Archive | March, 2018

Bar Mitzvah boy seeks treasures for his project

Bar Mitzvah boy seeks treasures for his project

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Deb Silverthorn

One person’s “stuff” being another’s treasure is the theme of 13-year-old Jonathan Pershes’ Treasures Mitzvah Sale from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, April 8, at 16007 Ranchita Drive in Dallas. Proceeds will benefit the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).
“Remembering those who survived the Holocaust and those who didn’t is important to me,” Jonathan said. “People donating their treasures, that aren’t trash but that they don’t need anymore, will help support programs that honor our history and make a difference in the present.”
Jonathan is the son of Clifford and Michael Pershes, a member of Congregation Anshai Torah and a seventh-grader at Levine Academy.
The sale of books, home goods and decor, and clothing (all sizes, in good condition) will accompany the sale of homemade lemonade and challah — a welcome taste for many, given Passover will have just ended.
“Reading and learning about the Holocaust in school is one thing, but to spend time with a survivor and to get to know her makes it real and relatable,” said Jonathan, who has spent time with Dallas resident Magie Furst, a Dallas Holocaust Museum volunteer of 18 years. “Magie’s history is amazing, and I appreciate her helping me understand what it was like to be a child during that time.”
Born in Germany, Furst, her mother and brother, Dallas’ Bert Romberg, escaped to Great Britain via the Kindertransport after their father died and Kristallnacht occurred. HIAS helped place her in a boarding school, and she later worked for a dentist before the family came to the U.S. in 1945. In New York, she met and married Harry Furst, of blessed memory, with whom she built a family of children, Richard and Robin, and grandchildren, Augie and Manie.
“It’s important to talk about that part of my life, and I’m tickled pink that Jonathan respects our time together. I appreciate his wanting to share and preserve that,” Furst said. “I kept a diary every day of the war and was always aware of what was going on even though it could take weeks to hear news. Again now, we’re living with so much anti-Semitism and it’s shocking how many people have no idea. I have to talk. We have to talk.”
“We’re deeply moved Jonathan chose to include the Dallas Holocaust Museum in his bar mitzvah celebration,” said DHM President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins. “Young people like Jonathan are Upstanders who serve as examples for us all. His gift will help support the Museum’s mission to teach the history of the Holocaust and to advance human rights combating prejudice, hatred and indifference. We congratulate his whole family on this special occasion and wish him the very best in years to come.”
“I was so pleased to hear about Jonathan’s support. His choice of beneficiaries shows his awareness of the inextricable link between these amazing organizations,” said Frank Risch, chair-elect of the Dallas Holocaust Museum and a HIAS board member. “He’s indicated his understanding that if only America and the rest of the free world had more readily accepted Jewish refugees at the time, the horrors of the Holocaust could have been inflicted on far fewer.”
HIAS helps vulnerable refugees of all nationalities and religions build new lives and reunites them with their families.
Others coming first isn’t a singular bar mitzvah project to Jonathan; it’s the way he lives every day. He volunteers, alone or with family and friends, his “Mitzvah Bro Posse,’ with the Austin Street Center, Chabad’s Friendship Circle, the Dallas Food Bank, Jewish Family Service, Palm Spring’s Well of the Desert and others in the community.
“Jonathan, Yonatan, means gift from God. We thank God every day for this incredible present and that’s who he’s always been,” said his father, Michael. “We’re always proud of him, but still amazed at the transformation that is now happening from boy to young man.” Michael added that Jonathan’s middle name, Simon, honors a revered uncle who lived to 104.
Outside of school and volunteering, Jonathan’s rarely happier than when he is playing basketball for the Chai Force basketball league or the Levine Stallions, bicycling, playing video games or cooking with his parents.
“Jonathan never ceases to amaze us with his ability to connect and emphasize with others, adapt to challenging situations and his endless love for animals, basketball and the way he and his friends make serving others ‘their thing,” said his father, Clifford. “It’s our hope that Jonathan will look back at his bar mitzvah with great success and accomplishment and that one day, God willing, he’ll share this experience with his children.”
Prepping to score high at his May 5 bar mitzvah, at which he’ll welcome friends and family including his grandparents Pat and Scott Jimeson, Alice and Mike Kearney, Bob and Ellie Pershes, Pat Defreitas and aunts Shannon and Heather Defreitas and Mer Pershes, Jonathan is making mEMORies (for Parashat Emor) throughout the community, the one he’ll soon join as an adult in its eyes, an example to his peers, those whom he follows and those next in line.
To donate items to the Treasures Mitzvah sale, or to make a financial contribution for Jonathan to share on this occasion, email pershesfamily@gmail.com or call 917-531-6576 for drop-off or pickup arrangements.

