Archive | October, 2009

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Ask the Rabbi

Posted on 22 October 2009 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve begun learning and reciting some of the daily blessings, like when waking up and on some foods. On one hand it seems like a nice thing, but it is also rather cumbersome to have to bless before and after everything you eat, and even after using the facilities. It seems a bit much — perhaps you can help me out with this.

Jessica B.

Dear Jessica,

The concept of reciting daily blessings is derived in the Talmud from the verse where Moses queries the Jews, “Now, Israel, what does G-d ask of you? Only to fear G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul…” (Deuteronomy 10:12). The word “what” in the verse, which in Hebrew is “mah,” suggests a similar word, “meah,” or one hundred. The Torah is hinting that the way to serve G-d to the utmost is to recite 100 blessings every day.

The simple understanding of this is as an expression of appreciation to G-d for all the gifts He bestows upon us. On a deeper level, it brings one to recognition of G-d in every aspect of our lives.

A late, elderly sage in Jerusalem once explained this to me with the following analogy: Imagine you’re driving down the street and it starts raining, and you begin seeing drops of rain on the windshield. As it rains harder, you see more drops. Soon there are so many, you don’t see any individual drops; all you see is a sheet of water. As you turn on the windshield wipers which wipe away the sheet of water, you momentarily see drops again, until once more you see a sheet of water and no drops, and this process continues.

We receive so many blessings in our lives from the Al-mighty that, at times, it’s hard to even discern them at all. A cursory visit to a nearby ICU will force us to realize that every breath we take on our own is a blessing. Every heartbeat, our blood flowing properly through our bodies, our digestive system functioning, our eyes seeing and ears hearing, are all tremendous blessings — not to mention having food to eat, air to breathe, roofs over our heads, clothing to wear, etc. These constant blessings come at us with such rapidity that they become like the sheet of water, and we don’t notice them at all.

The hundred blessings a day are like the windshield wipers which momentarily wipe away everything else and allow us to focus on the one “drop” we are about to enjoy or have just benefited from, such as food or drink. When one successfully uses the facilities, they have an incredible opportunity to focus in on all the amazing bodily systems that are correctly functioning and thank G-d for that. If one does this a hundred times a day, the blessings of life are no longer an imperceptible sheet, but rather a cause for constant joy, ecstasy and appreciation.

On a deeper level, the Hebrew for blessing is “brachah,” which is related to the word “braichah,” a flowing stream. When one recites a brachah, they recognize G-d’s Presence in that mundane object and unlock the spirituality therein. This opens the gates for wellsprings of bounty and blessing and loving spiritual connection to flow from heaven to earth, especially through the object being blessed and all its kind. In this way, the Jew uttering the blessing and the physical world become partners with G-d in His connection to the world, making it a source of blessing for all.

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 22 October 2009 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

We have had so many holidays but now we take a break. Do you know that there are only six holidays mentioned in the Torah? If you can’t name them all, e-mail me for the answer at lseymour@jccdallas.org. We do have two regularly occurring holidays: Shabbat, of course, and Rosh Chodesh, which we celebrated on Sunday and Monday.

Rosh Chodesh is the celebration of the new month; it happens 11 times during a regular year (Rosh Hashanah takes its place at the beginning of Tishrei) and 12 times during a leap year, when we have two Adars. The Jewish calendar is both lunar and solar. The moon tells us the beginning and ending of each month but the calendar must be adjusted so that the holidays always fall in their proper season, based on the sun. This is why every year the holidays are either “early” or “late” — but no one says that the holidays are right on time (do you ever wonder why?).

In ancient times, people did not work on Rosh Chodesh; however, recently it has become a holiday for women. There is a midrash that when Moses was up on Mt. Sinai, the people were nervous and they demanded that Aaron build a golden calf. The women did not contribute their jewelry to build the idol. As a reward, G-d granted the women the holiday of Rosh Chodesh, so that, like the moon, women would be rejuvenated each month.

Young children do not yet grasp the concept of time such as a week, a month or a year. For our families, Rosh Chodesh is a wonderful time to experience the cyclical nature of Jewish life. There are so many things to do for families of all ages:

1. Observe the moon — it is a great before-bedtime together time. Keep a journal in pictures or words.

2. Find a “Rosh Chodesh spot” — take a picture each month in the spot and watch the changes of the place and the people over the year.

3. Read books about the moon, listen to moon music, draw pictures — bring in the month through the arts.

4. Say this simple blessing, which is a small part from the Kiddush Levanah, the Sanctification of the Moon, while looking at the moon: Baruch Atah Adonai, m’chadaysh chodasheem — Thank You, G-d, for renewing the months.

5. Make sure you have a Jewish calendar so that you can know the names of the months, the date of Rosh Chodesh each month and the holidays that fall during that month.

6. Learn this song:

Twinkle, twinkle little moon
I wonder if I’ll see you soon
Up above the world so high
Like a crescent in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle little moon
I wonder if I’ll see you soon.

Enjoy the new month of Cheshvan!

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

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Meningitis survivor Jamie Schanbaum still stands

Meningitis survivor Jamie Schanbaum still stands

Posted on 22 October 2009 by admin

By Deb Silverthorn

As a young girl, Jamie Schanbaum twirled and trained at Sarasue’s Academy of Dance for 10 years. As a young woman, just 21 years old, Jamie, a sophomore at UT Austin and a survivor of meningitis, spends her days studying and still training, along with three hours of physical therapy — all with great determination, strength of character and belief in herself. “I never thought I’d be here but I am, and there’s nothing I won’t be able to do.”

