Archive | June, 2019

When connected, Jewish teens flourish

When connected, Jewish teens flourish

Posted on 14 June 2019 by admin

Photos: NTO BBYO
Yael Schuller, Ethan Freed, Sarah Liener and Ethan Fine prep for the Hawaiian-themed convention dance.

Study finds youth groups are critical

By Deborah Fineblum
(JNS) There was a time when “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was the mantra for the young. But if a new study of Jewish teens — the largest of its kind ever attempted — can be believed, the situation is much different today, news that will no doubt come as a huge relief to parents.
Eighteen-year-old Yael Berrol is intimately involved in Jewish life — be it in her Conservative synagogue in Oakland, California, where she teaches fifth-graders in the Hebrew school; during her 10 years at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California; in Israel, where she rode with an ambulance crew; or at events at her B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) youth group.
“The best part of BBYO for me is the conventions, a real connection with Judaism and a weekend away with a bunch of Jews,” says Berrol, who’s one of a handful of Jewish students in her high school. “Being together is when I feel like my true self.”
More than 17,000 Jewish teens like Berrol participated in an online survey, developed by the Jewish Education Project and Rosov Consulting. Most of the names came off lists from 14 youth groups representing Jews of all backgrounds, including Bnei Akiva, National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), Young Judaea, CTeen (Chabad-Lubavitch), United Synagogue Youth (USY) and the Union of Reform Judaism Youth (URJ/NFTY).
“We were basically interested in the lives of Jewish teens and understanding the impact of youth groups,” says Stacie Cherner, director of learning and evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation, which, with the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, funded the study.
The funders were especially interested in teens’ social and emotional development, “how these programs impact them in these ways,” says Cherner. One happy surprise: how many teens actually took the time to complete the survey.
The almost 18,000 respondents came in part from the youth groups that contributed and from a link pushed out through social media. “And we were all impressed with the honest, thoughtful answers we got,” replies Cherner.
Among the findings:
• Jewish teens like their parents; they enjoy spending time with their family and often look to their parents for guidance and to demystify the world around them.
• For most teens surveyed, Jewish beliefs and practices are closely linked with their family relationships and loyalties.
• The respondents believe teens need help in coping with pressures like academic pressure, self-esteem issues and a fear of failure.
• Jewish teens see social media as a mixed blessing, saying it can both cause stress and help them deal with stress, as well as connect with friends and help change the world.
• Most of the teens (75 percent) identify as Jewish (and 16 percent claim to be culturally Jewish), but many of those who say they have “no religion” also hope to engage with Judaism at some point in the future.
• Many (45 percent) rank anti-Semitism as a problem for today’s teens, though few feel personally threatened.
• Most of the teens (71 percent) report either a strong or very strong connection to Israel, with the majority of those who have not yet traveled hoping to do so one day.
Most crucially, the study found that teens active in a Jewish youth group (regardless of denomination) tend to flourish socially, emotionally and spiritually as compared with those who are not. They also report feeling more connected to being Jewish, have higher self-esteem and better relationships with family, friends and other adults, and feel empowered to make positive change in their world.
“The parental issue was the big surprise,” says Rabbi Michael Shire, dean of the Graduate School of Education at Boston’s Hebrew College and a member of the study’s advisory board. And, he says, together with the results of a few other studies, it makes “a pretty good case for religious education and youth groups specifically. It seems that, along with a strong family and the belief in a higher power you’re connected to — this makes for someone who’s healthier in every way. It’s almost like these young people have a protective shell around them.”
Carl Shulman regularly sees these trends in action. “In our programming, we look at Jewish values, including how they were expressed in the civil-rights movement and other social-justice causes,” says Shulman, the youth engagement adviser at Temple Etz Chaim, a Reform congregation in Franklin, Massachusetts. “And we make sure it’s tied to Jewish tradition — something in the Torah or Talmud that speaks to them.”
