Archive | July, 2015

Iran ‘deal’ may bind Middle East to Russia

Posted on 30 July 2015 by admin

By now I’m sure that most of you are sick and tired of reading, seeing and hearing the expert political, military, and scientific analysis about the so-called “Iran Deal.”
Everyone from the White House spin-masters (Obama on Monday in Ethiopia: “99 percent of the world agrees it’s a good deal”), to talking heads on every media station, have opined as to the heavenly virtues or catastrophic negatives of it (mostly the latter).
My personal negative opinion was confirmed during John Kerry’s Congressional testimony, when new elements and “secret understandings” were disclosed, and was reinforced by statements from Iranian leaders after the July 14 announcement. Here are just a few:

  • 1.    The agreement is not, and never will be signed. This is why the U.S. rushed to get it “approved” by the United Nations Security Council, thus giving a purely verbal “understanding” some pretense of legitimacy.
  • 2.    The promise of “robust anytime, anywhere inspections” is gone.
  • 3.    Iran keeps its already enriched stockpiles and bomb parts.
  • 4.    All military facilities, including the trigger and bomb-assembly plant in Parchin, are off limits to the IAEA.
  • 5.    All facilities are off limits to Americans.
  • 6.    All centrifuges remain intact though a few thousand will be temporarily unplugged.
  • 7.    With Russia, China and the Europeans already signing huge deals with Iran accepting the soon-to-be-freed $150 billion as loan collateral, the sanctions no longer exist, and cannot be “snapped back.”
    But the most shocking revelation was that Kerry apparently accepted the Iranian negotiators’ “solemn word and guarantee” that Iran: “Never had in the past, does not have in the present, or plans to have in the future…any nuclear weapons development or acquisition plan.”

Seriously? The whole unsigned verbal agreement is based on the “solemn word” of the Iranians?
As the Iranian leadership ecstatically tells mass rallies that chant “death to America and Israel,” just how easily they led on and hoodwinked a naïve president who was so desperate for a deal at any cost that he gave them everything they wanted without them conceding anything, regional leaders are listening with growing contempt, mistrust and lack of respect for the U.S.
The spin-dive of American status, prestige and credibility in the Middle East has created a leadership vacuum that is already being filled.
This brings me to the “Other Deal” …
Background:

  • Polls show that a majority of Russians view the U.S. as their No. 1 enemy.
  • At his recent confirmation hearing in Congress, to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford said he believes Russia poses the biggest threat to U.S. national security, greater than ISIS.
  • Two bloody civil wars are now raging in the Middle East:
  • The war in Syria, where Iran supports President Assad and Saudi Arabia supports the rebels.
  • The war in Yemen, where Iran supports the Shiite Houthis and Saudi Arabia supports the ousted Sunni regime.

According to Oded Granot, a highly respected Middle East and Arab-world analyst, over the past few weeks Vladimir Putin has been holding a series of talks with the Saudis, the Iranians and Assad of Syria, to end both these major conflicts. His proposal:

  • Iran will stop supporting Assad of Syria and the Houthis in Yemen.
  • The Saudis will stop supporting the rebels in Syria.
  • Russia will guarantee the security of the Assad regime, the Sunni Yemenite government and the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
  • Both cash-flush Saudi Arabia and Iran will purchase upgraded Russian weapons systems in long-term contracts.

According to Granot, the Saudis have already agreed to the deal and the Iranians have promised an answer “soon.” Israel is in the loop.
Whether this “Other Deal” succeeds fully or just partially, this is already a big win for Putin, who not only is inking large, multiyear cash contracts for Russia’s faltering military industries, but also is re-establishing Russia, and himself, as the main superpower in the region at the expense of the waning credibility of a perceived weak and toothless U.S., aka “The Enemy.”
And who knows … Putin may even “steal” the Nobel Peace Prize that Kerry has been reaching for since the failed “Peace Talks” restarted.
One thing is for sure — the flawed July 14 Iranian nuke deal did something that has not been done since after World War I — it has redrawn the Middle East map.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.

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Age no hindrance for YouTube-inspired baker

Age no hindrance for YouTube-inspired baker

Posted on 30 July 2015 by admin

By Deb Silverthorn

Photo: Cohen family Abe Preizler and Orly Cohen baked 10 dozen cookies — Linzer Tortes, Orly’s favorites — for guests of the Aishel House in Houston. “When I bake, people are happy, and I want there to be a yummy feeling in the bellies of the people who have family members who are ill,” said Orly.