Last Nov. 12, Jamie spent the night at a friend’s home, waking up feeling achy and worn, each step on the tile colder to her touch than the one before. “I was freezing and nauseous, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” she said. “At 7 in the morning I went home and I couldn’t keep anything down. The pain and heaviness in my feet soon moved to my hands and I didn’t know what was wrong but I knew it wasn’t good. I called my sister and by the time we got to the hospital, I couldn’t stand and I was brought in on a wheelchair.”

Jamie, who had not received the Manactra/MCV4 meningitis vaccine (recommended by the CDC to all children after age 11), was diagnosed with meningococcemia, a deadly infection of the blood. The disease is caused by bacteria entering the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain, which irritates the meninges, the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord.

“I remember lying there and my legs turned black. My legs, then my hands, knees and elbows. They were black,” Jamie said. Hers was the second confirmed case of the disease on the university’s campus last fall. The first student, according to University Health Services’ Sherry Bell, recovered completely.

“It never occurred to me I wouldn’t be well and home soon. I had no idea that seven months in hospitals, more than 50 ‘dives’ in a hyperbaric chamber — which saved my life — at least 15 surgeries, skin grafts and more were in my immediate future,” Jamie added. “All because I missed out on the vaccine. People HAVE to get the vaccine. I don’t want anyone else going through this.”

After three weeks in the Seton Medical Center Intensive Care Unit, Jamie was transferred to Houston’s St. Joseph’s Hospital. On Feb. 6, Jamie had surgery to amputate both of her legs below her knees, and to remove most of her digits on her hands, although fortunately, parts of both of her thumbs and two of her fingers remain. In May, she was transferred to St. David’s Hospital Rehabilitation Unit, where she remained for three weeks. There, she was fitted for, and learned to use, her prosthetic legs.

Jamie’s family — including her father, the late Robert Schanbaum; her mother, Patsy; brother Nicholas, a Dallas attorney who commutes to and from Austin to help his sister; and sisters KC, a student, and Roni, a graphic designer — are former Dallas residents and members of Temple Shalom. They have been by her side, every step of the way.

“There is nothing that says Jamie can’t do whatever she wants to. It may be more difficult but she’ll do it,” Patsy said. Together, the family has become involved in the National Meningitis Association and that organization’s Moms on Meningitis group. In April, their efforts with State Senator Wendy Davis and State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., paid off with the naming of the Jamie Schanbaum Act. It requires, as of Jan. 1, 2010, bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campuses in Texas. Exceptions are made for students opting out for medical or religious reasons or “reasons of conscience.” “This was, I believe, the third time such a bill has been brought up but I was told that it was our testimony that pushed it through,” said Patsy, who testified with her son Nick while Jamie was still hospitalized.

“Patsy, who is originally from my area, came to me for help, and how could we not help?” said Senator Lucio, who has made children’s health issues a staple of his public service. “I went to visit Jamie in the hospital and it tore up my heart. We had to do something. Last week, I’m happy to say, I saw Jamie again and she had a broad smile as she walked in; she’s in school, she has the heart of a lion and she’s an example of ‘can do’ and ‘will do.’ I have so much respect for her.”

The senator added, “The Jamie Schanbaum Act will save lives, period. There are 2,000 to 3,000 cases of meningitis in this country each year and I believe 10 [percent] to 12 percent of those patients die. There’s no need for [that] and if we get the word out, and we inform people, it won’t happen.”

“This semester, it was required of students to read material about the disease, the vaccine, the risks, and then to click that they’ve read those materials. We hope that they have and we hope we are educating our students,” said UT Austin’s Sherry Bell. “As of January 2010, all incoming, on-campus residential students will be required to show proof that they’ve had the vaccine at least 10 days prior to taking residency.”

Separate and apart from the Jamie Schanbaum Act, but pertinent to the family’s goal, as of Oct. 1, all seventh-grade students in Texas must have had a meningococcal vaccine and a second dose of varicella (chicken pox survivors excluded). Depending on their shot records, students in grade seven or higher must show proof of receiving a Tdap booster, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). There are exceptions for medical or religious beliefs. In addition, kindergartners entering Texas public schools must have had two doses of Hepatitis A, two doses of varicella (unless they’ve already had the chicken pox) and two doses of the vaccine that guards against measles, mumps and rubella.

“Awareness is the key,” Patsy said. “Awareness for students and their parents, for physicians, and for the mainstream population. Adults need this vaccine, children younger than 11 need this vaccine. If you need this to leave the country, and you do, why wouldn’t we need it to be at home?”

“Jamie’s courage throughout this fight cannot be understated. She gritted her teeth and faced this challenge head-on, but there is a huge difference between Jamie recovering from this devastating illness and not having to have faced it at all,” her brother Nicholas wrote as part of the blog which keeps the Schanbaums’ friends, family and supporters updated on her condition. “Our efforts on Jamie’s behalf are intended to help others avoid the pain and trauma that Jamie has had to experience. Jamie will battle the effects of this disease for the rest of her life and it is important to her that she is able to show her friends, family and those around her that this dreadful situation could have been avoided.”

In addition to getting the word out, raising funds to support Jamie’s medical expenses is at the top of the schedule. Jamie’s Dallas school, Shelton, raised funds earlier this year with a “Jean Day.” An event will be held, with a suggested donation of $20, on Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Liar’s Den at 2710 McKinney in Dallas, from noon to 6 p.m. A second event, an evening gala at Jamie’s alma mater, St. Michael’s Academy in Austin, will take place on Feb. 27.

