Archive | September, 2014

The differences between rituals, laws and customs

The differences between rituals, laws and customs

Posted on 18 September 2014 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

seymourforweb2School is in full swing and we have settled into our routines. I have been talking with the children about routines and rituals. As we approach so many holidays, there are many routines and rituals that we must follow.

What is a ritual? What is a custom? What is Jewish law? We wonder about what we have to do and if we have to do it in a certain way?

A simple (maybe simplistic) way of looking at it is that there are three “levels”: Torah law, rabbinic law and custom. Now Torah law may be the “highest/most important” level but even Torah law is interpreted. Then we have the laws that our sages have created and finally there is custom.

For example, take Passover: the Torah says no leaven, the rabbis have rules upon rules and then the custom is that Sephardic Jews eat rice and Ashkenazi Jews don’t. So what is right? Can we stop following certain laws or customs?

Don’t get excited — no answers from me! Ask your rabbi (or your mother-in-law)! Note: however you decide, make it a thinking decision!

This leads to a special children’s book that now comes with a toy (which makes it better for some). The book is “When the Chickens Went on Strike” by Erica Silverman. It is a Rosh Hashanah tale adapted from a story by Sholom Aleichem.

The chickens go on strike because they don’t want to be used for kapparot. The custom is to take a live chicken and twirl it over your head as you say certain prayers. The idea is to transfer your sins to the chicken before the new year.

Crazy? Maybe. Still done today? Definitely! Google it and you will see explanations and a few YouTube videos.

The book is the story of a little boy who is worried that without doing kapparot, all the things he did wrong will not go away. He finally learns from the chickens that to do better in the future, you do not need a chicken. A custom is changed for this little town!

It is a great story with some thoughts for the holidays — what routines, rituals and customs do we want to continue or end and why? We learned about kavanah — intention; whatever you do, always do it with thinking, caring and kavanah!

Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.

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

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The International Shabbat Project comes to Big D

The International Shabbat Project comes to Big D

Posted on 18 September 2014 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

We have received numerous notifications about an upcoming program called the Shabbat Project, sometimes called the International Shabbat Project. It looks nice, but we don’t like to join things I hear about by mail unless we have them substantiated that they’re legitimate. Do you know about this and is it something we should consider joining?

— Marci and Josh K.

Dear Marci and Josh,

friedforweb2On the upcoming Shabbat Oct. 23 – 25, thousands of Jews throughout the world will be joining hands and hearts in an unprecedented show of Jewish unity and love through the common observance of one of the most beautiful and meaningful of Jewish traditions — the holy Shabbat.

Spearheaded in 2013 by the forward thinking and popular Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, over a half of South Africa’s 75,000 Jews observed a Shabbat together. It was a transformational experience in so many ways; the South African Jewish community will never be the same, both in its unity and its Jewish commitment as spelled out by the testimonials of many. Some 2,500 women joined hands, kneaded and baked challah together under the stars. Accompanied by live music and dancing, these women forged a new connection which transcended any political or observance differences between them, all becoming like sisters with a common purpose.

As a result of the tremendous success of the South African experiment, Rabbi Goldstein expanded this project to the international arena. Working together and in consultation with Jewish leaders and organizations throughout the U.S. and the world, it has been decided that the October date, immediately following the High Holiday season, will be the Shabbat that Jews across the world will be invited to further join hands and hearts in the observance of a holy Shabbat.

Dallas is proud to join this effort and ride the waves of excitement, commitment and unity swelling up throughout America and the world. The event begins Thursday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. with a public challah baking at the Aaron Family JCC; men, women and children are invited to join. Dallas Jewry will then be observing public Shabbat meals, lectures and workshops at various local synagogues and locations. The popular and engaging Rabbi Gav Friedman of Jerusalem and other leading speakers will offer meaningful talks, classes and workshops throughout the Shabbat. The weekend will culminate in a communitywide gala musical celebration, a “Unity Concert & Havdallah Ceremony” led by the world-renowned musician Eitan Katz of New York. This unique, memorable celebration will be held under that stars on the lawn of the JCC at 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 25.

This effort is being spearheaded in Dallas by a dedicated committee of volunteers of all ages who are hard at work putting together the myriad details of this unique weekend with great excitement and commitment!

