This coming week will end the period of shloshim for Rabbi Dr. Aaron Panken, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He was a formidable Talmud scholar, a visionary seminary president, and a passionate advocate for social justice. He is mourned by leaders across the spectrum of Jewish life, throughout the academic world, by his loving family, and by his many students. It is astounding how many lives he touched, and touched deeply.
One of the central tenets of Judaism is a commitment to lifelong learning. The Synagogue is proud to be offering more educational opportunities than ever before. In addition to our ongoing programs, we have two adult education series beginning this spring. And we are always eager to hear what else you would like to learn.
JTot Detroit, which has proudly served families raising Jewish kids in the City of Detroit, is growing so rapidly that we are discussing starting a Jewish education program for 4-6 year olds and their families this fall.We will be formalizing the plans at an upcoming retreat, May 5-6, at Tamarack Camps (please see below). If you, or someone you know, may be interested in a Detroit-based Jewish family education program, please let me know.
As we grow as a community of learners, please do not hesitate to be in touch if there are other topics or formats that interest you. If we don't yet offer something at the Synagogue, I would be happy to refer you to other educational opportunities in Metro Detroit and online.
May we share in the delight of new ideas and even more questions,
The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which evokes meitzarim, the "narrow straits." When the Israelites were freed from slavery, they were freed from a narrow place, a place that constricted them. And the haggadah instructs us to personally identify with the Exodus narrative such that we imagine that we ourselves came forth from Egypt, from those narrow straits.
Today, when asked the question "where are you from?" regardless of where our house sits in the Metro area, many of us respond, "Detroit." Detroit comes from the French word, détroit, which means "strait." We live in a place that similarly challenges us to examine our own experiences of narrowness - in our personal lives, in our communities, and in the structures that shape them.
So as we tell Passover's personal and communal narrative of redemption, it is a time to reflect on what is constraining us, and the people around us, from redemption today. And to commit to doing something about it.
One of the things that excites me about our March 25 seder is the chance to do just that. To hear the Exodus story, to hear others' stories, and to examine our own. It might make that night different from all others, or it might inspire us to keep marching toward our own vision of a Promised Land.
My daughter is already planning her Purim costume. Jewish organizations in Detroit have begun coordinating and planning our Purim parties (there will be one every day Wednesday through Sunday). Our Ritual Committee and I have been recruiting lay leaders to facilitate the festivities at IADS (if you are interested, please let me know!) and the to-do lists in the office cover every detail.
The month of Adar and our Purim celebrations will be filled with joy and laughter. And amidst the spectacular costumes, intoxicating refreshments, and spirited megillah reading, it is easy to forget another Purim observance--providing support to those in need. Matanot L'Evyonim is one of the mitzvot of Purim and, along with mishloach manot, it reminds us that we need to share our abundance.
And so I encourage you, as you plan your costume and Purim party itinerary, to also prepare to give. Please bring a box of pasta to shake as your grogger, and we will donate them to a food pantry. Please consider a donation to an organization fighting for social justice. And please, as you move through Detroit, if someone by the side of the road is asking for money, give without assumptions or judgment. Our generosity can and should continue throughout the year, and one the particular joys of Adar is bringing joy to others. May our entire extended community have a very happy Purim.