Archive | January, 2012

Hands-on approach

Hands-on approach

Posted on 12 January 2012 by admin

Yavneh Academy’s Class of 2013 won the school’s semi-annual JFS Food Drive contest. Members of the Junior class, including (left to right) Kayley Romick, Yael Spirere, Rachel Siegel, Justin Katz, Karen Folz, Yosef Presburger, Elie Schramm, Katie Lerer, Lane Goldenberg, Clara Moskowitz, Max Schnitzer, Rachel Chanon, Rachel Goodman, Kelly Herson, Liora Zhrebker, Shea Miller, Shelby Gadol, Tamar Cohen, Yavneh faculty member Naomi Schrager, and Mika Stein delivered cartloads of goods to JFS’ Executive Director Michael Fleisher. | Photos: Deb Silverthorn

Community teens learn first-hand about the costs of hunger and how their assistance helps

By Deb Silverthorn

A number of Dallas’ Jewish teens have been bagging groceries and it isn’t a weekend job. Students from the Jewish Youth Tzedakah Foundation and Yavneh Academy are among many who have donated food and goods, as well as their time, to Jewish Family Service.

In December, Jewish Youth Tzedakah Foundation board members, along with students from Yavneh Academy’s junior class, participated in workshops at JFS to understand the extent of the need behind their generosity.

“One of the most important ways our community can learn, even at your age, is through experience,” Michael Fleisher, JFS’ executive director, told his young guests, noting the Food Pantry last year received a Model Agency Award by the North Texas Food Pantry. “The reality is, in all likelihood, many of us know someone in need of our Food Pantry or other services.”

Dia Epstein and Gail Herson led a workshop at Jewish Family Service for more than 20 students, including Jeri Rosenbloom, Joseph Middleman, and Allie Schlosser, members of the board of the Jewish Youth Tzedakah Foundation.

Project coordinator and JFS volunteer Dia Epstein expressed her appreciation for the teens’ participation. “While what brings people here is serious, it’s important for this experience for you, the caring that you have brought with you, to be filled with a joyful concern,” she said.

During the past year, the Academy of Torah in Dallas (ATID), Akiba Academy, Anne Frank Elementary School, Brownie and Girl Scout troops, the Harrington Elementary School, JCC Preschool, Jewish Youth Tzedakah Foundation, Junior Campfire Girls, Levine Academy and Yavneh Academy are among those who have dropped off bags and boxes of food and goods.

“The success of our food drive this year really excited me. We held a competition to see which grade would bring the most and that really inspired the students. The junior class won but everyone got involved. I’ve never seen Yavneh collect this much before,” said Jori Epstein, a senior at Yavneh. “We’re so fortunate to come home to stocked pantries and meals on the table; its crucial we remember to help others who don’t share in our good fortune.”

JFS’ Food Pantry serves more than 2,800 clients who live in 20 ZIP codes and who come from a variety of backgrounds. All services are confidential and JFS is a “choice” pantry, where clients are able to decide, for example, which vegetable of those available they want, rather than being handed a prepackaged bag. “It’s hard for anyone to admit they need help and we try very hard to make sure everyone’s dignity remains intact,” said Eileen Franklin, a longtime JFS volunteer.

To drive the point home about difficulties faced by families struggling in poverty, and to show how important the youth was to the program, the workshops included a hands-on experience, during which students created families for themselves. Some of those families came with a grandparent or cousin living in the home, some dealt with issues of job loss, health crises, teenage pregnancy and other issues of financial despair.

Yavneh students Justin Katz, Tamar Cohen and Shelby Gadol “shopped,” for their family at JFS’ Food Pantry.

The families then went “shopping” in the JFS Food Pantry, and during the process, learned that fruit, milk, cheese items are among the first to leave the shelves. Typical allowances, for a family of four, include eggs, fruits and vegetables, cans of soup, canned meats, cereal, peanut butter, rice, and beans. Most students couldn’t picture their own families managing on the allotments provided. Participating in this exercise was a true eye-opener for the youth.

“It’s fulfilling to see exactly where the money we raised goes, and to learn more about how many people it really helps,” said Youth Tzedakah Foundation board member, Benjamin Ray. “I can’t imagine the kind of hunger the people who use these services have to live with.” Ray pointed out that he is from a family that has embraced philanthropy, but until participating in the workshops, “I didn’t really know what that meant, other than to follow their lead.”

