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Respect, honor, kavod

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

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

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

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

Questions to think, talk about

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

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

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

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Confusing passages in Torah: Interpret —and remember

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Parashat Bo contains several strange and confusing passages that require interpretation in order to make sense.
Among them is Exodus 12:11. It explains that the Israelites, who are about to leave Egypt, should eat the Passover offering with their loins girded, their sandals on their feet, their staff in hand, and they should eat it quickly. One might say, well, of course — they were about to leave Egypt and they had to be ready. That’s very reasonable — except for the fact that other passages seem to indicate that the Israelites didn’t leave right away or they didn’t know they would be leaving. For example, they are instructed to burn any leftovers of the Passover offering in the morning (Exodus 12:10).
We’re also told later that they didn’t prepare any provisions so they had only unleavened bread (Exodus 12:39).
So if they didn’t have to dress up and eat it quickly because they were about to leave, why does the Torah create a ritual around eating the Passover offering? And why are they already practicing the ritual even before they have left Egypt? It’s actually amazing to think about — even before the Israelites are free, we are told that we’re going to celebrate the moment that’s about to happen by eating special foods and dressing up a certain way. It not only describes the early ritual of Pesach; the Torah also explains what to say when our children ask why we are doing these strange things (Exodus 12:26-27). That’s a lot of chutzpah!
I don’t know why the Torah was written this way, although I think it speaks quite clearly to the importance of remembrance. It hits us over the head with the message that we are supposed to remember the Exodus from Egypt. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because the Torah reminds us about lots of things. We remember the Exodus on Passover. We remember the Exodus on Shabbat. We remember Shabbat. We are constantly asked to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. We see the fringes on the tallit and we’re supposed to remember the mitzvot/commandments. We joke about how Jewish mothers offer constant reminders of things we’re supposed to do or things that we should have done, but they’re only following after the Torah.
What I love about Judaism is that as important as remembrance is, we don’t just stop and remember. We are instructed to allow that remembrance to guide our actions. From the celebration of Passover to actually stopping and living by a different set of rules on Shabbat — it matters what we do. We’re supposed to remember the mitzvot so we can do them.
We’re supposed to remember that we were slaves in Egypt because that reminder is supposed to have an impact on how we act. Don’t oppress the stranger — care for people as people. Remember that each individual, no matter their background, deserves to be treated with dignity and beauty. Remembering our struggles is supposed to inspire us to extend our hand in compassion, understanding and friendship.
We know what it’s like to be feared and hated. Unfortunately, there’s far too much of that still going around. It’s not like we have to remember back to the Torah to think about how poorly we’ve been treated as a people. All the more reason to live our Judaism. This means that we study and remember and we allow those teachings to guide our actions and better our world.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville.

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Other benefits to that cruise

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

In this new year, I’ve started to think about downsizing. It makes sense for me, especially since I’m now involved with the Conversation Project, which I’ve written about recently; it’s the great new effort — now gone nationwide — to make younger generations comfortable with asking their elders how they would like the ends of their lives to be. This should no longer be a taboo subject, and should make the thought of dying more comfortable and more palatable, if not more pleasant, than it has been in the past.
I’m inspired by my own sister’s recent downsizing from a spacious two-bedroom condo to a studio apartment in a senior residence facility. Her recent heart surgery has actually dictated this move, and she was unhappy about it until this flu epidemic hit. She’s now under quarantine, but very grateful now that she is where she’s taken care of; no need to worry about medication and doctors because they’re on hand, and no need to go shopping or prepare meals since they’re delivered three times a day. (It is taking her a while to get comfortable with the masked strangers who make the deliveries, pick up the trays afterward, and don’t say a word about anything…)
But I digress. A possibility I’ve learned about may be more pleasing than any senior residence, if one can stay well enough to choose it. This is something to consider: moving into a cruise ship cabin! There’s not much that’s smaller, but nothing can provide more overall living comfort. Read on, and even if you don’t find this serious, you’ll enjoy the fanciful logic of our favorite author, Anonymous. I’ve adapted his firsthand proposition here:
While on a Mediterranean cruise, this man noticed an elderly lady sitting in the main dining room alone, but the whole staff seemed to know her. The waiter told him she’d been on board for the ship’s last four cruises, back-to-back. When the man asked her about her recent travels, she said,.”It’s cheaper than a nursing home!”
Investigating at that time, the writer found average nursing home costs of $200 per day, but with long-term and senior discounts, cruise accommodations came in at only $135, and daily gratuities would use up only about $10 of the remaining $65 difference. He was stunned: “I could have as many as 10 restaurant meals a day, and even room service: Imagine! Breakfast in bed, all week long!”
On board: a swimming pool, workout room, free use of washers and dryers, entertainment every night. Free soap, shampoo, toothpaste… No monthly TV bills. Vacuuming and dusting, clean sheets and towels every day — all standard. Bed made by someone else when you leave the cabin, then turned down for you in the evening, maybe even with a candy left on your pillow. Need a light bulb changed? No problem!
So pick your first destination; whatever cruise line you choose should have a ship ready to go there. And after that — sail anywhere and everywhere. Your bonus: meeting new people every week or two.
(My own more recent reading of cruise ship literature shows somewhat higher prices than those quoted by Anonymous, but nursing home costs are up, too. I’ve also learned that those necessary but annoying lifeboat drills are things of the past on most lines. And even if you choose one that still requires a full-non-metal-jacket appearance on deck, you‘ll probably rate a “bye” after your first voyage. because, unless you fall and break a hip — when they’ll probably upgrade you to a suite — you’ve successfully downsized to your new permanent home!)
My daughter will cruise the Caribbean in March, so I’ll get an update afterward on whether the alleged facts above still “hold water,” as it were…But I especially resonate to the idea of meeting brand-new people every few weeks while having those who “serve” you already used to caring for your needs.
If Anonymous is correct, he may be on to something!