The High Holiday season is all about Jewish unity. We join together on Rosh Hashanah and coronate the King with our prayers and shofar blast; there’s no king without a nation! Yom Kippur, more than any day of the year, Jews of all stripes and affiliations bind together in fasting and prayer. On Sukkot, we hold the lulav branch with four species representing every type of Jew: scholarly and observant, scholarly and non-observant, observant and non-scholarly, and neither scholarly nor observant. We need them all, every last Jew, bound together to make up the Jewish people. Joining the Shabbat project NOW is an incredible opportunity for Jewish unity. It is a tremendous merit for the individual and the Jewish people as a whole to do something so truly meaningful as participating in an international Shabbat. If we have peace from within, the Al-mighty will reward us with peace from those from without, granting us a year of peace and prosperity for Israel and Jews throughout the world.

For more information or to sign up, volunteer or to be a sponsor, check out the website www.DallasShabbatProject.com or to contact a volunteer to get involved email Dallas@TheShabbosProject.com.

L’shanah tovah tikateivu, wishing a sweet, prosperous and healthy year for you and all the readers.

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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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 11 September 2014 by admin

By Linda Wisch-Davidsohn

Special Birthday Greetings to Dallasite Ruth Swaab

Good wishes to Ruth Swaab, who celebrated her 90th birthday last weekend with family and friends. Ruth, a native of Toledo, Ohio, has been a Dallas resident for 50 years — and a faithful TJP reader and subscriber.

I spoke with Ruth last Friday to get the details on her birthday festivities, out of town guests — and her secret for staying involved and active. I want to preface the following with a note that during our conversation, Ruth mentioned that she’d had no air conditioning for almost two days, but thankfully, the new AC unit was being installed as we spoke. She also mentioned that she is considered the matriarch of the family.

Festivities began with a Saturday evening dinner hosted for Ruth, her family and out of town guests by good friends Carole and Barry Cohen at their home. The celebration continued with a luncheon in Ruth’s honor for 83 guests at Glen Eagles Country Club in Plano. Ruth and her son, David, entertained family and out-of-towners with dinner at Ruth’s home Sunday evening.

Joining the festivities were Ruth’s niece, Barbara Goldberg, of Naples, Florida; nephew, Jed Pauker, of Los Angeles; niece and nephew, Molly Pauker and husband, Willie Schatz of Washington, D.C.; niece, Marsha Wiener Simon and great-niece, Emily Simon, both of Toledo, Ohio; and Ruth’s close friend, Elaine Orman of Tucson, Arizona.

While speaking to Ruth, I asked her what kept her so young? Ruth replied that as a new nonagenarian, she is a very busy lady.

She is a member of two book clubs — the Prestonwood Newcomer’s book club, and Hadassah’s book club. She is currently reading “Ten Green Bottles: The True story of One Family’s Journey from War-Torn Austria to The Ghettos of Shanghai,” by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan for her Hadassah book club.

She uses her “Silver Sneakers” membership to exercise three times weekly at the Aaron Family JCC. Additionally, she stated that she “knits like crazy,” and knitted the dress that she wore for her luncheon.

Ruth mentioned that she exercises her mind by playing mind-stretching games that keep her sharp mentally. She also told me that she really knows her way around a computer.

Congratulations to this remarkable and wonderful lady. She was a delight to talk to.

Ezra Nishli, 2½ months old, charms his great grandparents, Selwyn and Dorothy Heller. Ezra is being held by his mother, Ilana (Heller) Nishli. | Photos: Karen Heller

Ezra Nishli, 2½ months old, charms his great grandparents, Selwyn and Dorothy Heller. Ezra is being held by his mother, Ilana (Heller) Nishli. | Photos: Karen Heller

Ezra Asher Nishli visits Dallas family over Labor Day weekend

Ezra Asher Nishli, 2½ months old, flew from Los Angeles to visit his four great grandparents in Dallas over the Labor Day weekend.

Ezra Nishli getting ready to swim with his great grandfather, Dr Joe Blumenau, as his great grandmother, Helene Blumenau looks on.

Ezra Nishli getting ready to swim with his great grandfather, Dr Joe Blumenau, as his great grandmother, Helene Blumenau looks on.

He brought enormous joy to Selwyn and Dorothy Heller and Dr. Joe and Helene Blumenau.

Ezra is the son of Ariel and Ilana (Heller) Nishli, and the grandson of Reid and Karen Heller of Dallas and Yehuda and Yaffa Nishli of New York.

