Archive | January, 2012

Justice, mercy, humility

Justice, mercy, humility

Posted on 26 January 2012 by admin

By Laura Seymour

In discussing God and faith with our children, they sometimes ask questions we can’t answer. There is a good reason for this: Judaism is a religion with a lot of guidelines. There are, for example, 613 commandments we’re required to follow. That’s a great many things to do.

Fortunately, throughout our history, prophets, judges and rabbis have offered advice to help us lead good lives while helping others. One of those prophets, Micah, discusses this as follows:

“And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.”

— Micah 6:8

These seem like simple tasks, but they can be incredibly difficult. In carefully examining the above biblical quote, think and talk about these questions with your family:

  • What does it mean to “do justly?” What is the definition of “just” and how to we behave in a “just” manner? What does it mean to be fair to others? What is considered unfair? Many times, fairness and being just aren’t the same thing. For example, if your child wants to go to a birthday party, but instead must visit her grandparent because she made the date with her grandparent first, the child may not think that’s fair – but it is just.
  • What is mercy? How do we act with mercy? Why does Micah say to “love mercy?” Is that different that treating people with mercy? Sometimes showing mercy to someone else (especially someone who doesn’t behave in a very good way) can be difficult. How might Micah react to such a challenge?
  • Being humble, showing humility is a very important Jewish value. But what does showing humility mean? Does it mean being a doormat and letting people walk all over you? What does it look like? Why does Micah say to “walk humbly?” How, specifically, do we walk with God?
  • And finally, why just these three things? How do they relate to everything else we should be doing? Is this really enough?

As mentioned above, Micah simplifies this advice, but in simplifying it, more questions arise. This is good, though. Part of the importance of understanding the Bible and Torah is to question what’s written. By questioning and working through answers, we can come to a better understanding of appropriate behavior we need to follow as Jews and human beings. When it comes to the above questions, there is no right or wrong answer. What’s important is the discussion and conclusions, all of which help us become better human beings.

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Idols and intermediaries have no place in Judaism

Idols and intermediaries have no place in Judaism

Posted on 26 January 2012 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Readers,

We are returning back to our series on the 13 Principles of Jewish belief:

Maimonides writes in his commentary: “The fifth principle teaches us that God is the only One whom we may serve and praise. We may sing only of His greatness and obey only His commandments. We may not act in this way toward anything beneath Him, whether it be an angel, a star, one of the elements or any combination of them. All these have a predetermined nature and, therefore, none can have authority of free will. Only God has these attributes.

It is therefore not proper to serve these things or make them intermediaries to bring us closer to God. All our thoughts should be directed only toward Him. Nothing else should even be considered. This 5th principle forbids all forms of idolatry, and it constitutes a major portion of the Torah.”

Today it is difficult for us who live in Western culture to understand why there needs to be a separate principle forbidding idols. Upon further analysis, we also see that the first of the Ten Commandments reminds us that there should be no other gods before God, while the second commandment is adamant that there be no graven images of other gods. If we look at these in context, we understand that idols were once very widespread throughout the world and are still prevalent today in many societies, such as in India and most of the Far East. A couple of years ago I was shopping in a large Indian store in Richardson and saw a special sale: gods were on sale 2 for 1!.

The fifth principle goes beyond simply forbidding idols; it forbids the use of intermediaries between us and God. This, of course, is in direct contradiction to many forms of Christianity teaching that the only way to approach God is through Jesus.

In his “Code,” Maimonides offers a fascinating explanation of how idol worship initially came about. In the days of Enosh, in the first generations of creation, mankind fell into a grave error. They realized that God created the sun, stars and moon as conduits through which to trickle down His blessings into the world. Hence, the word mazal, which is “star” in Hebrew, literally means “to drip” (as in nozzle. Mazal, or mazel, doesn’t mean “luck,” which is how it’s usually mistranslated.

Through the stars, the blessings of God “drip” into the world. The people of that generation reasoned that, as the heavenly bodies were honored by God through elevation to the heavens as His emissaries, they should certainly honor them as well. This reasoning led to temples being built to the heavenly bodies, and soon forgot that the heavenly bodies are nothing more than conduits for the blessings of God. Mankind used the same temples to worship the emissaries, leaving out the Source of the blessing, which was God. This was so prevalent in the early civilizations that when Abraham began to worship God Himself it was considered a complete anomaly.

