What Comes After the Paint and Swastikas

By David Erik Nelson

You almost certainly heard about the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids shortly before the election, where “TRUMP” and “MAGA” were spray-painted over the names of the honored dead.

[source]

Maybe these pictures worried you. Maybe they frightened you. Maybe they embarrassed you—because, let’s be honest: it’s shameful to be bullied, to get the “Kick Me!” sign pasted to your back again and again, century after century.  

Or maybe you didn’t feel much of anything. Maybe you’ve grown numb; one more slap in the face at the tail end of four years of unprovoked suckerpunches, it can all sort of blur together. I get that.

I don’t exactly have words for how it made me feel.

I saw these pictures of the Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids, and I immediately thought back to the swastikas spray-painted on Temple Jacob last winter, way up in the Upper Peninsula town of Hancock. And I thought about the dozens of swastikas and slurs that defaced our local skatepark back in 2017.

(I go to that skatepark a lot. It was hard not to take it personally.)

And I thought about the increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes here in America over the past four years. I thought about the increasingly violent nature of those crimes.

I thought about the bomb threats. And the synagogue shootings. And the stabbings. And the rallies. And the men with guns in the capitol.

And so on.

And I felt hopeless. And I was afraid.

So I emailed the rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Israel, who maintain the cemetery in Grand Rapids that was desecrated on election’s eve. I wrote to voice our support and solidarity, and to ask what they might need to restore the cemetery.

Rabbi David J.B. Krishef replied almost immediately:

“Hi Dave — the cemetery was cleaned by a small group of people who live around the corner and took it upon themselves to clean the stones without even letting us know what they were doing, and a few other people, including one from Ann Arbor, who drove in and decided to wash the paint off. We are grateful for all of the love and support and positive notes we’ve received.” 

It dawned on me that this second half of the story is rarely reported, but often the case:

A lone jackass skulks around smearing his petty foulness in the dark; the whole community—not just Jews, but people from all over the community unwilling to let ugliness linger—return in the light to set things right.

That’s what happened in the cemetery in Grand Rapids. And when I went back and checked, I discovered it’s also what happened at Temple Jacob in Hancock.

And that’s what happened here in Ann Arbor, too; I know, because I saw it: I went to the skatepark the day after it was tagged. The city had already power-washed away the paint. And unknown members of the community at large had come through with colored chalk and, every place where there’d been a symbol of hate, replaced it with a message of welcoming and love:

[source]

What I saw in Ann Arbor was not the exception; it was the rule, even now, in this time of widely reported “unprecedented division and unrest.” And maybe it feels like we’re mired in a time of unprecedented division and unrest because we only report the first half of the story—the smeared paint, the thrown punch, the shots fired—and then move on to the next catastrophe, without checking back to see what comes after the paint and the screaming: a nation of folks ready to take it upon themselves to fix whatever any single angry loner chooses to break.

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.

Congratulations 2020 AARC Graduates!

Congratulations to this year’s graduates! AARC graduates earn an extra gold star for their ability to demonstrate strength and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mazel tov to the graduates on their accomplishments and to the parents and families of these outstanding young adults!

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Caleb Shoup is graduating from Pioneer High School and is headed to the University of Michigan, where he will attend the Residential College.

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Jonas graduated from the MSU Honors Program this past December with majors in Theater and Economics. He earned the Board of Trustees scholarship award for “attaining the highest cumulative grade point average in the graduating class of fall 2019.” The award was presented at a board meeting held in the same place where he was arrested for protesting during his first year. Jonas lives in Lansing. He works stocking shelves at Meijer and is in the process of becoming certified to operate a forklift. He is active in immigrant rights organizing and other community activities. 

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Marley graduated from Macalester College this May. where he majored in History and minored in Theater. For most of his years at Mac, Marley worked in the Theater Department’s scene shop. He participated in many productions as actor, director, assistant manager, and stage tech. While he was a student, Marley became acquainted with the large and active theater scene in the Twin Cities. He was also active in the Macalester Jewish Organization. Marley is hunkering down at home due to the pandemic, and hopes to return to the Twin Cities when theaters open once again.

