Archive | December, 2017

Moving from dream to reality

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
As a teacher, you plan a lesson or story and “think” you know where the children (or adults) will go with it.
Telling about Jacob’s dream about the ladder and the angels, I was sure we would talk about angels but the kids wanted to talk about dreams! So we talked about dreams and whether they are real and what we can learn from them. This led me (and the class) back to the Torah, which led me to a bit more research helped by a d’var Torah by Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce, senior rabbi emeritus of Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco.
You can always fact check me and let me know where I went wrong, but there are only 10 dreams recorded in the Torah and they all are in the Book of Genesis. Here they are but you have to go to the book for the details:

  • Genesis 20:3-7
  • Genesis 28:12-15
  • Genesis 31:10- 13
  • Genesis 31:22-24
  • 5 & 6: Genesis 37:5-11
  • 7 & 8: Genesis 40:7-19
  • 9 & 10: Genesis 41:1-7

Each of us has recounted dreams to others asking for help to understand the meaning. It would be great if we saw what happened next as in the Book of Genesis. However, there are also those dreams that are hopes and wishes for things to happen. The Jewish New Year is past and the secular New Year is almost here. I would guess that most of us will celebrate in some fashion and we will think about making those resolutions that are joked about.
However, is a New Year’s resolution a dream … a hope … a wish? Or is it a promise … a commitment? How can we make those resolutions, dreams, wishes and commitments come true?
Hanukkah may be over but the lessons from the holiday continue. Rabbi Pearce writes in his d’var Torah: “This season of Hanukkah provides an opportunity to take a page from the Book of Genesis and recognize that there may be more than luck to having dreams turn out as anticipated … It takes awareness that personal intervention rather than passive waiting for an outcome may, at times, turn dreams into reality. The Maccabees … took up the challenge of forcefully turning their dreams into reality.”
And let us remember Theodor Herzl’s words: “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

Comments (0)

After 18 years, I’m finally home in Israel

After 18 years, I’m finally home in Israel

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a monthly column describing Rosie Bernstein’s experience in Israel.

Rosie Bernstein (center, back row) celebrates with her Israeli and Dallas friends, on the day she became an Israeli citizen.

Rosie Bernstein (center, back row) celebrates with her Israeli and Dallas friends, on the day she became an Israeli citizen.

 

Dec. 6, 2017 — Jerusalem was in every headline on the front page of every news source around the world. And I was in Jerusalem. All eyes were on the little, cobblestone city. But the city felt empty.

Rosie Bernstein

Rosie Bernstein

Rain poured down in buckets, flowing down the sloped streets like rushing rivers. And I walked, hands jammed in my pockets, my warm breath making little clouds in the biting winter air, toward the Western Wall.
The last time I visited the Kotel was at sunrise during Sukkot alongside thousands of other Jews. But this time, as I neared the Kotel plaza, I saw that it was nearly empty.
I planned to stand at the Wall for several hours that day, and have a long conversation with God before I made my way to do the most important thing I have ever done in my life. But when I arrived at the Kotel, and felt the rain beating down on my back, I said to myself, I’ll just go down and say a quick hello to the Kotel, and then I’ll go pray somewhere covered. However, the second my hand hit that familiar cool stone, I could feel my soul being pulled in by an unbreakable magnetic force as my feet rooted themselves into the ground. I wasn’t going anywhere.
So there I stood, my hair dripping wet, raindrops splashing down constantly on my siddur, my glasses foggy. And before I began to pray, I glanced to my left and to my right, and realized that I was, in fact, the only living soul on the women’s side of the Western Wall.
And while you might say that’s because it was pouring rain and freezing cold, and anyone with half a brain was inside during the torrential downpour that spilled over Jerusalem, I say that it was Hashem reaching out His hand to me, telling me that I may be doing something incredibly scary, but I should not be scared. Because not only was He right by my side that day, but those raindrops were His tears of joy that another one of His children was coming home.
On Dec. 6, 2017, I made Aliyah and received a Teudat Zehut, an Israeli ID, proof that I’m a citizen of the State of Israel. And life since then, has been both incredibly normal and the craziest whirlwind.
I returned the next day to my regular school schedule, but I have not walked into a single classroom the past two weeks without being sung to and danced with the moment I stepped through the door.
And while I really don’t look that different on the outside, I feel an intense amount of pride that I walk around with my Teudat Zehut in my wallet just like every other Israeli in this country.
Yesterday, I opened up a bank account. And in many ways, that experience perfectly summarizes the dichotomy I feel right now. A bank account is a most basic staple of life. I waited in line behind normal Israelis going about their respective days stopping for an errand at the bank just as I was. Normal life, nothing out of the ordinary. But it is specifically because of that mundaneness that it was so special.
I am a citizen of this country. Israel is where I run my day-to-day errands. And when I stand in lines, it’s behind Israelis — Israelis just like me. That’s why as I sat in that waiting room next to chairs full of people sighing and rolling their eyes as they waited, I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear.

