Archive | November, 2012

Yarmulke is a part of God’s army’s uniform

Yarmulke is a part of God’s army’s uniform

Posted on 22 November 2012 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear, Rabbi Fried:

I received a question about wearing a yarmulke from a friend based on an essay: (www.jewishideas.org/articles/i-am-taking-my-kippah). Maybe you want to address it for your next article?

Here is my question related to it:

If the yarmulke is for the purpose of spirituality, fine. Each person must decide whether it makes them feel more connected to God. However it seems for me and most people today, it’s about representing yourself to the secular world as a Jew. What is the purpose in making a physical distinction between us and the rest of the world? In my years in religious circles, it seemed so important to make this distinction between “us and them.” My question is, why? Isn’t there enough divisiveness?

I think my No. 1 question during the decade I was ultraorthodox was as follows: How can we claim that we were chosen by God to be his special nation with out saying it’s a racist idea? Conceptually, how is this any different from Hitler saying the Germans are the pure race or any other race or religion claiming they are the “special ones.”

Granted, we are not out there murdering those who don’t believe as we do. However, it seems impossible to claim that we don’t see ourselves as better.

I never felt comfortable with this concept and never got a satisfactory answer.

Good luck, my friend.

— Matisyahu

Dear Matisyahu:

You are asking two very important questions: one with regards to the practice of wearing a yarmulke and what it represents; and the second challenging the notion of the Chosen People. Although the two perhaps overlap, we will devote two separate columns in order to do fair bidding to each of these important issues.

The Yiddish word yarmulke is a conjugation of two Aramaic words, Yarei and Malka, meaning “awe” and “king.” The connotation of this is that by covering ones head, it serves as a constant reminder that there is a king watching over one’s actions. This provides a level of awe/fear to not do the wrong thing.

This is borne out by the statement of the “Code of Jewish Law” that one should not walk four cubits without a head covering, out of honor for the Shechinah, or divine presence, which we believe is constantly with us (O.C. 2:6). Also, a statement in the Talmud teaches that a head covering helps one attain the characteristic of humility.

Based on this, the Yiddish word yarmulke is saturated with far more meaning than the modern Hebrew equivalent, kippah, which simply means “covering.”

The article you cited is a brutally honest assessment of wearing a yarmulke by Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo, who is a friend of mine from Israel. In it, he points out the challenge of attaining any spiritual benefit from a kippah — which he practically forgets about after putting it on in the morning — once it has become part of his daily wardrobe. He yearns for the days when he first became religious and donning a yarmulke was so filled with meaning and excitement, to the point he would almost contemplate taking it off to put it on only every so often, so he could return to the ecstasy and joy he first felt wearing it.

The challenge of fusing the wearing of a yarmulke with feeling and meaning despite its lack of spontaneity is, as R’ Cardozo points out, a challenge not only with the yarmulke but with all of observance of daily mitzvot, which can become “regular” and by rote. This is the feeling you expressed concerning the reciting of blessings in the beginning of our correspondence.

The two ideas cited above, the “fear of the king” and humility, are the true reason we wear a kippah, not to show we are different from others. I would agree with you, however, that some Jews have lost the original, spiritual intent and wear it only to stand out and be different.

I would say in defense of those Jews that they, too, are, intentionally or not, also doing a positive thing. The Jewish people, in our role as a “light among the nations,” are to serve as an example for all of mankind that we are living under the banner of the almighty. We are “God’s army” to carry out His will and sanctify the name of God.

Every army in the world is distinguished by its uniform. No one ever challenged a man in uniform for wearing something different from all the civilians, claiming that he is causing diversity and increasing divisiveness in their country. It’s understood that the army needs to dress in a unique way to carry out their purpose. The yarmulke, although not an actual obligation, has become the uniform of the “Jewish army” that teaches the world the message of God. This is a uniform we wear with great pride.

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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The shelling continues

The shelling continues

Posted on 22 November 2012 by admin

From staff and wire reports

Gil Elan has a gut feeling that the current exchange of rocket fire between Israel and the Gaza Strip may be a prelude to an attack on Iran in a few months.

Palestinians gather around the remains of the car that Ahmed Jabri (shown in circle), the chief of Hamas’ military wing, was driving in the Gaza Strip before he was killed by an Israeli missile. | Photo: Wissam Nassar/FLASH90/AlQuds TV/JTA

“I’ve got a feeling,” said Elan, president/CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress and a former Israeli Defense Forces member. Last week’s deployment of 75,000 IDF troops, he said, “May be more than is needed.”

Many of those troops, Elan said, are training in the north of Israel, while the rockets from Gaza are hitting primarily the south of Israel, though Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have been the targets of some attacks since Operation Pillar of Defense began Wednesday, Nov. 14. Those rockets either fell in empty spaces or were intercepted by Iron Dome batteries, according to Israeli news sources.

By Monday, Nov. 19, the conflict had claimed three Israeli fatalities — from a missile strike on an apartment building in the town of Kiryat Malachi — and dozens of injuries. In Gaza, about 100 Palestinians were reported dead and more than 600 injured.

“Iran had said that they would attack from Gaza and Lebanon,” Elan said. “They would also try to block shipping from the Straits of Hormuz.”

