Archive | August, 2015

Singing “Jacob Blesses His Sons”

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

Dear Families,
Summer is coming to an end and camp is over! It is a happy and sad time for campers and camp directors.
During Elul, we start the process of reflecting about the past year and planning for the New Year. A wonderful (and practical) tradition is to blow/hear the shofar every day of this month. Judaism is so practical — to get ready for shofar blowing at the holidays, we need to start practicing. However, that sound is meant to wake us up to evaluation and hopefully change.
This was a wonderful summer — camp was great and the JCC Maccabi Games were beyond amazing! Spending time with so many different people (kids, teens, adults of all ages and stages) affords one the opportunity to reflect on diversity of our community and family. We often struggle with the challenges of the many differences but we can also celebrate these differences.
At Camp Chai at the J, we sing every day together and a favorite song is Catalina Magdalina, about a crazy, mixed-up girl who is definitely different.
Many years ago I wrote a parody to the tune telling the various blessings that Jacob gave to each of his sons. Jacob blesses each son differently as each one is different. (check out Genesis 49 to see if I got the essence of each blessing).
Now, during this month of Elul, think of the blessings you can bestow on family and friends and even co-workers and neighbors that will celebrate the diversity in our lives. As Jacob did with his sons, recognize that each person is different, unique and b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God).

Jacob Blesses His Sons
CHORUS: Jacob had 12 sons but they came from different moms.
Each became a tribe in Jewish history.
Reuben was the oldest but he didn’t have much spine
So he got the basic blessing but without the bottom line.
CHORUS
As for Simeon and Levi, their families got mixed.
Due to what occurred in Shechem, their blessing was nixed.
CHORUS
All honor goes to Judah, the ancestor of David the King.
His tribe would win back the Promised Land and praises would ring.
CHORUS
Zebulon got the seashore and Issachar got the land.
In looking at the blessings, these two were very grand.
CHORUS
The task of judging all the folks was given to Dan.
But for eloquence in speech, Naphtali was the man.
CHORUS
Gad will be a raider with a winning warrior band.
And Asher will lead the traders and bring delicacies to the land.
CHORUS
Benjamin was the baby but he led a wolf-like tribe.
First he takes the goodies and later he will divide.
CHORUS
Joseph was the favorite but we all know that.
He got the longest blessing plus the coat upon his back.
CHORUS
Ephraim and Menasha were Joseph’s pride
They got Grampa Jacob’s blessing as they stood side by side.
CHORUS

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Finding textual support for Ishmael’s domination

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
You have been writing about our early sages’ prophesying an eventual world dominion by the sons of Ishmael, i.e., the Muslim world, before the Messianic times. Do you have specific Torah or rabbinical sources for what you are writing?
Marlene B.

Dear Marlene,
In last week’s column we cited the verses in Genesis Ch. 16:9-12 which tell the story of the angel foretelling the name of Ishmael to his mother, and the rabbinical interpretation of those verses, where we saw that his hand will be upon all.
The previous week we cited the pre-Mishnaic work, Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer, which tells of a fifth exile, that of Ishmael, which will be the transition from the fourth exile of Edom, the Western, Christian world.
I will translate for you, from the original Hebrew, some excerpts from the teachings of the renowned Kabbalist Rav Chaim Vital, student of the venerated Kabbalist known as the Ar’I z’l, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Tzfat fame. Note that these prophetic words were written some 350 years ago. Since his essay is in explanation of Psalm 124 by King David, we shall translate that first:
“A song of ascents. Had not God been with us, and the Jews said ‘please’; when ‘the man’ (Adam) rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive, when their anger was kindled against us. Then the waters would have inundated us; the current would have surged across our soul.
“Then they would have surged across our soul — the treacherous waters. Blessed is God, Who did not present us as prey for their teeth. Our soul escaped like a bird from the hunter’s snare; the snare broke and we escaped. Our help is through the Name of God, Maker of heaven and earth.”
Explains R’ Vital: “You already know that the exiles are only four: Babylonia, Media, Greece and Edom. However, the Jews are destined to be, in the End of Days, in the exile of Ishmael as is cited in Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer, the Midrashim and the Zohar … Behold King David prophesied with Divine Spirit in this Psalm what the Jews are destined to experience in a future time, in this final exile.
“Behold, while the Jews will be in the first four exiles, they will turn to God with the words ‘please’ (as said in the opening verse), without God’s helping us we would have been lost … but there will yet be a fifth and final exile, after all the previous ones, more difficult than any of the above, the exile of Ishmael, who is called a “man wild” … (in the verses in Genesis). Under his exile the Jews will cry out in a different way (not with the word ‘please’).
Rather, ‘if not that God is for us, when “The Man” rose up against us.’ Because since he (Ishmael) is considered ‘a Man,’ as he is a son of Abraham and he has the merit of our forefathers, as we find that Abraham prayed for his success saying ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before You’ (Genesis 17:18), furthermore he (Ishmael) has the merit of circumcision, and for this reason he is called ‘adam,’ the Man, and consequently his exile is more powerful than that of the other nations.
“This is as our sages teach that this is the reason he is called ‘Ishmael,’ (meaning ‘God will listen’), because the Jews are destined to cry out great shrieks during the days of his exile, and then God will listen to our cries and answer us…they (Ishmael) are destined to reign over the world and Israel as well, therefore it says (in the above Psalm) when ‘the Man’ ‘rose up’ against us… as it says in the Zohar that the lowest of all nations will reign over them… and this is why it says that ‘Had not God been with us, when the Man rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive,’ meaning that this period of the fifth exile is different from all previous ones…that, Heaven forfend, with the heat of their anger their desire is to wipe out the name ‘Israel’ completely from under the heavens, like an object which is swallowed which it can now not be seen at all…this applies to the exile of Ishmael who want to destroy our bodies and souls and to take all the money of Israel and swallow them alive, without leaving a root or a branch.”
The words of this great sage and Kabbalist are unfortunately not, as you probably noticed, very warm and fuzzy.
They do, however, prophesy what our Muslim neighbors surrounding Israel have been saying, quite precisely, i.e., push them into the sea, wipe them off the map, etc., etc.
Perhaps in future columns we will focus on what our response to this needs to be, in the spiritual realm.
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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Presidential meeting at SMU