Rosie Bernstein, surrounded by her friends, holds her Teudat Zehut (Israeli identification) that she received Dec. 6.

Rosie Bernstein, surrounded by her friends, holds her Teudat Zehut (Israeli identification) that she received Dec. 6.

I am an olah chadashah, a new citizen of the State of Israel. I have no permanent address, and my family is 5,000 miles away from me. But as hard as that is, I couldn’t help but chuckle with pure joy when I said to the bank clerk that I have zero dollars in my new bank account, and he corrected me, “No, you have zero shekels!”
Rosie Bernstein, daughter of Jordana and Josh Bernstein of Dallas and Yavneh Academy graduate, is studying at the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women–Migdal Oz. She made aliyah Dec. 6.

 

*****

Hanukkah in Israel

The TJP asked Rosie Bernstein what it was like to celebrate Hanukkah in Israel, and how it was different from Dallas:
Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel is equally magical as Christmas feels in Dallas, and that is a feeling I never expected. Everywhere you walk on the streets, especially in Jerusalem, you see hanukkiyah after hanukkiyah outside of literally every single home. Hanukkah music blasts all over the streets, and there is just a collective feeling of the Hanukkah season. Every bakery on every corner is lined with sufganiyot of every color and flavor.
It’s just impossible not to feel the Hanukkah spirit. The best part for me was being in random coffee shops and restaurants at the time to light candles, and they get everyone quiet and say “We’re going to light candles now,” and the whole restaurant participates and sings together.
Got a question for Rosie about Israel? Send it to sharon@tjpnews.com.

Comments (0)

Around the Town: Gifts, mah jongg, vacations, meeting

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharon@tjpnews.com

Gifts for community

JFS Senior Director Hedy Collins tells us that “The Menschettes were at it again, wrapping over 100 gifts for the Jewish Family Services senior program and the Jewish community. They did a great job. Everything has ribbons and bows. Community donations make all of this possible. We thank the Menschettes and the community for their incredible support. Happy Hanukkah.”

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Jeremy Allen, son of Professor Richard Allen and Cantor Sheri Allen, has been promoted to staff editor for The New York Times special sections. Before this promotion, Jeremy was a senior news assistant, responsible for organizing the production of nearly 200 domestic and international special sections and designing many of them with the team’s art director. He has written several articles for the Times as well. Previously, he has worked for Vogue.com, GQ.com, Bloomberg.com, and Allure.com.
Jeremy graduated from the University of Southern California in 2010 with a fine arts degree and what he describes as “the ill-advised dream of working in layout and production for print media.” Seven years later, that dream has become a reality.
Jeremy attended the Fort Worth Hebrew Day School, Fort Worth Academy, and was valedictorian of his senior class at Arlington Heights High School. He loves living and working in Manhattan, attending Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, and attempting to tame his diva of a cat, Evita Carol.

Order mah jongg cards today

Suzie Herman is taking orders for the 2018 mah jongg cards. Your purchase benefits the Fort Worth Chapter of Hadassah. Standard cards are $8; large print are $9. Deadline is Jan. 19. Send your check and a copy of your order to Suzie Herman, 4701 Springwillow Road, Fort Worth TX 76109.
By the way, Debby Rice tells the TJP that Hadassah will have a citywide mah jongg tournament in 2018. It’s currently in the planning stages, so if you would like to be on the planning committee contact Debby Rice at 817-706-5158.