Shulman says youth-group advisers play a unique role in a teen’s life. “We’re a cross between a teacher, a friend and a camp counselor,” he says. “So they feel they can be open about their thoughts and feelings and confide in us.”
One feature of the study, giving the participating youth movements feedback on how their teens stacked up in a variety of ways, provided much-appreciated input, says NCSY’s international director, Rabbi Micah Greenland.
“This is a terrific opportunity to learn about what our teens are gaining from involvement with us. It invites us to better understand and reflect on where we are relative to the field and where we have room to grow.”
Over at URJ, they’re also evaluating the results. “We knew it anecdotally,” says Miriam Chilton, URJ’s vice president for youth. “But now we have the data that demonstrates that participation in Jewish groups goes a long way toward achieving our goals of seeking meaning and seeing themselves as connected to both Jewish tradition and the world.”
Not surprisingly, adds Chilton, most NFTY/URJ teens ranked higher on social justice than on the ritualistic aspects of Judaism, she says. “It’s not good or bad, but it is reflective of Reform values.”
Another take-away for Chilton: Multiple points of contact result in maximum impact.
“Those involved in youth group, their temple, Israel and a Jewish camp, for instance, had the most positive impact,” she says. “And given the number of our families who have just one Jewish parent, whose connection may not be as strong, we can look to offer a wide variety of programming. It gives us a pretty compelling case for the best ways of working with the next generation.”
For David Bryfman, The Jewish Education Project’s incoming CEO, this study’s biggest gift is “giving organizers of Jewish youth organizations a good look at the outcomes they’re having in outreach today. Basically, the study shows the more kids doing Jewish activities the more engaged they are.”
The study was also designed to go well beyond the previous emphasis on youth groups as nurturers of Jewish continuity, he adds. “Here we’re looking at how their engagement makes them not just more Jewish but a better person, a better member of the community, more effective in the world and just more human. Some people might argue that this isn’t the traditional use of youth group, but if we don’t help them thrive, none of the rest of it really matters.
“Besides,” he add, “when you can get the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and even the unaffiliated to sign onto the same study, you’re already doing something right.”
The No. 1 finding, he says, is “even though we knew that youth groups have huge impact on teens, right up there with day schools, Jewish summer camps and trips to Israel, this study actually shows the power of that involvement.”
Looking to the future
“We got confirmation that generally speaking, we’re doing a really good job in Israel engagement with our teens, with Jewish tradition, and how much Shabbat and the holidays matter to them, and even the extent to which they attribute these values to their NCSY involvement,” says NCSY’s Rabbi Greenland. “But we can also see that we are below average in the realm of taking responsibility for making a difference in the world at large. And, in addition to everything else we do, that’s something we’ve been talking about a lot since the results came out; it’s pushed us to look at ways to enhance that quality, too.”
“If we design programming that reflects the way young people see the world, we’ll be able to maximize personal development and Jewish identity and commitment,” says URJ’s Chilton. “This study also gives us a benchmark so if we adjust something now, we can look back in a few years and see how we’re doing.”
“The study sends a clear message that Jewish engagement doesn’t have to end at bar or bat mitzvah if you provide young people with programming they see as meaningful,” says Bryfman. “If the Jewish youth organizations can provide that, the teens will be there.”
It’s a message the funders are taking to heart.
“What we’ve learned from these teens is that they are very Jewishly identified, though their ways of expressing it may not be the same,” says Jim Joseph Foundation’s Stacie Cherner. “It’s confirming to us that we’re on the right path — that our investments are having a positive impact.”
As California teen Yael Berrol puts it: “We don’t have many Jews near us, but my parents have made it easy for me to connect. Our family friends are mostly Jewish, Camp Ramah is like my home, and my synagogue is where I go when I’m missing being with other Jews, when I need that grounding, in community and in my authentic self.”
To see the entire study, visit https://www.jewishedproject.org/genznow.

