Archive | January, 2018

Did dinosaurs exist?

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I would like clarification about something you said in a previous column some time ago. Regarding the age of the universe, when describing the mainstream interpretation of the six days of creation, you mention that “God created the world with its oil fields, and the decayed life needed to bring them about.”
With regard to this statement, I bring up an incident that happened to my son five years ago. In his day school here in Dallas, a question arose about how to reconcile the date on the Jewish calendar with the age of dinosaurs. His secular studies teacher was unable to answer the question, and called in the head rabbi (no longer affiliated with his school) to help. The rabbi’s answer was that dinosaurs never existed. He went on to explain that Hashem simply planted dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith.
So my question to you is, according to the Jewish point of view you are presenting, did dinosaurs exist or not?
— Liz
Dear Liz,
The interpretation you mentioned in the name of the head rabbi of your son’s school is, in fact, an approach suggested by the late leader of Chabad, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ob”m.
The Torah tells us that when the first man and woman were created, they were fully grown and developed, physically and mentally. They were not created as babies who needed to develop and become mature adults. Similarly, the animals of the world, the plants and trees were created in an advanced stage of development.
Since all the creatures in the world were created in a state that seemed to attest to many years of previous growth, perhaps the earth — and the entire cosmos — was also “born” bearing signs of many, many years of development. Stars needing billions of light-years to travel to earth to be seen by us may have been created with their light already reaching us at the same moment. Perhaps when God created the earth, He also created artifacts to attest to their ancestry. Thus, on the day that the animals were created, their prehistoric remains were created along with them.
This approach, in my humble opinion, leaves some disturbing questions unanswered and perhaps creates new questions. Since, according to the mainstream literal interpretation, God created the world in six days, why would He have altered it in a way that gives a false impression of being much older than it is?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab ob”m suggests that perhaps God did so in order to allow humans the possibility of denying the Creation. If divine creation of the world would be obvious to all, there would be no challenge in accepting this doctrine, and there would thus be no reward for those who accepted God’s mastery upon them.
This approach also has its difficulties. Adam and Eve, their son Cain, and many others after them managed to sin despite the clarity of the Creation by God. Jews and Gentiles sinned for thousands of years before Darwinism and paleontology made their impressions and most of mankind believed in a world created by God.
Apparently enough challenge to belief and observance exists even without this added alleged purposeful confusion. I personally have trouble digesting an approach that God purposely would exhibit a non-truth for any reason (although there may be a more profound explanation to this approach which needs careful thought). My friend and renowned colleague, Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb, concurs with me on this point.
The following alternative approach is offered by the classical commentary to the Mishnah, the Tiferes Yisrael. The Kabbalists teach that God created and destroyed the world seven times. Each time He destroyed the world, it was in order to build a more complete, perfect world. It’s not that God made a mistake and tried to get it better the next time! It’s, rather, based upon a profound Kabbalistic teaching that the world needs to grow in seven stages toward perfection. This process needed to take place until the final creation of the world we live in. This is the world fit to receive the revelation of God’s will, in which God chose to give the Torah, and through it reach the ultimate world of tikkun or perfection.
He explains that the different layers of earth and rock which were found by scientists in his day (in the mid-1800s), with different types of fossils at each layer, are the result of the world being destroyed and rebuilt as we are taught by the Kabbalists. The lowest layer is that containing the dinosaurs. Each preceding world was covered over to provide the foundation for the next world, approaching closer and closer to the world of tikkun.
This approach seems to fit well with the “Impact Theory” proposed in 1980 by Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez. Scientists have long been bothered by the sudden mass extinction of the undisputed masters of the world — the dinosaurs. Alvarez with his son Walter proposed that a massive meteor collided with Earth causing this mass extinction. Alvarez had brought some 15 proofs to this theory by 1987, giving it wide acceptance.
This theory, however, gave birth to another concept, termed the “Anthropic Principle.” This means, briefly, that the meteor struck with just the precise impact to kill out dinosaurs and at the same time create the perfect environment for the survival of mankind and the surrounding animals which can be subjugated by mankind. A little stronger impact — nothing at all would have lived. A little weaker or lighter, the dinosaurs would have still thrived and not left room for mankind to exist.

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Where will we find another Aharon?

