Archive | January, 2018

Women’s networking group grows

Women’s networking group grows

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

DALLAS JEWISH WOMEN BIZ

Businesswomen will meet and greet Jan. 31

By Deb Silverthorn

The Dallas Jewish Women in Business Network (DJWBN) is raising a glass — well, a coffee cup — to 2018 and beginning the year with a Meet & Greet from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31 at the Coffee House Cafe, 6150 Frankford Road (cross street Preston Road) in North Dallas.
The organization, begun as a Facebook group launched by Jessica Green as a networking resource, now has more than 550 members. Late last year, Rivkah Krasnoff joined Green after expressing an idea for a similar, but more expanded, profiled, effort. The two, stronger together than as one, are dedicated to supporting Dallas’ ever-growing market of Jewish women business owners and professionals.
“I didn’t know anyone when I first moved here and I wanted to change that. I figured I’m a new mom, we’re new to the area, I’m a professional — I couldn’t possibly be alone in those categories and I was right. I created the Facebook group and in a very short time the numbers grew,” said Green, a Senior Registered Tax Preparer with Hensley CPA in Frisco.
A New York native who received her bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising, Green moved to Australia, where she fell in love with the country and her future husband Daryl. She earned her MBA at the University of Technology, Sydney. After seven years across the pond, Green and her husband moved to the Metroplex for a career opportunity, with her family and professional life flourishing.
“We’ve had meals together, vendor showcases, networking opportunities, and from each get-together people have exchanged references and shared the real spirit of community,” Green said, speaking of the networking group.
Green is the mother of toddlers Benjamin and Daniel, and the wife of Daryl. She and her family belong to Congregation Anshai Torah. She is also the administrator of the Women Networking of Plano, Frisco and Far North Dallas Facebook page, which, at times, has joined with the DJWBN group for events.
“I have found clients, I have sent friends and clients of mine to other women in the group, and it’s a beautiful thing to share our opportunities,” Green said. “If I’m going to buy something, eat somewhere, or I have need for a service, why wouldn’t I want to give my business to a local person? That’s always my first hope, and of course I appreciate the referrals I’ve received. My business doubled in 2016, and again in 2017 thanks to referrals, not just from this group but when someone tells someone about you, and you come through, the dominoes of new customers fall in your favor.”
Green is excited about Krasnoff joining her in administrating the Facebook group. Krasnoff will write informational and educational posts about business practice and the organization’s events, bringing her marketing experience to members and participants
Krasnoff — who was born in Scotland — her husband Neil, and their daughter Bracha are members of Congregation Shaare Tefilla. The couple moved to Dallas nine years ago, hoping she could stay at home with their daughter, while making the most of her experience and education She received her bachelor’s and MBA degrees from the University of Texas, and has more than 20 years of experience in business strategy, which includes sales, marketing and CRM applications in both corporate and nonprofit arenas. She serves on the Digital Marketing Advisory board of the University of South Florida, and through her business, Aspiring Mompreneur (also her professional Facebook page), she is a business coach and consultant to work-at-home mothers, also helping clients find resources to help them grow.
“Facebook is a wonderful forum for women to meet, but we want to do more than just make contacts — to offer training on how to be in touch with your clients, how to utilize social media best to sell and connect, how to sell yourself as an expert in your area and be seen with a unique perspective, and also the connectivity, networking and ‘just’ being girlfriends there for each other,” Krasnoff said. “There is no understating the power of strong women’s friendships and support. Jessica has done an amazing job thus far and together we look forward to expanding and growing.”
DJWBN plans continued online interaction and monthly gather
ings, with Jewish business leaders sharing their experiences, successes and pitfalls, and offering advice, as much as an opportunity for the members to learn from each other and more about each other’s businesses. “Anyone concerned about the kashrut of this first event is welcome to just order a cold drink or just come and share with us,” Krasnoff said. “We’d love recommendations for additional locations and for local Jewish offices or venues to host our meetings, (then) we can move our events around throughout the community so that everyone is welcome.”
“This is what it’s all about and we live in a time when with a click, you can turn a ‘friend’ into a real friend, vendor or associate,” Green said. “The best way to give and help each other succeed.”
The Dallas Jewish Women in Business Network is open to the community. For more information, and to register for events, visit the self-titled Facebook page.