Mix one cup of heart, two cups of tzedakah, four tablespoons of family values and simmer for 12 years and you are certain to end up with a bat mitzvah like Orly Cohen’s.
Mitzvah-minded, shalom-spirited, and community-conscious, earlier this week Orly delivered 10 dozen gourmet cookies, which she baked, to the Aishel House in Houston.
“My friend Maya introduced me to YouTube baking videos and I got inspired to tape my own show,” said Orly, who will celebrate her bat mitzvah during a Rosh Chodesh morning service Aug. 16. “Someday Maya and I want to have a bakery and I know it can happen. For now, I might be ‘just’ a kid but I started Orly’s Just Desserts.”
The daughter of Mara and Jacob Cohen, and sister of Avi, Orly has been raised deeper in the Dallas Jewish community than a seven-layer cake. Her grandparents, Rosie and Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen and Janet and Stanley Siegel, are well-known and beloved through their history at Congregation Tiferet Israel, Nishmat Am, and the Bikur Cholim Society.
Combining her love, and her grandparents’ examples of great works in the kitchen, visiting those who are ill, and serving the community, Orly found the perfect mitzvah project in her donation to Aishel House. During a planning meeting with Simcha Kosher Catering’s Lowell Michelson, about her own celebration, the idea became reality. With Michelson donating his kitchen, supplies, and the time and expertise of Abe Preizler, his chief baker, Orly couldn’t help but bake a bunch of mitzvah magic.
“Orly is talented and very interested in learning. She picks it up quickly and she’s a great kid overall,” said Preizler, who is well-known in Dallas as the former owner of Preizler’s Bakery and Deli. His relationship with the Cohens goes back more than 35 years, and includes his catering Jacob Cohen’s bar mitzvah a generation ago. He has known and adored Orly since she was born.
“I identify with Orly starting young,” said Preizler. “At 14, my father told me to get a job. I wanted to be a mechanic or a plumber or welder but he said, give baking a try. ‘If it doesn’t work,’ he said, ‘you can always change your path.’ Well? I’m still ‘trying’ it! I had good teachers and great customers through the years. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll do well and I believe Orly will do just fine.”
“Orly and those she has worked with, who have taken the time and energy to brighten the day of people they most probably will never meet, are giving without expecting to receive anything,” said Rochel Lazaroff, the volunteer coordinator at Aishel House. “The root word of mitzvah is connection and by doing the mitzvah one connects with the source of infinite light, the Almighty God. What a beautiful way for a young woman to inaugurate her entrance to Jewish womanhood, her personal relationship with God, by doing one of His mitzvot.”

Aishel House

Noting that Aishel House hosts accommodations for housing about a dozen people with visits and meals for close to 30 people each day, Mrs. Lazaroff said, “Orly has done not just any mitzvah, but one which shows kindness and caring. I’m inspired because I see a generation of beautiful people blossoming.”
A generation blossoming — with roses, or her Safti Rosie Cohen, to be specific. Founder and director of the Ohr Hadash Jewish Healing Center and the Bikur Cholim Society/Jewish Hospice Council of the Southwest, Cohen leads volunteers in helping those without health insurance, matching patients and doctors, providing financial assistance for prescriptions, food, clothing, and assistance with legal documents, and more.
“Orly understands, she has come with me — when it’s appropriate — to visit patients and she sees what they and their families are going through,” Cohen said. “I’m overly proud of the choice to demonstrate, through her mitzvah project, her maturity and respect for the values she has learned from her parents and grandparents. That she is choosing to give of herself unconditionally, and do for others at the Aishel House, is a gift to us all.”
The Aishel House, in its 11th year and under construction to enlarge the facility, is currently hosting families from Chicago, New Jersey, Panama, Israel, and other areas, with over 150 volunteers as young as 9 years old alongside their parents, making deliveries, cooking and helping in the Aishel House kitchen.
Families of patients being cared for in the many medical facilities nearby have a comfortable place to stay, they are provided with delicious hot kosher meals daily, and many other needs are taken care of, all at no charge. A team of dedicated volunteers shuttles patients and their families to and from airports, medical appointments, shopping — anything to reduce their burden.
Watching out for others
For Orly’s family, caring for others and creating a cake-topper-style opportunity to help others was not a surprise.
“Orly has always been one to watch out for others and it’s great that she can share what she loves, in a unique way to make others feel good,” said her mother, Mara. “This whole experience has been incredible — from idea to delivery — and in giving to Aishel House, it has been a lesson and a gift to our family.”
“I marvel at Orly’s baking skills, and how she has used them for her mitzvah project as well as providing us with delicious desserts,” said her Bubbie Janet Siegel. “I’m thrilled to be able to participate in Orly’s bat mitzvah by helping create the concept and design of the centerpieces, highlighting her passion for baking.”
“It’s truly one of life’s great pleasures to watch a grandchild grow, develop, mature and become a compassionate and caring young adult,” said her Zaide Stanley Siegel. “I’ve cherished the opportunity to see Orly grow in wisdom and in skills, having the chance to teach her to swim and ride a bike, and we delight in hearing Orly’s excitement in relating her Torah studies and stories (especially those from Chelm).”
When Orly stands before her friends and family, sharing her learning of Parashat Pinchas, her tutor is likely to be “slightly” more proud than most. Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen has directed hundreds if not thousands in his career as cantor and rabbi, and working with Orly — well, there are “almost” no words to describe the emotion.
“To work with a grandchild is the personification of the word nachas,” said Rabbi Cohen, for whom Orly baked a Torah-shaped and decorated cake. “I’m so proud of her menshlichkeit. Kishmah ken hee, ‘just like her name, so is she’ and Orly is exactly like her name — ‘my light’ — need I say more?”
“My bat mitzvah is on Rosh Chodesh, which signifies a new month and a new beginning,” said Orly.
“When I bake, people are happy, and I want there to be a yummy feeling in the bellies of the people at Aishel House. As I become an adult in my community, a new time in my life, baking for others to feel better made sense.”

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True love brings us one step closer to rebuilt Temple

True love brings us one step closer to rebuilt Temple

Posted on 29 July 2015 by admin

Photo: Rosie Bernstein Rosie Bernstein (third from left) and the rest of Bnei Akiva’s Mach Hach Ba’aretz program help an Ethiopian village prepare to build a hut.