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Diplomats gather for annual AJC Seder

Diplomats gather for annual AJC Seder

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Aaron Greenberg

In many ways, it was a Seder like so many others — matzo, the Four Questions, charoset and, most importantly, the tale of the Exodus.
“The Exodus from Egypt is the core experience” of the Jewish people, co-host Richard Wasserman told his guests. As such, it was his duty to help tell the story and answer questions.
And questions there were. For many of those gathered at the Wasserman home, it was a brand-new experience. The American Jewish Committee Diplomatic Seder brought together members of the local consular corps and other community leaders. Nations represented included The Netherlands, Belize, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia and Canada. James N. Falk, honorary consul for Morocco, served as honorary chair.
“This is the third year that Dallas has held a diplomatic Seder,” AJC Regional Director Joel Schwitzer said. “We saw it as a unique way to engage with our local diplomatic corps. Within the framework of the Seder, there are natural opportunities to weave in conversations about justice, human rights and shared values.
“This year for the first time, we invited the co-chairs of our Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council and Jewish/Latino Alliance. We felt that would be a nice way to integrate AJC’s interfaith and intergroup coalition building into the evening while strengthening our relationships with our Muslim and Latino partners. Moving forward, we will continue to explore who else we might include that could have similar impact on our local efforts.”
Schwitzer said the Wassermans played a huge part in shaping the Seder, from the Haggadah to connecting the food to the symbolism for international guests.
“The tone that Richard sets makes it a great learning experience for the diplomat while still engaging to those of us who have been going to Seders our entire lives,” he said. “He was a great collaborator in putting together the Haggadah, weaving in many of the details about human rights and universal values.”
Tina Wasserman, Richard’s wife, is well-known for her work writing about Jewish cooking, including her Entrée to Judaism books and stories at ReformJudaism.org. She is a regular TJP contributor.
“Tina’s unique and deep culinary expertise provides an opportunity that simply cannot be replicated in other regions,” Schwitzer said. “The stories she tells about the origins of the food and regional differences in traditional Pesach dishes make the evening even more fun and educational. She also takes great care to provide information about Jewish culinary traditions in some of the specific countries represented by our guests. The two of them together are an amazing team, adding a depth to the experience that makes it truly special.”
The Wassermans hosted last year, and Tina said she was excited to do it again.
“It’s very important for the two of us to show the community and, in this case, the international community, a little insight into the holiday and the reason,” she said.
Tina Wasserman clearly was in her element explaining the ingredients of charoset and why they are different for Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, the history of gefilte fish, and more.
“It’s my love. It’s my raison d’etre,” she said.
“I like to do it with the Jewish community just as much, because they don’t know it, either.”
Richard Wasserman found many ways to tie the themes of the Seder and the Passover story to current and timeless issues. Dignitaries were given the honor of reading the Four Questions and then reading them in their home language.
Edwin Tench, honorary consul for Belize, was one of those who took part in the Four Questions. He attended last year and was determined to come back — and to tell his ambassador in D.C.
“We were vaguely aware of the significance of Passover,” he said. “It is a fantastic opportunity for us to appreciate each other as children of God.”
This year, Tench and his wife were chatting with fellow representatives, as well as Bradley Laye, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, and Regina Onyeibe, Africa Liaison for the City of Dallas.
Francisco Merino Cabrera, consul representing Mexico, was attending a Seder for the first time and, being new to his post, still getting to know his fellow members of the consular corps.
“I expect to learn a lot of things,” he said beforehand.
At the end of the night, as the guests took turns to stand and share their thoughts, he spoke about how much he was moved by the Seder, and how as a “citizen of the world” he wants to see people come together.
“We’ve gotten such great feedback from the diplomats,” Schwitzer said. “What has stood out the most to me was a comment former Consul General of Mexico Octavio Tripp made at our first Diplomatic Seder in 2016. As the program wound to a close, Consul General Tripp expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to learn more about our traditions, remarking that his connection to AJC has taught him how much heart the Jewish community has. At the time he knew that he would be leaving in the coming weeks to take an ambassadorship in a yet-to-be-determined Middle Eastern country. He let us know this and said that wherever he found himself posted, he would be turning to AJC as a trusted friend and valuable resource. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed ambassador to Egypt.
“Through ongoing AJC advocacy efforts, our North Texas Jewish community had a real impact on shaping how Mexico’s top diplomat in Egypt understands the Jewish community — our concerns, aspirations and values.”
The representatives of North African nations were thrilled to be back, and Falk said he was excited to be honorary chair of the event. Last year’s Seder was his first.
“I had heard the word Seder, but if you asked me what it was, I couldn’t have told you,” Falk said.
The president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Dallas and Fort Worth since 2001, Falk has been very involved in bringing diplomats, business and cultural leaders, and the global-facing community together.
“We all have responsibility for the country we serve, but we try to support each other and embrace Dallas-Fort Worth as an international player,” Falk said. “I think the main opportunities you have as an individual are to share with others, and it creates a much better air of tolerance.”
That fits with the AJC’s mission, and some of the dignitaries have regularly worked with the Jewish advocacy group.
“Diplomatic advocacy is an important and unique aspect of AJC’s work,” Schwitzer said. “We brought this tradition to Dallas in recognition of the value of engaging the consular corps as a whole over the course of the year.”
AJC has worked hard to build better ties between the world and Israel and the Jewish community. Frank T. Kryza, the honorary consul for Tunisia, has personally seen the difference up close. Kryza began an internship at the U.S. State Department on the day the Six-Day War broke out in 1967.
“That would be unimaginable today,” he said.
Kryza said moderate Islamic nations are moving to form “deep, solid relations with Israel,” and mentioned Tunisia’s efforts to protect a Jewish community that has been in North Africa for millennia.
Falk noted steps taken in Morocco as well.
“In most cases, we want the same things for our people and our children. In Morocco, the king is viewed as commander of the faithful. … The king takes the title seriously, not just for Muslims, but Jews and Christians as well,” he said.