In an exercise on the “outside,” participants were taught what it was like to keep within a strict budget. Each “family” was allotted $40 (each Tzedakah Foundation student brought $10 with which to shop). The students scoured the shelves at a nearby Walmart, focusing on the price per ounce, determining if a microwave product was worth additional cost, comparing fresh against frozen produce and more.

Purchases made by Ray and his “family” — Josh Cohen, Erica Kahn and Hannah Schiffman — included two boxes of Hamburger Helper, two jars of peanut butter, wheat bread, macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes, chili, beans, spaghetti noodles and sauce and chicken rice soups.

“This is not easy to do and I’m not sure how healthy we can shop and make it stretch,” Kahn said. “Fresh items don’t really last that long and a lot of it is more expensive than the prepared foods. The money goes quickly.”

“We all understand food and hunger, but most often, if they are coming to our pantry, there are usually other challenges; job needs, family illness, violence, substance abuse — we serve all of these issues, and many more,” Fleisher said. “The truth is while these kids have ‘made up’ families during these workshops, many of the families they’ve created are fair descriptions of those who come to us in reality.”

As each group completed their shopping, the most important “buy,” at no cost, was a sense of the reality many families face in feeding their loved ones, and a lesson of compassion for those with tighter budgets. That purchase doesn’t come in paper or plastic. Just soul.

For information about donating, volunteering, or the services JFS provides, call 972-437-9950 or visit

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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 12 January 2012 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

I am experiencing a bit of déjà vu. It seems like just yesterday that I had moved to Dallas after college and volunteered to coach in the JCC’s youth basketball league. I’m proud to say that my group of second graders won the championship that year, but most importantly they learned about the values of teamwork and good sportsmanship. Those kids are probably in their early thirties now. Some of them may be coaching their own second graders in the Donsky Gym these days. It’s been fun to see our youngest, Jimmy, also a second grader reap the benefits of JCC sports. I love seeing him learn to dribble with his left hand and love seeing his fellow “Twisters” and all of the young round ballers develop their skills. Kudos to Twister coach Dr. Trayce Kaplan and all of the dedicated volunteers of the JCC Youth Sports programs.

An update on the RAGD

Shirley Rovinsky was kind enough to share an update about the goings on at the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas (RAGD). I was surprised to learn that the RAGD has been in existence as far back as the late ‘70s. Membership is comprised of rabbis with widely different theological and philosophical positions who come together to work for the furtherance of issues of common interest and to provide a public face for the Jewish religious community.

This year’s RAGD leadership includes from left Rabbi Stefan Weinberg, Rabbi Ari Perl, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Rabbi Andrew Paley

As the Jewish community in the Dallas area continues to grow, the RAGD has become more involved. The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas (JFGD) provides funding for a part-time administrative associate; one of the goals being a formalization of RAGD as a nonprofit religious, educational and charitable organization. Status of a Texas nonprofit, 501c3 corporation, was achieved in September, 2009.

Susan Kramer, president and CEO of the JFGD said, “One of the highlights of this Fall was having the opportunity to travel to the Federations’ annual General Assembly with three of our congregational rabbis and community leaders. Our intention was to go as a group representing Dallas, Texas and create a common language to address the synagogue-federation relations in our community. We all returned with ideas of how to grow together to crate a stronger partnership.”

One mission of the RAGD is to promote the interests of Judaism and the Jewish people in greater Dallas by providing guidance and stewardship for community religious life and for supporting congregational life, as well as to provide a forum for the discussion and, when appropriate, resolution of problems relating to Jewish life in the community. The RAGD encourages and promotes rabbinic growth and development through continued and expanded opportunities for study and communal service while strengthening bonds of collegiality among its members.

The RAGD works closely with community organizations both Jewish and other faiths when called upon to provide religious guidance and/or programming. One such group is the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) headed by Marlene Gorin, Executive Director. “The JCRC is very proud of its ongoing relationship with the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas. Through our cooperative efforts, the JCRC and the RAGD have been able to jointly co-sponsor community-wide initiatives, such as bringing attention to and calling for advocacy of Gilad Shalit, co-sponsoring the community commemoration for 9/11, and the annual program to observe the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The JCRC serves as a reference tool for RAGD members and their synagogues regarding community relations issues and is pleased that we have been able to assist in the development of Social Action and Israel programming in the synagogues.”

