Archive | June, 2015

Denominational bickering begins road to exclusion

Posted on 18 June 2015 by admin

All of us here in the DFW area pledge our allegiance to Israel. We do it with our prayers, our money, our voices as we sing Hatikvah in addition to The Star-Spangled Banner at virtually every public event sponsored by our Jewish community’s many organizations.
Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, “cultural”— we are all Jews, together in support of our ancestral and present homeland.
So what can we make of the recent action by Rehovot’s mayor, who cancelled a b’nai mitzvah ceremony for special needs children because it was going to be held in a Masorti (Conservative) synagogue? Or the follow-up action of Israel’s president who, after that ceremony had been rescheduled for an Orthodox shul, refused to allow the Masorti rabbi who’d prepared those kids for their special moment to be on the bimah?
Here in Jewish America, ”inclusion” has become a buzzword, often used to assure that “differently abled” (some think the word “disability” itself is counter-inclusive!) children and adults find new doors of participation open to them.
Some are literal: doors that open automatically for those unable to push or pull. Some are figurative: large-print prayerbooks … assisted hearing devices … transportation offered to those who can’t provide their own … Internet-streamed services for those who are unable to attend even when transportation is available.
But before today: What Jew has ever denied any Jewish child his or her right to enter religious adulthood?
I remember an occasion far back in my own youth, when a child survivor of the Holocaust (Orthodox), who could barely speak English, received far more than just wine and kichel at the shul to mark his bar mitzvah; there was a joyous gathering in the home of his foster parents, attended by all the neighbors. I remember my friends’ profoundly deaf daughter (Reform), who gave her bat mitzvah speech in sign language after passing out printed copies so that everyone in the congregation could read along as she “spoke.”
I remember a childhood schizophrenic (no affiliation), son of my parents’ friends, who became a bar mitzvah in the mental institution that was his lifelong home, and the boy (Conservative) who made it onto his synagogue’s bimah — and into the collective heart of his congregation — despite crippling cerebral palsy.
So why is exclusion going on in Israel?
I guess I know already: Denominationalism still rules everything and everyone in our Jewish homeland. Conservative/Masorti leaders, both here and there, have spoken out loudly against this newest evidence of religious discrimination.
The official letter to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reads, in part: “This is an act of cruelty in which disabled children and their parents are being denied a service that would help them, and the sole reason for this denial is the contempt of Israel’s leaders for the sponsors of this program — the worldwide Conservative/Masorti movement … whose members promote the democratic nature of Israel and the modern, humanist and scientific outlook of the Jewish state …
“Our love for the State of Israel is unconditional,” the letter continues. “But Israel must live up to her claims about herself. A modern, scientific, humanitarian, democratic state cannot deny a program to disabled children simply because of your loathing for our Jewish philosophy and practice … ‘For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’ (Isaiah 56:7). We ask, Mr. President, are these children, are their parents, are we, welcome in your home, or are we not?”
As a Conservative Jew myself, I’m proud of this strong stand our movement has taken, with both anger and sadness, against such devaluation of the worthiness of our Jewish practice. And I‘m especially proud that the first signature under this letter — over those of 21 other recognized leaders — is that of William Gershon, senior rabbi of Dallas’ own venerable Congregation Shearith Israel, who is current president of the Rabbinical Assembly of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Thank you, Rabbi Gershon, from the very bottom of this very Jewish heart.

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Tracking Turkey election

Posted on 18 June 2015 by admin

Last week, some 86 percent of Turkey’s 76 million citizens voted in the national parliamentary elections.
Those citizens essentially told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist who has ruled Turkey for the past 13 years, that his longtime ambition to become a “strong president,” or — as some of his close associates put it — a “Sultan,” will not happen anytime in the near future.
At least not through the ballot box.
Despite 20 parties competing for the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament, Erdogan really believed that his AKP party would increase its seats in the parliament to 400, comfortably over the 330 needed to make the constitutional changes he wants.
But the voters thought otherwise. In what were by all accounts fair, clean and democratic elections, the voters gave Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the AKP, less than 41 percent of the vote, about half of what they received in the last elections four years ago.
The final results were:

  • AKP “Justice and Development” (right, Islamist), 40.9 percent = 258 seats
  • CHP “Republican People’s Party” (center-left), 25 percent = 132 seats
  • MHP “Nationalist Movement Party” (far right), 16 percent = 80 seats
  • HDP “People’s Democratic Party” (left, pro-Kurdish, pro-women, pro-gays), 13 percent = 80 seats

While the AKP received more votes than any other party and technically can govern as a minority government with the tacit support of the right-wing MHP, in practice neither it nor any of the other parties can really govern without a firm coalition.
Two problems here: First, historically no minority or coalition government in Turkey has survived long.
Second, as of this writing no party, including the right-wing MHP, has expressed an interest in joining or supporting Erdogan’s megalomaniac ambitions.
Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted that all the opposition spokesmen have said that their parties would not form a coalition with Erdogan’s AKP.
If no government gets a vote of confidence in the Parliament 45 days after the election, new elections must be called.
Steven A. Cook, an expert on Turkey at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that Erdogan could be “setting things up for a snap election.”
If this happens, then the AKP could launch a blitz campaign, handing out promises and economic “goodies” while repeating convincing arguments that a robust, one-party government with a strong leader is preferable to ongoing political and economic uncertainty, and reminding the voters that Turkey actually thrived economically during Erdogan’s 13-year rule.