Presidential meeting at SMU

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharonw@texasjewishpost.com

Editor’s note
When JFS Community Chaplain Rabbi Howard Wolk sent me the following, I had to find space for it in this week’s TJP.
Read and enjoy!
— SW-R

My Meeting with President and Mrs. Bush and the Dalai Lama
By Rabbi Howard Wolk

On July 1, I had the privilege and honor of attending a luncheon with President and Mrs. George Bush and the Dalai Lama. The luncheon was at the Bush Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. The president invited the Dalai Lama in celebration of the birthday that the two share, July 6.
Each of the invitees (68 in all) had an opportunity to have a photo taken with the three dignitaries. I introduced myself to the president and Laura.
I thanked him for all he did for our country and for being a good friend to Israel.
I told him that I was in attendance (with about 1,600 others) at the recent Israel Bonds Dinner here in Dallas. President Bush was the guest speaker. He said it was “awesome.” I told him that it was “inspiring.”
Before I could address the Dalai Lama, he greeted me with “Shalom.” I responded with “Shalom.” I told him that I had just returned from the convention of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest group of Orthodox rabbis in the world (over 1,000 members). I extended wishes of greeting to him on behalf of our entire council.
At the luncheon, I was provided a kosher catered meal courtesy of Simcha Catering including separate silverware. I thanked Amanda Schnetzer, the director, for her courtesy and asked her to thank Mrs. Bush on my behalf.
The president spoke about his friendship with the Dalai Lama and that it was important to him and Laura that there are members of different faiths in attendance.
The Dalai Lama spoke about the deep connection between himself and the president. They share a deep kinship even though they may not always agree. He told us that he felt President Bush was wrong for invading Iraq and told him so at the time. He said that friends can have disagreements and still maintain strong bonds of friendship.
After the luncheon, we went to Moody Coliseum, where the Dalai Lama spoke to an overflow crowd of 5,000 people. Cokie Roberts of ABC News was the moderator.
The Dalai Lama talked about the unity of Mankind: all created by one G-d. He emphasized the need for people to think about others. That higher education is only good if it fosters the ideal of service to others. That nowadays too many people look out only for themselves.
He emphasized that we are social animals and that the “me, me, me” emphasis goes against that.
A social animal needs friends and that friendship is based upon trust.
Thinking about loving someone is not enough. That emotion has to be translated into actions and deeds. If you share something with 10 people it can lead to impacting hundreds and thousands.
He also pointed out that it takes maturity to realize one made a mistake and that realizing that we all come from G-d gives us the courage to act.
The Dalai Lama emphasized education for girls and women. He said it is they who put more attention on values. Females should take a more active role to promote compassion. Those treated with compassion by their mothers are more compassionate as adults.
In 2011 the Dalai Lama resigned from all political practices and has said that there need not be a successor to him.
His teachings, he emphasized, need to continue beyond his lifetime.
Parallels are often made between the Tibetan people’s exile in 1959 and the Jews’ exile from the land of Israel. Dharamsala, the Indian city that has become the Tibetans’ spiritual center, has been likened to Yavneh after the destruction of the Temple.
The Dalai Lama, a self-proclaimed admirer of the Jewish people, has met in the past with rabbis and leaders to learn more about Judaism and more specifically how to survive in exile.
He concluded by saying that more important than a birthday — a person should make each day a happy day.
Rabbi Howard Wolk is community chaplain at Jewish Family Service and founding rabbi of Congregation Shaare Tefilla. Email him at rabbiwolk@JFSdallas.org.

