Archive | November, 2008

Back to Iraq…and things are different!

Back to Iraq…and things are different!

Posted on 25 November 2008 by admin

Nov. 4, 2008

Dear TJP Readers and Jewish Community,

I hope that my letter finds all well with you.

Lt. Colonel Grodin davens at dawn at the 345th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq.

It is not every morning when you wake up in the middle of a war zone, turn on the TV, and watch historic events unfold 7000 miles away, on the other side of the world. And that is exactly what I am doing this morning. As an officer in the United States Army presently deployed with the 345th Combat Support Hospital in Tikrit, Iraq….I am watching Barack Obama deliver his acceptance speech as president-elect of the United States of America. Even though I am far, far away from home, I can easily grasp the history of what is now being written on many levels. I will have a new commander-in-chief, the first African American commander-in-chief in the history of our great, democratic republic. Of the millions of American soldiers that have served our great nation over 222 years, from the hoary mists of the American Revolution, through the agony of the Civil War, from the crucible of fire on the beaches of Normandy in WWII, to the ferocious Battle of Fallujah fought recently just a few miles from where I now write to you, I am one of the very few and privileged who will now take orders from a president unlike any we have ever had. Seeing all this happen half a world away allows one the perspective of clarity. From my perch here in Iraq, America is once again illuminating the world with a new hope and the promise of a better world.

As a reserve officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, I have once again been called to active duty. My orders sent me to support the 345th Combat Support Hospital, 332nd Medical Brigade, 44th MEDCOM, at Camp Speicher, just outside of Tikrit. Since joining the Army on Sept. 12, 2001, this was to be my third deployment. It would be my second to Iraq, as I had initially served with the 67th CSH in Mosul back in 2003–2004.

Lt. Col. Grodin e-mailed us this photo, writing, “Riding in an MRAP is fun.”

I left home on Oct. 4, 2008. My wife Julee drove me to DFW, and with a simple kiss good-bye, sent me on my way. I was amazed and proud of her composure. The brunt of my deployments falls squarely on her, and she shoulders that very heavy load with her usual quiet strength and patriotism. She is an “Aishes Hayil,” a “Woman of Valor”! She remains the cornerstone of my life. I simply could not do my mission without her support and love. For 34 years, she has been, and continues to be, the best thing in my life!

The first leg of my active duty deployment began at Ft. Benning, Ga. This military base is an essential cog in the defense of our nation. It is a very serious place, known as the “Home of the Infantry,” where all day long one hears the sharp crack of machine gun fire from the weapons’ ranges, the blasts of artillery in the distance, the war cries of our troops as they practice airborne jumps from tall, steel towers. It is from such bases where the country ramps up to go to war, where we sharpen the “tip of the spear,” where we hone our warriors, where we initiate the process that insures the complete destruction and utter defeat of our enemies. While at Ft. Benning, I met the other doctors and nurses tasked to the 345th CSH. Together, we were subjected to intense, pre-mobilization training. Our days were long, often starting at 4:30 a.m. and finally finishing at 10 p.m. This training included weapons qualification, convoy training, and a Humvee escape exercise where we were strapped into a simulator (actual Humvee) and turned upside down. We then had to practice egress from the vehicle. This is not easy, as one becomes disoriented after rolling over, making it hard to find the door handle. Not to mention the fact that the Humvee armored doors weigh over 300 lbs. each, and are difficult to push open, particularly when you are upside down! This exercise is not a waste of time, as soldiers have died when their Humvees have been blasted over by IEDs, and then caught fire. Therefore, you need to be able to get out quickly! We were also given a multitude of briefings, on every imaginable topic relative to Iraqi security, culture, weather, insects, diseases, etc. Finally, we were ready. We shipped out and headed to the Middle East two days after Yom Kippur.

The first leg of our flight took us to Bangor, Maine where we arrived after midnight. To our amazement, we were welcomed by a huge crowd of flag-waving local citizens, forming two long greeting lines on either side of us while we de-planed. It was a warm welcome, much appreciated by all of us.

From Maine, we then flew to Leipzig, Germany and from there on to Kuwait. Once in Kuwait, we were transported by convoy to an isolated military base in the north of the country, near the southern Iraqi border. There, we were once again bombarded with three more days of briefings, more weapons training, finally crammed into the cargo bay of a C-130 Hercules, and flown into Tikrit, Iraq.

On the outskirts of Tikrit lies COB Speicher, a large, sprawling military base which will be my home for the next several months. It is located in an area which was once the heart of the insurgency. In fact, Tikrit was Saddam Hussein’s home town! If you remember, he was captured, hiding in a hole, not too far from here. ­Speicher has been the launch pad for American combat and civil affairs missions that have finally brought the insurgency, in this area, under control. There is a considerable amount of firepower here, including up-armored Humvees and the massive, new MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protective), armed with everything from 50-caliber machine guns to 20-mm cannons. If you are al-Qaida or an insurgent, and you run into such firepower, our warriors will make sure that you have about a zero percent chance of survival. In addition, these vehicles have all kinds of new electronic warfare devices for defeating IEDs. Even though things are quieter in this corner of Iraq, you can still see daily convoys fan out into the surrounding villages, towns and countryside to maintain security and build the peace.

