Archive | June, 2018

Federation celebrates past year’s successes

Federation celebrates past year’s successes

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Photo: Lara Bierner
From left, awardees and those that presented the awards, Robert Feldman, Sharron Laizerovich, Marilyn Schaffer, Larry Steinberg, Brett Lazarus, Jon Ross and Bob Weinfeld. Not pictured: Neil Beckerman

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Everyone was all smiles as members of the Greater Dallas Jewish community gathered in the Stern Chapel at Temple Emanu-El June 7 for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ annual meeting.
Board Chair Mark Kreditor and CEO Bradley Laye addressed the room, and annual awards were given to Larry Steinberg (Helen Gross Leadership Award), Neil Beckerman (Bob Weinfeld Campaigner of the Year Award) and Brett Lazarus (I. Zesmer Young Leadership Award) and Sharron Laizerovich (Bess Nathan Young Leadership Award). Laizerovich and Lazarus were given unique works of art created by Dallas sculptor George Tobowlowsky.Keynote speaker Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson wrapped up the evening with a talk about divisiveness in the Jewish community regarding Israel.
Board Chair Mark Kreditor welcomed everyone and highlighted the Federation’s accomplishments — which were many — over the past year.
They included:
•Formation of the Outreach and Engagement Committee led by Ynette Hogue and Jim Tolbert, leading to an allocation for an outreach and engagement program. “This new service will directly impact and help every Jewish organization, synagogue, and partner agency by convening and connecting the newcomer to all the wonderful services our community offers. Dallas is and will continue to be a great place to live and be Jewish,” Kreditor said.
•The addition of Robert Caltabiano, a full-time security director, who is helping each Jewish organization review and enhance their security and safety plans.
•Another record campaign (which officially closes June 30) allowing for funding of 100 percent of core allocations to partner agencies of almost $5.1 million. An additional $1 million was allocated toward short- and long-term grants to various Jewish community organizations.
• A record 850 new donors to the annual campaign.
“I envision a community where every Jewish resident realizes supporting Federation through their meaningful gift is one of the greatest mitzvahs they can do for themselves and their family,” Kreditor said. “What kind of community would we have without all the good we get to do together?”
Laye echoed many of Kreditor’s remarks and acknowledged two of his Federation predecessors who were in the audience: Moe Stein, 92, and Walter Levy, who was planning to celebrate his 96th birthday in two days.
Laye, who two months earlier announced that he would step down as Federation CEO at the end of June 2019, added the community’s extraordinary response to Hurricane Harvey in Houston to the list of successes.
While the national Federation system has donated about $23 million to date to rebuild Houston’s Jewish infrastructure, the Dallas Jewish community was instrumental in providing 50,000 kosher meals over a monthlong period that included Rosh Hashanah, Shabbats and Sukkot.
Among the area businesses that were crucial toward this effort were Simcha Kosher Catering, A Taste of the World, Texas Kosher BBQ, Dallas Kosher, Stephens Transport, Chain Link Services, Jewish Family Service, The Aaron Family Jewish Community Center and a host of area synagogues.
Laye and JCC president Artie Allen transported more than 168,000 items to Houston that were collected locally and through an Amazon campaign spearheaded by the Federation’s National Young Leadership Cabinet.
“This is the power of Federation,” Laye said. “You support us, volunteer with us and bolster our Federation because, simply put, you can’t build it just for when you need it.”
Keynote speaker Artson, the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, addressed the growing concern in Jewish communities of hostility among Jews when it comes to Israel and partisan politics.
“There’s an upside and a downside to the kind of partisan passion that we are now living in. People care a lot and therefore we can’t talk to each other anymore. We can find both in our tradition as well.”
Artson outlined three areas of concern for the Jewish people:
•Trump versus Obama (not necessarily the people, but the partisan politics).
•The negative fallout for rabbis whenever they talk about Israel in public.
•Beating each other up along denominational lines, specifically among the Orthodox and non-Orthodox Judaisms and the indifferent.
Perhaps Artson’s strongest comments regarded what talking about Israel has come to for rabbis. He called it “the greatest obscenity in contemporary Jewish life.”
“The one subject rabbis can’t talk about publicly is Israel. How is it possible a generation after what is arguably the greatest miracle in 2,000 years of Jewish existence? In the shadows of the worst disaster of the past 2,000 years, the greatest slaughtering of our people, the Holocaust, is followed by the greatest miracle the ingathering of our people in our ancestral homeland, the establishment of a democratic state, and we can’t talk about it?
“A rabbi that wants to give a sermon about Israel is courting disaster, no matter what they say. And so the vast majority of rabbis, unless they are in a congregation that is uniform in their opinion, either say nothing or say very bland generalities.”
Artson suggested several solutions to the aforementioned problems. He cited the fact that there are 5,000 arguments in the Talmud and only 50 solutions. “That wasn’t an accident,” he said, “That was deliberate, because questions open us up. Answers shut us down.”
Artson explained that there is a difference between unity and uniformity.
“If we can remember that we are united with each other even though we are far from uniform, then maybe that will open the door just a crack to be able to converse about areas where that lack of uniformity.”

