Archive | August, 2018

Dallas Doings: Hadassah @ 100, Ruti Zisser

Dallas Doings: Hadassah @ 100, Ruti Zisser

Posted on 16 August 2018 by admin

Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Dallas Chapter of Hadassah celebrates 100th birthday

Members will celebrate the Dallas Chapter of Hadassah’s 100th birthday, as well as those of the Hadassah Medical Organization, the Hadassah School of Nursing and the Hadassah Department of Ophthalmology, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, at the Schultz Rosenberg Campus.

Before Israel became a state, Hadassah sent two nurses there from the United States to stem the tide of infant and mother mortality and blindness from trachoma. Thus, Hadassah initiated a countrywide system of health care with a fully equipped medical unit in 1918.

Today, Hadassah is still translating advanced research into practical medicine. This research is shared throughout the world and is used in the United States and worldwide. In Dallas, Hadassah doctors are treating patients for multiple aclerosis and  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Hadassah continues to build bridges to peace through medicine and has been recognized with a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

The Shulkin family will be honored for their dedication to health care and the Dallas community. Dr. Kemp Kernstine from the UT Southwestern Medical Center will share how he is involved in pioneering robotic surgery.

For information, to be a table host or event sponsor, or to purchase tickets, contact the Dallas Chapter of Hadassah at 214-691-1948,, RSVPs are requested by Oct. 5, as seating is limited.


Photo: Courtesy Ruti
Israeli clothing designer Ruti Zisser will be on hand at the exclusive Bnai Zion shopping event at her NorthPark store.


Ruti shopping event will benefit Bnai Zion

Ruti’s Northpark Mall location will open its doors to Bnai Zion supporters from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, for an exclusive private shopping event.

Ruti, a clothing brand created by Israeli-American fashion designer Ruti Zisser, offers a collection of women’s clothes. Zisser will be at the event and will speak to attendees about how she became a successful fashion designer.

Twenty percent of the evening’s sales will benefit Bnai Zion Foundation’s projects in Israel.

Ruti was founded in 2009 when, after years as a tech executive, Zisser struck out on her own. She strives to create pieces that are classic, sophisticated and designed to flatter a woman over the age of 35 without sacrificing comfort. Ruti states that her designs “must be practical. Eighty percent of my collection are clothes that I wear every day. Twenty percent of my collection is aspirational — it’s for the woman I daydream of being.”

Bnai Zion Texas Board Member Summer Pailet is chairing the event. RSVP early to be entered into a raffle (prize to be determined and must be present to win). For those unable to attend in person, visit and enter promo code BNAI to benefit Bnai Zion Foundation and receive 3 percent off full-priced items.

RSVP by emailing or visiting Drinks and light refreshments will be served.


A trip on the Rhine hides the dark past of Germany

Posted on 16 August 2018 by admin

It was all that the travel brochure promised and more. Lounging, gazing and photo- graphing as our sleek river ship cruised past ancient castles, luxurious estates, quaint villages and lush green vineyards of Germany.

Watching the vessel maneuver through the many Rhine River lochs we traveled through was another form of entertainment for some folks. Each day, local tour guides, holding up their numbered signs, led us with our hearing aids through parts of their city, describing its ancient history, historic buildings and churches.

After a couple of days of touring, I realized that the guides rarely mentioned World War II, Hitler, their Jews or the Holocaust.

In each city we visited, the tour guide said little if anything about their Jewish population, other than the fact that most of the Jews came from the Soviet Union after its collapse.

I can understand their reluctance to discuss Hitler, the Holocaust or the war, but not mentioning it in any manner is a denial that it occurred.

The next day, we were to stop to visit Cochem and its 1,000-year-old imperial castle, 15th-century church and monastery.

I asked the guide for the location of the Jewish cemetery and was told that it was in the forest below the castle, “not well marked and difficult to find.”

He offered to show me plaques about Cochem’s Jews on a wall we would be walking by on the way back to our ship.

The plaques reveal the following: Cochem’s first Jews appeared in 1242. In 1287, 17 Jews, including 10 children, were killed in Cochem.

Additional massacres occurred in 1337 and 1349. Jews living in Cochem were expelled in 1418 and again in 1589.

Jews numbered 49 in 1834, 104 in 1894 and 49 in 1932.The synagogue, built in 1861, was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938.

The Jewish residents of Cochem murdered in the Holocaust were from the Dahl, Goetzoff, Haimann, Hein, Hirsch, Mayer and Simon families.

Given the horrible treatment of Jews throughout Cochem’s history culminating in the Holocaust, the placement of two metal plates high on a street wall, where they can hardly be noticed, fails to properly honor their memory.