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Cleaning up problems, loose ends from 5775

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

Here we are in Elul, the month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah. A good time, I think, to tie up some loose ends before the New Year arrives. Here are a few things to kiss goodbye as 5775 recedes into the past:
Emory University finally apologized for its blatant anti-Semitism between 1958 and 1961, when 65 percent of Jewish students in its dental school were either flunked or made to repeat a year or two, regardless of grades. (The school’s dean resigned in ’61, but this mea culpa has been a long time coming.)
Makes me think of my own father, who was second in his medical school class at Louisville. It was a long tradition in virtually all medical schools that their No. 1 and 2 graduates were automatically inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha, the prestigious professional honorary. But my dad was passed over for Number 3 — because Number 1 was also Jewish. …
When a cousin in California found a YouTube video on the history of the WACs (in World War II, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps), there was her mother, my aunt, one of the earliest enlistees. Because there were so few WAACs at the start, Aunt Sophie moved up quickly into a leadership position.
Then she met the soldier who would later become her husband. But she and Uncle Aaron had to sneak around to see each other, because she outranked him!
Before and during World War II, Ernst Leitz was head of the family firm that designed and manufactured that early, great 35mm camera, the Leica. To help his Jewish workers and their families, this Protestant patriarch had special trains take them out of Germany, on the pretense that they were going to work for the company in other countries.
And they did; he first assigned them to sales offices elsewhere, then arranged for their ocean passage to New York. When they disembarked — all with new Leicas around their necks — they went immediately to the company’s Manhattan office, where jobs were found for them there or in other businesses dealing with photography.
One of Ernst’s top executives and his own daughter were jailed by the Gestapo for their efforts to help Jews, but that great family name — and some well-placed bribes — secured their release.
I’m proud of Pittsburgh, my hometown, because it’s one of the few American cities that still has two independent daily newspapers. And one of them, the Tribune-Review, made me even prouder when it published an editorial titled “Funding Slanders: Stop This Nonsense.”
“One regrettable reason for rising anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments is that the United States and some European governments fund groups promoting these reprehensible views,” it began.
And it named some names. A United Kingdom-based group called Medical Aid for Palestine got money from both the European Union and Australia while accusing Israel of war crimes. A group called BADIL ran an anti-Semitic cartoon contest while collecting a reported quarter-million dollars from Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands. And one called MIFTAH published an Arab-language article with that old “blood libel” theme while collecting money from different United Nations programs.
“Europeans must demand that their governments stop supporting such despicable groups,” the editorial concluded. “And this is yet another reason for the United States to stop funding the United Nations and lead formation of a League of Democracies instead.”
And finally, the Associated Press reported reasons why Islam bans depictions of the prophet Mohammed: ‘Religious traditions built over the years (are) to discourage idolatry…The ban is further rooted in a wider prohibition against images or statues of human beings.” Has no one noted that Judaism led the way in this, as in so much else? Look around your synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and see beautiful artwork, but no statues of individuals, and certainly no representations of God. Just something else to think about as we enter another New Year together!

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Son’s kidney donation saves father’s life

Son’s kidney donation saves father’s life

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

Larry Brunell (second from right) now has three kidneys. The addition was a better surgery option than removing one. Photo: Brunell family

By Ben Tinsley
bent@texasjewishpost.com

ARLINGTON — Roughly a year ago, Adam Brunell, 26, donated his right kidney to extend the life of his father, Larry Brunell, 62.