A more relevant corollary of the fifth principle is the concept of prayer. Many Jews know they shouldn’t pray to anyone or anything other than God, but at the same time they don’t really know what it means to pray to God. Often I am asked to pray for a sick family member or someone in trouble, with the assumption that I, as a rabbi, am able to pray for them while others cannot. I am always happy to oblige those requests, but saddened that the petitioner feels he or she is not in a position to pray. Throughout our history, one of the most-deeply felt beliefs was that every Jew, rich or poor, rabbi or layperson, educated or not, could always turn to God to pour out their hearts in prayer. I’m not referring to prayer with a siddur in synagogue. Rather prayer as it relates to to every Jew’s ability to use his/her own words to speak what’s upon his or her heart.

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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‘New Jerusalem’ at Stage West in Forth Worth

‘New Jerusalem’ at Stage West in Forth Worth

Posted on 26 January 2012 by admin

By Amy Wolff Sorter

There is a great deal of time and distance between 17th century Amsterdam and 21st century Fort Worth. But in producing David Ives’ play “New Jerusalem, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656,” Stage West portrays a 356-year-old- story about God, philosophy, Judaism, exile and excommunication in Holland to modern audiences in North Texas.

Samuel West Swanson, Barrett Nash (right), Garret Storms in Stage West’s production of “New Jerusalem.” | Photo: Buddy Myers

The play revolves around a notable Jewish and philosophical event: The day on which Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza was placed in cherem (excommunication) by Amsterdam’s Jewish leaders for what were considered heretical views. Though history has plenty to say about Spinoza’s exile (the excommunication writ, in Portuguese, is still in existence), it’s silent about the 1656 hearing that reduced Spinoza from brilliant philosopher to heretic and exile. New York playwright Ives stepped into that gap, writing his version of what could have happened at the hearing. The result is a two-hour script that creates conflicting philosophies and pits staid ideas against new thought and perceived heresy.

And this, said Stage West’s producing director Jerry Russell, is what is so fascinating about the play. “The two things you don’t want to talk about in mixed company are religion and politics,” commented Russell, who is the play’s artistic director. “Here you have a play that takes a broad, philosophical look at religion, not just the Jewish religion, and it goes beyond that into a political commentary.”

The play, in and of itself, is an interesting piece of work. What’s even more interesting, however, is how it came to be on a Fort Worth stage. Russell explained that Stage West selects six scripts a year out of the thousands circulating out there — and in putting together a season, Stage West’s staff looks for a balance of comedy, drama and intellectual thought. Furthermore, a play produced on the Stage West’s stage needs to fit within the theater company’s casting and technical capabilities.

“New Jerusalem,” Russell noted, fit the theater company’s technical and casting parameters. Furthermore, it packed a powerful emotional and intellectual punch when the staff read it. “This play is a smart play; a very powerful play,” Russell commented. “It’s about the biggest ideas you could possibly confront.”

Another positive for Russell and his cast was that there were reams of information out there about Spinoza, his views and the story of his exile. The availability of that information was important when it came to “prepping” for the play itself. Also of enormous help was Beth-El Congregation’s Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger, who attended some of the early rehearsals and helped with the “Judaic” aspects of the play. There is one point in the play, Russell said, during which a Torah is removed from the Holy Ark. “We were told how to hold it, handle it and pass it from one person to the other,” he said.

Even with all this valuable information, however, challenges remained when it came to producing the play. “It’s one thing to be interested in the cerebral aspects of a play like this; the philosophies, language and ideas,” Russell said. “But when you start to put it on the stage, you have to find other dynamics to make the play live.” Simply espousing Spinoza’s thoughts and philosophies is well and good, but it doesn’t work 100 percent on the stage. “You have to find and extenuate the conflicts going on to make it something that people can become engaged with,” Russell pointed out. “I wanted people on the edge of their seats with this.”

One way in which Russell and his cast focused on audience engagement was by breaking the fourth wall, in other words, that invisible “wall” existing between the stage and its audience. In the Stage West production, the audience is thrust into the role of Talmud Torah’s congregation, where it becomes intimately involved with that shul’s deliberations and counsel pertaining to Spinoza.

Breaking that fourth wall is tricky, Russell acknowledged. But in the opening night performance, he was relieved to see that it worked. “The audience was engaged,” he said. “I was told this was the best show they’d seen in awhile.”