“Jamie is strong like an ox and I’m so proud of her. We just don’t want anyone else’s kids to have to undergo what she is [going through]. Get the word out, get your kids the vaccine, keep your kids healthy,” said Jamie’s “Poppa,” Dallas’ Gene Schanbaum. “She’s believed in herself and believed she’d overcome this — and she will.”

“This easily could have been avoided but I am standing. I will drive, I will live alone again, I am tying my shoes, dialing my iPhone, e-mailing my friends and getting through school,” Jamie said. ”Humans adapt. It’s crazy but we have to, we can and we do.”

Donations to help support Jamie Schanbaum’s medical expenses can be mailed to P.O. Box 4396, Austin, TX 78765 or online at jamieschanbaumupdatesandsupport.blogspot.com. For more information on the Nov. 7 fundraiser at the Liar’s Den, or the Feb. 27 event at St. Michael’s Academy in Austin, call 214-226-8090.

THE DOCTORS ARE IN

By Shelley Weiss, M.D., and Simma Weiss, M.D.

Meningococcal vaccine can save your child’s life

“People are a lot more fragile than they think,” says K.C. Schanbaum, older sister of Jamie Schanbaum, who survived a battle with meningococcal meningitis this past winter. This realization surfaces in our consciousness — whether through the High Holy Days prayers, a newspaper story or the sudden illness of someone close to us. While we cannot predict or stop every possible risk to our lives, we can work hard to prevent as many as we can.

We often think of vaccines as a rite of childhood, designed to prevent such “childhood illnesses” as measles, chicken pox and whooping cough. Vaccines, however, represent an important part of our preventive health strategy throughout adolescence and adulthood.

Spinal meningitis is an inflammation of the fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by a variety of organisms, but one of the most severe forms is caused by a bacterium known as meningococcus. The illness begins with flu-like symptoms, but can quickly progress to neck pain, rash, loss of consciousness and sepsis (drop in blood pressure leading to organ damage throughout the body). Death occurs in about 10 percent to 15 percent of those infected. Long-term effects — including loss of limbs, hearing loss and mental retardation — occur in 10 percent to 20 percent of survivors. Meningococcal disease occurs in 1,400–2,800 people per year in the United States, killing about 300 people per year in this country.

Because of the close contacts associated with the dormitory lifestyle, college freshmen are at higher risk than the general population for infection with meningococcus. Four years ago, the FDA licensed an updated vaccine for meningococcus called MCV4 (Menactra). This vaccine confers long-lasting immunity against this infection with a single dose. The CDC and the ACIP recommend routine immunization of all children with MCV4, at 11 or 12 years old. This vaccination helps to protect against the risk of meningococcal disease in high school and college.

The meningococcal vaccine, along with the pertussis-preventing tetanus shot (TdaP) and the Human Papillomavirus Vaccine for girls (HPV or Guardasil), can be provided by your pediatrician or family physician at your child’s 11- or 12-year-old physical.

Let us use the story of Jamie Schanbaum to remind ourselves of the importance of adolescent and adult vaccination in all our lives.

Shelley Weiss, M.D., is a pediatrician and Simma Weiss, M.D., is a family physician at Healthy Texan Pediatrics and Family Medicine in Medical City Hospital. This article does not constitute formal medical advice. Specific questions about your or your child’s health should be addressed to your personal physician. Appointments with either Dr. Weiss may be made by calling Healthy Texan Pediatrics and Family Medicine at 972-566-4286.

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FAQ: Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome (HBOC)

FAQ: Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome (HBOC)

Posted on 15 October 2009 by admin

1. What is HBOC?

HBOC is an inherited cancer susceptibility syndrome. The hallmarks are multiple family members with breast cancer or ovarian cancer or both, the presence of both breast and ovarian cancer in a single individual and early age of breast cancer onset.

2. What causes the majority of HBOC syndromes?

Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes result in HBOC syndromes. These genes are both autosomal dominant, which means an individual needs to inherit only one abnormal gene to be at risk for HBOC syndrome.

3. What percent of breast and ovarian cancers are due to BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations?

Approximately 10 percent of ovarian cancer and 7 percent of breast cancer are due to BRCA mutations. However, only 4 percent of individuals with these mutations have been identified.

4. What is the prevalence of BRCA mutations in the general population?

It is estimated that one in 500 individuals is a carrier of the BRCA mutation.

5. What is the prevalence of the BRCA mutation in the Jewish population?

It is estimated that one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carry the BRCA mutation.

6. What is the risk of breast and ovarian cancer if I carry a BRCA mutation?

For a woman with a BRCA1 mutation, the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is 39 percent to 46 percent. For a woman with a BRCA2 mutation, the risk of ovarian cancer is 12 percent to 20 percent. The estimated lifetime risk of breast cancer with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation is 65 percent to 74 percent.

7. How is testing for the BRCA mutation performed?

Blood is obtained at your physician’s office and then sent to a laboratory which tests for the mutations. Appropriate counseling should be performed before testing is done.

8. Does insurance cover the test and will I be able to obtain health insurance if I test positive for the BRCA mutations?

Most insurance companies will cover BRCA testing in “high-risk” individuals. High-risk is defined as individuals with personal history of breast cancer diagnoses prior to age 45 with or without family history; breast cancer diagnosed at age 50 or younger with a family history of breast cancer diagnosed by age 50, or family member diagnosed with ovarian cancer; family history of male breast cancer; Ashkenazi Jew with family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

Federal laws are in effect which prohibits medical insurance companies from discriminating against individuals who are BRCA carriers.

