Archive | December, 2016

Dallas Doings: USY, Yavneh accolades, new graduate

Dallas Doings: USY, Yavneh accolades, new graduate

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Submitted photo The Yavneh cross-country relay team (from left) — Griffin Levine, class of 2018; Rachel Sasson ’18; Reece Parker ’20; and Ezra Ruderman ’19 — placed 22nd in their division in the Dallas Marathon on Dec. 13.

Submitted photo
The Yavneh cross-country relay team (from left) — Griffin Levine, class of 2018; Rachel Sasson ’18; Reece Parker ’20; and Ezra Ruderman ’19 — placed 22nd in their division in the Dallas Marathon on Dec. 13.

Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharon@tjpnews.com

Dallas to USY’s 66th Annual International Convention

From Dec. 25 to 29, nearly 1,000 Jewish teenagers, educators, professionals, and alumni from United Synagogue Youth (USY) will gather in Dallas for five days of Hanukkah celebrations, interactive learning and hands-on social action at USY’s 66th International Convention.
A program of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), USY is America’s largest Conservative Jewish youth group.
This convention marks several firsts for the organization, from its inaugural Texas location to a new milestone in USY’s partnership with NOAM, its sister youth movement that reaches Masorti teens globally. USY will host young adults from 10 countries including Israel, Argentina, Ukraine, Uganda, and beyond at the convention and kick off a yearlong pairing of NOAM’s global chapters with USY regions. This new program will help foster lasting relationships between Jewish teens from diverse backgrounds, as well as global learning initiatives and social action projects.
“We are excited to bring together our teens to create global connections and discuss their shared future as leaders of Masorti/Conservative Judaism,” said Rabbi David Levy, USCJ’s senior director, Teen Learning.
The convention will focus on the theme Chazak, Chazak, v’Nitchazek, which translates to Be Strong, Be Strong, May We Be Strengthened. Through interactive educational programming, community service, and talks from peers and leading professionals, the convention will build teens’ capacity as Jewish leaders, individuals and advocates.
“USYers will leave feeling empowered to create positive change…and build a stronger future for themselves (and) their communities,” said Teen Co-chairs Noa Rose and Harrison Steier. “We will grow together and learn to overcome modern challenges in a Jewish context.”
Convention guests include keynote speaker, CEO and President of Hillel Eric Fingerhut, a USY alumnus and past Central Region USY (CRUSY) president, and former star wrestler/professional motivational speaker Rohan Murphy. Educational partners include Hillel, KESHET, and Stand With Us with study sessions focusing on topics such as the Holocaust, modern day Judaism in America, Israeli history, politics and culture, Judaism on the college campus, inclusion and the media.
Among the breakout session speakers are Dallasite and Holocaust survivor Jack Repp, who will speak at a 9 a.m. breakout session Dec. 26 to members of the New England Region delegation and others. Other local educators and leaders participating include Aaron Jacobs (former USY international president from Dallas) and Jason Cathcart (education director at Congregation Anshai Torah in Plano). Rabbi Neal Katz will speak to the teens about growing up a Jewish minority in a small town. He is from Tyler.

Jack Repp

Jack Repp

Local USYers participating at presstime are Lily Shane, Jason Bard, Lilah Harris, Sydney Wigder, Hannah Zhrebker (all of Dallas); Shayna Kisin (Fort Worth); Rebecca Goldstein (Frisco); Allison Eisenberg, Inbal Michaeli and Emma Berlin (all of Plano); and Hadar Bernstein and Jacquie Mitzner, SWUSY president (both of Allen).
These teens are part of the Southwest USY region (SWUSY), which includes Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. They are part of a 46-person delegation representing their home region at the convention.
In conjunction with local agencies, the entire convention body will participate in several hands-on social action projects with partners including Goodwill of Dallas, Hope Farm, ACH Child and Family Services, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Christian Center of Fort Worth, North Texas Food Bank, Catholic Charities of Ft. Worth, Christian Community Action, Mission Arlington and Mission Metroplex. The teens will also take part in ongoing charitable activities over the course of the convention, collecting donations for local Dallas agencies.
The convention will also expose teens to local Texas culture including visits to the Fort Worth Stockyards, a large-scale kosher barbecue at “the World’s Largest Honkey Tonk,” Billy Bob’s Texas, and a private evening at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
This year’s convention is sponsored by Uber, The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and the Schultz Family, Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Congregation Beth Torah, Congregation B’nai Amoona, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Congregation Shearith Israel, Congregation Anshai Torah, Congregation Agudas Achim, Butler Motor Transit, Josh Mohrer, Dianne and Martin Newman, and Donna and Herb Weitzman.

