Archive | March, 2009

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In My Mind’s I

Posted on 12 March 2009 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

I’ve learned from a Canadian friend that her recently deceased mother willed her body to science. Not something that sits well with our Jewish community, but we’d all be wise to consider the elements in her decision.
My friend Peggy and her husband live on Isle Madame in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in a home on one shore of Arichat Harbour, where people can kayak with pilot whales. Peggy’s parents were Californians, but when her father died, her mother accepted the daughterly invitation to become a Maritimes resident herself.
Mary made a big, warm life in this cold little place. She was already almost 80, but continued with her lifelong focus, music. A retired teacher trained in classical piano, she located a group of retired musicians to play with, and led a 125-member choral group. She took courses at nearby Université Sainte-Anne, studying art history, modern poetry and sculpture; she also studied French, learning a new language in order to become a true part of this old Acadian community.
Mary was a Catholic, and performed benefit recitals for her own church, Our Lady of Assumption; she also played the piano monthly for services at St. John’s Anglican. Always one to help others, her classical programs were highlights of life for elderly shut-ins at the local nursing home. Mary was also a personal inspiration to its residents since she herself had a pacemaker, was tethered to a portable oxygen tank because of emphysema and needed a cane for walking. And she played on, willingly and still beautifully, everywhere, despite the fact that her hands were becoming gnarled by arthritis.
Peggy writes that her mother died, just three weeks shy of her 87th birthday, due to complications of pneumonia. She passed away at home, in her own apartment within the house of her daughter and son-in-law. Her mind was bell-clear to the end, and she made it very clear in advance that she wanted to leave her body to medical science.
“I didn’t like it,” Peggy says. “I asked her, ‘Where will I go to visit you?’” And Mary said, “If you think that when I’ve left my body, I’ll just be lying under a rock somewhere, you’re very mistaken.” Peggy kept “forgetting” to pick up the necessary donation forms, hoping her mother would forget. Then one day, Mary just walked to her doctor’s office and got them herself. So what could her daughter do?
“But I couldn’t bear the thought that my dear mother had become just an anonymous cadaver,” Peggy told me, “so after she died, I wrote a brief account of Mother’s life and character, and pinned it to her clothing before her body was taken away. Then I had second thoughts about that, and called the Dalhousie Medical School, because I was afraid my note was inappropriate.
“But it turned out that they like to know about their donors. And they treat the bodies with incredible respect and gratitude. They say a prayer for the person before they begin to use the body. Unless families have other plans, they bury the final ashes in a garden at the medical school, and every year they invite the families to a special memorial service for their donors.
“And the reason they’re so grateful is that this is a big deal,” Peggy concludes. “They really need bodies for teaching and research, but usually they only get about 20 a year. So now, I’ve completely changed my mind about this. I think it’s a fine thing to do.”
And so does the writer who read Peggy’s mom’s obituary and contributed an op-ed piece about her to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, the largest daily paper in eastern Canada. The story of Mary’s life and her final decision was picked up by CBC Radio (Canada’s NPR), which has aired it several times as “The Silent Teacher.”
“It has done wonders for body donations,” Peggy reports with pride. “The school says unheard-of numbers of donors are now signing up all across Canada. This was too rare before. Mother would be so pleased!”
Peggy’s fantasy: “Mom, now free of pain and able to breathe effortlessly, has found Dad, and they’re having a grand old time together. They heard the CBC radio program up there in heaven, and after listening, they happily high-fived each other.”
The newspaper column ends: “Not many can endow a medical school chair or fund a scholarship, but anyone can contribute an abandoned body. Mary did. I can. You can. Why not?”
Something to think about, indeed!
E-mail: harrietg@texasjewishpost.com

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Ruth and Harold Kleinman honored for ‘Love of Sisterhood’

Ruth and Harold Kleinman honored for ‘Love of Sisterhood’