February will mark the second annual visit to the North Texas Food Bank to pack food boxes. RAGD also provides a “Calendar of Jewish Observances” inclusive of all Jewish denominations to assist organizations in the planning of their events so as to avoid conflicts with the Jewish calendar. This calendar is sent to the school districts in the greater Dallas area to assist them in the planning of activities with sensitivity to their Jewish students’ observances. RAGD is currently forming a Vaad Ha-Mikvah, an oversight committee, for the community mikvah located at Congregation Tiferet Israel.

RAGD representatives are often call upon to participate in community programs such as Israel Independence Day, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s Memorial Day, as well as Partnership2Gether, a twinning program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas with communities in the Western Galilee. Additional involvement is in the strengthening of Jewish educational, cultural and religious dimensions at the Legacy Preston Hollow.

Rabbi Andrew Paley, current president, said, “The Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas is a wonderful collegial, supportive and helpful association of rabbis from across our community and across the denominations. To be able to sit together and learn with each other from each other, to share ideas and to discuss the important issues of communal concern and be able to become actively involved in those issues is a real joy.” Serving with Rabbi Paley, through May, 2013 are: Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, vice-president; Rabbi Stefan Weinberg, vice-president and Rabbi Ari Perl, immediate past president. The RAGD office number is 214-239-7192 or e-mail

Pitzel Puppet Players

The Pitzel Puppet Players consists of puppeteers Gail Mabel and Naomi Sanit. The 5772 season is underway and you can catch one of their shows at Tiferet Israel. The puppeteers are scheduled for one performance at Tiferet each month during the school year.

Longtime educators Gail Mabel, left, and Naomi Sanit create magic for kids of all ages with the Pitzel Puppet Players.

Themes revolve around Jewish holidays, Torah portions and Jewish middot. These puppet shows are filled with jokes for young and old, puns and impromptu repartee with the audience. Adults often comprise nearly half the audience at each performance. Each play is very interactive as audience members, especially those under bar and bat mitzvah age, are encouraged to participate in songs, answer questions and sometimes even help with the puppets.

The Pitzel Puppet Players have performed at the annual JCC Learning Fest, the Jewish Arts Fest, and at their “resident theater,” Tiferet Israel. The performances are original puppet shows starring Chaim, Sara, and a cast of characters playing various parts in each original production.

Meet some of the performers in this drama company:

Chaim always tries to do what is best. He is a true mensch and along with his best friend Sara, has many adventures.

Sara, along with Chaim, tries to figure out what lesson fits with each new experience. Sara and Chaim often “feel a song coming on” at least once during each performance.

Rooster is a classically trained Shakespearean actor. He has played a wide variety of principal and supporting roles. Whatever part Rooster is asked to play, he acts with finesse and his wide theatrical range shows through. Some of Rooster’s roles have included the dove in Noah’s Ark, Achashverosh at Purim, and Paroah (Pharaoh) at Pesach.

Sock began his, her, er … its career as a minor character actor and soon became featured in many performances. With two striking large eyes, Sock searched for his soul mate in a Tu B’Shevat performance (she/he/it smelled just right — like a gym sock) and has owned many memorable lines in recent performances.

The next performance is Saturday, Jan. 14 at 11:30 a.m. Bring along your children, your neighbor’s children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren) for an entertaining show and stay for Kiddush after Shabbat services.

New networking group at Richardson’s  Beth Torah

Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson is inaugurating a forum to offer advice, networking and fellowship for North Texans looking for new or better jobs. It’s called Business Connections, and the first meeting is set for Wednesday, January 18, at 7:30 p.m.

“While Beth Torah is sponsoring this program, we welcome everyone from the community,” said Lou Kaiser, a past president of the synagogue who helped organize the effort with several other congregation members. “This is a problem that affects all of us.”

The guest speaker at the meeting will be Larry Hastings, director of sales and education for Dillard’s Department Stores. The evening is free, and refreshments will be provided.

Kaiser said the group plans monthly meetings, as well as ongoing efforts to help business owners, professionals and others make connections, prepare themselves for new jobs, and keep their spirits up.

“This is a tough time for a lot of people,” he said. “We think our synagogue can be a place to provide career help and fellowship, and we aim to do both.”