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Dallas Doings: Beth Torah Confirmands, Elizabeth Kaner

Dallas Doings: Beth Torah Confirmands, Elizabeth Kaner

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Beth Torah
Beth Torah’s confirmands, front row, from left, Josephine Zucker, Hope Decker and Chloe Roberts; second row, Elizabeth Stein, Eli Davidsohn, Jacob Whitcomb, Beri Schwitzer, Rabbi Elana Zelony

Beth Torah’s 2018 Confirmands

Mazel tov to Congregation Beth Torah’s 2018 Confirmation Class. This year’s confirmands were Hope Decker, daughter of Michelle Gordon; Chloe Roberts, daughter of Gwen and Ron Roberts; Jacob Whitcomb, son of Libby Holtmann; and Josephine Zucker, daughter of Beth and Jeff Zucker. The confirmation was celebrated with their families and the congregation on Saturday, May 12. The synagogue took part in a new congregational ritual to honor the 10th-grade teens. Students of the CBT Congregational Learning Center lined the main aisle of the sanctuary as the four confirmands walked to the bimah carrying special baskets. Each younger student presented the teens with fruit or barley sheaves representing the minhat bikkurim, or first fruits that were presented to the Kohanim (Priests) at the time of the Holy Temple. The teens also participated in leading services and shared their inspirational reflections on their own Jewish journeys. The students will take a trip to Alabama this summer with Rabbi Elana Zelony to learn more about the role of Jews in the civil rights movement. In addition to Rabbi Zelony, the class was taught by Eli Davidsohn, Seth Miller and Elizabeth Stein.

College grad Kaner headed
back to her old junior high

Elizabeth Kaner, daughter of Marni and Joey Kaner and granddaughter of Janet and Gary Kaner of Dallas and the late Faye and Herby Berkowitz of Fort Worth, is a Cum Laude graduate of the University of North Texas. Her degree is in Interdisciplinary Studies with a teaching certification in 4th-8th Grade Mathematics and ESL. A member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority, she was also inducted into the Order of Omega, Greek Honor Society; Rho Lambda, Greek Women’s Honor Society; and Kappa Delta Pi, Education Honor Society. She was president of the UNT Hillel and is a unit head at Camp Chai at the JCC. In the fall, Elizabeth will teach math and coach volleyball at Parkhill Junior High School, where she attended seventh and eighth grade and played volleyball.

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Thank heaven for the polio vaccine