Posted on 12 March 2009 by admin

By Freda Gail Stern and Joan Wolman
When Ruth Wertheimer and Harold Kleinman sealed their partnership on a stormy day in January 1955, they spawned a remarkable and extensive circle of service. Their positive influence is extended through their five sons and their wives, who along with 10 grandchildren continue a tradition deeply rooted in the concept of helping others.
Now, 54 years later, Temple Emanu-El Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) recognizes the meaningful lives of Ruth and Harold Kleinman with its highest honor, the Rabbi Gerald J. Klein “Love of Sisterhood” award. The award will be presented on April 2 at a gala dinner at Temple Emanu-El with prominent sportscaster Brad Sham as master of ceremonies and a musical tribute by Randy Pearlman, professional performer, Temple Emanu-El cantorial soloist and son of their lifelong friends, Jeneane and Aaron Pearlman.
Ruth managed to amass thousands of hours volunteering through WRJ/Sisterhood, National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, PTAs and more, while being a stay-at-home mother to five active sons. She set an example not by words alone but through meaningful action in which the children were always involved. Ruth is a member of WRJ/Sisterhood’s Hall of Fame, which recognizes outstanding service to WRJ/Sisterhood and the community. Harold found success as a corporate and business attorney with Thompson & Knight, rising to managing partner of the firm where he spent his entire 43-year legal career. During that time, Harold served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and Temple Emanu-El.
They came from diverse family backgrounds. Ruth’s unique family was formed when two sisters married the Wertheimer brothers, whose family had immigrated to Houston in the mid-1800s. They shared a home, with Ruth and sister Sophia looking upon their cousin Henry as a brother, and believing it was not unusual to have two mothers and two fathers. In what became a family trademark of community involvement, Henry served as mayor of Rosenberg, Texas. He served as president of the Consolidated School Board for 12 years and was recognized by having a school named after him. Sophia served in many leadership roles in the Houston Jewish community, including serving as president of Congregation Beth Yeshuran Sisterhood and chairman of the Anti-Defamation League.
Ruth graduated from San Jacinto High School and with roommate Jeneane Gartner (now Pearlman), her childhood friend, went to Austin and the University of Texas. Breaking the mold for girls in the 1950s, Ruth majored in microbiology. She served as president of her sorority, Sigma Delta Tau.
Harold was born in Dallas in 1930, the son of Eastern European immigrants Ida Wolf and William Kleinman. Living in South Dallas, the family had a dry goods store on Elm Street, which went under during the Great Depression. Harold, older sister Shirley and their parents relocated to the small town of McCamy in west Texas, where his uncle was in business. The Kleinmans and their brother’s family were the only Jewish families in the town. Harold and his sister continued their Jewish education begun at Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas with their father as teacher. Harold had his bar mitzvah in Odessa, where the Jews from several small West Texas communities gathered for the holidays on Rosh Hashanah, with his father officiating. After graduation, Harold also headed for Austin and the University of Texas.
In her junior year at UT, Ruth met Harold and went out with him on the recommendation of friend Jeneane, who described him as “a Big Man On Campus.” After three years as an undergraduate, Harold started law school at UT when, as he says, “to get into law school, all you had to do was show up.” Completing his bachelor’s degree and law degree, he went into the service and married Ruth while he was on furlough the following January.
Harold had completed basic training in El Paso; then the newlyweds were assigned to posts in Baltimore, Md., and New Jersey before being sent to Petersburg, Va. Ruth put her education to work, becoming a microbiologist at the Medical College of Virginia after “we had gone through all our wedding money.” Her father had told her to major in something important, so she would be able to support her husband if required. While in Petersburg, the couple joined the synagogue, attended Shabbat services every Friday evening and became religious-school teachers there. Ruth taught the second grade while Harold was assigned to the bar mitzvah class. They made many friends, and Ruth learned to live the small-town life that was so familiar to her husband. When Harold’s sister died, he obtained a transfer to San Antonio to be nearer to his family, where he and Ruth remained until his discharge in 1956.