Though “New Jerusalem” details an important piece of philosophical and Jewish history, the play’s themes about God and philosophical thought ring true today to all theater-goers. In other words, it’s not really a stretch to mount a story about Dutch Jews from the 17th century on in a 21st century Fort Worth theater. “The debate about Spinoza’s thoughts and ideas continue to shift,” Russell said. “Attitudes toward him are constantly in flux; he’s still a large part of our discussions today.”

“New Jerusalem” runs through Sunday, Jan. 29 at Stage West at 821 West Vickery Boulevard. Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information call 817-784-9378 or visit www.stagewest.org.

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Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 26 January 2012 by admin

By Amy Wolff Sorter

Congratulations go to our own home-town group, The Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, for its recognition of “meritorious cooperation and mutual support” from the Union for Reform Judaism Synagogue-Federation Relations Committee’s Shutafim program.

This is a mouthful, but suffice it to say that the Fort Worth/Tarrant County J-Fed is being commended for its assistance and support of area shuls and synagogues, as well as programming that benefits the Tarrant County Jewish community.

That sound of clapping hands you’re hearing is me, all the way from Joshua. We’re fortunate in that we have such an active and involved Federation in Tarrant County — I can safely say that three-quarters of the activities I mention in this column are supported, in some part, by this organization.

A couple of months ago, I chatted with the Federation’s incoming program director, Angie Kitzman, who told me that her goal is to further boost programming, events and activities for all ages throughout the Jewish community.

The Federation has a good start so far in 2012 as its first event takes place tonight at Beth-El Congregation — Micah Halpern, as Larry Kornbleet Memorial Scholar-in-Residence will talk about “The Muddy Middle East: Arab Spring and Israel.” With Angie’s energy and the entire organization’s dedication, look for more of such enriching and enlightening events to come.

Entertainment at the NFTY-TOR Conclave

The Jewish community is cordially invited to hear Rabbi Noam Katz in “A Percussion Infused Concert” at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21 at Beth-El Congregation, 4900 Briarhaven in Fort Worth.

Rabbi Katz is known at the URJ Eisner and Kutz Camps as song leader, and has toured throughout North America, Africa, England and Israel.

The promotion notes that “he has shared his high-flying energy and soulful melodies with Jewish and interfaith audiences.” This sounds like a great way to conclude Shabbat!

Following the performance, the North American Federation of Temple Youth will lead Havdalah. Sponsors include Beth-El, Dan Danciger with the Fort Worth Hebrew Day School Supporting Foundation and NFTY.

Daytimers and Spinoza

Garrett Storms as Spinoza confronts his Dutch Christian girlfriend Barrett Nash about their forbidden relationship.

On Jan. 11, the Daytimers had the opportunity to see excerpts from Stage West’s current production of “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation, Amsterdam, July 27, 1656.” Participants also had the chance to chat with director Jerry Russell and the cast as well.

But that’s not all — the Daytimers are planning a trip to Stage West to see the play. This will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 22.

If you’re interested, call Stage West at 817-784-9378. Have your credit card ready and make sure to ask to be seated with the Daytimers group. Cost for seniors is $20 (or two for $26 with a press pass).

If it’s January, it’s time for JLI

Fanette Sonkin introduces her old friend Jerry Russell

And the next course in this three-part series is timely. Entitled “Jewish Business Ethics: Money Matters,” the six-week course teaches Judaism’s approach to economic dilemmas and monetary issues on both a personal and professional basis.

Look for topics such as “The Ethics of Insider Trading,” “Wages of the Working Poor,” “The Right to Organize and Strike,” and the “Ethics of CEO Compensation.”

Perhaps the folks on Wall Street who helped in the making of the Great Recession should take heed.

Emcee for the day was Irv Robinson

There are two locations where this class will take place. Chabad of Arlington will offer it at noon and 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 23 and Chabad of Fort Worth and Tarrant County will have it at 7:30 p.m. beginning Wednesday, Jan. 25.

I’ve sung the praises of JLI courses in the past, and this one truly seems to be a beneficial one. Your best bet to register is by logging on to JLI’s website at www.myjli.com.

Illana Stein returns

Fort Worth native Illana Stein (who currently lives in New York and is developing her own theater company) is returning to her stomping grounds to direct not one, but two plays in the upcoming months.

Her first endeavor, a staged reading of “Two Rooms” by Lee Blessing (presented by Amphibian Stage), will take place at 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 30 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell Street. For more information call 817-923-3012 or visit www.amphibianproductions.org.