Congregation Beth Torah is located at 720 W. Lookout Drive in Richardson. For more information, and to RSVP for event, visit

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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 05 January 2012 by admin

We are just back from a well-deserved week off here at the TJP. The staff is well rested and eager to get back in the saddle.

I had a revelation or two while I was basking in the glow of late evenings with friends and family and even later mornings in pj’s with our three boys. The first is I now know why chocolate babka was Seinfeld worthy. If you have a show about nothing, why not have a show about Babka, right?

My dear friend and talented hair stylist and make-up artist, Deanna Rozenblum dropped off a spectacular dessert just in time for Shabbat on Dec. 24. You guessed it, chocolate babka made by none other than Jackie Altman owner of Jackie’s Bread Basket — Artisan Challah Breads and Cakes. I’m sure Jackie can make the cinnamon babka as well, but I’m with Elaine on this one, go for the chocolate. If you are interested in a babka or a challah, you can reach Jackie at 972-249-5677.

Revelation number two, thank goodness for Weight Watchers and the JCC’s fitness center. New Year’s resolutions, here I come again.

Hundreds of singles rock the House of Blues

A rockin’ time was had by hundreds of Jewish singles at the JCC/Network’s 32nd Annual Matzoh Ball held at the House of Blues Music Hall on Saturday, Dec. 24th.

From left Matzoh Ball Coordinator Susan Feldman; Matzoh Ball Co-chairs Robert Solimani and Jody Martin; Federation Young Adult Director Ashleigh Miller and JCC President Artie Allen | Photo: Courtesy of the JCC

A big thank you goes out to Jody Martin and Robert Solimani who co-chaired this year’s event. Another thank you goes out to all the great committee members who promoted the event, worked the door and made it a huge success.

Mikey B was the DJ who rocked the house until 2 a.m. Since this year’s event fell on the fifth night of Chanukah, the candles were lit on the main stage and burned all night.

Attendees enjoyed taking fun pictures in the photo booth. Food was provided by Aderet, which included latkes, falafel, schnitzel’s, hummus and pita. The House of Blues was a great venue that provided plenty of space to mix, mingle and dance.

Thank you to Glazers for donating koozies for the occasion. Everyone that attended the event will also get a free profile on, a new matchmaking service run by Zvi Drizin of the Intown Chabad. Hopefully there were some matches made from this year’s event.

Ann And Nate Levine to be honored at Israel Bonds 2012 Prime Minister’s Club Gala

Ann and Nate Levine will be among the 14 distinguished recipients of the United Jerusalem Medallion, to be presented at the Israel Bonds Prime Minister’s Club dinner taking place Sunday, Jan. 22 at 5 p.m. at the Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. The dinner is the traditional launching of the annual Israel Bonds campaign.

Ann and Nate Levine | Photo: TJP file

Bonds President and CEO Izzy Tapoohi, who will co-present the medallions — created to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification — praised the couple for “the exemplary leadership on behalf of Israel and causes of Jewish concern that has made them highly deserving of this honor.”

Dallas Jewish community leaders for 35 years, the Levines served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, JNF, Israel Bonds, and the Ann and Nate Levine Academy. Additionally, Ann served on the boards of Shearith Israel, the Dallas Women’s Foundation and Jewish Family Service. Nate, current chairman of Israel Bonds’ Southwest Region, was chairman of the Dallas chapter of AIPAC and a board member of ADL and the Dallas Holocaust Center. They also established the Levine Jewish Studies Chair at Southern Methodist University.

The dinner will be highlighted by an exclusive musical performance by Jason Danieley, winner of the Theater World, Drama League and Helen Hayes awards, and Karen Ziemba, recipient of the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.

For additional information, contact the Dallas Israel Bonds office at 972-661-9191 or 800-877-4991.

Shalom Singles draws nice crowd

Cohosts and coordinator for Shalom Singles Mingle, from left Roger Zelinsky, Jan Naxon and Sherry Rosenberg. | Photo: Marc Friedland Photography

Also enjoying the opportunity to get together were Temple Shalom’s Singles group for folks from 40 to 60. The Temple Shalom Singles Mingle (Potluck Dinner and Chanukah Party) with wine, latkes, schmoozing, DJ and dancing was enjoyed by more than 60 area Jewish singles at the Pagewood Clubhouse.

Ovarian Cycle Ride is gearing up

Julie Shrell touched base this week and shared that the plans for Ovarian Cycle Ride to Change the Future are off to a good start. The innovative spin bike fundraiser will be held in the JCC’s Zale Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m on Feb. 19.