I arrived at COB Speicher on Oct. 15, and immediately settled into my work schedule with the 345th CSH (combat support hospital). Normally a CSH consists of about 88 beds, but our unit is split, with 44 beds being deployed at Al Asad in western Anbar Province, and the other half of the hospital being here, just outside of Tikrit. Our hospital is housed in a combination of tents and hard structure. We have an eight-bed ICU, 12-bed ICW (intermediate care ward) and 10-bed ER, along with fully equipped pharmacy, lab and X-ray departments consistent with what we call level III care. An integral part of the CSH is the LZ (landing zone) that can handle up to four helicopters simultaneously. All of this allows us to function as a high-speed, state-of-the-art hospital which can handle not only severely and critically wounded soldiers, but also serious medical illnesses such as pneumonia, asthma, kidney stones, etc.

Compared to my last Iraq deployment in 2003–2004, the level of violence is way, way down. In fact, this past month saw the lowest number of combat casualties and wounded since the war began. The difference between the level of violence then and now is dramatic! I attribute this dramatic improvement to strategic changes on the ground.

First of all, the Sunni Awakening Councils have come over to our side, and are not only providing us with valuable intel, but actually taking the fight to the enemy themselves, as they now serve in front-line units which directly engage the bad guys. As a result, our own soldiers provide backup with air support, communications, etc. and are no longer the guys spearheading many of these combat missions. Also, a lot of al-Qaida and insurgents have been killed, arrested, or fled to Afghanistan. These bad boys are, to say the least, quite unpopular in this corner of Iraq! Another factor perhaps adding to the new calm and stability is the simple fact that the local population has become sick and tired of all the killing and violence.

Even if we are seeing far less combat trauma, we continue to be moderately busy in the hospital as soldiers still get sick with flu, diarrhea, kidney stones (from intense heat causing dehydration), lacerations from playing softball, broken bones from falling out of trucks, and psych issues. Although these maladies don’t have the panache of inserting a stent into a coronary artery during a heart attack as I normally do in my civilian practice back home at the Baylor University Medical Center, they are nonetheless important because treating them makes our soldiers better, ultimately contributing to our fighting strength.

Although the overall level of violence is down, Iraq still remains a very dangerous place. It may be slow today, but things can change in an instant! All it takes is a single IED, or a sudden firefight to wound, maim or kill several of our combat jocks. In a heartbeat, we can find ourselves in a mass casualty situation where our combat hospital becomes inundated with critically wounded soldiers. Such is the nature of combat. It has been quiet. Yet we know that a mass casualty will eventually happen, that we will be tested. It is not a question of “if,” but “when” that test will come. None of us want to face the horrors of combat wounds, but if it is to happen, then I say: “BRING IT!” The 345th is mission trained and ready! We will kick ass!!

A few words about Jewish life here in Iraq. I was able to celebrate both Sukkot and Simchat Torah on base. A sukkah was built, and we were able to eat in it several nights. Michael Ackerson, a fellow reservist and Modern Orthodox rabbi from Baltimore, brought a beautiful Sefer Torah to Iraq. Not only were we able to dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah, but we also read the appropriate parshiyot for both Shabbat and the Yomim Tovim. Regarding my diet, it has not been difficult to maintain my kashrut, as the Army has provided canned tuna fish, fresh salads, kippers, kosher MREs and yogurt. On a more personal and difficult note, I have been unable to say Kaddish for my father, who passed away this past April, as there is no minyan here at COB Speicher. I try not to let this get me down. Thankfully, my rabbi, Mendel Dubrawsky, and our ususal Shacharit “minyanaires” at my shul back home (Chabad Lubavitch of Dallas) are saying Kaddish for my Dad on my behalf, until I return home.

Well, I will close for now. I will send you a follow-up “Iraq Update” letter in the near future. In that next correspondence, I will introduce you to some of our amazing doctors, nurses and staff. Their stories are fascinating, uplifting and make for very interesting reading.

Until then, may you all go “from strength to strength.” If any of you wish to contact me, my e-mail address is:

Lt. Colonel
Jerrold M. Grodin, M.D.
United States Army Medical Corps
345th Combat Support Hospital
COB Speicher, Iraq

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Around the Town with Rene


Around the Town with Rene

Posted on 21 November 2008 by admin

‘Daytimers’ learn about Heritage Trail, Lakes Trail program
During the time that Doug Harman served as president of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, he developed the Heritage Trail and Lakes Trail program. In his talk this month at “Daytimers,” he highlighted the lives of early leaders, and told where to find their sites or markers in the area.

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Doug Harman holds up the Lakes Trail brochure, one of many programs he developed.

Corrine Jacobson spoke briefly about the wonderful work that Harman had done for the city during her many years of working with the Convention Bureau.

Also at the meeting, Jewish Women International President Ina Singer presented a $1,000 donation from JWI to support “Daytimers” programming.

Next month “Daytimers” will have a Chanukah party, Wednesday, Dec. 17, with a musical program featuring Jewish and Chanukah music presented by Armen and Ariana Cherkasov. Luncheon will be an Israeli buffet catered by popular Arlington caterer Riki Epstein.

For reservations, call Barbara Rubin, 817-927-2736, or Sylvia Wexler, 817-294-1129, or checks can be mailed to Daytimers, Jewish Federation, 4049 Kingsridge Road, Fort Worth, TX 76109. There has been a change in the credit card processing. “Daytimers” can now accept Discover cards in addition to MasterCard, Visa or American Express. Each card must include the mailing ZIP code and the three- or four-number security code from the card.