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Shapiro brings her legacy to The Legacy June 19

Shapiro brings her legacy to The Legacy June 19

Posted on 14 June 2019 by admin

Photo: Submitted by Florence Shapiro
Florence Shapiro will speak at at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, at The Legacy. Here she’s pictured with the family she and husband Howard have built: front row, from left, Zachary Shapiro, Natalie Rubin, Eli Rubin, Ari Strauss, Olivia Shapiro, Sophie Rubin, Sam Rubin, Harper Shapiro, Ella Shapiro and Brody Rubin; back row, Todd and Jori Shapiro, Paul and Staci Rubin, Howard and Florence Shapiro and Lisa, Noa and Rabbi Brian Strauss (not pictured: Joshua Strauss).

By Deb Silverthorn
Florence Shapiro has been an advocate and educator, the mayor of Plano, a Texas state senator, and a leader of many organizations in the DFW area. Acclaimed for much, yet it’s as the daughter of Ann Donald, a resident at The Legacy Willow Bend since its opening, that she will sit as guest interviewee at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, in the Chapel at The Legacy.
“Many residents watched Florence grow up. While we’re proud and appreciative of her success, she’s Ann’s daughter and that’s a blessing right there,” said Bob Weinfeld, who has hosted more than 100 “Getting to Know Your Neighbors and Your Staff and Your Relatives of Residents” interviews.
The hourlong program, open to the community, has introduced residents, staffers and community members to business leaders, museum curators, chefs, journalists, sports executives, clergy and more.
“I look forward to the interview, and the buzz is building,” said Weinfeld, The Legacy’s own “mayor,” on interviewing Plano’s former mayor and the question-and-answer period to follow.
Interviewed on topics local and global, for the former Zesmer BBG member and Hillcrest High School and University of Texas graduate, sitting on Weinfeld’s dais — no doubt with her mother watching from the front row — is exciting.
“My community devotion comes from Mother, the ultimate volunteer, and my business sense from my father,” said Shapiro. Her mother is a former president of the Friends of Golden Acres Dallas Home for Jewish Aged, and resident at The Legacy since its 2008 opening.
“The Legacy is filled with people I’ve known my whole life, and it’s an honor to be interviewed by Bob,” said Shapiro. “He is the ‘connector,’ and I’m always engaged by whatever he does. Bob is a very special part of this wonderful community within our community, and to know him is to love him. Besides, who could ever tell Bob ‘no’?”
Shapiro was born shortly after her parents, Martin of blessed memory and Ann, arrived in the U.S. Her mother was pregnant with her while aboard the ship that brought them from England. The two survivors of the Holocaust immigrated first to New York, then to Dallas when Shapiro was 10.
A lifetime later, Shapiro is immediate past chair of the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance, gratified and excited for the September opening of the new home of the museum her father helped found.
“The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will be a showplace that no one could have dreamed of,” she said. “Started in the basement of the JCC, now the world sees us, learns from us and is affected by us. I’m sure my father and all who started it are very proud.”
Shapiro and her husband Howard, whom she met at UT and married 50 years ago, are the parents of Staci (Dr. Paul) Rubin, Todd (Jori) Shapiro and Lisa (Rabbi Brian) Strauss. They are grandparents of 12: Brody, Eli, Natalie, Sam and Sophie Rubin, Ella, Harper, Olivia and Zach Shapiro, and Ari, Joshua and Noa Strauss.
Serving on the Plano City Council, then as the city’s mayor, Shapiro was president of the Texas Municipal League before her 19-year career as Texas State Senator — first elected against a 13-year incumbent.
“When running for office you think you know it all. Then you go to Austin, the session begins, and it’s like trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hydrant. I was constantly learning, but it was the most amazing process,” said Shapiro. “The value, then and now, of the enormity of my responsibilities, lay on my shoulders, so I’ve always done my homework and really and truly enjoyed it.”
Among the results of her service Shapiro feels most proud of are the series of bills known as Ashley’s Laws, which protect against, adjudicate, and punish sex offenders whose victims are children. “Out of a tragic and terribly sad event came the absolute saving of many lives,” she said.
Shapiro started out as a high school teacher at Richardson High School, and education has never left her heart. As a member of the Advisory Council on Education Reform Initiatives at the George W. Bush Institute, and partner and public policy consultant with Shapiro Linn Strategic Consulting, children’s futures remains her priority.
“Texas is a great state and it needs a great education system,” she said this winter, working in Austin with the “best legislature in 25 years” to bring billions of dollars to public education, and she’s positive about the future. “We’ll always need new and innovative ways to teach. It must be a value and be valued.”
Shapiro is former president and founder of the Collin County Junior League and the Collin County Information & Referral Center, and has served on many boards including: AT&T Performing Arts Center, Collin County Business Alliance, COMMIT! Dallas, Communities Foundation of Texas, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, Educate Texas, Southwestern Medical Foundation, TexProtects: The Texas Association for the Protection of Children, Texans for Education Reform and the University of Texas at Austin Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life.
Raised at Congregation Shearith Israel, Shapiro and her family are founding supporters of Chabad of Plano/Collin County, now also longtime members of Congregation Anshai Torah. Last year, the Shapiros, who have both traveled on Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas missions to Israel, were invited to the dedication of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.
“There’s so much we know, and so much to learn about Florence, and we’re honored for her visit,” said Weinfeld, who is soon to turn 93, and will interview Frisco RoughRiders President and General Manager Andy Milovich (June 26), Dallas Morning News journalist Michael Granberry (July 3), journalist and author Nancy Churnin (July 10) and Bruce Eisen, whose career experience includes CPA, Collin College professor and Jewish community professional (July 17).
“Florence is a great daughter, mother, grandmother, wife. She’s a great everything and a wonderful person,” said her proud mother Ann. “She’s everything a person could want.”
Expect a kvell factor of 110 percent to fill The Legacy, a parent/teacher conference like no other.

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Whipping up a Father’s Day fiesta

Whipping up a Father’s Day fiesta

Posted on 14 June 2019 by admin

Rustic fajita skillet meal with steak and chicken

Cocktails to dessert —and in between, fajitas, Margaritas, pronto!