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Shabbat or kashrut: not mutually exclusive

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

Just as God works in mysterious ways, so, it seems, humans grow in mysterious ways, as well. I can tell you this as a person who has engaged in Jewish outreach for more than a decade, and witnessed the growth of hundreds of individuals. What takes one person a decade of spiritual toil to accomplish, can develop almost overnight in others.
I’ve also seen how the paths in which individuals adopt new mitzvot in their lives differ, each person deciding which particular mitzvot to adopt or ignore (either forever, or until a future, more auspicious time when the neglected mitzvah might be re-examined). Each person decides on a particular course, or order, of mitzvah adoption, as well as the degree to which they plan on committing and investing themselves in each of these mitzvot. These are the decisions that each person must make for themselves, each one an expression of their unique souls, strivings and singular service of the Almighty.
And while the variations distinguishing each spiritual journey are many, certain patterns that seem to repeat themselves. One such similarity is what I call the “Shomer Shabbat over Shomer Kashrut Conundrum.”
You see, though many engage in some form of kashrut (kosher) long before they commit themselves to Shabbat observance, most people (at least in my experience) accept the full practice of Shabbat before they accept the full practice of kashrut. In other words, though many are fully Shabbat-observant for decades and, at the same time, 100 percent kosher in the home, they may tend to compromise observance of kashrut outside the home.
To confirm this interesting conundrum of Judaic spiritual development, my partner in Jewish outreach, Rabbi Nasanya Zakon, shared with me a question he recently posed to a group of his students. “Would you be quicker to fully keep Shabbat or kosher?” The unanimous answer was Shabbat.
What is it about the unadulterated practice of kashrut that seems so daunting to so many? And, what is it about the laws and practices that arrive at that point in time during which both one’s commitment and inspiration in Judaism rest at its peak?
It can be difficult to give up the many delicious non-kosher foodstuffs one has grown to enjoy. Additionally, losing the convenience of dining out in the many non-kosher restaurants dotting the map is an equally difficult pill to swallow. Kosher is more expensive, and does require more planning.
But is this quantifiably more difficult than severing from electronics, Internet and automobiles for 25 hours once a week? And, what of the work complications Shabbat observance creates? Consider the many jobs that require work on the weekends that must be ruled out, or at a minimum, might require special accommodations, and with it, the potential loss of hours and salary. The Sabbath-observant individual will also miss multiple family and friend get-togethers scheduled on Friday nights and Saturdays, not to mention concerts scheduled for the same time.
I don’t think that the difficulty of keeping kashrut is what lies at the heart of the matter. Rather, I believe the difference lies in our appreciation and lack thereof for these two distinct mitzvot. With all the complications and “burdens” Shabbat places upon its practitioner, the benefits of observance are well-known and appreciated. After all, who hasn’t experienced the sublime sense of calm, peace and tranquility that permeates the Sabbath-observant home? Without the distraction of electronics and cell phones, families and friends find themselves enjoying each other’s presence around the Shabbat table, engaging in meaningful discussions, singing beautiful melodies and enjoying delicious delicacies. Communities come together during these times, as does the Jew with his Maker. Few can argue with a day free from errands and a few extra hours of sleep.
However, aside from the occasional case for increased self-control, kosher is seen by most as the quintessential chok, a commandment whose reasoning we do not know, and whose practice is more a sign of religious commitment than anything else. Religious commitment is seen by many as praiseworthy, but personal interest motivates change In kosher’s case, the burdens are perceived as far outweighing the potential benefits.
Scorecard: Treif 1, Kosher 0.
This is why it is so important to educate ourselves of the true benefits of kosher. The Torah teaches us that eating kosher foods accomplishes the vital role of preserving our inherent holiness, while consuming non-kosher foods spiritually pollutes our hearts. This makes it more difficult to connect to God.
In an amazing halachic twist, the Chofetz Chaim (Sefer Machaneh Yisroel), writing in the late 19th century to Jewish soldiers in the army, noted that if a soldier has the choice to either go to an army base in which he can keep Shabbat but cannot keep kosher, or go to a different army base in which he could keep kosher but not Shabbat, he should choose the base that allows for the observance of kashrut and not Shabbat. The punishment for Shabbat desecration is more severe than that of violating kashrut, though if the soldier must obey orders against Shabbat observance or kashrut on the pain of death, he is not accountable for violating either mitzvah. That being said, consuming non-kosher foods sullies the heart and soul of the Jew, meaning it is the poorer choice a Jew can make.