Illana is also directing the play “Emma,” a takeoff on the Jane Austen novel, and will run from March 23 through April 1 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy Street. The play is being produced by the Stolen Shakespeare Guild; information can be obtained by calling 866-811-4111 or visiting www.stolenshakespeare.org.

Hadassah lunch & learn … for FREE!!!

In recent weeks, I’ve noted that the Fort Worth Chapter of Hadassah will host a Shabbat Lunch & Learn at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28 at Congregation Beth Shalom, 1212 Thannisch Dr. in Arlington — and that the cost of this event was $18.

Not a bad price to learn something new and to get lunch in the bargain.

But the good folks with Hadassah told us that, thanks to a generous sponsor, the event is now free to participants. You still need to contact Dolores Schneider at 817-294-7626 or Schneider_dolores@yahoo.com by Jan. 24 with your reservation, however.

The topic, “Scripture, Salmon and the Fairer Sex,” will be presented by Dr. Toni Craven from TCU’s Brite Divinity School following services conducted by Cantor Sheri Allen.

Readying for Tu B’Shevat

Yes, it’s January, and yes it’s moderately cold outside. But 15 Shevat is just around the corner.

To remind us that we are all caretakers of our planet, the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County (with financial help from Dan Danciger/Fort Worth Hebrew Day School Supporting Foundation) will present “Trees: The Torah of Life” at 10 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 5 at Beth-El Congregation, 4900 Briarhaven Road.

This family-friendly event will feature a seder with a discussion about what the Torah says about our collective partnership with God as stewards of the earth.

Kid-friendly activities will be plentiful as well and child care is available.

For more information call the Federation at 817-569-0892.

I love to hear from our readers! Send me your news to awsorter@yahoo.com.

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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 26 January 2012 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

It was with a great deal of pride that Alex and I watched our son Sam, a Levine Academy fifth grader, participate in the school’s Middle School Geography Bee last week. Sam was a last minute contestant. As runner-up for his class, he filled in for Sammy Silber, son of Sandy Silber and Dr. David Silber, who was home sick and unable to participate.

Following in his brother Benjamin’s footsteps, as a fierce geography competitor, Sam tied with Seth Sugerman, a sixth grader and son of Drs. Susan and Robert Sugerman for third place.

Levine Academy Head of School Mark Stolovitzky with Middle School Geography Bee winner Heather Kurtzman | Photo: Rebecca Bailey

Also representing the fifth grade was Sammy Nurko, son of Becky Nurko and Dr. Carlos Nurko. Heather Kurtzman, daughter of Pam and Matt Kurtzman, also represented the sixth grade and was this year’s overall winner. Representing the seventh grade were twins Zach and Josh Rudner, sons of Lisa and Steve Rudner. Josh came in second place. Rounding out the field was eighth grader Steve Levine, son of Sylvie and Ian Levine. Each of the contestants earned their spot by winning for their grade level and class section.

Levine Head of School Mark Stolovitzky served as the moderator for the bee, while middle school social studies faculty, Lili Feingold, Rachelle Okowita and Nonie Schwartz were the judges. Kudos to everyone who participated and organized the contest. Some of those were mighty tough questions.

While we’re on the topic of Levine Academy, the school’s Early Childhood Center will hold an open house for the youngest of future students next week. From Monday, Jan. 23 through Friday Jan. 27 from 9 to 11 a.m., preschoolers and their parents can check out a variety of programs. Open to everyone, you can check out one day or all five. For more information contact Mireille Brisebois-Allen or Sheryl Feinberg at 972-248-3032.

Light the way to ‘Never Again’

The Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center of Education and Tolerance will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day next Thursday, Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m. The community is invited to attend he annual candle vigil which will mourn the loss of each and every victim. Together with Rabbi Yitzak Cohen in the DHM/CET Garden of Remembrance and Tolerance, attendees will pray the Kaddish, read the names of victims, and light candles to illuminate the beauty of human beings once alive and vibrant.

DHMC/CET President and CEO Alice Murray writes, “We invite you to make this gathering special and personal. Come with your friends, your family, your children — those you hold most dear — to experience this intimate gathering of hope and remembrance. Bring your blankets to huddle close together in the safety of the garden seating. A candle will be provided for each of you to light as you read the name of a victim aloud. These names have not been spoken in so many years. The more people who attend, the more names we can recite, the more victims we can remember.”