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Just one month ago one of the greatest living sages of the Jewish people passed away. His name was Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman tz’’l, and if you are like the many Jews I’ve spoken with since his passing, you’ve never heard of him before.
He died at the advanced age of 104 (1913-Dec. 12, 2017), and for all those many years, it was his tiny, sparsely furnished apartment in Bnei Brak, Israel that served as a central address for visitors, students and politicians alike to beseech blessings or to discuss sensitive life and communal issues and receive sagely advice in return. His humility was legendary, as was his Torah scholarship (he penned close to 20 works on Chumash, Talmud and philosophy), but all of these details are readily available in the many articles and appreciations written about him after his demise. I’d rather share with you my own encounter with this giant of a man, an encounter that took place in my late teens (almost 20 years ago) as I was studying in yeshiva in Israel and one that opened up my eyes to different models of Torah leadership.
It’s somewhat of a religious pilgrimage: yeshiva students and seminary girls boarding buses to Jerusalem or Bnei Brak to visit the gedolim, the elderly sages of the generation. Most go in search of a blessing — a blessing for a good shidduch (“a proper mate”) being the most popular request, followed closely with requests for blessings for success in Torah study and parnassa (“good livelihoods”). I didn’t go to Bnei Brak for any sort of blessing, though a good blessing never hurt anyone! I simply felt that it would be a missed opportunity if I never met those saintly individuals living during my own lifetime.
And so it was that toward the end of a summer yeshiva semester, two of my friends and I boarded a bus to the City of Torah Sages, Bnei Brak, in the hopes of meeting and gleaning wisdom from two of the elderly guiding lights of the Jewish people, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’’l.
Our first stop was to Rabbi Kanievsky’s apartment and the long, winding line that was forming outside his doorway and snaking its way all the way down the external staircase to the street below. We had made it in time for his official visiting hours and waited patiently for our turns to come. Rabbi Kanievsky has a well-known reputation for responding to petitioners’ questions with short, direct answers, and as we would soon see, the meetings in his home proved no exception to the rule.
With a sefer (a book of Jewish content) open in front of him, individuals were ushered in to his living room. The rav would look up from the sefer, listen to the question or request, and answer in his typical, curt fashion. The moment each visitation was finished, the rav would return to his precious study, careful not to waste any moments that presented themselves in the short intervals between visitors. You see, as much as Rabbi Kanievsky allotted time each day for those who would seek out his wisdom, it was no secret that his desire was to just as quickly return to his studies, to that elevated Torah universe steeped in wisdom and holiness. It’s as if he understood his communal responsibilities as a leader among the Jewish people, but didn’t want to leave Sinai for any more time than was necessary.
Reflecting upon the meeting later on that night, it occurred to me that Rabbi Kanievsky had a “Moshe personality.” He is a man of the people and yet someone considerably removed from the vast majority of us. A man inhabiting the same earth as everyone else, but whose thoughts clearly lay elsewhere. Like Moshe, Rabbi Kanievsky inspired and continues to inspire a visceral brand of fear of Heaven — for one can’t escape his invariably fiery intensity that permeates his face and eyes at all time. It’s no exaggeration to proclaim the rabbi’s life a living testament to the Talmud’s statement, “Just as … the Revelation at Sinai was in reverence, fear, quaking, and trembling, so too here, in every generation, Torah must be studied with a sense of reverence, fear, quaking, and trembling” (Talmud Brachot 22a). It’s also no exaggeration to say that even in the brief period of time we shared together with the rabbi, we felt an increase in our awe of Heaven, as if through some type of spiritual osmosis.
If a meeting with Rabbi Kanievsky was my encounter with a modern-day Moshe, I was soon to meet his counterpart, a modern-day Aharon, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’’l.
Arriving at the rabbi’s apartment at 6 Chazon Ish St., we were surprised to see no line formed outside his doorway. We didn’t see a sign informing visitors of the proper visiting hours either. And so, with a bit of good old-fashioned chutzpah, we knocked on the door anyway. A 30-something-year-old man opened the door for us and ushered the three of us into the living room, where Rabbi Shteinman zt’’l was teaching an advanced Torah lesson to married men. There was no doubt about it, we were intruding, and I for one felt completely out of place and more than a bit uneasy.
My nerves were quickly set at ease, though, as Rabbi Shteinman zt’’l warmly welcomed us in, smiled affectionately through his long salt-and-pepper beard, and interrupted his regularly scheduled class to ask each of us our names and some details about our lives. He bestowed a blessing upon us all and we left inspired by the utter love and warmth that we felt from this elderly rabbi whom we had heard much of but never met before.
The Midrash (Avos De’Reb Nosson 12:4) states that while the majority of the nation mourned Moshe upon his death (see Devarim 34:8), “the entire House of Israel” (Bamidbar 20:29) mourned the death of Aharon. Why the difference in response? To put it simply, Aharon, as great as he was, was always a man thoroughly of the people. While Moshe was far removed on the peak of Mount Sinai, Aharon was encamped with the rest of the nation anxiously awaiting his return. The Midrash adds that (whereas Moshe inspired fear and awe in his role as lawgiver, judge and admonisher of the people) Aharon inspired love, busy as he was advocating for peace and fellowship between man and his neighbor and man and his wife. In other words, while Moshe’s persona made known to the nation the other-worldly qualities of the Torah, Aharon was the man on the ground, there to show everyone how the Torah could be brought down to Earth and pragmatically utilized to better one’s life and the lives of all those around them.
A healthy nation needs both its Moshes and its Aharons. We need exposure to those great leaders so far removed from our regular existence as to serve as an example of what human beings can become, and we also need exposure to those great leaders whose greatness feels relatable, and therefore attainable. We need both to experience the awe of Heaven along with Heaven’s warm embrace.
With the passing of Rabbi Shteinman zt’’l, I am left wondering, where will we find another Aharon?
To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin, email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Importance of individual relationship with God