9. What can be done if I test positive for the BRCA mutation?

Prophylactic simple mastectomy decreases the risk of breast cancer by 90 percent. Removing both ovaries and tubes when childbearing is complete decreases risk of ovarian cancer by 96 percent and breast cancer by 68 percent. Oral contraceptives decrease ovarian cancer risk by 60 percent with no proven increase in breast cancer. Increased surveillance with breast MRIs and more frequent mammograms may be performed. Pelvic ultrasounds and CA125 markers performed every six to 12 months may be ordered.

10. How can I find out more about HBOC?

Start by contacting your physician and discussing your family history and risk factors for HBOC. In addition, Myriad Genetic Laboratories performs the test and provides patient education material on their Web site at www.myriadtests.com. Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) at www.facingourrisk.org is a resource for those individuals or families who carry the BRCA mutation.

Eric Jacoby, M.D. (ericjacoby@pwhcare.com) is an obstetrician and gynecologist in Plano.

Sharsheret aids young
Jewish women with cancer
By Josh Sayles
Jewish News of Greater Phoenix
When 28-year-old Rochelle Shoretz was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, she had nowhere to turn. The organizations, both Jewish and secular, that she contacted for support put her in touch with aunts and grandmothers. It wasn’t until a neighbor introduced her to another young Jewish woman going through the same difficulties that she was able to lean on someone else who truly understood what she was experiencing.

Five months later, in December 2001, Shoretz founded Sharsheret, a national organization based in Teaneck, N.J., that provides aid to young Jewish women (defined as premenopausal) with breast cancer.

The organization will hold a national teleconference, “Breast Cancer and the Next Generation,” on Nov. 4 (see info box).

About 850 women from 39 states are currently enrolled in Sharsheret’s signature service, the Link Program, and thousands more call in for free information and materials, according to Director of Operations Elana Silber.

The Link Program matches women of similar backgrounds and lifestyles from across the country so they can discuss questions and concerns with like-minded people.

“Generally by the time women with breast cancer are looking for support, they already have a medical team in place,” Silber said. “They have their oncologist, they have their surgeon. But what they’re looking for and what they’re finding in Sharsheret is a place to turn for guidance, reassurance and a sense of community within the community.”

She added that the organization is careful to match people with similar religious values and similar problems, and that Sharsheret is open to women from all denominations of Judaism.

“When you go to a doctor, their goal is to make you healthy right away, and it’s not always to protect the rest of your values,” said Amy Dubitsky, a Phoenix resident and member of Sharsheret’s national advisory board. (Amy is an account manager at the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix and the wife of Rabbi Michael Dubitsky.)

“Let’s say a woman [recovers] from breast cancer, and she’s not married yet or newly married and hasn’t had children,” Dubitsky continued. “Her oncologist isn’t necessarily thinking about fertility issues and stuff like that. Sharsheret will help you with that, or you’ll speak to other people who have been through those same things and have [similar] values.”

She gave the example of how an Orthodox woman who recently underwent a mastectomy might seek advice on how to handle herself at a mikvah.

Silber said that although its programs are geared toward young Jewish women, Sharsheret will help both Jews and non-Jews of any age. “Anyone who feels they can benefit from the program can call in,” she said. “We also refer women to other organizations if we don’t provide a service.”

In addition to the Link Program, Sharsheret offers nine other services, including education and outreach; quality of life, which addresses the cosmetic side effects of treatment; and individualized counseling regarding hereditary and genetic issues having to do with breast cancer.

The nonprofit is also in the planning stages of providing support to women with ovarian cancer, which it hopes to launch in full force in 2011, according to Silber.

For more information, call 866-474-2774 or visit sharsheret.org.

Josh Sayles is a staff writer at Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

INFO:
What: Sharsheret national teleconference: “Breast Cancer and the Next Generation”
Topics: “How do I talk to a young child about my breast cancer diagnosis?”; “How can I help my teenager during cancer treatment?”; and “What can I do to educate my young daughter about her risk of developing breast cancer?”
When: 6–7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 4
Cost: Free
Registration: 866-474-2774 or events@sharsheret.org

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You don’t need to be Jewish to enjoy ‘Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg’

You don’t need to be Jewish to enjoy ‘Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg’

Posted on 15 October 2009 by admin

gertrude portrait plain copyBy Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

Quick: Who won the very first Best Actress Emmy in history? I’ll give you a little assistance: The year was 1951. No one comes to mind? Here’s another clue: Eight years later she won a Tony Award as Best Actress (Dramatic) for “A Majority of One.” If you answered Gertrude Berg — you’d be right!

Rarely does a film come along that not only educates but entertains in equal measure.

“Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” is the latest entry from documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner (“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”). Using archival footage from TV’s early days and interviewing family members and celebrities (and a Supreme Court judge), Kempner brings to life the lady who at one time was the most famous woman in America.

For those who were not fortunate to see her TV program in its heyday, she has often been credited with creating TV’s first sitcom, modeled on her radio show “The Rise of the Goldbergs” and character Molly. She not only starred in the radio and TV program, but she was the creator, writer and producer in the day when most moms were stay-at-homes. At a tumultuous time in our history, “Mrs. Goldberg” was a welcome sight in living rooms across the country. Leaning out her window, she welcomed the audience into her world as she talked directly into the camera and later with neighbors in her apartment building. The familiar wail, “Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” beckoned her to the sill, where the friends chatted about life, modeled hats and dispensed advice.