Shame on the people of Cochem and other German cities failing to honor the memory of their Jewish neighbors.


Intermarriage breaks the chain of Judaism

Posted on 16 August 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,

 I am in love with a Catholic girl and we want to get married, although we aren’t yet engaged. My parents say, “no way,” but can’t provide me with a rational reason why not. Just because “so many Jews died to stay Jewish” or that “my grandmother will turn over in her grave” just doesn’t speak to me. I’ll still be a proud Jew no matter who I marry, and my kids will decide themselves what they want to be. I still would like to hear what you have to say since I promised my parents to do this due diligence, so here I am.

 Rodney K.


Dear Rodney,

I appreciate your feeling that the “guilt arguments” of your parents are not sufficient motivation to bypass your feelings and leave the woman you love.

By the same token, in my experience, generally no argument under the sun will sway you from your desire once you’ve reached this point in the relationship. When one already has fallen in love, generally the only thing which may, perhaps, give one the strength to forgo the relationship is that one’s Jewish batteries are charged with many years of spiritual energy through Jewish education and observance. Your parents should have been concerned many years ago and provided you with that opportunity.

I therefore hesitate to answer your question, as it’s almost not fair to expect you to be able to detach yourself from your strong feelings and consider these ideas with clarity. However, since you asked, I will provide you with a few morsels of food for thought. I hope you will take them to heart.

For Jews, “marrying within the faith” isn’t simply a cultural preference or a prejudice; rather it is a commandment from God. “You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son and you shall not take his daughter for your son…” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)

This prohibition is predicated on a core Jewish understanding that we are not the same as the other nations of the world. Our lineage through the patriarchs and matriarchs, coupled with our acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, has elevated us and altered our spiritual makeup, making us different from the other nations forever.

Throughout our history, it was the profound, heartfelt and proud understanding that we are truly different, that prevented widespread intermarriage. Jews were always proud of our unique calling to be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6), our eternal mission to inspire the rest of the world to follow God’s purpose in life.

To see what an impact we have had upon the world despite our smallness in number, illustrating just how different we are, let us study the words of two famous Gentiles as they analyze the chosen nation.

Leo Tolstoy wrote in a 1908 edition of Jewish World: “The Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire and has illuminated with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring, and fountain out of which all the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs and their religions. The Jew is the pioneer of liberty. The Jew is the pioneer of civilization. The Jew is the emblem of eternity.”

Mark Twain wrote in Harper’s in 1899: “If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but 1 percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.

“He has made a marvelous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

“The Jew saw them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other nations pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

We need to take heed of Twain’s powerful words — about us. The Gentile nations have not been successful in snuffing out the Jewish flame. Only we can snuff out our own flame — through assimilation and intermarriage.

You, Rodney, are being passed the torch to continue over 3,000 years of Jewish history into the next generation. By intermarrying, with one fell swoop, you detach yourself as a link in that holy chain and sever your future generations from being part of that timeless legacy.

In Jewish law the Judaism of children depends upon their mother. Your children, if you indeed marry a Gentile woman, will not be Jewish regardless of which practices they adopt, according to the Code of Jewish Law, Even Ha’ezer 8:5. Furthermore, many studies show that when children are expected to choose between Mom’s and Dad’s traditions, many deep psychological conflicts arise, often leaving them confused. Parents often choose to raise kids in what is called an “interfaith-less” marriage — with no identity or traditions to avoid the inevitable conflicts of intermarriage. Lastly, in today’s world, a terribly high percentage of all marriages end in divorce, although none of those divorcees expected to be part of those statistics when they wed. Studies show that intermarried couples divorce at significantly higher rates, due to a number of factors.

Let it suffice to say, putting all religious and cultural considerations aside, you are putting yourself at an extremely high risk of sacrificing your own happiness, as divorce can be one of the most devastating events ever experienced in one’s life.

Rodney, we are an eternal people and the Jewish people will live on — with or without you. The chain, however, will be much weaker if it will be missing your own vital and crucial link. Please consider staying on the train, and continue to ride with us all in our trek toward the fulfillment of the eternal goals of the Jewish people. They are your family, your people, your future and your eternal destiny.


How long till the supremacists will find us?

Posted on 16 August 2018 by admin

Open before me on my computer screen is a post from a new (at least to me) organization called “They Can’t,” based in Jerusalem. That is in very small letters. Above, in much larger letters, is this: “The Jews are responsible for all the bad that has happened in this world. They all deserve to die.”

The “signatures” are an email address and two hashtags, none of which I’d copy here. In between, in big bold white letters shot with red, I read: “We removed this post…and 73,000 other anti-Semitic posts, videos and accounts! Help us DO MORE!”