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

The heat of the season has come upon us and threatens to continue. I passed a church recently that made the shortest, smartest statement possible about the whole business on its outdoor message board: “Hell Is Hotter!”
But this kind of weather always takes me back to the ’50s, the worst time ever for polio, which peaked in 1952 with some 20,000 U.S. cases of paralysis. I remember that year especially because it’s when the boy next door became one of them — three years too early for Dr. Jonas Salk’s breakthrough vaccine.
I also remember 1955 because that’s when my father did something quite unusual. Doctors everywhere were receiving the new vaccine and being encouraged to give children the shots as quickly as possible. Salk’s preparation had to be refrigerated, but even so, it had an expiration date. So my dad — a physician whose practice was adults, not children — took a bold step. His office was on the second floor of a corner building, over a pharmacy, and there was a newspaper kiosk at the corner.
As the vaccine’s expiration date approached, Dad took a folding chair and small table down to the corner and, receiving permission from the pharmacy and the news vendor, parked himself there and buttonholed all people walking by with small children in tow. If they said, when he asked, that their kids had not yet been vaccinated, he said “Now’s the time,” and proceeded to give Salk’s miracle away. The AMA was not amused, because there was supposed to be a charge levied for those shots. But my father made his case: Better that children be vaccinated for nothing than have the polio paralysis antidote lose its effectiveness while he waited inside for young patients who never came.
Of course, things became much easier in 1961, when Dr. Albert Sabin’s liquid vaccine — easily drinkable from a tiny paper cup — was available. But by that time, the worst was long over…at least for most. However, a recent Dallas Morning News article told the story of a longtime survivor who’s been, since age 6, confined to an “iron lung” — the metallic tube that 60-plus years ago did the breathing for victims with paralyzed chest muscles. And, for this man, still does. Nobody makes iron lungs anymore; his is at the potentially dangerous “held together with spit and baling wire” stage. But he is remarkable for his drive, stamina and achievement: He received all his schooling and continues now as a practicing attorney, with his body encased in the machine that still draws breath for him. He is not just one in a million; he is the only one.
So I recommend to you Philip Roth’s book Nemesis, which of course is polio. He fictionalized a young Jewish man from New York as the central character around whom polio rages — with the fear of the disease raging even more violently than the disease itself. And of course, those with the most fear, those who are most cautious and take the most precautions, can become — to their immense surprise — its victims. For me, a lover of everything Roth, this book is my favorite because it’s an affectingly true picture of that time.
The boy next door survived without the iron lung, never showing any of polio’s aftereffects. Not then. But when I see him now, he’s a man saddled with the characteristic limp that returns in old age to those who have had polio, years after they thought they were completely healed. Because of him and my father, I work hard on behalf of Rotary International’s efforts to wipe out polio across the globe. And we’ve gotten tantalizingly close but have been stymied by two small African countries where parents refuse immunizations. This has been enough to keep the disease alive and active.
Read the Roth book while it’s hot outside and give thanks that we here in the U.S. today are the luckier beneficiaries of Salk and Sabin.

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Decide to be a leader — and lead

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
When it comes to making a difference in the world, many people wait to let others start the task. Especially when you are young, you wonder what you can do. There is so much that we can do, no matter what your age. But the first thing you must do is decide to act. Begin small and then gather others to help you. Together, we can do so much.
Text of the week
Hillel was accustomed to say, “In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.” — Pirkei Avot 2:6
• What does it mean to be a leader? What does it mean to be a follower?
• Why does the world need leaders?
• Can you be a negative leader? What does that mean?
• This text is about stepping up and doing the right thing. Why is that hard to do?
• Name some leaders that you know or have read about. What are the qualities that make them good leaders?

Value of the week
Leadership (Hanhagah)
We have many leaders in our Jewish history; Moses and King David are very well-known. It is not always easy to be a leader, and sometimes we are thrust into the job as Moses was.
Moses took the job that God gave him and, even when it was challenging, he continued. Yet, even if we are not Moses, we can lead others to do the right thing. There is a wonderful story that we read during the High Holidays. It tells of Rabbi Zusya, who said, “When I die, God will not ask if I was Moses but will ask if I was the best Zusya I could be.” We are judged by our actions, especially when they are difficult to do.
Things to do
• Think of a project you would like to do. Find others to help you and be the leader of the group. Is it hard to be the leader in a group?
• One way to practice being a leader is to teach something to others. Talk about the difficulties in being a teacher.
• Can you be a leader with no followers? It is hard but important to stand up and do the right thing even if no one joins you. This may mean being nice to someone that has no friends.

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Kaddish need not be said for dead of Hamas

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m sure you read about the controversy in England recently, when a group of Jews got together to recite the Kaddish for the 61 people killed in Gaza by the IDF during its “March of Return” protests, despite the fact that 50 of them are known to be Hamas operatives. The response of the “reciters” of the Kaddish was that, although they might belong to Hamas, they’re still human beings and their deaths are still a tragedy and deserve a Kaddish recited for them, and if it were Israelis who were slain then they would have said Kaddish for them as well. Personally, I’m torn because I agree that any loss of human life is a tragedy, but the Kaddish part somehow doesn’t sound right to me but I’m not sure why. Any thoughts?
Alex K.