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Ahavath Sholom to sell 5-plus acres with senior living community in mind

Ahavath Sholom to sell 5-plus acres with senior living community in mind

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

IMG_1438By Ben Tinsley
btinsley@live.com

FORT WORTH—Congregation Ahavath Sholom offi cials announced this week they have entered into an agreement with a senior housing developer to create a comfortable, luxury destination community for local seniors.
The specific agreement is for Congregation Ahavath Sholom officials to sell up to 6 acres directly adjacent to their existing synagogue to 4050 Hulen Partners, LLC of Fort Worth. The 6-acre patch includes baseball, soccer fields, and basketball courts on the west side of the synagogue.
By accepting this offer to purchase 5-plus acres for $31.25 per square foot, synagogue officials have effectively countered a $9 per square foot offer from the Fort Worth ISD.
“We have not received a contract from the FWISD,” Michael Linn, Ahavath Sholom executive director, said. “All we received was their letter of intent. Our attorney responded by declining their $9 offer.”
Rhoda Bernstein, a co-chair of the synagogue’s “Focus On The Future” Committee formed about three years ago, said the advent of the future senior facility means now is a great time to be a member of Congregation Ahavath Sholom.
“I am thrilled about this,” she said. “I am absolutely thrilled. We are so excited to sell the land and excited about the senior living facility we feel is ideal for that piece of property. It gives us the revenue we need to do what we want to bring our current facility into the future.”
Congregation Ahavath Sholom acquired the property from Cassco Land Co., Inc. by warranty deed on Aug. 8, 1972, records show. Bernstein said her father, Lou Barnett, 99, was a synagogue leader when the land was acquired, and he is taking pride in being around for the latest development.
“As one of the few remaining from his generation, he is pushing us all the way to do this,” Bernstein said. “We take a lot of pride in that we have been able to be part of his dream.”
Steven S. Brown, a member of the synagogue’s board of directors, a congregant and an attorney, agreed this sale has been a long time coming.
Brown explained, while the synagogue used the property all those years, there were restrictions in place which stipulated the uses of the land.
“A couple of years ago, those deed restrictions, put up at the time the property was purchased, expired,” he said.
Murray Cohen, past Congregation Ahavath Sholom president and Focus on the Future co-chair, agreed this sale should be one of the synagogue’s largest accomplishments.
“The sale will give us the money to make necessary changes to our existing structure,” Cohen said.
Over the weekend, members of the congregation met to discuss the offer from 4050 Hulen Partners LLC and voted overwhelmingly to sell the property to the group, Linn said.
“Our existing structure doesn’t currently meet our need, and we really need to repurpose. It’s much less expensive to repurpose rather than rebuild,” Linn said.
Cohen explained the location is ideal for producing the kind of high-end senior living environment they are seeking, as well as creating a facility that would offer activities, guest speakers, a swimming pool, transportation and extensive parking.
Congregation members said they have been seeking a partner to realize their original property vision of a resort-style retirement community within close proximity of an aging Jewish population and other seniors in the area.
The total project cost is estimated to be north of $70 million, according to a release from the 4050 Hulen Partners. Synagogue officials say it should be a great boon to the local tax base and property values.
“This will meet the immediate independent senior housing needs that have long been underserved in the Hulen area,” the release said. “The development plans include 200 independent units and 48 assisted living units. Additional amenities include state-of-the-art fitness facilities, indoor pool, with a world-class meal plan including a kosher option created by full-time executive chefs. Development will also include a concierge service, health care/physical services and scheduled transportation.”
Meanwhile, Linn said, the property still has to go through a zoning or rezoning process. Once a permit is approved, the complex is expected to take about 18 months to build.

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Tu B’Shevat: more than simply planting trees

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
It is winter, and it has been cold. Yet Tu B’Shevat — the Birthday of the Trees — is just around the corner. With it is coming a feeling of spring.
Tu B’Shevat is the 15th day of Shevat; this year the holiday will be celebrated Jan. 31. Most of us have memories of collecting money to plant trees in Israel at this time of year. We continue the planting of trees on this “birthday.” Additionally, there are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonders of nature, and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times. God commands us to care for the earth, and Tu B’Shevat is a very special time to remember this.
The Torah tells us how the world was created, but then goes on to tell us how to protect and preserve the earth. A very important Jewish law is bal tashchit — in other words, do not destroy. The Torah tells us we must not destroy and we must not waste.
This is a good time of year to talk with your children about the meaning of the various comments from Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. One very good resource for such a discussion is a book, Listen to the Trees — the Jews and the Earth by Molly Cone.
Don’t be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Simply read the full text out loud, then ask your children what they think it means. As you break the text into smaller pieces, continue to ask questions. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Just the answer in which we can find meaning for ourselves with this holiday. Even young children are capable of finding such meaning.
Here are some examples of appropriate texts for Tu B’Shevat:
“If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 31b, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai)
“It is forbidden to live in a town in which there is no garden or greenery.” (Jerusalem Talmud, Kodashim 4:12)
“When you besiege a city for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down.” (Deuteronomy 20:19)
“Whoever destroys anything that could be useful to others breaks the law of bal tashchit.” (Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim 32a)
“The whole world of humans, animals, fish, and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air, and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny.” (Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 2)