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Emcee Edythe Cohen accepts the $1,000 donation from Jewish Women International President Ina Singer.

The Sylvia Wolens “Daytimers” is a program of Congregation Beth-El with financial support from the Jewish Federation.

Many happy occasions
There’s nothing we love more than reporting simchas in the TJP and the next few weeks will be filled to the brim. For a start, this weekend at Ahavath Sholom is a double celebration — the b’nai mitzvah of Benjy and Molly Karten, children of Mona and Steve Karten and siblings of Carly. Both sets of grandparents, Fay Green and Barry Green and Sol and Phyllis Karten, and other out-of-town guests will join in the weekend festivities.
Special occasions will be celebrated next week by Cathy and Charlie Freid, who will mark their 25th silver wedding anniversary on the 26th; and Leslie and Alan Magee, who will celebrate their 10th on the29th.
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend will be a major celebration for prominent and distinguished ourtowner Lou Barnett, who will mark his 90th. Many more happy returns of the day to Lou.


Harwood seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher Kristen Brown (left) and Elizabeth Cooper are shown with Corrine Jacobson (right), who collected 3,000 pencils to contribute to Miss Brown’s Holocaust studies project.

Also on the calendar is the bat mitzvah of Courtney Anne Smith, daughter of Annette and Mitchell Smith, who will celebrate this special event in her life on Saturday, the 29th. Courtney is the granddaughter of the late Sharon Klemow and Doris Smith and the late Yale Smith. Her maternal great-grandparents were well-known Fort Worthians Faye and Sid Klemow. The same morning at Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, Elizabeth Kaner, daughter of Marni and Joey Kaner, will be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah. She’s the granddaughter of the late Fay and Herby Berkowitz. Many ourtowners from their large extended family will join in the celebration.

Mazel tov to all the celebrants and their happy families.

Corrine Jacobson helps Holocaust studies project in Bedford
Performing mitzvahs is not a new endeavor for Corrine Jacobson. She was raised by a mother who taught her well. The late Rose Rosenthal instilled in her daughter at an early age the values and joys in performing mitzvahs and helping others.

Just from reading a news story of a teacher (Miss Kristen Brown) at Harwood Junior High in Bedford who was involved in a project to collect 6 million pencils for a Holocaust studies program (similar to the Paper Clips project that generated national news and interest), Corrine was instrumental in collecting 3,000 pencils to contribute to Miss Brown’s project. Many thanks to Elizabeth Cooper for sharing this with the TJP.
Last chance to RSVP for B’nai B’rith Thanksgiving luncheon
Just a reminder that the B’nai B’rith annual Thanksgiving luncheon will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 25 at Beth-El, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

If you haven’t as yet responded, RSVP to Jewish Family Services at 817-569-0898. Please do so as soon as possible.

Hadassah’s Young Judaea 2009 program defies current economic landscape with record early
registration figures

In the first weeks of registration for the coming year, Hadassah’s Young Judaea program has seen a 40 percent surge in its Year Course sign-up despite the economic recession.

Young Judaea, which runs the largest post-high school program in Israel, is experiencing a record sign-up of Jewish 12th-graders for the 2009 program. Hadassah announced that registration for the 10-month program of volunteering and study actually exceeds last year’s record.

Currently, more than 500 teenagers are participants in the year of community volunteering and Zionist education. Representing over 35 American states, four Canadian provinces, Great Britain, Switzerland, Sweden and even Nigeria, the participants represent a spectrum of Jewish backgrounds from the non-affiliated to the Orthodox.

“Even in tough economic times, parents are still committed to fostering their child’s Jewish identity,” said Young Judaea Year Course Director Keith Berman. “In addition, many parents find it cheaper to send their children to Israel than to the first year of university studies, and some of our teens get university credit for the year in Israel.”

The program is divided into three parts, in which the participants experience life in Jerusalem, volunteer and live in Bat Yam and Holon and volunteer throughout the country. Young Judaea alumni have demonstrated the effectiveness of the program in strengthening Jewish identity and creating a lasting connection to Israel. Ninety percent of graduates marry fellow Jews.
In addition to the focus on Zionism and discovering Israel, Young Judaea has recently begun offering specialized tracks. For example, in 2009, participants on a business track will travel to China and India to explore emerging capital markets.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, was founded by Henrietta Szold in 1912 and has expressed its commitment to the establishment and vitality of the state of Israel through creating health and educational infrastructure. Hadassah is the largest women’s organization in the United States and Jerusalem’s second largest employer.

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Dallas Doings


Dallas Doings

Posted on 21 November 2008 by admin

<p>Local Hero Syl Benenson with her son, Steve Benenson</p>

Local Hero Syl Benenson with her son, Steve Benenson

Dallas Muslims, Jews to stand together this weekend against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism
Muslim and Jewish leaders from Dallas will join together to confront anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in a first-of-its kind twinning event this weekend.

The first-ever Weekend of Twinning(sm), to be held Nov. 21–23, resulted from a resolution passed at the National Summit of Imams and Rabbis held last year in New York and hosted by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU). The success of the National Summit led organizers to expand the interfaith dialogue model to include congregations across North America to directly confront instances of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Throughout the Weekend of Twinning(sm), 50 mosques and 50 synagogues representing over 100,000 Muslims and Jews throughout the United States and Canada will join together to confront Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and to strengthen the relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities.