Dear Alex,
First, we need to understand why Kaddish is recited by mourners. If you look carefully, you will see that not a word about mourning is mentioned in the Kaddish. Furthermore, Kaddish is the most commonly recited prayer throughout the traditional prayer service, being said by the leader or chazan between and at the end of every section of the service — with no connection whatsoever to mourning.
The answer is, Kaddish per se has nothing to do with mourning. It’s just that certain Kaddishes that need to be recited during the prayer service are given to mourners to have “first dibs,” or the first right of recital. But if the Kaddish is not about mourning, why give it to the mourners?
The essence of the life of a Jew is to perform a “Kiddush Hashem,” to live a life of the sanctification of God’s Name. According to the Torah, every act a Jew performs in his or her life should be one that effects a Kiddush Hashem. This is implicit in the verse, “God spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your God” (Leviticus 19:1-3).
This concept is repeated numerous times throughout the Torah, as it is the foundation of the life of both the individual Jew and the Jewish people as a whole. It means to live every moment as a Jew and, at times — at the ultimate moment of truth — the willingness to even give up one’s own life for Kiddush Hashem, as countless scores of Jews have done throughout the ages.
With that background (which we have only slightly just touched upon; volumes could be written to expound upon it), whenever a Jewish life is lost, his or her loss creates a vacuum in the sum total of Kiddush Hashem being effected in the world. That person’s family are the ones first charged with the obligation to do something beyond what they have done thus far in their lives to create more of a Kiddush Hashem, to make up a little of the loss of the honor to the Name of God which is now missing.
Any Torah they study or mitzvos they, or others outside the family, perform in the memory of the deceased helps make up for the lost Kiddush Hashem and, thereby, brings benefit and joy to the soul of the deceased.
One of the most direct ways to do so is to recite the Kaddish. The word “Kaddish” comes from the same word “Kiddush” in Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name. The entire Kaddish prayer is based on the beginning which proclaims, “Yisgadal veyiskadash Sh’me Rabboh,” “May Your Great Name be glorified and elevated.” The entire Kaddish is an act of Kiddush Hashem. We give the mourners certain Kaddishes to recite in order to enable them to create a tremendous Kiddush Hashem to fill the vacuum of Kiddush Hashem caused by the loss of their family member. That brings tremendous nachas to the soul of the deceased, that they, through those left behind, continue to generate a Kiddush Hashem in God’s world. Kaddish is a response to the mitzvah of kedoshim tihiyu, be a holy nation.
Of course God and the Jews are sad about any human being who is killed. But once we understand the meaning of Kaddish, it goes without saying that it is inappropriate to recite Kaddish over the loss of Hamas operatives. Kaddish is not a response to the loss of “life,” rather to the void in the world in the arena of Kiddush Hashem, something which is as far as could be from a Hamas operative.
Allow me to add a strong personal feeling as a postscript, which will undoubtedly not win me any popularity contests, but needs to be said:
Those British Jews responded to their critics that if it were Jews who were killed, they would have said Kaddish for them as well. And I ask, did those same Jews publicly recite Kaddish when terrorists murdered the Fogel family in the West Bank? Or when the four rabbis were murdered in cold blood during a morning service in Har Nof wearing their tallises and tefillin? Or when numerous terrorist attacks took the lives of dozens or hundreds of Jews?
Have they assembled to recite Kaddish over the deaths of a half-million Syrians killed by the war in that country? When villages in Africa were burned to the ground, killing all their residents by the Boko Haram?
I think we all know the answer to these questions. It’s not the death of Gazans they care about, but that Israelis killed them. They would not have recited Kaddish if Israelis would have been killed because, and I hate to say it, I think that would have made them feel good, as deep down these are self-hating Jews who can’t bear the fact that the Jews are actually showing strength and defending themselves against terrorism.
Over the generations, some of the most virulent anti-Semites were self-hating Jews. They are infiltrating our campuses and institutions and turning public opinion against their own people. It’s not for Gazans they are reciting Kaddish, but for their own Judaism. This may be difficult to hear, but I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.