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

In last week’s Torah portion, when Moses first encounters God, Moses learns God’s enigmatic name: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. In this week’s Torah portion, Vaera, there is an interesting contradiction regarding God’s name: “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Eternal (yud hay vav hay). I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (God Almighty), but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Eternal.’” Actually God, yeah, You did. In Genesis 15:7 You appeared to Abraham: “I am the Eternal who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to assign this land to you as a possession.” And again in Genesis 28:13 You appeared to Jacob: “I am the Eternal, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”
Fortunately, Rashi explains the contradiction for us. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew God as El Shaddai, the God who makes promises. God is saying to Moses that Moses will know God as The Eternal, the God who keeps promises. That is, Abraham was promised the Land of Israel as a possession, but he had to buy the Cave of Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah. Isaac should have been able to dig and get water from the wells that Abraham had established, yet he kept getting driven away. Jacob finally came back to the Land of Israel and wanted to set up his tent near Shechem, but he first had to buy the land from the locals. Yes, God Almighty, El Shaddai, had promised the Land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they never actually lived to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. Now, God is saying to Moses, God, the Eternal One, is here to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. So God was known by different names to different people — what’s the big deal? My mother calls me Ben. Unless I’m in trouble and then she calls me Benjamin. Unless I’m really in trouble and then she calls me Benjamin David Sternman. My father called me Benjie. To this day, my sister calls me Boo, shortened from Benjie-boo. My nieces and nephews call me Uncle Ben, as do a number of my friends’ kids. In my synagogue I’m called Rabbi Ben. What’s the big deal?
The names we give to people, or God, depend on the relationship we have with them. At Yom Kippur we might know God as “Avinu, Malkeinu; Our Father, Our King.” Or we might be put off by such gendered language and know God alternately as “Our Parent, Our Ruler.” When we stand guilty and wish to receive forgiveness for our sins, we know God as “The True Judge.” In troubled times, we pray to know God as “Maker of Peace.” Yet too often we know God as “The Distant One” or “The Silent One,” when we feel alienated from God’s presence.
The name by which we know God is in the relationship we have to God. At any one time, in our relationship at that moment, we know aspects of God: Healer, Maker of Peace, My Rock, My Redeemer. Yet we don’t know the totality of God. How appropriate and true, then, God’s initial answer to Moses who asked, “What’s Your name, God?” And God answered: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, I will be what I will be. God will be what we let God be in relationship to us individually. I pray that each of us throughout the world will one day recognize God as “The Known One.”
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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Ethan Fine mourns loss of friend in plane crash

Ethan Fine mourns loss of friend in plane crash

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Plano resident coming to terms with loss after Costa Rica tragedy

By Shari Stern
Special to the TJP

Any time you lose a special friend, it’s tough. But if you’re a child who loses a special friend, that’s just not fair.
Ethan Fine, of Plano, can tell you all about it as he recently lost his buddy, Ari Weiss. Ari and his family, his parents Leslie and Mitchell Weiss and Ari’s sister Hannah Weiss, perished when aboard a small plane that crashed in Costa Rica on Dec. 31. The entire family from Belleair, Florida perished.

Ari Weiss (center) with his friends Ayden (left) and Ethan Fine

Ari Weiss (center) with his friends Ayden (left) and Ethan Fine

Ari had a penchant for the guitar and entertaining, “Ari lit up the camp through music, playing guitar, bass and piano at concerts. It’s not an exaggeration to say he was a rock star,” Camp Director Geoff Menkowitz told JTA.
He added, “This made Ari a big name throughout the camp, even among those who were not in his immediate circle of friends.”
Mitchell and Leslie Weiss were both physicians; their daughter, Hannah, 19 and son, Ari, 16 were members of Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The nine victims were among 12 casualties — 10 U.S. tourists and two local crew members — in the accident in Guanacaste. Costa Rican investigators said afterward that the cause was probably strong winds or mechanical problems, The Associated Press reported. The second family was the Steinbergs of Scarsdale, which is a suburb of New York City.
Hannah Weiss was a sophomore enrolled in a joint program at Columbia University and List College, the undergraduate school of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). She cared deeply about the environment.
Before moving to New York, Hannah spent summers at Camp Ramah Darom, a Conservative Jewish summer camp in Clayton, Georgia. Her brother Ari Weiss also attended the camp, along with his friend, Ethan Fine of Plano. “They were really stars, the two of them, just shining bright,”  Menkowitz said. “It’s a huge loss that we are all reeling from and heartbroken from right now.”
Ethan and Ari met at camp in 2011. They didn’t become friends right away. They were in different cabins. But the next summer, 2012, they became tight, and they texted and visited each other during the school years.
Understandably, Ethan said he was in shock when he learned the tragic news. One of his friends texted him the newspaper article. He said about his friend, “What I will miss most about Ari is how caring a person he was. He always looked out for everyone.”