Great vacation for Levines

Debbie (Stryer) and Larry Levine recently returned from a trip overseas. They met Debbie’s college friends in Venice and spent several days seeing the sights, including the Jewish ghetto. They toured a couple of old synagogues in the ghetto. Debbie reported, “They are very beautiful!” Next, they got on a cruise ship and went to Montenegro and several ports in Greece. Of course, Athens included the Parthenon and Acropolis. Debbie added, “As with all vacations, it is sad when it comes to an end but it is a great opportunity to get home and plan for the next one.” They are looking forward to 2018!

Save the date: Jan. 7, 2018

The Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County and the Texas Jewish Artists Association will sponsor “Through a Jewish Lens: A Day of Learning, Creation & Community,” Sunday, Jan. 7. This will be a unique opportunity to study Jewish texts and apply what you learn to art. There is no charge, and the deadline to RSVP is Dec. 29. Stay tuned to this page next week for more detailed information.

 

*****

Beth-El joins in URJ Biennial

A six-member delegation from Beth-El Congregation attended the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial earlier this month. It was the largest URJ biennial gathering to date with more than 6,000 people in attendance. Clockwise from left, Rabbi Brian Zimmerman, Beth-El President Jeff Kaitcer, Beth-El Music Director John Sauvey, URJ North American board member Dr. Michael Ross and his wife Beverly Ross Not pictured is Jordyn Schwartz.

 

Comments (0)

Like democracy, AJC Process tiring, important work

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Editor’s note: Alan Greenspan received the AJC’s Milton I. Tobian Community Relations Award Nov. 27. These are his remarks, following his greetings, acknowledgments and thank-yous.

By Alan Greenspan

As important as the mission of the AJC is the commitment to a process, which I creatively call the “AJC Process.” It is a process of dialogue and coalition building with a diverse and inclusive group of people. Then we focus on understanding the facts, because there is factual truth and it is identifiable. Finally, we bring to bear all of the substantial resources the community has to understand the context, the nuance and the perspectives.
We prioritize reaching consensus through compromise. Some organizations file lawsuits. Some agencies organize protests. And these are all valid approaches, but at AJC, if there’s a problem or a challenge, we apply the AJC Process to fix it.
I learned the AJC Process from mentors like Marlene Gorin, Darrel Strelitz, Larry Ginsburg, Maddy Unterberg and Andrea Weinstein.
The people in this room understand the AJC Process. In strong companies and healthy families, it’s the process used to resolve conflict and solve problems. But I’m afraid many others in our community don’t get it.
Community has always been under threat. And I mean community in the broadest sense — the Jewish community, the Dallas community, the national community and the world community.
Charlottesville was not the first Nazi march in America. Steve Bannon is not the first white supremacist to wield national political power. Colin Kapernick is not the first African-American athlete to protest racial injustice, or to be ostracized for it. There has always been intolerance on the right, on the left, in the middle, in every religion and in every political party. Otherwise, groups like the AJC would not have existed for over 100 years. But good people have always stood up for truth, for tolerance, for freedom of speech, for finding common ground, and for building coalitions.
Something seems to be different now. I’m worried that, as a community, we’ve lost the ability to talk to each other. Our conversations have become shouting matches. Or worse, we don’t have the conversation because “you can’t talk to those people.”
I sat in silent sadness last spring at the Pete Sessions town hall. Some in the audience screamed vulgarities at Congressman Sessions. And the congressman responded by insulting the crowd. It was a disgrace to our political process. There are ways to disagree and protest respectfully. We need to encourage that in our community and teach it to our children. We are taking the easy way out by pretending that complex problems can be solved by slogans and tweets. We have to embrace the AJC Process.
I’ll give you an example of the AJC Process: Israel and India are currently very close allies. How did that happen? About 20 years ago, AJC Executive Director David Harris recognized that Israel and India had a lot in common, and so building that relationship became a priority of the AJC. It organized exchanges between the two countries on every level, from cultural, to political, to academic, to military. And over the course of years, a bridge was built based on shared values. Now there is a true friendship between the countries.
We did this in Dallas, too. In the early 2000s, a group of us became concerned that the Dallas Morning News editorial board was prejudiced against Israel. So, we reached out to them and spent years cultivating personal relationships with them. We started to see some moderation in their editorials about Israel, and our op-eds and letters to the editor were regularly published. We made progress not by threatening or boycotting, but by building a relationship and a basis for understanding.
We are facing some very difficult challenges locally and nationally. Immigration, health care, gun control and racial injustice are all really complicated. I guarantee you that there is not a single problem in this country that can be solved in 140 or even 280 characters. We must engage in a legitimate process. And we must demand it from our political and religious leaders.
I want to tell you one more AJC story. Many years ago, I attended a national board of governors meeting in New York. A surprise guest was Shimon Peres, who was the Israeli foreign minister. This was after the Oslo Accords but before the Second Intifada. It was a small group and we were able to have a real conversation. I asked Peres whether he thought Arafat was committed to a democratic Palestinian Authority. Peres was optimistic — as he always was — and he quoted Arafat saying: “Shimon, this democracy. Who invented it? It’s so exhausting!”
We know what happened. Peres’ optimism was misplaced. Arafat rejected democracy, embraced terrorism and became one of the most infamous mass murderers in human history. But Arafat was right about one thing. Democracy, or regular order, as John McCain calls it, is exhausting. But we need to do it. I hope you will all join me in committing to embracing the AJC Process.
Alan Greenspan lives in Dallas and is a former president of the Dallas chapter of the AJC and a former chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Comments (0)

