Archive | January, 2015

Making Mensches

Making Mensches

Posted on 22 January 2015 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

seymourforweb2“Mensch on a Bench” — good idea or crazy? Have you heard about Neal Hoffman and his “mensch marketing”? Hoffman and his wife are an interfaith couple raising their sons Jewish. The December dilemma is different for every family but Neal did not want to give his son an “Elf on the Shelf” — he wanted an alternative. As a previous worker in the toy industry, he had experience with toy development. He developed “Mensch On a Bench” for Hanukkah and took it all the way to ABC’s Shark Tank. He got two offers and more importantly, got us all interested and talking.

Great story? Yes, but what motivated the JCC to buy the enormous “Mensch on a Bench” that sat in the lobby during Hanukkah and now resides outside my office? Hoffman focused on Hanukkah and wrote a book to go with the mensch and is now coming out with a Passover follow up. Again, great ideas but being a mensch is not just about the holidays — it is about how we live our lives and what we hope our children will become. Parents in the “old days” would tell their children, “Be a mensch!” We didn’t always understand, but over time the expectation sunk in. We were supposed to be good people, do the right thing, stand up for others — all of this when it was often hard to make those choices.

The actual giant “mensch” is a visual reminder for us, but especially for children. This past week, we introduced our mensch who finally got named after much discussion and voting. Mendel Hershel, the Mensch (Mendy for short) was visited by each of our early childhood classes. After shaking his hand or patting his belly or giving him a hug, we talked about what it means to be a mensch and let every child (and teacher) know that being a mensch starts young and you are never too old. Now as our children walk by Mendy, they greet him and remind themselves how they should treat others, the world and themselves. Along with our monthly Jewish values, we are teaching and building “mensches” for today and tomorrow.

Now Neal Hoffman is continuing to develop and market — he wants the mensch to be everywhere and have lots of “mensch themed stuff.” Am I a believer in marketing Judaism with “cool stuff”? I’m for whatever works to get kids and adults thinking about the messages of Judaism. It is like Hillel who was challenged to explain Judaism while standing on one foot. His quick message was, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you (paraphrased a bit). Easy — not really but the hard part was the next line that he said before putting his foot down emphatically — “THE REST IS COMMENTARY. GO AND STUDY!” Let’s get the essence and then comes further learning!! So, today and everyday — BE A MENSCH!

Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.

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

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Bringing the homeland home

Bringing the homeland home

Posted on 22 January 2015 by admin

By Deb Silverthorn

MOMentum or moMENtum? Either way the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, with 100 partner organizations and 4,500 participants since 2009, offers adults who are not Shabbat observant an opportunity to travel to Israel for lectures, tours, travel time, down time and community service.

“As a part of the JWRP, women explore the ‘whys’ of Judaism,” Dallas JWRP co-leader Hudy Abrams said. “They get a real taste of the richness and beauty of what it means to live a meaningful Jewish life, and when they return they’re able to plug that meaningfulness into the many opportunities we offer so they cannot only grow their own inspiration, but they can ignite others as well!”

“A Jewish woman is constantly juggling and generally has little time to nurture her own spiritual and emotional well-being. Going on this trip with like-minded women from their community, allows them the breathing space to pause and take in all this incredible journey has to offer,” said Hudy Abrams who, with Devorah Zakon, led the 2014 tour primarily comprised of women with children at home under the age of 18. Renowned speaker and author Lori Palatnik is the founder and director of the international program.

Abrams added, “For eight days, they’re no longer someone’s wife, mother, or daughter — only themselves. It’s incredibly elevating to take this ‘timeout’ and fill it with an experience of a lifetime in Israel”

The 2014 “Israelites,” they call themselves, are Michele Alkalay, Gabriella Aronowitz, Jessica Behar, Leigh Bennett, Brenda Bliss, Sharon Blumberg, Tracy Brand, Marie Brown, Michelle Caplan, Amy Cuevas, Joey Daniel, Donna David, Lauren Davidoff, Caryn Fonberg, Stephanie Friedman, Myra Gingold, Stephanie Israelstam, Kim Kaliser, Tracy Kaye, Liz Kleinman, Sharron Laizerovitch, Carol Margolis, Julie Miller, Shawn Miller-Mandel, Shelly Mendelson, Joelle Novick, Alice Ovadia, Summer Pailet, Kay Ellen Pollack, Allyson Raskin, Alyson Ray, Erica Robins, Heather Shapan, Dana Starr, Debra Thomas, Thomy-Sue Toledo, Dina Warshauer, Wendy Weinman, Sheri Wigder, Danielle Wilson and Aimee Wortendyke.

“Every Friday many of us come back together to recreate a bit of the moment, to bake challahs, to laugh and to take it all back in,” Summer Pailet said. “The feeling that comes from this program is all-encompassing and allows you to want to live as a Jew everyday.” (left to right) Thomy-Sue Toledo, Dana Starr, Summer Pailet, Hudy Abrams, Joey Daniel and Sharon Blumberg. | Photo: Deb Silverthorn

“Every Friday many of us come back together to recreate a bit of the moment, to bake challahs, to laugh and to take it all back in,” Summer Pailet said. “The feeling that comes from this program is all-encompassing and allows you to want to live as a Jew everyday.” (left to right) Thomy-Sue Toledo, Dana Starr, Summer Pailet, Hudy Abrams, Joey Daniel and Sharon Blumberg. | Photo: Deb Silverthorn

Rabbi Nasanya Zakon and Rabbi Shlomo Abrams led men’s tour participants Jeff Hoppenstein, Merrill Kaliser, Jeff Pailet, David Raucher and Mark Weiner.

“This is about removing barriers,” Zakon said. “All they see is work, survival, some sports, financial stress and trying to earn enough money to be considered, what is in their own minds, successful. Often we lose the big picture. What we learned is that we can be awesome dad’s, husbands and Jews, and we came back with transformed perspectives.”