Ruth had hoped they would settle in Houston, but Harold found the position he wanted with Thompson & Knight in Dallas. So they joined many of their college friends and started on the road as leaders and significant contributors to their new community. The family grew, with son William arriving in 1957, Lee in 1959, Mark in 1961, Jay in 1963 and Max, whom they call “the latecomer,” in 1971. Max and his wife, Amy, live in Seattle. Bill, Lisa and their children Rachel and Hannah; Lee, Lisa and children Michelle and David; Mark, Betsy and children Amanda, Alex and Adam; and Jay and children Corey, Jamie and Sam live in Dallas. Ruth and Harold smile when they say that their four older sons have children who range in age from 13 to 22, with the first child in each family being a girl. After all those years of hoping for a girl of their own, they now have six granddaughters.
Coming from Conservative Jewish homes, Ruth and Harold joined Congregation Shearith Israel when they arrived in Dallas and maintained a membership there for several years. It was Rabbi Levi A. Olan who inspired them to come to Temple Emanu-El in 1958, where their close friendship with Rabbi Gerald J. Klein first began. Their four oldest children had their bar mitzvah ceremonies led by Rabbi Klein at Temple Emanu-El and Max at Congregation Shearith Israel.
Ruth immediately immersed herself in temple life, becoming involved in virtually every facet of the congregation. She taught religious school; has conducted temple tours for 35 years; has chaired many committees including Religious School, Education, Pre-School and Outreach; taught parenting classes for young mothers through WRJ/Sisterhood; wrote and produced the WRJ/Sisterhood monthly bulletin with Connie Rudick; and co-chaired and was buyer for the Judaic Treasures gift shop, where she has volunteered for years. Ruth worked with the Temple’s Rhodes Terrace preschool, serving lunches and helping the teachers in this cutting-edge program, which preceded the well-known Head Start program. Ruth chaired outreach for the Southwest Region of the Union for Reform Judaism and has served on the temple’s board of directors. Friday is still hospital visitation day for her, “my Shabbat mitzvah,” she says. When her boys and then her grandchildren were small, they accompanied her on Fridays during the summer so they could learn to appreciate how fortunate they were and how important it is to do a good deed for those not so privileged. She is a “challah angel,” baking bread for the Saturday morning service, which she and Harold attend regularly. Together with Harold, son Lee and his wife, Lisa, Ruth helped build one of the temple’s Habitat for Humanity houses. She quotes her mother as telling her, “It is good that you show your children the right path but, in the end, how they turn out is 90 percent luck. We have been lucky.”
Ruth marks as her proudest achievement her service with Connie Rudick as co-presidents of WRJ/Sisterhood, where the two friends were fondly called “Grace” and “Ellie,” performing their tasks with grace and elegance. It was Ruth who saw that every contribution WRJ/Sisterhood funded (the kitchen remodeling, the changing room) was inscribed as “Lovingly contributed by the Sisterhood of Temple Emanu-El.” Together Ruth and Connie re-energized the WRJ/Sisterhood, increasing its membership and garnering recognition for its important work in the fabric of the temple.
There have been contributions outside the temple in major ways. The National Council of Jewish Women called on Ruth to work in target area schools in the most underserved parts of Dallas and to help with their seniors program at the Jewish Community Center. Ruth also co-led with Janice Sweet an NCJW study group, “Defining Judaism.” She and Harold, daughter-in-law Lisa and grandson Sam participate in the Jewish Family Service Meals on Wheels program, and Ruth has served on the board of the Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance. She chaired the first Book Fair at the JCC.
Harold, backing away from the spotlight, calls Ruth “the soul of our household,” the one who always insisted that the family be together for Shabbat dinner and who helped make Judaism a core value in the lives of their family members. The Kleinmans describe their philanthropic focus as being on health and human services, taking precedence over the cultural activities in which they are also involved. Harold, in addition to his leadership roles in his profession and the Jewish community, has served as chair of the Methodist Hospital System, chair of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and president of the Center for Non-Profit Management. He also served as a founder and first president of the Texas Equal Access for Justice Foundation, which has raised over $150 million to assure that legal services are provided to the poor people of Texas. Ruth and Harold are ardent supporters of Israel and have been active contributors to the Jewish Federation, Golden Acres and many other local and national charities.
The award they are receiving honors the memory of Rabbi Gerald J. Klein, who for over half a century was the Kleinmans’ friend and religious leader and would surely have approved wholeheartedly of the choice of Ruth and Harold Kleinman for this honor.