Here’s the explanation and mission statement: “‘They Can’t’ refuses to let this incitement stand! Hate online is a worldwide phenomenon and has required us to track these perpetrators in multiple languages, including English, Arabic, Hebrew, French and German. Only TOGETHER can we defeat these forces and WIN THE ONLINE WAR!”

Of course, this online business is just a newer form of the old war we’ve been fighting since Biblical times. Here comes Amalek again, sneaking up on little kids wearing kippahs, making even adult men who have covered their heads (“religiously,” I might say) afraid to honor God in public. Random acts coalesce into mob actions.

And now comes this: A little town called Ulysses, in the rural, Amish area of north-central Pennsylvania, has been identified by the Washington Post as “A haven for white supremacists.” That’s the headline of a clipping I’ve received from one of those blessed folks who send me items that I’m unlikely to see here.

In that little hamlet, there is an entire house dedicated to Adolf Hitler, where “swastikas stand on poles, and Nazi flags fly side by side with star-spangled banners.” (I’ve taken just a little liberty with these quotes from a lengthy article by Gabriel Pogrund.) Potter County, Pennsylvania, has been a haven for white supremacy for 100 years, he reports, when the KKK first took up residence there. In the mid-20th century, it hosted a gathering of Klansmen, skinheads and neo-Nazis, all joined together as the World Aryan Congress. Recently, residents received “goody bags” with candy and this message: “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.” The local newspaper ran an advertisement reading “God Bless the KKK.”

A 43-year-old woodcarver named Daniel Burnside owns the Hitler house. He doesn’t call Donald Trump a leader of his cause, but does say “We’re anti-Semitic. When Trump says something that aligns with us —  close the borders, build the wall, look after your own — that’s good. We’ve been saying this for 25 years, but he has made it mainstream. We’re a white nation, and I respect that he supports that…”

Why am I not surprised that a white restaurant manager recently ran away from Ulysses with his black wife? After he found a KKK flyer outside his home, this man spearheaded an anti-racism gathering right there in town. And “Those guys drove by us and gave the gun signal, like they’re gonna shoot us,” he said. (One of “those guys” had already served 10 prison years for aggravated assault upon a black man.)

A long time ago — at the time the Holocaust was first becoming something talked about out loud — my Sunday school ninth-graders wondered why German Jews hadn’t just left their homes at the earliest signs of trouble. I asked what they would think if they went home from our class to find their parents sitting around the kitchen table with some non-Jewish neighbors who were advising them to make a quick getaway. And the kids laughed at how ridiculous that would be.

I write all this after the latest gathering of white supremacists in Washington, D.C. To them, we Jews are not white, and therefore not safe. I’m a native Pennsylvanian from nowhere near Ulysses. But today, as I write this, I worry if it’s only a short time until Ulysses spreads, and may even find us.


Dallas Doings: Eagle Scout, Strauss, Emily Cobert, Wolens, Farber

Dallas Doings: Eagle Scout, Strauss, Emily Cobert, Wolens, Farber

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin


Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Photo: Courtesy Weiss Family
Ephraim Weiss’ Eagle Scout Court of Honor will take place Aug. 19. For his Eagle Scout project, he built a shulchan for DATA of Richardson.



Ephraim Weiss, Eagle Scout

Ephraim Weiss, son of Drs. Simma and Shelley Weiss, earned the Eagle Scout award from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) June 3.  Ephraim completed the necessary requirements for skills, camping, leadership and merit badges, in addition to focusing on character growth and personal development.

Ephraim’s achievement will be formally recognized at a Court of Honor on Aug. 19.

He earned 45 merit badges and qualified for four Palm degrees beyond Eagle. To supplement his leadership skills, Ephraim attended a National Youth Leadership Training course, developed by the BSA with the U.S. Air Force Academy and various corporate trainers. His scouting peers elected him to the Order of the Arrow, scouting’s honor society, and he completed a Shomer Shabbos Ordeal before formal induction into the Order.

Ephraim’s scouting experience, through Troop 570 (Spring Creek Elementary), demonstrated his accomplishment of scouting goals in the general society, while adhering to his priority of keeping the laws of kashrut and Shabbat. Ephraim demonstrated the value of maintaining his religious practices through all his everyday activities, including scouting. The other scouts — Jews from different backgrounds, as well as non-Jews — supported his efforts and respected his observance.