Editor’s note: TJP intern Rosie Bernstein, a rising Yavneh junior, is spending six weeks in Israel on Bnei Akiva’s Mach Hach Ba’aretz program. She will be filing a weekly report about her experience.

By Rosie Bernstein
TJP intern

On Tisha B’Av, I sat in front of a large group of nonreligious Jews with microphones and speakers.
All around me sat small families on picnic blankets and towels.
And beside me sat hundreds of other Mach Hach participants, dressed in their Shabbat finest.
The common denominator: each person held in their hands a copy of Megillat Eicha, Lamentations, and each person was looking over Har Habayit, the Temple Mount.
It was the day that the Temples were destroyed and many other tragedies befell the Jewish people.
As the final moments of Shabbat came to a close, and the national day of mourning began to approach, all 338 members of Mach Hach Ba’aretz hoped and prayed and begged together that the Jewish people would not have to mourn this year, and that in the final moments before Tisha B’Av began, the Messiah would come and the Temple would be rebuilt.
But alas, as three stars appeared in the sky, and Shabbat ended, Har Habayit remained desolate, and the Jewish people remained in exile. And the millions of mourners around the world were forced to ask, “Why?”
We are taught in the Talmud that the Second Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, unnecessary hatred, and the Third Temple will be rebuilt when the Jewish people can achieve Ahavat Chinam, baseless love.
I spent the past week in the specialty track of my choice, the Beit Midrash learning program. Each day began with a class from a learned rabbi or teacher, followed by learning in a group setting in preparation for an afternoon trip. In the afternoons, we went to various unique locations for a hands-on activity that would bring our learning to life.
On the first day, we heard from an Ethiopian rabbi about the history and culture of Jewish Ethiopians. He told us about the struggle they went through to return to their homeland, Israel, and he told us about their Jewish brethren in Israel who attempted to deny their entry, claiming they were not really Jewish.
We later visited an Ethiopian village where we had the opportunity to observe some of the daily rituals of Ethiopian Jews. While hand-mixing mud, water and hay in preparation to build an Ethiopian mud hut, I had a major revelation. After learning about the religious rituals of the Ethiopian lifestyle, I could not help but ask myself how anyone could say they are not Jewish. The things they do are different enough from modern Jewry to make it clear that they have been cut off from the nation for thousands of years, but close enough that they cannot possibly come from anyone else.
And when I realized that, I felt a twinge of pain. This is the unnecessary hatred that destroyed the Temple. But just as quickly, I felt consolation. My group of 19 Beit Midrash participants digging in the mud with our fellow Jews was a step toward baseless love. The color of our skin and the tradition of the Torah that was passed down from generation to generation did not matter in that moment. We were just two Jews, two friends, two brothers sharing in our love for Judaism together.
And from that moment on, I started noticing baseless love everywhere.
Baseless love was joining with all Mach Hach members Friday night and davening at the Kotel with thousands of other people from all religions and all denominations, praying different prayers with a common goal and enjoying each other’s company.
Baseless love was all of Mach Hach joining together in one voice to celebrate Shabbat.
Baseless love was sitting 24 hours later overlooking Har Habayit; different people mourning the same loss, accepting of everyone’s differing practices.
Baseless love was walking through the streets of the Old City and seeing two bar mitzvahs at two different times and stopping our schedule to dance with the bar mitzvah boys whom we didn’t know to add to the joy on their special days.
Baseless love is joining hand-in-hand with 47 other people to experience Israel. Each person comes from a different background. Some have been to the Holy Land 20 times, and for others, like me, this is their first. Some can quote verses of the Torah word-for-word by memory, while others struggle to read even a few words.
But none of it makes a difference. For everyone, this is a summer to experience Israel through a unique lens, no matter how many times they have prayed at the Kotel. And the only thing that matters is that we do it together.
After spending 25 hours mourning and really, truly feeling the loss of the Temple, I walk through the streets of Jerusalem, noticing the baseless love that goes on all around me, and I vow to be an active contributor.
And as I hand a falafel pita to an elderly woman begging on the street and watch a soft smile spread across her lips, I know that we are now one step closer to being in a rebuilt Jerusalem all together one day soon.

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Keynote speaker, new rabbi, mission to Western Galilee

Keynote speaker, new rabbi, mission to Western Galilee

Posted on 23 July 2015 by admin

Photo: Department of Biomedical Engineering UT Austin Avi Wolfson addresses new graduates of the UT School of Biomedical Engineering, May 22.

By Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharonw@texasjewishpost.com

Avi Wolfson keynotes UT Austin School of Biomedical Engineering May 22 graduation ceremony

Dallas’ own Avi Wolfson, son of Kerrie and Dr. Steven Wolfson, keynoted the May 22 graduation ceremony for biomedical engineering graduates at UT Austin.
Wolfson graduated from Akiba Academy in Dallas. From there he attended Dallas ISD School of Science and Engineering at Townview, then UT Austin, where he double majored in Plan 2 Humanities as well as biomedical engineering.
After that he earned his Master’s at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston. He currently works for GE Healthcare and lives in London.
An added mazal tov to Avi and his new bride Ruth, who were married April 12.
The couple met at MIT as grad students.