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Should all prayers be said in Hebrew?

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently purchased an ArtScroll Siddur, and am enjoying the English translation. I really don’t understand Hebrew, although I can read it. Is the translation just for understanding what the Hebrew means, or can one actually pray in the English? I personally can’t see why not, as I assume God can understand all languages?
Brian L.
Dear Brian,
As you assumed, God understands all languages, and Jewish law permits one to pray in the language they understand (Talmud, Sotah 33a and Shulchan Aruch O”Ch 101:4). However, there are a number of reasons why Hebrew is the preferred language for prayer:
First, Hebrew is unique in that it is called the “holy tongue.” This is because it is pure, and has no swear words, not even any words directly describing intimate relations or any such matters. It is, therefore, the ideal language through which to approach God.
Furthermore, explain the Kabbalists, Hebrew is the language God used to create the universe. It is the language of creation, the language the Torah was given in, the language of the prophets, King David and his psalms. Hebrew carries the soul of the Jewish people, our heritage and destiny. It is ideal to communicate with God in the same language He communicated with us.
Second, the “Men of the Great Assembly,” the sages who penned the words of the established prayers of the Siddur, cloaked untold layers of meaning in the words of the prayers — from the simplest meanings to the most profoundly Kabbalistic. One could spend an entire lifetime studying the Siddur/prayerbook, and still not plumb the most profound depths of its meaning. Vast Kabbalistic works are dedicated to uncovering the concealed meanings within the prayers. Those veiled meanings, which accompany our prayers uttered even with a simple understanding, “hitch a ride” to the highest heavens through the vehicle of the Hebrew verbiage, which contains those meanings. (See Biur Halacha to Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.)
Third, by praying in the original Hebrew we join the millions of Jews throughout the world and the generations who have uttered the same exact words for thousands of years. These holy words have been uttered throughout both the best and the most trying of circumstances, and are above time and circumstance.
However, the most important part of prayer, as the Torah itself says, is to pray from the heart. If praying in Hebrew will deprive one of feeling and meaning from the heart, it is better to pray in English to get the main point of prayer, the cake itself, than all the above points, which are the icing on the cake. The prayer needs to be an integral part of our love relationship with God — and it’s difficult to maintain a relationship when the partners don’t understand one another!
I have recommended to many beginners to pray mostly in English, but to choose one blessing at a time to study and know its entire meaning in Hebrew. Just say that one blessing, or verse, in Hebrew until you’re totally comfortable with each word. Then go on and do the same with another blessing or verse, such as the Shema. Bit by bit, each small portion will become like building blocks to build your understanding of the Siddur. One day, you’ll wake up and find that you are saying and understanding a large part of the Siddur in the original! Good luck!

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Did dinosaurs exist?