“For generations, there has been a series of misunderstandings byJews and Muslims on what the other religious community believes and practices,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and co-organizer of the Weekend of Twinning(sm).

<p>Cheryl Bollman of National Council of Jewish Women accepts a $5,000 donation from Local Hero Phyllis Bernstein.</p>

Cheryl Bollman of National Council of Jewish Women accepts a $5,000 donation from Local Hero Phyllis Bernstein.

“These misperceptions and other societal and political factors have unfortunately led to tensions between our two communities.”

From New York to California, Florida and everywhere in between, Muslims, Jews, imams and rabbis will lead discussions, workgroups and panels on ways to confront hate in our communities. The Weekend of Twinning(sm) will run in conjunction with two widely-seen public calls for an end to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and a broadcast public service announcement (PSA) on CNN.

In the Dallas area, the Weekend of Twinning(sm) event is taking place at Temple Shalom, and at the IslamicAssociation of Carrollton. For details, call 202-265-3000.
The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, under the leadership of Rabbi Marc Schneier, president, and Russell Simmons, chairman, is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting racial harmony and

strengthening inter-group relations. The Foundation, founded in 1989, has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Dallas-area nonprofits,individuals recognized by B of A Charitable Foundation
The Bank of America Charitable Foundation has announced two Dallas-area nonprofits, AVANCE Inc. and Dallas Habitat for Humanity Inc., as recipients of the prestigious Neighborhood Excellence Initiative (NEI) Neighborhood Builder awards. Five community leaders and five local high school students were also recognized for making a difference in the Dallas community. Neighborhood Builder winners receive $200,000 in unrestricted grants. Bank of America has committed more than $2.2 million in NEI awards in Dallas.

Local Hero Phyllis Bernstein (center) with Aleta Stampley and Gillian Breidenbach of Bank of America</p>

Local Hero Phyllis Bernstein (center) with Aleta Stampley and Gillian Breidenbach of Bank of America

NEI honors awardees in three categories: Neighborhood Builders™ — local nonprofit organizations working to promote vibrant communities; Local Heroes™ — community leaders who contribute significantly to the health of our neighborhoods; and Student Leaders® — exemplary high school junior and seniors with a passion for improving our communities.

Dallas’ 2008 NEI award recipients include:

Neighborhood Builders — Each receives $200,000 in unrestricted grant funding, and the executive director and an emerging leader from each organization participate in a leadership development program sponsored by Bank of America to enhance their strategic skills with other nonprofit leaders across the country and London.

AVANCE Inc. of Dallas. AVANCE serves primarily Hispanic families in low-income, at-risk communities and aims to strengthen families through effective parent education and support programs. ADVANCE Inc. will be using their grant to improve and expand their outreach into the southwest sector of Dallas by allowing for the addition of two new sites in the area.

Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, Inc. is a Christian ministry that builds quality, affordable homes in partnership with deserving low-income families. It will use its $200,000 to fund part of its new “Dream Dallas” project that will build homes in five settlements in the Dallas area.
Local Heroes — Each directs a $5,000 donation from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation to an eligible nonprofit of their choice.

Sylvia “Syl” Benenson, of Dallas, will donate the award to AVANCE Inc.; Phyllis Bernstein, of Dallas, will donate the award to the National Council of Jewish Women; Sheryl Fields Bogen, of Dallas, will donate the award to Dallas Furniture Bank; Janet Mockovciak, of Dallas, will donate the award to the Dallas After School Network; and Patricia “Pat” Van Dyke, of McKinney, will donate the award to the Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders Association of Dallas.

Building on a longstanding tradition of investing in the communities it serves, Bank of America will embark in 2009 on a new, 10-year goal to donate $2 billion to nonprofit organizations engaged in improving the health and vitality of their neighborhoods.

Funded by Bank of America, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation gave more than $200 million in 2007, making the bank the most generous financial institution in the world.
JCRC to host  lunch with Yoram Ettinger on Dec. 2
On Tuesday, Dec. 2, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Dallas will host a special luncheon featuring Yoram Ettinger, former Israeli consul general to the Southwest, to be held at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas–Conference Room B (7900 Northaven Road). Beginning at noon, the topic of the luncheon will be “The Middle East in the Post-Olmert/Bush Era.”
Ettinger served as minister for congressional affairs at Israel’s Embassy in Washington, Israel’s consul general to the Southwest and director of Israel’s Government Press Office. He is an insider on U.S.-Israel relations, Mideast politics and overseas investments in Israel’s high-tech. He is a consultant to members of Israel’s Cabinet and Knesset, and regularly briefs U.S. legislators and their staff on Israel’s contribution to vital U.S. interests, on the root causes of international terrorism, Iran and other issues of bilateral concern.
To attend this special luncheon, please RSVP to Meghan Traxler, JCRC program associate, at 214-615-5254 or by Monday, Nov. 24.