At press time, Julie tells us that 155 riders have registered for the event and more than $55,000 has been raised. There is still room for more riders as well as vendors for simultaneous vendor fair.

For more information, e-mail Julie Shrell or her co-chairs Jill Bach and Helen Gardner at or to donate, or register to ride, visit

Make new friends, but keep the old

It is that time of year, when Jewish camps are making the rounds, and parents of first time and seasoned campers alike are considering their decisions for summer.

My kids go to Echo Hill Ranch, the same camp I went to as a kid for over a decade. If you were an Echo Hill rancher, and haven’t been there for sometime, I can tell you that things haven’t changed too much in the little green valley deep in the southland (aka the rolling hills of Medina, Texas). The camp is still owned by the Friedman family, now run by Roger Friedman and his wife Roz Beroza. Counselors are still performing the same skits on Counselor’s Night — Titanic, Pillow Case Skit Night, Tall Tale Night, cook-outs at Bigfoot and camper run Shabbat services are still standard evening program fare. It’s simple, fun, engaging, electronics-free and my kids love it.

If anyone is interested in learning more about Echo Hill or getting together with old camp friends, feel free to join us at our home, 7319 Elmridge Dr. on Jan. 15 from 3 to 5 p.m. for the annual Echo Hill Reunion. For more information, feel free to phone me at 214-507-2662.

I know there are more camp get togethers planned soon. If you’d like to share an event or a fond camp memory, e-mail me at

Register now for Temple Shalom softball

The irrepressible and dynamic Bob Weinfeld stopped by the TJP offices just prior to our holiday hiatus to spread the word about Temple Shalom Brotherhood’s 2012 softball league.

The league which began in 1975, has grown from a mere 60 players then, to more than 200 players now who enjoy an 11 week doubleheader schedule on Sunday mornings at Heritage Yards Softball Complex in Plano.

The minimum age to play is 18 and registration is underway now at It is important to register soon, as new player evaluations will begin on Feb. 12 and you must be registered by Jan. 18 to participate in the league. If you have any questions, please call Commissioner Wayne Casper at 214-507-4920.

Scientist at Herzl Hadassah

Thank you to Rose Biderman who shared news about next week’s Herzl Hadassah meeting. Members and guests will hear Dr. Matthew Goldberg of UT Southwestern Medical School who will speak about his research on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases at our re on Monday, January 9 in the Senior Assembly Room at the Aaron Family JCC, 7900 Northaven Road. The meeting will start promptly at 10 a.m. Coffee and cake will be served.

Rose says, “Our canned food drive for the Jewish Family Service will be held, so don’t forget to bring a can or two. Also, plans for our annual Lifesaver Luncheon in March will be discussed and, if you wish, tickets may also be purchased.”

Send me your news

I love hearing from our readers! E-mail me at, or feel free to touch base by phone at 972-458-7283 or by snail mail, 7920 Beltline Rd. #680, Dallas, TX 75254.

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Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 05 January 2012 by admin

Now that we’re coming out of the “secular” holidays, it’s time to get back into routines. Sometimes it can be hard — I don’t know about you, but I get pretty lazy during the last week of December: Even if I’m working, I’m not really working, if you know what I mean.

Though I have felt lazy, the Jewish community throughout Tarrant County has been anything but. During the past several weeks, the community has offered some great events (and some of them have had to be cut due to space, for which I apologize). Please continue to send your events and news about your trips, lifecycles and other fun stuff, to me at The name of this column is “Around the Town,” and to keep it going we need news — from around the town.

In honor of Rosh Chodesh Tevet

Katrina Diaz reads Torah.

Congregation Ahavath Sholom conducted its first Rosh Chodesh women’s minyan on Dec. 27. Elaine Bumpus (assisted by Rabbi Gary Perras) conducted the service; Torah readers were Katrina Diaz and Rabbi Perras. As you can tell by the photos, this was a very meaningful event — hopefully other Rosh Chodesh events will take place in the coming months.

Scholar in Residence

The Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County will have its Kornbleet Scholar-in-Residence program at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19 at Beth-El Congregation, 4900 Briarhaven Rd. Guest scholar is columnist and social/political commentator Micah D. Halper, who will discuss “The Muddy Middle East: Arab Spring and Israel.” The event will be followed by refreshments. Questions? The nice folks at the Federation can help — call them at 817-569-0892.

