, and with their parents. We declare: Not here. Not now. Not in our name.

Letter from Lillie Schneyer

Mark, Jacob and Lillie Schneyer, Debbie Field looking proud at Lillie graduation from Carleton, June 2018.

In June 2018, Lillie Schneyer, daughter of AARC board president Debbie Field and Mark Schneyer, graduated from Carleton College, with majors in sociology and anthropology. Next, she’ll be following in the footsteps of Rabbi Alana, Rabbi Ora, and Molly Kraus-Steinmetz by spending the year doing social justice work through Avodah. Lillie is raising money to support that work, here is a link to her fundraiser!
Below is Lillie’s letter to our AARC community.

Hello, family and friends!

If you know me at all, you know that I like to be useful, try to be a positive force in my community, and, like most people, I am a little unsure of what I want to do with my life. Searching for a job for after college was initially overwhelming; it’s a big world, and I could do so many things. When I found Avodah, it was clearly a perfect fit. Through Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps program, I was matched with a supportive community, an organization that helps people, and a job that will allow me to be useful and learn more about the world.

Thanks to Avodah’s job matching program, I will spend the next year working as a volunteer coordinator at Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) in Chicago. CGLA serves people who have been negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. By helping with expungement and record sealing petitions, other legal services, and partnering with social service organizations, CGLA helps its clients overcome barriers related to their arrests and convictions as they build better lives. As the volunteer coordinator, I’m excited to bring my energy and organizational skills to help make this work possible.

Avodah is making this all happen for me, and I am especially thrilled about the opportunity to live with other young Jewish adults doing similar social justice work. Through the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, I have been lucky to grow up with a Jewish community full of learning and friendship. I hope that next year, the Avodah community will help me discover what being a Jewish adult might look like for me, and and I look forward to the support, challenges, and new friends that it will bring

I am so excited for this unique opportunity, and your support for this campaign would mean a lot as I work to raise $1500 before I leave for Chicago in August. Whatever you feel comfortable donating will be much appreciated, and please reach out to me if you have any questions or want to know more. Thank you for your time!

A letter from Anita about the Poor People’s Campaign

Dear AARC,

Yesterday I participated in the fifth week of rallies and actions with the Poor People’s Campaign. An effort initiated long ago by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., it has been re-awakened  by Rev. William Barber, who speaks of it as a national call for a moral revival.

In 30 or more states, in their Capitol cities, protests have been held each week since May 14. The next local rally will be next Monday, June 18, this time in Detroit, and then on the 25th there will be a national protest in D.C.  Each week has had a theme and a related action of civil disobedience.

You may not have heard about the Poor People’s Campaign and their acts of civil disobedience. Here is a good article about the Poor People’s Campaign, that also answers some of the questions folks are asking about the civil disobedience portion of the campaign and why people were asked to used social media to publicize and promote the demands and goals.

This week’s theme was fair wages and affordable housing. We were joined  in Lansing by a large group from Detroit, D15, fighting for a $15 minimum wage. The civil disobedience took place at the Michigan State Department of Housing Development, where a group called Moratorium Now had a scheduled meeting to try to reverse the decision to use millions of dollars to demolish homes in Detroit and elsewhere instead of helping people in foreclosure.

We were a diverse group racially and age wise. There was a strong clergy presence, and Rabbis Alana Alpert and Ariana Silverman were among them.

Jewish Text Study

EVERYBODY’S GOT A RIGHT TO LIVE: JOBS, INCOME,
THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE AND HOUSING
by Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

I was trained for the civil disobedience action and volunteered to be one of those to be arrested. There is personal and legal support teams for those who volunteer for an action. The movement is well organized and spirits are kept lifted through chant and song. I am writing this to encourage anyone with the inclination and availability to participate next Monday. The Michigan chapter has a web page and a Facebook page.

The Poor People’s Campaign is worth your attention if you feel called to speak for justice in any of these areas: universal healthcare, LGBT rights, gender equality, fair wages, affordable housing, public education, free higher education, an end to racism etc.

Shalom,

Anita Rubin-Meiller