Although she portrayed a blue-collar Jewish matriarch living in the Bronx, she spoke (with an accent) to a country that was communally dealing with the Depression and mitigating family problems. In this sense, the program transcended its religious boundaries and its popularity soared.

I want to thank Ms. Kempner not only for transporting me back to the Bronx, but for re-introducing us all to a woman who may have been temporarily forgotten, but certainly left her mark on our national cultural map.

Once a year, I get to make this proclamation: If you see one documentary this year, “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” should be the one!

Info

“Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg”
Directed by: Aviva Kempner
Runtime: 92 minutes
Opening dates: Dallas, at the Inwood Theater, Oct. 16; Houston, at the River Oaks, TBA; San Antonio, at the Santikos Bijou, Oct. 23

Interview with Aviva Kempner

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

I was fortunate to get a chance to speak with the director of “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” Aviva Kempner. We spoke about the film, the perils of fundraising for documentaries and even a little Jewish geography. Here’s an excerpt.

Susan K. Wilkofsky: I was born and lived in the Tremont section of the Bronx, so thanks for the walk down memory lane. Besides being so entertaining, the film was educational as well. It hit on all cylinders! Thank you.

Aviva Kempner: Ah, my pleasure! Now do you think that folks in Dallas are going to go?

SKW: Absolutely! I’ll tell them to! How did you get involved with Gertrude Berg’s story?

AK: I knew about her; I was trying to figure out what to do next and I went to the Jewish museum. There was a great exhibit called “Jews Entertaining America.” The museum had a re-creation of the Goldbergs’ living room.

SKW: At what point did you read her bio by Glenn Smith, “Something on My Own”?

AK: First I went to the family and they said, “Great!” Then I heard about Glenn Smith and this biography he was doing on her about six months [into the project]. In my little film called “Today I Vote for My Joey,” where the Jews mistakenly vote for Pat Buchanan, I had the character yelling out the window, “Yoo-hoo, let’s go vote!”

SKW: That’s a nice touch! What specifically interested you in Gertrude Berg? The fact that she was an early, visible feminist?

AK: She was so talented. She would get up every morning and write, then go and produce. She developed the most long-lasting positive portrayal of American Jews that you’ll ever see, during the time of the greatest domestic anti-Semitism. Plus, she developed that character that was beloved way beyond the Jewish community, and of a mother figure that she didn’t have in her own life. She [was] the right person at the right time.

SKW: I enjoyed your [documentary] about Hank Greenberg. Many of your films deal with Jews who were heroes in their day and age, but have been somehow forgotten. Can you address that?

AK: It’s bringing up these stories of heroic figures especially at the time of so much domestic anti-Semitism. [They were heroes] in athletic form or in creativity; time passes and people don’t remember heroes past — that’s why I do these films. What’s interesting is there are four bio-flicks out this year about important women around that period: Amelia Earhart, Coco Chanel, Julia Child and Gertrude Berg. It’s wonderful that their stories are coming to the screen.

SKW: It’s interesting that she played a stereotypical Jewish mother on TV and radio, but she wasn’t one in real life.

AK: Exactly!

SKW: Many of your films deal with famous folks who include the name “Berg.” Who’s next — Ingrid Bergman?

AK (laughing heartily): Want to hear the best story? I went to interview Justice Ginsburg and the first thing I said to her was, “You know I’ve done Greenberg and now Goldberg. Maybe I should do Ginsburg … sounds like a Jewish law firm.”

SKW (also laughing): Seriously, what’s your next project?

AK: There was a very famous Jewish philanthropist named Julius Rosenwald who championed Booker T. Washington’s project and together they built over 5,000 schools in the rural South. It’s a great black/Jewish story.

SKW: I look forward to learning about the next unsung hero.

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Dallas Doings

Posted on 15 October 2009 by admin

Coats for Kids kicks off ninth anniversary drive

The Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood will begin collecting coats and other winter clothing for the needy on Sunday morning, Oct. 18, with a drop-off point in the temple parking lot on Hillcrest Road just north of Northwest Highway in Dallas. “Many children in Dallas would be colder this winter if it weren’t for the generous support of Dallas residents who want to make a difference by contributing their winter clothing to Coats for Kids,” said Stephen Shore, Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood president. Each year, Coats for Kids collects coats, scarves, mittens, gloves and boots. All kid and adult sizes are welcome. Clothing will be distributed to deserving individuals via the East Dallas Police Store Front on Bryan. Shore added: “As in past years, our effort includes the Preston Hollow Presbyterian School and Congregation Beth Torah. Boy Scout Troop 729 will be manning the collection point. And this year we’re asking the Temple’s Religious School students to go through their closets and participate by donating their clothing. Those missing the scheduled collection may drop their donations off at the Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood office anytime during October or November.

Murray Stein, the Jewish sculptor of North Texas

On Sept. 10, Murray Stein of Allen installed his latest sculpture, “Schubert’s Trout Quintet,” in the Strathmore Music Center of North Bethesda, Md. The Strathmore, which seats almost 2,000, is the second largest concert hall in Maryland, and hosts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 30 concerts per year.

For those not familiar with the “Trout Quintet,” it was written by Schubert to honor a poem about a fish. The sculpture displays a violin, viola, cello and double bass full-size in skeletal form, made of an industrial laminate composed (pun) of tulip poplar. The overlap between the violin and viola forms the outline of a fish, i.e., the trout — a rainbow trout at that, because it is highlighted with dichroic glass.