Israel will not begin a ground attack in Gaza until the aerial mission is complete, Elan said, and he believes that will take the rest of this week.

Cease-fire talks may not be too successful, Elan said. Israel wants Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to stop firing missiles, while those in the Gaza want Israel to stop targeted assassinations.

“That’ll never happen,” Elan said.

Among Elan’s other points:

• The assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabri was “equivalent to the United States killing Osama bin Laden,” he said. His successor, Marwan Abed al-Khareem Issa, was killed Sunday.

• The fact that Israeli action began last week, even though Hamas and the PIJ had been firing at Israel for months, may have been the result of a deal between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Israel would hold off on attacking until after the U.S. presidential election, and Obama would support an attack on Iran, “which we all know will happen in February or March,” Elan said.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas issued a set of talking points that included:

“The purpose of this surgical operation was to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure. Any attempt to see moral equivalence in the actions of the two sides must be rejected. Hamas has directly targeted Israeli citizens while Israel has gone to great lengths to try to avoid civilian causalities in Gaza.”

Chabad of Dallas had a special prayer service last Thursday night, and numerous local synagogues and Jewish organizations have said special prayers for those in harm’s way and the safety of Israel.

Last week wasn’t the start of this round of tensions, Elan said. It began when Israel attacked a transit site in Khartoum, Sudan, in late October. That site is a way station for Iranian rockets, which are sent by container to Gaza, he added.

Meanwhile, in the latest news available at the TJP’s early holiday-week press time Monday, as Hamas’ leader in exile, Khaled Mashal, brushed off a halt to bombings, Israeli airstrikes hit a Gaza media center and killed several leaders of Islamic Jihad.

The Israel Air Force’s strike — the second on the center in two days — killed Ramaz Harab, a top leader of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al Quds Brigades. At least three other Islamic Jihad leaders were in the building when it was hit, according to the IDF.

Hamas’ main television station, Al Aksa, is located on the top floor of the high-rise building.

In Cairo, meanwhile, Mashal said during an hourlong news conference Monday, “Whoever started the war must end it.”

He told reporters that Netanyahu requested a cease-fire, a claim that Israel has denied, according to reports.

Mashal said there is a new spirit of cooperation among Palestinian factions due to the Israeli operation, which began on Nov. 14.

“Israel is the common enemy. Confrontation with the enemy is our moment of truth,” he said. “We must end the political divide and unite around common institutions and around resistance to Israel. Our enemy cannot be treated with words, but only by force. No concessions should be made with Israel, given the new atmosphere in the Arab world.”

Also Monday, a rocket from Gaza directly hit an empty school building in Ashkelon, Israel Hayom reported. Classes in Israel’s south have been canceled since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense Nov. 14.

More than 120 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel Sunday. On Monday, the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted three of four rockets fired at Ashkelon.

Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai said the IDF attacked 40 arms smuggling tunnels between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.

Meanwhile, hackers attempted to launch more than 1 million cyberattacks against Israeli government websites over a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, with more than 1,000 sites being hacked, Israel Hayom reported.

The most prominent attacks were against military industry websites, during which hackers apparently tried extracting information about the Iron Dome missile defense system, as well as other military systems.

The Israeli government’s teleprocessing unit, which operated on emergency alert status, also reported an unprecedented number of cyberattacks. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz visited the unit’s control center, where he was told that since the onset of Operation Pillar of Defense, more than 44 million attempts to disrupt government websites were detected.

Steinitz said just one hacking attempt was successful on a site he did not want to name, but it was up and running after 10 minutes of downtime. While the attacks have come from around the world, most have been from Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The United States has voiced strong support for Israel. Obama said that Israel has every right to defend itself, though he urged caution before beginning any ground activity. The Jewish Federations of North America — and by extension, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County — has committed $5 million toward support of Israeli citizens affected by the attacks and has gathered an emergency delegation to travel to southern Israel.

At press time, no local people are part of the delegation.

Tensions are not limited to southern Israel, as the nation remains subject to the Syrian civil war’s continued spillover into the north.

The IDF said Israel responded to gunfire aimed at its troops in the Golan Heights by firing into Syria Sunday. Syrian soldiers may have been killed in the incident.

“There was small-arms fire [at Israeli forces], there was a response, and from what I hear over Arab media, it appears Syrian soldiers were killed,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai told Army Radio.

Mordechai said Israel is trying its best not to be dragged further into the Syrian civil war.

TJP managing editor Dave Sorter, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and JNS.org contributed to this report.

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Rocket strikes southern outskirts of Tel Aviv

Posted on 15 November 2012 by admin

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A rocket fired from Gaza struck the metropolitan Tel Aviv area Thursday night.

The rocket fell in Holon on the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv, according to reports, after warning sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak Thursday evening.  It was the first time since the Gulf War in 1990 that a warning siren was sounded in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, according to reports.

No damage or injuries occurred, Ynet reported. Islamic Jihad reportedly took responsibility for the attack, which came two hours after two rockets struck Rishon Lezion, located about 10 miles south of Tel Aviv.

More than 140 rockets fired from Gaza have struck southern Israel since the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari Wednesday evening.

Earlier Thursday, three Israelis were killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit their apartment in southern Israel.