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I would like clarification about something you said in a previous column some time ago. Regarding the age of the universe, when describing the mainstream interpretation of the six days of creation, you mention that “God created the world with its oil fields, and the decayed life needed to bring them about.”
With regard to this statement, I bring up an incident that happened to my son five years ago. In his day school here in Dallas, a question arose about how to reconcile the date on the Jewish calendar with the age of dinosaurs. His secular studies teacher was unable to answer the question, and called in the head rabbi (no longer affiliated with his school) to help. The rabbi’s answer was that dinosaurs never existed. He went on to explain that Hashem simply planted dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith.
So my question to you is, according to the Jewish point of view you are presenting, did dinosaurs exist or not?
— Liz
Dear Liz,
The interpretation you mentioned in the name of the head rabbi of your son’s school is, in fact, an approach suggested by the late leader of Chabad, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ob”m.
The Torah tells us that when the first man and woman were created, they were fully grown and developed, physically and mentally. They were not created as babies who needed to develop and become mature adults. Similarly, the animals of the world, the plants and trees were created in an advanced stage of development.
Since all the creatures in the world were created in a state that seemed to attest to many years of previous growth, perhaps the earth — and the entire cosmos — was also “born” bearing signs of many, many years of development. Stars needing billions of light-years to travel to earth to be seen by us may have been created with their light already reaching us at the same moment. Perhaps when God created the earth, He also created artifacts to attest to their ancestry. Thus, on the day that the animals were created, their prehistoric remains were created along with them.
This approach, in my humble opinion, leaves some disturbing questions unanswered and perhaps creates new questions. Since, according to the mainstream literal interpretation, God created the world in six days, why would He have altered it in a way that gives a false impression of being much older than it is?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab ob”m suggests that perhaps God did so in order to allow humans the possibility of denying the Creation. If divine creation of the world would be obvious to all, there would be no challenge in accepting this doctrine, and there would thus be no reward for those who accepted God’s mastery upon them.
This approach also has its difficulties. Adam and Eve, their son Cain, and many others after them managed to sin despite the clarity of the Creation by God. Jews and Gentiles sinned for thousands of years before Darwinism and paleontology made their impressions and most of mankind believed in a world created by God.
Apparently enough challenge to belief and observance exists even without this added alleged purposeful confusion. I personally have trouble digesting an approach that God purposely would exhibit a non-truth for any reason (although there may be a more profound explanation to this approach which needs careful thought). My friend and renowned colleague, Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb, concurs with me on this point.
The following alternative approach is offered by the classical commentary to the Mishnah, the Tiferes Yisrael. The Kabbalists teach that God created and destroyed the world seven times. Each time He destroyed the world, it was in order to build a more complete, perfect world. It’s not that God made a mistake and tried to get it better the next time! It’s, rather, based upon a profound Kabbalistic teaching that the world needs to grow in seven stages toward perfection. This process needed to take place until the final creation of the world we live in. This is the world fit to receive the revelation of God’s will, in which God chose to give the Torah, and through it reach the ultimate world of tikkun or perfection.
He explains that the different layers of earth and rock which were found by scientists in his day (in the mid-1800s), with different types of fossils at each layer, are the result of the world being destroyed and rebuilt as we are taught by the Kabbalists. The lowest layer is that containing the dinosaurs. Each preceding world was covered over to provide the foundation for the next world, approaching closer and closer to the world of tikkun.
This approach seems to fit well with the “Impact Theory” proposed in 1980 by Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez. Scientists have long been bothered by the sudden mass extinction of the undisputed masters of the world — the dinosaurs. Alvarez with his son Walter proposed that a massive meteor collided with Earth causing this mass extinction. Alvarez had brought some 15 proofs to this theory by 1987, giving it wide acceptance.
This theory, however, gave birth to another concept, termed the “Anthropic Principle.” This means, briefly, that the meteor struck with just the precise impact to kill out dinosaurs and at the same time create the perfect environment for the survival of mankind and the surrounding animals which can be subjugated by mankind. A little stronger impact — nothing at all would have lived. A little weaker or lighter, the dinosaurs would have still thrived and not left room for mankind to exist.

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Where will we find another Aharon?