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ISJL supplies Jewish resources region-wide

ISJL supplies Jewish resources region-wide

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

Ed Fellow Leah Wittenberg teaching Dallas religious school teachers

New CEO to continue outreach across South

By Aaron Greenberg

Special to the TJP

DALLAS — Macy B. Hart grew up in a very small Jewish community in Winona, Mississippi. Like many Jews in the South, he came from a family that had to go out of its way to preserve tradition.
Hart, the founder  and outgoing CEO of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), endured 160-mile round trip drives each Sunday as a youth to get a Jewish education.
ISJL board member Scott Miller, of Dallas, was slightly luckier, growing up 30 miles from the synagogue in Greenville, Mississippi.
That’s less of an issue in Dallas, which has multiple congregations hosting enough people on the High Holidays to inhabit a rural town.
Still, the ISJL plays a major role in the Metroplex, just as it does for towns with two Sunday school students. (And yes, there are five of those serviced by the organization.)
Headquartered in Mississippi, ISJL has an annual budget of $2.3 million, with an imprint in 13 states. The institute’s educational program serves 76 congregations — including 23 Texas schools — and 4,000 children.
Its education program serves 1,000 children at six of the region’s schools — Congregation Shearith Israel, Temple Emanu-El and Temple Shalom in Dallas; Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound, Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson, and Adat Chaverim in Plano.
The connection between what happens in the countryside and major cities is vital, according to Michele Schipper, ISJL’s incoming CEO.
“Those small towns are feeding these cities. But, those still in the small towns, we are honoring them,” Schipper said, noting that if they migrate, they’ll then be more likely to go “shul shopping.”
Overall, ISJL’s rabbinical department provided services to 43 communities with visits between 2014 and 2016, helping to counter the shortage of clergy — which isn’t only a rural or Southern problem, as Hart and Schipper point out.
Dallas serves as an anchor for many of the ISJL programs that reach out to smaller cities and towns. Speakers and cultural contributors start in a major city, then hit the road in a rental car. Examples include author and speaker Dr. Ron Wolfson and country singer Joe Buchanan.
“There’s a shortage of rabbis, and there are many more congregations nationally than rabbis,” Hart said. “We’re a solution.”
Rabbinical visits are part of the larger idea to provide for locations that lack resources, and bring the entire Southern Jewish community together.
“It’s a mythical congregation, all the services you’d get if you belong to a synagogue,” Schipper said.
That includes a significant effort to preserve and share history with an encyclopedia that includes background on every Jewish community that has ever existed in the South (http://www.isjl.org/encyclopedia-of-southern-jewish-communities.html). Some of the entries include videos with an oral history.
As someone who bridges the experience of rural and urban Jewish life, Miller eagerly supported ISJL before joining the board. He sees benefits and interests for the local community, as well as his hometown of Indianola.
“I think that Jews living in rural areas in the South should have access to some of the same Jewish opportunities that we have in Dallas,” he said. “No other organization does what the ISJL does, so if it did not exist, we would have to create it.”
Another connection familiar to Metroplex families is Rabbi Andrew Terkel, director of Year Round Programs at Greene Family Camp. Terkel is one of ISJL’s education fellowship alumni. Many of the alums have gone on to rabbinical school, and most have become involved with professional Jewish life, Schipper said.
Hart served as North American Federation of Temple Youth (NIFTY) president in the late 1960s. He wanted to work in New York, but ended up back in Mississippi running the brand-new Henry Jacobs Camp in Utica, Mississippi. After 30 years of serving dozens of congregations, many without clergy, he was ready to try something new to boost Southern Jewish life.
“I was in a position that if I wanted it to happen, I was going to have to do this,” Hart said.
In a few weeks, Hart will step down as CEO from the organization he founded in 2000, and he came to Dallas to make sure the organization’s friends and partners are properly introduced to Schipper.
Schipper, meanwhile, has been the organization’s COO going on 11 years, and like Hart, she came from a small Jewish community in Mississippi. Her family owned a deli in Jackson that was famous throughout the Deep South.
She grew up at Henry Jacobs Camp, becoming a counselor, staff member and assistant director. She has also been involved in JCCs out West and in Jackson, serving as sisterhood president and congregation president.
Hart said he’ll focus on his “bucket list” for the organization as he transitions to a president emeritus role, confident in Schipper’s ability.
“She has seen this meteoric growth. She is a product of this entire thing. I’m not concerned about the continuity,” he said.
Perhaps their biggest legacy is the education program, which includes a 6,500-page fully scripted curriculum for preschool through high school. It took $9.2 million to develop and deliver, but now is used throughout the South and revised each year.
A team of 10 education fellows partner with communities, answering questions and making three in-person weekend trips. An annual conference also takes place each June in Jackson, where educators get a chance to learn not only from ISJL, but from each other.
Generally, ISJL programs get tested in Mississippi before being rolled out. Some of the community engagement programs include LAB (Literacy Achievement Bonanza), a literacy camp that has partnered with Jackson State University, and Talk About the Problems (TAP), which trains kids to be mediators.
“We’re looking to replicate that throughout our region,” Schipper said.
A traveling trunk with primary source documents is used to help explain the story of 19th-century Jewish immigration to the South, part of the Heritage & Interpretation department. The department grew out of the Museum of Southern Jewish Experience.
The museum predates ISJL, part of Hart’s efforts to preserve Southern Jewish artifacts. It became part of the larger organization, but will become its own entity with a New Orleans location in 2019.
The synergy will continue, of course. After all, that’s what ISJL is about.
“I think that Jews, no matter where they live, have a responsibility to help other Jews,” Miller said. “We are privileged to live in Dallas, where we have access to almost everything Jewish. I believe that if more Jews in Dallas knew about the ISJL, they would embrace the opportunity to provide resources to help Jews in other places live a more Jewish life.”
Large or small, when communities need a boost, they can turn to ISJL, Hart said.
“Instead of an urban mentality, of ‘if you want it, go where it is,’ tell us and we will bring it to you,” Hart said.