Dallasite Rabbi Wendi Geffen assumes leadership of prominent Glencoe synagogue

Rabbi Wendi Geffen, 40, will become the ninth senior rabbi in the 95-year history of North Shore Congregation Israel. Geffen, who is originally from Dallas, has served the prominent Reform synagogue in Glencoe, Illinois, since her rabbinic ordination in 2002. She is the daughter of Joanie S. Geffen and Arthur Geffen, both of Dallas.
Geffen was selected to head the congregation of 1,350 families after a yearlong nationwide search. The congregation’s choice follows a trend among Reform synagogues across the country that are seeking to strengthen their reach in and more fully engage the communities they serve.
Geffen will lead one of the largest congregations in the Chicago area. She is one of only five young female rabbis nationwide to head synagogues with memberships that exceed 1,000 families.
“Today’s synagogue must be recognized as a living, dynamic, networked organization,” Geffen said. “When we redesign what the ‘walls’ of the synagogue look and feel like, people will gain a powerful sense of connection in an expansive yet intimate way.”
Along with being a spiritual leader, Geffen will administer a nonprofit organization with a multimillion-dollar budget. She acknowledged the challenge to develop funding sources beyond membership dues “so that membership manifests itself not through an annual invoice but through a deep sense of pride and demonstrated philanthropic giving.”
Although Geffen began her duties July I, the synagogue has planned a weekend of ceremonies, lectures and festivities to mark the occasion.
Geffen’s formal installation will take place Friday, Aug. 28, during Friday evening services at the synagogue. The guest speaker that evening will be Rabbi David Stern, senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-EI in Dallas, the third largest Reform synagogue in the country and where Geffen belonged.
Rabbi Stern, an internationally known human rights advocate, was recognized as one of the most influential rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine.
On Saturday, Aug. 29, Cantor Richard Cohn will speak at a luncheon in Geffen’s honor.
Cohn is the director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, the only Reform Jewish cantorial school in North America and the nation’s first institution educating cantors. Cohn, who previously served as cantor at North Shore Congregation Israel and Temple Emanu-El, also has been a vocal soloist with the Chicago, Jerusalem, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Grant Park symphonies.
The weekend culminates Sunday, Aug. 30, with several social justice projects that highlight Geffen’s priority of service to the community, including Operation Backpack (filling backpacks for underprivileged school children) and weekend meals projects for families in need.
There also will be a performance by CircEsteem, a nonprofit organization sponsored by Cirque du Soleil, the internationally recognized theatrical entertainment group.
The weekend activities are very much in keeping with the spirit that Geffen embodies, engaging with synagogue members as well as the greater community, according to congregation President Jody Weinberg.
“Rabbi Geffen believes the Jewish tenet of ‘repairing the world’ to be a critical part of living a Jewish life. She also is dedicated to helping those interested in developing their Jewish identities fulfill their goals,” Weinberg said.
Added Geffen, “As a compelling and vibrant faith and culture, Judaism — its practices, prayer, teachings and interpretations — enables us to transform ourselves, our communities and our world from the way they are to the way they can be.
“The profound gift of serving as a rabbi enables me to share my love of Judaism and its potential in order to foster growth and understanding with the hope of changing lives for the better.”
Toward that end, Geffen said she plans to expand on the synagogue’s mission of maintaining an open, inclusive congregation that welcomes interfaith families, families with special needs, people of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds and the LGBTQI community.
“New or veteran, seeker or cynic, activist or unsure — all are welcome and invited,” Geffen said. “A necessary step for the future must include rethinking old paradigms and synagogue engagement to increase interest among demographics previously overlooked.”
With North Shore Congregation Israel embarking on a more innovative approach to connecting with members and being a resource and partner in the community, synagogue leaders say Geffen was the obvious choice.
“A visionary leader and distinguished orator and teacher, Rabbi Geffen is passionate about Judaism, Torah and the ways these ancient sources of wisdom add meaning to our lives and enable us to better our world today,” Weinberg said. Geffen and her husband, Scott Duby, are the parents of two young children.

Save the date: JFGD Partnership Mission to the Western Galilee, April 3-9, 2016

Experience what makes the Western Galilee unique.
Learn about the programs supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. We will tour the region, meet with influential leaders, and connect with Israelis from the Western Galilee who are engaged in the Partnership program.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas makes a direct impact on the day-to-day lives of Israeli citizens through a direct partnership with the Western Galilee, the northernmost part of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea, through the Partnership 2Gether program with Israel. The goal of Dallas’s Partnership program is to build strong, meaningful relationships between the Dallas Jewish community with the land, spirit, and people of the Western Galilee to ensure a safe, secure, and vibrant State of Israel.
The land cost is $3,100 for double occupancy plus airfare. Single supplement is available at $850.
The mission begins in Israel around 4 p.m. Sunday, April 3, and ends at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 9. For additional information, email Sarah Golman at sgolman@jfgd.org 214-615-5275.
The Dallas Partnership Committee is chaired by Pam Hochster Fine, Jolene Risch, and Ron Romaner.

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Taking joy of reading from Texas to Balkans

Taking joy of reading from Texas to Balkans

Posted on 23 July 2015 by admin

Contributed photo Vanessa Lustig was one of 20 sponsored by JDC Entwine to give Jewish children in impoverished situations help.