Ethan Fine at Camp Ramah Darom

Ethan Fine at Camp Ramah Darom

Camp Ramah Darom established a fund in memory of the Weiss family last week.
The Weiss Family Scholarship Fund was created at the request of relatives of the Weiss family. It will be used “to enable other campers to experience the magic of Ramah,” the camp website said.
A service for the family was held Jan. 9 in Tampa. Ethan was asked to speak at the memorial service. Ethan, now in 10th grade at Shepton High School, asks that contributions be made to the Weiss Family Scholarship fund at Camp Ramah Darom. You can mail donations to 70 Camp Darom, Clayton, GA 30525 or call 404-531-0801.
JTA contributed to this report.

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Anshai Torah welcomes Middle East peace adviser

Anshai Torah welcomes Middle East peace adviser

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Scholar-in-Residence Makovsky will speak Jan. 26-27

By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP

As the United States has named Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and the world looks again to the center of our Jewish lives — traditionally, spiritually, and politically — Congregation Anshai Torah welcomes David Makovsky, the 2018 Arnie Sweet Scholar-in-Residence, Friday through Saturday, Jan. 26 and 27.
“The Arnie Sweet SIR weekend always gives us pause, reminding us of the spirit that defined Arnie,” said Rabbi Stefan Weinberg. “His constant attention to community, alongside his thirst for knowledge and deep interest in the people of Israel, compel us to follow in his footsteps. … Welcoming an individual of David Makovsky’s stature serves as an ideal opportunity to honor Arnie’s memory by pursuing some of the most important ideals that inspired him for a lifetime of dedication to the Jewish people and humanity at-large.”

Photo: David Makovsky “David Makovsky, considered the leading expert in U.S.-Israeli relations — in academic, political, and personal realms — is certain to bring our weekend to a most in-depth level,” said Warren Harmel, chair of Anshai Torah’s Jan. 26 and 27 Arnie Sweet Scholar-in-Residence program. “When critical conversations and decisions have happened, he was there.”

Photo: David Makovsky
“David Makovsky, considered the leading expert in U.S.-Israeli relations — in academic, political, and personal realms — is certain to bring our weekend to a most in-depth level,” said Warren Harmel, chair of Anshai Torah’s Jan. 26 and 27 Arnie Sweet Scholar-in-Residence program. “When critical conversations and decisions have happened, he was there.”

The Scholar-in-Residence weekend, presented by Janice and Dr. Art Weinberg, Cindy and Dr. Mitch Moskowitz, Cathy and Dr. Joel Brook, and Etz Chaim sponsors Debbie and Manuel Rajunov, will feature a Lunch & Learn at noon Friday at Congregation Anshai Torah focused on “U.S.-Israel Relations in the Age of Trump — Knowns and Unknowns.”
Friday night, Makovsky will speak on “After More Than 125 College Visits, a Journey about Israel, BDS and Young American Jews” during Kabbalat Shabbat services beginning at 6:15 p.m. and at a keynote and dinner where he’ll address “The Potential and Limitations of Strategic Convergence in the Middle East.” Saturday morning, Makovsky will speak of “Succession in the Israel and Palestinian Arenas: What is Real?” with a discussion following lunch. Saturday evening’s sponsor and synagogue leadership reception is at a private home.
“David Makovsky’s voice, one that’s been at peace talk tables and at the center with decision makers, is one we’re lucky to hear. How incredible to have him here during this historical time for Israel and for all Jews,” Janice Weinberg said. “Arnie loved our Shabbat table discussions, and the conversations that will come from Anshai Torah’s family Shabbat table would make him proud.”
Makovsky, a native of St. Louis, is the Ziegler distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process. He’s an adjunct professor in Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and is a former senior adviser to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the office of the U.S. Secretary of State.
Makovsky, an award-winning journalist who covered the peace process from 1989 to 2000, is a former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz and a former contributing editor to U.S. News and World Report — for 11 years as its special Jerusalem correspondent. Makovsky was the first journalist for an Israeli publication to visit Damascus, one of five trips to Syria including when he accompanied then–U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 1995, with assistance from U.S. officials, Makovsky was given unprecedented permission to file reports from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for an Israeli publication.
“We need to be humble and we need to take steps forward. There have been many noble efforts through the years and I hope we’ll come to an overlap, but we’re not there yet,” said Makovsky. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia University and a master’s in Middle East studies from Harvard University, having testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, and on multiple occasions before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee.
Author of Washington Institute monographs and essays on issues related to the Middle East peace process and the Arab-Israeli conflict, he co-wrote, with Dennis Ross, Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East. His maps on alternative territorial solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were reprinted by The New York Times in the paper’s first interactive treatment of an op-ed. He’s a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“I talk to students and I’m speaking to tomorrow’s future. I want millennials to not give up, to know about the good times and the handshakes, to learn of the reservoir I have in my mind as I can give hope,” said Makovsky, former chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students. He has made more than 130 visits to college campuses and a TEDx talk discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I was 7 during the Six-Day War and 13 at the Yom Kippur War. I look back, a ‘minute’ ago to watching Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem and I was recently at a dinner honoring that occasion’s 40th anniversary,” Makovsky said. “From when I spent a gap year in Israel I wanted to be a part of ‘peace,’ I wanted to be ‘on the ground,’ and that’s where I’ve lived my life and career. It’s important moments that make our lives, that make a difference.”
Program chair Warren Harmel said, “David Makovsky, considered the leading expert in U.S.-Israeli relations — in academic, political and personal realms — is certain to bring our weekend to a most in-depth level.” He added, “When the critical conversations and decisions have happened, he’s been there and we’re honored to bring his astounding practical and theoretical experience to Anshai Torah.”
For information or to RSVP (child care provided Friday night and Saturday morning) call 972-473-7718 or email receptionist@anshaitorah.org. Friday night dinner tickets are $30/CAT members, $38/nonmembers, $8/children. There is no charge for Friday lunch or evening services or Saturday’s events, but RSVPs are required. For sponsorship information, email warrenharmel@gmail.com.