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Dallas Doings

Posted on 05 March 2009 by admin

Dr. Joel Roffman will be guest at Congregation Beth Torah Men’s Club breakfast
Dr. Joel Roffman, co-author of the new book “Coping with Adversity: Judaism’s Response to Illness and Other Life Struggles,” will be the guest at the Beth Torah Men’s Club Sunday breakfast on March 8. Dr. Roffman, a cardiologist in Richardson, collaborated with Rabbi Gordon Fuller, combining medical experience with Judaic knowledge for an important new book drawing on the practical wisdom of ancient Jewish teachings and scripture to help people of all faiths.
The Cleveland Jewish News recently said the book’s “combination of medical and theological advice works beautifully as a holistic approach to adversity.” Arthur Kurzweil, author of “Kabbalah for Dummies” and “The Torah for Dummies,” said “Coping with Adversity” is “filled with profound wisdom … It’s not just another book. It is a book that can be transformative.”
The public is welcome at the monthly lox-and-bagel breakfast, which begins at 9 a.m. at Beth Torah, 720 W. Lookout Drive in Richardson. The cost is $10, or $7 for Men’s Club members.
Harriet Gross to speak at Herzl Hadassah, Wed., March 11
Popular TJP columnist and book reviewer Harriet Gross will review “Conversations With My Grandchildren” by Marion Montney at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 11 for the Herzl Hadassah Annual Life Saver Luncheon at the Classic Residence, 5455 La Sierra Drive.
A delicious salmon lunch and super raffle round out the morning. Lunch is $15; raffle tickets are $1 each or six for $5. All proceeds benefit Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem.
Reservations are a must! Call Rose Biderman, 214-363-1911.
Students to visit Argentinean Jewish community
This spring, 30 students from UNT, UT-Austin and University of Houston Hillels will travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to learn about the Argentinean Jewish community and help mitigate the effects of the recent economic crisis. This trip is part of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s relief initiatives in Latin America.
Each student will bring a duffel bag full of donations for the Baby Help Center. The Baby Help Center provides supplies, day care, medical services and critical care to babies ages 0–3 years and their families.
Donations of diapers, pacifiers, bottles, toys, clothes, blankets, formula and wipes can be dropped off at Natalie’s Kitchen, Campbell and Hillcrest (a box is available next to the entrance) or Tiferet Israel, Royal and Hillcrest (a box has been placed near the door by the small sanctuary).
Please direct any questions to Morgan Dawer, mdawer@mail.utexas.edu.
Dallas helps build ICU at
Meir Medical Center in Israel
The Dallas Jewish community continues its partnership with Meir Medical Center when its CEO, Dr. Asher Elhayany, and head of its ICU, Dr. Brian Fredman, speak in the Dallas home of Dot and Basil Hayman on Thursday, March 12.
Two years ago Meir Medical Center embarked on a campaign to expand and upgrade its intensive care unit. The Dallas community played a tremendous role in this $2.5 million campaign. The new wing will have eight patient rooms, two isolation rooms, three offices and a family waiting room.
Currently the hospital has only six ICU beds, which means that every day there are people who can’t receive the care they need to save their lives. Since there is a shortage of ICU beds in other hospitals as well, it is often not possible to find a solution for those who need critical care. Every day, lives are in jeopardy because of the lack of intensive care unit beds.
On the eve of the recent Israeli war in Gaza, a local businessman, Steve Collis, who is the chair of American Friends of Meir Medical Center, visited Meir Medical Center with his wife Toni, daughter Michala and friends, all of whom were there to celebrate Michala’s bat mitzvah. Recently Mr. Collis reflected, “For me, personally, it was most exciting to see the footprint of the new ICU that we have all worked hard to help update and modernize. It was explained to us that by instituting this new ICU, hundreds of lives could be saved in the first year alone and potentially thousands in the future.”
While American Friends of Meir Medical Center has members throughout the United States, Dallas has a large contingency of leadership, including Steve and Toni Collis, Sandy Haymann Marks, Dot and Basil Hayman, Daniel Witheiler, Linda Behr, Bruce Feldman and Diane Roth.
Located in Kfar Saba, Meir Medical Center cares for over 600,000 Israeli citizens — roughly 10 percent of the country’s population. It is one of the seven largest hospitals in Israel with almost 800 beds. It is located in central Israel on a major highway system and thus receives many injured in car accidents as well as victims of various forms of violence. In addition to being a full-service hospital performing surgery and treating people with severe illness, it is also considered to be the main treatment center for trauma due to war and terror attacks.

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Around the Town with Rene

Posted on 05 March 2009 by admin

Welcome a new week with a ventriloquist at Beth Shalom
Congregation Beth Shalom will present “Havdallah: How to Welcome a New Week” in their Social Hall, 1211 Thannisch Drive in Arlington, on Saturday, March 7. The evening’s agenda includes Master Ventriloquist Nancy Burks Worcester and Friends, who will perform at 6 p.m. The Havdallah service, with dinner immediately following, is set for 6:30 p.m.
Come have fun at the
Community Purim Carnival!
Don’t miss this year’s Community Purim Carnival on Sunday, March 8 at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. Luncheon fee is $2.50.
Do all of the four mitzvot of Purim — reading the Megillah blessings, gifts for the poor (bring canned food), mishloach manot and the meal of Purim — and get five extra tickets. There’s fun for all, parents and kids, from noon to 3 p.m. Highlights of the carnival include Mordechai’s Muffin Game, Shushan Shuffleboard, Purim Plinko, Bounce House and much more.
Admission is free. Activity tickets will be sold at the door for 25 cents each or 25 for $5.
For more information, please call Mona Karten at the Federation Office, 817-569-0892.
The Community Purim Carnival is brought to you by the Jewish Federation with financial support from the Dan Danciger/Fort Worth Hebrew Day School Supporting Foundation.