By Ben Tinsley
bent@texasjewishpost.com


Dallas resident Vanessa Lustig traveled to Greece and Bulgaria on a JDC Entwine-sponsored trip in June to learn about global needs and disadvantaged Jewish communities.
But three days before she took that trip she experienced a very real need of her own — for some type of gift she could present to the young Jewish children she would visit at a Bulgarian preschool.
The 30-year-old was one of 20 young Jewish professionals on a trip sponsored by JDC Entwine, the young adult engagement initiative arm of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Lustig was the only participant from Dallas; the rest were from across the United States and the globe. One was from as far away as Australia.
Michael Geller, director, Communications & Media Relations at American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, said young Jewish adults in this program are taken to economic “hot spots” such as Sofia, Bulgaria and Athens, Greece so that they can learn how to function and plan in environments of economic instability.
“This is how they learn about global Jewish needs,” Geller explained.
But back to Vanessa Lustig’s need for gifts: She had only a few days and was concerned that she didn’t have time to purchase anything of any true Jewish significance. She feared it would be difficult to get her hands on 20 to 30 authentic Jewish children’s toys.
But Lustig decided to ask for help from the very supportive Dallas Jewish community. She emailed and called friends and colleagues with connections to the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and asked for help.
Mariam Feist — the chief operations officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas — responded first and suggested contacting Alyse Eisenberg, who runs PJ Library-Dallas and is also project manager for the Federation’s Center for Jewish Education.
PJ Library — a Jewish engagement and literacy program for Jewish and interfaith families with young children — sends out free Jewish children’s books and music on a monthly basis by subscription.
And as it turns out, the PJ Library book line may be the true hero of this story. Eisenberg agreed to donate around 20 to 25 PJ library books for Lustig to take as presents to Bulgaria.
Shortly after that, other response emails started rolling in. One was from Jackie Waldman, a very respected mentor of Lustig’s.
Jackie Waldman had recruited her daughter Melissa Plaskoff to help find some books to donate as presents.
Plaskoff immediately thought of — you guessed it — PJ Library books.
“I told my two older children, Hudson, 9, and Parker, 7, that we needed gifts for those children and they started running around the house upstairs and downstairs gathering books and stacking them up,” Plaskoff said with a laugh. “We gathered over 50 books for her to take on her trip. We thought they would be perfect to share with those kids she was visiting.”
Plaskoff said her children — including Annabelle, her 20-month-old — were adorable running around stacking books in service to other children they would probably never meet.
“They were really excited that kids in anther country would be holding and touching books they had read themselves,” she said.
So Vanessa Lustig had her PJ Library gifts. But with that success came a new problem: When she got to the airport she discovered she had so many books she was over the weight limit.
“Luckily my ‘flirting skills’ came in handy,” Vanessa Lustig said. “I brought up my two very heavy bags and my large carry-on to the ticket counter to be checked; the ticketing agent didn’t charge me a dime.”
The group arrived at Beit Shalom, the Jewish community center of Sofia, Bulgaria, the morning of June 23.
Beit Shalom is where majority of the Jewish programming takes place, Lustig said. In 2010, the Sofia community inaugurated a new Jewish preschool and kindergarten in the Beit Shalom JCC.
“It is the first Jewish preschool to open its doors in the city for more than half a century,” Lustig said. “It has been serving some 65 children, ages 2 to 6, and the numbers continue to grow every year.”
Members of Lustig’s group met with Betty Gershon, the director of the Gan Balahan kindergarten at Beit Shalom JCC.
“Betty explained to us that the preschool is not recognized by the Bulgarian state due to not having a playground and not being in a separate building,” Lustig said. “Therefore, since it’s not recognized by the government, Gan Balahan doesn’t receive a dime of funding from the government and relies heavily on donations and funding from the JDC.”
Somehow, despite the growing number of children, the officials there make it work, Lustig said.
“Surprisingly, despite the cultural differences, the lack of money and resources, the Bulgarian children receive a Jewish preschool experience similar to the one I did at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas — with singing, Israeli dancing, learning traditional Jewish songs, Hebrew alphabet, learning about Jewish holidays, and celebrating Shabbat,” she said.
Lustig was given the opportunity to present her gifts in a private setting.
The reaction she received was not exactly what she expected.
“So there we are, the three of us, alone with Betty and I present her with the 70 PJ library books that were donated by the Dallas Jewish community members,” Lustig said. “When I was presenting the books to Betty, she began to cry. She couldn’t believe it. And, of course seeing Betty get emotional made me get emotional and we shared a deep hug embracing one another.”
The gratitude in Betty Gershon’s eyes, combined with her smile and the hug she gave Lustig, made quite the impression.
“It was the true meaning of a mitzvah,” Lustig said. “It was a moment I will never forget.”
After everyone dried their tears, they joined the rest of the group Israeli dancing with the kindergartners who received their own little library of … YEP. PJ library books.
When it was time for the group to go, Lustig discovered she’d made some lifelong friends at the Bulgarian JCC preschool Beit Shalom.
“One of the kindergarten girls, Mya, kept hugging me and didn’t want me to leave,” Lustig said. “She started crying and then of course I got emotional … After all, I’d cried two times and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.”
They were tiny little children who didn’t speak a lick of English and they taught Vanessa Lustig an amazing life lesson.
“I am so inspired to do more to help not only the Jewish community in Bulgaria but in Greece, which is going through an economic crisis and the Jewish community there needs our help,” she said.
Evan Rosenstock, Entwine’s director for global immersive experiences, said this program runs about 25 to 30 such trips for young Jewish adults each year.
“It is such a pleasure to have young adults such as Vanessa come back from their trips so motivated to share their story,” he said.
Melissa Gendason, the Dallas PJ Library ambassador chair (Jennifer Charney is her co-chair), applauded the fact that PJ Library — made possible through the generosity of families like the Mankoffs and Waldmans as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas — can touch lives across the globe.
“Being able to share our resources with Jewish children in Bulgaria to help enrich their lives is truly what being a part of klal Yisrael is all about,” she said. “We are one family, and PJ Library is just another amazing way that we can strengthen the Jewish community worldwide.”