“I wanted to relate to the people that felt that Israel was their home and feel that fierce loyalty,” Tracy Kaye said. “From the time the pilot said, ‘welcome home,’ to witnessing the brave soldiers kissing their Israeli flag because a corner accidentally touched the ground. From the guides and rabbis to the sanitation workers and mailman with tzitzit and kippot, I was finally able to see Israel through their eyes and feel their pride. I felt God as never before — His presence and love. I now realize that the ability to pray has always been within me.”

“I wanted to bond with a Dallas group of women and to bring more Judaism into my family. What I got was a truer understanding of who I am as a woman, wife, mother and daughter,” Julie Miller said. “I woke up and brought back the light within me.”

Landing at DFW isn’t the end. In the last year, programs such as “Rav Gav” Friedman speaking engagements and the JLC Project Inspire Shabbaton and evening with Charlie Harary have enriched Dallas’ Jewish community overall. While many began their travels knowing only a few other travelers, participants from both programs insist they’re now family with many from around the world.

“Israel needs ‘us’ and by the bonding that took place, and the spirit of the trip brought home, we can support Israel and Judaism in an even greater manner,” said Merrill Kaliser, who discovered 145 new “best friends” from around the world on his trip.

“This is about removing barriers,” Rabbi Nasanya Zakon said. “Often we lose the big picture. What we learnt is we can be awesome dads, husbands and Jews, and we came back with transformed perspectives.” (left to right) Rabbi Shlomo Abrams, David Raucher, Jeff Pailet, Merrill Kaliser, Jeff Hoppenstein, Mark Weiner and Rabbi Nasanya Zakon. | Photo: Courtesy JLC

“This is about removing barriers,” Rabbi Nasanya Zakon said. “Often we lose the big picture. What we learnt is we can be awesome dads, husbands and Jews, and we came back with transformed perspectives.” (left to right) Rabbi Shlomo Abrams, David Raucher, Jeff Pailet, Merrill Kaliser, Jeff Hoppenstein, Mark Weiner and Rabbi Nasanya Zakon. | Photo: Courtesy JLC

This tour is co-sponsored by The Jewish Learning Center (JLC), led by Rabbi and Hudy Abrams, and DATA of Plano, led by Rabbi and Devorah Zakon. Both organizations host classes and programs that many participants attend regularly including JLC’s TOGA — Torah with Yoga, Foundations of Life, Kabbalah of Love, and Discover your Yeud – Unleash Your Purpose, and DATA’s Build the Marriage of YOUR Dreams seminars, Coffee and Questions women’s group and Frontier Girls and Quest Boys programs. Many of the women meet each Friday to prepare challah — a concept new to most. At 9 a.m. a group prepares the dough, leaving it to rise — and at noon the braiders arrive to create their edible art.

Support for the program is essential, and a root-funding campaign is underway. Sharon Blumberg, a 2014 participant, makes a donation of 20 percent of sales using the code ISRAEL 14 at checkout for CHOOZE products (also providing a 20 percent coupon to the buyer), and she and Wendy Weinman, who teaches TOGA, share the profits of that class with the program.

“JWRP makes Judaism relatable — Torah for the times, bringing together those who are observant and not, those who belong to every branch of our religion and those who are unaffiliated,” Blumberg said. “We’ve always celebrated Shabbat, I went to day school, we live in a Jewish home — but I now do all that with a different pride and joy. This trip has enriched every part of my life. It’s the best ‘TED moment,’ the best ‘Oprah AHA,’ it’s the best sermons ever written and the best girl-time getaway — all encompassed into 10 days of treasure.”

Summer Pailet and Aimee Wortendyke, previous JWRP/Dallas participants, returned this year as madrichot — counselor co-leaders. “Every chance we have to get together, we do, and we’re all connected to our families, our Jewish souls and how Judaism affects our lives,” said Pailet, highly responsible for more than tripling the number of Dallas participants and filling a bus. She was honored in Washington, D.C. with the JWRP Participant Leadership Award by the National JWRP leaders last spring. “I went on this trip and couldn’t wait to get back to share it.”

“Nothing  I can say will do justice to the impact Summer is making. She’s taken her inspiration and multiplied it a millionfold,” Abrams said. “Her greatest pleasure is for people to live to their greatest potential. She’s there to do whatever it takes to light up the lives of everyone she meets and it’s absolutely contagious.”

Contagious is an understatement and it’s not uncommon for spouses to participate in the trip after one another. Pailet’s husband, Jeff, went on this year’s men’s trip. Jeff Hoppenstein went at the recommendation of his wife, Janet, who experienced JWRP five years ago and a year later as a group leader. “This program promised a unique opportunity to not only see magnificent Israeli sights but to have an amazing learning experience and access to some of the premier scholars,” he said, echoing Kaliser’s enthusiasm for making friends from around the world. “I made this trip a priority because I sensed it would help me grow individually, paying dividends to my kids and wife. The trip met and exceeded my expectations.”

For Hoppenstein, the trip reinforced his already strong Jewish identity. “I now pledge to celebrate Shabbos each week and to incorporate personal prayer on a weekly basis. I have a greater respect for those who choose to live in Israel and a pride for all that Israel has accomplished,” he said. “I’m more so inspired to continue my Jewish education and to encourage my kids to connect to Jewish activities, and I now have the tools to be a better husband and methods to forge a closer relationship with my wife.”

“Men find it hard to justify being away from work and family for a week by themselves, but spiritual and physical connection to the rich beauty of our heritage was well worth the sacrifice,” said Jeff Pailet. “This trip has opened a real lasting awareness and connection to Judaism through education and by being open to receive. It was a trip of a lifetime that I believe was a gift for my family!”