‘The Case for Israel’ draws 150
Thursday evening, Feb. 26, found a throng of Fort Worthians assembled in the Zale Hall at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. They were there for the screening of the documentary film, “The Case for Israel: Democracy’s Outpost.” The event was an initiative of the Congregation Ahavath Sholom Men’s Club, under the leadership of Men’s Club President Peter Lederman. The film featured Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University, engaging leading political, judicial and academic leaders from Israel and North America in honest and intelligent discourse on the critical challenges facing Israel and the West. It was produced by Gloria Z. Greenfield and Michael Yohay and directed by Michael Yohay. The 150 or so people who attended the program left with a better understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular and the effect of the events in the Middle East on the rest of the world in general. The event was co-sponsored by the CAS Men’s Club, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Congregation Beth-El, Temple Beth Shalom and the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. For more information on the Congregation Ahavath Sholom Men’s Club, please call the synagogue office at 817-731-4721.
CAS honors Religious School faculty and staff
On Friday, Feb. 27, during the Kabbalat Shabbat service, the faculty and staff of the Ahavath Sholom Religious School were honored by the congregation. The service began with the kindergarten students blessing and lighting the Shabbat candles. The service continued with students representing all grades leading songs and readings. The faculty and staff were addressed by both Rabbi Baruch Zeilicovich and Ann Cobert, the lead teacher and acting director of the Religious School. Both commented on the dedication and commitment to excellence of these remarkable individuals who are helping to mold the future of both Congregation Ahavath Sholom and the Jewish people. Ann presented the teachers and staff with gifts as tokens of the community’s appreciation. Following the service, the festivities continued with a chicken cacciatore dinner. It was a fun evening and a great start to Shabbat for all!

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Ask the Rabbi

Posted on 05 March 2009 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I’ve always wondered why we pray in a synagogue. On one hand, my parents taught me that Jews believe that G-d is everywhere; on the other hand, we make it a point to pray only in synagogues as if He doesn’t hear us anywhere else. What do we believe?
Megan W.

Dear Megan,
I hate to tell you this, but your parents are right! It’s a basic tenet of Judaism that G-d is truly everywhere. That is the foundation of the Torah, that Judaism is not a “religion” but a way of life, and we serve G-d in all that we do. Even the most mundane activities can be transformed into beautiful mitzvot when one’s intention is to serve G-d through them, and He is always there to take notice and have nachas from us, inside the synagogue and out. For this reason, in previous generations, the synagogue played a much less significant role in Jewish life than it does in many circles today; the home was the focal point of Jewish life as every detail conformed to Jewish law. That explains the term used for Jewish law, halachah, which literally means “that which we walk with.” We “walk with” G-d’s will throughout our lives and in all we do.
For that very reason we can and do pray everywhere — in the home, office, even the street if necessary. G-d hears us wherever we turn to Him. When we take a trip, we have a special prayer to get there safely. Just as G-d is everywhere, we can pray to Him anywhere.
There are, however, places in this world where G-d makes Himself more accessible, and His Presence can be felt more intensely. In the Temple of old, in Jerusalem, anyone who entered left deeply touched and inspired by the close connection felt there with the Shechinah, the Divine Presence.
One reason for this is a teaching of our rabbis, that the Shechinah resides only upon a multitude of Jews. Although G-d is truly everywhere, He doesn’t make His Presence felt the same for an individual as for a group of Jews, the minimum being a minyan of 10.
Why this is so, we can understand with a parable of a great and mighty king. His majesty is felt when he is presiding over a kingdom; he wouldn’t be much of a king if he ruled over only a couple of people. This is true of G-d as well. Although we all have a personal, intimate relationship with G-d, He reveals Himself in the world when there is a “nation” to preside over as their King. When 10 Jews get together in a synagogue, G-d comes to them in a unique way.
We learn this from the upcoming holiday of Purim. Queen Esther, when it was time for the Jews to pray for her and their redemption, told Mordechai, “leich k’nos es kol haYehudim,” “go and gather together all the Jews.” The word “k’nos,” gather together, is the source of the term “beit hakenesset,” a synagogue, which literally means a “place of gathering.”
The ideal is to join the congregation at times of public prayer, to share in the power of community prayer. At other times, one should compose private, intimate prayers from the heart, and speak with love to the Al-mighty. It’s not only OK, but welcomed and praiseworthy in the eyes of G-d, to turn to Him for even the smallest of requests: to succeed on a test, to get home safely, to buy the right car or to get the promotion one wants at work. There’s nothing too small or too big to ask for, as each request expresses to G-d that you are cognizant of His love for us and His control over our lives. All this builds, prayer by prayer, our unique and loving relationship with G-d.