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Shearith Israel programs shine

Shearith Israel programs shine

Posted on 21 November 2008 by admin

Mitzvah Day a success at CSI with many activities

By Rachel Gross

Mitzvah Day at Congregation Shearith Israel proved to be a rip-roaring success. On Nov. 9, around 650 people volunteered their time to participate in 40 different mitzvah projects around the community. There were various projects for people from ages 2 to 9. Preschool kids baked cookies for firemen and got a tour of a fire station, older kids helped reshelve the synagogue library, adults donated blood during the blood drive, some built an art deck at Akiba Academy and others cleaned up parks. Other projects consisted of writing letters to Israel soldiers, visiting residents of the Veranda, putting together toiletry kits, mailing flyers for Dallas Kosher, assisting at the JFS food bank and knitting scarves for underprivileged kids in Israel.

That afternoon, about 400 people attended the Going Green Picnic and Fair at the synagogue.

Everyone enjoyed the beautiful weather and shared their experiences with one another. “We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to do a mitzvah,” said Mona Allen, Shearith Israel program director. “Whenever we do projects like this, we want people to know that there are many ways to do it. The best part is that people got to realize this isn’t a one-day deal and there will be continuation projects. It really was a celebratory day.” Mitzvah Day was so successful that people are already asking what they can do next. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah — it turns out one mitzvah really does lead to another.

Truck Time

More than 1,600 kids of all ages gathered last weekend for CSI’s fifth annual Truck Time. A highlight this year was the Mavericks fan van and the Dallas Stars Street team. Everyone enjoyed free popsicles, courtesy of Stevens Transport, and kept nice and cold in their refrigerated state-of-the-art trailer. The sixth annual Truck Time is already being planned for November 2009.

Shabbat is being revitalized at Shearith Israel. Synaplex is back in action and is ready to provide a truly unique Shabbat experience for all that attend.

Synaplex is a community-building initiative designed to provide people with new reasons to make the synagogue the place to be on Shabbat. It enables people to celebrate Shabbat the way they want to. It is an innovative way to enrich Jewish life and strengthen community through prayer, study, social and cultural programs all taking place in the synagogue.

This is the third year Shearith Israel is featuring Synaplex, which occurs either on Friday night or Saturday morning. The first year featured nine different sessions and attracted 600 people. The first one for 2008–2009 is planned for Dec. 5 at 8:30 p.m. following services. All sessions are free and open to all. The congregation will also host both a family dinner and a congregational dinner.

Mona Allen, Shearith Israel program director, said this is a way to make people feel welcomed at synagogue.

“We want people to realize that synagogue is not just a place of worship, but also a place to feel comfortable,” she said. “Being there can be about prayer, learning and incorporating the social aspect — that is really the Synaplex concept.”

Synaplex sessions feature activities for everyone to enjoy. In the past, some have included a yoga class, a bike ride, a Torah run, games for kids, speeches by local artists and authors and a nature walk.

The Dec. 5 sessions will include children’s games hosted by Shearith teenagers, author Joel Roffman will speak about how Jewish tradition deals with emotional and spiritual needs, Michelle Krieg from Jewish Family Service will lead an interactive discussion and Rabbi David Glickman and Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker will show people how to experience songs and joy to enhance their Shabbat experience.

The most important aspect of Synaplex is Kiddush, where everyone can come together and discuss what they did with one another. Allen added that Synaplex is a great way to teach people about all different aspects of Judaism and attract those who do not enjoy going to services.

“Synaplex is not the end product, but it gets you going in another direction,” she said. “It’s a really interesting Shabbat experience. It allows people to see Shabbat on their own level.”

After Dec. 5, the next two Synaplex Shabbats are planned for Jan. 10 at Douglas and Jan. 24 at Beit Aryeh. There, people will be able to participate in a Torah run, an educator will speak about how to teach sign language to children and the owner of an energy company will teach everybody how to go green.

Rabbi William Gershon said he likes that this has the unique ability to reach out to different types of people who have different interests in spirituality. It puts a spin on the typical Shabbat service and takes it to a new level.

“Synaplex creates a tremendous energy in the synagogue,” he said. “Services are important, but it’s not just about services. This is a model that goes beyond that. That’s why Synaplex is so powerful. It’s not just a straitjacket mold that people are in … it creates points of entry.”

And Rabbi Glickman agrees. During last year’s Synaplex session at Beit Aryeh, services started at 9 on a Saturday morning and ended at 11 a.m. instead of noon so everyone could attend a session. Afterward, everyone got together for the Kiddush lunch and continued their Shabbat celebration.

Glickman said praying in a synagogue usually takes up less than one-sixth of the typical 25-hour Shabbat. The rest of the time is spent with friends or family, enjoying a meal together, playing outside or studying Torah.

“What Synaplex does is introduces families who are not yet Shabbat-observant to the other ways of celebrating Shabbat in addition to praying in synagogue,” he said. “Synaplex enriches the Shabbat experience, and brings together many more Jews of many more ages to celebrate together.”

For more information, log on to or call the office at 214-361-6606.

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Shalom from the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 20 November 2008 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

The holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us and the messages of this day are many. The importance of being thankful and the value of expressing those thanks are crucial lessons for our children to learn. Here are a few thoughts to make your Thanksgiving both Jewish and American. Don’t forget to say the Shehechiyanu!