The rocket that struck the Kiryat Malachi apartment Thursday morning also injured a baby girl and a 4-year-old boy. A second building in Kiryat Malachi also was hit.

The deaths were the first fatalities suffered by Israel in its escalating confrontation with Hamas. Rockets continued to rain down on communities in southern Israel overnight into Thursday. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces bombed about 100 medium- and long-range rocket launch and infrastructure sites throughout Gaza, according to an IDF spokesman.

Some 90 rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, according to the IDF, but a school in Ofakim and a home in Ashdod were hit, along with a factory near Ashkelon.

“This has significantly damaged the rocket launch capabilities and munitions warehouses operated by Hamas and other terror organizations,” the IDF said in a statement. “The aim of targeting these sites is to impair the rocket launching capability of terror organizations in the Gaza strip and damage their further buildup.”

Israel’s Air Force also bombed several rocket launching squads as they prepared to fire rockets toward southern Israel, according to the IDF.

Fifteen Palestinians have been killed and more than 100 injured in the Israeli strikes, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported Thursday.

Israel also has mobilized several infantry units and called up reserve troops. Israel last entered Gaza with ground troops during the monthlong Gaza war that began in December 2008.

The strike on Jabari followed four days of rocket fire from Gaza terrorist groups on southern Israel. More than 150 rockets reportedly were fired from Gaza during that time, causing damage to homes and factories.

Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz al-Dinn Al-Qassam Brigades, reportedly said in a statement following the attack, “The occupation has opened the gates of hell on itself.”

The Israeli daily Haaretz quoted peace activist Gershon Baskin as saying that hours before he was assassinated, Jabari had received a draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel and that senior Israeli officials were aware of the draft.

Thursday morning, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Israel’s ramped-up Gaza operation at the request of Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. The envoys of Israel and the Palestinians offered presentations at the meeting.

The Security Council failed to endorse a plan of action, agreeing only to issue a statement saying that the emergency meeting took place.

“We have demonstrated maximum restraint for years, but the Israeli government has a right and a duty to respond to these attacks,” Israeli U.N. envoy Ron Prosor told the council. “Israel will not play Russian roulette with the lives of our citizens.”

Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour referred to “Israel’s malicious onslaught, using the most lethal military means and illegal measures against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population.”

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself. Wednesday night, President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and voiced support for Israel’s right to self-defense while urging Netanyahu to avoid civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, Egypt withdrew its ambassador to Israel over the Gaza strikes. Israel’s ambassador to Cairo, Yaakov Amitai, also was called back to Jerusalem out of fear for his safety in the face of expected protests.The embassy staff was evacuated Wednesday.

Israel’s Security Cabinet Wednesday night authorized the call-up of reserve units, per the direction of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The Cabinet authorized the IDF to “continue vigorous action against the terrorist infrastructures operating from the Gaza Strip against the civilian population in Israel in order to bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel.”

“Alongside the military effort, Israel will, to the best of its ability, work to avoid harming civilians while honoring the humanitarian needs of the population, in keeping with the rules of international law,” the directive said.

In a statement issued Thursday evening to the foreign press, Netanyahu said that world leaders have an understanding of Israel’s need and right to defend itself.

“There is no moral symmetry; there is no moral equivalence, between Israel and the terrorist organizations in Gaza,” Netanyahu said. “The terrorists are committing a double war crime. They fire at Israeli civilians and they hide behind Palestinian civilians. And by contrast, Israel takes every measure to avoid civilian casualties.

“I saw today a picture of a bleeding Israeli baby. This picture says it all: Hamas deliberately targets our children, and they deliberately place their rockets next to their children. Despite this reality, and it’s a very difficult reality, Israel will continue to do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties.”

The current operation in Gaza has been dubbed Pillar of Defense, a reference to the cloud that followed the Israelites in the desert according to the Bible. The pillar of clouds shielded and protected the Israelites.

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Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 15 November 2012 by admin

By Amy Wolff Sorter

An important part of Judaism is community. This past Sunday, “community” was in full force, at least the Tarrant County community was, at the Fort Worth Hadassah’s “Shir and Schmooze with Shoshana and Sheri.”

Cantors Shoshana Abrams of Congregation Ahavath Sholom, left, and Sheri Allen of Congregation Beth Shalom sang at Sunday’s meeting of Hadassah’s Fort Worth chapter. | Photo: Amy Wolff Sorter

The event featured Tarrant County cantors Shoshanna Abrams of Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth and Sheri Allen with Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington. Etty Horowitz was nice enough to open her lovely home for the event, and these two extraordinarily talented and personable cantors treated everyone in attendance to their life stories and remarkable singing performances.

What struck me as Sheri and Shoshana spoke wasn’t so much their differences, but their similarities. Certainly on the surface, both women are vastly different — Sheri has been established in Tarrant County for years while Shoshana came on board over the summer.

Their backgrounds are different, too. Shoshanna was born and raised in Los Angeles and was steeped in Judaism (as was twin sister Elisa), from birth. Shoshana refers to herself as “Latin Jewish,” for good reason: One set of grandparents hails from Argentina, the other from Cuba, and both came to the United States to escape persecution. Shoshana also knew from a very early age that music was her passion.