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Self-control is a difficult trait to achieve

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Part 1 of a two-part series on self-control. Part 2 will run July 12.
I think we can all relate to the challenge of overcoming the lure of instant gratification. Whether it’s the magnetic pull of the glazed doughnut to the dieter, the couch to the procrastinator or the vice to the seduced, exercising self-control is one of the greatest — if not the greatest — challenges of life. And generally, we stink at it.
The findings coming out of the new and burgeoning field of behavioral economics help to explain this troublesome human paradigm. Humans, they argue, have present-biased preferences that make self-control difficult. Shahram Heshmat (Behavioral Economics of Self-Control Failure in Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 2015) explains the concept as follows:
“… behavioral economics shows that individuals discount (devalue) too strongly future rewards and overemphasize near-term pleasures. When we can hold all alternatives at a distance, our evaluations of them remain true to their values in our lives. But our subjective evaluation of a reward (our appetite for it) grows when we are closer to the reward than when we are far away, and unless we somehow commit ourselves to our previous preferences, we succumb.
“This inconsistency rests on an illusion that we all experience every day. For example, imagine you set your alarm clock at midnight to wake up at 6 a.m. the next morning. But when the alarm goes off, the choice that you made last night now seems absurd. The warmth and comfort of the bed makes you change your mind. What was chosen the night before is now rejected.”
In other words, when faced with the potential felicity of immediate gratification, our usually trusty decision-making skills and rational thinking go out the window. And in just a matter of seconds, we transition from rational actors to irrational actors. It’s no wonder humans struggle so mightily with the forces of procrastination, overeating and addiction.
To address this problem, researchers in the social sciences suggest meeting the allure of instant gratification with another immediate pleasure or pain that encourages self-control. My father, an avid student of behavioral economics, established a rule for himself prohibiting listening to his beloved podcasts except at the gym, while working out. Suddenly, relaxing on the couch didn’t look as appealing.
Behavioral investigator Vanessa Van Edwards detailed a pain-centric approach called Anti-Charity, in which you strengthen your resolutions and quiet the voices of mutiny in your head with a commitment to give a certain amount of money to a charity you abhor every time you break with your commitment. Will I smoke that cigarette if it costs me a $5 donation to the Ku Klux Klan? I didn’t think so. As crazy as it sounds, the immediate, painful realization that smoking one cigarette means supporting a horrible institution with a minimal donation resonates more in the mind than the long-term consideration that smoking will eventually kill you.
Speaking from personal experience, I can testify to the power of the Anti-Charity strategy. Although, it should be noted that because of the halachic issues involved in potentially donating to a damaging and sinful organization (like the KKK), my commitment involved the second-best thing – a donation to a particularly disdainful political figure (the donation itself not a sin, but it felt pretty bad nonetheless).
The religious life introduces loads of new arenas requiring self-control. what we eat, how we work, when we work, how we speak, what we look at, how we judge, how we react, what we wear and on and on and on. I was curious, in light of the findings that demonstrate humanity’s trouble with properly evaluating near-term pleasures, what the Torah’s advice for overcoming temptation might be and if it addresses the central issues described by behavioral economics.
What I found in my investigation was initially disappointing, yet ultimately spiritually edifying and everyday pragmatic. Make sure to look out for my next article, in the July 12 issue of the TJP, in which I will reveal my findings.

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Balak was wrong: Changing places doesn’t change luck