Shifting toward president

Erdogan still vows to continue trying to shift Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, insisting that it would create more efficient governance.
Others say that his version would just lead to a tyrannical and authoritarian Islamist rule.
Interesting note: The clear victor in these elections is Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic, 42-year-old Kurdish lawyer who heads the HDP. Under his leadership, the party transformed from a group fighting mainly for Kurdish rights into a mainstream liberal party that advocates more rights for women, gays and other minorities.
Supporters of Demirtas’ HDP and the other minority parties registered a clear protest vote against Erdogan, though he still enjoys strong support among religious conservatives and the poorer citizens, thousands of whom joined the middle class during his terms of office.
Erdogan’s main problem in these elections was his “neo-Ottoman” politics — his suppression of the media and perceived desire for absolute power, as well as his unpopular crackdown on the followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, many of whom he had arrested and tortured, after accusing them of launching a corruption investigation against him.
While no one really expects major shifts in Turkish foreign policy, the popularity of pro-Kurdish HDP could increase efforts to grant more rights to Turkey’s Kurds.

Cordial relations with Israel

A coalition government, if one is established, might also be less interested on spending resources to oust President Bashir Assad of Syria, one of Erdogan’s key foreign policy priorities today.
Regarding Israel, contrary to media reporting, relations between the two countries have remained cordial and cooperative. Trade continues, Israeli tourists still go to Turkey (though less than in the past) and military-to-military cooperation, on a national interest basis, is good.
While remaining in NATO, Turkey will probably continue to let extremist Islamists from all over the world move back and forth across the border with Syria to join DAESH (ISIS) or al-Qaida’s Al Nusra Front.
As Rand Beers, a former senior U.S. national security official, said after the elections: “There is no chance of a solution in the region that does not involve Turkey.”
Together with most analysts I believe that Turkey, regardless of its type of government, will continue to play a vital role in the region’s politics.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.

Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Around Town: Ahavath Sholom trip

Posted on 18 June 2015 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharonw@texasjewishpost.com

At press time, I’m told by Michael Linn that the 55 members of the Ahavath Sholom mission to Israel have arrived safely at Ben Gurion airport.
The group had a welcome ceremony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea followed by a walking tour of the Old City of Jaffa and dinner at a restaurant there.
On Wednesday, the group was to head north and visit Haifa. Highlights include: a panoramic view from Mt. Carmel, including the Baha’i Temple and Persian Gardens; a visit to Eshkol Region’s Protected School; a visit to the Western Galilee Hospital (you may recall the emergency room at the hospital is dedicated to the memory of Toni Gernsbacher); and exploring the grottos at Rosh Hanikra if time permitted.
By the end of the day the group was scheduled to arrive in the Galilee and have dinner at Kibbutz Misgav Am, on the border of Lebanon.
We look forward to hearing about Thursday’s events: a jeep tour in the Golan Heights, a visit to the Israeli Army Outpost in the Golan and a kayaking adventure along the Jordan River.
The group is fortunate to have Rabbi Andrew and Michal Bloom with them to lead them on their journey. We look forward to sharing more stories and photos from the trip when the group returns.
Have a Fort Worth or Dallas event, photo or tip you want to see in the paper?
Email Sharon Wisch-Ray at sharonw@texasjewishpost.com and check back every Thursday to see if it made the print edition.

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Keeping JCC at center of Dallas Jewish life

Posted on 18 June 2015 by admin

By Ben Tinsley
bent@texasjewishpost.com

DALLAS — Angela Aaron Horowitz, incoming chairman of the board for the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, laid out her vision for the future of the JCC during the organization’s 136th annual meeting Thursday, June 11.
The 7 p.m. meeting was held in the Zale Auditorium at the Aaron Family JCC, 7900 Northaven Road. It was chaired by Monte Hurst and Marilyn Schaffer with the theme, “The Past Leads Us to Our Future.”
Horowitz’s comments centered on her plan to use the competing principles of “disruptive innovation” and “sustaining innovation” to keep the Dallas JCC the local epicenter of Jewish existence.
Horowitz said she learned about these principles when attending a recent National Jewish Leadership conference sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America. They are reviewed at length in Clayton M. Christensen’s 2003 book, The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.
A disruptive innovation, for example, helps create a new market and value network — in the process displacing an earlier technology and disrupting an existing market and value network.
Conversely, a sustaining innovation only evolves existing markets and networks with better value and doesn’t create new ones. This way, firms can only compete against each other’s sustaining improvements.
Horowitz offered a few examples of these principles to the audience.
“When was the last time you used a pay phone or a phone book?” Horowitz asked. “The smartphones each of us own — except for my dad — have changed and disrupted what we once knew to be common. It has not only eliminated the need for pay phones and phone books but cameras, photo albums and so much more. All because of disruptive innovation.”
Likewise, the JCC faces similar challenges as new technologies and new interests compete for the attention of members, Horowitz said.
“How will we make sure the JCC remains the center of Jewish life in our community?” Horowitz asked. “We have to be careful not to do the same thing the same way.”