Please RSVP by Jan. 24 to rsvp@dallasholocaustmuseum.org or 214-741-7500. The DHM/CET is located at 211 North Record St. and easily accessible by DART rail.

Intrafaith sisterhood brunch at Temple Shalom Jan. 29

Temple Shalom Sisterhood will host this year’s community intrafaith brunch at the synagogue, 6930 Alpha Road on Jan. 29. This year’s theme is “Women Helping Women.” Lyn Berman, executive director of Attitudes and Attire will be the featured speaker. Attitudes and Attire is a Dallas non-profit agency dedicated to promoting the personal growth for women seeking self-sufficiency. It’s unique program helps give women a fresh outlook and provides the tools to raise self-esteem and build confidence.

A&A’s core program consists of three workshops focused on self-esteem, communication skills and interview preparation and work ethic. A&A helps its clients with dressing for job interviews. On their initial visit, clients receive one suit with a coordinating blouse, scarf, handbag, jewelry and pantyhose. After their second workshop, clients are invited back to select a pair of shoes and receive a goodie bag filled with a variety of personal care items such as new cosmetics and toiletries. At their third dressing, clients are provided with additional business casual clothing to complement their wardrobe.

As part of the intrafaith brunch program, ladies are asked to bring gently used handbags and jewelry to donate to the A&A boutique. Cost of the brunch, which will be catered by A Taste of the World and supervised by Dallas Kosher, is $18. RSVP by Jan. 23, make checks payable to Temple Shalom Sisterhood and mail to: Julie Bradley, 6628 Missy Dr., Dallas, TX 75252. If you have questions call Julie at 214-417-3367.

Among the synagogues participating are Adat Chaverim, Anshai Torah, Beth El Binah, Beth Israel, Beth Torah, Chabad of Dallas, Chabad of Plano, Kol Ami, Ner Tamid, Nishmat Am, Ohev Shalom, Ohr HaTorah, Shaare Tefilla, Shearith Israel, Shir Tikvah, Temple Emanu-El, Temple Shalom and Tiferet Israel. It should be a wonderful morning of fellowship, good food and inspiring stories.

Hillel gathering at UTD

UTD Hillel will hold a lunch and planning meeting this Sunday, Jan. 22, from 12:30-2 p.m. Everyone knows of the importance of Hillel in the Jewish co-ed’s life. If you know of a Jewish student at UTD be sure to tell them to stop for lunch at the UTD Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies. Cost is free and parking passes are available by calling Helen Roth at 972-883-2100. Students planning to attend should RSVP to Helen ASAP.

Camp Ramah Darom meetings

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 25 and 26, Camp Ramah Darom director Geoff Menkowitz will be in Dallas to speak with prospective campers and their parents. Ramah Darom is one of the many camps under the auspices of the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism and is located in the North Georgia Mountains just two hours north of Atlanta.

There will be three meetings on Tuesday. From 2:30 to 3:15 p.m. at Levine Academy, 18011 Hillcrest Road in North Dallas; From 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. at Anshai Torah, 5501 W. Parker Road Plano, and back at Levine Academy from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. You can also learn about the camp on Wednesday from 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. at Shearith Israel, 9401 Douglas Avenue, Dallas and from 6:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. at Beth Torah, 720 Lookout Drive in Richardson.

Klein Internship Program deadline extended to Jan. 30

Applications are being accepted now through Monday, January 30 at 5 p.m. for the 2012 Klein Summer Internship Program of Jewish Family Service (JFS). This six-week internship program gives students the opportunity to work with non-profit agencies in the DFW area, matching each student’s individual interests and skills with the needs of the participating agencies. Students are considered for internships without regard to religion, race or ethnicity.

Students accepted into the program will have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the community while gaining valuable work experience. For more information, please visit JFS online at http://www.jfsdallas.org/rabbi-gerald-j-klein-summer-internship-program. For questions contact Janine Pulman, director of Volunteer Services at jpulman@jfsdallas.org.

A call for good sports

Know of a Jewish high school athlete that is a stand-out in one or more sports? We are featuring these young men and women on our “Good Sports” page on the fourth issue of every month.

For more information or to submit a candidate, contact me at sharonw@texasjewishpost.com or 972-458-7283.

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How blessings, prayers differ

How blessings, prayers differ

Posted on 26 January 2012 by admin

By Laura Seymour

“I learned to make brachot at the dining room table. I learned to pray on the ballfield.”