The keyboard was turned on a lathe as a bottomless cylindrical maple bowl, then cut into fourths and reassembled as a wavy entity, which weaves under and over some of the skeletal elements. Don’t for one minute believe that the wood really comes from a rubber tree. The flats and sharps are real ebony.

One of Stein’s other works is “Lest We Forget,” a sculpture for the Dallas Holocaust Museum, which won first place in the Texas Sculpture Association’s 25th anniversary show last year. His “Suspended Chord,” designed for the upcoming Collin County Music Hall, is presently housed in the Offices of the Plano Symphony Orchestra.

Competition, seniors, prizes

For over fifteen years, the Dallas Area Agency on Aging has held county-wide spelling competitions in both English and Spanish, offering the opportunity for seniors from across Dallas County to compete for cash prizes and the honor of being named the top spellers in the region. This year’s events at the Bachman Recreation Center did not disappoint. Seventeen seniors entered the English competition, held on Oct. 17. After many rounds of heated competition, first-place honors went to Phyllis LaVietes, who represented Windsor of Dallas Senior Living. LaVietes is assistant editor of the Texas Jewish Post. Ten contestants entered the Spanish competition, held on Oct. 10, and spelled their hearts out round after round. In the end, first place went to Maria Isuara Galicia, representing La Voz del Anciano.

Travis Upham honored by JWV

Dallas Jewish War Veterans, Dr. Harvey J. Bloom Post #256, ­nominated Travis Upham, the young man who was chosen winner of National JWV’s Olympiad Award for 2009.

The honor, which carries an award of $1,000, was formally presented to Travis during a recent breakfast meeting of the post and its auxiliary at the Jewish Community Center.

Created in memory of Israel’s 11 Olympic athletes who were brutally murdered by PLO terrorists at the Munich games in September 1972, the annual award honors a high school student based 60 percent on athletic accomplishment, 40 percent on scholarship and community service.

The honoree does not have to be Jewish. Travis, a Catholic, graduated in the spring from Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, where he was a baseball star and an All-State soccer player. He has just begun his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma, planning to major in business.

First named by the local post to compete for the Olympiad Award, Travis was then chosen as the candidate to represent the JWV region encompassing Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas as well as Texas, and was then declared a national winner by JWV’s Washington headquarters.

Travis and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Steve Upham, attended the Sept. 27 meeting where the $1,000 check was presented on behalf of National JWV by Commander Jerry Benjamin, Post #256.

More JWV news: Michael Fleisher to speak

The Jewish War Veterans Post #256 and Auxiliary will hold its regular monthly meeting on Sunday, Oct. 25, at 9:30 a.m. at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, 7900 Northaven Road. Michael Fleisher, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Dallas for the past 16 years, will discuss “The Changing Jewish Family.”

Under Fleisher’s leadership, Jewish Family Service has expanded its services, including support groups, employment assistance, case management and independent living services for the elderly. JFS has developed new services such as the family violence intervention program, school mental health program, breast cancer support services, psychological testing and speech and language services for special-needs children and adults, and the Rabbi Gerald Klein high school summer internship. Fleisher’s commitment to providing the highest quality services has merited national recognition for Dallas JFS.

The public is cordially invited to attend. A lox and bagels breakfast will be served for a nominal fee.

Dance the night away on Oct. 21

Dancers of all ages are invited to the Wednesday Dance Night on Oct. 21 in the Zale Auditorium of the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center. Live music will be presented by the Chuck Arlington Band from 7 to 9 p.m.

With the paid admission of $5, free ballroom dance lessons will be given from 6 to 7 p.m.

Dance hosts for unescorted ladies will be on hand. Light refreshments will be served. The program is presented by the JCC and Temple Emanu-El Couples Club.

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Around the Town with Rene

Posted on 15 October 2009 by admin

A good deed

When Congregation Beth Jacob in Galveston lost their High Holy Days machzorim during Hurricane Ike last year, they were in desperate need of at least 50 books for their members. Congregation Ahavath Sholom came to the rescue by sending over 30 books, and Temple Beth Israel in Illinois also made a generous donation of some of their machzorim. Together, the two synagogues made sure Beth Jacob had their 50 books in time for Yom Kippur.

The mitzvah was led by the mother-daughter team of Jayne Michel and Elaine Bumpus, co-chairs of the CAS Social Action Committee, and Dr. Etta Miller.

Thinking of Ahavath Sholom reminds me that Ritual Director Dr. Javier Smolarz was surprised, shocked and moved to tears when he was given the significant honor of being named Chattan Torah at Shabbat services last Saturday. A similar honor was accorded my former son-in-law Eli Davidsohn (still considered a family member) at Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson. While I am not familiar with who is the Chattan Torah and what does he do, my informant tells me that “Chattan Torah,” the Groom of the Torah, is the title given to the individual who bought the honor at the auction or the person designated by that buyer (usually a highly respected member of the congregation). He is called to the Torah with a beautiful chant describing his greatness in glowing terms, and is given the honor of reciting the blessing over the last section of the Torah to be read in the current year, which is the conclusion of Moshe’s valedictory address to the Jewish people. For Javier it was a complete, but thrilling, surprise.

Connect to your Jewish heritage at Beth-El

You might have missed the first meeting of Batya Brand’s nine-week course on “Connecting to Our Jewish Heritage” which started last night, the 14th, at Beth-El, but you’ll be fascinated with the remaining eight sessions that will meet on Wednesday evenings at Beth-El at 7:30 p.m.