The surgery, which took place Aug. 19, 2014 at Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, has allowed Larry Brunell to continue living a normal life.
“This is the healthiest I have seen my dad in recent memory,” Adam Brunell said Monday. “He has more energy, is able to eat foods that he was unable to eat for years and is back to the old Dad that I remember.”
In celebration of the one-year anniversary of the successful surgery, both father and son have decided to take their fitness to the next level and ride in the 2015 Hotter’N Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls.
This is one of the oldest and largest cycling events in the United States. Bicycle racers and fitness-oriented riders flock to Wichita Falls from virtually every state and several foreign countries Aug. 27 through Aug. 30.
Ben J. “Chip” Filer, executive director of the event, said about 10,000 participants are expected this year.
Larry Brunell said he hadn’t ridden a bicycle in more than 35 years when his son suggested they participate in this race together. The idea originally came from one of the doctors during the kidney surgery.
Speaking of that surgery, Adam Brunell said giving his father one of his kidneys was pretty much a no-brainer.
“I never really had an internal battle as to whether I should donate or not,” he said. “As soon as I found out how serious the situation was, and that we didn’t have much time before my dad’s kidneys would not be able to support him, I knew that I wanted to donate.”
Larry Brunell and Adam Brunell were tested and determined to be a perfect match. The testing of his kidneys was one of the more nerve-wracking parts for Adam Brunell because it was completely out of his control as to whether he would be a match with his father.
“Having the same blood type is not conclusive,” he said. “There a variety of factors that are considered, both mentally and physically, before you are approved as a match, I remember being tense the entire testing period because I don’t know if I would have been able to handle the idea that there was nothing I could do but watch from the sidelines as his health deteriorated.”
However, Adam Brunell did have some qualms about the surgery.
“This was my first major surgery,” Adam Brunell said. “I mean, I had had a few stitches, a few sprains, and a broken bone or two but — this was different. The procedure was much more invasive than anything I had ever experienced and the results were at best uncertain. Fortunately, I had a lot of family support who didn’t just provide support but also asked the tough questions to make sure that I wasn’t making a decision that I may regret later.”
Fortunately, the results were favorable, both father and son said.
In April, Larry Brunell started vigorously training for this race. This wasn’t hard to begin because both father and son come from an athletic background, they both ran cross-country and track in high school.
“I would rather golf but yeah I have good endurance,” Larry Brunell said with a laugh.
In addition to cycling 20 miles around his neighborhood on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Larry Brunell said he has also been participating in various extended bike races around the Metroplex to increase running time.
Getting back to normal after the surgery has been interesting for Adam Brunell.
“Once I left the hospital, I had a few weightlifting restrictions but by the end of week two I was feeling like my old self again,” he said. “Luckily, there have been no complications from the surgery and I am back to working out, rock climbing, running and cycling a few times a week without any issues.”
The kidney problem for Larry Brunell — a diabetic for over 40 years — began when he took a functional creatine test four years ago. The results of that test prompted a physician referral to a kidney specialist. He was told he either needed a transplant for his kidneys or dialysis.
“So many people need kidneys and there are so few donors,” Larry Brunell said. “Both of my kidneys were only functioning at less than 20 percent — and that declined to 5 percent. I would have to come home and take little naps. It wears you out when your kidneys stop functioning.”
Right now Larry Brunell has three kidneys. Rather than simply swapping one out for another they added the son’s to his.
“They placed the kidney above where my thighs would meet at my abdomen.”
Larry Brunell is taking certain medicines — including anti-rejection drugs — to stay stable health-wise.
“The only lifestyle change I have made is more drinking water to stay hydrated and the drugs I have to take,” he said.
Adam Brunell said he has no regrets about the surgery — at all.
“Looking back, if I had to do it over again, I would,” he said.
Larry Brunell, meanwhile, is hoping he might be able to use his experience to help others. He hopes to provide advice to people experiencing medical challenges of their own. He can be reached at 817-301-9229 or lbrunell@sbcglobal.net.
Larry Brunell wants to remind people who wish to donate a kidney and can’t get an exact match with their target recipient that certain swaps are available to help facilitate that match.
According to the National Kidney Registry, “kidney swapping” can result in an improved match between donor and patient that will increase the chance that the transplanted kidney will function better and longer.
According to the Living Kidney Donor Network, 25 to 30 people in the United States die every day because they can’t get a kidney.
“I want more people to donate and recognize that,” he said.

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Plano 12-year-old creates bracelets for Israeli playground

Plano 12-year-old creates bracelets for Israeli playground

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

By Ben Tinsley
bent@texasjewishpost.com

Jaden Kamen making bracelets to sell. Proceeds benefit a playground in Israel.


Young Jaden Kamen’s summer trip to Israel with his family was a bit of a revelation.
So much of one, in fact, that it inspired the 12-year-old to begin a special mitzvah project to raise money and replace some of the worn-out equipment in the JNF Indoor playground in Sderot.
Jaden — a seventh-grader at Plano’s Rice Middle school — was on the third day of his July-August family trip to Israel when he and his family made a point of visiting Sderot, one of the Israeli towns under heavy attack during Operation Protective Edge last summer. (Sderot is located less than a mile from Gaza.)
Jaden, his mother Kim, his father Alex, and his sister Maya toured the indoor playground built there to protect children during attacks. These shelters are adjacent to the play areas so they can be accessed within seconds.
What the Kamens then learned to their dismay was that the attacks last summer had a detrimental effect on these children — despite the fact they were protected. The sheer terror of coming under first-hand attack ignited post-traumatic stress in many of the youngsters who play there on a regular basis, Jaden and his family learned.
“It’s been difficult thinking about what the kids had to go through — and how hard all of this must be on them,” Jaden said. “I saw them when they were playing and they looked like they were having fun — but they also looked like they were ready to jump into a shelter at any minute.”
Jaden thought to himself: No child should have to grow up playing in bomb shelters. Everyone deserves a happy childhood.
Looking around, Jaden noticed a lot of children played there — but that the playground could definitely have less-worn toys and equipment.
“I saw that things are tarnished, and I knew I wanted to help pay to improve what they were playing,” Jaden said. “Several of the bouncing balls were deflated but the kids were still playing with them.”
Improvements to the playground would definitely cost money, Jaden realized.
Jaden’s mother (Kim Kamen, associate director of the Department of Regional Offices at AJC) said she has heard about this playground for years and had been hoping to see it with her own eyes.
It was a powerful experience for her as well, she said.
“It was beautiful — yet tragic at the same time,” she said. “Both Jaden and Maya were itching to play alongside the other children. If we only had more time — we would’ve spent the entire afternoon there!”
Kim said before leaving Sderot, her family visited the local police station where they’ve collected hundreds of rockets and mortars that rained upon their city during Operation Protective Edge.
“Amidst the twisted metal were several remnants of the Iron Dome system that saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives in Israel in recent years,” she said. “Holding those pieces and knowing how important they were and continue to be was an incredible experience.”
Jaden kept thinking how he could help those children. Ultimately, he came up with the idea to create bracelets for adults and children using paracord.
To do this, he drew on skills he had learned through his membership in Plano’s Boy Scout Troop 380.
Jaden currently is crafting the bracelets in both adult and child sizes for this particular bar mitzvah project. He said he intends to sell the bracelets for $5 apiece.
All money collected will be forwarded to the Jewish National Fund, which sponsors the playground, “They will see to it the money gets to Sderot,” Kim said.
To make the bracelets, Jaden purchases a few hundred feet of cord — two different colors — at a time.
As of last week, he had finished 200 feet of cord and 17 bracelets. These cords are white and blue in honor of the Israeli flag. Jaden uses a lighter to fuse the two cords together.
“I end up burning myself several times,” he said with a laugh.
After she posted her son’s mitzvah project on the Dallas Jewish Moms Facebook page, Kim said he received 35 orders fairly quickly.
“He was nervous about this project because he was worried about having a crush of orders to fill,” Kim Kamen said. “But he is trying to get them finished to the best degree possible.”
Anyone who wishes to inquire about the cords can reach Kamen by emailing kimkamen@hotmail.com.