For Rabbi Abrams, bringing the Dallas group to the yeshiva he studied at in Israel is a culmination of 10 years of a dream. “This is the dream we trained for, turned into a reality,” he said. “I experienced the mutual nachas of sharing my students with my teacher, and vice versa.”

“The feeling that comes from this program is all-encompassing and allows you to want to live as a Jew everyday,” said Pailet, who credits the changes her family has undergone in the last year, which she calls a treasure, to the Abrams, Zakons and to JWRP. “When you are connected, when you have this sisterhood, the stewardship to Godliness lets you live life in 3-D, fully integrated and it’s nothing less than incredible. It’s magic.”

For more information contact Hudy Abrams at or visit To make a donation to the Dallas JWRP program, visit

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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 22 January 2015 by admin

By Linda Wisch-Davidsohn

Enjoy Fiddler on the Roof at Richardson High School‘s Eagle Repertory Theatre

As the mom of a former high school musical theatre student, I still remember the joy I felt watching a group of young actors perform notable classic musical theatre. I just discovered that the well-loved musical “Fiddler on the Roof” will be produced and performed by Richardson High School’s Eagle Repertory Theatre with performances in the RHS Auditorium in the evening at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 22-24. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 25. Tickets for the event are priced reasonably from $5-$12 and can be purchased at the door or bought online at

The event will be produced under special agreement with Music Theatre International, Inc. Tevye’s story, and “Fiddler” is a reminder to me that life is about “Tradition, ” and that through the years, as we grow, we are still talking about the same issues, albeit differently, and perhaps facing some of the same conflicts that Jews have always faced.

Ladino Day Program and Appreciation Week of Judeo-Spanish Culture begins Sunday at SMU

The Second International Day of Ladino, which will be celebrated in Dallas Jan. 25, 2015, will be the first of a series of programs of a week focusing on Judeo-Spanish history and culture. The series is sponsored by Jewish Studies of Southern Methodist University with the enthusiastic support of its director, Dr. Shira Lander. The public is invited to all the programs free of charge.

The initial program of the Sephardic Culture series, which marks the Second International Day of Ladino, will take place from 2-5 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, at McCord Auditorium, third floor of Dallas Hall, 3225 University Blvd. It will feature lectures, music and personal stories related to the Judeo-Spanish language, history and culture. Dr. Devin Naar, director of the Sephardic Studies Program at the University of Washington in Seattle, will address the audience via video. Rachel Amado Bortnick, native speaker and scholar of Ladino, will speak on the basic differences between Spanish and Ladino, and Dina Eliezer, educational director at Congregation Shearith Israel and also a native speaker of Ladino, will speak on Ladino in rabbinic responsa and other manuscripts. The present and future state of Ladino will be revealed through presentations by various Dallasites, and the day will honor the memory of Sarina Elias de Waisbuh, Monastir-born Sephardic Holocaust survivor, through the words of her daughter Ghita Torrico. Music will add a joyous atmosphere, along with audience participation. Rachel Bortnick and Dina Eliezer have diligently prepared the program. Disability parking is available directly behind Dallas Hall on University Boulevard. General parking is available in Lot E behind Dallas Hall off Daniel Avenue.

Dr. Pamela Patton, professor and chair of the Department of Art History at SMU, will lecture on her slide show of Jewish art in medieval Spain. This will take place at the Owen Fine Arts Center, Greer Garson Theater Screening Room 3531, 6101 Hillcrest Avenue, from 12-1 p.m., Monday, Jan. 26. Parking is available in the Binkley Avenue Parking Center.

“Saved by Language” tells the story of Moris Albahari, a Sephardic Jew from Sarajevo (born 1930), who spoke Ladino/Judeo-Spanish, his mother tongue, to survive the Holocaust. The 55 minute-long film, made by Ladino students Bryan Kirschen and Susanna Zaraysky, will have its American premiere at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 28, when it is shown at SMU’s Garson Theater Screening Room 3531 in the Owen Fine Arts Center, 6101 Hillcrest Ave. Rachel Bortnick will introduce the film and a discussion will follow the screening. Parking is available in the Binkley Avenue Parking Center.

Dr. Eric White, curator of Special Collections at the Bridwell Library, will present manuscripts and early Ladino books in the Library’s collection. Feel free to gather from 4-5 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 29, in the Benefactor’s Room, second floor of Perkins School of Theology’s Bridwell Library, 6005 Bishop Boulevard. A reception following the program will be held in the Parlor of Kirby Hall. Parking is available in the Binkley Avenue Parking Center.

A special weekend at Nishmat Am to celebrate Shabbat Shira and Tu B’Shevat

Congregation Nishmat Am, “The Shul with Soul in the Heart of Plano,” will celebrate Shabbat Shira and Tu B’Shevat during Shabbat the weekend of Jan. 30 and 31. Festivities will begin with Friday night services and Shabbat dinner Jan. 30 and ending with a “kumsitz” (family sing-a-long) Saturday night Jan. 31. Shabbat Shira is so named because the Torah portion read that weekend, B’shallach, contains the song sung by the Israelites after they safely crossed the Red Sea during the exodus from Egypt. Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, occurs Feb. 4 this year.

The Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat service begins at 6:30 p.m. and is informal and family-oriented. Following services, a delicious Shabbat meal will be served, accompanied by spirited singing and discussion led by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen on the significance of Shabbat Shira. The cost for the meal is $10 per person; $5 for children ages 3-10; and no charge for children under 3. Space is limited and advanced reservations are required.

A Torah Study led by Rabbi Cohen, at 8:30 a.m., will precede Shabbat services Jan. 31. The Shabbat service begins at 9:30 a.m. and will include the installation of Nishmat Am’s new board of directors for 2015. After services, a special Kiddush luncheon in honor of the new board will be served.