Sheri, on the other hand, was born and raised in the Chicago area and was candid that her family wasn’t really observant — “I thought Shabbat took place on Sundays,” she commented, wryly, adding that when she had the option to attend religious school after regular school, she refused to do so because “what kid wants to go to school after school?”

It wasn’t until she met her husband, Richard Allen, that her knowledge of and love for Judaism became better defined. And it wasn’t until much later that Sheri, who originally wanted to be an actress but wanted nothing to do with singing, came to an understanding of, and love for, music.

The women’s education differed, too. Shoshana received cantorial training through the H.L. Miller Cantorial School and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Sheri’s program of study came through the Cantorial Intern Program of the Cantors Assembly.

Now on to the similarities, one of which is their initials — “S.A.” But there is more. Both ended up at Adat Ari El, a conservative synagogue in North Hollywood, Calif. The Abramses were active members, while the Allens, though latecomers to California, also became very much involved with the shul; Sheri taught younger children there.

“Given the time and ages we are, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Shoshana had been a toddler, in the background, while I was there,” Sheri quipped.

Still, the similarities between these two women go much deeper. Their commitment to Judaism unifies them, as does their talent and passion for music. Their stories are moving and inspiring, as are their voices. And they’re both thoroughly nice people and fun to talk to. “Shir and schmooze” indeed; the Hadassah program was aptly named.

And now for more schmoozing

Another important part of Sunday’s Hadassah program involved a presentation by former Fort Worth Hadassah president Laurie Werner, who was among the thousands who went to Israel some weeks ago in honor of the organization’s 100th anniversary.

One event taking place was the dedication of the Madlyn Barnett Healing Garden in the new Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower at the Hadassah Medical Center. Even better is that Laurie presented photos of the gorgeous new hospital (part of it is still under construction and “cranes are still on the east side,” Laurie noted). Other photos included Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s receipt of a Hadassah award and the colorful decorations at the convention center.

That final reminder

One of the terrific things about the Hadassah event and others in the Jewish community is that I meet a lot of people. People who, when they find out I’m writing Around the Town, are eager to tell me about information they want to send.

So please send that information to me at awsorter@yahoo.com. This week’s column is somewhat short due to space constraints, but I have plenty of room next week — I hope.

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Sandy brings out chesed

Sandy brings out chesed

Posted on 15 November 2012 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

I want to take this opportunity to share with you a very eye-opening experience that my wife and I felt fortunate to have partaken of this week.

We were on the East Coast for the wedding of one of my students, a girl from Dallas, and were able to spend some time walking along the oceanfront and especially in the upper-scale gated community of Sea Gate. This enabled us to observe and feel the decimation and destruction of Hurricane Sandy first-hand. Being from distant Texas, Miri and I felt removed from what happened, and Jewishly we are supposed to identify with and feel the pain of others.

We saw, first-hand, a Jewish community where many homes no longer exist. This formerly wealthy neighborhood was graced by a tent from where soup and chicken were being portioned out to those in line, and piles of clothing were being distributed to those without.

We watched a bearded Jew, after much effort, get into the open window of what was left of his house to try to salvage something out of the wreckage. We could see right in as the entire facade had washed into the ocean, the contents of the house looking like they went through a cycle in the washing machine and were plastered along the walls and ceiling of this former lakeside mansion.

We had to climb over the piles of cement slabs that were once a street. We spoke to shop owners that had nothing left in their stores; some were wearing masks to protect themselves from hazardous materials in the walls they were ripping out. We passed many blocks-long lines of cars waiting in line for gas; saw the long lines of FEMA and disaster handout centers, the recipients collecting blankets, clothing and food. It’s hard to describe the feelings and what we observed; the sadness, sense of loss and destitution.

We also saw a silver lining in the cloud of desperation: the plethora of chesed (kindness) being performed by the Jewish community — not only for the Jewish community, but also for all the victims. Nestled among a huge crowd of African Americans in line to receive their basic needs was a Refuah Jewish Medical Center mobile unit.

We stayed at the home of a friend in Baltimore who headed up the collection effort for food, clothing and money to send to New York. After one night of her emails and setting up bins, they needed trucks to haul all that had been collected. Everywhere we went, we saw teams of Jewish volunteers who were there to do anything and everything to make the lives of the victims a bit more bearable.

I’ve spent much time thinking what we are to learn from all of this. We of course, without prophecy, will never know the “why” of God’s bringing this about. But He certainly has gotten our attention, and there is a deeper message than this simply being a random effect of global warming.

We, as Jews, need to always look at situations like these as wake-up calls to inspire us to improve our actions and deeds in some way, whether in ways of chesed/kindness to others or in other areas of observance. God wants something from us, and although we may not know precisely what that is, this opportunity should not be passed by without some improvement. We undoubtedly should do our part in contributing toward the immediate need, but something more long-lasting is also in order. Adding to one’s Torah study is a catch-all that covers all areas of growth and improvement.

One thought that keeps entering my mind, by seeing so much that was built up by men over decades reduced to rubble in minutes, is observing the mighty power of God. When we hear thunder, we recite the blessing “Blessed are You God, king of the universe, whose power and might fill the world.”