NCJW announces Opening Meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 16 at Scottish Rite Hospital

The National Council of Jewish Women Greater Dallas Section’s opening meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16 at Scottish Rite Hospital. The topic for the event is “Lurking in the Shadows: Bringing Human Trafficking to Light.”

Stacy Blank, NCJW vice president and co-chair of the event said “our goal is to alert our members and others to the serious issue — and widespread nature — of human trafficking in North Texas. Few people realize that thousands of people — women, men and children — are trafficked every year in DFW. These are people whose lives are controlled by others, who are working under duress in a wide variety of occupations: prostitution, agriculture, domestic service and many others.”

Alisa Jordheim, executive director of the Justice Society and author of “Made in the USA: The Sex Trafficking of America’s Children,” will read from her book. Bill Bernstein, co-chair of The Freedom Network USA and deputy director of Mosaic Family Services in Dallas, will speak, along with representative of law enforcement. The Diamond Doctor will underwrite the event.

Tickets are $18, and available online at www.ncjwdallas.org and through the NCJW Greater Dallas office at info@ncjwdallas.org.

Now in its second century of service to the Greater Dallas community, NCJW is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of live for women, children, and families by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms. For additional information, go to www.ncjwdallas.org.

A blast from the past: Reba Wadel BBG reunion

In September 2001, Reba Wadel BBG held “a wonderful reunion party” for chapter members during the 1970s at the home of Jo Reingold. We’ve been told that the attendance was great — 65 members, beaus, noms and chapter advisors attended.

Wadel BBG is having another reunion, however this time, the group is inviting anyone who was involved with Wadel from 1965-1985, a 20-year span! The gathering will be open to members, former members, beaus, etc.

The drop-in house party that promises food and fun will be held Sunday, Oct. 5 at 637 Downing Drive in Richardson, (south of Beltline, off Floyd Road). Festivities will begin at 4 p.m. and end at 8 p.m.

To RSVP, please contact hostesses Jo Pakowsky Reingold at 972-479-9856, Susan (Dorum) Shniderman at 214-729-1726, or Susie Salfield Avnery at 469-233-0222.

Wadel is asking their guests to bring a food item for the North Texas Food Bank and a $2 donation to offset the expenses of the reunion.

Don’t forget that if you have any photos or scrapbooks that you’d like to share, bring them for everyone to enjoy! Parking will be available at a parking lot on Floyd, just south of Belt Line, on the West side that can be used (RISD Administration Building).

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Temple Emanu-El ‘roots’ for the Dallas Zoo

Temple Emanu-El ‘roots’ for the Dallas Zoo

Posted on 11 September 2014 by admin

Temple Emanu-El donated eight massive red oak root balls Wednesday, Sept. 3, to the Dallas Zoo to enrich the lives of the five female elephants in the Giants of the Savanna exhibit.

The root balls, from 43-year-old red oak trees, were excavated from Temple’s campus as part of a $32 million building project that will provide new learning, social and worship spaces.

From left, Heidi Kutchin, Rabbi Ana Bonnheim and son Michah Knight, Rabbi Amy Ross and daughter Leona, Michelle Whitman and daughter Ava, Shelly Sender and Rabbi Debra Robbins | Photo: Dallas Zoo

From left, Heidi Kutchin, Rabbi Ana Bonnheim and son Michah Knight, Rabbi Amy Ross and daughter Leona, Michelle Whitman and daughter Ava, Shelly Sender and Rabbi Debra Robbins | Photo: Dallas Zoo

A local artist, Sean Springer, is working with Temple to preserve the wood from the trees for use in the new chapel, and knew that elephants love root balls. So, Temple connected with the Dallas Zoo and the root balls were delivered to the elephant habitat in the Wilds of the Savanna exhibit.

Ava Whitman, Micah Knight and Leona Ross share a moment while the “Golden Girls,” the five older female elephants at the Dallas Zoo, enjoy a feast of root balls donated by Temple Emanu-El. | Photo: Jennifer Richman

Ava Whitman, Micah Knight and Leona Ross share a moment while the “Golden Girls,” the five older female elephants at the Dallas Zoo, enjoy a feast of root balls donated by Temple Emanu-El. | Photo: Jennifer Richman

The root balls will be used as enrichment to stimulate the elephants’ natural behavior, according to Zoo specialists. “This will give our five ‘Golden Girls’ a chance to explore something new in their habitat and enhance their well-being,” said Karen Gibson, Dallas Zoo’s curator of elephants.