One requirement before earning Eagle centers on a project to benefit the community. Ephraim built a solid wood shulchan, or table, used to read Torah in the synagogue. The structure incorporated some wood from the old Shaare Tefilla sanctuary (its new building is under construction). It sports a cabinet beneath, and the top can be set at different angles. The shulchan sits in its new home, the brand-new DATA of Richardson shul. This shulchan thus connects two shuls and brings the Dallas Jewish community closer together.


Photo: Courtesy Strauss Family
Rabbi Brian and Lisa Strauss and their children, Joshua, Noa and Ari


Brian Strauss assumes  senior rabbi duties at Houston’s Beth Yeshurun

Rabbi Brian Strauss officially became the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Houston Aug. 1. Beth Yeshurun is the largest Conservative synagogue in the United States with more than 2,000 families.

Strauss grew up in Dallas and attended Hebrew school and had his bar mitzvah at Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson. He was the first graduate of Beth Torah to become a rabbi.

Strauss graduated from Berkner High School and graduated from the University of Texas in Austin, where he was the president of the campus Hillel and a member of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. Upon graduation, Strauss attended the Zeigler School of Rabbinical Studies in Los Angeles and was ordained in 2001. Upon being ordained, he joined Beth Yeshurun as assistant rabbi.

Strauss serves on the Texas State Commission on Holocaust and Genocide. He is also a member of Rabbis Without Borders, sponsored by the National Jewish Center for Learning & Leadership.

Strauss replaces Rabbi David Rosen, who had been the senior rabbi at Beth Yeshurun since 1996 and, along with Rabbi Jack Segal, will become the rabbi emeritus.

Strauss is married to Lisa Shapiro Strauss, a Plano native and a practicing attorney. They have three children, Joshua, Noa and Ari.

Shearith welcomes back Emily Cobert to Texas

Fort Worth native Emily Cobert, daughter of Scott and Ann Cobert, is spending the summer as the rabbinic intern at Congregation Shearith Israel.

Cobert decided to become a rabbi at age 13, during her bat mitzvah training. She was inspired by her tutor, Cantor Sheri Allen, who showed her how Judaism can be relevant to modern life. During high school, Cobert became an active member in the United Synagogue Youth group, engaging with the Fort Worth and Dallas Jewish communities.

She attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she double-majored in Jewish studies and psychology. She was active at Hillel, working as the Shabbat intern to coordinate creative Shabbat services and meals, and on the student Hillel board to help strengthen students’ involvement and connection to Judaism and the UT Jewish community.

Following graduation, Cobert moved to New York City to pursue her master’s in Jewish education with a concentration in Jewish day school education at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). This gave Emily many opportunities to teach in various Jewish communities.

Cobert recently finished her second year of rabbinical school at JTS. She spent the past year studying in Israel, learning and growing as a future rabbi. At Shearith, she is teaching an adult education class about the Birkat Hamazon (prayer after the meal), leading services, delivering short sermons and observing the rabbis as they officiate lifecycle events. She’s also enjoying spending time with family and catching up with friends at her family’s new home in McKinney.

Cobert will return to New York at the end of August to continue with her third year of rabbinical school.

Wolens re-elected as chairman of the Texas Ethics Commission 

Former state Rep. Steven Wolens has been re-elected chairman of the Texas Ethics Commission. Wolens was originally nominated to the Commission by Speaker of the House Joe Straus. The Commission is composed of eight commissioners, four Republicans and four Democrats, all appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house.

The Ethics Commission oversees compliance with laws concerning political contributions and expenditures, political advertising, and personal financial disclosure of state elected officials and employees, judges, certain county and municipal officeholders, and candidates for those offices, as well as lobby registration reports and activities.

Wolens served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives for 24 years, authoring landmark legislation covering partnerships and limited liability corporations, ethics reforms, antitrust laws and electric deregulation. Texas Monthly magazine named him one of the “Ten Best Legislators” in Texas on six occasions.

Steve is a principal in the Dallas McKool Smith law firm representing governments on tax matters and businesses in commercial disputes.

Steve and his wife, former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, have three children and are members of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Farber joins Shalom as youth adviser

Kaelah Farber joined Temple Shalom in June as youth adviser and North Satellite coordinator.

The Wisconsin native will help plan and execute youth-group programs; assist Rabbi Ariel Boxman, the director of lifelong learning; and teach first-grade Sunday school, in addition to facilitating events at Shalom’s new Plano location.

Farber attended Milwaukee Jewish Day School and JCC Rainbow Day Camp for a decade; sang from the Torah for her (and her sisters’) bat mitzvah; and was confirmed at Congregation Beth Israel of Milwaukee.

After graduating from high school, Farber lived in Israel for four years through various kibbutz ulpan programs, volunteering, working and traveling. She moved to Dallas last summer and is enrolled at Collin College to complete her studies to receive a bachelor’s degree in K-6 education.