Gearing up for film

Rosh Chodesh minyan participants at Ahavath Sholom

Beth-El Congregation, with financial assistance from the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, will launch the 2012 Beth-El Jewish Film Festival with the “Human Resource Manager” starting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 7 at the synagogue at 4900 Briarhaven Rd. Other films will be “Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray” to be shown on Feb. 18 and “Camera Obscura” the feature presentation on March 10. The films are free with an optional dinner available prior to each film at a cost of $12 per person; reservations for the dinner ARE required and can be obtained by calling 817-332-7141.

Daytimers presents … theater!

The Jan. 11 Daytimers monthly meeting offers a special treat — director Jerry Russell and cast members from Stage West will present excerpts from the play “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656.” The play itself opens on Jan. 5 and will run through the end of the month.

The Daytimers’ program will begin at noon at Beth-El Congregation, 4900 Briarhaven Rd. in Fort Worth. If you want to eat, the cost is $9 per person (lunch is being catered by Boopa’s Bagels with a choice of turkey and humus on a sesame bagel, tuna salad on a honey wheat bagel or lox and cream cheese on a pumpernickel bagel, along with chips, a cookie, coffee or tea). Don’t want to dine? The cost is $4.

To reserve your spot, send a check to Beth-El Congregation, call Barbara Rubin at 817-927-2736 or log onto

But that’s not all — Daytimers is planning a trip to Stage West to see the show on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 3 p.m. Cost for seniors is $20 (or two for $26 with a press pass). Those interested should call Stage West at 817-784-9378. Have your credit card ready and make sure to ask to be seated with the Daytimers group.

Shabbat means learning

And the Fort Worth Chapter of Hadassah plans to combine both through its 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 made by Jan. 24.

For more information or to reserve your spot, contact Dolores Schneider at 817-294-7626 or for more information.

To the “outliers”

We’ll try this yet again. We are planning (again) a meet-and-greet for Johnson County and southern Tarrant County Jews on Jan. 22 (which is a Sunday). There are no basketball tournaments and certainly no Cowboys’ game.

If you are interested, please e-mail me at and I’ll give you the salient details at that time.

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Where do Israeli haredim stand on haredi violence?

Where do Israeli haredim stand on haredi violence?

Posted on 05 January 2012 by admin

By Uriel Heilman

(JTA) — The cascade of condemnations started pouring in almost as soon as the Israeli TV report aired. It’s subject was an 8-year-old girl harassed by haredi men on the way to her Modern Orthodox girls’ school in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh.

The Israeli prime minister and president vowed that Israel would not tolerate haredi violence against women, whether directed at schoolgirls or women on public buses. Israel’s opposition leader, Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, went to a demonstration of thousands held the evening of Dec. 27 in Beit Shemesh.

In America, too, the condemnations came fast and furious: Hadassah, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America and the haredi Orthodox umbrella body Agudath Israel of America were among the many groups that responded.

There appeared to be just one segment of the Jewish community that was staying silent about the violence: Israeli haredim.

That’s because there is some ambivalence among haredi Israelis when it comes to religious zealotry.

“The question isn’t how many haredim support haredi violence and how many do not,” said sociologist Menachem Friedman, an expert on haredi life and professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University. “In all the conflicts involving haredi violence in Israel, from the British Mandate period until today, violent haredim were always a small minority, and I believe that the vast majority feel uncomfortable about them.

Shlomo Fuchs, a haredi Israeli accused of harassing a female soldier for her refusal to move to the back of a bus, is released on bail in Jerusalem, Dec. 30. | Miriam Alster / Flash90 / JTA

“The problem is that most haredim allow the extremists to act and do not stop them,” Friedman continued. “Some, perhaps a small segment, really do support the violence; some, perhaps a larger segment, do not support the violence but understand the extremists, believing that actions like these, even if they are not pretty, at the end of the day are a true expression of religious sentiments,” he said. “And the majority perhaps opposes the violence and knows that ultimately it’s bad for Judaism but doesn’t have the courage to go out and oppose it publicly.”

There were one or two notable exceptions this week.

“If there are those in our generation who believe that warfare is the way to spread the light of Judaism, they are mistaken,” the Jerusalem-based leader of the Belz Chasidim, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, said Dec. 25 during the nightly Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony at his synagogue, which holds upward of 6,000 people.