From what I remember about Batya as one of my Melton School instructors, she is a phenomenal storyteller and a fountain of knowledge.

She will bring literature, stories and songs that connect us to our past. The class will integrate fun with tradition. Telling the stories and singing the songs will keep our history alive.

“Connecting to Our Jewish Heritage” is an hour of leisure and storytelling. The stories will reflect on Jewish life in Europe and its historical roots for various customs practiced now and then. The purpose of the class is to evoke memories in addition to providing the pleasure of good literature. Everyone will have the opportunity to share thoughts with the class. The stories were written in Hebrew or Yiddish and will be told in English.

Additional information is available from either Ilana Knust, 817-332-7141, or the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, 817-569-0892.

The program is partially funded by the Jewish Federation of FWTC.

Posy McMillen to receive Bnai Zion award

Toni and Harold Gernsbacher will present the Bnai Zion America-Israel Friendship Award to Posy McMillen, tried and true friend of Israel, at this year’s gala on Sunday, Nov. 1 at the Westin Park Central Hotel. Posy has many of her Fort Worth friends attending and among the familiar faces I’m looking forward to greeting are Roz Rosenthal, Abe and Kim Factor, David and Rachel Cristol, Dr. Stanley and Marcia Kurtz, Laurie and Len Roberts, Naomi and Mark Rosenfield, Debby Rice and Rabbi Dov and Chana Mandel. And I’m sure there will be more of Posy’s friends at the gala. In the meantime, RSVPs can be made with Bnai Zion Regional Director Avrille Harris Cohen, 972-918-9200 or avrille.harris-cohen@bnaizion.org. Complimentary transportation from Fort Worth will be provided.

Press notes

Ladies, save the date of Monday evening, Nov. 2. It’s a stellar Hadassah program. The powers that be say, plan for encouragement and inspiration, for at least an hour, when Dr. Maria Sirois, a noted clinical psychologist, master storyteller and author of “Every Day Counts,” speaks at Beth-El. Her words about strengthening resiliency are most inspiring. She will discuss how women are the foundation of a community and how women together can accomplish great changes in the world. Debby Rice is among the Hadassah VIPs planning the program.

Long before television, memories of Molly Goldberg go back to my childhood when my mother and I would sit in our kitchen and listen to “The Goldbergs,” Molly and her Jake, on the radio. The Goldbergs have been entrenched in my heart and mind for long years, and how I had hoped for a return visit from their family! I followed news of a documentary being presented in various communities in the country and lo and behold, it’s opening at Dallas’ Inwood Theatre. I hope you read Susan Wilkofsky’s review in this week’s issue of the TJP. Don’t miss it. It would be a great outing for the Daytimers and worthy of an extra program date.

Daughters of Abraham, an organization of members of three religions, will meet at Beth-El on Tuesday, Oct 20, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Guest speaker will be Mary Anderson, from the Tarrant Area Food Bank, who will speak about the problems her organization is facing. A donation of canned foods will be appreciated.

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In My Mind’s I

Posted on 15 October 2009 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

When I walked out of the theater dark into the lobby light, I was thinking of my Boubby the Philosopher, who would frequently opine, on a variety of topics: “I don’t think this is so good for the Jews.”

The film I had just seen was Joel and Ethan Coen’s newest, “A Serious Man,” which most present-day pundits agree is a remake of that distressing old “favorite,” the Biblical Book of Job. A good man is suddenly beset by a stream of troubles. In Job’s case, they are really, truly terrible. In the case of Larry Gopnik, living the classic suburban life of a Jewish family man in a flatland Minnesota development circa 1967, they are world-shaking — for him. But we viewers tend to laugh, sometimes quite heartily, at Larry’s problems.

Or maybe we’re laughing to keep from crying, because his problems are ours. We know this man, with his divorce-demanding wife, his out-of-control children, his eccentric brother, his workplace and neighbor difficulties, his moral dilemmas. In short, the disintegration of his personal world. The kinds of things that have torn apart many of our personal worlds, or parts of them, in the past — and perhaps are doing so in the present. This is not a film for escape from our own cares, even though it’s funny. Sometimes if we don’t laugh, we’re close to doom.

I read two recent pieces about this film in the New York Times by A.O. Scott, who’s Jewish himself. His questions are on a higher plane than mine: He’s wondering if it’s a lesson in atheism, or if it actually shows God’s view of the world. Are the Coens “making fun of God, or playing on God’s side in a rigged cosmic game”? I’m worried less about philosophic meanings, more about practicality. Will non-Jews who see “A Serious Man” — which is now in venues other than Jewish film festivals — think that all rabbis are as distant and inept as those depicted in it? Will they take offense at the characterization of some “goys” (yes, they’re called that in the film) as literal Jew-hunters and shooters? Will they associate a disproportionate number of us with pot-smoking young teenagers, pedantic buffoons and sex-crazed housewives, since they’re all here, and all identifiably Jewish?

A few days earlier, I’d seen Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which raised, at least for me, more than a few Jewish questions of its own, but of a very different type. The most important, I think: Is it possible to accept a Holocaust “fantasy”? I came away thinking of this film as a demented fairy tale (maybe better called an “ogre tale”), something that the Brothers Grimm, those aptly-named German writers of brutal fictions that have given nightmares to generations of kids, might have cooked up on a very bad day.