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

This week’s Torah portion, Balak, includes one of my favorite stories in the Bible, and it reminds me of the beginning of The Princess Bride. You know, the part where Peter Falk visits his sick grandson, Fred Savage:
Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles….
Grandson: Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake.
Well, the story of Balaam in Parashat Balak has fighting, bribery, treachery, curses, an angel with a sword, a seer who cannot see, blessings for the Israelites, and a talking donkey. You’d have to wait for Shrek to get a talking donkey. I love this story.
There is a particularly puzzling section of the portion, the one in which Balak hires Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Balaam warns Balak that he is only able to say that which God commands him, but Balak wants Balaam to try cursing the Jewish people anyway. When Balaam blesses the people instead of cursing them, Balak rebukes Balaam and says (Numbers 23:13), “Come with me to another place from which you can see them — you will see only a portion of them; you will not see all of them — and damn them for me from there.”
They move to another location, but Balaam blesses the Jewish people again, and again Balak rebukes him and says (Numbers 23:27), “Come now, I will take you to another place. Perhaps God will deem it right that you damn them for me there.”
They move to a third location, but Balaam blesses them a third time (Numbers 24:5): “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.” He blesses them with a blessing that we use to this day every morning, not that Balak appreciated it at all. “‘I called you,” Balak said to Balaam, “to damn my enemies, and instead you have blessed them these three times. Back with you at once to your own place” (Numbers 24:10).
Place (makom in Hebrew) is important. Balak clearly believes that to change one’s place will change the outcome. In actual fact, there is a very old Jewish saying: meshane makom, meshane mazal, which means one who changes their place, changes their luck. The saying is based on a discussion in Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, Daf 16b, in which they discuss four ways to change one’s fate. The discussion concludes: “And some say: a change of place.” That is, there are four agreed ways to change one’s fate, but some also claim that changing one’s place is a fifth way to change one’s fate. Thus the saying, meshane makom, meshane mazal.
Yet despite changing places twice, Balaam blesses the Jewish people all three times. Why doesn’t a change of place change the outcome, as Balak expects? One of the ways I reconcile this contradiction is to understand that God is merciful and forgiving, but not capricious.
It is not the literal and physical change of place that prompts God’s forgiveness, changing our fates. That would be capricious. Rather, God wants us to change the mental and spiritual places we find ourselves in, to prompt His forgiveness.
Sometimes, changing our physical location also changes our mental outlook leading to a change in our luck. But changing places without changing attitudes will never change our luck, contrary to everything that Balak would like to have believed.
Rabbi Benjamin Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim, Plano’s Reform congregation.

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Rabbis get firsthand look at border conditions

Rabbis get firsthand look at border conditions

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
A boy from Honduras is shown being taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border near Mission, Texas, June 12.