A place to stay, meet

Horowitz outlined her vision, set 10 years in the future: A membership of 10,000 strong. Working-class tennis facilities. A “Club J” for Jewish teens and young adults and families of all ages. A wellness center that is the model for JCCs nationally. A big-seat theater. World-class conference centers. A sports and fitness center double the current size. Competitive youth sports organizations. And online adult education for Jewish learning.
“To accomplish this will take all of us working together under a new shared vision,” Horowitz said. “Inclusiveness will be the key to achieving all of this. We will join with others in new partnerships. This will include working with corporate sponsors, foundations and other Jewish agencies. … It will also require us to raise significant support through capital campaigns in order to achieve this vision.”
The end result?
Youngsters want to play sports at the JCC.
High schoolers want to hang out there. Young adults want to hang out there. Adults want to exercise there.
“And seniors want to live longer there,” Horowitz said.
After concluding her comments, Horowitz received a standing ovation.
Also during the program, Ellen Ungerman was honored as Leader of the Year. Richard Aston received the Sam Slusher Award. And Kacey Cohen and Blake Levinson became this year’s Hank Bodner Award winners. These awards are named in tribute to past leaders of the JCC.
Additionally, a slate of new officers and board members were selected by the nominating committee to serve two-year terms.

Those elected

The 2015-16 JCC officers who were unanimously approved by the audience include Angela Aaron Horowitz, chairman of the board. The vice presidents are Doug Baer, Andy Dropkin, Monte Hurst, Jay Liberman and Ellen Ungerman.
The members of 2015-16 board of directors continuing their service are David Friedman, Sherry Goldberg, David Greenstone, Marc Grossfeld, Laurie Judson, Sandy Kuntz, Lisa Lieberman, Alex Prescott, Marilyn Schaffer, Steve Schneider, Ruthie Schor, Jill Tananbaum, Jonathan Tobolowsky and Mike Weinberg.
Board members nominated for election — and unanimously approved — were Kim Cuban, Mike Horowitz, Zev Shulkin and Michael Waldman.
Board members nominated for re-election — and unanimously approved — were Neil Beckerman, Rachel Kramer, Liz Liener, Esther Meyers, Michael Ochstein, Lori Ordiway and Wendy Stanley.
During the CEO’s remarks, Artie Allen gave great praise to the many accomplishments that can be attributed to outgoing Chairman Scott Cohen — including a new website, a new hospitality manager, roof renovations, new hallway bathrooms and an expanded group exercise studio.
“Without safety and security, we have nothing,” Allen said. “Scott has increased security measures on campus. We now have automatic gates, a new security desk in the lobby, police officers on duty and the upcoming installation of a new guard house — and these have all been championed by Scott.”
During his comments, Scott Cohen gave equal praise to Allen and thanked him for being a great partner the previous two years.
“Artie Allen is the right man at the right place at the right time doing the right things,” Cohen said. “… So much of our success is a direct result of his leadership.”
While thanking his friends and colleagues at the JCC, Cohen discussed his late grandfather Erwin Waldman. Cohen said his grandfather would be proud of the work the JCC has accomplished.
“The J is in a great place,” Cohen said. “But we will get better. We will get stronger.”

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Dallas Doings: Golabek, JFGD, Israel trip, JBA

Dallas Doings: Golabek, JFGD, Israel trip, JBA

Posted on 18 June 2015 by admin

Mona Golabek punctuates her mother’s harrowing story with classical music June 10 at the Wylie Theatre in Dallas. Photo: Rhiannon Lee

By Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharonw@texasjewishpost.com

I was privileged to attend Mona Golabek’s performance June 10 at the Wylie Theatre. Golabek’s one-woman show recounted the story of her mother’s escape from Vienna on the famed Kindertransport intertwining classical music, pictures and Golabek’s own theatrical narration. An adaptation of Golabek’s 2003 book, the performance was unlike anything I’d ever experienced when learning about the Holocaust.
The integration of the mediums through which Golabek told her mother’s story was unnerving and riveting at the same time. In truth, it’s difficult to put into words the performance’s impact. Golabek, a Grammy winner, is the third in a string of classical pianists, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.
It was her mother’s musical gift that helped her survive being separated from her family when she was transported to England on the Kindertransport.
Among those in the audience were Holocaust survivors including Dallasite brother and sister Maggie Furst and Bert Romberg, who were also rescued on the Kindertransport. The event was a program of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.

Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas provides $75K to local Jewish organizations

The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas has made its 2015 Outreach & Engagement Grants, $77,85

0 to 11 local Jewish organizations and congregations. As was announced in early March, the board of the Federation created the Outreach & Engagement Grants, up to $10,000 per organization, to promote outreach and engagement to unaffiliated and marginally affiliated Jews living in Dallas.
“It was very exciting for the lay leadership of the Federation to be involved in providing grants to our broader community. We hope that the result of the grant process will be a stronger partnership with the organizations and provide multiple ways for newcomers to join the Dallas Jewish community,” said Pam Hochster Fine, chair, Community Outreach Task Force.
The grants were provided to: Congregation Anshai Torah, Congregation Beth El Binah, Congregation Beth Torah, Chabad of Dallas, DATA, Intown Chabad, Jewish Education Texas (JET), Jewish Youth Directors’ Council of Dallas, Temple Emanu-El, Tiferet Israel Congregation and Congregation Shearith Israel.
Bradley Laye, Federation president and CEO, stated, “The Federation’s Outreach & Engagement Grants are historic as we act out our stated belief that ‘We Are Stronger Together.’
“By providing funding to congregations and organizations to focus on growing and building our community, the Federation is literally putting our money where our mouth is to try and ensure every Jew in the Dallas area has an opportunity to connect to his/her Jewish identity. Combined with our funding to our current partner agencies, local and overseas, we touch more Jewish lives than any organization in the world.”