— Joel Lurie Grishaver

In his simple statement, Jewish educator Joel Grishaver admirably outlines the differences between blessings and prayer. Blessings are easy to learn and to say, time and again. Prayer, not so much.

Now, the Talmud tells us: “A person should say 100 blessings every day.” There are rules for everything in Jewish life, but why 100 blessings a day? Let’s look at it another way: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have 100 things every day we were thankful for? Perhaps this law suggests that we find things, even everyday common things, to be thankful for.

Much like Grishaver suggests, the first place to start the brachot is at our dining room tables. There are blessings over bread, wine, washing our hands before we eat, upon concluding our meal … we can increase our daily blessing total easily by simply eating. From there, we find lots of things to bless — there is even a blessing we say after using the bathroom! Here it is, and it’s certainly an important one:

“Blessed are You, our God, King of the Universe, who fashioned man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if but one of them were to be ruptured or but one of them were to be blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You. Blessed are You, our God, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

Blessings are easy to understand — but what about prayer? For many of us adults praying is a natural activity: We pray for good health, for good things. And if something bad is happening to us or a loved one, we pray that the pain or problem will be short-lived. Even while we pray, we struggle with the questions about why we should pray and if our prayers are answered. Additionally, Judaism has many rules for fixed prayer and prayer books filled with specific prayers — and sometimes we ask why we should say formal prayers, especially when those prayers are recited in Hebrew (a language many of us don’t understand, even with a transliteration/translation offered).

Praying is not just about asking God for something — it is first and foremost about building a relationship with God which we do through communication just as we build any relationship.

One thing we need to remember is that prayer is at its best when it is done on behalf of others. In “The Book of Jewish Values,” author Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote a chapter entitled “Pray for Someone Else Today.” In this chapter, Rabbi Telushkin tells of a Talmudic text praising Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, who offered a prayer to God for delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians. Moses also offered a similar prayer — but his praying was not praised. The difference? Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter explains that Moses thanked God for what was done for him and his people, while Jethro thanked God for what He did for others.

Prayer is an ideal way in which we can express our caring and compassion for others. Prayers can be simple words spoken spontaneously from the heart or can be special ones, recited for certain times, occasions or individuals.

Prayer is something we can all teach to our children, but answering the question about whether God answers prayers, or even hears them, is a little trickier. Personally, I think about my work with children, parents and staff; when they approach me with a problem, concern or even a question, my response is “I hear you.” I can’t always guarantee that I understand or that I can do what is requested, but I can guarantee that I hear and that I am listening. As such, when we pray, I believe God hears us. We may not receive an answer or even an answer we expect or want. But God is listening while we pray.

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center in Dallas.

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Understanding something out of nothingness

Understanding something out of nothingness

Posted on 26 January 2012 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Readers,

By popular request we are resuming our discussion of the 13 Principles of Jewish belief.

Before we discuss the fourth principle, let’s take a look at the Hebrew word used by Maimonides for all 13 key principles, which is “ikar.” The literal meaning of the word ikar is “root.” Maimonides teaches us an important lesson by selecting this particular word in that the principles are not, by a long shot, the entirety of what Jews believe. They are, however, the roots, ikarim, of all we believe. Much like the majestic towering sequoia grows out of its subterranean roots which attach it firmly to the ground and provide its very life, the 13 ikarim form the foundation from which flow the vast, myriad rich concepts that form the grand and magnificent tree, with all its branches and fruit, which we call Judaism.

Now let’s move on to the fourth principle, as promised. Maimonides writes in his commentary: “The fourth principle involves the absolute eternity of the One whom we call God. Nothing else shares His eternal quality. This is discussed many times in Scripture, and the Torah teaches it to us when it says “The eternal God is a refuge (Deut. 33:27).”

The Yigdal song explains the following: “He preceded all things that were created; He is first, yet without beginning.”

Maimonides further expounds on this principle in his work “Guide to the Perplexed”: “Everything was created by God out of absolute nothingness. In the beginning, God alone existed. There was nothing else. … He then created everything that exists from absolute nothingness. It all followed his will and desire.”

“Even time itself is among the things created by God,” Maimonides goes on to write. “Time depends upon motion. In order from motion to exist, we must have things that move. And all things ere created by God (Moreh Nevuchim 2:13).”

This principle is deeply connected to the one preceding it, the incorporeal or non-physical nature of God. Only someone or something that has no physical nature can exist in the realm of forever or infinity.