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Interns make mark on social justice

Interns make mark on social justice

Posted on 23 July 2015 by admin

By Ben Tinsley
bent@texasjewishpost.com

Rachel Frish

Megan Sims

For college students (and Dallas natives) Rachel Frish and Megan Sims, June and July 2015 marked The Summer of Jewish Social Justice — and perhaps the beginning of the next phase of their young lives after graduation.
Frish, 21, a senior at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and Sims, 19, a sophomore at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, temporarily relocated to Washington, D.C. for these months to be summer interns in the Machon Kaplan program at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. As part of that program, Frish and Sims learned about Judaism, social justice, advocacy — and about the way the professional world works.
The results were amazing, Rachel Frish said.
“I was able to camp outside the (U.S.) Supreme Court and wait for the decisions about the death penalty, the EPA and redistricting,” she said. “I got to go in the room as the justices handed down their decisions, which was really cool.”
Megan Sims said as far as she is concerned, Machon Kaplan offers the perfect internship.
“Since being here, I’ve gotten so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise — including the chance to make lobby visits, learn from brilliant teachers, and have a community of like-minded Jews to spend time with here in D.C.,” Sims said.
The two Dallas-area students made incredible strides during their time in D.C., agreed Rabbi Michael Namath, program director at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism who heads the Machon Kaplan program.
“Their internship supervisors have been impressed with their ability to quickly learn how to be a supportive member of the staff team of the organization,” the rabbi said. “They have both been valuable members of the community.”
Rabbi Namath explained that this summer study-internship program engages students on critical social justice issues from both a practical and an academic viewpoint. Participants such as Rachel Frish and Megan Sims intern at various public policy organizations such as the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, Citizens For Global Solutions, or the Interfaith Alliance.
Sims, the daughter of Mike and Michelle Sims of Dallas, worked with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) whose goal is to provide social change for the needs of Jewish women.
In working with the NCJW, Sims’ goal was to learn about advocacy work, become more attuned to Washington, and gain writing experience.
Frish, the daughter of Robert and Kathryn Frish of Dallas, worked with the Interfaith Alliance, whose goal is to protect religious freedom. Her goal was to gain professional experience working with a nonprofit organization.
Students in this program get a firsthand look at how groups pursue legislative advocacy, how policy is crafted and how interns can harness their own energy to make social change, Rabbi Namath said.
“The program is an effective opportunity to help college students connect Judaism and social justice,” the rabbi explained. “In addition the students are able to gain real-world experience through their internships. They live and learn as part of a special community of like-minded peers.”
Students in this internship program take “specially designed academic courses that teach the application of Jewish values to current social justice issues such as the environment, civil rights, LGBT equality and church-state separation, among others,” according to Rabbi Namath.
Most of the students live together and participate in weekly programs that include exploring the city’s monuments and museums. Additionally, this communal group studies various Jewish texts that connect to the contemporary policy issues for which they are advocating.
Sims, who intends to major in folklore and mythology at Harvard, said in high school, she was involved with the Dallas Area Federation of Temple Youth (DAFTY), including serving as social action vice president during her junior year.
She participated in the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken conference for high school students during her sophomore year, during which is when, she said, she got an opportunity to learn about Jewish social justice and lobby Congress. She said she already knew about the opportunity the RAC offers from the L’Taken conference.
Frish, a communications major at the University of Kansas, said she has always been passionate about community service and the idea of social justice — that everyone should be treated equally and have equal resources and happy, healthy lives.
“This is something I am passionate about,” Frish said. “A friend of mine put this program on my radar and I thank him for that.”
Rabbi Michael Namath said this is a crucial program for young Jews looking to discover their Jewish identity and cultivate a passion for social justice.
“Social justice is a core value of Judaism,” he said. “Helping students to understand that deep connection allows them to express their faith.”
Frish said she couldn’t be happier with the way her summer turned out.
“This solidifies my passion for social justice, as well as the idea I want to work in a nonprofit one day,” Frish said. “This is where I want to be.”
Sims had similar thoughts.
“I’ve had some great opportunities to connect with people, including my coworkers and other people I’ve networked with,” Sims said. “I’m hoping the chance to spend the summer here will help me even more in my future career path in the long run.”