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Just one month ago one of the greatest living sages of the Jewish people passed away. His name was Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman tz’’l, and if you are like the many Jews I’ve spoken with since his passing, you’ve never heard of him before.
He died at the advanced age of 104 (1913-Dec. 12, 2017), and for all those many years, it was his tiny, sparsely furnished apartment in Bnei Brak, Israel that served as a central address for visitors, students and politicians alike to beseech blessings or to discuss sensitive life and communal issues and receive sagely advice in return. His humility was legendary, as was his Torah scholarship (he penned close to 20 works on Chumash, Talmud and philosophy), but all of these details are readily available in the many articles and appreciations written about him after his demise. I’d rather share with you my own encounter with this giant of a man, an encounter that took place in my late teens (almost 20 years ago) as I was studying in yeshiva in Israel and one that opened up my eyes to different models of Torah leadership.
It’s somewhat of a religious pilgrimage: yeshiva students and seminary girls boarding buses to Jerusalem or Bnei Brak to visit the gedolim, the elderly sages of the generation. Most go in search of a blessing — a blessing for a good shidduch (“a proper mate”) being the most popular request, followed closely with requests for blessings for success in Torah study and parnassa (“good livelihoods”). I didn’t go to Bnei Brak for any sort of blessing, though a good blessing never hurt anyone! I simply felt that it would be a missed opportunity if I never met those saintly individuals living during my own lifetime.
And so it was that toward the end of a summer yeshiva semester, two of my friends and I boarded a bus to the City of Torah Sages, Bnei Brak, in the hopes of meeting and gleaning wisdom from two of the elderly guiding lights of the Jewish people, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’’l.
Our first stop was to Rabbi Kanievsky’s apartment and the long, winding line that was forming outside his doorway and snaking its way all the way down the external staircase to the street below. We had made it in time for his official visiting hours and waited patiently for our turns to come. Rabbi Kanievsky has a well-known reputation for responding to petitioners’ questions with short, direct answers, and as we would soon see, the meetings in his home proved no exception to the rule.
With a sefer (a book of Jewish content) open in front of him, individuals were ushered in to his living room. The rav would look up from the sefer, listen to the question or request, and answer in his typical, curt fashion. The moment each visitation was finished, the rav would return to his precious study, careful not to waste any moments that presented themselves in the short intervals between visitors. You see, as much as Rabbi Kanievsky allotted time each day for those who would seek out his wisdom, it was no secret that his desire was to just as quickly return to his studies, to that elevated Torah universe steeped in wisdom and holiness. It’s as if he understood his communal responsibilities as a leader among the Jewish people, but didn’t want to leave Sinai for any more time than was necessary.
Reflecting upon the meeting later on that night, it occurred to me that Rabbi Kanievsky had a “Moshe personality.” He is a man of the people and yet someone considerably removed from the vast majority of us. A man inhabiting the same earth as everyone else, but whose thoughts clearly lay elsewhere. Like Moshe, Rabbi Kanievsky inspired and continues to inspire a visceral brand of fear of Heaven — for one can’t escape his invariably fiery intensity that permeates his face and eyes at all time. It’s no exaggeration to proclaim the rabbi’s life a living testament to the Talmud’s statement, “Just as … the Revelation at Sinai was in reverence, fear, quaking, and trembling, so too here, in every generation, Torah must be studied with a sense of reverence, fear, quaking, and trembling” (Talmud Brachot 22a). It’s also no exaggeration to say that even in the brief period of time we shared together with the rabbi, we felt an increase in our awe of Heaven, as if through some type of spiritual osmosis.
If a meeting with Rabbi Kanievsky was my encounter with a modern-day Moshe, I was soon to meet his counterpart, a modern-day Aharon, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’’l.
Arriving at the rabbi’s apartment at 6 Chazon Ish St., we were surprised to see no line formed outside his doorway. We didn’t see a sign informing visitors of the proper visiting hours either. And so, with a bit of good old-fashioned chutzpah, we knocked on the door anyway. A 30-something-year-old man opened the door for us and ushered the three of us into the living room, where Rabbi Shteinman zt’’l was teaching an advanced Torah lesson to married men. There was no doubt about it, we were intruding, and I for one felt completely out of place and more than a bit uneasy.
My nerves were quickly set at ease, though, as Rabbi Shteinman zt’’l warmly welcomed us in, smiled affectionately through his long salt-and-pepper beard, and interrupted his regularly scheduled class to ask each of us our names and some details about our lives. He bestowed a blessing upon us all and we left inspired by the utter love and warmth that we felt from this elderly rabbi whom we had heard much of but never met before.
The Midrash (Avos De’Reb Nosson 12:4) states that while the majority of the nation mourned Moshe upon his death (see Devarim 34:8), “the entire House of Israel” (Bamidbar 20:29) mourned the death of Aharon. Why the difference in response? To put it simply, Aharon, as great as he was, was always a man thoroughly of the people. While Moshe was far removed on the peak of Mount Sinai, Aharon was encamped with the rest of the nation anxiously awaiting his return. The Midrash adds that (whereas Moshe inspired fear and awe in his role as lawgiver, judge and admonisher of the people) Aharon inspired love, busy as he was advocating for peace and fellowship between man and his neighbor and man and his wife. In other words, while Moshe’s persona made known to the nation the other-worldly qualities of the Torah, Aharon was the man on the ground, there to show everyone how the Torah could be brought down to Earth and pragmatically utilized to better one’s life and the lives of all those around them.
A healthy nation needs both its Moshes and its Aharons. We need exposure to those great leaders so far removed from our regular existence as to serve as an example of what human beings can become, and we also need exposure to those great leaders whose greatness feels relatable, and therefore attainable. We need both to experience the awe of Heaven along with Heaven’s warm embrace.
With the passing of Rabbi Shteinman zt’’l, I am left wondering, where will we find another Aharon?
To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin, email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Importance of individual relationship with God