A group from the Early Childhood Education Center at Temple Emanu-El visited the Dallas Zoo last week to see elephants munch on root balls donated by Temple. Children, staff, parents and clergy watched in delight.

Submitted by Connie Dufner

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9-11 details on display at presidential library

9-11 details on display at presidential library

Posted on 11 September 2014 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebIt’s exactly 13 years since the Twin Towers were brought down by a terrorist movement that has grown to menacing adulthood in the interim.

September 11, 2001 — A day that lives in infamy, more so even than Pearl Harbor, as proclaimed on Dec. 7, 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt.

It is one of those dates, like the day of President Kennedy’s assassination, which brought every American to a complete stop. None of us will ever forget where we were, what we were doing, when we heard the news of planes flying into New York City’s World Trade Center.

Dallas will forever be remembered as the site of John F. Kennedy’s death. Now, with the opening of the President George W. Bush Library/Museum on the SMU campus, we’ll be forever reminded that there was a Dallasite in the White House on that fateful, fatal day 13 years ago. If you haven’t yet been to the nation’s newest presidential “monument,” I suggest you get there as quickly as possible.

Every president wants his library/museum to reflect the best of his tenure, the most important things that happened while he was in office. Was George W. “lucky” to have been president on that fateful, fatal day? That was his chance to shine as America’s supreme commander, and by all accounts, he did just that.

While much that occurred during his administration still raises controversial questions, 9-11 is not one that does so. Bush quickly calmed the country and sparked a patriotic upswing unmatched since World War II.

And what I think is the best representation anywhere of what happened in the crucial moments of that fateful, fatal day is on display in his Presidential Library/Museum: an arresting series of stop-action photographs of the actual events, the striking of the Twin Towers in awesome, horrific detail.

I haven’t yet visited the memorial museum now open on the actual New York site. I did visit when the area was surrounded by raw fencing on which so many had written so much; fencing turned into a living memorial that by its very nature was destined to be only temporary. I have seen a chunk of twisted Twin Towers girder on display along with blowups of media coverage of the event at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum. But for my money — and of course it costs money to enter — the Bush’s take on 9-11 is by far the best anywhere.

For some simpler, more personalized angles on today’s historic date, I recommend a couple of tales, offered as true, from a little book called “Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart” by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, published just one year after 9-11.

There’s the amazing story of Ari Schonbrun, who would already have been in his 101st floor office, but because he had stayed at home an extra few minutes to help his son with some homework, was “only” on the 78th floor, waiting to transfer to an upper-level elevator, when the first plane hit above and all electricity was lost. Ari was able to help a severely injured woman grope her way down a dark, smoke-filled stairway, then at her insistence got into an ambulance with her and rode away to safety — just as the second plane hit.

And another is about the little shul near the Twin Towers where Orthodox professionals would say their morning prayers together before going off to work. On that fateful, fatal day, nine men waited and waited for a 10th to make the necessary minyan; they were all worried about being late for work when an old man, a stranger, finally arrived. The nine who had waited all officed in the Towers; the stranger who had made them late disappeared just as their prayers ended, just as they heard the first explosive blasts…

Maybe not such a “small” miracle at all!

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What’s in a word?

What’s in a word?

Posted on 11 September 2014 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Readers,

friedforweb2I would like to share with you part of a dialogue I am in the midst of with a local young man:

Rabbi Fried,

I noticed in the Babel story: “עם אחד ושפה אחת” which simply says the one people spoke one language, and there is no mention that the language is Hebrew. Is it aligned with Orthodox tradition to say that the language could have been a language other than Hebrew?

— Steve K.

Dear Steve,

The Talmud and Rashi comment that “one language” means “lashon hakodesh,” meaning “the holy tongue,” otherwise known as Hebrew; as it is the “one” language, namely the language of “the One.” It’s the language God spoke to create the universe, and the language which our tradition holds is what all of mankind spoke up until the moment that God “mixed up their tongues” in the Tower of Babel story.

Dear Rabbi,

I’m a bit confused how a language could be used to create the universe for a couple of reasons:

1. God is omnipotent, so it doesn’t make much sense for him to rely on something else such as a language to create the universe instead of doing so directly.