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Time is now to meet survivors

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

I recently encountered an interesting book: Star of David: A Popular History of the Mysterious Hexagram, by Dr. Robert Norman. He says what we think of as ours alone was actually used by a long string of other faith traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and some Eastern philosophies. And he maintains it didn’t become Judaism’s best-known symbol until the 20th century!
Norman believes that — like so many other things we can trace to the Holocaust — it was Hitler and his Nazis, forcing Jews to wear the yellow star as a badge indicating their religion, who made this happen. He gives the start date as 1930; then, “chai” years later (which seems incredibly appropriate!) the State of Israel chose that six-pointed star, in the traditional blue of tallis threads, to center a new banner designed after the tallis itself.
Legend has it that Betsy Ross started to make six-pointed stars for the first American flag, but found an easier way to fold her fabric that resulted in the five-pointed ones used ever since. Should we believe this? Or all those other things as well? And — does it really matter? What does matter: the remarkable lives of so many who were once forced to wear that six-pointed yellow star, intended as a badge of shame; who survived, made it to this land of the five-pointed ones, and have since lived incredibly productively while honoring the starred banners of both the United States and Israel.
A couple of cases in point: one right here, and one I know from my old hometown.
The first makes a book worthy of mention: Dreams and Jealousy: The Story of Holocaust Survivor Jack Repp. This man is one of Dallas’ precious treasures; he’s already told his personal tale to thousands of visitors at our local Holocaust Center, and continues to do so because he knows how important this is. And now, our TJP columnist Rabbi Dan Lewin has put Repp’s life between covers so that all can read it. Many heard him tell it as centerpiece of the recent annual Intrafaith Sisterhood event at Temple Emanu-El — Jack’s spiritual home for many years. (The copies available that day quickly sold out, but you can order more from Amazon.)
Many of you reading this already know Jack Repp. Now I’d like to introduce you to another survivor, Moshe Taube, a retired cantor who continues to sing — especially at Holocaust memorial events — because for him, “Music is life!” Well into his 90th decade, his city’s daily newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, honored him with a front-page article that began by calling him “a living link to Eastern European Jewish culture before it was devastated…” Like Jack Repp, Moshe Taube suffered unbelievable family losses and personal tortures, but also lives to keep the story of his past alive — through traditional song.
I consider myself privileged to know both of these living treasures. I see Jack Repp in many places — where he worships, and where he gives riveting accounts of his own past experiences. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he begins almost every sentence, calling attention to the need for everyone to listen carefully to what he’s saying. And I know Moshe Taube as a longtime friend of my machatunim; in fact, at my son’s wedding — now more than 36 years ago — this great cantor stood under the chuppah with the officiating rabbi to sing all the prayers.
These are my never-to-be-forgotten memories. Now I challenge you to make some of your own, before it’s too late.
This coming Saturday, the world will mark the anniversary of Auschwitz’ liberation as International Holocaust Memorial Day. It’s said that one of the first liberators shouted out “Am Yisroel Chai!” Please make it your priority to meet those who actually wore the yellow star, who kept the people Israel alive. You will never forget them. (A gentle reminder of an inevitable truth: The time to do so grows shorter every day…)