Ohev Shalom goes to Israel

Rabbi Aryeh Rodin of Congregation Ohev Shalom will lead a mission trip to Israel Nov. 2 through Nov. 11. The rabbi, along with the well-known, knowledgeable and entertaining American-born Israeli-certified tour guide, Dovid Solomon, will lead the group to historic and inspiring sites in Jerusalem, Sefat, Tel Aviv, the Galilee, the Golan Heights and Masada. The group will visit a tallis factory, a chocolate factory and a winery and — for a change of pace — take a camel ride. A visit to an army base is planned with an opportunity to speak with some of the defenders of Israel’s security. A highlight of the trip will be a Shabbaton and a melavah malka joined by Dallasites who made aliyah.
The group will stay for the first six nights at the beautiful Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem and the remaining nights at the picturesque Kibbutz Lavi.
“I am excited to visit Israel and share my wonderful experiences that I had as a Torah student and rabbi in Israel. I look forward to what is shaping up to be a memorable trip for all,” said Rabbi Rodin.
For more information, please contact Rabbi Rodin at rabbirodin@ohev.com or 972-380-1292.

JBA to welcome Marcia Blake

Join Marcia Blake of Sunbrella outdoor fabrics at the next Jewish Business Alliance networking meeting Thursday, June 25. Marcia will present the latest trends and design tips on fabrics, colors, and everything you ever wanted to know about outdoor décor. Marcia will be joined by Brad Schweig of Sunnyland Patio Furniture. JBA meets from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Coffee House Café at Preston and Frankford in Dallas on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month.
Marcia is a nationally recognized authority on outdoor décor. She has served as a consultant to Glen Raven; now she is merchandise manager for Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, Sunbrella. Blake designed Outdoor Couture, soft goods accessory line, resin wicker furniture collections for Sunset West Fine Outdoor Furnishings and Tuscan-styled outdoor dishware for Merritt International.
Throughout her years in the casual furniture and accessories market she’s been instrumental in selecting and creating color palettes for manufacturers, dealers and consumers. Most recently, she served on the International Summit Planning Committee for Color Lust in Miami.
On a personal level, Marcia is involved with her synagogue and Jewish life in her hometown of San Diego.
For more information, please contact Mark Lowey at mark@stonebridgeinsurancegroup.com.

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Sadducees, Karaites and oral tradition

Posted on 18 June 2015 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried
I have been doing some research into the opinions of the Sadducees and the Karaites, neither of whom accepted the oral tradition of the Torah and believed only in the written word. I have series of questions regarding the veracity of the Oral Law due to the beliefs of other sects of Judaism.

  • 1. Why did the Sadducees not believe in the Oral Law? If they also had ancestors going back to Sinai, shouldn’t they hold the same beliefs about the Oral Law the Pharisees held?
  • 2. The Mishnah quotes many conflicting opinions.
  • 3. The Mishnah does not go on to say in which opinion the truth lies. Rather, the Mishnah sometimes agrees with neither one nor the other, contradicting both.
  • 4. They argue that the truth of the oral law given to Moses could only be in one opinion, not many opinions.
  • 5. They question why the Mishnah does not solely speak in the name of Moses.
  • 6. The Oral Law is not explicitly mentioned in the Tanakh.
  • 7. When God told Moses to come up to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah He said, “Come up to me into the mountain, and be there: and I will give you tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments that I have written” (Exodus 24:12). The text states the commandments are written, and no mention is made of an Oral Law.
  • 8. The Tanakh reports that the written Torah was both lost and completely forgotten for over 50 years and only rediscovered by the Temple priests (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chronicles 34:15). It is inconceivable that an Oral Law could have been remembered when even the Written Law was
  • forgotten.
  • 9. The words of the Mishnah and Talmud are clearly the words of people living in the 2nd–5th centuries CE, in contrast to the Torah, which is held to be a direct revelation by God through Moses.
  • 10. The Torah states, “You shall not add to the word that I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of YHWH, your God, which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). They argue that this excludes the possibility of later interpretation, when that interpretation is viewed as divinely ordained.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this,
Ron B.