One of my mentors from Jerusalem related that as a young boy he was in the bunker under his Tel Aviv home during the War of Independence. After a bomb powerfully shook their bunker, an elderly sage turned to him as said, in Yiddish, “Nu, my son, what blessing do you make over a bomb?” The sage answered (allegorically, but with much emotion), … “Whose power and might fill the world.”

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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Make Thanksgiving Jewish

Make Thanksgiving Jewish

Posted on 15 November 2012 by admin

By Laura Seymour

The holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us, and the messages are many. The importance of being thankful and the value of expressing those thanks are crucial lessons for our children to learn. Here are a few thoughts to make your Thanksgiving both Jewish and American.

Don’t forget to say the Shehechiyanu and make Kiddush and Hamotzi on Thanksgiving.

I am honored to quote my favorite Jewish educator, Joel Lurie Grishaver from his book “40 Things You Can Do to Save the Jewish People.”

“It is important to treat Thanksgiving as a Jewish ritual meal and thereby blend Jewish and American values into a single expression. Thanksgiving has always had its own rituals. We had never thought to make it Jewish — we had never thought to remember that when the Pilgrims were gathering that first fall harvest in their new land, they went back to the Bible and found their own way of bringing the Sukkot ritual alive.

“Thanksgiving is nothing more than a Pilgrim version of a creative Sukkot celebration — add the popcorn and cranberries, take out the lulav and etrog, and you get the picture.

“The moment I figured out that Thanksgiving wasn’t just an American holiday, my world changed. I was no longer involved in 1,000 discussions about Jewish American or American Jew. There was no question of priorities — the answer was simple. From then on, I’ve made Kiddush before eating turkey. Kiddush adds another dynamic — it shows not only a melding of food, but of spirit.”

Now that you’ve heard the “adult thinking part,” add the story of Molly’s pilgrim to your traditions. The book was written in 1983 (yet could certainly be written today in our community) and tells the story of Molly, who has moved from Russia. The children make fun of her for her differences.

The school assignment is given to make a Pilgrim doll for a display. Molly tells her mother that Pilgrims came to this country to worship God as they pleased. Molly’s mother makes Molly’s pilgrim dressed as a Russian woman. Not surprisingly, the children make fun until their teacher understands.

“Listen to me, all of you,” the teacher said. “Molly’s mother is a Pilgrim. She’s a modern Pilgrim. She came here, just like the Pilgrims long ago, so she could worship God in her own way, in peace and freedom. I’m going to put this beautiful doll on my desk where everyone can see it all the time. It will remind us all the Pilgrims are still coming to America.” (There is also a video available.)

Thanksgiving has many lessons to share.

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

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A different take on Abraham’s sons

A different take on Abraham’s sons

Posted on 15 November 2012 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

If you hurry, and if you have an open mind, you might still be able to catch “Burying Our Father” at the Undermain Theatre in Dallas.

Hurry is important, because the run of this “play” will end Saturday evening. An open mind is even more important, because there’s something in this performance to offend just about everyone who believes in, or just respects, any religion. It’s subtitled “A Biblical Debacle,” which should give you a clue.

But the artistry of the two who, together, created and perform this 80-minute/no-intermission piece deserves highest praise. Fred Curchack did the writing here, where he’s a professor of aesthetic studies at the University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Arts and Humanities, then shipped it to Petaluma, Calif., for Laura Jorgensen to polish its stage presence. This is the 10th of their joint efforts. I’ve seen all of them, and many of Curchack’s 27 previous solo works of performance art as well.

I’ve been a Fred Curchack “junkie” since 1986, when he staged his “Search for Freddy Chicken” at UTD. This early work was, like many of his later performance pieces, highly personal: Curchack is Polish for chicken, which tells you something about his ancestry. In “Burying Our Father,” his repeated battle cry is “Oy Gevalt,” which tells you the rest. He’s not a Jew in the synagogue-going sense, but he is definitely a member of this tribe.

Here he is Abraham, and the patriarch’s older son Ishmael and the maidservant mother, Hagar, moving back and forth from one character to the other with quick twists of a scarf and a sometimes on, sometimes off scraggly phony beard. (Jorgensen also quick-changes, playing a half-dozen parts including God, which alone is off-putting enough for many.)

The premise: Abraham has died, and half-brothers Ishmael and Isaac (Jorgensen), who haven’t seen each other since the day of the former’s banishment courtesy of his mother, Sarah (also Jorgensen), come together to bury their mutual father.

Curchack knows his Bible, as he does many other classics. In one of his best solo pieces, he becomes the Italian poet Dante, traveling through his circles of Hell. In what is probably his very best, he does a one-man interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” using puppets, light and shadow to bring the story to incredible life.

Here, in “Burying,” he uses many of these same techniques, which have become Curchack hallmarks. But here, he wanders from the story as Jews and Christians know it, to make us think of other possibilities. Irreverent, certainly. Sacrilege, maybe. But effective, without a doubt.

Is it possible, Curchack asks through acting, that Ishmael was not banished — something our Torah and the Christian Old Testament tell us Sarah wanted and God approved — but was actually sent away by Allah to found a great nation of his own? Is it possible that Isaac has no memory at all of being bound for sacrifice by his own father, and so can convincingly deny that this cornerstone of our shared Judeo-Christian history ever happened?