Plano Democrat hopes to turn District 3 blue

Plano Democrat hopes to turn District 3 blue

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Johnson in running to replace Republican with same name

By James Russell
Special to the TJP

Plano resident Sam Johnson, a Democrat, is running for an open congressional seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, a Republican, also of Plano, who is not related.
But make no mistake. His candidacy is not a joke.
“It’s (not) like in that Eddie Murphy movie The Distinguished Gentleman,” the Jewish Democrat said, referring to the 1992 movie about a con artist played by Murphy who succeeds a recently deceased congressman of the same name for financial gain.

Johnson

Johnson

“It’s not a joke. As people have gotten to know me they see I am qualified,” he said.
The Democrat lives in his hometown with his wife Amber and three sons. He has been there most of his life, noting the only exceptions were attending the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied government, and South Texas College of Law in Houston.
“Plano is home to me,” he said.
Like many Democrats, the election of Republican President Donald Trump in November 2016, propelled him to consider running for office. After the longtime Republican incumbent decided to retire, he jumped in.
Running against an incumbent, much less a popular incumbent in a solidly Republican district, would have been tough.
With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, the business lawyer worries Congress is not serving as a check and balance on the executive branch. Congress, after multiple unsuccessful attempts, backed away from repealing the Affordable Care Act. Now they are pursuing a major overhaul of the tax code, which Democrats oppose.
“It’s just terrible and reaching into all facets of people’s lives. Voters are also worried about rising insurance premiums and possibly not having coverage,” he said.
His other interests include voting rights, gerrymandering and money’s influence in politics. Voting rights are a vital measure of a healthy democracy. He is for a single-payer health care system, a public insurance system commonly referred to as Medicare For All. It was popular among progressive Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who caucuses with Democrats. But for now he is interested in reining in health insurance companies’ convoluted contracts. The power of pharmaceutical companies worries him, too.
He does not oppose the recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“But it seems like the administration did not take into account the possible consequences of doing so,” he said.
He’s talking primarily to Democrats given he still faces a primary challenge, and needs a majority of Democratic votes to become the party’s nominee. But he will knock at anyone’s door, and has found himself talking to frustrated independents and Republicans too.
“They see a moral vacuum in Washington. They are interested in talking to us because they are unsure about their Republican identity. They are considering voting for a Democrat for the first time.”
His Jewish upbringing influences his commitment to service.
“Judaism is a service-oriented religion. You are taught to participate. (It is) where I get my desire for public service,” he said, including that he is on the regional board of the Anti-Defamation League. “I’ve carried my leadership skills throughout my life through BBYO.”
When he is not campaigning, he serves as counsel to startup businesses. He is involved with the ADL, lobbying in both in Austin and Washington. He is the most qualified of his primary opponents.
“Right now, regardless of your political, religious or socioeconomic identity, there is one concern: There is more of a willingness to be harmful and not helpful,” he said.
He hopes to change the attitude of Congress, and hopefully influence the country too. But he first needs to win his primary. Filing to appear on the March 6 ballot ended Monday, Dec. 11. As of press time, he faces Lorie Burch, Adam Bell and Medrick Yhap.
Republican State Senator Van Taylor of Plano is running against David Niederkorn and Alex Donkervoet. The general election is Nov. 6, 2018.