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Beth-El searches for next rabbi

Posted on 23 July 2015 by admin

By Ben Tinsley
bent@texasjewishpost.com


FORT WORTH — Beth-El Congregation’s Ralph Mecklenburger is known far and wide as a rabbi of the highest caliber.
The members of Mecklenburger’s congregation describe him as one of a kind: A theologian. A scholar. An author. A well-respected community leader of both state and national acclaim.
During the past 32 years, Temple community members say, Rabbi Mecklenburger has used his engaging and energetic style to nudge them toward greatness.
But all of that changed Jan. 20, when Rabbi Mecklenburger announced to his congregation he is retiring.
“A year from now, upon retirement, I will be a few months short of 70,” Rabbi Mecklenburger elaborated to the TJP. “Beth-El and Fort Worth have been wonderful places to live, and to raise a family, so we expect to stay in town with many good friends! Most of my classmates are already retired, so it is obviously time to have leisure to do some travel and develop some interests, as well as traveling.”
Jane Nober, chair of the 13-member candidate search committee that will seek the rabbi’s replacement, said Mecklenburger’s decision to retire was not unexpected.
“He is heading toward 70 — and that is sort of the natural order of things,” Nober said.
However, Rabbi Mecklenburger’s retirement won’t be immediate.
Mecklenburger won’t formally step down until July 2016, when his replacement — whoever that is going to be — has been selected, verified, and a job offer made and accepted.
At that time, Mecklenburger will assume the role of Congregation Beth-El’s “Rabbi Emeritus,” temple officials said.

The search

Nober said Monday that members of the committee currently are in the process of creating the “job posting” for the rabbi position that will be placed during the High Holidays on the Central Conference of American Rabbis website, www.ccarnet.org.
Job candidates who see this ad and are interested in applying will do so through this website. All applications for this position of rabbi will be vetted and reviewed by members of the search committee.
Beth-El congregation members will have full access to all information relating to the new rabbi search, officials said.
This data will be available via congregational forms, email or on the temple website: www.bethelfw.org/successorrabbisearch.
All questions and concerns from Beth-El members are expected to be answered on a timely basis, said Laurie Kelfer, president of the Beth-El Congregation board of directors.
“So far, things are going very well,” Kelfer said. “We have had a tremendous response from our congregation.”
Nober, meanwhile, said many Beth-El members are hoping this process will lead to someone who can build on Rabbi Mecklenburger’s incredible legacy.
“We are looking for a dynamic, warm person,” Nober said. “We hope to find someone who can grow into the job and be a good fit.”

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War on Israel’s doorstep

Posted on 23 July 2015 by admin

For the last four years, an ever expanding war has been raging in the Sinai Peninsula between Islamic Jihadist rebels and the Egyptian government.
What started as clashes between various relatively small and diverse groups supported by local Bedouin tribes has, in recent months, accelerated to a full-blown war with large-scale military formations that threatens not only Egypt but Israel as well.
Background:
Sinai is a large triangular peninsula in Egypt about 23,000 square miles in area, situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and is the only part of Egypt located in Asia, with a population of approximately 1.4 million, mostly semi-nomadic Bedouins.
The Sinai has remained a part of Egypt from the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt (c. 3100 BCE). In periods of foreign occupation, the Sinai was also occupied and controlled by foreign empires, like the Ottoman Empire (1517-1867) and Great Britain (1882-1956). In 1956 Israel invaded and occupied Sinai during the Suez Crisis, and during the Six-Day War of 1967. On Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt launched the Yom Kippur War to retake the peninsula, which was the site of fierce fighting between Egyptian and Israeli forces. By 1989, as a result of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, Israel had withdrawn from all of it.
In recent years, Sinai has been the site of several terror attacks against tourists; most were Egyptian. Investigations have shown these were mainly motivated by a resentment of the poverty faced by many Bedouin in the area. Attacking the tourist industry was viewed as a method of damaging the industry so that the government would pay more attention to their situation.
Unrest has become more prevalent in the area since the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
From the start of the year until the end of June, 77 civilians, soldiers and judges were killed in attacks, while 163 militants died either carrying out a sortie or defending against an Egyptian counter-attack.
Here are just a few incidents that have happened this month:

  • July 1: Militants launched one of the largest attacks since the insurgency begun in 2011, on multiple Egyptian checkpoints, killing 64 soldiers. The attack also targeted the Sheikh Zuweid police station.
    Reinforcements from the Second Army stationed in Ismailia have been deployed to Sheikh Zuweid, and F-16 fighter jets are targeting militants in the city. Militants have reportedly killed several civilians who refused to allow them onto their rooftops to target security forces.
  • July 4: A shell struck a house in Sheikh Zuweid, killing a woman and her two children. On the same day, a roadside bomb targeting army and police vehicles killed a 5-year-old child.
  • July 15: Twenty militants were killed as security forces repelled an attack on a security checkpoint in North Sinai.
  • July 16: “Sinai Province” attacked an Egyptian navy patrol ship near the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip with a guided missile. The Egyptian military confirmed the incident. The attack is considered the first maritime attack of DAESH (ISIS) and its allied militant groups.
    With the merger of DAESH (ISIS) and the Sinai Province we are seeing disturbing developments along Israel’s southern borders:

The use of large, disciplined, well-trained and well-commanded heavily-armed battalion and brigade formations in the fight against the Egyptian army in Sinai.

  1. A capable naval commando force.
  2. Heavy ISIS infiltration in Gaza.
  3. Rockets firing into Israel from Sinai.
  4. A direct threat to Eilat and the Western access road to the city.

Israel is, of course, working with its peace partner Egypt to deal with their common enemy. I am glad that after a two-year hiatus, the U.S. administration is also providing democratically elected President Al-Assisi with the weapons and tools he needs to fight this vicious, Islamist, anti-American insurgency.
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

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DFW responds to Iran nuclear deal

Posted on 23 July 2015 by admin

TJP reporter Ben Tinsley spent a few hours last week asking  North Texas residents what they thought of the U.S.-led negotiations with Iran.
Here are selected responses:

Question: What do you think about the recent
decision to allow a nuclear Iran?