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

In last week’s Torah portion, when Moses first encounters God, Moses learns God’s enigmatic name: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. In this week’s Torah portion, Vaera, there is an interesting contradiction regarding God’s name: “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Eternal (yud hay vav hay). I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (God Almighty), but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Eternal.’” Actually God, yeah, You did. In Genesis 15:7 You appeared to Abraham: “I am the Eternal who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to assign this land to you as a possession.” And again in Genesis 28:13 You appeared to Jacob: “I am the Eternal, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”
Fortunately, Rashi explains the contradiction for us. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew God as El Shaddai, the God who makes promises. God is saying to Moses that Moses will know God as The Eternal, the God who keeps promises. That is, Abraham was promised the Land of Israel as a possession, but he had to buy the Cave of Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah. Isaac should have been able to dig and get water from the wells that Abraham had established, yet he kept getting driven away. Jacob finally came back to the Land of Israel and wanted to set up his tent near Shechem, but he first had to buy the land from the locals. Yes, God Almighty, El Shaddai, had promised the Land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they never actually lived to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. Now, God is saying to Moses, God, the Eternal One, is here to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. So God was known by different names to different people — what’s the big deal? My mother calls me Ben. Unless I’m in trouble and then she calls me Benjamin. Unless I’m really in trouble and then she calls me Benjamin David Sternman. My father called me Benjie. To this day, my sister calls me Boo, shortened from Benjie-boo. My nieces and nephews call me Uncle Ben, as do a number of my friends’ kids. In my synagogue I’m called Rabbi Ben. What’s the big deal?
The names we give to people, or God, depend on the relationship we have with them. At Yom Kippur we might know God as “Avinu, Malkeinu; Our Father, Our King.” Or we might be put off by such gendered language and know God alternately as “Our Parent, Our Ruler.” When we stand guilty and wish to receive forgiveness for our sins, we know God as “The True Judge.” In troubled times, we pray to know God as “Maker of Peace.” Yet too often we know God as “The Distant One” or “The Silent One,” when we feel alienated from God’s presence.
The name by which we know God is in the relationship we have to God. At any one time, in our relationship at that moment, we know aspects of God: Healer, Maker of Peace, My Rock, My Redeemer. Yet we don’t know the totality of God. How appropriate and true, then, God’s initial answer to Moses who asked, “What’s Your name, God?” And God answered: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, I will be what I will be. God will be what we let God be in relationship to us individually. I pray that each of us throughout the world will one day recognize God as “The Known One.”
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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Hungry for food, learning? Try this event