Comments (0)

Sar-El allows volunteers to see, help IDF

Sar-El allows volunteers to see, help IDF

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Editor’s note: Dallas resident Allyn Kramer spent one week in November volunteering with Sar-El. For security, assignments are made after arrival in Israel.

Submitted photo Allyn Kramer spent a week in November as part of a 20-person group volunteering for the IDF through a program known as Sar-El.

Submitted photo
Allyn Kramer spent a week in November as part of a 20-person group volunteering for the IDF through a program known as Sar-El.

When he arrived on a Sunday morning, about 100 people were at Ben-Gurion Airport waiting to be bused off to their bases. This included a group of 25 Christians from Finland. Kramer was sent to a logistics base in the South.

The best gift you can give Israel is … yourself.

Why would anyone on vacation rise at 6 a.m., work all day on an IDF base, endure Spartan accommodations and army food — and pay to do it?
Sar-El volunteers strengthen American ties to Israel and her people through hands-on, civilian volunteer service, and show Israel that she doesn’t stand alone. Volunteers make it possible for IDF soldiers to remain at their jobs and continue their education, saving Israel millions of dollars in salaries. Their willingness to go anywhere in Israel and carry out whatever duties they might be assigned, is a powerful demonstration of commitment.
One of the most gratifying feelings you’ll ever experience is the sense of pride and purpose that comes with knowing you’re making a personal difference for a country and people you care deeply about.
A volunteer’s day resembles regular army life. Uniforms and boots are issued to all volunteers and are required to be worn through the evening meal. Each day starts with a flag-raising ceremony, followed by breakfast in the mess hall with IDF soldiers and then off to work.
For me, work consisted of sorting and recycling ammunition supplies. Although the job was routine, knowing that a soldier would spend time doing more critical work made it worthwhile.
My group of 20 was composed of Americans, Canadians and Brits. It included both men and women who ranged in age from about 50 into their 70s. They were business people, professionals, retirees and even a rabbi. Everyone slept in regular soldiers’ bunks and ate regular mess hall food. An IDF soldier accompanied the volunteers at all times and coordinated all activities.
Was the experience worth it? It made me feel proud to serve our Jewish homeland. Volunteering with Sar-El is an interesting and exciting way to see everyday life in the IDF.
For more information about Sar-El, contact Volunteers for Israel national headquarters at 866-514-1948. Approximately 1,200 Americans volunteer every year for the program.

Comments (0)