Dear Ron,
These questions and the additional ones I didn’t yet print in your question will take a couple/few columns to address, so we’ll start with some this time.
Although the Sadducees had the same tradition, they, sadly, chose to reject that glorious tradition. The commentaries to Mishnah Pirkei Avos explain that the father of the Sadducees, a rabbi named Tzadok, and his colleague Baytus, erred in the interpretation of a teaching of their Rabbi, Antigonos of Socho, who taught the famous Mishnah: “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward (p’ras); instead be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward…” (Avos 1:3). This Mishnah, which teaches an important message of altruism, was misinterpreted by Tzadok and Baytus to mean that, according to their teacher and the Oral Law, there is no reward for performing mitzvos. This caused them to reject the Oral Law and its teachers and only accept the written Torah.
Reward and punishment
Without going into the deeper meaning of that Mishnah (and the difference between the word p’ras and reward), their teacher was not intending to reject in any way the concept of reward and punishment, which is one of Maimonides’ 13 core Jewish beliefs. Since, however, he taught the Mishnah in a way which was not clear enough to not allow such a misinterpretation, a later Mishnah exhorts the Rabbis to be careful in their teachings: “Scholars, be cautious with your words, for you may incur the penalty of exile and be banished to a place of evil waters (heresy), the disciples who follow you there may drink and die, and consequently the Name of Heaven will be desecrated” (Avos 1:11). This is referring to the mistake made by Tzadok and Baytus.
As to the other questions, which were thought up subsequently by them to justify their position, we will try to address in a later column.
Rabbi Yerachmiel 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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Graduation round-up

Graduation round-up

Posted on 18 June 2015 by admin

Mesorah graduates

Yavneh Academy

DALLAS — Dr. David Portnoy, Yavneh Academy’s head of school, offered some sage advice to the 29 new “Class of 2015” graduates who stepped across the stage to accept their high school diplomas Sunday, May 31.
This class, incidentally, is flying pretty high right now with acceptances from 46 colleges and universities in North America and Israel and receiving more than $2.5 million in scholarships.
Dr. Portnoy acknowledged that the extraordinary travel and new life experiences coming the way of Yahveh graduates should be savored in the years to come. But his advice to them for life after college was emphatic:
“Come back to Dallas,” he said. “This is your home and we want you to come back.”
As many as 800 people — including friends, students, parents, alumni, staff, faculty and board members — attended the Twentieth Commencement ceremony at the Schultz Rosenberg Campus.
Yavneh’s 2015 graduates include Taylor Ann Blue, Steven Jacob Bokov, Raphael Time Burstein, Haley Sloane Chestler, Hadas Cohen, Meir Lev Epstein, Tom Erlich, Ari Yaakov Geller, Macy Fischer Golman, Cassandra Rachel Gross, Ori Mordechai Guttman, Samantha Eve Harris, Aaron Michael Herschberg, Jacob Edward Herstein, Austin Elias Jacoby, Jonathan Daniel Kravitz, Scott Noah Lacritz, Alexandra Rochelle Lavi, Elvira Ariela Levi, Sophia Rose Lynn, Ethan Isaac Pearson, Grant Alan Prengler, Serina Lindy Romick, Zachary Sparks Romick, Zachary Herman Schultz, Noah Daniel Shore, Noah Ross Weiss, Erin Shira Wernick, Clara Galler Wohlstadter.
Of those, Jacob Herstein, Raphael Burstein, Austin Jacoby, Scott Lacritz, Serina Romick, Zachary Romick, Noah Shore, and Erin Wernick graduated with honors.
Excellence was the continued watchword of the Class of 2015, officials said.  Graduates were only required to perform 130 hours of community service per student but averaged 700 apiece — a collective total of nearly 20,000 hours.
The AP, SAT and ACT test scores of the class by far exceeded both national and Texas state averages, and eight of the 29 graduates earned an academic average of  higher than 94 percent.
The most popular colleges expected to be attended by Yavneh’s Class of 2015: University of Texas at Austin, Yeshiva University, the University of Maryland, and Washington University in St. Louis, it was announced during the ceremony. Six students in the class intend to use next year as gap year.
Valedictorian Jacob Herstein, who will be attending the University of Texas next year,  observed during his speech that while students are learning in the years to come they “need to treat every moment like a once-in-a lifetime opportunity … and take chances.”
Dr. Portnoy, meanwhile,  went about the business of thanking alumni, parents, friends, families, supporters, faculty and Yavneh’s board of directors. Then, before he certified the class for graduation, he continued a tradition of warmly addressing each student out loud and sharing a memory or thought that marked that student’s relationship with the school.
Naomi Schrager, the school’s former head of Judaic programming who is moving to Israel this summer, presented the school’s Sylvia and William Epstein Golden Wedding Anniversary Fund Awards for Excellence in Judaic Studies honors to Meir Epstein, who will attend Yeshivah University next year, and Erin Wernick, who will take a gap year to travel to Israel and then attend the University of Maryland.
Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum, the school’s associate principal, for Judaic curriculum, offered the benediction. During his remarks he offered advice on how to stay right with God.
“As you leave the protective bubble that has been your home … you will no longer be standing in front of the window where God’s presence has been obvious and clear,” he said. “You will have to search further and dig deeper and have faith God is there anyway. … Peer through those cracks … Visualize the eye of God looking at you lovingly, highly and affectionately.”
Dan Prescott, incoming president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, said it is  probably a testament to the importance of Jewish education that these students have done so well and will continue to do so into the future.
“It’s a tremendous expense … and not to be taken lightly,” he said. “The dollars could be spent elsewhere. But each one who made it to this moment, try to feel proud, because this is the reward.