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Transformative experience: MoMENtum trip to Israel gives travelers a unique view into Israel

Transformative experience: MoMENtum trip to Israel gives travelers a unique view into Israel

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

The Dallas-area contingent in Jerusalem

The Dallas-area contingent in Jerusalem

By Aaron Greenberg
Special to the TJP

A trip to Israel is expected to be transformative for any Jew. For a group of 28 men from the Dallas area, a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project MoMENtum trip in October delivered far more than just the wonders of visiting the Jewish state.
Kevin Pailet’s wife, Mahra, is on the JWRP board and convinced him to go. It wasn’t an easy sell. Kevin is on AIPAC’s national board and had been to Israel many times before, primarily on business or organizational trips.
“I told my wife I go to Israel all the time, I don’t need to go on this,” Kevin said.
For others, it was seen as a chance to have fun. Chuck Butler, one of the last to sign up, went on his first trip to the Holy Land looking forward mostly to spending time away with friends.
What they received was life-changing advice, experiences and bonding opportunities — all with a backdrop of Jerusalem and other holy sites. In fact, months later, the entire group remains actively in touch, continuing their growth as Jews, fathers and husbands.
“It’s given me a different lens to engage my wife and kids with, and I’m really happy that I’ve got that lens,” Chuck said.
Chuck recently hosted a dinner for the group, and 26 of the 28 came — the other two being out of town. The bond developed last year is clearly lasting.
“I don’t think I could build these friendships in a normal setting, ever,” he said.
Although the JWRP is best known for its work with and for Jewish women, its focus on family and the success of the women’s trips made the men’s trips a natural next step. Many of the women want their husbands to get a similar experience.
“Because we are an organization that listens to our constituency, the MoMENtum trip was born,” Mahra said.
Her involvement with the board reflects that responsive nature. Mahra reached out to learn how she could do more as soon as she returned from Israel. Within a week, she was working out the next steps with the development department.
It’s not only normal for those who go to want to stay involved — it’s the rule of thumb.

Rabbi Shlomo Abrams and Trip Madrich Billy Warshauer

Rabbi Shlomo Abrams and Trip Madrich Billy Warshauer

“One year later, based on our follow-up, 99 percent still say being Jewish is more important to them,” she said. “98 percent have encouraged family and friends to visit Israel. 75 percent say the trip had a large or life-changing impact on them. We’re sending home leaders.”

A new focus

Most of Kevin’s trips have a very specific focus. He meets with elected officials, members of the military, bureaucrats and experts, he said, and it’s “like attending a conference or business trip that happens to be in Israel.”
On the MoMENtum trips, tourism is secondary. Instead of the skyscrapers and beaches, there’s introspection. Just as with the women’s trips, speakers focus on bettering oneself to improve family life and one’s place in the Jewish community. Charlie Harary, an inspirational speaker, shared his advice on a daily basis, and it hit home for Kevin.
“Once you are out of high school and college and have a family, you are doing very little for yourself,” Kevin said. “On this trip, it’s all guys having the same struggles of how to pause, how to focus on the important things in our lives, to transition away from that treadmill and be present in the moment. That was a big part for me, to learn skills to apply back here in daily life.”
Chuck said that one of his biggest challenges is explaining what he received from the trip without sounding like a zealot.
“When people come back, they want to witness to you about how awesome it is. If you haven’t been through it, these people seem crazy,” he said.
“If I could get people to go, I think they’d be better dads, better husbands, better leaders in the community. I struggle with how to not oversell it.”
He suggests looking at it the way he did — a chance to bond with fellow men. There were several guys he knew well, and others he had met briefly over the years.
Dallas has been very much a part of JWRP since its beginning. Two local rabbis — Nasanya Zakon of DATA of Plano and Shlomo Abrams of the Jewish Learning Center — went on the trip. Jewish Education Texas has also been supportive of JWRP.