Nishmat Am’s new officers are: Stan Friedman, president; Dan Peril, vice president; Jeffrey Hoffman, treasurer; Kim Bader, secretary; and members-at-large Justin Fortier, Marvin Friedman, Claudia Garcia, Allen Landerman, and Bill McManaway.

The community is invited to join Nishmat Am for its weekend celebration as well as for all Shabbat and holiday services and its many education and social programs. Reservations for Friday night dinner and the Saturday night kumsitz can be made by calling the synagogue at 972-618-2200. Nishmat Am is located at 2113 W. Spring Creek Parkway in Plano. More information is available at the congregation’s website at

Shearith Israel Sisterhood will honor Gail and Roland Mizrahi at 2015 Torah Fund Event

Shearith Israel Sisterhood’s 2015 Torah Fund event will honor Gail and Roland Mizrahi at a Champagne Brunch at 11:30 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 22, at Shearith, 9401 Douglas Ave.

Roland and Gail Mizrahi

Roland and Gail Mizrahi

A native Texan, Gail was born and reared in Fort Worth. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary and Special Education. A member of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, she served on the board and was president of the Intercollegiate Panhellenic Council. At Shearith Israel, Gail was co-chair (with Roland) for several CSI Scholars Forum fundraising events, hosting Henry Kissinger, Shimon Peres and General Colin Powell. She served as president of Shearith Israel Sisterhood from 2007-2009 and was instrumental in renovating the Judaica Shop into The Gallery where she continues to volunteer. Currently, Gail serves as executive vice president of Shearith Israel and will take office as President in June 2015.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Roland attended the University of Texas at Austin where he received a BBA degree in finance and a Masters in Business in accounting. He attributes his strong Judaic background and love for synagogue from attending Solomon Schechter Academy and attending weekly Shabbat morning services with his grandparents, Evelyn and Ralph Mizrahi. Roland is best known at Shearith Israel for his davening talent, his tireless fundraising ability and his leadership of the congregation as president from 2003-2005. He remains active as a past president and currently chairs the “For the Love of the Shul” campaign.

Gail and Roland met at the University of Texas at Austin on a blind date. They have been married for 32 years and have two children, Lane (married to Katerina) and Melanie. Gail and Roland have been members of Congregation Shearith Israel since 1988 and have celebrated many life cycle events there. They will be the first husband/wife couple to serve as presidents of the congregation.

For more information about the event, please contact Roz Benjet at or Meryl Nason at

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Here we go again

Here we go again

Posted on 22 January 2015 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforweb“We are living in a strange world at a strange time.” The author of that quote? Me! I’m quoting myself from a column I wrote somewhere between 1970 and 1980 — the decade before I came to Dallas.

What was its subject then? I don’t remember, and it would take far too long to search for something from that era before computerized filing. But I suspect it was from 1976, our nation’s Bicentennial Year, when the United States did itself proud by opposing a U.N. resolution attempting to declare Israel a racist country.

That comes back to me now because once again the U.S. has taken a stand in favor of Israel, on the question of who may serve on the International Criminal Court. But this small recent victory pales in the face of what’s going on in France. And there’s also this: one day last week, while I was listening to my car radio, I heard that the U.S. government had just thwarted a planned attack against our Washington Capitol. This is indeed a strange world at a very strange time — now for America, and more especially for Jews.

When I was a young student in the aftermath of World War II, a few Jewish orphans were resettled with families in our heavily Jewish neighborhood. I can’t help thinking of two of them now: Renee and Edith, the redheaded sisters from France.

One of those girls was older than I, the other younger, so I never had classes with either. But to me, and probably also to most of my fellow students for whom war was little but a distant non-reality, they were strangely exotic. Oh, how wrong we were! But I remember them now, as I also remember something much more recent, yet it too is from long before today…

“The Monster Among Us” was produced by our own local filmmakers Cynthia and Allen Mondell, who said at the time of its initial screening that their new offering examined “this wave of anti-Semitism against European Jews and their institutions, mainly from the point of view of those who have directly experienced the violence or live every day with the threat.” That quote is from back in March 2008! The film’s most memorable image: an elderly couple telling how young French Jews were not as averse to leaving as older ones like themselves, but even they had suitcases under their beds, packed and ready to go.

Yet another French Jew was quoted just a few days ago: “I’m leaving for Israel,” he said. “I am not going to wait here to be killed.”

Is that monster here among us, as well? I wonder what our response would be if some American magazine in the spirit of France’s satiric Charlie Hebdo had made its kind of sport about Jews. I think the Anti-Defamation League would have issued some strong statements of displeasure, and our local Jewish Community Relations Council would have called a meeting with supportive representatives of various other faith groups who together might draft a letter of opposition for publication in the Dallas Morning News. We would certainly not have killed anyone in retaliation. But I also wonder: Would anyone have paid any real attention to our statements, our meetings, our letters to the editor?

There’s no denying that outright murder of staffers in a magazine office grabbed the public’s attention, more so than that magazine’s cartoons ever did. There’s no doubt that the outright murder of innocent pre-Shabbat shoppers in a Paris kosher market claimed the attention of that city’s and its country’s Jews, who’ve already been flocking to Israel in ever-increasing numbers over the past several years, to the point that French Jewry is today her primary source of olim.

Does any of this ring any bells for us, here in the presumed safety of the United States? We certainly are living in a strange world at a strange time…

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Praying at the graves of the deceased

Praying at the graves of the deceased

Posted on 15 January 2015 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Hi Rabbi Fried,

Have you ever answered a question on the differences between the Christian concept of praying to saints and our concept of praying at the graves of our righteous tzaddikim?

Malkie O.

Dear Malkie,

friedforweb2As a matter of fact, no, I have not, but it’s a great question!