Yavneh caps fall semester with lots of good news

As the fall semester came to a close there was plenty of good news heading Yavneh’s way. You probably caught the cover of the TJP a couple of weeks ago, depicting the Yavneh boys’ basketball team capturing first place by going undefeated at the National Weiner Tournament and Shabbaton in Maryland.
Another Yavneh team, the cross-country relay team, had reason to celebrate. The quartet placed 32 out of 115 teams in their division, competing in the Dallas Marathon on Dec. 13. Cross-country relay team. They finished the Dallas Marathon in 3:48:11.
On the academic front, Yavneh was named the eighth best private school to attend in Dallas Fort Worth by Niche.com, a website that helps folks discover the schools and neighborhoods that are right for them.
According to its website, Niche rigorously analyzes “dozens of public data sets and millions of reviews to produce comprehensive rankings, report cards and profiles for every K-12 school, college and neighborhood in the U.S.” Last year Yavneh was ranked ninth.
In the first year of Jewish high school rankings across the country, Niche.com ranked Yavneh eighth among 63 schools across the country.
Ranking factors include SAT/ACT scores, the quality of colleges that students consider, student-teacher ratio, private school ratings and other factors.
As the last week of the semester wound down, Yavneh seniors began to receive acceptance letters to college. Among the top tier universities and programs eager to welcome Bulldogs to campus are Brandeis University, New York University, Stanford University, Stern College, Honors/Yeshiva University, Tulane University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, Plan II and Yale University.

New graduate

Mazal tov to Elie Allen, who recently graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Alabama. In the fall Elie plans to pursue a Master’s in Social Work. Elie is the son of Mona and Artie Allen of Dallas.

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No, Hanukkah is not a ‘Jewish Christmas’

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Every year I am challenged as a mother by the proximity of Hanukkah to Christmas, especially in a year like this where the two actually coincide. How can we possibly compete, with our candles, with their stunning display of colorful lights, filling the malls, decorating their houses, on their trees?
What do I say when the kids ask me if Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas?
Shawn P.
Dear Shawn,
What you and many like you are facing is truly a real challenge. We and our children are surrounded by the culture of the country in which we live, and if we try to “outdo” those around us we are doomed to failure. We must instead, while acknowledging the compelling nature of the local culture, focus on the beauty of what we have as Jews.
I have always been struck by what I consider one of the greatest ironies of Jewish history: Scholars have shown that many of the customs and celebrations of Christmas are actually based upon our celebration of Hanukkah, which predated Christianity by hundreds of years. In their desire to attract Jews to Christianity, its founders established this holiday at the same time as Hanukkah, with many similarities, but better, hoping it would break down the barriers for Jews to enter their fold. Hence their lights, which are an embellishment of our lights. The gifts, which started later, a takeoff on our Hanukkah “gelt.” The original 12 days of Christmas are a replica of the Torah reading of Hanukkah, which outlines the gift of the 12 heads of the tribes during the consecration (Hanukkah) of the original tabernacle, over 12 days.
Studies show that more Jews observe Hanukkah than any other Jewish holiday. Some sociologists explain this phenomenon — as you mentioned — that many Jews consider Hanukkah their “Jewish Christmas.” How ironic is it that the very holiday which is a replica of Hanukkah should be reversed and serve as the source of Jews observing Hanukkah!
(The irony continues to grow: Many, if not most, of the familiar Christmas carols which literally define the contemporary holiday were actually composed by Jews! I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas; Winter Wonderland; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Let it Snow, Let it Snow; Silver Bells; You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch — to mention a few — were all composed by Jews!)
To make it even more ironic, the very essence of Hanukkah was enacted as a celebration of the Jews to withstand the Syrian-Greeks’ attempts to assimilate the Jews into Greek culture and society. The miracle of the menorah was performed upon a flask of olive oil. One of the symbolisms of the oil is that even when mixed well with water, eventually the oil will not remain in suspension but will separate and rise to the top. So too the Jews were not able to become assimilated; they eventually separated and rose back to the top, to their connection to G-d and to each other. The last thing we would expect is for Hanukkah to be a way to identify with the culture around us, the antithesis of its own essential message!
I would recommend you visit some of the many wonderful Jewish websites which offer a wealth of material you can utilize to explain the beauty of Hanukkah to your children and will enrich your own appreciation of this special time. Aish.com and Chabad.org, to mention a couple, provide reading material, videos, cartoons and many multimedia opportunities to bring Hanukkah alive to your family and friends.
On Hanukkah we begin with one light and ascend to more and more lights, day by day. May Hanukkah be a time that all Jews will ascend and grow in their observance and pride to be who they are!
A joyous and meaningful Hanukkah to you and all the readers.