Farber served as assistant kindergarten teacher at Congregation Shearith Israel during the last school year.


Horowitz blends architecture and sculpture

Horowitz blends architecture and sculpture

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

Photo: Robert LaPrelle
Etty Horowitz and her sculpture, Man with a Book, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 2017


By James Russell

Fort Worth artist Etty Horowitz and landscape architect Kevin Sloan have, for the past seven years, carefully designed a public art monument welcoming visitors to Fort Worth. The sign spelling out Fort Worth was slated to greet visitors at Interstate 30 and Eastchase Boulevard, next to Pantego Bible Church on the city’s far east side.

“It is almost as if they would see the Hollywood sign,” Horowitz said of the public art commission made from readily available materials, such as bricks from Fort Worth-based Acme Brick, steel and other materials part of the city’s identity, and placed atop recycled traffic barriers.

Envisioned as an old road to the west, it, unfortunately, after years of community meetings and conversations about the city’s identity — should it include cowboy hats and longhorns? –– hit a few of its own barriers along the way. The latest came when the Texas Department of Transportation recently halted the project, citing plans to expand the highway onto the land. As of a year ago, the project is no longer considered a “designated gateway,” instead a “monument, landscape and art” project greeting drivers from the north at State Highway 121 west of Maxine Street and east of Beach Street.

The challenge now is fitting the original plan situated on a hill onto a flat and narrow surface.

So, now, the Israeli-born artist may have to redesign the project. As she waits, however, she still has plenty of other commissions to work on.

Horowitz was trained as an architect and has created public art installations for the past 20-plus years; her architectural background drew her to building sculptures.

Among her latest is a set of life-size abstract sculptures at the new Boulder Draw Park in Frisco. The black-and-white cartoon-like statues are flat but three-dimensional. Completed in December 2016 and abutting James R. Newman Elementary School, the 10 sculptures were commissioned by the city of Frisco. The doodles also include a family of three, two boys with a ball and others. They were installed in 2017.

Typically, when people consider public art, they think about a single monumental work. The works may be grand, but they are not interactive. In some cases, sculptures in parks also distract from the natural environment. Horowitz convinced Frisco city officials that the best design would be human-sized, black-and-white sculptures designed for interaction.

“When they are human-size, people can interact with them,” she said.

The one-inch thick metal statues were designed and fabricated on a computer as part of her practice of incorporating technology into her work.

The doodles were inspired by Alexander Calder’s doodle drawings, as well as the works of Julian Opie.

The doodle figures are interactive and spark conversation.

“We are in a digital time,” she said. “Sculpture has advanced in so many ways, with now different ways to make bronzes.”

Public art is inherently interactive. Horowitz wants to bring art to the people in public spaces, where people are more likely to see it. Public art, like a building, is an inherent part of the built environment.

The final work is as interactive as the process for her. She interacts with people during the process, too, with other architects, engineers and fabricators. “It’s a team effort,” she said.

For another project commissioned by the Fort Worth Public Art commission, Horowitz met with neighborhoods in southwest Fort Worth for input on a sculpture for the Chisholm Trail Community Center. Ocean of Grass is a prominent feature made of steel tubes placed in front of the metal entrance of the otherwise average brick and mortar community center. At the entrance of the center, the intertwining and twisting stainless steel tubes look like prairie land. The design was the result of hearing neighbors talk about the region’s vast prairie.

Sometimes Horowitz does not just listen. She talks, too.

Last summer, officials with the Kimbell Art Museum approached her to speak as part of its The Artist’s Eye series. Moderated by Kimbell staff, artists and architects relate their works to a work in the general collection. Horowitz discussed the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian’s influence on her work. She chose Abstraction, an oil painting that is part of his grid painting series of black, white, red, yellow and blue horizontal and vertical lines.

Her interest in the work highlighted the relationship between art, architecture and outdoor sculpture. She also mentioned Louis Kahn, the late Jewish architect who designed the Kimbell’s iconic first building.

She described the work from an architect’s point of view, looking at the composition and balance. “When you study art, you are looking at the principles of design,” she said.

She created a plastic sculpture, Man with Book, similar to one of the Frisco sculptures, and brought it to the museum, where it is displayed and installed outside the museum near the water.

Horowitz is working on two new pieces of sculptures: a set of works small enough to fit on an easel and smaller sculptures of the doodle figures. The smaller doodle figures stand at about 1 foot. They are intimate enough where you still interact with them. The new work is appropriate for gallery or museum spaces spaces, yet still interactive.