By Tina Wasserman
Father’s Day is synonymous with grilling, but Dad doesn’t have to do the cooking that day. He should be sitting back, enjoying friends and family, and drinking a cold Margarita or beer. So, here I am going to give you all the tools and tidbits to make a great fajita dinner.
Traditionally, fajitas are a Southwestern/Mexican peasant food made from a cheap, but flavorful, cut of meat.The fajita meat is skirt steak, and skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle (which lies between the abdomen and chest cavity). It’s a long, flat piece of meat that’s flavorful but rather tough. Since the diaphragm is located across the belly of the cow, the cut of meat is called “fajita,” which means belt.
Growing up in New York, skirt steak was referred to as “Romanian Tenderloin.” But one thing skirt steak isn’t, is tender! The trick to making this cut a wonderful addition to your menu is to make sure you marinate the meat to tenderize it a little, and then you must slice it against the grain before serving. This task is actually quite easy, because the skirt steak is a very flat, rectangular piece of meat with a definite muscular grain going crosswise. Slicing the meat at a 45-degree angle will break the sinews and provide a much more tender chew. If you want to taste skirt steak as Romanian Tenderloin smothered with garlic, you’ll have to go to New York, where it is often served with a syrup jar filled with rendered chicken fat to pour on your steak and mashed potatoes with gribben — don’t ask!
Skirt steak is very popular in Japan, and for years a very high percentage of the U.S. supply was shipped there. As a result, it is not readily available in all markets, and when it is available, it’s not so cheap anymore (especially if it’s kosher meat). Other cuts of beef can be substituted, but it will not have the same texture or flavor, and of course, you can make chicken fajitas or vegetarian ones as well.
Fajitas
Many recipes are available for fajita marinades. My recipe uses the fresh flavors of Southwestern cooking, eliminating overbearing elements. Many marinades for fajitas, both homemade and store bought, use soy sauce. Avoid these products if you don’t want your finished product to taste more Teriyaki than Southwest. I prefer to use Worcestershire sauce for that additional “kick.”
11/2 pounds skirt steak or boneless chicken breast
¼ cup peanut or corn oil
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (omit salt if using kosher meat)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin or to taste
Flour tortillas
Pico de Gallo (see recipe)
Guacamole (see recipe)

  1. Marinate the steaks or chicken breast in the oil, garlic, lime juice and seasonings, at least 4 hours or overnight. If it’s 4 hours or less, marinate at room temperature, otherwise refrigerate.
  2. A half-hour before cooking, start your grill. Soak 1/2 cup of mesquite chips in water.
  3. 15 minutes before cooking, add the mesquite chips to the fire.
    *See Tidbits
  4. Grill meat over a hot fire 3-5 minutes per side, or until medium-rare.
  5. Slice into thin strips on the diagonal and serve on flour tortillas with the Pico de Gallo and guacamole.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• The most important thing to remember when making fajitas is never buy meat that is pre-sliced. Your meat needs to be grilled whole and then sliced to preserve its flavor and moisture content. Besides, grilling little slivers of meat is a daunting task and will feed the fire gods many little morsels as you are trying to turn and retrieve the pieces off your grill grate!
• Never marinate beef and chicken in the same bowl. The flavor and color of the meat will alter the taste and color of the chicken.
• If your grill doesn’t have a wood chip pan or smoker box, place the soaked chips in a foil packet and punch holes in it to let out the smoke. Place in the far corner of your grill and proceed with the recipe. Remove when grill is cold and discard.
Portobello Mushroom Fajitas
Sometimes you need a vegetarian option that is just as meaty and delicious. Here is the answer you will love that can be eaten alone or added to the meat in your tortilla.
4 portobello mushroom caps, stems cut flush with caps
1/2 cup beer
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. Rinse and pat dry the mushrooms. Scrape out the fins on the underside of the mushroom and discard.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a shallow, non-reactive bowl and marinate the mushrooms for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.
  3. Grill over hot coals for 4-5 minutes starting with cap side down and turning halfway through cooking time.
  4. Slice into 1/4-inch strips. Serve as above with accompaniments.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Removing the fins from the portobello prevents the mushroom from bleeding black into your dish. This is especially important when you are mixing these mushrooms into a casserole or rice dish.
Fresh Pico de Gallo
If pressed for time, you can always buy premade pico in local supermarkets, but it will not taste as fresh and vibrant.
1 pound red ripe tomatoes
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ small can of chopped green chilies
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

  1. Seed the tomatoes and chop into 1/2-inch cubes. Combine with the remaining ingredients and allow to sit for 1/2 hour before serving.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• To seed a tomato, cut in half horizontally. Hold tomato half by the skin and gently squeeze it over the sink. Give a downward shake and all the seeds should fall out.
• It is much easier to cut a tomato with a serrated knife and from the inside, rather than the skin side.
• Pico de Gallo means “comb of the rooster.” Care should be taken to cut the tomato and onion in perfect dice, as they will be visible in this uncooked salsa.
Guacamole
I know, it’s dangerous teaching guacamole in the Southwest, but here’s a recipe for those who generally buy the ready-made version.
2 ripe avocados
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
¼ cup canned Rotel tomatoes or picante sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 or more cloves of garlic, finely minced (or garlic powder)
½ cup finely chopped onion

