Sanctuary by Rabbi Aaron Spiegel

When considering this essay, I figured a rabbi should have religious places that hold special if not sacred value, so I thought of the synagogue of my childhood where I learned  (or at least they tried to teach me) the rich traditions of Judaism. I thought of the shul where I davened (prayed) with my grandfather. I thought of the synagogues I have been  privileged to serve. I thought of the myriad places in Israel that have historical and religious significance to Jews. And I thought of the synagogue where my children became bar and
bat mitzvah.
And while all these places brought fond memories, none felt inspiring. I panicked. How could I write an essay on inspiring places when, while important and meaningful, none  jumped out as truly inspiring? Then I realized all had a common trait that was inspiring —people. It wasn’t the synagogue of my childhood that was inspiring; it was Mr. Shapiro who taught me that learning Torah could move me to be a better person. It wasn’t davening in my grandfather’s shul that was inspiring; it was seeing my grandfather’s non-judgmental piety, in the face of so much personal tragedy, that inspired me. It wasn’t leading a congregation that inspired me; it was the privilege of being with people as they experienced the ups and downs of their lives that inspired me. It isn’t the synagogue where my children became full members of the Jewish community that is inspiring, it is their acceptance of their place in the community and the love of friends and family that  inspired me.
Jewish tradition holds that there are only two things holy in a synagogue—the Torah and the people. The building, while important, is just a building. Crossing the threshold into the synagogue does not take one from the world of the profane into the world of the sacred any more than crossing the threshold of an office building. What’s really important are the people whom we seek to inspire and who, in turn, will inspire us.
When the second Temple was destroyed in 79 ACE, the community faced a conundrum. How could they maintain a sense of Judaism without this thing, this structure, as the central focus of their faith? In their inimitable wisdom, the rabbis transferred the power of the Beit Hamikdash, house of sanctuary or holiness, to the home—the Mikdash Me’at or little temple. Parents became the new priests and children their charges. While synagogues became and remain important, they are so primarily because they offer a place to congregate, to be together as a community.
In his book Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Places, Lutheran theologian Jon Pahl writes that new institutions have usurped churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques as our revered spaces. For me as a Jew, it’s not that these places compete with synagogues for our souls; it’s that we have forgotten how to be in community. Instead of seeking inspiration from one another, we search for it in experiences. Life has taught me that the experience of inspiration is not found merely in congregating with others, but in forming relationships. Martin Buber was clear that it is when we acknowledge the humanity of others in our relationships that we experience God. Judaism says that it is loyalty to the teachings of the Torah that is the measure of the faith of the Jew, and not loyalty to an institution. Jewish spirituality centers on being inspired by others. Which is better: the focus on finding the spiritual in the synagogue or in life’s journey? I am not convinced that  either is better, but that personal spiritual growth requires both. It is our tradition to explore the Divine in places other than the synagogue, especially in the home. The concept of Mikdash Me’at, the sanctuary of home, is a cornerstone of Jewish spiritual practice.
However, it is also our tradition that prayer in a group is more powerful than alone. It is not happenstance that a quorum, minyan, is required to recite certain prayers, particularly those that are most personal. It is not that God hears better in groups, it is that we hear better in groups! Our connection to God is through our connection to each other.
Therefore, the synagogue provides the space where the sacred can congregate, where people can come together with Torah and live the experience of Judaism. After all, what are we worshiping? It’s not the building, the chairs, the walls, or the aron ha’kodesh;
we are worshiping our aliveness and our connection with the Divine.
Buber also said, “Next to being the children of God our greatest privilege is being the brothers of each other.” That inspires me!
Aaron Spiegel Rabbi, Information Technology Director, Indianapolis Center for Congregations Sanctuary

John Green on Play

In 2012, author John Green, wrote an guest blog on the theme PLAY. However, his blog describes our HOME so beautifully, we decided to post it again. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Home Safe Home

By Jane Hedeen

As the horrifying details of the shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut emerged on December 14, 2012, I sat, hand clapped over my mouth, devastated.

Sandy Hook catapulted me into the gun violence prevention movement. I started volunteering for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and learning more about gun violence.

Often, people ask if I or a loved one have been affected by gun violence. While the answer is “no,” I’m not naive enough to think that it can’t happen to my family.  My daughter will enter first grade this fall; the same grade as the Sandy Hook children.  That stops me in my tracks.

More than two million American children live in homes with guns that are not securely stored. I won’t accept that.  I advocate for better laws to help keep kids safe in their classrooms, but I have learned that here is something immediate I can do to protect children at home.


Unintentional shootings, which occur when children access an unsecured weapon, are particularly senseless.  A child’s home should be a place of safety and sanctuary, not one fraught with danger because of unsecured weapons.  So far this year, seven unintentional shootings in Indiana have resulted in fives deaths and two injuries. These were all entirely preventable.