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Hillels of North Texas holds awards reception

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Submitted report

On Sunday, Nov. 20, Hillels of North Texas welcomed over 150 community members, alumni, parents, and students for its first dessert fundraiser at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas.
The evening honored two University of North Texas alumni, Mike Friedman and Brad Schweig, for their community leadership and service to Hillel. Two current Hillel students opened the evening, speaking about the impact of Hillels of North Texas on their university experience and Jewish identity.
The evening also featured a live auction by Larry Strauss. Auction items included student travel scholarships, Hillel Shabbat dinner, and other programs directly benefiting students.
The evening raised $36,000 to benefit Jewish life on campus at University of North Texas and University of Texas at Dallas.
— Submitted by Melissa Duchin

 

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8 values exemplified by biblical Jewish women

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Dear Families,
Every year and every holiday gives us an opportunity to enhance our experience and learning.
I check so many wonderful websites and wish I could pass everything on. This one is from www.reformjudaism.org and it is a keeper. There are so many lessons to be talked about with our children and the adults with whom we celebrate.
So enjoy Amy Soule’s candle lighting dedicated each night to a different value exemplified by a biblical Jewish woman.

  • 1. Justice: Deborah was a great judge respected for her sage and hopeful counsel. (Judges 4:1-5:31)
  • 2. Peace: Serach bat Asher brought peace and comfort to Jacob by telling him gently, through song, that his son Joseph had not been killed, as reported by Joseph’s brothers. (Midrash Ha-Gadol, Genesis 46:25)
  • 3. Sisterhood: It was Rachel, not her father, who ensured that her sister Leah would have the honor of being Jacob’s first spouse. Rachel taught Leah how to imitate her so Jacob had no idea it was Leah under the chuppah. In this way, Rachel saw to it that no shame came to Leah. (BT: Bava Batra 123a)
  • 4. Loving kindness: Rivka showed exceptional kindness at the well to Isaac’s servant Eliezer and to his camels by drawing enough water to satisfy the thirst of both man and animal. Thus did Eliezer find a kind and loving wife for Isaac. (Genesis 24:16-22)
  • 5. Compassion: Miriam had a vision that her mother would give birth to a child destined to become a great leader. She shared this vision with her parents, giving them the courage to have another child despite Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male infants. Miriam’s brother Moses grew up to be that great leader, shepherding our people from bondage to freedom. (Exodus Rabbah 1:22)
  • 6. Understanding: Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses from the water, then raised him under her father’s nose and let his biological mother nurse him. God renamed her Batya (daughter of God) in recognition of her great understanding of a people who were “supposed to be” her enemies. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3)
  • 7. Joy: Sarah demonstrated great joy after hearing that she was to have a child at the age of 90. Her happiness at this news reminds us to celebrate everything positive that occurs, even — and perhaps especially — the seemingly impossible. (Genesis 18:10-15)
  • 8. Love: Lot’s wife, Idit, looked back at her children and brethren while escaping Sodom, an act of selfless love that resulted in her being reduced to a pillar of salt, which represented her tears. (Pirkei de Rebbe Eliezer 25:160 a/b)

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How Jewish custom became the central point of Christianity