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True meaning of Shechinah

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

One of the popular mystical and intriguing buzzwords these days is Shechinah, simply defined as the indwelling of divine presence, as seen in the biblical verse: “Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them (Exodus 25:8).” The term Shechinah is used to describe a hovering holiness that enters into a lower reality.
It begins with a famous verse in Song of Songs: “I came into my garden, my sister my bride…”
In this metaphorical allegory by King Solomon, depicting the love between God and Israel, the possessive form — “my garden” — is used, implying an intimate setting, similar to the chamber where the union of groom and bride is consummated. The commentaries explain the context of the verse, whereby the voice of the Creator reminisces about the Shechinah, distant for ages, finally returning to this world with the construction of the Mishkan, Sanctuary.
Jungle or garden?
“This world is a jungle,” people often declare. To succeed, especially in the marketplace, you need thick skin and resiliency. Wherever you turn, there are challenges. While destructive pleasures and decisions come naturally and easily, most meaningful and fulfilling accomplishments are the result of a steady grind.
Nevertheless, the verse relates a simple message — life on earth must be viewed as a potential garden. By sifting and sorting through moral muddiness (spiritual growth), planting seeds (career), and bearing fruit (raising children), one can leave an enchanted legacy for generations.
From a mystical viewpoint, this physical world in which we live — “the world of action” — is at the bottom of a vast system, a chain of endless and intertwining universes. This world is, however, unique in its physical composition, a mixture of goodness and immorality, providing concealment of divinity altogether.
The natural order of the world, although blinking from being to non-being, appears solid and self-sufficient.
The reason for creation
What was the reason for creating such a world? It seems a profound yet basic inquiry for any believer who ponders our existence. Yet when asked this question, many religious figures flounder for answers, or draw a blank. Test it out. To be sure, you could find explanations speaking of companionship between Maker and children, or fashioning our world out of compassion. But a truly infinite being is not lonely, and certainly doesn’t need anything.
Jewish philosophical texts provide various reasons for our world — in order “to become known,” or as a kind gesture “for our benefit,” or to “display the range of His boundless abilities.” But those accomplishments can easily be fulfilled, even more so, by upper worlds filled with celestial beings with heightened perception. Creating a coarse concealed physical existence isn’t necessary.
Yet, “the Holy One had an essential desire for a home in the lowest realm,” to dwell with complete comfort here below (Midrash Tanchuma, Bamidbar Rabah, Tanya). Furthermore, God has a longing that we, the prime features of this lowest dimension, should be the facilitators for creating that home, bringing in a further influx of light, the Shechinah. The main method to accomplish this — our spiritual craftsmanship — involves effort and free choice in “subduing” and “transforming” our nature. The Zohar explains that when we toil to change our character, a transcendent light — beyond the peak of all creation — floods the entire spectrum of worlds. The real accomplishment takes place in our world.
Highest within lowest
Paradoxically, at the onset of time, this lowest of all worlds was a fit place to contain the most intense revelation of the Shechinah. The deepest and most precious within the Creator penetrated into the lowest dimension of creation, analogous to deep pleasure pervading one’s entire body.
Then sin came onto the scene. Being the opposite of divine desire, this act inherently repels the presence of holiness and the primordial fall (of the tree of knowledge) pushed away the Shechinah. Successive iniquities drove it further upward, into the heavens, until seven righteous warriors, tzaddikim — beginning with Abraham and culminating with Moses — brought it back. Thus, despite the original human fall, each generation, with its individual inhabitants, has the potential to bring down the Shechinah further.
“Every fall is for the purpose of reaching a higher level at a later stage.”
This principle applies on a grand scale, from the unraveling of worlds until our physical existence, to the fall of the soul into this world in order to accomplish something greater. The same rule applies to each person’s story within this world, wherein even sins, the opposite of divine desire, are intended to eventually lead us to a higher accomplishment.
The broader personal takeaway is that what may appear as a dark stage in a life process, even a result of our own mistakes, is for the purpose of ultimately seeing a stronger light. The fall will lead to a higher rise. Or from another angle, there is a secret benefit within the delayed path — a maturing process, a lesson learned, wisdom gained during that time — that we can extract for constructive use.