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 yfried@sbcglobal.net.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 05 March 2009 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,
This past week I attended the American Camp Association Conference in Orlando. This is a yearly “pilgrimage” for me (to the ACA, not Orlando) and every year I learn so much and get so excited about another summer at camp. There were sessions galore to choose from but this year, I went to something really different. The session was titled “Feeding the Spirits of Staff and Campers” and it was designed for Christian camps. I asked the leader before I sat down if it would be OK since I don’t run a Christian camp and, of course, she welcomed me. Our presenter talked about spirituality, something that comes up in every adult class I teach. From “Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality” by Johnson, Sasso, Roehlkenpartain, Yust (2006), this is the working definition of spirituality:
•Spirituality is part of the human creature.
•Spirituality is firmly planted in relationship and within community experiences.
•Spirituality is expressed in ethical behavior.
•Spirituality leads to growth and change.
•Spirituality needs to be nurtured in an intentional manner.
Spirituality is not about religion, but all religions offer a spiritual connection and experience. Many adult Jews search for this but our children express it naturally. Children find talking about G-d to be easy and natural, so why does it become more difficult as we get older? Spirituality is about wonder and awe — our children get it because everything is new and amazing for them. We need to step back from our busy lives and experience wonder in all parts of our lives.
The session was excellent, and of course I bought her book, which has much that can be adapted to our camps, however, it was the after-discussion that was really great! I sat with four other camp directors and we talked about our camps. The most fascinating comment, from a longtime friend who runs a YMCA camp in Texas: “We are trying to put the C back into YMCA.” The struggle to be welcoming to all meant that they were downplaying the Christian learning. It reminded me of the beginnings of Reform Judaism in Germany — they wanted to be Germans in the streets and Jewish in their homes. How can we separate who we are as individuals or as organizations? I learned a lot and shared a lot. I realized that we Jews have been doing camp for years and, as we know, camp is the perfect place to explore and develop Jewish identity for kids. We have created a camp experience that is living Judaism, not studying/praying at a specific time of day. We cannot just be Jewish at certain times to be who we are. In a session on nature at the ACA Conference, the leader told us this about nature learning and experiences: Awareness, Appreciation, Action! That fits everything that we learn and do in our lives!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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In My Mind’s I

Posted on 05 March 2009 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

If Ahasuerus had presented Queen Esther with a ketubah (which somehow I highly doubt!), she would have loved one by David Moss.
A longtime Jerusalemite, Moss recently brought the easygoing cadence of his Ohio roots to Temple Emanu-El for a week as artist-in-residence, making presentations to preschool parents, religious- and day-school students, rabbis, families and sisterhood women. For the latter, he presented his amazing ketubot, featuring microcalligraphy, delicate papercuts and exquisite illuminations — this last an ancient skill he’s revived and transplanted to modern Jewish documents.
“The ketubah was instituted by rabbis 2300 years ago,” Moss said. He defines this “marriage contract” as an “insurance policy” for women, to guarantee their sustenance after divorce or a husband’s death. Once these were artistic documents, but over centuries they were somehow reduced to printed forms that wound up folded in drawers rather than rating home display.
“I take old things and give them new life,” the artist said. “My art career began because I was captivated by the beauty of the Hebrew alphabet’s 22 letters. The ancient tradition was to illustrate the ketubah’s text.” After doing his first as a wedding gift for friends, there were many requests, and something very old found its way back into Judaism.
Moss makes other art, too, using wood and ceramics as well as parchment and paper. But three elements sing through everything. “First, all I do comes from a deep Jewish place, based on and within our tradition. Second is creativity, a spark of freshness, a new way of approaching something old. Third is the craft. I spend ridiculous amounts of time making these objects because this is a religious exercise.” Jews shouldn’t pray quickly or study shallowly, Moss says, and the same is true for him in his work.
To create a ketubah, he first spends time with the betrothed pair to find out who they are and what they consider important. Then he researches, finding appropriate symbols to personalize the ancient text, which may be centered within an elaborate border (a couple whose Hebrew names are Dov and Zipporah love the bears and birds scampering around the floral garland that rings their document) or hand-lettered over a central design element (like a multicolored collage tree ketubah for the marriage of two whose priorities are the outdoors and a green lifestyle).
One couple loves all things Oriental; their ketubah could pass for a traditional Chinese brush painting, but on closer inspection, you find that the lines of vertical characters are actually Hebrew. What first seems a three-dimensional stack of books in varying sizes is a marriage document, with traditional text written along the volumes’ spines.
You needn’t be quite as rich as Ahasuerus to purchase one of these custom-made treasures, but you should be sure your marriage will last long enough to justify a considerable investment. (Perhaps just the ownership of such a ketubah would mitigate against divorce? I wouldn’t be surprised!) And if you married years ago in a modest ceremony with the standard into-the-drawer ketubah, Moss now designs documents for milestone anniversaries. They’re much like the real thing, but don’t provide two lines for the witnesses’ signatures required at weddings.
The art of Moss, “spiritual architect” of Dallas’s Yavneh-Akiba Academies, is a permanent presence on campus: a remarkable abstract frieze interpreting the Binding of Isaac, and a carved walnut shtender — an old-fashioned reading stand that’s actually a large Jewish puzzle box: Somewhere within are hidden all the ritual items needed for our faith’s celebrations, requiring a treasure hunt to find the shofar in its ebony-topped case, the lulav and etrog holders, the Shabbat candlesticks and Kiddush cups, the chanukiah with nine metal “olives” to hold the oil they’re made to burn.
Non-Jews respond to Moss’s aesthetic, too; some of his work can be found in the Getty and British Museums and in the Harvard University Libraries; Southern Methodist University’s Bridwell Library will soon be added to the collectors’ list. But “I’m creating for Jews,” Moss reminds us. “I make folk art of a rather sophisticated kind … but Jews are a different kind of folk!”
The Book of Esther implies that poor Vashti took nothing with her after her banishment, so we wonder if Ahasuerus’ new Jewish queen really lived “happily ever after,” or if he later got rid of her, too. But if she had a David Moss-designed marriage contract, Esther could have sold it for a handsome sum as a work of art.
A happy, gladsome, artistic Purim to all!
E-mail: harrietg@texasjewishpost.com