  • “I wasn’t surprised. This is all very interesting but the Iranians have nothing to say about this. It’s a totalitarian regime and all it will do is increase terrorism and cause an arms race. You just can’t deal with these people. I was thinking Obama would get a deal, but he’s given away the store.
    “There’s plenty of time for them to cheat on this. Why do we expect them not to cheat?”
    — Seymour Stecker, Rowlett
  • “I think it is a mistake.”
    — Bill Coleman, Dallas
  • “I support it 100 percent. It is good for Americans. This is wonderful. Not a perfect plan but a good one. We can’t get a perfect plan, but I think there are a lot of positive things here. We cannot afford another war where we kill people … “We lost Vietnam, we lost Afghanistan, and we are trillions of dollars in debt. Let’s sit down and negotiate peacefully with these people.”
    —  Joel Batalsky, Dallas
  • “I just think it’s a horrible mistake. I don’t understand why — I hesitate to use the word ‘president’ — he is so obsessed with his ‘legacy.’ It will be a legacy like Neville Chamberlain’s.”
    — Arnold Barkman, Fort Worth
  • “I am disappointed and think it is a mistake, but I’m not surprised with everything Obama is doing. It’s anti-U.S. values and anti-Israel.”
    — Will Stallworth, Fort Worth
  • “I’m very much afraid of it — of what’s going to happen.”
    — Connie Stallworth, Fort Worth
  • “We have done monumentally stupid things in this country before, but this takes the cake. I’ve been feeling sick about this all along. I knew this would happen and here we are.”
    — Frankie Schwartzwald, Grand Prairie
  • “It is a bad decision and we’re in really big trouble. … Just think of them getting that nuclear weapon.”
    — Ann Schwartzwald, Arlington
  • “I do not believe it is safe — and certainly not in anyone’s best interest. We are in danger.”
    — Melba Yeoman, Fort Worth

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Fasting, other rules for Tisha B’Av

Posted on 23 July 2015 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could I trouble you to give a short synopsis of the laws of the upcoming Tisha B’Av observance?
Thanks!
­– Cathie W.
Dear Cathie,
I’ll try to give it to you in a nutshell:
For those unfamiliar, Tisha B’Av, or the ninth of the Jewish month of Av, is the fast day which commemorates the day upon which both the first and second Temples were destroyed, causing the subsequent exiles.
Numerous other calamities took place on the same date, from the event of the spies in the Desert, through the expulsion of Spanish Jewry, up until the first shot fired in World War I, which ultimately precipitated World War II and the unspeakable Holocaust.
On this day we mourn all the unfortunate events which have transpired throughout our history.
The fast and observances begin this coming Saturday night, July 25 and continue until nightfall Sunday night. (Like Yom Kippur, and unlike other fast days, we observe this fast from the night.)
Technically, the actual date of the ninth of Av falls out on Shabbos; since we cannot fast or mourn on the Sabbath we delay the observance of Tisha B’Av until Sunday. This gives the day a slightly more lenient status with regard to certain people who have difficulty fasting; one should consult a rabbinical authority to ascertain to whom this may apply.
During the entire day of Tisha B’Av we refrain from five types of activities: 1) eating and drinking, 2) bathing or showering, 3) smearing ourselves with enjoyable oils, 4) wearing leather shoes, 5) marital intimacy.
We do not recite the traditional Havdallah Saturday night as usual, besides the mention of Havdallah in the evening Amidah service. Havdallah is, instead, recited Sunday night at the completion of the fast.
If an adult is in the category of those who need to eat on Tisha B’Av for health reasons, he or she should first recite Havdallah before eating. (In that case, if, for example, a woman needs to eat because she is, for example, within 30 days of childbirth, her husband may recite the Havdallah as usual and she can drink the grape juice or wine, unless there is a child to drink it for her around the age of 7-9.)
If a woman is nursing or pregnant she should consult a rabbinical authority to determine how she should observe the fast or what amounts she should eat and at what intervals, after consultation with her doctor.
We are not to sit upon a regular chair beginning Saturday night, rather on the floor, on a low chair (like that used in the house of a mourner), or upon a cushion on the floor. This holds true until midday Sunday (this year in Dallas approximately
1:33 p.m.).
Tallis and tefillin are not worn on Tisha B’Av morning, and also can be put on only after the time of midday; customarily they are put on at the afternoon service near the end of the fast.
Customarily, Kinos, or dirges which were written as lamentations, are read at night and in the morning in synagogue and can also be recited at home. (I recommend reading them in English to get the full impact.)
This is in addition to the reading of the Book of Lamentations (Eichah), authored by Jeremiah the Prophet, who prophesied and witnessed the destruction of the First Temple.
The Talmud says that who ever mourns the destruction of the Temple will witness the joy of its rebuilding in Messianic times. Napoleon Bonaparte, while conquering Europe, came across a synagogue where the members were sitting upon the floor and crying. Napoleon consulted his religious adviser: Why are those Jews crying and mourning? Did someone important just die?
When he was told it is Tisha B’Av and they are mourning over the destruction of their Temple nearly 2,000 years ago, he exclaimed: “If it was destroyed so long ago and they still remember and mourn it, I’m sure they will one day see it rebuilt!”
May those words come true soon!
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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