Curchack is now well into his 60s. He is fuller of face and has a little more paunch and a lot less hair than in his Freddy Chicken days. But he moves with incredible ease and grace, retaining everything he learned in his younger years of study with masters of Japanese, Balinese and Indian theater and dance.

And he knows his psychology. Is he perhaps the first to suggest, in this day of shocking child abuse discoveries and validated repressed memories, that Isaac actually suffered a kind of amnesia after his near-sacrifice, a protective device that allowed him to continue functioning in a normal manner throughout his life? An exploration of this possibility lies at the heart of “Burying Our Father,” and — whether or not we like to tamper with our stories of origin — it is really something to think about. As Curchack presents this theory, it cannot be discounted or ignored.

There is a terrible honesty in this piece, too, that cannot be downplayed today. At its end, after the many discussions and revelations, after Abraham is buried by his two sons together, after God has gone back to his heaven, all is still not right with the world. As the 80 minutes expire, we are left with the sight of Isaac and Ishmael alone together on stage, circling each other menacingly, knives in hand. Even the creative Curchack can envision no other end to the Middle East conflict.

If you decide to have a look yourself, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 15 November 2012 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

I love hearing when “ourtowners” receive accolades, reach milestones and begin new endeavors. I’m even more thrilled when our dear readers pass the info along to include in these pages.

Read on to learn what Rabbi Michael Rovinsky, a.k.a. the “flying mohel,” philanthropist Joy Mankoff, and hospice expert Elise Power among others have been up to of late.

St. Louis federation honors Rabbi Rovinsky

Dallas native Rabbi Michael Rovinsky, director of the Jewish Student Union, founder and director of Camp Nageela Midwest in Indiana and St. Louis’ community mohel, is the recipient of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ 2012 Fred A. Goldstein Memorial Service Award for professional excellence.

Dallas native Rabbi Mike Rovinsky, right, receives the 2012 Fred A. Goldstein Memorial Service Award for professional excellence from Jewish Federation of St. Louis chair Bob Millstone at a recent federation board meeting. | Photo: Jewish Federation of St. Louis

When notified of the Goldstein honor, Rovinsky said he felt “blessed to have the greatest job I could imagine. Working with youth and their families to strengthen their Jewish identity and connection to Israel is beyond gratifying. At this stage, it defines everything I do. In many ways, I am paying forward what was done for me by my teachers and youth leaders when I was exploring and determining which direction I was going to go Jewishly.”

Rovinsky grew up in Dallas in a home deeply committed to Jewish community and identity. His parents, Shirley and Irv Rovinsky, were past presidents and executive board members of several Jewish Federation agencies in Dallas. Rabbi Rovinsky was charter president of his AZA (BBYO) chapter and active in USY. He was on the national board of NCSY, and through that organization, was actively involved in efforts to get Jews out of the Soviet Union. He spent two years in Ohr Sameach Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from Adelphi University and a Master of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. He received rabbinic ordination from Kol Yaakov Torah Center and a second rabbinic ordination along with a master’s in Talmudic law from Ner Israel Rabbinical College. Most recently, he received a master’s degree in counseling from University of Missouri in St. Louis and is finalizing a license in professional counseling.

Before coming to St. Louis, he was a teacher and a Jewish studies principal at Akiba Academy in Dallas. In his current role as director of JSU, he works with more than 700 teens in nine public and secular private high schools throughout St. Louis to address contemporary issues from a Jewish perspective.

Rovinsky is passionate about contributing to the future of the American Jewish community.

“With the rates of intermarriage and assimilation continuing to move upward, it is incumbent upon all of us to inspire the next generations to remain culturally, socially and spiritually connected to their Jewish heritage,” he said. “I cannot begin to say how excited I am with the strategic plan of the Federation to try to stem the hemorrhaging of our people through targeted support of quality youth and young adult Jewish identity strengthening programming. I believe it plays a critical role in our battle against assimilation and Jewish apathy.”

Rovinsky is married to Selina Rovinsky and they are the parents of Saara (Moshe) Moskowitz, Avi (Lizzy) Rovinsky, Ariella and Yossi.

Joy Mankoff honored by Dallas Women’s Foundation

The Dallas Women’s Foundation presented Joy S. Mankoff with the Power of The Purse Philanthropist Award during its luncheon Nov. 8 at the Hilton Anatole. The award is bestowed annually to a woman who has made a significant difference in women’s lives through charitable contributions, leadership and support of women’s issues.

“Joy Mankoff is an extraordinary champion of women’s issues and an architect of the vision for women’s philanthropy and social change that created Dallas Women’s Foundation 27 years ago and continues to drive our growth and impact,” said Roslyn Dawson Thompson, president of the Dallas Women’s Foundation. “We are honored to recognize Joy for changing women’s lives through her generosity and leadership here in our community and across the nation.”

Mankoff was one of the Dallas Women’s Foundation’s 19 founders, and her husband, attorney Ronald Mankoff, wrote the first articles of incorporation and bylaws for the organization. Together, they chaired the advisory council and later served as honorary luncheon chairs.

Today, Joy continues her support as an active member of the advisory council. She was instrumental in the success of the Dallas Women’s Foundation Comprehensive Campaign from 2007-2011, by creating a charitable remainder trust benefiting the organization.