How to satisfy your nonkosher cravings

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi:
I have recently begun keeping kosher, and had a philosophical debate with a friend who doesn’t. I use soybean sausages and bacon, like Morning Star Farms products that have kosher symbols, because as long as they’re kosher, why not?
But my friend argues that if I’m going to keep kosher, to eat “kosher treif” is just a loophole and not in the spirit of what I’m trying to do. Do you feel this contradicts the spirit of the law?
L.P Arlington.
Dear L.P.
Mazal tov on keeping kosher, and great question!
The 12th century sage R’ Moses Maimonides discusses the prohibition of consuming nonkosher foods. He quotes the Talmud, which states, “One should not say, ‘I don’t want to eat nonkosher food’; rather one should say, ‘I would like to, but what can I do, my Father in Heaven has decreed upon me not to.”
Maimonides explains that this is a global statement which sums up much of the Jewish worldview, and specifically adds an important insight into the laws of kosher. We should not refrain from consuming nonkosher food because it is disgusting or nauseating to us. To abstain from nonkosher items for that reason would not constitute a mitzvah. It would rather be a personal preference. (I, personally, am challenged to fulfill this dictum concerning the abstention from consuming certain items, such as lobster, by saying I want to eat it but just can’t. When I see them crawling around in their tank, to say the least, I have trouble having any yearning whatsoever to …eat one of those!)
The Talmud cites many stories of a pious and scholarly woman by the name of Yalsa. She would often seek out kosher foods that tasted like forbidden foods. Yalsa once asked her husband, the renowned Talmudic sage Rav Nachman, to find her something which tastes like blood which the Torah forbids us to partake. He cooked for her a piece of liver, which is permitted, but has a blood-like taste. The commentaries are bewildered: Why would Yalsa often be looking for foods which tasted like forbidden ones?
One classical commentary, Maharsh’a, offers an explanation based on the above discussion of Maimonides. One should desire to eat the nonkosher but refrain from doing so because of the decree of the Torah. Yalsa, in her great piety, aspired to fulfill the mitzvah of kosher only to perform the will of God. She therefore purposely created a yearning to consume forbidden foods by partaking of permitted items which tasted like them, so she could refrain from the real thing for the right reason!
My family and I once took a tour of a nonkosher chocolate factory and at the end they offered a free taste of all the chocolates you could eat. I felt that we truly fulfilled the mitzvah by refraining when that chocolate looked and smelled so good! (Needless to say, we were sure to make it up to the kids for their willpower by rewarding them afterward with other treats.)
In summary, you are correct that there is nothing negative about eating imitation nonkosher food. By doing so, besides enjoying the taste, you have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Yalsa and enhance your fulfillment of the mitzvah of kashruth. Not only is this not contradictory to the spirit of the law, it’s a chance to augment your performance of the mitzvah.
(Halacha suggests, when there’s room for an observer’s error, to leave the package on the table so it is clear you are eating soy and not sow!)
I fondly remember your exact question as one of the first questions I asked my mentor when beginning yeshiva studies in Israel, precisely about Morning Star bacon and sausage, and what I have written to you was the answer I received (albeit in greatly shortened form!).
It’s important to mention one caveat to this concept. Maimonides points out that the desire to eat the “forbidden fruit” is considered a positive thing for certain mitzvos, like kosher, but not for all. There is a category of mitzvos for which God has inculcated their self-evident nature into the creation, such as murder. It is definitely not praiseworthy to say: “I would truly love to murder that guy, but, alas, I must fulfill the command of God!” (Even though we all might feel that way sometimes.) Murder, theft, and other such mitzvos are called “mitzvos sichlios,” planted in our sechel or psyche, that they should be abhorred and not desired.

Comments (0)

Don’t let Joseph’s mistakes blind you to God’s message

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

By Rabbi Ben Sternman

We are almost at the end of Bereisheet, the Book of Genesis, in Parashat Vayigash, and in this week’s Torah portion we witness the climactic reunion between Joseph and his entire family. This should be a heartwarming section, but somehow I’m always disturbed by parts of it, so much so that on balance I’m left uneasy.
Toward the beginning, Joseph is unrecognizable to his brothers as Pharaoh’s highest official and it seems as if he’s almost taunting them with the way that he treats them. Finally, he loses control and reveals his identity to his brothers, who stand dumbstruck and in fear before him. Joseph comforts them and reassures them that their selling him into slavery was all part of God’s plan. Genesis 45:7-8 states in part: “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God…” It was God’s plan and not their fault.
I have a hard time accepting this explanation because it ignores human free will. Joseph’s brothers throw him into a pit, sell him into slavery, and fake his death to the deep distress of their father, but they’re not to blame because it was all part of God’s plan? Are we to accept all the bad choices that human beings make, dismissing them as “all part of God’s plan”? Perhaps what happened to Joseph was not God’s plan, but God salvaging the best outcome possible after the hash his brothers made of the situation. I have difficulty dismissing the evil that we humans do, the poor choices that we make, as necessary to bring about God’s plan.
I am also disturbed at the end of the Torah portion by how Joseph treats the Egyptians. Joseph, on behalf of Pharaoh, has cornered the market on grain over the previous seven years of plenty and is now selling that grain during the terrible famine Egypt and the world was experiencing. In order to survive, the Egyptian people use all their money to buy food from Joseph and then sell all their livestock to Joseph too. Finally they declare to Joseph (Genesis 47:19 in part), “Let us not perish before your eyes, both we and our land. Take us and our land in exchange for bread, and we with our land will be serfs to Pharaoh…” Joseph is using a natural disaster to gouge the Egyptians and turn them into slaves.
I remember hearing news reports in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, that some people decided to price-gouge bottled water, food, and gasoline to profit from the storm. The Texas Attorney General’s office investigated those reports and took appropriate actions to prevent this type of profiteering. Isn’t what Joseph did just as bad if not worse, forcing free people into slavery just to survive?
The real question is what do we do with sacred texts that leave us disturbed. One might be tempted to just throw it out and ignore it, dismissing the text as corrupted over time by fallible human beings. But I resist that temptation because I believe that God is speaking to us through the text. Rather, I prefer to reinterpret the text, seeking God’s message within it, as Ben Bag Bag urges us in Pirkei Avot 5:22, “turn it and turn it, since everything is in it.”
No matter how I turn it, though, I can’t seem to reinterpret Joseph’s price-gouging in a positive way. In those cases I must satisfy myself with learning what not to do from Joseph’s poor choices. But whether I reinterpret the text or learn what not to do, I can never bring myself to dismiss the text and close myself off from listening for God’s message.
Rabbi Benjamin Sternman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Adat Chaverim in Plano.