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Thank you for being my anchor after my wife’s passing

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Rabbi Stefan J. Weinberg

Ten days ago, I was sitting in Beit Aryeh at Levine Academy; it was the annual Israel trip send-off for the eighth-grade graduation trip. The room was filled with ruach — with anticipation and excitement — as the trip of a lifetime was about to unfold for this year’s graduates from Levine Academy.
I found myself crying through the morning as I had done the previous year. . . the first two years the trip has departed without my wife, Wende, leading the expedition. Indeed, this trip encompassed everything Wende taught, dreamed and sought to instill in her students.
Wende died on Dec. 4, 2016 — she was 57 years young; we were married for 34 extraordinary years. She was the light of my life, and I lost a part of my soul when she died. She fought a valiant battle against lung cancer having never touched a cigarette, yet giving us all 18 additional months of her sweet smile and incredible discipline following her diagnosis.
A woman stopped me one morning following a class I had been teaching at shul, shortly after Wende had passed away; she wanted to share a story with me. She told me that when her husband had passed away a number of years earlier, a friend gave her a new address book, stating, “None of your friends will remain — you will need a new set of addresses and phone numbers.”
I was terribly saddened to hear the story but not surprised. I know circumstances change, friendships evolve, and we all struggle to find our way through the journey we call life, but this seemed so cruel and unnecessary. And then this woman said to me, “You won’t need a new address book because you are surrounded by a congregation and community that loves you, will support you, and help you through this difficult period of your life.”
With more tears flowing from my eyes I write this note to you, my extended community in the Dallas Metroplex. Wende and I were so very fortunate to serve our community in many parallel ways — she as an educator at Levine Academy for more than 30 years and me as a rabbi, first at Shearith Israel and, for the past 20 extraordinary years, at Anshai Torah. For more than 30 years, Wende and I lived and shared our passion — educating and building a stronger Jewish community with you. It has been a blessing and a privilege to serve you, and I write to say thank you for your continued support during this difficult time in my life.
Wende’s first yahrzeit passed a few months ago. The woman who stopped me after teaching a course was right — I don’t need a new address book. You continue to be my anchor. Of course, I am so fortunate to have the community associated with Anshai Torah support me in every way imaginable. They have received periodic updates regarding my spiritual and emotional journey.
You, the greater community who I see at events across the city, with whom I travel to Israel, collaborate on community events, acknowledge in parking lots, see during dinners, or while shopping in a mall — you have all helped to give me the strength to persevere, to find my way through the pain of loss. Thank you for the calls, notes, invitations, hugs and good wishes — your support has reminded me time and again of the value of community. As I have said to the Anshai Torah membership, may we collectively strive to ensure that no one in our community feels disenfranchised, especially when they need us most. May none of us ever need a new address book because our friends were only good-weather friends.
As a token of the legacy Wende left behind, we at Congregation Anshai Torah have commissioned a Sefer Torah to be written in Wende’s memory. We will dedicate the Sefer Torah on Sunday afternoon, April 15, at 4 p.m. Should you like to participate in this endeavor, join us for the final celebration, or seek any information about the project, please go to our website at anshaitorah.org and click on Project 613.
Thank you again for your relentless support and presence. On behalf of my three girls — Danielle, Jordana and Adina — and me, I thank you for your constant source of inspiration — indeed, you have been a blessing to each of us.