By Dave Sorter

Even after President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the policy of separating children from their parents as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border, local rabbis and other Dallas Jewish community leaders involved in finding solutions to the immigration crisis agree that much work remains to be done.
While families are now being detained together after being arrested because of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings, another apparent softening of the policy took place Tuesday. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was no longer handing illegal immigrants over to prosecutors because it did not have enough detention space, seemingly returning to the Obama administration’s “catch and release” protocol. Trump administration officials maintain that zero-tolerance remains in effect.
Trump issued his executive order on June 20. One day later, Dallas-area rabbis David Stern (Temple Emanu-El), Nancy Kasten and Elana Zelony (Congregation Beth Torah), along with local Anti-Defamation League regional director Cheryl Drazin, joined a national interfaith delegation that traveled to McAllen to see firsthand the conditions at the border. The national Religious Action Center and the Central Council of American Rabbis (of which Stern is president) helped organize the trip, which was initiated by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
And this group may have been prevented from visiting a detention center because of first lady Melania Trump’s visit there the same day.
Then, on June 22, Congregation Kol Ami Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis traveled to McAllen with a group organized by LULAC, the Latino civil rights organization.
Both Zelony and Kasten were struck by the inclement South Texas weather they encountered, especially flooding. They saw it as a metaphor for the suffering the separated children are experiencing.
“It made me realize people are literally sweating their way to the border,” Zelony said. “And people aren’t going to stop coming to the United States for a better opportunity. All I could think about were immigrants camped on the Reynosa side of the river.”
Added Kasten: “We were in a big coach. The bags were under the bus, and the water was 3, 4 feet deep. When we got to dry land, the bags were soaked; some people lost their computers. Cars were stranded in the middle of the road. The one thing I was thinking was that this separate-at-the-border policy is just one of many indicators that this administration doesn’t care.”
Trump and other administration officials have defended the zero-tolerance policy as a way to keep drugs and criminals out of the country and to uphold the law against illegal border crossings.
The June 21 group first visited the Catholic Charities Respite Center, which takes in people who crossed at the legal checkpoint and who are seeking asylum. It’s also too small for the current level of activity.
“They process up to 200 people a day,” Zelony said. “There are two showers and two toilets. The building is clean and efficiently run, but woefully inadequate. They need a larger facility.”
Some of the group, including Zelony, attended a federal court proceeding, where all of the about 50 immigrants whose cases were heard pleaded guilty to crossing the border illegally. Then, they attended a news conference, where people “quoted scripture and warned us to remember our world history,” Zelony said. “It was also pointed out that this wasn’t the first time we had separated parents and children. Slavery was mentioned, and I would add Ellis Island.”
After the news conference, the group tried to visit the detention center — which they were scheduled to do earlier but were bumped because of the first lady’s visit. However, the Border Patrol turned them back.
“That seems like it’s pretty typical down there,” Kasten said.
“All I could think about was what it must feel like to be an immigrant and make a long journey, to stand at the border only to be refused and told to return home,” Zelony said.
Dennis’ group didn’t get in either, but protesting from the outside, he did see conditions he did not like.
“It was indeed a neighborhood of faceless, windowless warehouses, and the facility holding hundreds of children isolated from their families was no different,” Dennis wrote. “…These children are being warehoused in a storage building designed for tires and floor tiles, now repurposed to store children.”
Then, it hit home. A bus neared the facility.
“At first, I thought it was another protest caravan,” Dennis wrote. “But then its features came into focus. We saw bars on the windows, with a cage wall behind the driver. A dozen heads, hands and faces of children and teens could be seen inside this rolling jail, built to hold felons and convicts.”
Some in the group surrounded the bus, trying to impede its progress. Those at the sides of the bus were waving at and shouting words of encouragement to the youngsters. Those at the front and back were angry. Guards, local police and a SWAT team converged. Negotiations took place, Dennis and others urged the crowd to step back, and the situation returned to that of a peaceful protest.
No one was prepared for any of that, Dennis wrote. His group was not prepared to see the children caged in the bus, and the guards at the facility were not prepared for the uprising. It was part of the chaos that struck Kasten one day earlier.
“There was a lack of clarity of who’s responsible for which aspect of the border crossing,” Kasten said. “But the chaos is just a distraction from the main issue: How does the wealthiest nation in the world harness its resources to help these children? It doesn’t seem people are interested in a long-term solution.
“We need ‘We the People’ to deal with the issue, but it’s been they and them and theirs.”
All those who took the trip understand more work needs to be done. Ensuring that families are reunited — which Trump’s executive order does not address — is the primary issue. Zelony wants to try to raise more money for the Catholic Charities Respite Center, by donating to Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She’s even thinking of asking the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas to include the agency among its allocations.
Kasten, meanwhile, received a calling to educate and advocate — and to empathize.
“What I got from the trip was that when you go to a place that’s different from your day-to-day life, you feel a sense of connection and empathy from other people,” she explained. “You come face to face with people who are reflecting God’s image in a way I never would have experienced had I not gone.”
She added that she wants to “go out and meet people and talk to them without preconceived notions. That’s something we all need to do.”
In fact, just two days after visiting McAllen, Kasten was heading for Washington for the last day of the Poor People’s campaign.
“I’m trying to find ways to educate people about the unintended consequences of systems the country has in place,” she said. “I’m starting to see patterns and gain a broader understanding.”

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AJC increases advocacy on immigration issues

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

By Dave Sorter

While several rabbis and others were visiting McAllen to see for themselves what is happening to separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AJC Dallas Regional Director Joel Schwitzer and others are working with Latin American advocates to reunite families and lobby for changes to the Trump administration’s stringent policies to prosecute illegal border crossers.
Schwitzer and his staff traveled to Austin on June 21 to participate in a working group organized by the Mexican American Legislative Council (MALC). Schwitzer was invited after he testified to MALC leaders about the AJC’s opposition to the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy and support of “humane” immigration reform. President Donald Trump’s June 20 executive order ended the separation of families at the border, instead detaining families together.
“The big takeaway was that there’s still a great deal of work to be done,” Schwitzer said about the meeting. “The executive order doesn’t give a lot of detail on how to reunite families. And without additional legislation, the families being held will be separated again after 20 days.”
He is referring to the Flores settlement, in which a court ruled children can’t be detained for more than 20 days.
The local AJC is working with the Jewish/Latino Alliance and the national AJC has established a Jewish Latino Leadership Council to continue efforts to change policy and law.
“The advocacy efforts need to continue, and we need to hold elected officials accountable for what is happening at the border,” Schwitzer said.
The AJC is advocating for passage of two bills currently before Congress:
• The Help Separated Children Act, filed by Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., which would allow children of detainees to be placed with foster families while their parents are detained and let children visit their detained parents.
• The Keep Families Together Act, filed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which would outlaw family separations, except in cases of abuse.
Meanwhile, a delegation from the Jewish Latino Leadership Council is in McAllen today to see conditions and advocate for change.
The national AJC and the Greater Dallas Section of the National Council of Jewish Women are among the almost 350 signatories to a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen opposing the zero-tolerance policy.
“This policy undermines the values of our nation and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of thousands of people,” the letter states. “As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression, we believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.”
The local AJC chapter will also continue its efforts. It is already planning a congressional candidates’ forum in October.
“The midterms are very important,” Schwitzer said about the Nov. 6 election. “We’re looking to give people an opportunity to hear candidates from key congressional races.”