Comments (0)

UT students attend inaugural Black-Jewish Summit

UT students attend inaugural Black-Jewish Summit

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

By Alicia Garnes
Special to the TJP

The David Project hosted 28 students at its first Black-Jewish Summit in Washington, D.C., Nov. 3-5.
Eight students representing the pro-Israel community and 20 students representing the black community participated from eight college campuses. The summit was organized in conjunction with AJC and the Greater Washington Urban League, and held at Hillel International’s Schusterman International Center.

Photo: The David Project University of Texas students Jason Epstein and Kayla Eboreime attend the Black-Jewish Summit in Washington, D.C.

Photo: The David Project
University of Texas students Jason Epstein and Kayla Eboreime attend the Black-Jewish Summit in Washington, D.C.

The goals of the summit were to bring together black and Jewish leaders from all over the country to identify mutual concerns and cultural understanding, learn best practices in bringing together the Jewish and black communities and plan new initiatives to bring back to their campuses. Over the weekend, participants heard from experts in the fields of relationship building, advocacy and storytelling.
Students were also trained on tools to help build strategic, cooperative relationships between black and Jewish students. As one of four University of Texas-Austin representatives at the summit, attendee Caleb Hurd, a sophomore finance major from Houston, said, “The summit was a first step in re-establishing a long forgotten alliance between the black and Jewish community. I gained a new perspective on the issues facing both of the communities. I also learned a great deal about the historical significance of the relationship, especially during the civil rights movement.
“For me, the summit was like putting two parts of myself together. I am in the process of Orthodox conversion and also African-American. I spend a lot of time in the Jewish community and consider it home, but I’m also a part of the African-American community. These two communities seem completely different, but they have much in common. I realized this at the summit when I participated and observed interactions between Jewish and black students.”
Jason Epstein, a former intern at The David Project and an active Texas Hillel participant, also attended as a representative from The University of Texas. Jason, a senior from Dallas, majoring in accounting and Plan II, went to the summit to gain a greater understanding of what other communities are facing, improve leadership skills and learn how to inspire others to continue building black-Jewish relationships on college campuses.
The weekend schedule was packed with experiential activities, speakers and one-on-one dialogue opportunities, including the Fishbowl, where members of one community sat together in front of the other community and spoke about perceptions of both communities and leaders of their communities. After hearing other students’ stories, Jason “recognized that differing backgrounds don’t define you and not everyone fits a mold. You can’t go in with a blanket statement (that) there is one mold that fits each community.”
At UT, Jason, whose senior thesis is a viable model of black-Jewish relations for college campuses, has worked hard to build relationships and community between the Black Student Alliance and Texas Hillel. As a graduating senior, Jason hopes that the other participants walked away from the conference inspired to get involved and take leadership roles in continuing to build relationships with the black community.
Jason says, “The conference was a great opportunity for blacks and Jews to come together, learn shared experiences and prompt more people to get involved to build more black-Jewish relationships on college campuses.”
Alicia Garnes is a development associate with Texas Hillel.

Comments (0)

We teens will build strong Jewish future

We teens will build strong Jewish future

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Editor’s note: Ben Levkovich was selected by BBYO to serve as an ambassador for the 2017 Active Jewish Teens (AJT) Conference.