Rokeach’s comments, though tepid by secular standards, marked a rare foray into current events by the rebbe, who has an estimated 45,000 followers worldwide.

But the roundabout way the rebbe’s message was delivered, and the scant media coverage given to haredi opposition to the violence aimed at non-haredim, is indicative both of the difficulties outsiders have with discerning shades of gray in haredi society and the ambivalence within the haredi world toward using violence to achieve religious aims.

For one thing, Israeli haredi condemnations of violence are not delivered the same way as condemnations in the non-haredi world. They are generally directed inward, not outward; they tend to be delivered not in statements to the press but as words of Torah to followers; they are often spoken not in English or Hebrew, but in Yiddish; and they are expressed less as a reaction to current events than as calls for dignified behavior by Torah-observant Jews.

“The Belzer rebbe is one of the few people who has the guts to say something,” Tuvya Stern, a haredi attorney who lives in Beit Shemesh, told JTA. “But he’s not going to condemn the extremists; that’s not his way. He’ll just advocate for a different approach.”

Rokeach’s speech, which was reported in haredi media and noted by Israel Radio, was unusual both because it referred to current events and because it was aimed, at least in part, at a wider audience: The rebbe had invited an Israeli Knesset member, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, to be with him when he delivered his speech on Chanukah’s sixth night. Because Rokeach made his remarks in Yiddish, it’s not clear whether or not Sa’ar picked up on their significance.

Rokeach’s reaction, however, was exceptional. Most haredi leaders stayed silent.

The violent zealots are drawn largely from the Edah HaHaredis, a community of anti-Zionist haredim that is particularly strict even by haredi standards and has strongholds in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. The Edah is closely aligned with the Satmar Chasidic sect.

Haredi support for fighting a culture war against secularism extends beyond the Edah HaHaredis, but most haredim who espouse such views won’t go so far as to become defenders of the faith themselves. Haredim often invoke a classic metaphor to describe this approach: You may not want to live with a cat, but you need cats around to eat the mice if you want to prevent infestation.

Last week, the “infestation” was the presence of a new Modern Orthodox girls’ school, Orot, adjacent to a haredi neighborhood of Beit Shemesh. At other times, it has been the mixing of sexes in Orthodox neighborhoods, the operation of parking lots or roads on Shabbat in haredi neighborhoods, and attempts by women to pray with the Torah at the Western Wall.

Similar behavior can be found in certain Islamic societies and fundamentalist Catholic and Protestant communities, Friedman said, noting that a key difference with haredim is that any violence is relatively limited in scope, not involving serious injury or death.

Then there are haredim who oppose extremism but fear speaking out because they do not want to be seen as lax in matters of religion.

When Rabbi David Kohn, the leader of the Toldos Aharon sect of Chasidim, spoke out a few years ago against religious violence via a Yiddish-language Torah exegesis of the story of Pinchas the zealot in the Book of Numbers, he quickly was condemned in placards posted around his neighborhood of Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem.

Other haredim don’t speak out because they see fights like the one in Beit Shemesh not as a battle between extremists and moderates but as part of a broader Israeli assault on haredi life led by the mainstream Israeli media.

“The source of the pollution is in halachah [Jewish law] itself,” former Knesset member Yossi Sarid wrote in a column published Dec. 30 in Israel’s daily Haaretz. Sarid called for the disqualification of haredi parties from the Knesset. On Haaretz’s English-language website, the article was titled “Orthodox Judaism treats women like filthy little things.”

Facing such hostility, some haredim say, why get involved at all?

And then there is the large segment of haredim who see themselves as totally apart from the haredim perpetrating the violence. Their attitude is that if it’s not their community members, it’s not their business and they don’t need to get involved.

While to an outsider all haredim may look alike — with their black coats, hats and beards — the haredi community is as fractured as the Jewish community as a whole. In Israel, the haredi community is divided between Ashkenazi and Sephardic, Chasidic and non-Chasidic, moderates and extremists. Within the Chasidic community, too, there are multiple sects — and sometimes even competing grand rebbes within the same sect.

But in a world seen by outsiders as monolithic, all haredim inevitably are associated with the extremism of a few, and haredi silence is seen as affirmation of haredi bad behavior.

It’s something that may irk haredim who are engaged with the outside world, but it doesn’t seem to matter much to haredim who aren’t.