The miniature doodle has taken on all sorts of colors. “When it is black with holes, this is a skeletal structure. It’s routine. Then the colors are inserted, perhaps according to the day. One day, they could be blue; on another day, pink. They are serious but fun, whimsical and intuitive,” she said. “I love to work intuitively. Every time I think more than I should, the result is not good.”

She added, “Along my artistic life, abstract figures have always been there. I go back to them. I am a social person and like being with people,” she said. “I chose architecture as a profession because it is a field for people, where you are providing a service for people.”



Texas Hillel had an exciting year in 2017-18

Texas Hillel had an exciting year in 2017-18

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Texas Hillel
From left, Alex Engel, Henry Corwin, Zach Epstein, Sammy Hoffman, and Zach Leff made up the Texas team at National Hillel Basketball Tournament in April.



AUSTIN — The 2017-2018 year was an exciting year one for Texas Hillel, with perennial programs that have become a staple of Jewish life on campus, and new projects and opportunities that made their way to campus.

The year kicked off with a Welcome Week of events for both new and returning students. In addition to a First Day of Class Brunch, the annual Texans for Israel Falafel Dinner and Welcome Back Shabbat, the Labor Day BBQ showcased more than 30 student groups and projects that are part of the Hillel community, introducing students to the diverse ways they can get involved in Jewish life and pro-Israel activities.

As the year got under way, Hillel’s ongoing, regular programming commenced. This includes weekly Shabbat services and meals (which are free for students); the Jewish Learning Fellowship program, offered both at the Hillel building and in Greek chapter houses; frequent volunteer and social action opportunities in the community; and weekly Texans for Israel meetings and programs.

Fall semester highlights included High Holiday celebrations and programming, a memorable week in the Sukkah, traveling to Houston to volunteer for Hurricane Harvey Relief, the annual TAIPAC campus leadership dinner featuring a bipartisan congressional panel and the award-winning Hanukkah/Diwali dinner celebrating the Jewish and Hindu traditions’ festivals of light.

Some of the most impactful programs Hillel offers are travel experiences, both domestic and abroad. In 2017-2018, nearly 300 students traveled with Texas Hillel, from Birthright Israel over winter and summer breaks to alternative break trips to Poland, Argentina, Israel, New Orleans and Florida. These programs enabled students to travel with their fellow Texas students across the globe, exposing them to new ideas and experiences that, for many, are highlights of their college career.

The 20th Annual Israel Block Party took place in late March, featuring interactive educational booths showcasing Israel’s dynamic history and culture, and welcoming more than 1,500 students to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday.

The TAIPAC cadre brought one of the largest student delegations in the country to the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., and was awarded the national Activist of the Year award.

The White Rose Society, a genocide awareness group, held its annual 10,000 Roses event, handing out roses on campus to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. The speaker, UT President Gregory Fenves, shared the story of his father, a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to America.

In April, Texas Hillel sent a team to the National Hillel Basketball Tournament in Maryland, finishing as the runner-up in the Tier 2 bracket in a field of over 40 teams.

Through the over 500 programs, large and small, offered by Hillel in 2017-2018, students explored their Jewish identities on their own terms, formed lifelong friendships, cultivated leadership skills, volunteered in the community, and learned about Israel. From thousands of students dancing to Israeli music on the East Mall, to a one-on-one coffee meeting on campus, Hillel is building community on campus and inspiring the next generation of Jewish leaders for the Texas Jewish community.

Attention is now focused on the arrival and return of students to campus this fall. If you or someone you know is coming to UT, please go to or email Arielle Levy at so they can be welcomed to campus.


Tina Epstein demonstrates The Art of Adapting

Tina Epstein demonstrates The Art of Adapting

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

Photo: Christian Ayala
Tina Epstein has been creating colorful masterpieces for three decades and, Parkinson’s be darned, her work and her spirit are brighter than ever.



By Deb Silverthorn

The colors of the rainbow combined don’t present the brightness, spirit and hue that comes from only a moment with artist Tina Epstein, the focus of Christian Ayala’s documentary debut, The Art of Adapting — Parkinson’s. The YouTube-debuted mini-documentary will screen Aug. 10-19 at the sixth annual Chain NYC Film Festival.

“From the moment we connected, I wanted Tina to have a voice. She was all in and I’m proud of what we created,” said Ayala, who filmed, edited and directed the nine-minute, 25-second piece, sharing producer credits with Giovanni Pantoja. “I went in with a broad scope, but the piece became specific. What I thought would be a four-minute spotlight became a legacy piece and more special than we could have planned.”