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The blessings of giving have been revealed in mourning

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Jaynie Schultz

My mother died Feb. 24, 2018. In preparation for the end of the second phase of the mourning period, Shloshim, I have been reflecting on how to express my appreciation to our beautiful community for their support since that horrible day.
Word spread like wildfire, despite the fact that she passed away on Shabbat. Almost as quickly came the offers of help. From the funeral onward, friends and community members have taken care of everything for us, from meals to helping my father move. Not a day goes by when we do not get calls, cards and offers of comfort. So beyond the extensive generosity of time, spirit and means, what does this teach us?
I received a condolence call from a friend whose parents are much like mine in their philanthropy and community activism. In that conversation, I realized something really important that changed the way I view philanthropy.
Jewish tradition teaches that we are required to give, and for that we are blessed. There is no specificity to the blessing and we are certainly taught not to give only for that potential blessing. Any rewards are ambiguous at best.
When we were growing up, we didn’t play “house”; we played “meeting.” Not a birthday, anniversary, holiday or special celebration went by without a gift to a nonprofit. My parents gave millions and percentages way beyond the traditional tithe of 10 percent to tzedakah. They lived humbly and made certain we knew that their success was a gift from God. We should never feel entitled to the wealth they earned; anything we receive is a gift. We are expected to give significantly ourselves, and gifts in the Schultz Family name always include contributions from each of us.
So, in speaking to my friend, I realized that the time and money given to the community by my parents has come back to us in comfort and concern. Everywhere we turn, people are reaching out offering hugs and words of praise for my mother. The schools we support sent notes from students of all ages sharing what they love about their schools. One rabbi told me that every “amen” and every lesson learned on campus is a tribute to my mother. The respect given by the students when I come in the morning to say Kaddish is a daily reminder of what my parents did for us.
I suddenly felt stricken with sadness for the families of people who never gave and only passed their wealth internally, within their family.
Many years ago I learned from Rabbi Benjamin Blech that when we study the concept of the sins of the father being passed down, it could mean that parents who do not provide an education for their children do pass on that sin because the children are the ones who suffer from ignorance. The same could be said for giving. My parents have given so much and we, their children and grandchildren, benefit directly and very personally through the comfort offered by our community. Micah Romaner called it a circle of love.” Had my parents shared their time and treasure only with us, I would certainly feel much more alone right now. As Pastor Mack Fleming said, “What you honor rewards you.”
During shiva, when people depart, they say “May God comfort you among the other mourners in Zion and Jerusalem.” We have been comforted by God in the many blessings he bestowed through life and the painless and quick death for my mother, Leslie Ann Vile Schultz. The blessing promised in the Torah for giving has been revealed, and it is not only from God but from every person touched by my parents.

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From a Passover of alienation to a Passover of empathy

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Hanan Schlesinger

One of the most oft-repeated themes of the Torah is that we must remember that we were slaves and strangers in the Land of Egypt, and that God redeemed us with an outstretched hand. Both the experience of slavery and the experience of redemption are meant to radiate one central and fundamental call to action that the Torah comes back to again and again:
Slavery and strangerhood: Love the stranger and care for him, provide for him and show him empathy. Feel his pain and act to alleviate it, deal kindly with him, for you yourself know what it means to be a stranger and a slave.
Redemption: Walk in the footsteps of God, who redeemed us from Egypt, and redeem the slave and the downtrodden. Provide for them as God provided for us. Just as God’s mercies are upon all His creatures, so ought our mercies to be upon all His creatures.
The world is divided into us and them. That is the way that it has to be. In order to experience the security and the love of the family, the clan, the nation, there have to be those who are not part of our inner concentric circles.
At the same time, however, one of the most central directives of the Torah is that this division must never be so stark as to alienate the “us” from the “them.” Our love and concern must radiate out beyond the “us” toward the “them.” Our sense of us must empower our people to reach out to them.
We recall and relive our experience in Egypt on the holiday of Passover, the centerpiece of the Jewish year and the focal point of the process of handing down the tradition to the next generation. And the focal point of Passover is the Seder night with its Haggadah text. The Haggadah tells us: “In every generation one must see himself as if he personally went out of Egypt.” We spend the whole night bringing alive the events of slavery and redemption.
Toward what end? What is the takeaway? Clearly the answer ought to be to develop within us the historical memory that will constantly remind us and inspire us to love the stranger and redeem him from his suffering.
Yet this message is completely missing from the Haggadah. It certainly harps on our misery in Egypt, but instead of using that experience to nurture empathy for those who suffer, it sees in it a paradigm for the panorama Jewish history, reminding us, “In every generation they rise against us to annihilate us, and the Holy One Blessed be He saves us from them.”
The reason for this lacuna — at least one of the reasons — may be that during the 1,000-plus years during which the Haggadah text developed, we Jews were the slaves and the strangers, and the dominant cultures were antagonistic to our way of life and often to our very existence. We were the other and little love was lost on us. Our forefathers were too busy surviving to find room in our hearts and in our texts to teach ourselves about love of the stranger and empathy for his suffering. The larger message of Passover was postponed for the distant future.
That future may have arrived. Reality today is different, in Israel and to a large degree in many parts of America, from that which our forefathers knew. We are no longer the other that we used to be, and there are other peoples, cultures and ethnic groups that have taken our place. In Israel we are the dominant culture and in America we are part of the mainstream.
These are the conditions of life that the Torah envisioned, and not the circumstances under which our forebears have lived for the past 2000 years. As such, it is time for our Haggadahs and our celebration of Passover, as well as our Jewish consciousness and our behavior, to reflect that change and to go back to basics.
Let the Seder be our forum to proclaim and inculcate an ethic of empathy for the other emanating from two intertwined experiences: 1, Never again! Never again shall any people suffer what we suffered in Egypt. And 2, We take it upon ourselves to continually struggle to redeem the other, just as God redeemed us.
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger lives in Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion, and serves as the director of international relations for Roots/Judur/Shorashim, the Israeli Palestinian Local Initiative for Understanding, Nonviolence and Transformation. He also frequently travels to Dallas, where he serves as the executive director of the Jewish Studies Initiative. His website is www.ravhanan.org.
This piece appeared originally on Rabbis Without Borders, a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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It’s time to set transgender people free from oppression

