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End-of-life talk not pleasant, but necessary

Posted on 16 February 2017 by admin

It’s time to talk. About something difficult, something so terrifying to many that it’s almost taboo.
The topic is end of life. That’s what The Conversation Project is about.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ellen Goodman began this effort in Boston several years ago. This year she will turn 76 herself, and knows personally that end-of-life issues must be discussed by everyone. Like all the more usual kinds of insurance, The Conversation is something to be had well in advance of need.
There’s a helpful little booklet, Your Conversation Starter Kit, with this tagline: “When it comes to end-of-life care, talking matters.” It’s a tool for action, a guide that pulls no punches. No one wants to confront these issues, which makes talking about them something to avoid. The booklet acknowledges, “Parents are reluctant to ‘worry’ their adult children; children are reluctant to bring up dying with their elderly parents. We like to say ‘It’s too soon,’ when we know it’s always too soon until it’s too late.”
The Conversation Project isn’t about wills, health care proxies or advance directives; ideally, these should be taken care of after the conversation, because they are legal documents that will come into play at the very end of life and after it. This project helps people define what goes immediately before.
I turn on my radio and hear a respected financial adviser speaking, but not about money. He is asking people to think about where they want to be when they have received a terminal diagnosis: At home? In hospice? Hospitalized? Whom do they want with them when finality approaches: As many family members as can come? A few nearest-and-dearest? Clergy? What will they want: Warmth? Hand-holding? Favorite music playing? Someone reading from beloved books? Prayers? Or just plain peace-and-quiet? I realize that he is speaking beyond his usual issues, advising listeners to think about the very kinds of questions that can be asked, and answered, during The Conversation.
Someone who has already been personally involved with this project has said that “some of the issues that are part of the conversation include sharing what’s most important to you, knowing who you want — or don’t want — to be involved in your care, and worrying that you won’t get enough care — or that you’ll get overly aggressive care. Participating in the project can alleviate the awkwardness and discomfort of sitting down with our loved ones to uncover desires regarding end-of-life decisions. One of the final acts of love is knowing and following the end-of-life wishes of those we hold dear. This isn’t an easy task…”
For all who are interested in easing the way toward having this most important conversation, Congregation Beth Torah has scheduled an initial meeting to explore preparation for it. Leading discussion on how to approach the many vital, even critical, issues will be Peggy Papert, a social worker well-known in Dallas for her 15-year directorship of Temple Emanu-El’s extensive Caring Congregation program. This first conversation about The conversation project will be held in a private home, beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23. To RSVP and get specific location information, email inclusion@congregationbethtorah.org.
Laurie Miller, president of Apple Care and Companion in Dallas, is spearheading the effort locally. “This is not just for the person at the edge of death,” she says. “It is a road map to provide awareness for all of us.” Conversation starter kits are being distributed by the Dallas Area Gerontology Society (DAGS), a nonprofit voluntary organization.
The old saw says nothing is inevitable but death and taxes. Well, we’re in tax season now, and will be, again and again, every year for as long as we live. But we’ll die only once, and we don’t know when that one time will be. Having the conversation far in advance of need can help assure that end-of-life desires are clearly expressed and understood. And that they will be followed.

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Disability awareness should continue beyond February