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Zero Compassion, Zero Wisdom and Zero Coherence

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Editor’s note: Rabbi David Stern originally wrote this piece for the Central Conference of American Rabbi’s Rav blog June 21.

By Rabbi David Stern

The mother from Nicaragua stood before our multifaith group of 40 religious leaders this morning in the simple and dignified space of the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, cradling her sleeping infant in her arms. “We are here because my country is no longer safe for my child.”

First Person


By this writing, she is already on a bus to San Francisco, her ticket purchased by relatives there, her safe passage arranged by Sister Norma and the remarkable staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

She, like the other families we met in the Respite Center, is among the lucky ones — who can still cradle their babies, who can still play with their children on the colorful mats in the corner, who were able to take their first shower in weeks, to wash off the mud and cold of passage.
It was some combination of chance, powerful love and spiritual commitment that landed mother and child on that westbound bus. The love and commitment of volunteers and faith communities who share time, supplies, food and medical services; and the luck of a given moment on a given day. I asked one of the staff at the Respite Center how that mother and that child could still be together in the face of the administration’s cruel and draconian requirement that children be taken from their parents at the border, and she shrugged: maybe a compassionate border guard, maybe because the child was just a baby, maybe our prayers worked.
We have witnessed traumatic cruelty in our nation in these recent weeks, and if witnessing it has been traumatic, we can only begin to imagine the pain of those who suffered it directly: the parents and children whose wails tear at our hearts. The name of this policy, “Zero Tolerance,” is Orwellian at best. The practice of ripping children from their parents at the border is not Zero Tolerance. It is Zero Compassion. It is Zero Wisdom, because it deprives security professionals of discretion. It is Zero Coherence because it expends security resource indiscriminately, instead of focusing them on the populations who might put us at risk. It has been a violation of core Jewish values and an affront to the American values of which Dreamers dream.
The president’s recent executive order, while a seeming reversal in the face of public outcry, will not address core injustices. It makes no provision for reuniting the 2,300 already separated children with their families. It offers no change in the fundamental flaws, and smokescreen, of so-called Zero Tolerance. A narrow executive order cannot restore heart to what is heartless.
Our visit today was supposed to conclude with a visit to the Border Detention Center — I had hoped to report to you firsthand about the cages of separation and the conditions there. For reasons not totally clear — some combination of serious flash floods and government bureaucratic confusion — we were not permitted to visit.
So the work of calling for transparency must continue — not only by the 40 leaders on our bus, but by everyone of us who cares about the conscience, heart and destiny of America.
In this week’s parashah, the ruler of Edom earns a reputation for callousness and injustice by uttering two simple words to Moses and the Israelites seeking to pass through his territory: lo ta’avor. Those words have become an emblem in our tradition for blind and simplistic enmity. When our nation speaks an unconditional “lo ta’avor” to refugees seeking safety from violence and pursuing a life of dignity and freedom, when our president uses the word “infest” to describe their presence in a land of freedom, the echoes are more than troubling.
But today in McAllen, we outshouted those echoes with the laughter of children, with songs of hope from Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, whites and people of color, locking arms and joining forces to bring a sense of solidarity to a border town, a sense of compassion and justice to our nation. We leave McAllen pledging vigilance for the safety of all children and families, and for the protection of the values precious to us all.
Rabbi David Stern is senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El and president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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