The concept of “Intercession of Saints” is a doctrine held by the Roman Catholic Church and numerous other Christian denominations. It is also a lightning rod of consternation from other denominations who strongly attack this doctrine as anti-Christian, basing their arguments upon verses from the “New Testament.” They maintain that one should only pray directly to God, or, some maintain, the only intermediary allowed between them and God is to pray through Jesus. But to pray through saints constitutes idolatry. The Catholics issue their rebuttals utilizing other verses and proofs from Christian theology that this practice has always had a place in Christianity, dating back to early Christians.

It is not our place here to enter deeply into Christian theology, but there are two paths among them in their practice of the Intercession of Saints: there are those who pray to the saints and those who request their intervention to approach God. Many of the objections of Protestants are limited to the practice of praying to the saints, calling that a form of idolatry, but have no objection to praying in their merit or using them as an intermediary. Others object to the latter practice as well, as mentioned above.

As we have mentioned before in these pages, many practices and doctrines of Christianity have been copied or otherwise taken from Judaism, as many of the early Christians were Jews who were seeking to create a religion which would replace Judaism. The rule of thumb is that most such practices or doctrines have been greatly changed and no longer resemble their true sources, although a loose connection can sometimes still be observed. Hence the concept, or myth (as I would prefer to call it), of a Judeo-Christian theology, as the two theologies have nearly nothing in common.

One area of commonality of sorts is that of the above question. It has been Jewish practice for millennia for the living to pray at the graves of the deceased. The most common practice is to pray at the graves of the righteous. For time immemorial Jews have prayed at Maaras Hamachpeila (the graves of our patriarchs and matriarchs in Hebron), the tomb of Rachel and similar such locations. We certainly do not pray TO these holy people or to their souls, and to do so would certainly constitute idolatry.

Our thoughts are, or can be, twofold. One primary thought, which is often reflected in prayers recited in these places, is that the Al-mighty should answer our prayers in the merit of these holy individuals who brought so much good into the world. We ask that their merits should rise before the Heavenly Throne to bring favor upon their descendants, the Jewish people, especially in times of danger.

A second type of prayer which is sometimes recited is to request the matriarch or patriarch to intercede on behalf of the individual or the Jewish people as a whole. This comes from our belief that such people’s holy souls remain connected to the Jews and continue to pray for them on high. This lesson, to cite one of many examples, is taught by the classical commentator Rashi, that Rachel was buried at the border of Israel so that when the Jews would be taken into exile and pass her grave, she would go out and pray for her children’s safety and eventual return to Israel.

This practice, however, is not limited only to those known as especially righteous, as many Jews approach the graves of their parents or ancestors and ask them to pray for a sick or otherwise challenged person in their families. This is because we believe the souls of all Jews are holy and connected in some way to their families and can be approached in such a way.

All this is only in addition to our main prayers, through which we approach the Al-mighty directly, calling on our special, unique relationship to Him as part of His beloved people.

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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Future millionaires beware

Future millionaires beware

Posted on 15 January 2015 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebWho wants to be a millionaire?

Well, I’ve figured out how. Instead of trashing all the “offers” I’ve gotten in recent emails, I’ve saved them up. I presume you’ve received a similar pile of your own, but these are my personal favorites. All arrived in plenty of time to make me fabulously rich in 2015:

I start off very big: the Federal Ministry of Finance in Lagos, Nigeria, is offering me $3,500,000 if I “stop all further contact with any person or persons whom is not recommended by this Ministry. Our Intelligence Monitoring Unit, Code of Conduct Bureau, Legal Unit and the Nigerian Police Force have already apprehended some of those suspects whom attempted to divert your funds. You are advised to stop all further contact with some scammers you have been dealing with, because they are WANTED criminal suspects.” Maybe they are wanted because they’re the only ones in Nigeria who know how to use the word “whom” correctly?

Not to be outdone, Dr. James Morgan, Director of World Fund Management and reconciliation, London, plans to deliver $ 7.3 million by courier to my home address, if I will give it to him — along with my full name, nationality, age, sex, occupation, and phone numbers. The courier, of course, doesn’t know the content of the “two security proof boxes”; he’s been told they contain “Sensitive Photographic Film Materials.” (Capitalization and lack of same, above, are not mine…)

Dr. Howard Buffett, also of London, who makes “urgently” the subject line of his email, signs on with that name. But somehow, in midstream, he becomes Dr. Drik Van, a bank auditor who’s offering me 26,000,000 British pounds (each one worth $1.6383 today) since “a foreigner” died in a plane crash 13 years ago and nobody’s ever claimed his money. I’ve been designated the lucky recipient because of my “high repute and trustworthiness.” A totally risk- and trouble-free transaction, I’m told, since this treasure trove did not originate with “drug, money laundry, terrorism, or any other illegal act.” I quote this exactly as written by Dr. Buffett/Van.

Moving right along to Louise Janet, who presents herself with the email address of janet.louiseyellen, an American who is much terser than her Nigerian and English counterparts: “This is to inform you that the bank has concluded that your compensation payment be released to you today via wire transfer,” she says. Just “Re-confirm the below details: FULL NAME…ADDRESS…PHONE NUMBER…” Sure I will!

This Janet Yellen is exceeded in brevity by Margaret Loughrey, who posts that “I am giving out a donation, reply with name, address and phone no (number?) for more details.” Nice sentence structure, followed by “Please access the attached hyperlink for an important electronic communications disclaimer.” Then comes an http:// that only an idiot would click on.

Even shorter yet is Caitlin Erickson, who says “You have received a donation of $750,000; Email back for details.” But I have all the details I need already!

I’ve also won $2,000,000 in a Microsoft drawing, but I can’t collect until I send more personal info than requested by any of the folks above. And I’m warned: “Be advised not to disclose your winning details to the public until your claim has been processed and your Prize Money remitted to YOUR DESIGNATED BANK ACCOUNT.” (Capitalization mine — of course.)