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Cantor Sheri Allen

Passover is about our journey from oppression to freedom. Each year, we sing, “Avadeem hayeenu, Aatah b’nai chorin: We were slaves but now we are free.” But this year, I’m not as comfortable rejoicing when so many living in this country are experiencing heightened oppression resulting from a wave of xenophobia (fear or hatred of strangers or of anything that is strange or foreign) and homophobia that has swept over the country over the last few years.
Coincidentally, the first day of Pesach, March 31, is also International Transgender Day of Visibility. It was instituted as an annual holiday in 2009, “dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide” (Wikipedia). And why is bringing awareness of this particular group of individuals so important? Because, there are over 1.4 million adults — approximately 0.6 percent — who identify as transgender in America (NPR), and their needs and challenges are often overlooked, or even deliberately ignored.
In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted the largest survey examining the experiences of transgender people in the United States, with 27,715 respondents from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. military bases overseas.
The results are disturbing and sobering, and go far beyond having a bakery reject a gay couple’s request for a wedding cake. According to the survey, “Respondents reported high levels of mistreatment, harassment and violence in every aspect of life.” Ten percent were met with violence within their own families when they came out, or even kicked out of their homes. In school, a majority of respondents experienced verbal or physical harassment or assaults, and 17 percent were no longer able to continue attending as a result of these attacks.
Thirty percent reported being harassed, assaulted, fired or denied promotions at work because of their gender identity. One-third were living in poverty and/or had trouble communicating with or receiving service from their health care provider and/or were harassed in public spaces.
Many respondents were not comfortable using public restrooms for fear of further harassment or worse and even went so far as to control the amount they ate or drank in order to avoid them. And to make the problem even worse, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced that it won’t hear complaints about, or take action against, schools that do not allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
It’s shameful. And it’s against everything that the lessons of Passover teach us: namely, to treat the stranger with respect and dignity, because we know what it’s like to be the “other” — we were slaves in Egypt.
It’s an integral part of our story as well as our identity. Advocating for human and civil rights, promoting social justice. It’s what we Jews do.
So what can we do, specifically, to fight against this blatant discrimination? Ask your congregation if it is listed in Keshet’s equality guide. Keshet is a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights in the Jewish world, and its equality guide lists congregations and Jewish organizations across the country that are LGBTQ-welcoming.
Another suggestion from Keshet: Call your local school board. Ask it what its bathroom policy is and find out what proactive action it is taking to protect its transgender students from discrimination and harassment. Keshet also does training for Jewish professionals and volunteers on how to make their synagogues and institutions LGBTQ-friendly and inclusive.
I also urge you to check out Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s website: rac.org. Based in Washington D.C., it is a strong social justice and equal rights organization representing the Jewish community. There are many suggested ways to become involved in advocacy for a variety of different issues, ranging from LGBTQ equality to economic justice, the environment, immigration, women’s rights, hate crimes, civil liberties and interfaith affairs, just to name a few.
We can also lend our voices in support of the Equality Act. Current civil rights laws extend legal protection to people on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion. But not on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act would extend those same anti-discrimination measures to the LGBTQ community. It was introduced in the House of Representatives almost a year ago, with 241 original co-sponsors. According to the Human Rights Campaign, it had “the most congressional support that any piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation has received upon introduction.”
As Jews, we are mandated to uphold and honor the dignity, the inherent holiness of every human being, as we are all made b’zelem Elokeem, in God’s image. Calling our members of Congress and asking them to co-sponsor the Equality Act is the least we can all do to help fulfill this directive.
The word Mitzrayim (translation: Egypt) literally means “narrow straits.” We all sometimes find ourselves held captive in our own personal mitzrayim. Fear, obsession, work, debt and illness can lead us into the depths of despair and disconnection, causing us to land in a constricted space — a closet, so to speak — of our own making. Hopefully, it is a temporary dwelling place, and we find our way back out of that closet and into the light, free from whatever has kept us imprisoned, physically, mentally or emotionally.
Sadly, that is not always the case for many in the transgender community. I can’t imagine what it must be like for transgender individuals to feel trapped in a body that doesn’t belong to them, unable to express their authentic selves for fear that they will be harmed, and unsupported or even rejected by their families, their community, their country. No wonder they have a suicide rate that’s nine times higher than the rate for the overall U.S. population.
I hope and pray that in the not-so-distant future, equality for the LGBTQ community in all areas of life will be a non-issue.
In talking to my students, most don’t even understand what the issue is. I’m also encouraged by the fact that, 2½ years ago, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a number of recommendations that they hoped their member congregations would follow, including, “making bathrooms gender neutral, training staffers on LGBT issues, eliminating gender-specific pronouns on name tags and sorting Hebrew-school classes by birthdays rather than gender.”
We are observing a holiday that celebrates freedom from oppression. What better time to think about those who are still oppressed in our communities and in our country, and let them know that they are seen and heard, and we stand beside them. Our tradition teaches us that none of us are free until all of us are free. May the holiday of Passover inspire us to renew our efforts to fight for that freedom so that next year, we can say with all sincerity, “we were slaves, but now we are — all of us — free.”
Sheri Allen is the part-time cantor of Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of her congregation.