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Blessing the children

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
Last week I was invited to have a Shabbat meal with an observant family, and before the meal commenced I saw something beautiful: The father and mother each put their hands on their children’s heads, recited a blessing and kissed each one. It was almost sublime to see children, some in their teens, line up for the blessing and kiss. I was embarrassed to ask what they were saying, but could you please fill me in?
Chuck W.

Dear Chuck,
The blessing is known as the birchas hayeladim or the blessing of the children. It is based upon the blessing Jacob recited upon his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, before he passed away. At the end of the blessing, the Torah says: “So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you shall Israel bless (their children) saying, May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’” (Genesis 48:20)
We therefore bless our boys that they should be like Ephraim and Menashe, which is the first part of that blessing. We bless the girls with the wish that they should be as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
We end the blessing for both by reciting the priestly blessing, which says, “So shall you bless the Children of Israel, saying to them: ‘May God bless you and safeguard you. May God illuminate His countenance unto you and be gracious to you. May God lift His countenance to you and establish peace upon you.’” (Numbers 6:23-27)
While it only takes a few short moments, these blessings are important moments in the life of a child, something they look forward to all week, and remember throughout their lifetimes. (I’m not sure who looks more forward to this moment, the parents or the child!) It brings an aura of holiness into the family and the parent-child relationship, showing the child the love and respect his parents have for them. By the way, parents continue to bless their children even after the children themselves become parents and even grandparents. No child is ever too old to receive a blessing from their parents!
It has been asked, in what merit did Ephraim and Menashe become the source of blessing for the Jewish people for all time?
I think the reason is, because Ephraim and Menashe grew up quite differently than all their cousins. Their cousins, the children of the 12 tribes, grew up in an atmosphere of holiness, in the surroundings of Jacob and their holy parents, aunts and uncles. For them it was relatively easy to remain steadfast in their service of God.
Ephraim and Menashe, however, had it different. Joseph, their father, was forced to live apart from his family, in Egypt. They were surrounded by Egyptian children and their idol-worshipping parents. Despite their tremendous challenges, they remained observant. Not only were they observant, but they clung to their father and became great tzaddikim, righteous individuals.
For this reason, Ephraim and Menashe were later promoted by Jacob, their grandfather, to the full status of tribes in their own right (the tribe of Joseph was split into two tribes). Not only did they not sink below the level of their cousins, they surpassed them and were elevated to the status of the previous generation.
This is our heartfelt blessing and wish for our children. No matter in what surroundings they may find themselves one day, they should always have the strength and fortitude to rise above them. They should retain their holiness and greatness, even if the winds of their times are pulling them in the wrong direction.
The same greatness was exhibited by our holy matriarchs. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah all grew up in homes antithetical to the service of God and truth. All had the internal fortitude to rise above their upbringing, their families and the profanity of their generations to achieve the holiness befitting a mother of the Jewish people.
The renowned Grand Rebbe of Klausenberg, in the Displaced Persons camps after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, was approached by a teenage girl on the eve of Yom Kippur. She requested him to bless her with the special parental blessing conferred by parents upon their children before Yom Kippur, as her own parents were no longer alive. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he took upon himself the role of her beloved parents and bestowed the blessings. Soon word got out, and dozens of girls in the DP camp flocked to the holy Rebbe to receive blessings from this compassionate father of Israel.
Even in the worst of times, blessing our children is a source of hope and comfort. Certainly, in today’s world of disconnect, this act of love forges a connection between parents and children that nothing can replace.