However, my very favorite comes from David Newman, who promises me that $5.6 million is waiting for me, but first, “We want to find out if you’re still alive…”

I once knew a nice Jewish fellow by the name of David Newman; I’m sure he is not the same one. And the Janet Yellen we all know is a nice Jewish lady with much better math skills than the one above. So to honor these two, I’ll now deep-six the phonies, saying my goodbyes to all those phantom millions. I do hope you’ll be doing the same with yours!

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2015 — An ominous start …

2015 — An ominous start …

Posted on 15 January 2015 by admin

By Gil Elan

elanforwebLast month I predicted that “2015 will be a very interesting year.” Reports this week from France, the Middle East and around the world indicate that may have been the understatement of the year…!

Here are just some of the headlines we’ll be following and commenting on in the New Year.

Islamist terrorism: What we know so far about the two professionally executed terrorist attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher market is that they were long planned operations ordered by al-Qaida’s leader Ayman Al- Zawahiri and conducted by one of many French based Islamist “sleeper cells” of AQAP — Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula. Here are translated recent tweets by Bakhsaruf al-Danqulah — a senior AQAP leader active on Twitter (courtesy of Gloria Center):

A French policeman stands outside the kosher supermarket in Paris where four Jewish men were murdered by an Islamist gunman, Jan. 11, 2015. AQAP, Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula, is said to be responsible for the attacks. | Photo: Serge Attal/Flash90

A French policeman stands outside the kosher supermarket in Paris where four Jewish men were murdered by an Islamist gunman, Jan. 11, 2015. AQAP, Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula, is said to be responsible for the attacks. | Photo: Serge Attal/Flash90

1. Many followers are asking about the link between al-Qa’ida and those who carried out the Charlie Hebdo attack. The link is direct and the operation was supervised by AQAP.

2. The operation was directed by AQAP’s leadership. And they chose these targets out of desire to avenge the insult to the Holy Prophet.

3. And in France in particular for its undisguised role in the war on Islam and oppressed peoples.

4. The operation is an implementation of the threat of Sheikh Osama bin Laden in which he warned the West of the consequence in the long run of affront to the sanctities of Muslims.

5. He said in his message to the West: “If there is no limit to your freedom of speech, your chests will become broadened targets for our actions.”

6. The organization delayed implementation of the operation for security reasons dependent on the operatives. And the operation has a number of messages for all Western states:

7. Infringing on Islam’s sanctities and protecting those who mock them will bear a very heavy price. And the consequence will be severe and terrible.

8. The crimes of the Western states — especially America, Britain and France — will be turned on their heads within their abodes.

9. The policy of striking the far enemy which has remained for al-Qa’ida under Zawahiri’s leadership will continue in the realization of its aims, until the West falls back on itself.

10. The policy of the mujahideen of al-Qa’ida’s media incitement, especially Inspire magazine, has produced splendid results in the defining of its aims and marshalling potential.

11. For one of the authors put his name and photo [i.e., that of the editor of Charlie Hebdo] as a dead or alive target for the mujahideen, so the Western states should expect evil consequences and ruins by God’s power.

Al-Danqulah concludes with a call for people to disseminate and translate his tweets. The threat is clear and unequivocal.

According to most analysts, 2015 could easily become the Year of Islamist Worldwide Terrorism. We’re already seeing it in Europe (al-Qaida), Africa (Boku Haram and al-Shabab), the Middle East (ISIS) and coming soon to a public place near you (al-Qaida, Khorasan)…

Can they be stopped? Certainly not by rallies, marches, demonstrations and speeches — especially if the speakers do not identify the enemy by name: Islamic extremism and the Islamic doctrine of religious exclusivity, that according to them trumps the First Amendment of our Constitution, that is still being indoctrinated in schools and mosques around the world — including here in the U.S.!

For example at 5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, at the Curtis Culwell Center, a Garland Independent School District property, there will be an event titled “Stand with the Prophet in Honor and Respect.” With flyers claiming: “Ready to defeat Islamophobia?” the organizers, Sound Vision Foundation, “a not for profit organization serving Muslims,” stress that “this is not an event, it is the beginning of a movement — a movement to defend Prophet Muhammad, his person, and his message.”

But can Islamist Jihadism be defeated from within? Pay careful attention to the courageous speech that Egyptian President Abdul-Fatah al-Sisi gave last month front of leading Islamic clerics and scholars at the sacred Al-Azhar University in Cairo. In his speech, al-Sisi called on them to modify the religion, outlaw any and all violent behavior, and make it at least acceptable to all others. His words may get him assassinated, but if other Muslim leaders follow his lead, it could be a start to a completely different future. You can find a clip with subtitles on YouTube.

Israel elections (March 17): Netanyahu won the Likud primaries but lost several key players. Tzipi Livni joined forces with the labor Party to form a combined list, which most current polls show is running head to head with Bibi’s Likud. Another centrist party, formed by former Likud Member of Knesset Moshe Kahalon, is gaining steam by recruiting top security experts to its list, and the Sephardic Orthodox party, Shas, has regrouped.

Right now there is a plausible chance that with successful coalition negotiations after the March 17 elections, Yitzhak Herzog could be the next Israeli prime minister.

But a lot can happen in the interim, and if the first 12 days of 2015 are anything to go by, it will.

Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.