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

People send me things.
A fellow Rotarian who belongs to a very fundamentalist Christian church recently sent me an email.We know each other well from years of mutual participation in the same service club. He was not trying to “convert” me — he knows me too well for that — but only wanted to share an interesting sidelight from his own tradition, which was also new to him. His source is Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts: The Prophecies in the Feasts of Leviticus, a book by Michael Norten, who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Norten writes about gaining this new knowledge himself at a conference on Bible prophecy, where a teacher was expounding on the birth of Jesus as presented in the Gospel of Luke. In it, some shepherds, watching their flocks at night, hear an angel tell them of a divine sign: They would find a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. But — why was this a sign?
The teacher explained: These were not lowly shepherds, but priests from the temple who were assisting in the birth of lambs. Some they would certify as unblemished, to keep for future sacrifices. As each such lamb was chosen, “the priests would wrap it with strips of cloth made from old priestly undergarments,” he continued, after which they would put that lamb into a manger (just a trough that holds animal feed in a stable) to keep it from being trampled by the flock.
So when these shepherd-priests followed the angel’s instructions and saw a wrapped baby lying in a manger, they interpreted this as God’s own unblemished lamb, prepared for sacrifice! The teacher further theorized that since Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was the wife of a priest, she had probably provided swaddling cloths made from her husband’s own garments.
Author Norten was intrigued, and began asking questions. He learned that each Jewish family marked the lamb it would take for Temple sacrifice with a name, and equated this with the letters INRI, with which Pontius Pilate marked Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. They stand for four Latin words that translate to “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” His conclusion? Just as the Jews marked their sacrificial lambs with their family names, Jesus was marked with the name of his “family,” which was, ostensibly, all the Jews of his time.
And Norten pushes even further: The Latin inscription, he says, translates into Hebrew as “Y’Shua HaNatzri V’Melech HaYehudim,” whose initial letters are YHVH. Since the V and W may be interchanged, he reads this in English as “Yahweh” — the “unpronounceable” name of God as often pronounced by Christians.
All people like to look back on important events, in their own lives and the lives of groups to which they belong, trying to understand by relating the “afterward” to how and why these things happened. The story that Norten heard during a conference on Biblical prophecy illustrates one way in which the seminal story of Christianity may be explained.
I had never heard any of this before, and neither had the devout Christian who passed it along to me. I see it as one backward-looking interpretation of one incident in one book of what is today called the “New Testament”; I equate that kind of interpretation to the way so many Christians read so much of “Old Testament” Isaiah: as a foreshadowing of the arrival of Jesus as Messiah. But I also find this an interesting new Jewish-laden way to look at how a baby was “crowned” with divinity at birth, later coming to be called, in a then-new faith born of Judaism, “the Lamb of God.”
As we light Hanukkah’s first candle this year, Christians will be welcoming the birth of that very Jewish baby who ultimately became the central figure of their new faith. I only hope they remember that our faith is what gave them theirs …

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Recalling ‘Jewish Bird Lady’ of The Bronx