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Jewish Children’s Regional Service

Jewish Children’s Regional Service

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

Volunteers individually wrap about 1500 gifts for Jewish youth and state hospital residents. Any Jewish family in the region with children can request gifts by emailing ned@jcrs.org, but do not delay! Gift bags and boxes for each recipient are being filled now, and wrapping events will be organized in September and October. Gift boxes need to be shipped well before Hanukkah 2015, which arrives in early December this year.

By Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharonw@texasjewishpost.com

Jewish Children’s Regional Service Assists Over Jewish Youth in 2015
I have known quite a few people who have benefited from the amazing services of Jewish Children’s Regional Service. The late Helen Shapiro was a resident of The Children’s Home in New Orleans, which eventually became JCRS. She often regaled me with stories of growing up there.
The calendar year 2015 has not ended, but Jewish Children’s Regional Service is already on a pace to serve over 1,500 Jewish youth in seven states of the Midsouth in 2015.
Youth in 200 communities in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas receive assistance each year.
Many of the programs offered by JCRS, such as special needs scholarships, Hanukkah gifts, and outreach programs are unique, and not offered by other Jewish social service organizations. Eligibility for all of the scholarship programs is based on documented, financial need.
This December, over 200 Jewish youth and 30 state hospital residents from the region will each receive a bag of eight Hanukkah gifts. Each bag contains gifts that were selected, individually wrapped, and shipped by volunteers and staff of the 156-year-old agency. The youth who received these gifts were either ongoing clients of JCRS, whose needs are known to the JCRS on an ongoing basis, or new clients referred by local rabbis and Jewish Family Service agencies.
Families who reside in the region can register for gifts now, but they must act quickly by emailing ned@jcrs.org. They will be sent a registration form for each child in the family. Gifts are age- and gender-specific, and the form contains a place for children to list their interests.
During 2015, 900 Jewish youth, ages eight and under, will receive free monthly books from JCRS under the PJ Library Program, a national outreach program that brings literacy and Jewish learning into family life.
Approximately 70 dependent and special needs youth are being funded or served through the efforts of the JCRS Case Committee, while the JCRS studied the needs of other Jewish youth for whom case plans and funding are pending.
Over the summer of 2015, JCRS funded 316 Jewish campers, who annually attend 35-45 different Jewish, nonprofit overnight camps across the United States. Financial aid is being provided to approximately 120 college students during 2015, and these students attended undergraduate programs throughout the U.S. as well.
Funds to support the annual budget of JCRS come primarily from large and small contributions from individuals, families and foundations, and the annual income derived when a family starts a scholarship fund at the agency.
To learn more about the oldest Jewish children’s agency in the United States, visit the website, www.jcrs.org; call the office at 1-800-729-5277; or write to JCRS, P.O. Box 7368, Metairie, LA 70010-7368.

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6 Weeks in Israel: My one true home

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

Editor’s note: TJP intern Rosie Bernstein, a rising Yavneh junior, spent six weeks in Israel on Bnei Akiva’s Mach Hach Ba’aretz program. This is the last weekly report about her experience.