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Interfaith Seder honors King’s vision of inclusion, justice

Interfaith Seder honors King’s vision of inclusion, justice

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

What do a Jewish rabbi, Catholic priest, Protestant minister, Muslim imam and Hindu priest have in common?
They were all active participants during the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas Jewish Community Relations Council Interfaith Seder on Thursday, March 22. Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax and DFW Salvation Army Commander Jonathan Rich were among the local officials who read passages from the Haggadah.
More than 500 people gathered at Congregation Shearith Israel for the sixth annual program. This year’s theme honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated 50 years ago April 4.
The Seder was led by Rabbi Elana Zelony of Congregation Beth Torah and Most Rev. Edward J. Burns, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. Using a Haggadah created specifically for the evening, attendees were treated to the key symbols of the Seder (The Four Cups of Wine; Four Questions; Blessings over the Karpas, Matzo and Maror; the story of the Exodus; The Four Children; The Ten Plagues; singing of Dayenu, the Hillel Sandwich; and, of course, a sumptuous, kosher festive meal).
Throughout the Haggadah, there were passages relating to topics important to Dr. King and consistent with the JCRC’s mission of community outreach, legislative relations, social action and Israel initiatives. For example, during the Four Questions, the following question was read in unison by the gathering: “How does our faith encourage us to address our society’s struggle with discrimination and injustice?”
Concord Church Senior Pastor Bryan Carter answered, reading from the Interfaith Seder Haggadah, “The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King offered this sentiment: ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.’ As we consider how the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color, we ought to be reminded that we are called to work together despite our racial, cultural or religious backgrounds.
“We must be true neighbors to one another. When we recognize people fighting against injustice, we are to stand with them, especially in times of distress, even though it is not the most popular action. When we witness others being battered and bruised by the system or battered and bruised altogether, we must be there to lift our neighbors out of the brokenness into a place of hope. If this is replicated all around us, together as people of faith, we can bring transformation to a system that is long overdue and leave our children and grandchildren with a better world.”
Following dinner, JCPenney Chairman and CEO Marvin Ellison spoke about what Dr. King meant to him and his family growing up in the small, segregated town of Brownsville, Tennessee.
“As a young black man growing up poor in the South, Dr. King had a significant impact on my family,” Ellison said. “When we didn’t have future aspects that looked bright, the words of Dr. King gave us hope and inspiration. I’m standing here tonight as chairman and CEO of a Fortune 500 company in large part because of the sacrifices of Dr. King and so many others.”
Ellison spoke about his unconventional journey to the top of corporate America and the example of hard work and faith modeled by his parents. His father worked three jobs, too proud to accept government assistance; his mother was a hotel housekeeper. As he closed his remarks, Ellison commented on what impressed him most about the evening.
“This is truly a wonderful event, and I’ve never been anywhere and seen the diversity of faith and religion represented in one room as openly and passionately as I have tonight.”
Melanie Rubin is board chair of the JCRC. Cyd Friedman and Byron Sanders were co-chairs of the Interfaith Seder, which was presented by the Texas Jewish Post.

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Alex Bregman is baseball’s next Jewish star

Alex Bregman is baseball’s next Jewish star

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

Alex Bregman makes a play in Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Nov. 1, 2017. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By Hillel Kuttler

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (JTA) – Sitting on a couch near his locker at the Houston Astros’ spring training facility here in mid-March, Alex Bregman is reflecting about an encounter his father had at the World Series last fall.