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Rubbing his palms together and with a big smile on his face, the local TV weather forecaster seems all excited about the first winter freeze expected to hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
This combination of wintry weather report and the birds at my patio feeder remind me of an unusual experience I had as a youth, growing up in the University Heights area of The Bronx during the ’40s.
The meet-up place in our neighborhood for getting a game together or planning activities was the southeast corner of 181st Street and Grand Avenue. A street light pole and a postal department mail storage box next to it made it an ideal location to sit on or lean against.
As I was waiting there by myself one cold wintry day, my friend Paul came out of his apartment building nearby and asked, “What’s up?”
“Nuthin’,” I said, to which he replied, “Do you want to meet the Jewish Bird Lady?” Jokingly, I asked, “Does she talk or chirp?
“Both!” he answered.
As we walked up the stairs to the second floor, I remembered having seen a thin, elderly white- haired lady feeding pigeons and other birds outside at various times and wondered if she was ”The Bird Lady.”
Paul’s apartment was on the left, but he rang the bell on the right. Introducing me to that same bird-feeding lady I had seen, we entered the apartment. She greeted us in Yiddish, which really wasn’t unusual in my neighborhood.
There was a living room with two bedrooms. The bedroom door on the left was closed. We entered the one on the right. Paul quickly closed the door behind us and, except for an awful smell, the room looked like a Walt Disney movie.
Birds of various colors were flying in and out of the open windows on the right, which faced the churchyard next door. The half-opened windows not only allowed birds to enter and leave at will, but also allowed some of the church tree’s thin, outstretched branches to reach into the room. Bird poop was here and there.
The room felt cold, but was probably warmer than the outside temperature. The stench was getting to me. I was afraid I might have an asthma attack, but I had to check out the two dressers against the wall. They were the only pieces of furniture in the room.
There were a few birds’ nests both on top of the dressers and in many of the open drawers. Some, but not all, of the nests contained eggs. I remember that there were blue eggs and also speckled eggs, but no baby chicks as I had imagined there might be.
As if what I had seen (and smelled) wasn’t unusual enough, I believe that I could hear the “Bird Lady” softly chirping and “talking” to the birds, who seemed to be chirping back. Who would have expected such an experience could occur, let alone in an apartment building, in The Bronx?
Fast-forward to September 2013, when I was a National Park Service volunteer for a month at Gateway National Recreation Area on Staten Island, New York.
On one of my days off, I visited my old neighborhood in The Bronx, which I hardly recognized. My old apartment building was still there, but Paul’s apartment building was gone, as well as the church next door.
In their place was the Grand Playground, but unlike many New York City neighborhood playgrounds, this one had many trees and plants growing, just where the churchyard had been. There was one especially large old tree with branches stretching way out to the sides.
It looked strangely familiar, especially with all the birds flying around. Some things never change.

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Film Review: What to watch before new year arrives

Film Review: What to watch before new year arrives

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Photo: Amazon Prime If you're not in the mood for a run to the movies, try out The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime.

Photo: Amazon Prime
If you’re not in the mood for a run to the movies, try out The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime.

As I’m writing this, the temperature is in the teens and I have no idea what the thermometer will read this Sunday.
But I do know a place you can go Dec. 25 where the weather is always perfect — your local movie theater, of course! And there is something for everybody to enjoy. My choices are listed below (in no particular order):

La La Land

A modern take on the Hollywood musical from Damien Chazelle, the Academy Award-nominated writer and director of Whiplash. Ryan Gosling is a devoted jazz musician and Emma Stone, an aspiring actress who sing and dance themselves into our hearts. The opening number is a joy to watch! I always wondered what folks did in L.A. when caught in an endless traffic jam. Now I know.

Passengers

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in an exciting sci-fi thriller directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) about two passengers who are on a 120-year journey to another planet when their hibernation pods malfunction. Sounds very bleak, but the story is actually told with a great deal of humor and has a wonderful message about humanity and solitude. Are some of the futuristic plot devices contrived? Of course, but strap yourself in and go along for the ride.

Jackie

Living in Dallas, we often believe we know everything about what happened that tragic day and in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. See it from a very different perspective. Natalie Portman deftly captures first lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s breathless speech patterns and mannerisms to a “T.” Surely an Oscar nomination is in her future.

Lion

Lion, directed by Garth Davis, is the true story of a 5-year-old Indian boy who gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of miles from home. Living with his adoptive parents in Tasmania, he sets out to find his lost family 25 years later. A truly stunning performance by Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo. Lion manages to be sad and uplifting, all at the same time.

Sing

Even if you don’t have kids, you’re going to want to see and experience Sing. A koala bear named Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition. The animation is brilliant and the soundtrack will have you humming all the way home.