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Dallas’ Jewish business pioneers — both big and small

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Time marches on. I read recently that a number of the major Jewish businesses had, over time, mostly been sold to others.
These high-profile businesses include Neiman-Marcus, E.M.Kahn, Titche and Goettinger, Volk, Sterling Wholesale, Sanger-Harris, and Zales.
These were the “upscale” stores of the day and were generally located on Main, Elm, and Pacific streets in what was referred to as “the courthouse area” of downtown Dallas.
A number of excellent articles about Jewish leadership in Dallas by David Ritz appeared in D Magazine (November and December 1975, and more recently in November 2008). They featured interviews with the Jewish business leaders of Dallas, as well as with the highly respected religious leader, Rabbi Levi Olan, who was the Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El for many years.
While these businessmen may rightfully deserve credit for building a strong Jewish power base in Dallas, there were others, perhaps considered “smaller and less powerful,” who deserve credit for their contributions as small business pioneers both to the Jewish community and to the city in general.
European Jewish immigrants, escaping the pogroms of Czarist Russia, entering from Galveston were settling in Houston and Dallas seeking opportunities for a livelihood.
In the 1870s, Dallas, ex-slaves and recent immigrants were both attracted to the east Elm Street area, where a new railroad depot and the Houston and Central Texas Railroad tracks came through town.
Storefronts were rapidly being built along this industrial area where jobs could be had, deals made and partnerships forged.
Because of the growing pedestrian traffic, Elm Street was one of the first streets to be paved.
Many of the earliest Jewish merchants pioneered a strong bond with the African-American freedmen, many of whom worked for them and who also lived in that early Deep Ellum area.
Among the earliest Jewish shop owners on Elm were Meyer Goldstein (fruit seller), Abraham Cohn (saloon owner), Jacob Susman (shoemaker), Max Friedman (tailor), Abraham Smith (men’s clothing store) Samuel Singer (dry goods), Nathan Yonack (dry goods) and Daniel Rabinowitz (real estate).
By 1873, Jewish merchants owned 12 of the 29 dry goods stores. But by 1900 Jewish merchants owned 10 grocery stores, 25 clothing stores, eight saloons, six tobacco shops, nine tailor shops and 14 dry goods stores.
Perhaps one of the most important types of businesses expanding in the Deep Ellum area and elsewhere as the city grew were the pawnshops.
Jewish immigrants saw the need by low-income people to secure loans without having to establish credit with banks.
One of the most well-known pawnshops of the many found in Deep Ellum was Honest Joe’s, which opened in the early 1930s and did not finally close until 1984.
“Honest Joe” was, in reality, Rubin Goldstein, a New York Jew who started a pawn business, which he ran until his death in 1972. (Editor’s note: The TJP will have a feature on Honest Joe’s in the next few weeks.)
He was so well-known that he was referred to as “the mayor of Elm Street.” When the Ku Klux Klan began to threaten blacks who worked and lived in the Deep Ellum area, the Jewish shopkeepers, who also felt threatened at times, stood up to the Klan.
It is too bad that a permanent Deep Ellum historical display has not yet been established because Deep Ellum was such an important part of our city’s history.
I highly recommend Rose Biderman’s (of blessed memory) outstanding story of Dallas Jews, 1870-1997, They Came to Stay.

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Respect, honor, kavod

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Our Jewish value of the month at the J is “Respect — Kavod” and I have been talking with toddlers through senior adults about this value. The first place I often go is to the dictionary. Here are a few definitions of words about respect, honor, kavod:

  • RESPECT: the condition of being honored, esteemed, well regarded; an attitude of admiration.
  • HONOR: (much harder to define) the state of being honored; being honorable; having a good name.
  • KAVOD: respect; honor; dignity

The Hebrew word kavod comes from the Hebrew word meaning “heavy,” which gives us an important message that respect is a pretty heavy responsibility. Respect, kavod, begins with each person. If we feel proud of ourselves, what we achieve and how we behave, it is self-respect. Imagine what a wonderful place the world would be if we all showed respect to one another. The rabbis taught that every person should have two pockets. In one pocket, put a piece of paper that says, “I am but dust and ashes.” In the other pocket, the paper should say, “For my sake alone was the world created.”
When we feel too proud, we remind ourselves that we are but dust and when we are feeling low, we remind ourselves that God created the world for us. When we recognize and acknowledge the value and worth of every human being, when we honor and respect the uniqueness of each person, then we will work with God on tikkun olam — to repair the world.
Who is honored and respected? One who honors and respects others. (Pirke Avot)
Let your neighbor’s honor be as dear to you as your own. (Pirke Avot)

Questions to think, talk about

  • What does respect mean to you? What does it look like (actions)?
  • Share an example of how you have been respected or shown respect.
  • Talk about people you respect. Who is (or has been) a role model for you? What are the characteristics of the people you respect?
  • How is following rules a form of respect? What are the rules we follow to show respect?
  • The Torah teaches: You shall rise before the aged. (Leviticus) What does this mean? Why is it so important to show respect to older people?
  • What does it mean to “love your neighbor as yourself”?
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