Lieutenant Colonel (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress and a Middle East Analyst. Email: Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Parents: Now hear this

Parents: Now hear this

Posted on 15 January 2015 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Parents and Children,

seymourforweb2A while back a study was done to determine how much time parents talk with their children. The study found that parents spent 12 minutes per day talking with their children and, of that, seven minutes was telling them what to do. There was no similar study on the amount of time spent listening, but a more important study would be one on the quality of the listening. “Shmiat haozen — attentiveness” is a crucial Jewish value for our lives today, especially with children. The Hebrew word “shmiat” comes from the word listen or hear, while “ozen” is the Hebrew for ear. Shmiat haozen literally means “a listening of the ear.” Listening goes beyond hearing — hearing is not a virtue, but listening involves understanding, evaluating, giving consideration, obeying and accepting. All of these acts can be virtues. When God says, “Shema Yisrael — Hear, O Israel,” the hearing is not meant to be a one time thing, but the “hearing” of God’s voice is supposed to change our actions and our identity daily. When we listen to others, we must try to be like God: to be compassionate and to understand. There may be limits to how much we can “hear” at any particular time, and there might be limits to how much others can “hear” us. However, we must strive to strengthen our listening ear in all our relationships.

Rabbi Judah ben Shalom said: If a poor person comes and pleads before another, that other does not listen to the poor one. If someone who is rich comes, the person listens to and receives the rich one at once. God does not act in such a manner. All are equal before God — women, slaves, rich and poor (Exodus Rabbah 21:4).

There are many questions for us to think and talk about with our children: Why would someone listen differently to a poor or rich person? What other differences in people would cause us to listen differently? And, how do you feel when someone who doesn’t listen to you? Do an experiment: Take a partner and one of you should talk about something you did that day. The other person should turn away, or look somewhere else. How did that make you feel? Now show how to listen in a way that feels good. Another “technique” is called active listening, which involves listening fully without talking and then repeating back what the person has said to see if you understand what they meant, not only heard the words that they said. Think about all of this and then promise yourself and your children that you will truly listen to them!

Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.

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

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Around the Town

Posted on 15 January 2015 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Kornbleet Scholar tonight at 7 p.m.

Ariel Feldman, the Rosalyn and Manny Rosenthal Associate Professor in Jewish Studies and director of the Jewish Studies Program at the Brite Divinity School, will present “Reading the Bible With the Dead Sea Scrolls,” tonight, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m. at Congregation Ahavath Sholom.

Feldman, whose Ph.D. in Jewish History is from the University of Haifa, is currently a Newton Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Manchester in Britain. His professional affiliations include Society of Biblical Literature, Association for Jewish Studies, and the World Union of Jewish Studies.

Calling all mitzvah mavens

Laurie James tells us that Beth-El Congregation’s Mitzvah Day 2015 will be held Monday, Jan. 19. And anyone is invited to put on their mitzvah hat.

Beth-El Congregation will partner with Tarrant Churches Together in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Since 2014, Tarrant Churches Together has led faith groups in a day of service honoring Dr. King. Last year, 425 volunteers across the county were stationed at over 300 service sites.

For its mini-Mitzvah Day, Beth-El’s Great Hall will become the service site for TCT’s Sack Lunch Chuckwagon Sackapalooza assembly. Each year, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo hires 300 homeless day workers to provide grounds keeping and other services during the Stock Show. The Chuckwagon provides nonperishable meals for these workers.

On Jan. 19, volunteers from Beth-El and other congregations will use our Great Hall to pack these nonperishable lunches for the Chuckwagon volunteers to use in February. Because the food is nonperishable, volunteers of any age are welcome to assemble the lunch sacks.

The event will start at 10 a.m. and last about three hours. If your family wants to volunteer, please sign up directly with Tarrant Churches Together. Go online at or call them at 817-737-5554. You will be invited to meet the large group downtown at Baker Chapel (on Rosedale Ave., near I-35), which is optional.

Tarrant Churches Together has a program for all the community volunteers from 9 to 9:30 a.m., and then the volunteers split off and go to their pre-selected site. You are of course welcome to simply come to the Great Hall at 10 a.m., but please make sure you register with Tarrant Churches Together!

Dinner will recognize Chevra members

The shul will recognize members of the ladies’ and men’s Chevra Kadisha societies and its cemetery committee next week, Friday, Jan. 23, at a dinner following 6 p.m. Kabbalat Shabbat services.

Cost is $18 per person and you can make your reservations by calling the Ahavath Sholom office at 817-731-4721.

‘My Name is Asher Lev’ comes to Cowtown

I was thrilled last week to hear from Trudie Oshman, who explained the extent to which the Jewish community will be involved with the Circle Theatre Production of “My Name is Asher Lev.”

In fact, Trudie is chairing Beth-El Night at Circle Theatre Feb. 28. All 125 seats of the theatre will be designated for the Jewish community and a panel of rabbis will lead a discussion after the performance.

We will have a larger story on the production in an upcoming issue, but in the meantime, you can get a ticket for the event, which is open to the entire community, by contacting Beth-El at 817-332-7141.

Former Beth-El President Maddie Lesnick is the current Circle Theatre board president.

Don’t forget Showtimes

If you like basketball, or you just like the movies, don’t forget that Congregation Ahavath Sholom is screening its next installment, “The First Basket,” at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18. This documentary is all about Jewish involvement with the great game of basketball over the years.

The film is free and open to the community.

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After attack, French Jews reassess their future

After attack, French Jews reassess their future

Posted on 15 January 2015 by admin

By Alina Dain Sharon/

In a traumatic week for Paris that saw the murders of 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, four hostages killed at a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes and a police officer executed in Montrouge — all coming at the hands of Islamist terrorists — the violence was accompanied by the usual anti-Israel conspiracy theories.

Brothers Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi — the two Muslim terrorists suspected of carrying out the Charlie Hebdo shooting — were killed Friday in a police raid on a printing shop in the Paris suburb of Dammartin-en-Goele, where the Kouachi brothers had taken one man hostage. A separate but simultaneous raid killed Islamist terrorist Amedy Coulibaly, who took nearly 20 hostages at Hyper Cacher (the kosher supermarket) Friday, Jan. 9 and had killed a female police officer Thursday, Jan. 8. Fifteen of Coulibaly’s hostages were freed. According to French police, Coulibaly was a close associate of Cherif Kouachi and may have been involved in the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Since the March 2012 attack in which Mohammed Merah killed three children and a rabbi at Jewish school in Toulouse, the threat of Islamic terrorism has not let up for Jews and the general public in France.