  1. Mash the avocados, then stir in the remaining ingredients. Store with the avocado pit in the mixture to prevent browning.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Ideally, the avocado will be ripe when you buy it. If the little step piece comes out easily, then it is ripe.
• If avocados are not ripe enough, put them in a paper bag on your counter and within two days they will be perfect!
Pralines
These are the hard, crunchy variety that you find at Mexican restaurants, rather than the soft, chewy kind.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups pecan halves

  1. Combine the sugars, butter, milk and corn syrup in a heavy 2-quart saucepan and cook at a low boil for 15-20 minutes. Stir constantly.
  2. Cook the mixture until it forms a soft ball when a small amount is dropped into a glass of water that contains a few ice cubes to make it very cold.
  3. Add the vanilla and stir to combine.
  4. Add the pecans and remove from the heat. Stir to coat the pecans.
    Pour the mixture by spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet or parchment paper and allow to cool.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Stirring a sugar mixture while it is boiling creates a crystalline structure when it cools. This is why instructions often tell you to never stir fudge while it’s cooking if you want it to be very smooth.
Frozen Margaritas
1 cup tequila
½ cup Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
1 6-ounce can frozen limeade

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender container and add ice cubes to fill the container. Blend until thick and smooth. Serve in salt-rimmed glasses if desired.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• If you really want your Margarita to be blue, try adding Blue Curacao instead of Grand Marnier.

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DALLAS DOINGS: Temple Shalom, Hadassah, Old Jews

DALLAS DOINGS: Temple Shalom, Hadassah, Old Jews

Posted on 14 June 2019 by admin

Photo: Lisa Rothberg
Temple Shalom Ozrim: Aiden Sices, Haden Cavalli, Sydney Kort, Nicole Schiff and Ashley Spiegel with Rabbi Ariel Boxman

Temple Shalom celebrates May milestones


As always, May was a busy month filled with celebrations at Temple Shalom. On Friday, May 3, Temple members gathered together for the Confirmation of the class of 5779. Then, on Sunday, May 5, congregants enjoyed Temple Shalom’s 53rd Annual Meeting.
After the approval of the minutes and swearing-in of new officers, board members shared exciting plans for kitchen renovations and other upcoming maintenance projects. This year’s meeting was short and sweet.
Members moved into the Radnitz Social Hall, where they were quickly greeted by religious-school children who were ready to celebrate their last day of school. It was time for the seventh-grade class to walk across the stage for their graduation ceremony. Certificates in hand, they could now throw their graduation caps in the air.
Next, it was time for Brotherhood President Steve Weintraub to present the Tracy Fisher Award to Sydney Kort. Named for Tracy Fisher, the daughter of Temple Shalom members Laurel and Mark Fisher, who died in 2009, this award honors her memory and her love of Judaism and all things NFTY.
Finally, it was time for the end-of-year slideshow, which showcased a fantastic year of events, holidays and celebrations.

Save the Date: Oct. 13


The Dallas Chapter of Hadassah is busy planning for its Think Pink event at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, on the Schultz Rosenberg Campus. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the program will feature cancer survivor and former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller; Marie Sena, medical illustrator and tattoo artist; as well as Judith Macon, RN, MA, manager of cancer outreach at Suburban Hospital Cancer Program in Bethesda, Maryland. Cost to attend the event is $100 per person. For more information, please call the Hadassah office at 214-691-1948 or email chapter.dallas@hadassah.org.

‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’ opens July 11 at Eisemann Center


Tickets are on sale for “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” a 90-minute, no-intermission comedy show which will premiere at the Charles Eisemann Center for Performing Arts July 11 and run through July 28. The five-person cast will entertain with an outrageous evening of one-liners, double-entendres, songs, skits, and hysterical routines. The humor can be a bit bawdy, so it’s not recommended for children under 17. Tickets are available at http://playhouseinfo.com/eisemanncenter/index.htm.

Press notes:


• Cara Mendelsohn was officially sworn in Monday to her seat on the Dallas City Council. Cara tells the TJP that the inauguration will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, June 17, at the Winspear Opera House and all are invited.
• The Texas Jewish Arts Association is looking for members and associates to help plan, design, and build a TJAA Artistic Sukkah, to be installed at the Museum of Biblical Art for this year’s Sukkah Exhibition during the months of September and October.
Meetings have not yet been scheduled, but will begin in July.
If you’re interested in participating, email TJAA president Nan Phillips at nan@nan-art.com.