This concept of a non-physical nature is one that our minds have difficulty grasping. As we live in a finite world in which all things have a beginning, our intellect cannot truly fathom something that “always was.” We are troubled by the question of what was before that the beginning; how did God come into existence? The answer that He always was. But that He created the concept of “creation” is truly difficult to ponder.

As such, the final statement quoted from Maimonides is a keyhole into this idea; part of our difficulty in understanding the idea of “always” stems from our living within the realm of time. In other words, within time there is always a before and an after (and a beginning). Time itself, however, is also a creation of God! He does not exist in the same realm we do. Therefore the entire enterprise of “before, now and after” does not exist in relation to God. This is, therefore, one of those situations in which we need to realize the limitations of our understanding. We are exhorted to believe that which God has informed us through the Torah although we do not, and cannot, truly grasp the depths of the concept.

This corollary, the creation of time, is in itself an amazing revelation, (also mentioned by other early commentaries such as Nachmanides and R’ Eliyah of Vilna) and has its source in the Kabbalah. Until recently, the creation of time ran contrary to thousands of years of accepted scientific thought which assumed that time is a given, a constant, within which all else existed. It was only with the advent of Einstein’s theory of relativity that time became redefined as something relative to the mass and movement of the objects in question. Space-time, time warps and time slowing down, time’s relation to the movement of objects, all became the accepted new norm. Interestingly enough, these are concepts that have existed in our holy writings for thousands of years. And, as such, can help ease our understanding of God, who has no beginning or end, but who always has been.

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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Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 12 January 2012 by admin

By Amy Wolff Sorter

As I write this, I’m looking out my window at a cold, dreary, rainy day, wondering if I should brew another cup of tea to warm up. To read this, you’d never know that I was born and raised in Chicago, a city in which a 45-degree rainy day would be considered “spring.”

My point here is we’re experiencing rain, not snow or ice (at least, so far) — and because we’re able to get around Tarrant County with a fair amount of ease, we can take advantage of some great activities this month and next month. The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History continues to have its Galveston exhibit — that’s definitely worth a visit (the museum itself is worth a visit as well). There are other activities as well — activities to challenge one’s thinking and to entertain. So enjoy! And stay warm!

Eighty years strong

A very belated happy birthday to Bernie Appel, who recently marked his 80th year on earth. Bernie celebrated in style at the Gaylord Texan Hotel, where he was joined by wife Ellen and many children and grandchildren.

Enjoying Bernie Appel’s 80th birthday celebration are seated: Bernie and Ellen Appel; standing from left: Josh Kleinberg, Alyssa Kleinberg, Arielle Kleinberg, Michael Kleinberg, Arlene Kleinberg, Jerry Appel, Sheril Appel, Max Appel and Sophie Appel

The celebration spanned three nights, and on each night, eight Chanukah menorahs were lit. The family recited blessings over the candles, and to give thanks for the wonderful occasion. You can tell, from the photo, that everyone had a terrific time (and what a lovely family!). Mazel tov, Bernie, and may there be many more such happy occasions for you and your family.

Happy hour for young adults

If you’re a young adult and at loose ends on Sunday, Jan. 15, join the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County’s Young Adult Group as it gathers for fun and happy hour at The Bottom (formerly Rock Bottom), 3468 Blue Bonnet Circle in Fort Worth.

It’s a great opportunity to schmooze with other like-minded young adults and to win a raffle prize as well.

I’m not sure what time this event takes place and my computer isn’t letting me onto the Federation’s site to find out. But call Angie Kitzman at 817-569-0892 for more information. More importantly, go and have fun!

See theater with the Daytimers

Daytimers is planning a trip to Stage West to see “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation, Amsterdam, July 27, 1656” at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 22. I had the opportunity to chat with play director Jerry Russell (and will review the play too — look for it in the next issue), and it looks like a great play. If you’re interested in attending with the Daytimers, call Stage West at 817-784-9378. Have your credit card ready and make sure to ask to be seated with the Daytimers group. Cost for seniors is $20 (or two for $26 with a press pass).

Reminder to the ‘outliers’

We’re planning a meet-and-greet for Johnson County and southern Tarrant County Jews on Jan. 22 (which is a Sunday). I haven’t yet heard from anyone out there, though some of my Fort Worth friends tell me they’ve been waiting with baited breath to see if and when this event will happen. It WILL happen, and if I don’t hear from you via e-mail, you can look forward to receiving a call from yours truly to find out if you’re interested. I can be reached, as always, at awsorter@yahoo.com.