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At Purim, flip your lid

At Purim, flip your lid

Posted on 05 March 2009 by admin

By Andrew Neff
NEW YORK (JTA) — For Purim this year, I have a great idea for your costume. It’s easy. It’s inexpensive. It takes under three seconds to prepare. And it will go to incredible lengths to promote Jewish unity.
Before the idea, however, a warning and a challenge: Even though it’s really easy, most people will find it really hard to do.
Flip your lids. That is, wear a different kippah.
If you wear a leather kippah, wear a velvet one. If you wear a velvet one, wear one of those Zionistic knitted ones. If you wear a knitted one, don one of those cheap shiny white ones.
It is also an amazing social experiment because you are the same person you were a moment ago when you had on your regular kippah. So why is it that all your friends look at you slightly differently and wonder what’s going on?
Here are four perspectives on what, why and how we should “flip our lids” this year for Purim, which is March 10 (or March 11 in Jerusalem):
1. It’s what inside your head that counts.
For men, wearing a kippah is important as a sign of respect for HaShem. But Jewish law allows a great deal of leeway as to what the head covering should look like.
What if just for one day, we changed the type of kippah that we wear? Would it help us see our fellow Jews from a different perspective?
This idea occurred to me recently when I inadvertently forgot to wear my standard black leather kippah when I walked to a neighbor’s house. Someone noted it and I asked to borrow one for the way home. They lent me a velvet “yeshivish” one. I put it on and walked home.
My family was alarmed. Did I go “yeshivish”? they asked. But I was the same person before, during and after my kippah “experiment.”
So here’s the first point: It doesn’t matter what you put on your head; it matters what you put in your head.
2. Only you can see my kippah.
The next point is also about perception. Unless I look in the mirror, I can’t even see my kippah. You see it. So the kippah is not really about me but about how you see it and what it means to you.
Our sages talk about how Purim is a holiday of hidden miracles. For example, God’s name is not explicitly in the Megillah, but our sages teach us that we can actually see that God is always present. In the same way, our kippot are also hidden (from us). If we could change how we perceive our fellow Jews, that would be a big miracle as well.
3. Fulfill the mitzvot of Purim.
One of the central mitzvot of the holiday is mishloach manot, or giving gifts of food to your friends. Some of our sages note that its purpose is to promote unity among Jews, noting that unity was critical to our success against Haman and his plans.
Flipping your lid can also promote unity, as it will help us to realize that many of our differences are just external.
Another mitzvah on Purim is that one should drink until you can’t tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” What does this mean?
There is mystical explanation. Some say that Purim is not just a story about ancient history but also an allusion to the future. This expression is a veiled reference to the world to come, when we will see that all of our curses are actually blessings.
4. Just do it.
So who is going to be the first to swap the kippah? What will your friends think if they don’t do it? What will your rabbi think?
A question: What was the name of the second person who jumped into the Red Sea when the Jews left Egypt? We know that Nachshon ben Aminadav was the first one to jump in, but what is the name of the second person? Give up? I don’t know either; I don’t think anyone does. But that is the point: We all know the first person who does something.
So the message is, be a leader. Be the first one to show up with a different kippah.
One point of clarification: I’m not encouraging levity in the shul. I am simply saying, swap the kippah that you always wear with the one that your friend always wears.
In Pirkei Avot, Hillel says, “Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place.” Perhaps we can replace “reached his place” with “worn his kippah.”
Having said all this, I realize that there are some very valid reasons for differences in the kippot we wear, as well as the way we dress, and that a kippah is often a very powerful statement of a certain lifestyle. But at the same time, is it possible for just one day to note that there are more things with which we agree than with which we disagree?
Purim is about hidden miracles; a kippah is a great metaphor for something that is hidden. So for just one day, flip your lid and see how it can change your perspective about your fellow Jews.
Andrew Neff worked on Wall Street for 25 years and now studies in yeshivot in New Jersey and New York.