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Familiar verses of the Priestly Benediction interpreted

Posted on 14 June 2019 by admin

This week’s portion, Parashat Naso, includes a section that I’ll make a bet everyone reading this column has heard multiple times before: the last six verses of Numbers, Chapter 6, the Priestly Benediction.
In my own translation it says: “God said to Moses: say to Aaron and his sons: ‘Thus shall all y’all bless the Children of Israel. May God bless you and guard you. May God’s face radiate upon you and be gracious to you. May God’s face be lifted up to you and put upon you peace.
“That way, they will put My name on the Children of Israel and I will bless them.’”
Note: “all y’all” may be a Southernism, but since ‘you’ in English can be either singular or plural, it’s actually very useful to use “all y’all” to indicate “you” plural, just as it is indicated to be plural in the Hebrew.
This blessing is a specific formula for the priests to use, and to this day in a traditional congregation, anyone who is a Kohen will come to the front and recite this blessing in a ceremony called duchening. It is from the ceremony of duchening that Leonard Nimoy took his “live long and prosper” hand gesture. The hands are spread like the letter shin — standing for “Shaddai,” a name of God — and the blessing is given.
The first blessing is: “May God bless you and keep you, guard you, protect you.” This is where my translation is a little squishy. But then again, all translation is interpretation, so we should expect a little squishiness. There’s a sense, though that God will make sure bad things don’t happen to you. The only question is, what bad things — and how will God make sure those bad things don’t happen?
The second blessing is: “May God’s face radiate, shine upon you and be gracious to you.” I have a sense that having God’s face shine on you is pretty good, but again, I don’t have an exact idea what a shining face is supposed to be.
The third blessing is: “May God’s face be lifted up on you, favor you, think you’re special and give you peace.” Clearly there’s a difference between God’s face shining on you and being lifted up on you, but what that difference is exactly, isn’t always clear.
The part that I’m really interested in is the last sentence that isn’t spoken: “They shall put My name on the Children of Israel and I shall bless them.” Think how extraordinary that truly is. The priests put the name of God on the people, and then God will bless them. God blesses the people through the action of the priests. God acts through human action. We act in God’s name and God’s blessing comes forth.
When we help people and protect them from harm, God blesses that action. When we bring light to people’s lives — dispelling the darkness of despair and pain — God blesses that action. When we lift people up out of the depths in which they are mired — when we restore people to a sense of wholeness and peace — God blesses that action. When we act in God’s name, God blesses us all. Our hands are God’s hands, bringing blessing to the world.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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Does history repeat itself? The choice is ours

Posted on 14 June 2019 by admin

One of my amusing former teaching experiences occurred when a student in my American History class asked me a question just as I began passing out the weekly 20-question, multiple-choice quiz, which covered the week’s work.
“Mr. Kasten, does history repeat itself?” Since his question did not relate to anything on this quiz, I assumed he asked, hoping that I would be so engulfed in answering his question that I wouldn’t have time to give the quiz, and might postpone the quiz altogether.
As interesting a question as it was, I wasn’t going to allow it to stand in the way of my prepared quiz.
I suggested instead, that they could earn “extra credit” when they returned Monday with an example of how history repeated itself or was in danger of doing so.
Here’s how history is in danger of repeating itself:
Many German Jews were highly assimilated — were decorated veterans of World War I and chose to stay in Germany — while others, especially after Kristallnacht, began to flee the country.
As the Nazi grip tightened, many German and Polish Jews fled to the countryside to join bands of guerrillas hiding in the woods — or tried to leave Europe for Canada, Africa or the Americas.
Sadly, there were also many Jews — especially the elderly and children, who could not escape and became Holocaust victims — reduced to slave labor, victims of “medical” experiments, or reduced to bones and ashes.
The “lucky ones” were the Jews of Germany, Austria and Poland that sent their children away to relative safety in Palestine, or in England on the “Kindertransport.”
The extent of the Nazis’ concentration camp system was much greater and diverse than most people realize. In 2013, researchers at the U.S. Holocaust Museum documented hard evidence that there were 42,500 camps and ghettos throughout Europe.
In addition to the more well-known death camps such as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau, there were other facilities where Jewish slave labor was used on a regular basis — where torture and “punishment” was a daily event.
A Holocaust research group issued the following stats: 30,000 slave labor camps, 1,150 ghettos, 980 concentration camps, 1,000 POW camps, 500 brothels, and thousands of other camps for killing and experimentation in all of Nazi-occupied Europe.
Forced labor camps were everywhere. Given that there were so many locations where prisoners were transported and used on a regular basis (3,000 camps in Berlin and 1,300 “Jew-houses” in Hamburg), the citizens of those cities had to know of the existence of those camps.
Today we have white nationalists parading anti-Semitism and other hatreds.
That is why Holocaust museums and museums of intolerance are so important. They display the truth and horror of what happened — what must not happen again to any people.
Many of the soldiers who freed the camp, including Lt. Rudy Baum (of blessed memory) and Mike Jacobs (of blessed memory), survived the camps to tell the stories they have passed on.
If history, this darkest page of history — the Holocaust — is not to be repeated against any people, it will be the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum — and all the other Holocaust museums — that will make it so.
In September 2019, the newest Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will be open to help educate young and old as to the dangers of prejudice and discrimination, no matter what form it may take.
We must be alert to the great danger of history repeating itself. As the Dallas Holocaust Museum states: “An Upstander stands up for other people and their rights, combats injustice, inequality or unfairness, sees something wrong and works to make it right.”
Only then will Holocaust history not be repeated.