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Eli Kirshner graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in History, with Highest Honors. His thesis, “Race, Mines, and Picket Lines: The 1925-1928 Western Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal Strike,” is based on over two years of research on 1920s race relations and coal mining in the Pittsburgh area, a topic that has many connections to the present day. Eli’s Zoom presentation of his thesis was a festive opportunity for friends, family, and former teachers to to tune in. (His parents were kvelling offscreen).  Eli’s Zoom talk is here, and the written thesis is here!


AARC congratulates Caleb, Jonas, Marley, and Eli on their many accomplishments and looks forward to seeing them carry those achievements out into the world.

Photo credit: https://www.pikrepo.com/fehbo/group-of-graduating-students

AARC Featured in the Toledo Jewish News!

Emily Gordon is the author of a lovely piece about AARC in last month’s Toledo Jewish News. Featuring in-depth interviews with Rabbi Ora and Board Co-Chair Rebecca Kanner, the article goes to the heart of what makes our congregation special!

There are approximately 100 Reconstructionist congregations and havurot, mostly in the United States. Although there are three in Ohio, AARC is the closest to Toledo.

Might AARC’s emphasis on inclusivity extend to our neighbors to the south? Absolutely! We hope that when in-person events are able to be held once again, we will have the opportunity to welcome Ohioans who read about us in the Toledo Jewish News.

Beit Sefer Celebrates Tu BiShvat at the Botanical Gardens

Beit Sefer spent last Sunday morning enjoying the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. AARC member Drake Meadow led the group on an informative tour. Students learned about many of the beautiful and bountiful plants at the Botanical Gardens. Drake described three categories of fruits that feature in Jewish lore: Beriah (fruits with soft cores), Yetzirah (fruits with a pit) , and Asiyah (fruits enclosed in an inedible shell). The students enjoyed categorizing the different fruits they found around the gardens.

After the tour, families gathered to eat a special Tu BiShvat snack of trail mix, fruit, and hot cocoa, accompanied by Jewish folktales told by Clare Kinberg and Drake.

What a lovely way to celebrate the “birthday of the trees,” with both fun and learning! If you know of a family that might like to participate in similar events with our lively Beit Sefer program, please direct them to our website.

Please enjoy the photos below!

“Jews Wandering In The Desert.” Photo credit: Fred Feinberg.
Drake teaches AARC students and families about the edible plants at the Botanical Gardens. Photo Credit: Clare Pritchard.
Marcy adds some interesting tidbits of knowledge to Drake’s tour! Photo Credit: Clare Pritchard.
Drake shares a story about using the low view when making plans for environmental sustainability.
Clare shares Jewish folktales with Beit Sefer students during a special Tu BiShvat snacktime.

Upcoming Kid, Teen, and Family Events Happening around Jewish Ann Arbor!

This winter and spring around Jewish Ann Arbor are filled with meaningful family events. Take a look these upcoming programs — we hope to see you there!

LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton with Keshet

Keshet, a Jewish non-profit that advocates for LGBTQ equality, will host the Midwest/Mountain Area LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton in Detroit this year! This event brings together LGBTQ teens from around the Midwest and Rocky Mountain area to celebrate Shabbat together and “explore the intersections of our Jewish and LGBTQ identities.” Keshet hosted the LGBTQ advocacy training that members of our congregation attended in the Fall. AARC is involved in a year long leadership program to make our congregation more welcoming to the LGBTQ community. For a refresher on this important work, see this blog post from last December.

Talking to Children About Race with Bend the Arc Ann Arbor

Bend the Arc Ann Arbor will host an event aimed at engaging Jewish children in conversations about race. The goal of this workshop is to learn about raising children who are empowered to act against racism. For details on this event, visit Bend The Arc’s Facebook page.

Yiddish Book Center’s Summer Learning Programs

The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts will host various learning programs focused on Yiddish literature for high school students, college students, and young adults. Most programs take place on the campus of the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts. Scholarships are available!

Foundations of Jewish Family Living Series

The PJ Library and the Ann Arbor Orthodox Minyan will host a year-long series beginning in February to explore Jewish family values across all Jewish denominations. This monhly series will be hosted by the JCC of Ann Arbor. The cost is $50 for the entire series. For more info, visit the Melton School’s website.

AARC Joins JCC/St. Joe’s “Stop the Bleed” Training

Take this Free Training!
Learn the Single Most Important First Aid Skill!