The beginning is a tear-jerker: A Righteous Gentile must surrender the Jews he’s been sheltering. But after that, everyone is a stereotype: the manipulative Gestapo officer; the stupid Nazis à la “Hogan’s Heroes”; the brutally brave band of Jewish revenge-takers under the leadership of Brad Pitt, preposterous as a drawling Southerner who collects German scalps; and the beauteous, Jewish Shoshanna, who escapes annihilation and lives on to die as the ultimate payback queen.

And the end? Well, if we could rewrite history, we’d like a certain segment of it to finish this way. The word “Holocaust” is derived from the Greek and means, literally, “sacrifice by fire.” And that’s what we have here — Hitler and all his major toadies consumed in a gigantic blaze from which there’s no escape (and which, of course, had it occurred in reality rather than on and by celluloid, would have been very good, indeed, for the Jews!).

And the end of our “Serious Man”? Well, Gopnik and all the others who are parts of his wretchedness are watching, horrified, as something comes out of the sky that looks like it has the potential to put a permanent finish on all his suffering, and on everyone else’s as well. But the Coen brothers, teasing us — as they do with their protagonist — to the very end, fade into black credits.

So the head-shakers congregate in the light of the lobby to ask many unanswerable questions of all kinds. But for me, my Boubby’s voice sounds out again in the background with hers: “Is any of this really good for the Jews?”

Maybe you have some answers. If so, please share them with me. My Boubby and I are both eager to hear them.

E-mail: harrietg@texasjewishpost.com

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Ask the Rabbi

Posted on 15 October 2009 by admin

Dear Rabbi,

What is the literal meaning of the word “Torah”? Some I’ve asked have conjectured it means “The Book” or is Hebrew for the Greek “Bible.” Someone else thought it meant tradition. Are these correct?

Stephanie L.

Dear Stephanie,

Although the word “Torah” does refer to the Five Books of Moses, or the Bible — at times it refers to the combination of the written and oral laws — that is not the literal meaning of the word.

The accurate meaning of “Torah” is twofold. Firstly, it comes from the word hora’ah, which means teaching. More precisely, it means “teaching with direction,” meaning the type of teaching which enables and empowers one with the direction with which to proceed. The same word could be used in Hebrew for such instruction in both the spiritual and secular realms.

The second meaning is from the word orah, which means light. One example of this is reflected in the verse which states, “ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr,” or “for a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah the light” (Proverbs, ch. 6). This is to be understood on multiple levels.

One thought is that the Torah is the source of spiritual illumination in the world. Besides it being the source of Judaism, through it and its teachings we serve as a light unto the nations. That is how the Torah serves as the foundation of much of Christianity and Islam.

It also, more importantly, serves as the source of illumination for our own lives. Like the Clouds of Glory which guided the Jews for 40 years in the desert, providing illumination and direction at night, the Torah lights our paths and provides the Jewish people with direction throughout our long period of exile even through the darkest of times.

The Torah also provides direction for each Jew in their personal lives. In business, family life or interaction with others, the Torah offers the light — the ethical and moral compass by which to navigate the most complicated and tempestuous, often thorny issues. Whether in guidance for the individual or for the Jewish people, the two meanings of Torah — teaching with direction and illumination — mesh together to form a broader meaning of the centrality of Torah to Jewish life.

In the deeper, Kabbalistic writings, we find a more profound meaning of Torah and its connection to light. Torah is not simply compared to light; in reality, it is a type of light. At its source, it is like a flaming spiritual fire. Its light actually provides the spiritual source of the physical light of the sun and all the constellations of the entire universe. All those luminous bodies will be dwarfed by the eventual unmasking of the hidden spiritual light to be revealed in the World to Come. This is the reason the Torah was transmitted on Mt. Sinai through fire. This was not only to create an effect; it revealed the essence of the Torah being given, that it is a spiritual fire, a brilliant light. Our souls and the Torah, both dazzling lights, were created from the same Source, and reconnect and ignite each other when a Jew deeply studies the Torah. When a Jew lights up his or her soul with the fire of Torah, they then truly become a “light unto the nations.”

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 15 October 2009 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

I admit it — I am a biblioholic! That’s the addiction to buying books and I’ve got it bad. Every year at Simchat Torah (my favorite holiday), I try to absolve myself of guilt — we are the People of the Book and we never stop reading the Torah. That must make it OK to love books, read books and even buy books. Each new year, I shop before Rosh Hashanah to find wonderful books to take to shul. Yes, I read in shul!

This year’s top choice really made me think about life and I want to recommend it to you. It is a book for adults but it is also for teens and can be used with your whole family. The book is “The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven” by Dr. Ron Wolfson. The questions provide the chance to look at where you are going and why. Not to “give away the book” but here are the questions, put very simply:

1. Were you honest?

2. Did you leave a legacy?

3. Did you set a time to study?

4. Did you have hope in your heart?

5. Did you get your priorities straight?

6. Did you enjoy this world?

7. Were you the best you could be?

These may not be the questions you might have imagined, so maybe start your family discussion on what you think are the questions you would be asked; would you keep some of these or find very different ones? The questions are the first step. Talk about why each particular question; what is really being asked of us? For the seven questions above, the answer is hopefully the same for each one — THE ANSWER WE WANT IS YES! But the real questions are how and what and why: how can you be honest, how do you leave a legacy and what will that legacy be, what should I study, why is study important, what is important about hope, and more questions about questions.

Keep reading and keep questioning — it’s the Jewish way!

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

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