Rabbi Nasanya Zakon, Mike Stern and Billy Warshauer enjoy dinner.

Rabbi Nasanya Zakon, Mike Stern and Billy Warshauer enjoy dinner.

“This trip has been a game-changer for men,” said Rabbi Abrams. “We are all running around on the treadmill of life trying to balance our work, family and kids and we tend to forget about our spiritual needs and our power as a Jewish man.
“This trip offers the opportunity to stop and look inside and rebuild our core and renew our relationship with our Jewish identity and God.”
Mahra describes the purpose of JWRP trips as rekindling the spark often lost in the daily grind. As such, it could appeal to a wide range of adults.
Future right of passage?
“I see a future where a JWRP MoMENtum trip becomes a rite of passage much like Birthright or March of the Living is for our children,” Mahra said.
Most of the trip was in Jerusalem, but there was also a day at the Dead Sea and Masada. The Dallas contingent was part of a larger group of about 200, including 13 men, most of who grew up in the Soviet Union, who decided to have a bar mitzvah ceremony atop Masada.
The symbolism was extremely apparent and moving, especially after an F-16 flew over.
“You’re having that emotional moment, you are at this ancient place of Masada with that last stand with the Romans and you are sitting here looking at these families from the Soviet Union, they were not able to live openly as Jews, and here they are in the modern state of Israel with Jewish sovereignty and having their bar mitzvahs,” Kevin said.
The men were also moved by their time in the Old City, especially Shabbat at the Kotel. They prayed and danced with others, befriending several members of Israel’s equivalent to Navy SEALs. Kevin said it felt like barriers were broken down, and Chuck described it as like being at the center of the world.
Rabbi Abrams explained, “Once we step into Israel, something special happens and the guys start bonding and come back with a fresh new perspective as a dad, husband and as an inspired Jew in Dallas.”

A true group

Chuck said there were no real cliques, regardless of who knew whom beforehand. He mentioned a trip to the shuk (traditional marketplace) where several smaller groups started exploring and ended up together.
The experience continues after the men and women come home. They are encouraged to stay connected and get involved.
“Everybody focuses on the trip because that’s what they know,” Mahra said. “They think it’s Birthright for moms. But a participant goes through teambuilding, is educated about Jewish values and has the Israel experience. Then the journey continues when they get home.”

The Dallas contingent

The Dallas contingent

Kevin said his emotional connection to God has changed as a result of Harary’s words. Celebrating Shabbat with family has taken a bigger role in his life, and the Pailets now include blessings over the children and additional songs.
Chuck, who converted about six years ago, is more spiritual than religious, but the experience reached him on multiple levels. He’s looking forward to future trips to Israel, but it’s not to see as many sights as he can.
“I don’t care how many times I go back, I would always spend a few days in Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s the center of it all. I’m looking down at the Kotel, and at this mosque dome, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there’s every religion, the holiest sites within 15 minutes of each other. It’s an overwhelming thing to see so many people emotionally charged and caring about one place. And it’s not a big place.”

Brett and Adam Diamond at the Kotel

Brett and Adam Diamond at the Kotel

As a group, the Dallas members rotate sharing a Shabbat inspirational message and keep in touch through WhatsApp, meeting when they can.
“We don’t realize as guys how much we also crave connection and friendship,” Rabbi Zakon said. “What is amazing to see is how this trip provides an opportunity for guys to bond. These friendships are only getting stronger since the trip. We have events just for the guys and we all stay and talk over beers for hours.”
“It’s an easy connection. It’s never handshakes, it’s always hugs. It’s a brotherhood,” Chuck said.

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Hungry for food, learning? Try this event