When Ayala, a Bishop Lynch High School and 2017 University of North Texas graduate, was looking to create a portfolio, he had no idea how it would form his future.

“I didn’t want to cross any boundaries,” said Ayala, with nearly 1,600 YouTube views, who hopes people will be inspired and educated by the film. He was excited about being accepted to next week’s Chain NYC Film Festival. “It was her suggestion to show the severity of her disease, and it’s powerful for the audience and empowering for her.”

Epstein, painting for years on canvas, wood and metal of Judaica and general themes, has seen requests for her work increase recently. For years, proceeds of her work supported organizations close to her.

French was the first language for Epstein, born in Madrid, to her Moroccan mother, Marie,  and her New Yorker father, David Luzzatto. Epstein’s family, including her brother, Marc, and sister, Francoise, followed her father’s Army and Air Force Exchange Service career to Morocco, New Jersey, Japan and Hawaii before settling in Dallas.

Epstein reflects, relates and credits the goodness of her life to meeting her husband of 32 years, Dallas native Leonard Epstein,  and to her children, Benjamin, Sarah and Sam. The couple, who met playing volleyball at the Jewish Community Center, are longtime members of Congregation Shearith Israel, and their children are graduates of Akiba and Yavneh academies.

“I’ve always had a joie de vivre, but truly Leonard and my children changed my world,” she said. “From Day 1, Leonard has cherished and encouraged every endeavor, and I absolutely believe I was put on this earth to have and nurture kids. I’ve been a wife and mother first, but everything I do has my whole heart.”

Epstein, who was confirmed at Temple Emanu-El and graduated from W.T. White High School and the University of Texas-Austin, found her artist niche after creating earrings when Benjamin was a toddler. After attending a ceramics class, she added that format, then painting.

A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis gave Epstein her first challenges of severe pain in her hands. A minor tremor resulted in two years of testing, but no answers.  Parkinson’s was diagnosed in 2010 after she deteriorated in four months more than most patients do in 10-15 years. Her hands distorted by dystonia, she is primarily wheelchair-bound and a deep brain stimulator now helps her control the shaking she experiences.

One of Epstein’s doctors helped pull her through, aiding her to adapt to not being able to walk, paint and do so many actions she loved. So began her new frame of mind and, expressively appropriate, the title of Ayala’s production.

While at first uncomfortable filming, Epstein believes it a privilege to tell her story and encourage people to “go for it. Christian is a gifted storyteller through his lenses and an absolutely gentle soul. He’s a gift. Period,” she said. “I recognize I’m fortunate to have a handicap that allows me to continue what I love, but it’s most important that people do not take little things for granted.”

Epstein takes no moment for granted, little or big, including those spent dancing at Sarah’s wedding to Brian Fromm or traveling coast-to-coast this spring to see Benjamin receive his Ph.D. in biological engineering, Sarah obtain her master’s in family therapy and Sam begin as a computer programmer at Cisco Systems. Consideringly brightening her days is time spent with her canine pal Acher. “Every day is a blessing.”

“I can’t walk, but I get there. I can’t hold a paintbrush, but I’m still creating valued art. In the kitchen, cooking takes longer, but it’s still delicious and makes those I’m serving happy,” said Epstein. “I’ve adapted in almost everything I do, and I’ve learned it’s important for those I love to see and learn how I deal with this insidious disease with and dignity and determination.”

That determination includes playing bridge with friends of decades, her art, cooking and enjoying getting dressed up — every day an occasion for hair, nails and wardrobe to shine. “It’s the only thing I can control, and if I’m going to go through this life, I’m gonna look damned good in it,” she says.

“Adapt — it sounds simple; it’s not,” Epstein said. “But it’s more than keeping me alive, it’s keeping me living. It’s only too late if I don’t wake up one day!”

The Art of Adapting — Parkinson’s can be viewed at To contact Ayala to support the documentary and his work, email or call 314-477-8995.


God gives us both natural and supernatural

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

One of the pervading and profound themes throughout Torah is that from one Infinite Source emanates two inherent features within all creation — light and darkness, good and evil, heaven and earth, spiritual and physical, male and female, and so forth. Our job is to, in some way, reconcile or unite these two contrasting elements.

Sometimes, this reconciliation involves moral clarification, recognizing what harmful elements to avoid or disengage from and what to embrace. Other times it may entail working to create harmony between or unite two separate entities, as in a marriage.

Today, we will discuss a spiritual application that helps to refine our mind.