I am honored to quote my favorite Jewish educator, Joel Lurie Grishaver, from his book “40 Things You Can Do to Save the Jewish People.” He says to make Kiddush and Hamotzi on Thanksgiving. “It is important to treat Thanksgiving as a Jewish ritual meal and thereby blend Jewish and American values into a single expression. Thanksgiving has always had its own rituals. … [W]e had never thought to make it Jewish — we had never thought to remember that when the Pilgrims were gathering that first fall harvest in their new land, they went back to the Bible and found their own way of bringing the Sukkot ritual alive. Thanksgiving is nothing more than a Pilgrim version of a creative Sukkot celebration — add the popcorn and cranberries, take out the lulav and etrog, and you get the picture. The moment I figured out that Thanksgiving wasn’t just an American holiday, my world changed. I was no longer involved in a thousand discussions about Jewish American or American Jew. There was no question of priorities — the answer was simple. From then on, I’ve made Kiddush before eating turkey. Kiddush adds another dynamic — it shows not only a melding of food, but of spirit.”

The most important thing is to continue being thankful after Thanksgiving. Our rabbis tell us to say 100 blessings every day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think of 100 things that we are thankful for? There is a wonderful camp song that was written by the director of the UAHC Goldman Union Camp, Rabbi Ron Kotz. It is called “The Na Na Song” and the words (beyond “na na”) are: “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shenatan lanu hizdamnut l’takein et haolam — Blessed are You, Eternal G-d, Ruler of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world.” Add this to your daily blessings and do your part to make the world a better place — start this Thanksgiving (and if you want the music to the song, send me an e-mail:

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Ask the Rabbi

Posted on 20 November 2008 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

After reading this past week’s Torah portion for the 10th year straight, I’m once again bothered by the same question that always bothers me. When Abraham and Sarah are told by the angel that she will have a son, she laughs out of scorn: How could she, a woman of 90, bear a child? God asks Abraham, “Why is Sarah laughing, is there anything I can’t do?” Abraham asks Sarah, “Why did you laugh?” and she denies it, and Abraham tells her that he knows it from God Himself. What bothers me is: How could a woman of such impeccable truth attempt to lie to Abraham, especially if she knows he’s a prophet? Aren’t the matriarchs supposed to be an example for us women?

Marcie K.

Dear Marcie,
I, too, was bothered by this question for many years, until I heard a beautiful insight this very week from a local friend and colleague, Rabbi Shmuel Fried (no relation), in the name of his mentor, Rabbi Y. Belsky of New York.

If you look carefully in the verse (Genesis 18:12), it does not exactly say that Sarah simply laughed. It adds the word “bekirbah,” which means that she laughed “deep inside herself.” This means to say that, much as

Abraham laughed out of joy when G-d first gave him the good news of a son (hence the name Isaac/Yitzchok, meaning “will laugh”), so did Sarah, with the faith in G-d that even a miracle such as this could transpire. However, although Sarah had the belief, G-d detected, deep down, a slight doubt that even Sarah herself did not perceive. Deep in the recesses of her subconscious, Sarah remained with the natural feeling of a woman who had passed her childbearing years, and had long since lost the natural ability to do so. This caused a subconscious laughter, or scoffing, at the very notion of her bearing a child, without consciously detecting she had that feeling. “After I have withered shall I again have delicate skin, and my husband is old?!”

That is why, in verse 15, where it says “Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’” the Torah adds “ki yare’ah.” This is usually translated to mean “for she was frightened,” and therefore denied the charge. Rabbi Belsky explained it to mean, because she was a fearful woman, meaning she truly had the fear of Heaven in her heart, and therefore denied it, because she herself didn’t realize this laughter which was hidden from her conscious mind. Abraham answered her, “No, you laughed, indeed,” you have a hidden trait you need to work on.

This rebuke bears fruit. In Chapter 21, Sarah has a son, and then notices that Ishmael, the first son of Abraham, has laughter/scoffing in his heart (21:9). She now knows the effect scoffing can have upon the heart, and asks Abraham to separate Ishmael from her son, Isaac. Abraham is greatly troubled by this request, until G-d Himself tells Abraham that he should listen to whatever Sarah tells him. Rashi in his commentary explains this to mean, G-d is telling Abraham that Sarah has elevated herself above his level of prophecy! She, since that original rebuke, had so much looked within herself and perceived the subtle, hidden feelings of scoffing until she could perceive them in others, to a prophetic level, to the point that she actually surpassed Abraham, who gave her the original rebuke based upon his prophecy.
Keep on studying and asking questions!

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at

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In My Mind’s I

Posted on 20 November 2008 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

For years, the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Center for American Pluralism has published “America’sTable: A Thanksgiving Reader,” in cooperation with African American, Hispanic, Asian and Islamic organizations. It helps everyone “celebrate our diverse roots and shared values” as we sit down on this unifying U.S. holiday. The idea is to remember that today is about far more than good food — important as that may be.

At our tables, AJCommittee says, we can reconnect with our various pasts by answering our children’s questions: When did our families come to America? Why? How did they get here? What did they find when they arrived? Not every journey was easy, we’re reminded, or even voluntary. But all of us have our roots in such a journey, of one kind or another.

When my children were small and asked these questions, my answers were simple, straightforward and similar to those of many other American Jews of my generation. My grandparents arrived on ships, young people before the turn of the 20th century seeking better lives than those afforded Jews in their native Lithuania, Russia, Austria-Hungary. They met and married here, where they did not find the streets paved with gold, but did find the opportunity to have children in safety and raise families in peace, if not in affluence.

Today, after the Cowboys game, I’ll sit down at my in-town cousins’ table, with out-of-town cousins present, to share a bountiful holiday meal. And tomorrow, already tired of turkey, that family will gather again at my house, this time with friends, for an annual post-Thanksgiving brisket buffet. I am profoundly grateful for such occasions.