On TV

If Sunday is a little chillier then normal, you may decide to stay home, break out the microwave popcorn and do a little binge watching. That’s what Netflix is for. I have a few recommendations that will keep you busy for hours on end.
If you haven’t seen House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, you’d better play catch-up before the fifth season is released in February. The Majority House Whip (Spacey) takes you on a long political journey as he exacts his vengeance on those he feels wronged him. And if you think the November election was rough, watch Frank Underwood in action. Even the soundtrack (by Jeff Beal) is smashing!
Were you a fan of Downton Abbey? Trick question — who wasn’t! Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is back on TV in Good Behavior as Letty Raines, a Southern gal (with a deep accent to match) who’s a thief and con artist just released from prison. She’s attempting to go straight, but instead meets a man who derails her plans. He’s charming and handsome; so what if he’s an assassin? Before you know it, they are enmeshed in a dangerous and seductive relationship. All episodes can be watched on demand on TNT; new episodes at 9 p.m. Tuesdays.
If you are an Amazon Prime member, you’re in luck! The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon series and season two has just been released. Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, this sci-fi drama, set in 1962, depicts an alarming premise: What if the Nazis had won the war?
So start a tradition. Go to the movies or stay home. Consider it your Hanukkah gift to yourself.
Susan Kandell Wilkofsky is the secretary of the North Texas Film Critics Association and a co-founder of 3 Stars Cinema.

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Kidney donations and behavioral economics

Kidney donations and behavioral economics

Posted on 16 December 2016 by admin

Submitted photo Shai Robkin (center), flanked by the recipient (in bed) and her daughter Latausha, who also donated a kidney

Submitted photo
Shai Robkin (center), flanked by the recipient (in bed) and her daughter Latausha, who also donated a kidney

Guest column: How a rabbi’s father made
decision to give organ

By Rabbi Yogi Robkin
Special to the TJP

Two weeks ago, my father donated a kidney. There was no one in our family in need of a kidney (except their own!) and there was no one he was aware of who could use his spare, and so he decided to become what’s known as an altruistic living kidney donor.
His kidney would go to a stranger, someone he could meet only if the recipient agreed to meet with him, and the rules being the way they are, he would have no control over who would receive his lifesaving gift.
That being said, my father had no interest in earmarking his kidney to a person fitting any particular set of specifications (age, ethnicity, religion, favorite baseball team etc.) even had he been able to. His sole motivation: Get his “extra” kidney to another human being who needed it. The lucky recipient ended up being a 70-year-old African-American mother of three named Glorious from Carrollton, Georgia. Glorious had been on dialysis for five years leading up to her recent transplant and is, thank God, doing great now and fully off dialysis! Glorious’ daughter, Latausha, who was willing to give her mother a kidney but was unfortunately not a match, signed up to become a living donor herself, thereby pushing her mother up the transplant list and increasing her odds of eventually receiving her lifesaving transplant.
In the very same Atlanta area hospital, on the very same day, two kidneys were removed, one from my father and one from Glorious’ daughter Latausha, and two kidneys were inserted into two individuals whom the two donors had never met before in their lives!
My father got to meet Glorious and Latausha the day after the surgeries and together with my mother and sister in the hospital room proceeded to have the mother of all cry-fests. The nurses cried with them. It was the ultimate Kodak moment, a moment to remember for a lifetime. Through her tears my mother explained to Glorious and Latausha that we were Jewish and that as Jews we saw this deed as a mitzvah, an obligation to help our fellow man. It may seem to an outsider that this moment was short in coming, but the tears in my father’s and mother’s eyes were two years in the making.

Researching process

Two years prior, my father had begun the process of researching the possibility of his becoming a kidney donor. He spoke to his doctor, read medical literature and subjected himself to the many tests one was required to pass in order to become a donor. On his final test, he failed.
He was told that he had high blood pressure and would not be a candidate for the surgery. My father argued that he had never had a high blood pressure result in his life and asked if he could retake the test, and they eventually acquiesced to his request. He would not fail this test twice!
When a match was found for his kidney, he called us all to let us know that there was a date on the calendar set for his surgery. The rest, as they say, is history.
This feel-good storyline is certainly worthy of public dissemination on its own merits (all the more so in an endless “if it bleeds it leads” media cycle) and yet I feel that I would be remiss if I did not share what is, perhaps, a more profound lesson for us all that lies not so much in the public details of this story (as it’s easy and enjoyable to read a moving real-life account of heroism and return to our regularly scheduled lives) but rather in the private and perhaps difficult decision to donate one’s kidney in the first place.

Why?