Joy was also one of the first of the 27 Dallas Women Moving Millions donors who made a gift of $1 million or more to benefit women and girls.

An advocate for a number of causes locally and nationally, Joy has served as president of organizations including the Dallas section of the National Council of Jewish Women, Planned Parenthood of North Texas, Women’s Council of Dallas County and the Dallas Summit, as well as vice president of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Dallas. She was founding president of the Women’s Issues Network and the Older Women’s League, and she is currently vice chair of the Dallas Opera Board.

Mankoff received Southern Methodist University’s Women in Leadership Award, the American Association of University Women’s Award, the Women Helping Women Award and the National Council of Jewish Women’s Hannah G. Solomon Award. She and her husband were given Planned Parenthood’s Gertrude Shelburne Humanitarian Award and the American Jewish Committee’s Institute of Human Relations Award. The Mankoffs are the key benefactors of the P.J. Library through Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Center for Jewish Education.

Meet Elise Power, VITAS Community Liaison

“Everybody has a story,” Elise Power said. “Everybody has a journey. When my mom was terminally ill, I helped her and my dad through their difficult journey. Mom’s legacy lives on; I want to continue to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Power has worked in home care and hospice for 30 years, first in New Jersey and now in Dallas. Today she is a VITAS community liaison, educating clinicians and the community about how hospice is compatible with the Jewish faith.

“The rabbi is held in high regard to many Jewish families, sometimes more highly regarded than the patient’s own physician,” Power said. “So I see educating rabbis and Jewish leaders on the benefits of hospice as a way to reach so many patients and families in their time of need.”

She offers a story from her own experience: She was approached by a family regarding their mother, a Holocaust survivor. The son was a rabbi and didn’t understand the benefits of hospice. Fortunately, he was willing to learn about what hospice is — and isn’t. He chose hospice. When his mother died several months later, he gave the eulogy, acknowledging how hard her life had been and how grateful he was that she had hospice.

“VITAS reinforces Jewish traditions,” Power said. “VITAS is accredited by the National Institute for Jewish Hospice. When people are dying, they tend to go back to their culture and roots; there is a re-awakening of tradition. I am here to walk that journey with them.”

VITAS has rabbis on staff and works closely with Jewish Family Service.

Power works with religious and community-based organizations as well as residential care facilities to educate about hospice and palliative care, advance directives, ethics and other issues that arise at the end of life. She educates physicians, hospital staff, ALFs, CCRCs and LTCs about compassionate end-of-life care, Jewish culture, sensitivity, practices and the benefits of hospice care.

“My passion is seeing the possibilities and making things happen,” she said. “When patients and families tell me, ‘I couldn’t have done this without you,’ I know we are making a difference.”

Power can be reached at Elise.Power@VITAS.com or 214-424-5600.

Press notes

• DATA will hold its annual scholarship dinner at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4 at the Renaissance Hotel Dallas Richardson. Yana and Yury Mintskovsky will be honored with the Community Builder Award, Richard Greenfield with the Community Leadership Award and Jared Green with the Young Leadership Award. For reservations call DATA at 214-987-3282.

• Jeremy Reichman, who grew up in Plano and recently graduated from the University of Texas School of Law, passed the bar exam with the top score over more than 4,000 attorneys taking the test. Jeremy, who is employed with the Dallas office of Vinson Elkins, addressed the court and all the new bar members that were sworn in Nov. 12 at the Erwin Center in Austin.

• Susan Candy Luterman was elected president of the International Association of Jewish Free Loans at the organization’s annual conference on Oct. 16 in Phoenix. This will be her second term. Susan is following a family tradition: Her husband, Allen, was international president from 2001 to 2003.

• The annual meeting of the Dallas Hebrew Free Loan Association is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at Prestonwood Country Club. The event is free to members, and $15 for guests. Contact Deborah Dana at 214-696-8008 no later than Wednesday, Dec. 5 to RSVP.

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Never too old to have fun

Never too old to have fun

Posted on 15 November 2012 by admin

By Rachel Gross Weinstein

Many senior citizens in the community consider the Aaron Family JCC a second home, providing them with cultural programs, kosher lunches and a way to socialize with friends.

The senior department was restructured last month to allow more seniors to use the J. Senior programming has always been offered, but now all community members ages 65 and older can join the new Senior Social J for $44 per year instead of $350; they can also join the Silver Sneakers fitness program for a nominal fee.

“We are trying to be more open and want more seniors to feel welcomed at the J,” adult program associate Heather Cordova said. “Being part of this group shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive in any way. Seniors love coming to the J and we want them to be part of the community.”

The Senior Social club offers a variety of exciting day trips throughout the year. Pictured before a trip are, front row from left, Ted Blum, Veronique Jonas, Tilly Prengler, Gloria Blum, Sondra Brumbelow, Marjorie Rosenberg, Gilbert Cohen, Arlene Antweil, Harry Kabler, Mimi Hamel, Muriel Miller and Si Post. Back row, Rachelle Weiss Crane, Thom Jones, Elna Jones, Joe Rebic and Mickey Warsaw. | Photo: Lisa Rothberg

Senior Social J hosts various events for members, such as dinners and shows. Since programming for the new group officially kicked off last month, the seniors visited the Chihuly Exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum and the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

Events have also been planned through December, including seeing the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie, a Caribbean cruise and a tour at Scottish Rite Hospital, along with a Chanukah party at The Legacy at Preston Hollow and a presentation about Kwanzaa.