Throughout this season, I constantly give thanks:

•For memories of my Boubby the Philosopher, who brought her Thanksgiving turkeys to the table in pieces, because she could never believe that a bird was clean unless she inspected it inside as well as out before cooking.

•For my father’s life, far too short, yet long enough for him to enjoy two of his four grandchildren; and for my mother’s life, long enough that she could hold one great-grandchild — the first of seven — as well.

•For my children, who once asked all the questions above, and for their children, who have already asked the same questions of their parents.

•For my own life, already much longer than that of my father and approaching the length of that of my mother, characterized by what I like to think of as “healthy aging.”

•For the fact that I am privileged to share my thoughts and ideas (sentimental as some of them may be!) with you each week — to raise some questions and some hackles, but to count all of you as friends.

I hope you’ve done some advance thank-you thinking this year. If not, there’s probably still some time for it before you slice into that holiday bird. And as you sit down at your table, please also think of this, which I’ll be considering as we sit down at ours:

Last week, an unusual pre-holiday dinner was held at the University of Texas at Dallas. Oxfam America, founded in 1970 to do whatever possible to alleviate poverty around the world, has come to school there as a recognized campus organization, and this year staged its first “Hunger Banquet.” Here’s how it worked:

Everyone attending made the same contribution to the cause, then drew, at random, a ticket for his/her mealtime assignment. Seats were parceled out according to imaginary income levels as they are approximated worldwide: 15 percent high, 35 percent medium, 50 percent low. Lucky folks landing in the first tier were served a sumptuous repast — somewhat like the Thanksgiving dinners you and I are enjoying today. The folks in the middle filled up on rice and beans. The ones on the bottom also got rice, but only water came with it. Afterward, everyone stuck around (even the hungry ones, before they went off to the nearest fast-food place!) to talk about the experience.

None of us hosting our 2008 holiday dinner would want to triage our guests like that, and I wouldn’t try it tomorrow, either. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing for you and me to remind those sharing our festive meals that at least half the world’s citizens are subsisting on rice and water, or the equivalent, and we can help them — not by eating less ourselves, but by contributing more. To Oxfam. To Mazon, the Jewish initiative that combats hunger. To give more lives something more to give thanks for.
Have a happy, thoughtful Thanksgiving.


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Shalom from the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 13 November 2008 by admin


By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,
It is almost Thanksgiving and the children ask, “Is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday?” Well, Thanksgiving is not really a Jewish holiday but being thankful is definitely a Jewish thing to do. In fact, we have many, many ways to remind us what we should be thankful for — we say blessings! Our sages tell us that we should say 100 blessings a day. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to stop and say “thank you” for all that we have? There are so many blessings for so many different things, but you can always start with the “blessing opening”: Baruch atah Adonai, elohaynu melech ha olam… Blessed are You O Lord our G-d… Then just add in what you are thankful for. Stop 100 times a day and say “thank you.” It will change how you look at the world.
Now is the time to go to the bookstore for “thankful” books — there are many that are perfect to read for Thanksgiving. Here are a few suggestions.

“Blessed Are You – Traditional Everyday Hebrew Prayers” by Michelle Edwards. Many blessings in Hebrew,

English and transliterated with wonderful pictures to go along with the words.

“Modeh Ani Means Thank You” by Ruth Lipson. This book begins with modeh ani, which we say when we wake up, and then goes through the many things we are thankful for.

“Thank You, God! A Jewish Child’s Book of Prayers” by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler. Lots more wonderful blessings and prayers with beautiful pictures.

“Grateful — a Song of Giving Thanks” by John Bucchino with a recording of the song by Art Garfunkel. Singing our thanks adds another element of joy to saying thanks.

“Thanks & Giving All Year Long” by Marlo Thomas and Friends. A book filled with songs and stories for the whole year!

This is just a beginning but, for me, I always like to be able to pull out a book to help children (and grownups) learn. I would tell my own children, “If people smarter than me are telling us to do something, it must be a good idea.” So don’t believe me — listen to our sages and people throughout the ages — being thankful is a wonderful way of life.

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Ask the Rabbi

Posted on 13 November 2008 by admin


By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi,
Last week I was invited to have a Shabbat meal with an observant family, and before the meal the father put his hands on his children’s heads, one by one, and recited a blessing. I was embarrassed to ask what he was saying, but could you please fill me in? (I kind of wish I had given a blessing to my kids when they were little — they might have turned out differently than they did!)
Chuck W.

Dear Chuck,
The blessing is known as the birchas hayeladim or the blessing of the children. It is based on the blessing Jacob recited upon his grandchildren Ephraim and Menashe before he passed away. At the end of his blessing, it says “So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you shall Israel bless (their children) saying, “May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.”’” (Genesis 48:20) We therefore bless our boys that they should be like Ephraim and Menashe, which is the first part of that blessing.

We end the blessing by reciting the priestly blessing, which says, “So shall you bless the Children of Israel, saying to them: ‘May G-d bless you and safeguard you. May G-d illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you. May G-d lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.’” (Numbers 6 23-27)
This is a very important time in the life of a child, something they look forward to all week and remember throughout their lifetimes. It brings an aura of love and holiness into the family, and shows the child the respect his parents have for him, (Some have the custom that the mother, too, recites these blessings.)