After the operation was finished, and the nerves that pulse through the heart of a child whose father is on the operating table died down, I found myself trying to pinpoint the roots of my dad’s decision to donate a kidney. Why had he done what so few people had done? What gave him the courage, the vision, the desire?
It would be easy to turn to the life and pattern of giving that has been the hallmark of my parents’ lives as the explanation for his desire to give the ultimate gift, and, although certainly true and central to his decision, I knew that there was something else inside of him, some missing link that was helping inform his decision-making process that was unaccounted for.
Just a day before the operation was scheduled to take place I received an email in my inbox from my father with a link to a story in Vanity Fair about a pair of Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, pioneers in the burgeoning field of behavioral economics. Next to the article’s link were a few words from my dad.
“If you took the time to read my behavioral economic analysis of Trump’s election, then perhaps you’ll have the patience to read a fascinating piece (fascinating for me, at least) about my heroes, without whom I probably wouldn’t be donating my kidney next week.” In the excitement and nervousness of this time in our family’s lives, I hadn’t been fully cognizant of the import in my father’s message. Something in this article unlocked the key to his decision to donate.
But what?
More than anything else, the study of behavioral economics attempts to understand the determining factors in the human decision-making process. How much weight does logic have in our decision-making process? Do we rely upon probability or statistics to help us resolve our queries? What role does heuristics play, the reliance upon our gut, rules of thumb or other classical decision-making tools in the final analysis?

Story speaks louder than facts

And what of the role of our subconscious biases? Daniel Kahneman had an early formed proposition that would be vindicated time and time again through the course of his many years of study: People don’t depend upon hard data like probability and statistics to form a final decision. As Daniel stated later in life, “No one ever made a decision because of a number — they need a story.” This, and the compound effect that “gut feelings have a mysterious power to steer us wrong,” led Kahneman and Tversky on a two-man crusade to re-educate the world and its decision-making leaders to reconsider the way they solved problems and made both small and large determinations.
The pair of Middle Eastern psychologists also noticed a fascinating phenomenon in the human psyche. Human beings have a much more acute response to the possibility of impending loss than we do with the possibility of a consummate gain that might come our way. In other words, we are programmed to run from danger more than we are programmed to run toward opportunity. This mental default position may help us escape from impending threats but it also compromises our decision-making.
In the world of finance, our fear of loss leads us to sell our shares when stock prices fall dramatically even as we know that a statistical study of the stock market over the last century would lead the discerning investor to buy at this juncture in time instead. Our collective aversion to loss leads us to take risks when we shouldn’t and stand still when strict logic and analysis advises us to move.

Decision analysis

The decision-making process surrounding kidney donation (“to give or not to give, that is the question”) starts the way any decision-making process might begin, weighing the pros and cons, the potential gains versus the potential losses. The thing is, a sensitivity to the findings of Kahneman and Tversky in “decision analysis,” as they called it, would naturally inform us that most of us, when made aware of the possibility of our becoming someone’s kidney donor, would run far away from the procedure for fear of what we would perceive as severe impending loss.
Unlike what we currently know about the real risks of kidney donation, there is no end to the scope and limitations of the human imagination. This is not to say that the decision to give a kidney is without any serious cause for concern. Any surgery has its dangers, as does the loss of any organ.
The point is that my father understood as a student of behavioral economics that we tend to overestimate loss and underestimate potential. Knowing what he does, my father was able to push aside his natural fear of loss and focus instead on the facts, statistics and advice of medical professionals. Were the dangers great enough to impede my father’s desire to save another’s life? In my father’s final analysis they were not.
After years of prodding people in high places to reconsider the way they make decisions, Kahneman and Tversky grew pessimistic about the role they could play in decision analysis.
“We have attempted to teach people to be aware of the pitfalls and fallacies of their own reasoning.”
It’s hard to know whether we have made all the right decisions in our lives, but my dad is convinced that he got this one right. He put it to me this way just the other day: “Imagine you were given 1 million dollars that could either be thrown into the grave along with you, or could be given away to your favorite charity during your lifetime. Which would you choose?” To my father it is as simple as that. God gave us a gift at birth — one kidney for ourselves and one kidney to share with someone else in need.
Two weeks ago my father gave his kidney to a woman who is no longer a stranger and we are all the more proud of him for it.