The conference, which is an annual gathering of Jewish teens from the former Soviet Union, was held in Ukraine last month. This was the first time that U.S. Jews participated in this conference, and Ben was one of two BBYO ambassadors on the trip who was a child of a Ukrainian refugee. His mother Svetlana Levkovich, of Plano, immigrated to the U.S. from Soviet Ukraine as a direct result of the policies put in place following the 1987 March on Washington allowing Soviet Jews to emigrate.
Her family never returned.

BBYO’s American delegation at opening ceremonies of the AJT Conference. Ben Levkovich is third from left in the front row.

BBYO’s American delegation at opening ceremonies of the AJT Conference. Ben Levkovich is third from left in the front row.

Today, a resurgence of Jewish life is taking place in the land of our heritage. After centuries of destruction and hatred for Jews in Europe, we have a glimmer of hope. The past has set the foundation for our future, and today things couldn’t be more different.
Growing up I heard stories from my parents of the time when they were kids. They were treated differently because they were Jewish; it’s what I’ve heard all my life. As a proud Jewish teenager in America, I felt a responsibility to travel to Ukraine when BBYO presented the opportunity to me. I learned about our people’s past firsthand. I put on my tefillin and wore my kippah proudly in a land in which my parents could not.
I saw the fields and memorials of Babi Yar, the trenches of terror, the memory of the horrid moments of my ancestors — thousands of hopes and dreams crushed and broken. Bodies that held much more than a bundle of bones were trashed and burned.
But we stood. The once seemingly invincible empires are gone, but we remain. The great powers of Greece or Rome no longer threaten the face of this earth, but we are still here, stronger than ever. The curtain fell but we still stand.

(Left to right) Lev Feitman, Ben Levkovich, Jake Bush and Jacob Ioffe pose for pictures before Shabbat at the AJT Conference.

(Left to right) Lev Feitman, Ben Levkovich, Jake Bush and Jacob Ioffe pose for pictures before Shabbat at the AJT Conference.

I left Babi Yar and watched 400 Jewish teens from 10 countries gather from all corners of the former Soviet Union to celebrate their Judaism and to pronounce their love for their heritage. These are teens whose Jewish lives were reignited by their youth group, Active Jewish Teens. It’s the place they can truly express themselves and their outlet to Judaism.
Resurgence is celebrating Shabbat with these 400 teens, whose parents weren’t allowed to do so during their childhoods. Singing Havdalah with them, arm in arm, as one circle formed by representatives of countries once associated with the oppression of Jews showed the world that we are still here and stronger than ever.
These are our brothers and sisters; they are our leaders. Being connected to the global Jewish community isn’t about speaking the same language or sharing the same culture, it’s much more than that. We share the bond of Judaism. Our communal tradition has survived for millennia through trials and tribulations. We share music and prayer, and so much more. To sit together on Shabbat, singing songs that we all knew despite the oceans that separate us — this is only the start of a new bond between Jews from all over the world fostered by BBYO.
I have never seen or felt the pride of Jews around me like I did this weekend. Jewish life in the former Soviet Union is flourishing like never before. The community supports one another and takes care of each other’s needs, and now, I support them too. These teens are the ones who will build a strong Jewish future — mark my words.

Ben Levkovich and other American teens stand at the edge of Babi Yar looking into the trenches.

Ben Levkovich and other American teens stand at the edge of Babi Yar looking into the trenches.

Ben Levkovich, son of Svetlana and Alex Levkovich of Plano, is a Yavneh Academy junior and a member of Morton Lewis AZA.

*****

Did You Know?

The March on Washington for Soviet Jewry was a massive rally — more than 250,000 Jews participated from across the country — held on the eve of the December 1987 Washington Summit between President Reagan and Soviet Premier Gorbachev demanding that Reagan put pressure on Gorbachev to put an end to the forced assimilation of Jews and allowing their emigration from the USSR. The Metroplex sent a large contingent to the March led by then JCRC Chair Janice Sweet.
See the original TJP coverage in the Dec. 10, 1987, issue at  http://bit.ly/2AYnkp8 (use the right arrow above the TJP  masthead to scroll through the issue).

Comments (0)

View or Subscribe to the
Texas Jewish Post

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here