That’s why Moms Demand Action developed the BeSMART program.  BeSMART outlines actions everyone — gun owners or non-gun owners — can take to keep our homes safe havens.  In order to save lives, we must Be SMART:

S: Secure guns in homes (and vehicles) by locking them up and storing ammunition separately.  Free gun locks are available through the BeSMART program or, often, your local police department.

M: Model responsible behavior around guns.  Make an informed decision about gun ownership and ensure all adult members of the household are willing to become trained and practice safe storage and handling.

A: Ask about unsecured guns anywhere your children play.  Don’t assume that even trusted friends and relatives practice safe storage. offers tips on having this conversation.

R: Recognize the risks of teen suicide.  Teens are impulsive and suicide attempts with guns result in death 85% of the time. Read more about warning signs and risk factors.

T: Tell your peers to BeSMART.  Share the concrete things we can do in our own homes and through respectful conversations with others to keep kids safe.

Learn more at and

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a grassroots, non-partisan organization that advocates for common-sense gun legislation, such as universal background checks for all gun sales.  The group encompasses gun owners and non-gun owners alike, and believes that the Second Amendment can coexist with common sense laws to keep us all safer. For more information, visit

The Medical Home

By Dr. Mary McAteer

Spirit & Place allows our community to explore one yearly theme through a variety of lenses. With this year’s theme being “home,” The Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics would like to take the opportunity to educate families about an aspect of home they might not be familiar with: the medical home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents should be accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-centered, coordinated, compassionate, and culturally effective. It should be delivered or directed by well-trained physicians who provide primary care and help to manage and facilitate all aspects of pediatric care. The physician should be known to the child and family, and should be able to develop a partnership of mutual responsibility and trust with them. These characteristics define the “medical home,” and stand in contrast to care provided through emergency departments, walk-in clinics, and other urgent-care facilities. Though such care is sometimes necessary, it is more costly and often less effective.

A medical home is not just a building or place – it extends beyond the walls of a clinical practice. A medical home builds partnerships with clinical specialists, families, and community resources. The medical home recognizes the family as a constant in a child’s life, and emphasizes partnership between health care professionals and families. A medical home is where everyone in the office knows your name when you call, welcomes you, and encourages your input. It is a place where your family’s priorities and traditions will be respected, and your child is able to express his feelings, even when it takes time. Further, if needed, a medical home helps you get connected to other health care professionals or community resources and stays with you through the journey.

strong kid

When you have the healthiest child on your block and your family is humming along in wellness, your medical home can help you with routine health screenings, safety information and sports physicals. There are many sources of information that are confusing and may not be rooted in solid science, and your doctor can help put new or controversial information into perspective. When a child goes to school and is not functioning in a given area, your doctor can help narrow down the concern and chart a course to assist you. If a tragedy befalls a family member, or a tragedy within the community hits a child especially hard, having a trusted professional to talk to may offer valuable support.

Where this model shines the brightest is with our children who have special health care needs. When a child receives care through multiple providers, or has more complex needs at school or at home, a medical home that provides a central location and oversight for all the child’s health needs and information can be a valuable asset. The concept of the medical home introduces a pediatrician’s voice into the conversation, and fosters relationships that allow a doctor to help advocate that while a child may need a special form of care, he or she is still capable of succeeding socially and academically.

Many people consider their home a place of comfort and security – a place where they can be open and honest and not feel threatened. That feeling should extend to your family’s doctor’s office. It should be a place you feel safe and secure, and a place where you feel comfortable enough to talk about anything that might be affecting the health of your family. A medical home, where you can establish a lifelong relationship with a team of care providers, is the ideal place to find this atmosphere.

INAAP is an organization of over 800 pediatricians throughout Indiana who are committed to improving children’s health through collaborating with each other, advocating for health care policies, and using dependable resources of science to disseminate good medical advice. We meet every month, discussing action items to improve children’s health care, writing articles, hosting medical meetings, and interfacing with lawmakers and other health policy experts. We work within the American Academy of Pediatrics, the originator of the medical home concept. For further resources, check out, or contact our Executive Director, Chris Weintraut at









Controlling Our Own Food

By Chinyelu Mwaafrika, Kheprw Institute Intern

With the loss of Double 8 foods in our communities last year, the people searched for an alternative means of obtaining affordable produce without having to drive all over creation to access them. From that need, the Community Controlled Food Initiative (CCFI) was born.

CCFI is a community led initiative that was started by the Kheprw Institute shortly after the closing of many Double 8 stores throughout the city. Although initial support for the initiative was small, it has grown exponentially since its inception.

Eulalia Johnson, another member of the CCFI team said, “I was very excited about the food feast and next event I’m going to be even more excited because we’re getting more people.”

CCFI partners with local gardeners/farmers to provide produce, so that not only do community members receive fresh, affordable food, but local growers profit off of their produce which strengthens the local economy.