By Dave Nelson, AARC Safety Coordinator

The JCC and Community Security Committee will host a “Stop the Bleed” first-aid training on February 4 at the JCC. If you have enough hand strength to wring out a wet washcloth, you should attend and learn these skills. This excellent hands-on training is run by St. Joseph Mercy Hospital’s Trauma Center. In one hour, you’ll learn everything you need to know to give someone a fighting chance after an accident, disaster, or violent attack.

Our local first responders can generally reach the scene of an accident or injury in around seven minutes. But someone who is bleeding severely will die from blood loss within five minutes. A national effort is underway to train as many people as possible to recognize and treat life-threatening bleeding. You are the help until help arrives.

AARC has already begun to distinguish itself as a congregation that works to be both safe and welcoming: We refuse to hire armed security, or search people at the door, or limit access to our services and gatherings. Instead, we choose to train ourselves to be better equipped to offer a safe space and protect those who gather with us. This is a great opportunity to further expand our capacity to help when help is needed, and keep ourselves open to those around us who may struggle to find a spiritual home and feel safe there.

See you at the training!


WHEN: Tuesday, February 4, 9 am-10:30 am
WHERE:  Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor COST: Free!
REGISTER: email Events@JewishAnnArbor.org


Eli Revzen’s Bar Mitzvah Dvar: Bamidbar

Eli and his friend Otto, shown working on their mitzvah project in the Shelly Volk Memorial Garden

Shabbat shalom. Today I just read from chapter one of the book of Bamidbar, and my parasha is also called Bamidbar. A parasha is like a few chapters smushed together by topic in the torah.

My parasha describes the events that took place a little over a year after the Israelites left Egypt. While the Israelites were wandering in the desert, God told Moses to count the Israelites. Every Israelite man capable of bearing arms was counted.

There ended up being 603,550 men total counted in the census. However, God told Moses not to include the Levites in the census, nor have them dwelling among and counted with the rest of Israelites.

The Levites’ duty was serving the Tabernacle, and when the Israelites travelled, the Levites were to dismantle the Tabernacle and reassemble it in the new encampment. If any outsider came near the Tabernacle, they were to be put to death.

Finally, the Israelite tribes were commanded to camp each under their own standard. The children of Israel were good this time and actually listened to Moses’s decree in the name of God, so they were counted and there was no divine wrath.

What was the point of a census being taken at this time? Because the census counted only the men who could bear arms, it seems like what was happening was the Israelites were building an army.

Why was God thinking about building an army at this point in time? Well, it makes sense after what happened at Rephidim, which I’ll tell you about later. God probably wanted to have the chosen people safe so god told Moses to count them to create an army.


The question for me, the big question in this parasha is if Moses was counted in the census. The question seems small, but the implications are big. If Moses was counted, it would mean that he was one of the people, thus equal in value to the average Israelite man. If Moses was not counted it might hint that he was above the people, because he was closer to God.
Did Moses count himself in the census?


If he was counted then he was going to be an active participant in a militia, and in this case he’d be sharing the risks with the Israelites when going to war. If he wasn’t counted then he would have had others risking themselves for him.

Since the point of the census was to build an army, I think that Moses probably wouldn’t have been a part of the census. Since Moses was the leader, if he were to die in battle the proverbial snake would be headless. Also, we can assume he was fairly old at the time, thus probably not fit to bear arms.

Another Speculation
We can speculate about the answer to this question based on an earlier story in the Torah, the story of Rephidim, and yes I’ll tell you about it very soon, but right now I’m procrastinating. In the Book of Exodus, Moses and the Israelites fight the Amalekites at Rephidim; during the battle Moses gives power to the warriors fighting in the battle.

Rephidim
Since I said I’ll tell you about what happened at Rephidim: The Israelites were attacked by the people of Amalek two months after they left Egypt. So Moses had a rag-tag team go and do battle with the Amalekites. During the battle, when Moses raised his hands, the Israelites prevailed, and when he lowered his hands the Amalekites prevailed. The Israelites were winning for a time, but Moses’ hands grew heavy. Why, is it because that standing for hours on end with your hands up isn’t everyone’s favorite pastime? So Moses then sat on a rock while Aaron and Hur held his hands up for him. And like this his hands were up till sunset. Then it says Joshua (who was probably in charge of the rag-tag team) overwhelmed the Amalekites by the sword.