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Next Monday, all of us will pause to remember the late Martin Luther King, Jr., his achievements and his unfortunate, untimely assassination.
We will honor him, whether we were alive or not even born yet at the time of his death. I’m fortunate to be able to recall those early days, when things were finally beginning to heat up after a long time of simmering in Alabama.
Contrary to common belief, Rosa Parks wasn’t the first black person to challenge segregation on a public bus — there had been at least a half-dozen before her. But behind-the-scenes efforts to end that longtime practice were at work in Montgomery, where black leadership decided — wisely, it turned out — that she was the best candidate because her story wasn’t a “cause”: She was just a very tired day worker at the end of many hours on her feet, and when the “Whites Only” front of her homebound bus was filled, all she was “resisting” was having to stand some more so the next white person to board could have her seat. From such little acts, big changes may arise.
I was fortunate, all those years ago, to be teaching religious school for a very social-action-oriented congregation in a moneyed Chicago suburb. And as my students were teenagers, I was invited to sit in while members began to work on their next project: taking a bus to Selma — then at the heart of resistance and protest on both sides of the color line. I could not afford to go myself, with a young social worker husband on a low salary and a very young child at home. But I will never forget that dinner as long as I live.
That group did go to Selma, while here in Dallas the late, beloved Rabbi Levi Olan marched with MLK himself. We feel the results of their actions, and those of so many others, every day since, and once a year, we formally remember …
Many activities honor MLK’s achievements on the holiday celebrated nationally on the Monday nearest his birth (Jan. 15, 1929). Among the parades and banquets, there’s a special event I particularly like: It’s the speech contest featuring young black students who emulate and interpret in their own varied ways both the fiery oratory and the deeply-felt sentiments of Martin Luther King, Jr. But the one I enjoy and appreciate most is the Dallas Dinner Table, held every year on the evening of MLK Day. Founded in 1999, it’s a local, independent nonprofit that brings together people representing many races, religions and ethnicities in a safe situation for open communication. Alumni of Leadership Dallas had the idea that talking together over a shared meal might have the possibility to encourage a sharing of life perspectives as well.
And they were right! My late husband and I attended one of the first year’s Dinner Table events, held in the private home of a couple who happened to be both black and gay, its free-wheeling discussion guided only by a short list of some matters we might like to consider. Try to imagine the conversation of that long-ago evening! We, like many other first-timers, were hooked; the two of us didn’t miss many dinners after that, and I’ve continued to go on my own since Fred’s passing.
Most Dinner Tables have moved now from individual homes to larger public venues, but the drill is the same: You sign up, tell how far you’re willing to travel, and soon get an assignment for a group guaranteed to include a variety of people, with a moderator to keep the discussion moving on-track.
It’s surely too late now for this year’s sign-ups, but please mark your calendar for 2019. Want more details? Just Google “Dallas Dinner Table” and read all about it. Then go — hungry for food and learning. You will receive both, in no small amounts, at absolutely no charge, while honoring a great man’s dream.

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Biblioholics, diversify portfolio with some videos

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
As my regular readers know, I am a biblioholic — books are my thing to the point that Amazon is on speed dial!
I have recommended countless books and I have many more but lately, I have suggested websites that offer amazing Jewish learning and you can find almost anything you need to know plus many interpretations of the particular question.
Jewish tradition believes in repetition — do the rituals again and again often, until they become a part of your life; read the Torah regularly and discover new ideas each time you read; be open to learning from all people and methods (from Pirke Avot: Who is wise? The one who learns from all people). All of the learning and experiencing is not just about growing as a Jew but growing as a person — the lessons enhance every part of your life.
Now I must recommend a pretty new website: bimbam.com. It is not one of my usual favorites of sites with lots of reading but a site filled with videos — YES, VIDEOS! And they are short, answer so many questions about Judaism and fun to watch. For some of us, this will work beyond the books and the reading so try it. Just this past week (you can get updates and have more to watch than funny cat videos because here you will learn) the topics were on halacha (Jewish law), bar/bat mitzvah and kosher. The less-than-five-minute video on “Keeping Kosher” was amazing! And not only was it filled with the what and how but there was a short segment on how to be a thoughtful guest in a kosher home. Wow! Got everything you need to know in less than five minutes.
Just imagine, if Rabbi Hillel could step into a time machine and transport to the present day, when asked to tell all about Judaism while standing on one foot, he could have simply said to go to this website! Of course, Hillel’s answer of, “Do not do to others what you do not what them to do to you” was followed by his admonition to “go and study.”
I guarantee that if you watch one video, you won’t stop there! So my advice this week is to go directly to bimbam.com and start learning. It is fun and easy and has really good stuff! A semi-disclaimer: Some people think that when a book or a video or a movie or a website is “for children” it means it is just for kids, but remember that we all are learning and perhaps a short video will lead you to more learning.
That is the hope!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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