2. Language is a method of communicating concepts — it would be a higher form of power to simply create things from ideas instead of taking the extra step of turning those concepts into language. I’m assuming here that the language would be used in some transcendental fashion since God has no mouth, and it physically wouldn’t make sense for the words to actually be spoken.

I mean, I get that there were 10 utterances, but to say that it was in Hebrew instead of some divine mechanism that transcends human language doesn’t really make sense.

— Steve

Dear Steve,

God’s omnipotence is not a contradiction to His utilizing words to carry out His will, as we shall see.

As you may have heard, we believe there are 10 spiritual worlds, or “Sefiros,” which emanate from God’s throne and descend, step by step, down to this world. God expresses His will and bestows both His blessings and exacts judgment through the medium of these 10 levels of Godliness.

The omnipotent God certainly could carry out His will directly without going through all these layers, (and actually does so, at times, such as through open miracles), so why all these 10 levels?

A flesh and blood king has a chain of command, from his closest advisors down to the runners who deliver his messages. The king’s subjects wouldn’t respect him as the royalty he is if he dealt with them all directly, hence the need of a multilayered chain of command.

The Heavenly King, in order that we should recognize His royalty and greatness, established a heavenly “chain of command” of the 10 Sefiros through which He would carry out his will.

An important part of that “chain of command” are God’s “words”; the 10 utterances by which He created the universe over the six days of creation. Those utterances coincide with the 10 Sefiros and actually form their essence, the understanding of which is beyond the scope of this letter.

Another point of this is that when God “spoke,” the main thing He actually created was the word itself! The word, “dibur” in Hebrew, is the same spelling as “davar,” the object. This means two things.

Firstly, the object is nothing more than the external expression of a deeper meaning; namely the word. The dibur is crystallized into the davar.

Secondly, whatever concept God wanted to express in the world when he “spoke” was deeply programmed into the fiber of that object created. From here on, the purpose of that object or creation, its very essence, is to continue to “speak” that word of the expression of God’s will by virtue of its very existence. The davar, the object, remains the dibur, it continues to speak that which God spoke to bring it into existence.

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

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Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 11 September 2014 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Joe Klein recognized for 50 years as a Master Mason

On Aug. 23, at Tabernacle Masonic Lodge in Fort Worth, Joe Klein, accompanied by his wife Hannah, was presented with physical recognition of having been a Master Mason for 50 years. The award; a framed certificate and unique lapel pin was presented in the prescribed ceremony by the District Deputy Grand Master of the 64th District of the Grand Lodge of Texas.

Joe Klein and his wife Hannah at his 50-year Master Mason ceremony Aug. 23.

Joe Klein and his wife Hannah at his 50-year Master Mason ceremony Aug. 23.

Joe became a member of the largest and oldest fraternal organization in the world Aug. 19, 1964 in Del City Lodge, Del City, Oklahoma. During travels throughout his career he visited Masonic lodges and met brethren in Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore as well as the United States.

After being transferred for General Dynamics to Fort Worth in 1967, Joe moved his membership to Ridglea Lodge and in 1972, to Tabernacle Lodge in Wedgwood. He joined and was active in the Scottish Rite as a 32nd Degree Mason and also became a member of the local Shriners.

After retiring in 1995, Joe went into the lodge officers lineup and served as Worshipful Master of the Lodge in the 1999-2000 year. In subsequent years he operated the Lodge blood bank for Carter Blood and personally reached the 5-gallon donor level at the age of 84. Blood collected by the Lodge was specifically earmarked for use by the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas.

Joe has made it through 86 years of age and every moment of his Masonic life has been a blessing.

Election season unplugged

Daytimers will be in for a treat Wednesday, Oct. 8 when Jim Riddlesperger will analyze the November election scene.

Riddlesperger, a professor, has toiled in the TCU political science department since 1982. Through the years, he has taught a slew of students in a bunch of different courses, though he waxes poetic mostly in the arena of American politics, focusing on the presidency and Texas politics. For his teaching efforts, he has occasionally had the pleasure of receiving awards, including the TCU Honors Professor of the Year in 2012, and has never, to his knowledge, been hung in effigy. He knows how lucky he is to share the academic journey with students, many of whom have enjoyed the promise of the pursuit of happiness and built successful careers.