Hadassah lunch & learn

The Fort Worth Chapter of Hadassah will host a Shabbat Lunch & Learn at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28 at Congregation Beth Shalom, 1212 Thannisch Dr. in Arlington. The topic: “Scripture, Salmon and the Fairer Sex,” will be presented by Dr. Toni Craven from TCU’s Brite Divinity School following services conducted by Cantor Sheri Allen. A lunch will be served as well (consisting, appropriately enough, of salmon). Cost is $18 per person; reservations need to be in by Jan. 24. For more information or to reserve your spot, contact Dolores Schneider at 817-294-7626 or Schneider_dolores@yahoo.com for more information.

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Teachers, learning command respect

Teachers, learning command respect

Posted on 12 January 2012 by admin

By Laura Seymour

A number of years ago I received an e-mail from my son who, at the time, was studying music at Rice University in Houston.

A world-renowned teacher had visited and conducted master classes for students, and my son told me all about it (and of course, sent pictures).

What struck me, however, was his comment: “My teacher’s teacher is here.”

In those words, I saw the reverence my son had for his teacher and even his teacher’s teacher.

That same reverence has, for centuries, been an important part of our Jewish tradition. We are constantly reminded that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us; that our knowledge is constantly expanded by learning from others.

Furthermore, Jewish tradition constantly credits the writings and sayings of those who came before us. The Talmud is rife with such examples of sages passing on knowledge to other sages, who honor the originator of such knowledge — Jewish tradition gives honor to those who said it first.

Crediting sources is the right thing to do, of course — more importantly, it gives weight to ideas and thoughts. When my son tells others who he has studied with, his esteem increases in the eyes of those others.

In addition to crediting knowledge when that credit is due, reverence of teachers is very important in Judaism. When my son spoke of “his teacher’s teacher,” he honored his teacher as well as the elder teacher (and demonstrated justifiable pride in both).

Unfortunately, respect and reverence for teachers in our lives is lacking in many schools today. But in many modern Jewish Day Schools, that tradition, respect and reverence for teachers remains. It’s common, for example, for students to stand when their teachers (or any other adults) enter the classroom.

Our Jewish tradition values learning and those who help us learn. It’s up to us to demonstrate, with our words and our actions, the respect and reverence those important people deserve.

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Haredim’s behavior does not represent Torah values

Haredim’s behavior does not represent Torah values

Posted on 12 January 2012 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have been outraged by the Haredi attempt to rule Israel through violence and coercion. Israel is not Iran. People cannot and will not be forced into behaviors that they do not espouse. How could the Haredim, who are supposed to represent Torah values, resort to such behavior?

— Michael K.

Dear Micheal,

I have been equally outraged by the events you describe. Perhaps I am enraged even more than you are, as I, and the many dignified and respected communities I identify with in Israel, have had our good reputation marred by the acts of a few uncontrollable hotheads who refuse to heed the words of their own leaders and have taken the “law” into their own angry hands.

Upon consultation with its rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America, the central organization representing Haredi Jews in America and the world, issued the following statement today, which I offer an excerpt:

“Reports of recent events in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh are deeply disturbing.

Violence of any sort, whether physical or verbal, by self-appointed “guardians” of modesty is reprehensible. Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decent, moral — Jewish! — behavior. We condemn these acts unconditionally.

Those who have taken pains to note that the small group of misguided individuals who have engaged in this conduct are not representative of the larger Haredi community are to be commended. It is disturbing, though, that some Israeli politicians and secularists have been less responsible, portraying the actions of a very few as indicative of the feelings of the many. Quite the contrary, the extremist element is odious to, and rejected by, the vast majority of Haredi Jews … ”

The above statement is representative of what is being expressed by Haredi rabbinical and political leaders in Israel and around the world.

We live in very dangerous times in which Israel is under political and physical attack by enemies throughout the world. When we attack each other we strengthen the hands of those who seek to attack us. I fervently pray that all Jews will live in harmony, which is the greatest protection of all. For God protects the Jews when we are as One.

I urge you to visit www.aish.com and click on the letter to the Beit Shemesh offenders which promotes the teaching of love, compassion and pleasantness in place of misguided violence, anger and coercion. That is the real Torah way.

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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