By Rosie Bernstein
TJP intern

The last few weeks have been the busiest five weeks of my life.
I ran around the Land of Israel and saw it top to bottom, right to left and everything in between. I got very little sleep, took almost mediocre showers and slept in the Middle East desert with no air conditioning on many occasions.
But as I sat on the plane looking out the window as I made my final descent into Dallas, no part of me would trade this experience for the world. And to say that the past five weeks have changed my life does not even begin to describe how I feel.
Going into Mach Hach Ba’aretz, I was absolutely terrified. It was my first time getting a passport, going on an international flight and eating airplane food. It was the longest I’d ever been away from home and the only time I had ever left Dallas alone.
I didn’t know with whom I’d be traveling, what the counselors would be like and what the program had in store. I worried about the small stuff like not having enough clothes, not liking the food and my fluent Hebrew not being as fluent as I thought it was after all. I worried about homesickness, jet lag and getting sick from the water. But none of these fears even came close to touching the trepidation that was hanging over my head and had been since I signed up for Mach Hach: What if I step off the plane and feel nothing?
The rest of my journey was one incredible experience after another, each one more amazing, inspiring and uplifting than the last. And throughout each experience, I felt “it.”
My whole life, people have been telling me how amazing Israel is. I learned about it in the classroom at school. I heard my friends share their experiences from family vacations. People in my community moved to Israel. My parents went and came back with stories and pictures. Everyone always talked about the feeling — about “it.” I never knew what “it” was, but my whole life it was something I wanted to experience for myself.
I did, and I felt “it” everywhere.
I first felt “it” at the Kotel on my first night in Israel when I took off my blindfold and lifted my gaze to the Western Wall. And then again as I packed food for Israel’s hungry. And then again praying in the ruins of an ancient synagogue, a synagogue that our nation’s greatest sages may have prayed in, a synagogue that has survived through the good times and the bad, watching the Jewish people grow.
I even felt “it” while doing activities in the heat with the sun beating down on me, for I knew I was experiencing the same Israel as my ancestors thousands of years ago. I felt “it” again while stranded on the side of the road in a smelly Arab village, as first a plain Jewish man, then four Israeli soldiers and then two police officers, stopped on the highway to pray with us and stand with us.
I felt “it” again while on a kayak in the cool Jordan River, as a random Israeli family jumped in our boat and began a water fight, two groups of Jews, strangers on the outside, but family nonetheless. I felt “it” again on Masada at sunrise and again while floating in the salty waters of the Dead Sea. And then again while observing the beautiful wildlife of a Red Sea nature reserve.
I felt “it” again while placing rocks on David Ben-Gurion’s grave, so grateful to him for all of his work to ensure I could be in Israel more than 50 years later, feeling the power of the land. “It” hit me especially hard while welcoming in Shabbat on the top of a hill as the sun went down, the same way that the creators of the meaningful Shabbat services did so long before me.
I felt “it” again with my hands in the mud in an Ethiopian village, eating kosher sushi in Jerusalem, pushing my way through the Israeli market on Friday afternoon and while celebrating Shabbat with 350 other members of Mach Hach.
No feeling was stronger than the feeling of mourning over the loss of the Temple while standing over the very place that the Temple was and will be soon, praying and singing with friends and strangers alike.
I felt “it” in the City of David, in the Kotel tunnels and while celebrating the bar mitzvah of a boy I had never met but was so grateful that I shared in his simcha. I felt “it” again as I heard a re-enactment of the establishment of the State of Israel while at Independence Hall and again at Yad Vashem and the Har Herzl cemetery.
I felt “it” while wading through mud caves, touring an old prison in Acco, meeting the only Jew in Pkiin, praying at the grave of our sage Rashbi and hiking in a heat wave.
And finally, I felt “it” at the airport on the last night as I stepped off of Israeli soil for the last time. And although I felt “it” throughout my entire Israel experience, it wasn’t until that moment that I knew what “it” actually was.
The feeling I am describing is something that can only be felt in Israel. It’s different than the amazement of seeing elephants on an African safari. It’s different than the feeling of accomplishment after hiking Mount Everest. And it’s different than the feeling of freedom while cliff jumping off Land’s Ends.
The feeling I am describing is something I didn’t even know existed until I felt it myself, but as soon as I did, I recognized it as the feeling everyone describes.
It’s the feeling of togetherness and unity as you walk down the street anywhere in Israel. You look to your left and see Israeli guys in shorts and a T-shirt with no kippah and to your right and see rabbis and little boys in suits and long coats with payos down to their shoulders. And you know that you are connected by an unbreakable tie with all of them, that you would take a bullet for any of them just as quickly as they would take one for you.
It’s the feeling of praying with your face up against the Kotel and hearing a woman sobbing loudly as she prays just a few feet over. Her sobs don’t bother or disturb you, they inspire you and even though you don’t know her situation or what she’s going through, you pray for her, and you know that her sobs are reaching God’s ears and opening up the gates of Heaven for you.
It’s the feeling I felt the moment I stepped off the plane until the moment I got back on, and every moment in between. The feeling that even though I was in a country that I had never been to in my life, a place where the language was different and the culture was different and the people were different, I immediately felt comfortable.
It’s the feeling that even though I am in my house now, sleeping in my own bed, showering in my own shower, surrounded by my own family, I feel homesick, for I know that Israel is my real home.
She was waiting for me with open arms when I got there, and I know She will be there for me even while I’m here in America. And I know that Israel and her people are anticipating my return and will be waiting again with open arms no matter how long it takes me to get back. And I know the same is true for every Jew from all over the world.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we all share the same ancestors and a common history because it isn’t something we see every day. But spending the past five weeks in Israel reminded me that we are all brothers and sisters, and we all share a common home and a common heart.
I look at life with a new perspective. I see people who are different than me with more accepting eyes. I am devoted with a passion to the State of Israel and my fellow Jews.
I will do everything in my power to get back to Israel as soon as I can because I know that I am a better person there.
Israel has touched me in unimaginable ways. It was better than anything I ever imagined it would be.
And I am proud to call Israel my home.