He co-authored Lone Star Leaders: Power and Personality in the Texas Congressional Delegation (TCU Press, 2011), The Austin-Boston Connection: Five Decades of Democratic House Leadership, 1937-1989 (Texas A&M Press, 2009) and Texas Politics (Cengage, 2011 and 2013). He co-edited a collection of works authored by Speaker Jim Wright entitled The Wright Stuff (TCU Press, 2013), Presidential Leadership and Civil Rights Policy (Greenwood, 1995) and edited Special Focus: Balance of Power between Congress and the President (New York: College Board, 2008). He has published an assortment of research articles, chapters in edited books, and encyclopedia entries — more than five dozen at the moment — to keep his mind from wandering too far from reality. His research has filled much needed gaps in the academic literature and might cure, if only temporarily, stubborn cases of insomnia. His record has assured Riddlesperger one of the biggest names in the discipline.

He has served in a number of administrative roles, most notably nine years as department chair, before his promotion to ordinary faculty status. He served as president of the Southwestern Political Science Association for the 2010-2011 year. He has also authored many meaningless memos that have processed the agenda of the university without appreciably stemming the unending flow of such communiques.

A frequent consultant to the news media concerning politics and elections, his commentary has filled what would otherwise be dead time on television, has engaged literally dozens of people on radio, and has provided newsprint that would help line the finest of birdcages. Hopefully, such media contributions, along with frequent presentations to community groups, have had a small salutary effect. He also has masochistic tendencies, serving as Chief Reader to the College Board’s AP U.S. Government exam.

His marriage to Dr. Kristina Riddlesperger (associate professor of professional practice in Nursing at TCU), has given him a lifetime best friend and partner in crime and has gifted him with two adult sons. He has decided life is too short to focus on elevated golf scores since humility is an attribute he has earned in abundance already. Through it all, he is reminded that if education is a serious enterprise, it also must reflect a joie de vivre to make it worthwhile.

As always, the program begins at noon at Beth-El Congregation. The program and lunch costs $9. It will be catered by Boopas Bagels with several bagel sandwich choices along with chips, cookies, coffee and tea. The program only is $5. Make your reservations by calling Larry Steckler, 817-927-2736 or 520-990-3155 or Hugh Lamensdorf at 817-738-1428. You can also sign up at the Beth-El website, www.bethelfw.org.

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High Holiday preparation

High Holiday preparation

Posted on 11 September 2014 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

seymourforweb2Every day I get more emails from various Jewish companies selling great things for Rosh Hashanah — just got to have that newest apples and honey dish! Nothing against great marketing but is that what the holiday is all about?

Too often, getting ready for the holidays means thinking about what to wear and where to go for dinner. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are important if they get us ready and in the right mood for the holiday.

The Hebrew word “Kavanah” is usually translated as “intention,” which is a very interesting word. In the dictionary, intention means the following: 1) an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides your planned action; 2) an act of intending; a volition that you intend to carry out. Of course, Kavanah also had the more spiritual meaning and connection not only to people but also to God.

So we approach these holidays reflecting on the past year and making a plan for the future. It is not like New Year’s Resolutions where the expectation is breaking them. It is making a deeper commitment to make changes in your life.

The mitzvah of the shofar is to hear it (not to blow it!). We blow the shofar each day for the month of Elul to get ready. But for the mitzvah to work, we must hear the shofar as a call to action.

This favorite Chelm story is a wonderful one for children of all ages:

Long ago there was a town called Chelm that was filled with foolish people. They didn’t know that they were foolish, but most of the things they did make us all wonder. Chelm was having a terrible time with fires burning down homes. A Chelmite went to a neighboring town to see how they handled the problem. When a fire broke out, a man ran to the center of town with a big bass drum and started banging away. All the townspeople rushed out with buckets of water and quickly put the fire out. The Chelmite decided to quickly buy a big bass drum for the town of Chelm. He returned to town and waited. When the next fire started, the Chelmite ran to the center of town with his drum and started banging away. All the people rushed out, listened to the drumming and watched the house burn down. They all wondered why the bass drum didn’t solve their problem.

This is just like the shofar. Hearing the sound is to make us remember to change our ways. If we hear the sounds and do not change our ways, we are just like the Chelmites. The shofar is not magic — it is a plaintive memory jolt!

The important step is to change your actions and work to be a better person. Good intentions only take us so far in life if there is not the follow through. We must hear the shofar, hear the individual and collective message to take action. Only then can we hope for a good year!

Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.

Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Should pregnant women fast?

Should pregnant women fast?