Other senior programming at the J includes book clubs, art classes, hot lunches, computer classes, Wii games, guest speakers and more. The aim is to start offering mah jongg games and Shabbat dinners for the seniors, Cordova said.

Meeting the needs of seniors is one of the J’s priorities, president Artie Allen said. Providing a way for them to socialize and enjoy themselves allows them to live happier lives, he said.

“Seniors are an important part of what the J does,” said Allen. “They enrich our lives and we enrich theirs, so we don’t want there to be any reason or barrier for them not to come. Caring for the senior population has been a passion of mine; we need to take care of those who have taken care of us in the past. They play a vital role at the J and in the Jewish community.”

Another unique aspect of the Senior Social J is the interaction seniors have with preschoolers, Cordova said. Seniors visit the preschool classrooms once a week and form relationships with the children. The children often perform dance recitals for them during lunch, and wave to them in the hallways.

This is what brings the most joy to Bea Kaplan, who is also on the senior adult board. She enjoys connecting with the children and is actively involved in the knitting group that produces hats and blankets for premature babies at Parkland Hospital.

“It’s such a joy being at the J with the babies and preschoolers,” she said. “They bring a real energy to our group.”

The connections seniors make at the J and providing them with multiple opportunities to live a fulfilling life are what make them such a valued part of the community, Cordova added.

“They create friendships and this provides them a sense of belonging,” she said. “It also gives them a sense of pride knowing they can spend the day at the J and have a wonderful time.”

For information about Senior Social J, contact Cordova at 214-239-7149 or hcordova@jccdallas.org.

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Rocket attacks intensify, IDF reservists called up after Israel kills Hamas leader in Gaza

Rocket attacks intensify, IDF reservists called up after Israel kills Hamas leader in Gaza

Posted on 14 November 2012 by admin

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli army began moving infantry units to the south and calling up reservists in preparation for a further escalation of hostilities with Hamas after an Israeli airstrike killed Hamas’ military chief in the strip.

Ahmed Jabari and a passenger were killed by an Israeli missile late Wednesday afternoon when the car in which they were driving was hit in what Israeli military officials called a “surgical strike.” The passenger was reported to be Jabari’s son, according to Yediot Achronot, though it was not confirmed by other sources.

Following the strike, the Israel Defense Forces bombed about 20 underground launch sites and ammunition warehouses in the Gaza Strip that had been identified by Israeli military intelligence, the Israel Defense Forces said. Military sources said the sites had been located over several months and many were in civilian areas. Eight Palestinians — militants and civilians — reportedly have been killed in the Israeli strikes and 30 have been wounded.

The IDF said that the assassination and strikes on terrorists’ long-range missile capabilities are the start of Operation Cloud Pillar against Gaza terrorists.

Israeli residents near the border areas were instructed to remain in bomb shelters until further notice. School was canceled for Thursday in southern Israeli communities located up to 25 miles from the Gaza border.

Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz al-Dinn Al-Qassam Brigades, reportedly said in a statement following the attack, “The occupation has opened the gates of hell on itself.”

More than 50 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel since the assassination, damaging cars and sending dozens into shock. Three rockets were aimed at Dimona, the site of a nuclear plant. Thirteen of the rockets fired at Beersheva reportedly were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Israel also mobilized several infantry units and called up reserve troops. Israel last entered Gaza with ground troops during the monthlong Gaza war that began in December 2008.

The strike came after four days of rocket fire from Gaza terrorist groups on southern Israel. More than 150 rockets are reported to have been fired from Gaza, causing damage to homes and factories.

Jabari was directly responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel for the past several years, the IDF said. He was filmed escorting captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held hostage in Gaza for more than five years, when he was handed over to Egypt last year on his way back to Israel.

“The purpose of this operation was to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said in a statement. “This was a surgical operation in cooperation with the Israeli Security Agency that was implemented on the basis of concrete intelligence and using advanced capabilities.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters Wednesday night that “Israel is not interested in engaging in war, but Hamas’ provocation in the past days has made it imperative that we act sharply and decisively.” He said the goals of the operation include strengthening the warning to Gaza terrorist groups to halt attacks on Israel, thwarting the rocket attacks and hurting the Hamas terror organization.

Barak declared an “elevated level of preparedness” for the homefront area, representing a 25-mile radius around Gaza.

“Hamas and the other terror organizations chose to escalate its attacks in recent days,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the news conference. “Israel has sent Hamas a clear message that it is prepared to defend its citizens.”

Not long after Jabari was killed, Israeli President Shimon Peres called President Obama to update the newly re-elected U.S. leader on the situation.

“Our intention is not to raise the flames, but already for days, day and night, they are shooting rockets at Israel,” Peres told Obama, according to a statement from Peres’ office. “Women cannot fall asleep. I was today there with the children. You know, there are limits. So I want you to know and I wanted to explain our motives.”

In a security message, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv urged Americans in Israel to “exercise caution and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety and security in light of the escalating level of violence in Gaza and southern Israel.”

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