It was in Los Angeles, between innings of the opening game. Sam Bregman was headed for a Dodger Stadium concession stand to grab a nosh wearing his Astros jersey with the No. 2 and his surname stitched on the back – a facsimile of his son’s uniform. The young Bregman, a third baseman, had just slugged a home run off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

A fan grabbed Sam Bregman’s arm.

“Are you Alex’s dad?”

“I am,” the elder Bregman replied.

“Is he Jewish?”

“Yeah.”

The man was a Dodger fan, but still he flashed what Sam Bregman described as “a look of great contentment” at the ballplayer’s heritage.

“I got such a kick out of it,” Sam Bregman said in a phone interview near his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It made me feel so proud.”

Alex Bregman’s take on the encounter: “It’s definitely cool to have fans around the world give their support. It keeps you motivated to know that everyone has your back.”

Bregman can expect to have more fans on his bandwagon, Jewish and otherwise, following a strong 2017 season and the first World Series title for the Astros — to which he contributed mightily. He knocked in a run in each of the first five games, added a second home run, threw out a runner at home plate to preserve a scoreless tie in Game 4 and had the run-scoring single that ended an epic Game 5 in the 10th inning, 13-12.

During the 2017 season, the former No. 2 overall draft pick out of Louisiana State averaged .284, pounded 39 doubles and 19 home runs, and stole 17 bases.

Two days after the Game 7 road victory, Bregman celebrated at the championship parade in Houston. Thousands of fans lined streets in a city still recovering from Hurricane Harvey flooding a couple of months earlier.

“To see their pure joy,” Bregman said, “gave me the chills.”

The experience capped a memorable year for Bregman that began with his playing for the U.S. team that won the World Baseball Classic title in March.

Israel’s squad, which finished sixth overall in the WBC, had sought his services.

In retrospect, he said, “I probably should’ve” played for Israel “because I got [just] four at-bats” playing as a backup for the American team. Regardless of who comes calling in 2021, Bregman said, he’s unlikely to participate.

His Astros will start defending their championship on Thursday in Arlington, Texas, against the Rangers. Bregman will turn 24 the next day.

“There are a lot of things I want to accomplish in this game. Winning is right there at the top,” Bregman said. “We have a great team to repeat as champs.”

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he expects Bregman to “build off the momentum he generated in the postseason and throughout the whole season last year.”

“While he’s established himself as a major league player … he’s not even close to what he’s going to be,” Hinch said.

He called Bregman “a true baseball rat,” someone who “loves the game, loves practice, loves being around his teammates.”

But his mother, Jackie, will tell you that her son is more than about baseball. His foundation, AB for AUDS, provides computer tablets to children with autism and Down syndrome. Brady Columbus, a son of Bregman’s former hitting coach and Bregman’s godson, is autistic.

Jackie Bregman spoke of her son’s kindness.

“Alex is so patient with people, and I’m really, really proud of him for that,” she said in a phone interview.

She recalled her son defending elementary school classmates being bullied. And he was also on the other end: A boy made fun of Alex’s pending bar mitzvah as he was leaving school to meet with the cantor, and a Chinese-American teammate on Alex’s basketball squad stood up for him.

The experiences, she said, “taught him what it was like to be marginalized.”

Years ago, the family attended an appearance by several players of the minor league Albuquerque Isotopes. One player was aloof.

“Sam and I said to Alex, ‘Don’t ever be like that,’ ” she recalled.

But Jackie Bregman also knows her son is driven to excel on the field.

“He would not mince words. ‘I don’t just want to play baseball; I want to be the best,’” Jackie Bregman remembered her son saying. “He was determined.”

In junior high in Albuquerque, Bregman attended a University of New Mexico baseball camp. The Lobos’ baseball coach, Ray Birmingham, preached dedication to greatness.

“Alex took that so literally that he’d hit in the batting cages until he got calluses,” recalled Sam Bregman, who had grown up on the field at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, where his late father, Stan, worked as a lawyer for the Washington Senators. It was Stan, “Grandpa Zayde,” who gave his grandson  a card set of Jewish baseball players.

Someone else who witnessed that commitment was Darvin Ham, who coached the New Mexico Thunderbirds, an NBA Development League team the Bregmans owned.

In postgame conversations and at the Bregman home, Alex Bregman “was like a sponge” of information about the makings of athletic achievement, said Ham, now an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks.

“He was a very good listener. He took mental notes,” said Ham, who considers Alex Bregman “a little brother.”

Bregman explained his early competitive drive.

“Coach Birmingham said you have to decide,” he recalled. “I woke up at 5 a.m. to go to the cage to school to the cage: defense and hitting. I did that every day for years, [beginning at] probably age 12 or 13. I never went to the school dance.”

On this day, Bregman departed for a practice field and chatted in Spanish with fellow infielders Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, natives of Venezuela and Puerto Rico, respectively, at second base during a running drill. Bregman is fluent in the language.