Posted on 04 September 2014 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Rabbi Fried,

Research seems to indicate that fasting by pregnant women can lead to “smaller babies who will be more prone to learning disabilities in adulthood.”

Since these studies show that fasting can have permanent negative effects for the child and only makes pregnancy more difficult for the woman, why would the Torah require women to fast on Yom Kippur while pregnant?

— Marcie

Dear Marcie,

friedforweb2The research you cite, as well as many other studies, indeed show that for Muslim women to fast throughout the month of Ramadan could potentially have negative repercussions upon their pregnancies. This is mostly confined to reduced birth rates.

Most studies show that long-term intelligence is not usually affected; there are, however contradictory results of studies in that area. Be that as it may, these studies reflect only the effects of fasting every day for an entire month. They do not reveal any danger whatsoever for a mere one-day fast.

On the contrary, most studies show that there are no negative repercussions for a one-day fast, provided the mother takes certain precautions.

That being said, Jewish law requires that a pregnant woman fast provided she does not fall into a high-risk category. (This could include anemic women, women with a history of premature contractions, women on bed rest, abnormal blood pressure, an IVF pregnancy in its early stages [or later stages if the infertility doctor deems the pregnancy of risk], some fevers, angina or other infection, gestational diabetes, bleeding, any threat of early miscarriage, later stages of a twin pregnancy, dehydration due to vomiting and/or diarrhea, extreme weakness or fatigue).

In short, any condition the woman’s doctor deems as a risk should be discussed with her rabbi, who will, almost always, relax the obligation to fast.

This is not a loophole in the halachah, or Jewish law; rather it is the original intention of the law. Jewish law is not a rigid, all or nothing, black-and-white set of laws. It is, a fluid living body of laws that takes into consideration the human condition.

Under the circumstances stated above, the woman is not simply released from the obligation to fast and she may then choose as she wishes. It becomes forbidden to fast according to Jewish law!

The very act of fasting, which is a mitzvah for most, becomes a sin for her, should she decide to be extra punctilious; putting herself and her pregnancy at risk is not a religious feather in her cap, quite the opposite. That is how eclectic and heterogeneous the Torah laws can be in practice.

While we’re on the subject, there are a number of points every pregnant woman should know before Yom Kippur. Firstly, even though she feels completely healthy and strong, she should always discuss her fast with her doctor to be sure he or she has no concerns, and to pass it by her rabbi as well.

In addition, the pregnant woman should ease herself off caffeine a good few days before the fast, and drink water and other fluids. She should be very well hydrated before the onset of the fast.

If she will do a lot better by taking it easy and staying in bed, (this is not the year for going to shul, especially in Texas!), who will take care of the other kids? A hot flash to their husbands: unless you have made other acceptable arrangements, it becomes your job to stay home; it’s far more important to God that your wife makes it through the fast as easily as possible, than you be in shul for Yom Kippur!

Even with all that, if the woman experiences any danger signs during the fast, she should break the fast immediately and not wait until she can speak to a doctor or rabbi. This would include bleeding (even slight), contractions, a decrease in fetal movement, blurred vision or intense headache, extreme fatigue or weakness, or dizziness.

May God bless all the pregnant women with healthy pregnancies and births in the New Year ahead of us!

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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A Taste of Red

A Taste of Red

Posted on 04 September 2014 by admin

Tarrant County’s first kosher chili cook-off

About 150 people enjoyed the first Tarrant County Chili Cook-off held Sept. 1 at Hillel Academy in North Richland Hills. Top prize went to Chabad of Fort Worth whose team was spearheaded by Aaron Boardman.

Rabbi Dov Mandel said he hopes to get feedback from participants on how to improve the event for next year. He added, “Special thanks to Dallas Kosher for not just supervising, but for also assisting in making the program a success. Of course, the biggest thanks goes to Mr. Reuven (Rick) Klotz who behind the scenes worked very hard making sure everyone had everything they needed, and for putting up with me.”

From left, Congregation Beth Shalom Brotherhood President Mark Lewis, Phil Kabakoff, and Larry Goodman perfect their chili at the Tarrant County Kosher Chili Cook-off held at Hillel Academy Sept. 1.

From left, Congregation Beth Shalom Brotherhood President Mark Lewis, Phil Kabakoff, and Larry Goodman perfect their chili at the Tarrant County Kosher Chili Cook-off held at Hillel Academy Sept. 1.

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