This image circulating on social media depicts a news report from the scene of a mourners’ rally for the murdered Charlie Hebdo journalists, a woman (pictured on the right) behind the reporter is seen wearing a shirt with the wording “Boycott Israel,” seemingly making the statement that Israel is somehow to blame for the attack on the magazine. | Photo: Facebook

This image circulating on social media depicts a news report from the scene of a mourners’ rally for the murdered Charlie Hebdo journalists, a woman (pictured on the right) behind the reporter is seen wearing a shirt with the wording “Boycott Israel,” seemingly making the statement that Israel is somehow to blame for the attack on the magazine. | Photo: Facebook

“The Jewish community of France is scared, grieving, and fearing for members of its community, for France, and for the values of our Republic,” Simone Rodan-Benazquen, director of the Paris branch of the American Jewish Committee, told “Unfortunately, we are not surprised with what just happened because for 14 years, the Jewish community has been the main target of these barbaric attacks. Targeting French people because they are Jews is attacking the Republic, more than ever, and the last two attacks [on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket] are once again proof [of that].”

B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin told that those outside of France and Europe should “call on leadership to really begin to address this growing menace” of Islamism.

“These threats are threats [not only to Jews but also] to the democratic fabric of postwar Europe,” Mariaschin said, adding that European leaders cannot go on much longer without well-organized efforts to deal with the problem.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told, “The time has come to call out all 1,000 imams in France and demand to know where they stand on the Islamists.”

Israel’s opponents often drag the Jewish state into world events in which it has no involvement, and the Charlie Hebdo attack was no exception. After the magazine shooting but before Friday’s hostage crisis at the kosher supermarket, Greta Berlin, the spokesperson for the Free Gaza movement — a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)-affiliated organization committed to breaking the Israeli blockade of Gaza — floated an unfounded theory on Facebook that “MOSSAD (Israel’s intelligence agency) just hit the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo in a clumsy false flag designed to damage the accord between Palestine and France.”

“Here’s hoping the French police will be able to tell a well-executed hit by a well-trained Israeli intelligence service and not assume the Muslims would be likely to attack France when France is their friend,” she wrote. “Israel did tell France there would be grave consequences if they voted with Palestine. A 4-year-old could see who is responsible for this terrible attack.”

The Charlie Hebdo shooters were radical Muslims who shouted “Allahu akbar” as they shot the French magazine’s journalists. There was no trace of Israel involvement. But that did not stop Free Gaza movement co-founder Mary Hughes-Thompson from mimicking Greta Berlin, posting on Twitter, “#Hebdo killings indefensible. Can’t help thinking #JSIL Mossad false flag though. Killers spoke with perfect French accents. Time will tell.”

Thompson’s usage of #JSIL refers to the “Jewish State in the Levant” campaign that seeks to equate Israel with the Islamic State terror group, which is also known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS.

Dr. Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum think tank, has written two books about conspiracy theories. He told, “The fevered imagination of far-left and far-right have invariably blamed one or the other of two conspirators: a secret society or the Jews.”

“Every high-profile [case] with some element of violence and mystery comes back to these two, even the disappearance of a Malaysian airplane,” Pipes said.

“These particular charges are absolutely reprehensible,” said B’nai B’rith’s Mariaschin. “They are inflammatory. It shows that these groups will go to any length to demonize Israel. … It also shows the great challenge that Israel and its supporters are facing — when even at a moment like this, the BDS crowd will engage in this kind of activity.”

The Wiesenthal Center’s Cooper expressed “utter disgust at the blatant Jew-hatred” emanating from the BDS movement.

“I hope people understand that BDS has nothing to do with helping Palestinians,” he said.

“They have one goal: to demonize [and] weaken the democratic state of Israel.” Regarding the conspiracy theories, Cooper lamented that “these big lies are alive and well on the subculture of the Internet.”

A mainstream news organization, the International Business Times, picked up on the Free Gaza conspiracy theory, publishing a story that asked, “[Is] Israel Venting Its Fury for France’s Recognition of a Palestinian State?” The story was quickly removed and replaced with an apology stating that the piece “should never have been published and we have therefore removed it from our site.”

“The story was beneath our standards and we apologize for this basic lapse in judgment,” stated the International Business Times.

CNN journalist Jim Clancey, meanwhile, tweeted in reference to the Charlie Hebdo shooting that two Twitter accounts — @elderofziyon (for the popular Jewish-themed blog) and the anti-Semitic handle @JewsMakingNews — are colluding to promote an anti-Muslim and pro-Israel agenda. He later deleted some of the controversial tweets.

According to the media watchdog Honest Reporting, when confronted about his claims, Clancey tweeted, “@HumanRights2K Get a grip, junior. It’s my Friday night. You and the Hasbara (Hebrew from public diplomacy) team need to pick on some cripple on the edge of the herd.”

Additionally, in an image circulating on social media that depicts a news report from the scene of a mourners’ rally for the murdered Charlie Hebdo journalists, a woman behind the reporter is seen wearing a shirt with the wording “Boycott Israel,” seemingly making the statement that Israel is somehow to blame for the attack on the magazine.

“Conspiracies are always dangerous… this kind of intrusion into the reaction to what’s happened in France could be happening anywhere in Europe, and it’s not only limited to Europe,” Mariaschin said. “It also relates to the overall geopolitical situation in terms of where Europe stands on many issues, [such as] the Israeli-Palestinian issue.”

In addition to its modern problem with radical Islam, Europe “remains haunted by its historic demons,” said Middle East Forum’s Pipes, who isn’t optimistic that the anti-Israel conspiracies will subside.

“It does not seem likely that this wretched tradition will ever change,” he said.

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