Mesorah High School for Girls

DALLAS — Thirteen graduates from the Mesorah High School for Girls received their diplomas Sunday, June 7 during the 12th annual commencement exercise at Congregation Ohr HaTorah.
As many as 300 — parents, friends, family, teachers and students — attended the event, officials said.
In comments offered during the ceremony, Rabbi Avraham Zev Kosowsky, headmaster, wished this class of graduating students all the best.
“Class of 2015, as we have reached the final moments of your senior year, my bracha to each of you is that you will always direct all of your actions toward Hashem and be a source of light amongst the Jewish people as true Jewish women,” he said.
Members of the graduating class included Penina Bracha Abrams, Aliza Leyla Benporat, Rachael Berk, Brocha Burr, Tamar Cohen, Shira Kosowsky, Ellianna Kurtzer, Devorah Lender, Osnut Moyal, Aliza Rosenberg, Elki Schonbrunn, Eliya Shimon and Shira Slater.
Headed to Israel
Of the 13 graduates, 10 plan to travel to Israel to study next year. This number includes valedictorian Shira Kosowsky, salutatorian Brocha Burr and Penina Bracha Abrams, recipient of the Keser Shem Tov (Crown of the Good Name) award.
The remaining three members of the graduating class are planning to continue their education in the United States, Rabbi Kosowsky said.
Other speakers at the commencement included Don Goldstein, board president of the Mesorah High School board of directors, who delivered the opening remarks.
Meyer Denn, executive director of the Center for Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, congratulated the class on behalf of the Federation.
Rabbi Kosowsky and Susan Rich, assistant principal, presented the awards and diplomas.

 

Texas Torah Institute

DALLAS — The six graduating seniors in the Texas Torah Institute’s Class of 2015 walked across stage at TTI’s Haymann Family Campus on Sunday June 7, marking the institution’s 10th commencement.
As many as 175 people were in the audience during the ceremony, according to officials.
The Class of 2015 consisted of Yehuda Benklifa, Moshe Avraham Cohen, Shlomo Leib Davis, Shlomo Zalman Kaufman, Menashe Chaim Roberts and Shlomo Yaakov Tanny.
As far as where they will be next year, three students — including valedictorian Shlomo Zalman Kaufman and Ben Torah Award winner Shlomo Yaakov Tanny — are staying in the Dallas area to attend TTI’s Beis Medrash, which is an advanced post-high school yeshiva program.
The Ben Torah Award signifies the person in each TTI graduating class who stands out among his peers and most embodies the spirit and the lessons — the messages and ideals — of the Torah.
Two of the graduating students will be traveling to Israel to study and one — salutatorian Menashe Chaim Roberts — is undecided, officials said.
Incidentally, the Nathan and Blanche Mark Award for Academic Excellence went to Yehudah Benklifa.
Academic Dean Fred Wagner and Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Tropper presented the diplomas to the students.
Closing was delivered by Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman, rosh hayeshiva.

 

Torah Day School

Torah Day School of Dallas held graduation ceremonies for its eighth-grade girls’ and boys’ classes at 10 a.m. and 6:45 p.m., respectively, June 7 on the school’s North Dallas campus.
The 13 girls will attend Mesorah High School for Girls in the fall. The 10 boys will attend Yavneh Academy, Texas Torah Institute, Bais HaMedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore, Mesivta of Greater Los Angeles, Yeshiva Gedolah of Greater Detroit and Yeshiva Toras Chaim Denver.

 

Akiba Academy

On Sunday, May 31, Akiba Academy of Dallas celebrated its 45th eighth-grade graduation, the first held on the Schultz Rosenberg Campus since its inception in 2005.
Sixteen students walked across the stage with highest honors in general studies going to Maayan Abouzaglo and Judaic Studies going to both Zachary Bernstein and Avraham Tannenbaum.
Shea Doty was this year’s recipient of the Marcus Rosenberg Cup, awarded to the graduating student who most embodies Akiba’s mission.
In addition to a moving video presentation showcasing the graduates in their last few years with Akiba, attendees were also treated to speeches from each member of the graduating class thanking those that have influenced them the most and reminiscing on their time at Akiba.
The entire Akiba community is looking forward to seeing what this bright group accomplishes in the future, both immediate and long-term.
Congratulations graduates!

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JCC gymnastics sticks landing with perfect 10, TAAF award

JCC gymnastics sticks landing with perfect 10, TAAF award

Posted on 17 June 2015 by admin

By Brian Bateman
brianb@texasjewishpost.com

Photos: JCC gymnastics Hannah Gaswirth stands atop the podium after scoring a perfect 10.00. Coach Debbie Weinstein said everyone went wild when the then-third-grader’s score was announced.