Jerick Paquinto, a 19-year-old from Houston wearing a Bregman jersey, was among hundreds of fans watching.

“I like that he’s not the biggest guy and he has a lot of heart,” Paquinto said of the 6-foot Bregman, words similarly applicable to the 5-foot-6 Altuve, last year’s American League MVP. “I liked him since he was at LSU [where Bregman was a first-team All American at shortstop]. I saw him hit a homer, and I fell in love with him as a player.”

The trio jogged toward a batting cage, Bregman stopped to sign autographs after he finished hitting. He’ll be signing plenty more when the Astros come home next week for their opener at Minute Maid Park. His parents will be there.

Sam Bregman joked about guarding the championship ring his son will receive.

“I know that the Jewish community around the country is so proud of him,” Jackie Bregman said. Referring to the card collection of Jewish players, she added, “I hope that one day he’s in that collection.”

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Moses might have been the introvert we needed

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
All during Passover, we think about Moses (even though he is barely mentioned in the Haggadah), then we continue to read about his role in leading the people through the last pages of Deuteronomy.
Countless people have discussed the qualities that made Moses successful and many write about his failures. We know this man through his story and we look to this story for lessons in our own lives. Will there ever be another Moses? (Not according to the final lines of Deuteronomy, 34:10-12 — “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses…”) It might be nice to have another Moses, but we definitely need leaders and perhaps wonder if we could be a leader.
Countless researchers have looked into what makes a leader. We may read those leadership books and measure ourselves and our leaders against those qualities. In 2012, Susan Cain wrote the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and in 2017 a new book Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids. Both are fascinating, whether you are an introvert or extrovert, although one of her goals is to demonstrate that we must not devalue introverts. (Read the books to find out why.)
Now what did she have to say about Moses? First understand that introversion and extroversion come down to how we best derive energy. Introverts recharge from inwardly focused activities and extroverts get their charge through external stimulation. Looking at Moses, you would think he was an extrovert as he certainly had to be around a lot of people, all of them looking to him and needing him.
However, think about it — Moses liked to spend time alone as a shepherd; he admitted that he was not a man of words (we call it a speaking phobia today), and he spent a long time on a mountain alone with God. Without those interests and qualities, he wouldn’t have seen the burning bush, and he certainly would not have been able to spend so long alone on a mountain. Cain says of Moses: “…the medium is not always the message; and that people followed Moses because his words were thoughtful, not because he spoke them well.”
In an article titled Was Moses an Introvert? in the March/April 2018 issue of Hadassah Magazine, Marla Brown Fogelman quotes Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove from his sermon on Moses at the Park Avenue Synagogue: “God chose someone who would not be swayed by unfounded adulation or undue criticism, whose ethic would be shaped not by external pressure or perception but by an inner moral compass.”
Moses never took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, but we know that our sages attributed these important virtues to him — silence, humility and thinking before you speak. We needed a leader who could be alone with God and one who could step up when needed. We need the introverts of the world.

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U.S. Civil War ended during Passover

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

Can you imagine your feelings as a northern Jew on the first night of Passover in 1865, a day after receiving the news that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending America’s Civil War?
After the youngest child asks the question “Why is this night different from all other nights?” we probably would be thinking of fellow Jews, lost in the war, no longer able to celebrate the freedoms they fought and died for, no longer with us at the Seder table.
Because of a shortage of space, let the following remarks of an unnamed Union officer be considered representative of Jewish soldiers in both the Union and Confederate forces.
“Personally, I know several Hebrews who served in the California regiments known as the ‘California Column,’ but in the long years that have elapsed, I have forgotten their names.
“They were all good faithful soldiers to the flag they pledged to defend. One I remember, Soloman Davidson, belonged to a regiment which saw service in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico.
“Davidson was a brave man, carrying dispatches and orders from one part of the command to another, regardless of storms and dangers of Indian ambush.
“I have only good things to say regarding the performance of our Hebrew soldiers.”
As for Jews living in the South at that time, most lived and worked in cities, rather than on farms or plantations.
Any slaves they owned were workers in their homes or laborers in their business.
There is an anti-Semitic rant which alleges that Jews dominated the slave trade before the Civil War, but in reality, according to slave historians, Jews accounted for only 1.25 percent of all slave owners.
On April 15, 1865, four days after the start of Passover, President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre, then carried across the street to a boarding house, where he died the next morning.
At Lincoln’s last gasp of breath, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Some say there is a link between Lincoln’s life and Passover, which marks the end of slavery for the Israelites in Egypt. Lincoln’s death coincides with Passover in the Hebrew calendar every year.
We need to also remember the end of slavery in our own country as we celebrate Passover, the story of our ancestors going from slavery to freedom.
My parents, of blessed memory, escapees of Czarist shtetls with hopeless futures, experienced their Passover by coming to America to live a life under freedom.
“God Bless America!”

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