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Iran’s Syrian gambit puzzling strategy

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

Last week’s deadly rocket fire between Israel and Syria was not an accidental falling of munitions inside Israel during one of the Syrian civil war battles, nor was it just another minor tit-for-tat exchange started by a terrorist organization for whatever reason.
On the contrary, it was a major event that gives us a good indication of Iran’s strategy, based on its long-term declared goals: eradication of Israel, establishment of hegemonic control over large swaths of the Middle East and an ongoing, death-by-a-thousand-cuts humiliation of the West in general and of the United States in particular.
What happened last week?
On Thursday, for the first time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, four rockets were deliberately fired at an Israeli community in the Galilee from an area under the control of Bashir al-Assad’s military.
Israel retaliated immediately with air, rocket, drone and mortar fire toward Syrian military bases near the launch site, killing one Syrian soldier and wounding seven.
The next day, Friday, Israeli forces struck a car in the village of al-Qom in the Syrian-controlled area of the Golan Heights, killing five terrorists of the Islamic Jihad cell that launched the rockets.
The Israeli military said its forces targeted the area, describing those there as “part of the terror cell responsible for the rocket fire at northern Israel on Thursday.”
Israeli officials blamed Thursday’s attack on militants affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a radical group headquartered in Gaza with some fighters based in Syria. Israel says the group depends on Tehran for funding and direction.
According to Israel, the attack was directed by Saeed Izaadhi, the head of the Palestinian unit of the Iranian military’s Quds Force, under the direct command of General Qassem Suleimani, a close confidant of the Grand Ayatollah.
“This attack on Israeli territory was directed by Iran,” said an Israeli senior official. “In other words, the Iranians launched aggression against Israel using a surrogate organization.”
But, why now?
There are several theories, but I agree with Israeli military and Arab commentator Ron Ben Yishai, who wrote in Politico: “The recent rocket fire toward Israel fits the policy of Iran’s protégés (terrorist organizations in Gaza and Syria) in the past year — retaliating against any perceived attack by Israel — whether it’s the interception of smuggled weapons from Syria and Iran via the bombing of supply convoys, or the targeted assassination intended terrorist bombings in the Golan Heights and Galilee panhandle.”
As Ben Yishai sees it: “According to Iran’s new policy, the Golan and Lebanon are a single front, on which Hezbollah is fighting Israel. This January, Hezbollah fighters shot anti-tank missiles at Israeli forces in Har Dov, killing two IDF soldiers, in retaliation for the assassination of two Hezbollah leaders, which was attributed to Israel.”
But Iran is careful at the moment. According to Ben Yishai: “The policy has stayed the same, and it seems that this time the Iranians chose to fire into Israel, even deep into it, but not to cause much damage or kill. This is probably due to the fact that the targets of the three-vehicle assassination were fairly low-ranking (Islamic Jihad) members.”
Today, Iran holds over 100,000 short-, middle- and long-range missiles and rockets in Lebanon, under the control and command of elite IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) forces that are capable of reaching everywhere in Israel with potentially catastrophic results.
But since Israel has put Iran, and the world, on notice that at the start of a war between the two countries, it will deploy massive tactical and strategic conventional forces to destroy a majority, if not all of those missiles, rockets and launchers (together with the Iranian IRGC fighters and Hezbollah terrorists located near them), while simultaneously destroying tactical and strategic military targets in Iran … It doesn’t seem logical that the Ayatollahs really want to go to war with Israel before they have a chance to reap all the benefits from what I still call a very bad “deal.”
Then again…this is the Middle East — don’t count on logic.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Email Gil Elan at: gil@swjc.org

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Shaare Tefilla selects new rabbi