It has been asked what did Ephraim and Menashe do to deserve to be the prototype of blessing for the Jewish people throughout the generations. I think the reason is that Ephraim and Menashe grew up differently than all their cousins. Their cousins grew up in an atmosphere of holiness, surrounded by the 11 tribes of Israel. Joseph, their father, was the “lost tribe,” living alone in Egypt, and there they grew up. They were surrounded by Egyptian children, and unholy adults in the best case. Despite the tremendous difficulties in doing so, they remained observant. Not only were they observant, but they clung to their father and became great tzaddikim, righteous individuals. For this reason they were elevated by Jacob, their grandfather, to the status of tribes, and the tribe of Joseph was split into two tribes, Ephraim and Menashe.

Not only did they stay at the level of their cousins, they surpassed them and were considered equal to those of an earlier generation.

This is our blessing to our children for all time: No matter what the surroundings, they should always have the strength and fortitude to rise above them and retain their holiness and greatness, not bowing or swaying to the pulls of the waves and winds of their times. They should be like Ephraim and Menashe!

The great Rebbe of Klausenberg, in the DP camps after surviving the horrors of the holocaust, was approached by a girl on the eve of Yom Kippur, asking him for the parental blessing, as she had lost her own blessing. With tears in his eyes, he bestowed it upon this girl. Soon the word got out, and dozens of girls in the DP camp were flocking to the holy Rebbe to receive their blessings as well. Even in the worst of times, this blessing has been a source of hope and comfort to Jewish children.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at

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In My Mind’s I

Posted on 13 November 2008 by admin


By Harriet P. Gross

Guess where I was so recently, on Halloween? In a cemetery! But not an eerie, ghostly one: a Jewish cemetery. The old Jewish cemetery in Charleston, S.C. I was one of a group of visitors tromping very carefully over its uneven terrain under Rhetta Mendelsohn’s very watchful eye.

Rhetta is a local guide whose specialty is Jewish tours. During three days, she took 23 of us on explorations of the center city, shepherded us through a couple of outlying plantations, served us refreshments in her home and gave us a personal view of her own temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. Established in 1749, now in a building erected after Charleston’s great fire of 1838, it was designated a National Historic Landmark almost 35 years ago as both America’s founding Reform congregation and the oldest U.S. synagogue in continuous use. But more about houses of worship another time. Let’s talk now about this fascinating, holy burial ground.

The temple’s Coming Street Cemetery, also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the oldest Jewish burial ground in the South; its more than 500 graves include 10 where Revolutionary War soldiers found their final rest, and there are stones memorializing a half-dozen others who fought in the War of 1812.

The first burial here was that of Moses Cohen, in 1762. He was only 53 years old when he died, but in those years he had become well known to all: a prosperous colonial merchant, a learned Jew and a founder of that earliest congregation, also serving as its first ritual leader.
Penina Moise was born in Charleston 35 years after Moses Cohen passed away, and was buried in this same place in 1880. She is known as America’s first published Jewish woman poet, but her work may actually predate that of any male Jewish poet as well.

Her stone bears her own poetic inscription: “Lay no flowers on my grave. They are for those who live in the sun. I have always lived in shadow.” Striking, and apt — Penina Moise was blind her entire life.
Out of 600 Charleston soldiers wearing the uniform of the South during the Civil War, eight are buried here; the impressive stone of Mark Cohen is etched with a cannon (plugged, to indicate death) and the crossed flags of South Carolina and the Confederacy. There are also 13 graves marking the final resting places of Jews who fought and died for the North.

Move through this place, and your feet meet history with every step. Here are markers for four of the 11 founders of Masonry in South Carolina: “Solomon’s Lodge,” these Masons named it. Here is the grave of statesman Bernard Baruch’s great-grandfather, his stone inscribed, in the Reform Jewish fashion of the time, as “Reverend” rather than “Rabbi” Hartwig Cohen. Born in 1763, died in 1861, he was an early rabbi of Beth Elohim — one of a half-dozen who served this congregation and now rest here. Along with them are 18 past presidents of the temple; Valentine Isaac, an early president of Charleston’s Hebrew Benevolent Society; and an ancestor of New York attorney and U.S. Supreme Court jurist Benjamin Cardozo.

Some graves tell curious tales. There is a wordy, flowery inscription for a 26-year-old young man hinting at the fact, but never really saying, that he took his own life — probably a way to legitimize the burial of a suicide on this Orthodox-consecrated ground. And there is a smaller plot within the larger one, cordoned off from it, where the original temple’s contractor, builder David Lopez, lies near his wife; he was Jewish, she was not, and no words were able to mask that exclusionary fact.

Two other curiosities, as well: First, I could find only two headstones with any Hebrew inscriptions at all; remember that the language was out of fashion with many early Reform Jews. And second, Beth Elohim itself is located in close proximity to a major Catholic church; the building across from its old cemetery, once the shop of a kosher butcher, became the site of Immaculate Conception church before its recent transition into condos for the Catholic elderly.

As we walked between the stones, Rhetta kept reminding us to be careful, to watch our steps; navigating the cemetery is treacherous because many old tree roots are now exposed, thrust up on the surface of the ground. A lot of buried roots are here, indeed, in this place — such an important repository of history, and a resource for so many ancestry-tracing American Jews today.


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