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Summer days boil down to basic Jewish values

Posted on 14 June 2019 by admin

This summer at J Camps, we are learning values through many ways. One way to see Jewish values in practice is to look at our Jewish heroes and mentors. We know that “we are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.” We must learn the lessons from those who came before us and then strive to be the ones who will shoulder the next generation.
How do we make Maimonides or Albert Einstein or Hannah Senesh come alive to our children? By making them come alive to us as parents and then introducing them to our children as “family” because these heroes are indeed part of our Jewish family. Just as we know the history of our favorite aunt, we should learn the story of “Aunt Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” We realize that our entire Jewish family makes us who we are and who we will become.
The information for this summer’s weekly columns comes from “Jewish Heroes Jewish Values — Living Mitzvot in Today’s World” by Barry L. Schwartz.
Please feel free to contact me to learn more and to find ways to share these lessons with your children. JCC camps will share and teach mitzvot throughout the summer, focusing on lots of great heroes as well as practicing being heroes for the future. The hope is that campers will come home this summer with positive role models, present and past.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Storm prompts our contemplation of wonders

Posted on 13 June 2019 by admin

Dear Friends,
We are sitting without power for the third day and expecting to be so for another couple of days — some five days (hopefully not more!) without power — due to the Sunday event which “took Dallas by a storm.” As the Rebbetzin and I entertained our guests by candlelight during the holiday of Shavuot, until now seeing some of the more serious devastation wrought upon many, it has been a special time for thought and contemplation.
My first thought was tremendous thanks and appreciation to the Al-mighty for sparing our community what could have easily been much worse devastation. Although many of us have had to trash food which has thawed in our freezers and refrigerators, that’s a very small loss compared to the many whose homes were crushed by the falling trees and winds. Just thinking about what our friends in Houston endured not long ago made me appreciate what did not happen here.
As my wife mentioned, perhaps as a community we need to do some soul searching to think about what the “message” is to us…
Another thought was — as a student mentioned to me — the extent of our frailty. A bit of wind and everything could be gone in the blink of an eye. How could we be haughty after contemplating that?!
Another feeling which struck us was the unbelievable power of God. When the storm began we recited, upon hearing the thunder, the special bracha which praises God, “ … Whose power and strength fill the world.” Seeing afterward how He snaps powerful trees like matchsticks is an overwhelming feeling upon contemplation.
Finally, how great are our people! The moment the word was out that many of us were without power, so many around us offered us and our neighbors to come over for a meal, sleep over, use their freezers to transfer our food and more. “Mi k’amcha Yisrael!”
May we use this opportunity for thought, contemplation and growth, to learn important messages which make it all worthwhile.

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Tackling your stash of family photos