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Next Monday, all of us will pause to remember the late Martin Luther King, Jr., his achievements and his unfortunate, untimely assassination.
We will honor him, whether we were alive or not even born yet at the time of his death. I’m fortunate to be able to recall those early days, when things were finally beginning to heat up after a long time of simmering in Alabama.
Contrary to common belief, Rosa Parks wasn’t the first black person to challenge segregation on a public bus — there had been at least a half-dozen before her. But behind-the-scenes efforts to end that longtime practice were at work in Montgomery, where black leadership decided — wisely, it turned out — that she was the best candidate because her story wasn’t a “cause”: She was just a very tired day worker at the end of many hours on her feet, and when the “Whites Only” front of her homebound bus was filled, all she was “resisting” was having to stand some more so the next white person to board could have her seat. From such little acts, big changes may arise.
I was fortunate, all those years ago, to be teaching religious school for a very social-action-oriented congregation in a moneyed Chicago suburb. And as my students were teenagers, I was invited to sit in while members began to work on their next project: taking a bus to Selma — then at the heart of resistance and protest on both sides of the color line. I could not afford to go myself, with a young social worker husband on a low salary and a very young child at home. But I will never forget that dinner as long as I live.
That group did go to Selma, while here in Dallas the late, beloved Rabbi Levi Olan marched with MLK himself. We feel the results of their actions, and those of so many others, every day since, and once a year, we formally remember …
Many activities honor MLK’s achievements on the holiday celebrated nationally on the Monday nearest his birth (Jan. 15, 1929). Among the parades and banquets, there’s a special event I particularly like: It’s the speech contest featuring young black students who emulate and interpret in their own varied ways both the fiery oratory and the deeply-felt sentiments of Martin Luther King, Jr. But the one I enjoy and appreciate most is the Dallas Dinner Table, held every year on the evening of MLK Day. Founded in 1999, it’s a local, independent nonprofit that brings together people representing many races, religions and ethnicities in a safe situation for open communication. Alumni of Leadership Dallas had the idea that talking together over a shared meal might have the possibility to encourage a sharing of life perspectives as well.
And they were right! My late husband and I attended one of the first year’s Dinner Table events, held in the private home of a couple who happened to be both black and gay, its free-wheeling discussion guided only by a short list of some matters we might like to consider. Try to imagine the conversation of that long-ago evening! We, like many other first-timers, were hooked; the two of us didn’t miss many dinners after that, and I’ve continued to go on my own since Fred’s passing.
Most Dinner Tables have moved now from individual homes to larger public venues, but the drill is the same: You sign up, tell how far you’re willing to travel, and soon get an assignment for a group guaranteed to include a variety of people, with a moderator to keep the discussion moving on-track.
It’s surely too late now for this year’s sign-ups, but please mark your calendar for 2019. Want more details? Just Google “Dallas Dinner Table” and read all about it. Then go — hungry for food and learning. You will receive both, in no small amounts, at absolutely no charge, while honoring a great man’s dream.

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Biblioholics, diversify portfolio with some videos

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
As my regular readers know, I am a biblioholic — books are my thing to the point that Amazon is on speed dial!
I have recommended countless books and I have many more but lately, I have suggested websites that offer amazing Jewish learning and you can find almost anything you need to know plus many interpretations of the particular question.
Jewish tradition believes in repetition — do the rituals again and again often, until they become a part of your life; read the Torah regularly and discover new ideas each time you read; be open to learning from all people and methods (from Pirke Avot: Who is wise? The one who learns from all people). All of the learning and experiencing is not just about growing as a Jew but growing as a person — the lessons enhance every part of your life.
Now I must recommend a pretty new website: bimbam.com. It is not one of my usual favorites of sites with lots of reading but a site filled with videos — YES, VIDEOS! And they are short, answer so many questions about Judaism and fun to watch. For some of us, this will work beyond the books and the reading so try it. Just this past week (you can get updates and have more to watch than funny cat videos because here you will learn) the topics were on halacha (Jewish law), bar/bat mitzvah and kosher. The less-than-five-minute video on “Keeping Kosher” was amazing! And not only was it filled with the what and how but there was a short segment on how to be a thoughtful guest in a kosher home. Wow! Got everything you need to know in less than five minutes.
Just imagine, if Rabbi Hillel could step into a time machine and transport to the present day, when asked to tell all about Judaism while standing on one foot, he could have simply said to go to this website! Of course, Hillel’s answer of, “Do not do to others what you do not what them to do to you” was followed by his admonition to “go and study.”
I guarantee that if you watch one video, you won’t stop there! So my advice this week is to go directly to bimbam.com and start learning. It is fun and easy and has really good stuff! A semi-disclaimer: Some people think that when a book or a video or a movie or a website is “for children” it means it is just for kids, but remember that we all are learning and perhaps a short video will lead you to more learning.
That is the hope!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Around the Town: Studying Torah, art salon

Around the Town: Studying Torah, art salon

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Spencer Weinstein, Denae Chance Rubinson, Sarah Price, Ethan Johnson, Karen Telschow Johnson

Spencer Weinstein, Denae Chance Rubinson, Sarah Price, Ethan Johnson, Karen Telschow Johnson