A recession kind of Purim
By Rachel Tepper
And it came to pass that there was a king of Persia named Ahasuerus, and he sat on his throne in Shushan the capital. One day, he decided to throw a great feast for all its inhabitants to attend.
King Ahasuerus: I’m gonna throw the biggest bash this town has ever seen!
Vashti: Aren’t we in a recession?
KA: The biggest! The bestest! The greatest gosh-darn hootenanny this side of the ­Euphrates!
And true to his word, King Ahasuerus spared no expense in delivering the most lavish party Shushan had ever seen. The plates were gold. The goblets were gold. Even the party favors were gold.
Guest #1: That’s the strangest piñata I’ve ever seen…
KA: It’s good to be the king.
His queen, Vashti, was less than amused by her husband’s extravagance. She knew times were tough for working-class Shushaners, and wasteful spending was hardly a message to send the people.
KA: Vashti, c’mon baby. Get out here and do a little dance! And then I’d like to treat everyone to a swim in my pool full of money!
Everyone: Hoorah!
Vashti: Are you insane? No way, José. You best take note — there won’t be much money left unless you mend your ways. Think about the deficit!
KA: The only deficit here should be you!
And with that, King Ahasuerus sent Vashti away. However, it wasn’t long before he realized that not only was he lonely, but Vashti may have been right after all. His Adviser, the wicked Haman, had allowed for much irresponsible spending and many Shushaners feared they would lose their jobs. Without knowing where to turn, the king arranged for a beauty contest to find his next wife. This time, without a piñata made of gold.
KA: Which one is that, right there? The beautiful one!
Adviser #1: That’s Esther, my liege. She’s young, beautiful and brainy. And she’s debt-free.
KA: I’ll take her!
King Ahasuerus chose Esther for his queen. But Esther concealed something from her new husband: She was a Jew. And she felt strongly about responsible fiscal policy. But her cousin Mordechai encouraged her to keep this a secret.
Esther: I dunno about this queen thing; I’m not sure it’s such a good idea.
Mordechai: In this economy, not everyone has job security. This seems like a good gig, and I’m pretty sure you get health care.
One day, Mordechai overheard two guards talking in the palace yard; they were plotting against King Ahasuerus.
Guard #1: I heard they’re going to lay some of us off. Something about the treasury being cleaned out … after they bailed out the chariot industry!
Guard #2: That’s ridiculous! I say we do something about it! We should go after Ahasuerus.
Mordechai understood the trials of everyday working folk, but he knew violence was never the answer. He alerted King Ahasuerus, and the rogue guards were apprehended. Mordechai’s service was recorded in the official royal register. Not long after, Mordechai passed the king’s adviser, Haman, in the street outside the palace.
Haman: Hello there, Jew. Bow down to me!
Mordechai: I can bow to no one but God. And certainly not someone who so blatantly gives free handouts to hotshot Oil Lamp execs and ignores the people on Main Street.
Haman, enraged, went immediately to King Ahasuerus. He demanded that not only should Mordechai be punished, but the entire Jewish community as well.
Haman: This whole economy bust thing is the Jews’ fault! They should be made to pay for all the damage they’ve done.
The king, not knowing that his new bride was herself a Jew, acquiesced. Haman rejoiced, and began building a gallows. However, King Ahasuerus was unable to sleep that night. His kingdom was falling apart — the palace budget was in shambles and everywhere people were feeling the effects. Even donkeys were having trouble finding work. To help calm his mind, he began reading the royal register, where he learned of Mordechai’s service.
KA: It says here that this man saved my life — and that he’s suggesting something called the Shushan Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 360 BCE? This Mordechai guy might be on to something … he must be honored!
The next day, the king went to Haman and asked his advice.
KA: Haman, how shall I honor the man who saved my life and possibly the economy of Shushan?
Haman: Why, you should parade him around town and give him shiny doodads. And, um, give him a personal tax cut. You mean me, right?
But to Haman’s shock and anger, King Ahasuerus demanded that it was not he, but Mordechai, who should be honored. He arranged for a banquet to be held in Mordechai’s honor.
Esther: Oh king honey? I have to tell you something. This guy you’re honoring — he’s my cousin. Yep, that means I’m a Jew. And there’s something we’ve been meaning to tell you: Your adviser, Haman, is the one running the economy into the ground. You’ve got to get rid of him and start listening to people who want what’s best for the people of Shushan and aren’t guided by the interests of the wealthy few.
The King realized that Esther’s words were true. With that, he ordered that Haman, not Mordechai, be hanged on the gallows. In Haman’s post, he installed Mordechai to be his new adviser. Things began looking up in Shushan; slowly but surely, people started finding work and saving money. Persia once again became a great and prosperous nation, all thanks to some common sense and responsible fiscal planning. Change had finally come.
Rachel Tepper is a freelance journalist and PR professional living in Washington, D.C.

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