The amount of money you pay for food depends entirely on your household income. A single person that makes less than $22,000 a year will pay $12 a month and someone making more will pay $25 (EBT/food stamps are accepted). Everyone gets the same amount of food which they pick up at Kheprw Institute on the second Saturday of the month, where they can also participate in a cooking demonstration and a shared community meal.2016-06-15

Mimi Zakem, of the CCFI organizing team said, “The first CCFI Food distribution was just a beautiful thing, and it was really special to partner with a grower from the neighborhood so we had food grown by community, distributed by community, purchased by community, eaten by community. We really have a wonderful grassroots thing going here and we’re excited to keep growing it.”

First CCFI food distribution

First CCFI food distribution

So far, CCFI has tremendous momentum behind it, and from the looks of it they have nowhere to go but up. Paulette Fair, a member of CCFI’s management committee said, “I was so proud of meeting a bunch of residents and community people who came together to bring produce fresh off the farm into our community.”

Tysha Ahmad, another committee member said, “Our goal is to continue to grow so that people can continue to come and be able to pick up healthy food.”

Spirit & Place Selection Committee Spotlight


It will be a few more weeks before we officially announce this year’s lineup for this year’s Spirit & Place Festival, but today we’re giving you some insight into how events were chosen. During Indiana’s bicentennial year in 2016, Spirit & Place Festival explores the definitions of “Home” as a place, a space, and an idea. Some submitted events fit exactly with the more literal interpretation of home, but as past Spirit & Place Festival attendees know, the multiple interpretations of the theme is what makes this Festival unique.

Organizations or individuals interested in submitting events for this year’s Festival submitted an application that answers questions related to the design of their event, the goals of the event and collaborators. After those applications are submitted to Spirit & Place, the volunteer selection committee came in to discuss events and make the final decision about event inclusion.

The selection committee is made up of individuals representing a variety of ages, races and professional backgrounds in Central Indiana. Some individuals have been involved with the committee and Spirit & Place for years, while other committee members provide new voices and perspectives. Each event is evaluated on its individual design and how it fit into the Festival as a whole.

According to veteran committee member Heather Hall, “Spirit & Place is a fantastic opportunity for neighborhoods, faith centers, community groups, and arts organizations to creatively collaborate in showcasing their stories within the framework of the festivals theme. I continue to participate in the Spirit & Place selection process because it is a unique opportunity to see Central Indiana communities through the lens of the arts, humanities, and religion.”

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The Festival is a platform for experimentation, celebration and reflection for Central Indiana residents. Committee members took this into account as they chose events as well.

As new committee member Uroosa Khan says, “Spirit & Place … amplifies the Hoosier voice and it is the core and heart of who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re headed. It is a celebration of the light within us. I was honored to serve on the selection committee to help find the brightest of these voices.”

The 2016 Spirit & Place Festival will run November 4-13, 2016. Stay tuned for an official announcement of events that will be included in the 2016 Festival in the next few weeks!

Creating Safe Routes to School in our City

Making walking and bicycling safe and fun for children has a huge impact on the overall quality of life and health of a community. This is the goal for Safe Routes to School (SRTS), a national effort that looks at localized solutions that make biking and walking to school safer for kids. The solutions range from the most simple, such as buddy systems and walking to school buses to innovative, such as the complete reworking of infrastructure. Solutions often reflect the needs, values, and capacity of a community.

Recently, the Northwest Area Community in Indianapolis completed their SRTS plan. Through a series of surveys and mapping workshops with students, many new perspectives were revealed about the community from a child’s eye view.

For example, for many students, the best part of walking to school was time spent with friends and family. Another positive aspect of walking was going by and/or stopping in at neighborhood destinations, especially parks. On the flip side, students noted loose and stray dogs were a common concern that made walking to school stressful.

Encountering, or the possibility of encountering, threatening and scary people was also ranked highly by students as a negative, followed by navigating dangerous street crossings and interactions with cars. (Note: The schools in this survey did not have a crossing guard on staff.) Crumbling sidewalks and more than 70 vacant lots and buildings within a 3 block radius of one school, also negatively impacted the students.

It is these types of issues that lead communities to develop interesting and strategic solutions, such as working with IMPD to “clean-up” a park that had been identified several times as “a scary” place, not only by students in this project, but also by other youth-focused forums in the neighborhood. Art processes also became a key component of how to address these issues and began first by cleaning up and painting a simple design on the old fire station across the street from the same “problem child” park.

Community activists continued to take matters into their own hands, looking for new and innovative ways to make this area safer for kids. LaShawnda Crowe Storm, Spirit & Place’s very own community engagement director, with her creative compeer Phyllis Viola Boyd, activist and executive director of Groundwork Indy, have become one of 80 finalists from among 1400 applicants (and the only one in Indiana) competing for a grant from ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Fund. Their application for PROJECT RECLAIM is focused on using art to take back this corridor into one that is safe for children.

So, think a SRTS effort may be beneficial to your community? Check out the report Creating Healthier Generations: A Look at 10 Years of the Federal Safe Routes to School Program for tips and information exploring how this effort can impact your community.