Shaare Tefilla selects new rabbi

Posted on 27 August 2015 by admin

By Ben Tinsley
bent@texasjewishpost.com

Ariel Rackovsky

DALLAS — Eighteen months.
That’s how long the 170 or so members of Congregation Shaare Tefilla went without a rabbi.
That period ended this month, when Ariel Rackovsky assumed the pulpit — becoming the third Shaare Tefilla rabbi in the congregation’s 30-year history.
Rackovsky’s hiring was a long time coming. After Rabbi Ari Perl departed in January 2014 to assume a similar mantle at the Jewish Center of Atlantic Beach, a 12-member rabbi search committee was organized at Congregation Shaare Tefilla.
That committee conducted two separate searches to find a successor, explained Richard A. Rohan, president of the congregation and a member of the committee.
“It was a long, deliberate search process,” Rohan said.
In March, the committee found its ideal candidate in Rackovsky, a Rochester, New York native who was working at the time as rabbi at the Irving Place Minyan, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Woodmere, New York.
Rackovsky and his wife, Chicago native Dr. Jessica Abramowitz, have been married five and a half years. They have a 3-year-old son, Yeshaya. They are expecting a second child in October.
Rabbi Rackovsky, 35, said Congregation Shaare Tefilla really appealed to him as a possible new home.
“I love Dallas,” Rabbi Rackovsky said. “When we first got wind of this opportunity my wife and I decided it was something we wanted to be part of. I came out here initially for 24 hours and got a chance to see the sights of Orthodox Jewish Dallas. Then, my wife and I were both invited back for a weekend. We felt like we were home.”
So the rabbi accepted the job offer — but would have to honor several months of professional obligations before he could begin work in the D-FW Metroplex.
That was six months ago. Now here in Dallas and on the job, Rabbi Rackovsky said he and his wife are here and situated in a home — and really looking forward to getting to know the congregation.
Incidentally, the 18 months Congregation Shaare Tefilla did not have a rabbi was the second such extended period in its three-decade history, officials said.
Congregation Shaare Tefilla went without a rabbi for 12 months (2002-2003) during the transition between first Rabbi Howard Wolk and second Rabbi Ari Perl, according to Rohan.
Looking to the future, Rohan said the new rabbi certainly has the youth and energy necessary to connect with both the younger and older congregants.
The congregation’s founding members are now in their late 50s and early 60s and have certain expectations from their rabbi, the president said.
At the same time, the children of the founding members are moving back to Dallas and rejoining the congregation and the rabbi must also connect well with that group, Rohan said.
Fortunately, Rabbi Rackovsky seems to be able to do just that, Rohan observed.
“He is a very good speaker,” Rohan said. “During his audition weekend, he gave a sermon on Shabbat morning that held the audience spellbound. And he has continued to exhibit his speaking skills since he arrived.”
Rohan said he is equally impressed with the rabbi’s wife — Dr. Jessica Abramowitz.
“She will be a wonderful role model for young women in our congregation,” he said. “The two of them are very warm and down-to-earth people and I think they are going to be very well received by the congregation.”
Dr. Abramowitz, incidentally, is a graduate of Brandeis University and the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. She is joining the faculty of the UT Southwestern School of Medicine and is becoming an attending physician in their Department of Endocrinology, her husband said.
Rabbi Rackovsky also has solid credentials. He graduated Yeshiva College in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in biology and received his rabbinic ordination in March 2006 from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary — while serving as rabbinic intern at the Riverdale Jewish Center.
In the fall of 2006, Rabbi Rackovsky was named senior rabbinic intern at the RJC, and joined the rabbinical staff of the Beth Din of America.
The rabbi served there until the summer of 2007, when he was named assistant rabbi at The Jewish Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Additionally, the rabbi served at the Jewish Center from July 2007 to November 2011, when he assumed the position of rabbi at the Irving Place Minyan.
In December of 2011, he completed his Master of Science in general counseling from Pace University.
The rabbi and his wife have already made a wonderful impression on the congregation, said David Zoller, a member of Shaare Tefilla.
“My family got to know Rabbi Rackovsky and his wife Jessica over a Shabbat dinner in our home,” Zoller said. “He is very genuine, easy to connect with and is funny. Seeing the rabbi interact with teenagers and adults simultaneously, I knew he would be a fit for our growing community.”
Zoller said he was very impressed by a class the rabbi taught on High Holiday prayer.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I left blown away by the perspective he shared on what the prayers meant, where they came from, why they were set up the way they were and how we could relate to them,” Zoller said. “I haven’t stopped thinking about the class and am certain that my High Holidays will be more meaningful now that I have a deeper perspective on the material.”
Zoller said Shaare Tefilla and the entire Dallas Jewish community are fortunate to have such a high-caliber scholar that is able to connect on a personal level.
Miriam Tannenbaum, a member of the search committee, agreed that the rabbi’s skills are already being appreciated.
“In his time since arriving he has created a buzz in shul,” she said.
Tannenbaum said she has found the rabbi to have a wonderful blend of intellect, wit, humor and deep concern for others.
“When he greets a congregant with a ‘Good Shabbos-Shabbat Shalom,’ his care is evident,” she said. “I met him initially as a part of the Rabbinic Search Committee. He immediately radiated warmth and depth and breadth of knowledge and wisdom. He was passionate in his learning and his delivery of sermons.”
Rabbi Rackovsky said his plans include staying active in the initiatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He already is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.
“The overall theme here is, I want to make Shaare Tefilla the place to be,” the rabbi said. “I want it to be the place to be because people feel it is warm and caring on the part of the rabbi and the membership. I want it to be compelling for people of all ages — for people who are intellectually curious or spiritual seekers. I want to build relationships. As a rabbi it is my job to serve.”

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