The Dallas JCC’s gymnastics teams have a history of success, but two gymnasts may have leaped the group’s lofty ambitions.
Hannah Gaswirth, a soon-to-be fourth-grader, scored a perfect 10.00 at her April 11 meet, while 14-year-old Rachel Berkowitz earned the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation’s top award.
A perfect 10.00 score is rarely seen at any level, and although the ratings system has been altered at the highest levels of professional competition, it’s still in play in lower classifications.
“We’ve never had one at the JCC,” Gymnastics Director Debbie Weinstein said. “A teammate had gone in front of her and got a 9.45. (Hannah) is a very determined kid. She kind of watched everyone else and knew how to improve on it.”
Gaswirth scored the mark at AFI gymnastics at Firewheel in Garland.
Meanwhile, Berkowitz’ achievement came at the TAAF spring banquet. The award is for those athletes that embody for what the TAAF stands.
“She’s very selfless. She’s just as happy if her teammate wins as if she wins,” Weinstein said. “She gives 100 percent.”
Berkowitz may not have even made it back to the gym if it wasn’t for that attitude. After a May 2014 back injury, she was placed in a back brace for most of last year.
Her ability to return to the sport was questionable, Weinstein said, but her resolve proved otherwise.
“She came back and coached other girls. She had to modify her events and compete at different levels, but she never gave up and kept going,” Weinstein said.
Berkowitz will attend ninth grade at Shepton secondary school in Plano. The JCC’s summer gymnastics camps are full. The competition season begins next January.

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May flooding complicates June problems

Posted on 11 June 2015 by admin

By Ben Tinsley
bent@texasjewishpost.com

DALLAS — Powerful May rains in Dallas and other areas of Texas effectively wiped out a longstanding Lone Star drought, but simply didn’t know when to stop afterward.
As it turns out, the month of May was the wettest ever in the history of Texas, averaging at least 7.54 inches, according to the state climatologist at Texas A&M University.
The result: flooding. Many other problems were indirectly caused, involving insects, roofing, wet rugs, air conditioning units, and malfunctioning roofs.
Local experts and business owners shared their thoughts this week on how some of these problems are being mitigated.
Chad Wall — an Allstate agency owner out of Plano — has a firm that insures many areas, including automobiles, homes, businesses and retirement.
Wall also sells flood insurance. Flooding made a huge resurgence this year thanks to the rains.
“We have seen floods in areas not even in a flood zone,” Wall said. “Most of them have happened in areas that don’t carry flood insurance.”
Todd Channon, a partner with the Waldman Brothers insurance company out of Dallas, said in the process of assessing clients’ needs, it occasionally comes up that their policies do not cover flooding.
“This brings to mind the need for that kind of coverage,” he said.
In this event, separate flood insurance policies can be purchased in that case, Channon said.
Homeowners’ insurance policies typically do not cover flooding created by storm water. It is, therefore, wise to determine the risk one’s property has of flooding, according to experts.
Determining if a home is at the bottom of a hill, if it is at the low point of a road, or next to a storm drain channel or creek can do this.
Mortgage companies typically require flood insurance for homes or businesses in a floodplain.
According to FEMA, people who live in the 21,800 communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program and in implementing floodplain management measures are eligible to purchase flood insurance. This number includes Dallas, Denton, Rockwall and Tarrant counties.
In addition to causing floods, the rains also compromised a few roofs, said Jay Crystal, insurance agent who works out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area at TWFG Insurance Services of The Woodlands.
“In Texas, the main claims I see are for those roofs,” Crystal said. “Roofs can be older, so it important to have them checked out and replaced.”
Crystal advised caution when it comes to maintenance.
“That’s it in a nutshell: Maintain your roofs,” Crystal said. “A lot of people try to wait until the hailstorms start coming down to try to fix them.”
Maintenance and care before the fact can go a long way toward preventing a bad problem, said Jason Nyardy of Broward Factory Service, which maintains AC systems.
Nyardy estimates that as much as 90 percent of the air conditioning failures he has to deal with are caused by a lack of maintenance — for instance, freezing up because of the filter clogging because no one has sufficiently cleaned it.
“We’re talking about the silliest things that the simplest maintenance would take care of,” Nyardy said. “If neglected long enough, these things turn into major repairs.”
Many customers don’t realize a lack of maintenance voids any warranty, Nyardy said.
Insurance is available for air conditioning. There’s home warranty, service and maintenance arrangements, Nyardy said.
Nyardy said there are certain air conditioning issues to watch out for during heavy storms. Lightning is one and the air conditioning should be shut off whenever there are threats of storm-created electrical surges in the home.
Then there’s the threat of heavy water hitting the air conditioning unit, Nyardy said.
“I would recommend always putting a gutter on that side of the house so water is not dumping off the roof,” he said.
Rugs can attract water damage. Joe Kboudi, owner of Rug Mart in Dallas, spends time counseling customers how to dry them.
“This time of year we get all of these rains and people are always calling about that,” Kboudi said. “All year round we get something. A pipe, for instance, could break during a winter freeze.”
Timing is crucial to fix matters after rugs get wet. Experts say a failure to move quickly could result in mold growth that ruins flooring, furniture, carpets and walls. It could also possibly lead to poor indoor air quality and subsequent respiratory problems such as asthma. So prevention of mold is paramount.
Khoudi, meanwhile, said if customers who purchased from him call in a few days, he could counsel them how to stretch a rug, remove the water and replace the pad so everything gets dry.
When it comes to problems maintaining windows and gutters, Dan Fowler, owner of Window Man Window Cleaning in Cedar Hill, concedes that the weather wasn’t as catastrophic for his company as it was as others.
“Now true, the rain made it difficult for us to clean the windows because it was wet and muddy … but a lot of times our storms took place during the evenings and at night,” he said. “So we would have good luck cleaning in the mornings. A bunch of it has stayed out of our way.”
Clogged gutters, incidentally, can be a hazard during flooding. Experts say when gutters fill up, they start to overflow and redirect water toward vulnerable parts of the house.
The result can be mosquitoes, erosion, rust, roof and foundation damage and damage to the gutter and roof support system from additional weight.
And yes, perhaps one of the most immediate and annoying consequences of rain is mosquitoes — known to carry West Nile Virus and the Chikungunya Virus.
Crystal Woods, manager of Mosquito Abatement for the Dallas Code Compliance Department, urged residents to be vigilant in a recent announcement.
She suggested insect repellents, long sleeves and pants, and loose and light-colored clothing when outside, staying inside at dusk and dawn — when mosquitoes are most active — and draining standing water and installing or repair window screens.
Dallas residents also are urged to take precautions against mosquito bites by reducing outdoor activity during early morning and nighttime hours, according to Woods’ report.
Residents who are outside during these times should cover their arms and legs and use a mosquito repellent, she stated.
Ron Dawson, a certified entomologist (scientist who studies insects) who owns Dallas-Fort Worth Pest Control out of Dallas, said the rains have brought out numerous insects including mosquitoes, gnats, fleas, ticks, fire ants, and spiders.
Termites, on the other hand, seem to be on the decline and crickets are more of a late summer issue.
“Fire ants have a way of surfacing when the ground gets saturated,” Dawson said. “After a long hard rain you see ants anywhere and that’s because they don’t want to drown and live above ground.”
Mosquitoes are increasingly annoying because they seem to develop resistance to poisons.
Dawson advised those who lean toward home remedies when fighting bugs after a storm to rethink their strategy.
“People want to use vinegar and sugar and flour and those things don’t work,” he said. “There are a lot of treatments available that are green and relatively safe by EPA standards that are very effective.”
Rick Vessels, manager of Eco Safe Pest Control out of Dallas, agreed that ants and mosquitoes have been huge problems for customers. But they’re not the only problem insects.
“There are also millipedes,” he said. “There are rolly-pollies and the big … roaches. There have even been a few comments about snakes being forced out of their normal habitat, — but we usually refer those calls elsewhere.”