A recent appearance in the Torah occurs after verses speaking about the delivery from Egypt and entrance to the land of Israel, where we encounter a fundamental verse: “You shall comprehend today and instill in your heart, that Havayah (the Eternal) is Elokim (God) in heaven above and on the earth below; there is nothing else.” –Deuteronomy 4:39

A name, in general, is only a word, an arbitrary title used by people to refer to something or someone. Divine names describe specific manifestations or attributes. Here, we have two: The name Havayah (used for God’s essential Name spelled with the four letters — yud, hei, vav, hei) appears exactly 1,820 times throughout the five books of the Torah. We refer to it as the “essential Name,” or “the unique Name.” It may only be pronounced in the Holy Temple; its correct pronunciation is no longer known today.

The name Elokim is the title first used in the opening line of the Torah — “In the beginning, ‘God’ created…”

Biblical commentaries explain that the name Havayah brings limitless revelation or kindness; Elokim enacts judicious restraint. In a mystical context, it’s the power to shield, hiding the overwhelming expansive divine energy from our perception (as reflected in Psalms 84:12: “a sun and a shield is Havayah and Elokim).”

Havayah is also the source for all miracles; Elokim leads to nature (its composition of Hebrew letters even possesses the same numerical value as “the nature”). The connection between the above characteristics — restraint/concealment and nature — is that by blocking the intensity of the “light,” Elokim makes room for independent existence and multiplicity: a created system which we call “the natural world,” with consistent predictable ways of operating.

As a general principle, the power to hide simultaneously allows for focused divulgence. If a genius instructor, for example, decides to just impart the quantity and quality of ideas — exactly as they initially appear in the mind — the overwhelmed student could never grasp the information. But by filtering the amount of information — “light” — and simplifying the concepts, according to the mental capacity of the recipient, that student can now process and integrate the teaching.

The reason that the first words of the Torah, the passage describing creation, references a name connoting concealment is because although the process comes from Havayah, it is funneled through Elokim (the screen of nature). Later, the verses in Deuteronomy instruct us to recognize how these names — with opposing traits — are, in fact, manifestations of the same essence.

Plugging in the attributes conveyed by these titles, the supernatural (Havayah) and the natural (Elokim), the most basic understanding is perhaps that the same God is responsible for both miraculous events. In addition to negating the notion that existence is only physical substance — or that the laws of nature function independently — this contemplation also extends to rethinking the boundaries of supernatural and natural.

The way the term “natural” is defined in one system is not necessarily how it applies in another. From one perspective, just because something is non-material doesn’t mean it’s supernatural.

The lower aspects of the soul’s life-giving energy invigorating the body, while immaterial, can still be classified as belonging to the natural system, possessing a defined structure. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as “the natural soul.” Then, there are deeper aspects of our soul, more transcendent features of our being, that possess more potency and unlimited capacities.

More poetically, but no less precisely, we can create “inner miracles” when we tap into the more “supernatural” levels of the soul, which can then penetrate and influence our natural behavior (e.g., inclinations) and surroundings by allowing us to break barriers and achieve results we once thought to be impossible.


The anguish of child separation: 1869, 1938 and 2018

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

The current maelstrom of child separation from parents trying to enter the United States from its southern border is tearing families apart.

Many critics of the Trump administration charge that family separation is being used as a “weapon” in an attempt to frighten would-be undocumented aliens with children from entering our country, seeking sanctuary from gangs and violence in their native lands.

Approximately 3,000 children have been separated from parents who are unaware of their child’s location. Children cry themselves to sleep at night, not knowing where their parents are.

As Jews, we cannot forget that ”child separation” is also part of our history.

Jewish families in Nazi Germany and Austria also suffered family separations soon after Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, leaving mothers to consider where to send their children for greater security.

Some children were sent to Palestine while others were sent to Great Britain by way of the Kindertransport. Here too, children cried themselves to sleep, no longer able to hug their parents.

Among the Jews unable to exit Germany early enough, well over 1 million children are estimated to have died in the Holocaust.

From the Native Americans’ perspective, their post-Civil War fight for survival ended in defeat and they were forced onto lands not considered desirable by white America.

If it is wrong and heartless to separate children from their parents, then we must also not forget the more than 100,000 Native American children who were forced to attend church schools as part of President Ulysses S. Grant’s 1869 “Peace Policy.”

Children as young as 5 were shipped off to Christian boarding schools in order to learn English and get rid of their tribal heritage.

Later investigations reported numerous abuses of forced labor and widespread physical and sexual abuse throughout the entire boarding school program.

One only need to read the annual tribal statistics to see the depressing results of our nation’s mistreatment of its native peoples.

While poverty, crime and joblessness are the highest on many tribal reservations, enlightened native youth are struggling and some are succeeding in the modern world while retaining their native heritage.

Child separation is never the answer. It is an abomination.


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