That nonchalance is alien to the non-haredi Jewish world, where organizations and leaders go out of their way to denounce ideas, people or actions they find distasteful. That goes for everything from terrorist attacks to the bombing of churches in Nigeria, which at least four Jewish groups issued statements condemning this week.

When the main haredi umbrella organization in America issued its statement this week condemning the violence, it also took a shot at those denigrating haredim in general.

“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 charedi community are to be commended,” the Agudath Israel of America said in its statement. “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 charedi Jews.”

Until haredim take to their synagogue lecterns, the airwaves or the streets, however, that’s a message that’s unlikely to be heard by the Jewish public.

To be sure, there were a few haredim who joined the Dec. 27 demonstration in Beit Shemesh against the violence. Some were members of a new local haredi party called Tov (Hebrew for “good”) whose platform espouses moderation and open-mindedness.

“It was a very hard decision” because many of the protesters were engaged in anti-haredi sloganeering, explained Stern, the haredi attorney from Beit Shemesh, who is a leading Tov activist. “There were signs at the rally saying ‘Haredim leave Beit Shemesh.’”

Nevertheless, he said, it was important to make a public statement.

“There are rabbis in the haredi world who believe in violence as part of a religious duty,” Stern said, “but they are not a large group of people.”

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Connecting physical world with God, and vice versa

Connecting physical world with God, and vice versa

Posted on 05 January 2012 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Marcie,

You’re definitely the longest-running petitioner! Here’s part 3 of your 13 principle series:

Maimonides writes the following in his commentary:

“The third principle is that God is totally non-physical.”

“We believe that this Unity (God) is not a body or physical force. Nothing associated with physicality can be associated with Him in any way. We, therefore, cannot say that God moves, rests, or exists within a given place…The Prophet says ‘To whom will you liken Me? To what am I equal?’ (Isaiah 40:25). If God were physical then He would resemble other physical things.”

“In many places, however, our Holy Scriptures do refer to God in physical terms; therefore we find such concepts as walking, standing, sitting and speaking used in relation to God. In all these cases, however, scripture is only speaking metaphorically … ”

“The Torah teaches us this third principle when it says, ‘you have not seen any image’ (Deut. 4:15), which teaches us we cannot conceive of God as having any image or form … ”

Maimonides clarifies this apparent discrepancy in his Code: “Once we know this (God’s non-physicality) to be true, we might find it difficult to understand many passages in the Torah, which uses expressions such as ‘beneath His feet,’ ‘written with God’s finger,’ ‘the hand of God,’ ‘the eyes of God’ and ‘the ears of God’? All these expressions are adaptations to human intellect, which can only think in terms of the physical. The Torah thus speaks metaphorically in the language of man. For example, we find in the Torah such expressions as ‘I will sharpen my flashing sword’ (Deut. 32:41). Should we then say that God wields an actual sword, or that he needs an actual sword to carry out his judgment? We perforce understand that this statement is allegorical, and the same is true of all similar statements.” (Yad, Yesodei Hatorah 1:8-9)

Maimonides further elucidates this concept in other writings, in the context of the workings of the human intellect. He explains that man is only capable of fathoming concepts which in some way stem from or relate to the finite, corporeal world in which he lives. The Torah, knowing that, uses anthropomorphisms, or the allegorical use of physical terms. In this way, we can have an understanding of completely non-physical occurrences with which we would have no appreciation. This explanation is found in many of the early foundational works on Jewish philosophy.

There is, however, another explanation of the Torah’s use of human physical terms to describe God’s actions. The Kabbalists offer a profound insight into the workings of the upper, heavenly worlds. There is a Godly system of transcendent, spiritual worlds through which God funnels His power, sends down His blessings and exacts justice. These worlds are purely spiritual, but are set up in the spiritual image of the human body and are referred to as the “primordial man.”

This gives us a converse explanation of the allegories of the Torah: They are not really allegories at all! True, God has no physical “outstretched arm.” Our arms, however, are merely a reflection of certain acts that God performs through the “arms” of “primordial man.” Every part of our body replicates a different aspect of God’s providence.

The totality of our body forms a microcosm of the entire workings of the universe. This is a deeper insight in our creation in the “image of God.” It also reflects the global impact of our actions, which, in turn impact those upper worlds that mirror which parts of our bodies that carry out positive or negative acts.

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

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