Posted on 13 June 2019 by admin

Today, I’m thinking about pictures. Old family pictures. What is the perverse magic that makes people honor filled-to-the-brim boxes with promises that “someday” we’ll go through them all — and then miss them terribly in cases of hurricane or fire, when the first thing survivors do (after crying) is look through rubble, trying to find those old pictures?
I’m thinking now about a wonderful short editorial by Nancy Black, who runs the White Rock Weekly, a paper I read faithfully every Friday after picking it up at my Rotary meeting site. This, she said, was inspired by a call from a friend who, in the midst of downsizing, ran into a photo of a strange male with an even stranger inscription on its back: “The Last Picture of Stanley.” Who was Stanley? And why was this his last picture?
My son and I were luckier when we were recently together at the old house that has sheltered at least one member of our large extended family since 1945, and decided that — since many had promised, but no one had made good on that promise — we would take on the task of doing something with several large boxes of pictures — all ages, all types, all sizes — all jumbled up together.
We were remarkably lucky to find rather quickly that many of the pictures in the first box had full identifications on the back — thanks to one of my aunts, who had taken many pictures herself in her own lifetime and scrupulously scrapbooked them all. We blessed her for taking on these photos as well. And we found it was actually fun to identify what we could, and sort them by which of today’s family members should be their recipients.
I came home with a small suitcase full of pictures, neatly divided, and sent them promptly to new — permanent, I hoped — homes. That was fun! But then came another large batch from my son, who had found another box and used what we’d figured out together to do the best he could with these “newbies.” And I now have all of them, to check over, sort out and send on their various ways. (My sister, I know will be overjoyed that she will now, finally, have the “pony picture” that she’s been missing for decades.) At some time during my life as a child, almost every kid had a pony picture. I never did. Truth be told, I never missed having one taken — until recently, when I saw my sister’s.
In our “research,” my son and I came up with a few “Stanleys,” but not one that was tagged as a final picture. That kind of message on a photo’s back, unaccompanied by anything more, opens up many possibilities — not all of them pleasant. Had Stanley passed away? Or had he, for some reason of his own, refused to ever have another likeness taken of him? Maybe he had suffered a facial or other injury he never wanted recorded for posterity? Maybe — as did an old high school classmate of mine — he joined an order of monks that practices silence, and totally avoids photography?
I could go on wondering like this for much longer, but I’d rather just encourage you to go through that photo stash you’ve avoided for ages. Just as we did, you’ll find some of it challenging (names with no dates, or the opposite), venues vaguely familiar but not specified, great family gatherings with no clue as to what and where. Our old house now holds only a small number of such unidentified pictures, and whenever we have the next big family get-together, we’ll spread them all out and let everyone have a go at identification. I’m looking forward to that, whenever it may be.
So — why not tackle your own stash of random photos soon? No guarantee you won’t find some unsolvable mystery like Stanley’s last picture. But I can guarantee you’ll have a lot of fun!

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Trips to France and Israel are essential

Posted on 06 June 2019 by admin

Today is June 6, a date that should never be forgotten in our American history, or in the history of the world. It was exactly 75 years ago when American troops landed on France’s Normandy beaches, marking a costly and painful beginning to what was actually to be the end of World War II.
It’s called “D-Day.” But, what’s the reason? In American war language, any big battle or military operation is marked with a D, which itself stands for Day. The day before it then becomes D minus 1, and the day after is D plus 1. But the day itself is D alone.
I can remember Pearl Harbor — December 7, 1941 — and also remember May 8, 1945 — when the great war officially ended.
The first was a time of surprise, terror, and quick mobilization that included immediate enlistment of many young men into military service. I was too young to be concerned. But, I was old enough to remember the rejoicing of the second when, as an almost 11-year-old girl, I joined my friends as we threaded crepe paper through the spokes of our new two-wheelers and rode around the neighborhood, adding that sound to the overall cacophony. Those were our first real bikes, the same ones we’d ridden around the neighborhood not quite one month before, minus the noisy paper, in silent tribute to the passing of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. No one will ever know if he would do as his successor, Harry S. Truman, had done — ordered the atomic bombings of Japan, the brutality that finally ended that brutal war.
My husband Fred and I were fortunately able to take many trips together before his life ended. One of the most essential was to visit those Normandy beaches, to see in person the places that, at such great human cost to our own country, heralded the end of the war in Europe. We made this visit via a river boat on the Seine. That trip showed us much more of France before and after we spent some time on what we had most wanted to visit. We had already viewed gritty films of the landing that took so many young American lives, but to stand there oneself was another kind of experience — one that was, in a way, even more real.
Then, after exploring other significant markers and parts of the area, we went to the cemetery that is the final resting place of so many of the men who died in that landing, and afterward. The rows and rows of crosses — punctuated at various intervals by Stars of David — evoked the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields.” But here, there were also live women and girls, area residents handing flowers to those who would like some to mark a grave; a perpetual promise was made to do this by the women who lived at the time of the beachhead, and it has been carried out by their descendants. And there are stones, as well, for marking the graves of our Jewish dead.
As I said: Fred and I were among those lucky enough to have seen many sights of our great world: the signature Mer-Lion of Singapore, the amazing Iguazu Falls between Brazil and Argentina that dwarf those of Niagara, China’s sad Tiananmen Square, the Holocaust remnants in Poland and the glories of Israel that have risen to repute that history by its very existence. It is never easy — maybe never even possible — to say which trip, which place, was “best of all.”
But, having been granted the great opportunity to visit so many interesting historic places, I must conclude this: that for every Jew, time in Israel must be at the top of the list. And, for every Jewish American, seeing the Normandy beaches should come second. Because those two have guaranteed all of us the freedoms and possibilities that — although these days they come under attack more often than they should — have yet to fail us.

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