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Optimism more than biological process

Posted on 11 June 2015 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was looking over a book called “The Optimism Bias” by Tali Sharot. Some time ago Time Magazine ran an article summarizing the book:
“Those rose-colored glasses? We may be born with them. Why our brains tilt toward the positive…in spite of all the negative.”
It outlines how, based upon so many negative life experiences, we should collectively be much more pessimistic about events and their expected outcomes than we are, yet we remain much more positive that we should be based on reality.
Although hope and optimism are healthy for us, they are often counterintuitive. This book postulates that positive thinking is hard-wired into our brains. Optimism was naturally selected during our evolutionary process because without the anticipation of a future reward man would have giving everything up.
Even the knowledge of our mortality should lead us to a “dead end,” to despair, leading our survival activities to stop because, after all, why is it worth it?
They use evidence from MRI scanners showing activity in certain sections of the brain which might indicate those areas are responsible for our positive thoughts and keep us thinking optimistically and happily when we otherwise logically wouldn’t.
Personally, this book, though fascinating, did not make me happy at all. I personally am a very optimistic person but would be greatly deflated to learn that all my optimism is simply a chemical reaction in a deep section of my brain.
Does Judaism have anything to say about this?

Reesa W.

Dear Reesa,
Though I am intrigued by the suggestion made by this book, I felt much as you did from this theory; to think that my optimism or anyone else’s is simply the result of hard-wiring is not very optimistic!
I find it very disempowering to think that our optimism is not the result of a conscious effort to be that way, and those who are depressed or negative are so simply because of some malady or hormone dysfunction. Judaism has a lot to say about this, and although we don’t have ample space to do service to this topic, I’m optimistic we can touch upon it!
According to Jewish thought, optimism vs. pessimism are part of the larger body of actions and thoughts regarding which we exercise free choice. The concept of free choice applies to that which we are obligated to do or not do, i.e. mitzvos. Which mitzvah would obligate one to be optimistic?
The answer is, the mitzvah of “bitachon,” or “trust” in the Al-mighty. The concept of trust is predicated upon the core Jewish belief in God’s unlimited power, giving Him the ability to affect the results of any given situation. Hence the Talmudic statement, “Even if a sharp sword is raised above your head, do not give up hope for Divine intervention.”
The notion of bitachon is further based upon the Jewish understanding that God is all-knowing, fully cognizant of all our needs, down to the most precise detail. Furthermore, He loves us all more than anyone else and, although He’s busy with many others, never takes His eye off of any of us for a moment.
All this teaches us that whatever happens to us is, ultimately, for the good. If the results of any given situation are not to my liking, I can still rejoice in that outcome because I know it is truly the best thing for me, whether I perceive this or not.
To live this way brings about serenity — you’re not nervous and worried what will happen — and brings about a life of optimism and joy. Things are truly good!
This realization is, in fact, “hard-wired” into our souls, which deep down contain a spark of Godliness and know this well. It is our choice whether or not to tap into that wellspring of knowledge within ourselves and live with optimism and serenity, or to live solely with the realities of the physical world, leaving God out of the picture, and allowing pessimism to take over. I, personally, would recommend the former; let’s be optimistic and happy.
Rabbi Yerachmiel 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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