 Rabbi Bloom (left) and Rabbi Gurevitch

Rabbi Bloom (left) and Rabbi Gurevitch

 (From left) Linda Lavi, Sabrina Beleck, Sarah Lavi, Stephanie Dubinsky

(From left) Linda Lavi, Sabrina Beleck, Sarah Lavi, Stephanie Dubinsky

Sharon Miles, Carla Cowan

Sharon Miles, Carla Cowan

 Talya Galaganov, Marcy Paul, Shari Paul, Lauren Rocha, Rene Rocha

Talya Galaganov, Marcy Paul, Shari Paul, Lauren Rocha, Rene Rocha

Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharon@tjpnews.com

Studying Torah, creating art

More than 40 very creative community members gathered at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center to study Torah and create art Sunday, Jan. 7.
Rabbi Andrew Bloom of Congregation Ahavath Sholom and Rabbi Levi Gurevitch of Chabad of Arlington and Mid-Cities led a Torah study on Parashat Vaera. The themes discussed were about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, different ways in which one’s hearts can be blocked or unblocked, and how the plagues can be read not only as physical manifestations of God’s power but as preparation for the Jewish people to leave Egypt.
The art created during the morning included mosaics, paintings, glass art, photography and music. The participants drew heavily on the themes discussed during the study session and created some truly remarkable pieces. A video of the art produced is available on the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Facebook page.
Special thanks go to Jan Ayers Friedman, Nan Phillips, Gloria Sepp, Marvin Beleck and Sarah Price, all from the Texas Jewish Arts Association, for leading each of the studios and creating the program. Hats off to Stephanie Dubinsky, Marla Owen, and the Fort Worth Community Arts Center for hosting the event. This program was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County and the Texas Jewish Arts Association with financial support from the Dan Danciger/Fort Worth Hebrew Day School Supporting Foundation.
— Submitted by Angie Friedman

Art salon: Barbara Goldstein

As part of the exhibit of renowned artist Barbara Goldstein’s collection that has been on display at Beth-El Congregation since late fall, the temple will hold an art salon from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, in the boardroom.
As previously reported in this column, Goldstein spent four months in Paris creating 22 paintings. Many of those paintings as well as others have been on display in the boardroom. On Jan. 23, the Goldstein family will share stories of their mother Barbara’s art world and capture the memories of her inspiration and adventures. If you own a Barbara Goldstein art piece, bring it with you and share your story.
Art salons date back to Paris in 1667 as an opportunity for artists, art lovers and others to gather, network and exchange ideas about art. Beth-El began holding its art salon in 2015.
— Submitted by Hollace Weiner

 

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Dallas Doings: Ever wonder how ONE Night came about?

Dallas Doings: Ever wonder how ONE Night came about?

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Stephanie and Dan Prescott with Seth Meyers, the featured performer at ONE Night 2016

Stephanie and Dan Prescott with Seth Meyers, the featured performer at ONE Night 2016

Dan Prescott with Jim Gaffigan, who brought down the house at ONE Night 2017

Dan Prescott with Jim Gaffigan, who brought down the house at ONE Night 2017

Prescott explains origins of event

By Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharon@tjpnews.com

Excitement is building for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ ONE Night, Sunday, Jan. 28. This year’s event will feature hilarious comedian Howie Mandel with musical guests the Maccabeats. For the third year, SMU’s beautiful McFarlin Auditorium will be the backdrop for this not-to-miss free (there is a minimum suggested pledge to the Federation) community event (doors open at 6:30; the program starts at 7:30). Having attended my fair share of Federation Women’s Events, I wondered how ONE Night evolved. I caught up with Dan Prescott, who was the sitting Federation board chair two years ago when ONE Night debuted.
TJP: What was the inspiration for having one fundraising event for the community?
DP: There were a few reasons:

  • 1. Fundraising is important and needs to happen but there is no reason it can’t be fun and enjoyable.
  • 2. We have so many factors in our world that try to divide us, to create rifts and split us by age, by gender, by religious affiliation and brand, and isn’t it nice when we can find reasons to join together, to create one strong vibrant community and show how strong and successful we can be and how wonderful when across our demographic we can pull together.
  • 3. Partners wanted events they can attend together.

TJP: How do you decide on the talent?
DP: I thought there is enough in the news and on the airwaves that makes us concerned and sigh, comedy is a break. Also with comedians no one is excluded; Reform, Conservative, Orthodox all can attend.
TJP: What have you learned from the previous two events?
DP: They are not easy and people have significant expectations. People like SMU, and profanity is not necessary. We learned that it takes a village to get the word out and for folks to sign up. Also that each year we learn from the previous year’s efforts.
We are learning to make our case more impactful and our asks more effective.
TJP: Do you think men and women miss having an event to call their own?
DP: Maybe and they may come back at some point. These events have shelf lives. Men’s and Women’s events got a little tired. That said, I can see a time when they will come back. It is interesting how other communities are following our lead. Dallas leads on so many things.
TJP: It seems like everyone is doing a comedy show now. Do you think this is a trend?
DP: Don’t know but if it is, we started it! Comedy, as long as it is at no one’s real expense, is needed in this world. Especially during these troubling times.
There is still time to register for ONE Night at www.jewishdallas.org/onenight. This event is free to attend thanks to the generous support of underwriters and presenting sponsor, BB&T.
As this is the largest fundraising event for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, attendees will have the opportunity to make their commitment to the 2018 Annual Campaign. Attendees 31 years of age and older will be asked to make a suggested minimum pledge of $365. Attendees 30 years of age and under will be asked to make a suggested minimum pledge of $180 to the 2018 Annual Campaign.
Event chairs for the evening are Angela Aaron Horowitz and Doug French, Jolie and Michael Newman and Natalie and Michael Waldman.

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