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F-35 stealth jets arrive in Israel

Posted on 15 December 2016 by admin

JTA


JERUSALEM — Two F-35 stealth fighter jets touched down in Israel for a handover ceremony from their American pilots to their Israeli pilots. They originated in Fort Worth.
The planes arrived five hours late for the Monday ceremony after being delayed in Italy due to fog.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was in Israel for the arrival of the airplanes. Earlier in the day, Carter met in Tel Aviv with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, and they “discussed the depth and strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and reflected on the unprecedented defense cooperation between our two countries over the last eight years — including robust developments on missile defense, counter-tunneling, cyber security and intelligence sharing,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Carter and Liberman also discussed “regional security challenges in the Middle East,” as well as the campaign to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group.
“Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship and the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security in the future,” the Department of Defense said.
During the handover ceremony, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Carter for coming to Israel.
“It’s a sign of your personal commitment to Israel’s security on many fronts,” Netanyahu said, adding: “And I wish to thank as well, along with all the people of Israel, President Obama. Israel is your best and most reliable ally in the Middle East — in my opinion beyond the Middle East. We will always remain so. Thank you, Secretary Carter.”
Following the handover, Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, along with Israeli military officials, affixed the symbol of the Israel Air Force on the planes, which are known in Israel by the moniker “Adir,” or mighty.
Each plane costs about $100 million. An additional six planes will arrive in the coming year.
Last month, Israel ordered 17 more of the advanced aircraft under the 10-year, $38 billion U.S. military aid package for Israel signed by Obama in September. Most of the aid must be spent in the United States.
The F-35 is built by Fort Worth-based Lockheed-Martin.

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Aggies show unity, peacefully protest speaker

Posted on 15 December 2016 by admin

Hillel members, Holocaust survivor find own ways to counter Spencer’s message

By Sean Shapiro
Special to the TJP

Members of the Jewish community worked to turn a potentially divisive moment into a peaceful message at Texas A&M last week.
Richard Spencer, a white nationalist that helped found the alt-right movement, spoke on the campus in College Station on Dec. 6. National headlines and coverage by network television stations focused on the loud protests inside and outside the Rudder Tower, where Spencer spoke to 400 people — many of whom were there to protest the white supremacist.
That didn’t tell the whole story.
There was a peaceful silent protest, which included many members of Hillel at Texas A&M, while there was an “Aggies United” event at Kyle Field that drew thousands of students and detracted from Spencer’s influence on campus.
“The response was outstanding,” said Daniel Rosenfield, executive vice president of the Texas A&M student government. “The message we were trying to get across was that everyone is united. We brought people from all lives together in Kyle Field, and that action sent a stronger message than Richard Spencer could send.”
Max Glauben, a Dallas resident who survived the Holocaust, was one of the speakers at “Aggies United,” and said it was important for him to share his message.
“Unity creates many things,” Glauben said. “And I hope we can have more upstanders than bystanders now. My speech was trying to prevent people from becoming bystanders. You don’t need to yell and shout; you simply need to do the right thing and not watch.
“We all bleed red, we’re all the same at our core,” Glauben added. “We may be different in what we think or how we look. But, when we are united and understand we are all people, that’s when we can avoid what’s happened in the past.”
Glauben’s message of unity was the polar opposite of Spencer, who told his audience, “At the end of the day America belongs to white men.”
Leaders at Texas A&M said Spencer had to be allowed to speak, since anyone can rent out a room on campus and exercise their First Amendment right. However, they made it clear he was not invited by representatives from the school and it was directly against Aggie values.
“I find the views of the organizer — and the speaker he is apparently sponsoring — abhorrent and profoundly antithetical to everything I believe,” Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young wrote in an email to campus. “In my judgment, those views simply have no place in civilized dialogue and conversation.”
Rabbi Matt Rosenberg, the executive director of Hillel and the campus rabbi at Texas A&M, said that was the correct response.
“I’m very happy with the response,” Rosenberg said. “The silent protest was very effective. So was the Aggies United event, which I think really gave students an option to be in a place of love, not hate. It’s heartwarming that the community came together.”
Rosenberg, who took part in the silent protest, said he was proud of the peaceful responses.
“This was a man who tries to bring out the worst in people,” Rosenberg said. “And by bringing out our best, that’s how we won. Whether it was protesting silently or dwarfing his event at Aggies United, I’m proud of the campus I’m a part of.”

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