The story of the battle at Rephidim is an example of what Moses once did to aid the soldiers of Israel. In the battle of Rephidim the soldiers were obviously in jeopardy. But the question is, was Moses? Did he put himself in jeopardy by raising his hands? If not, was it ethical for him to put others’ lives in danger without sharing the risk with them?

Contemporary example
A good contemporary example of different risk levels between a person in charge and the common man is modern industry. A manager of a steel plant is almost never at risk of getting burned, yet the workers are. In this case the manager is like Moses and probably not at risk, but the workers are. The question is is it ethical for a manager to not endanger themself in same way as the common worker. Sometimes this is the only way, if the job involves skills that the manager doesn’t have for example, using heavy machinery and the like.

This topic is very complex and each situation has its own answer so it’s impossible to give a yes this is okay or no don’t do that answer. As consumers of products made by such an industry we are part of this chain. While inside a system it’s very hard to pass a judgment on the ethics of that system. One of the reasons this is very hard is because when you are passing that judgment you’re also judging yourself which makes it difficult not to be biased.

To end my dvar torah I will ask you the Cahal a question, and I’ll love to hear your answers.

Is it okay to have someone do something for you that involves risk without you sharing the risk with them?

Y’all have raised many good points but now it is coming closer to candy throwing time so I must wrap-up.
Conclusion:
This dvar torah raises many more questions than answers, but that is how life is there are almost always more questions that come up the deeper you look.


Thank yous:
This enriching experience of having a bar mitzvah wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing support of many even more amazing people. First I have to thank my parents who made this all possible. Without their love and support this would never have happened. I’d also want to thank my relatives who traveled great distances to be here to support me. Next I have to thank Rabbi Ora, my tutor Lisa, and Deb Kraus who all taught me the skills necessary to be part of this truly enjoyable event. Last but not least I have to thank you all for being such a cooperative Cahal and as a thanks to all of you, my family and I have made a feast for all of you to enjoy. Shabbat shalom and have a great shabbat with your friends and family.

Purim Mania!

A summary of Purim Happenings around Ann Arbor

The weeks leading up to Purim have been eventful; the Beit Sefer kids have been celebrating for two weeks now! Last week the children made Hamentaschen with the Hebrew Day School and this weekend they attended the Jewish Cultural Society’s Purim Festival. I think this year the students will have the whole story down before Friday Services!

But the fun doesn’t end there! There is still lots of Purim fun happening around town this week, culminating in our very own Purim service, Megillah reading, potluck, and games on Friday night!

AARC Purim Service, Potluck and Games. Friday, March 22nd, 6:30pm.

Our theme this year is “Dress Up As Your Personal Hero!” We will read the Megillah as a community after an abbreviated Shabbat service. After Megillah reading, we will hold a vegetarian community potluck followed by songs and games. We still need folks to sign up to read from the Megillah, bring Challah, and help clean up. Please sign up here!


Hamentaschen Making Party, Marcy Epstein’s House. Thursday, March 21st, 6:30-8:30pm.
Please join us for this fun event! We will bake hamentaschen for our Purim celebration and also make mishloach manot for friends and elders in our community. Friends will gather to share Purim stories, eat snacks, and celebrate the equinox and Worm Moon!! RSVP to Marcy at dr_marcy@hotmail.com; plan to bring a hamantaschen filling of your choice.

Other Purim events in the community this week:

Purim Dinner and Play at Beth Israel. Wednesday, March 20th, 6pm. Kick off your Purim celebration by watching the BIRS students perform their annual Purim Shpiel, to be followed by a family-friendly dinner. Children (high school aged and younger) are free; adults are $8.00 per person. Our menu is vegetarian chili and a baked potato bar! RSVP by Friday, March 15. Click here to sign up online.

Megillah Reading at Temple Beth Emeth, March 20th, 6pm.

Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, March 20th, 6:30pm. This event will include a family-friendly celebration at 6:30 p.m. with pizza and hamantaschen, face painting, Purim games, and costumes galore!

Detroit Jews for Justice, March 19th 5-8pm.
This congregation is creating a short play, dance party, costume contest, and a beautiful spread of nosh (including hamentaschen of course).

Wow, that is a lot! I hope that everyone gets their fill of Purim fun. I look forward to seeing everyone this Friday. Chag Purim Sameach!