Posted on 09 February 2017 by admin

Recently, I’ve doffed two imaginary hats in tribute to Joyce Rosenfield.
The first, for her commanding presidential podium presence at Dallas Section, National Council of Jewish Women’s recent 114th Birthday luncheon event. The second in retrospect, because I remember how, as a very young woman some 30 or more years ago, Joyce would tape tongue depressors to her fingers, don earmuffs and glasses smeared with Vaseline, and clomp around in ill-fitting shoes, all of which effectively illustrated many common disabilities to Jewish students much younger than herself — especially when she encouraged the kids to try out her “regalia” for themselves!
Since 2009, February has been observed as Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month, a designation adopted by a special education consortium. We can be proud that five years later, thanks to Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities, it has also become North American Inclusion Month (NAIM), recognized with a U.S. House of Representatives resolution stressing nationwide educational and employment goals.
Today, “disability” and “inclusion” have achieved buzzword status, and are being used positively in effective efforts that we can support right here in our community. Here’s a sampling of events:
This coming Sunday morning, Shearith Israel’s religious school will host residents and clients of CHAI for a special Tu B’Shevat program. The next evening, CHAI itself will offer a special program at its office, designed to help parents better understand what to expect when their special needs children reach adulthood at 18.
Special Shabbat events are scheduled by several congregations: Rabbi Sternman will speak about inclusion Friday evening the 17th at Adat Chaverim; Rabbi Zelony will do the same the next morning at Beth Torah, where members of its Inclusion Initiative Committee will receive aliyahs. And Temple Shalom’s Sisterhood will welcome Chai members and their families to dinner after the evening service Feb. 24.
Dallas’ Jewish Family Service Special Needs Partnership works year-round to help further an inclusive community. The agency tells us that Studio Movie Grill offers a free family-friendly movie every month, featuring brighter lights, lower volume, and physical freedom for special needs kids and their siblings who need to move around during the show.
About its own programming, JFS is reminding parents, and other adults charged with caring for special needs children, of a conversation with agency professionals Feb. 22. That evening’s event, one in a regular monthly series, will focus on laws of special importance to their families.
The Union for Reform Judaism heralded this month’s start Jan. 26, when its daily “Ten Minutes of Torah” email post was themed to the Biblical reminder of our responsibilities to those with special needs. On behalf of the Movement’s Religious Action Center, Walter Bennett quoted Leviticus 19:14: “You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block before the blind,” pointing out that “…this commandment is not a reminder to treat all people equally. In fact, it singles out behavior that is unacceptable explicitly because of the people affected. Not cursing the deaf and not placing a stumbling block before the blind reminds us, first and foremost, about the ways in which people are affected by their disabilities…Cursing the deaf and placing stumbling blocks before the blind are not only reprehensible acts, but also diminish contact between people. This passage reminds each of us to dialogue continuously with those with disabilities.”
And here’s what Jewish Family Service will offer during its Feb. 28 board meeting, a fitting conclusion to Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month: Members will have their own inclusion experience, which promises to be composed of “interactive multi-sensory simulations of common disabilities.” That takes me back to Joyce Rosenfield, with thanks for grasping the idea of personal experience in special needs education early-on, and putting it into action.
Let’s make every month the same as February with our own actions. Start by contacting the Dallas Jewish Federation or any Jewish community institution for possible opportunities to participate.

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Friedan’s tense car ride prelude to speech of life

Posted on 02 February 2017 by admin

This is Groundhog Day, so I’m wishing a happy birthday to my daughter, who, like many born Feb. 2, has a special “groundhog birth certificate” and has learned to spell Punxsutawney correctly.
But today, I’m also thinking about Betty Friedan, who was born Feb. 4, 1921, and died 11 years ago — on her 85th birthday. Her stereotype-shaking The Feminist Mystique was published in February 1963, and has come to be considered one of America’s most influential books ever. Groundbreaking to some, insulting to others — these were immediate after-the-fact assessments. But I lived the book at that time, and here’s how it directly affected me:
After college and marriage (almost simultaneous, very common for upper-middle-class young women in the mid-1950s, who were supposed to earn husbands along with their degrees), I wrote for a weekly paper until my first child was born, when I did what was expected of me:  retreated to full-time homemaking. Unusual: I had worked up until the day of my delivery, since I was earning that other woman’s degree of the time, a “PH.T,”  for “Putting Hubby Through” his master’s.
He graduated; we moved to Chicago, where for several years — during which I had my second child —– I cooked, cleaned, did some sporadic freelance writing, pushed a stroller in the park, and attended Tuesday “Mothers’ Morning Out” at the local Jewish center. Then my husband took a new job that moved us, in the same year as Mystique’s publication, to the city’s farthest south suburban outpost — Park Forest, Illinois, the Organization Man town of William Whyte, whose own 1956 book was as groundbreaking in its own way as was Betty Friedan’s in hers.
There I scored a job with a large suburban newspaper chain that had an outlet office within walking distance of my home, so I could work part-time and be able to get back in the house before the kids came home from school. All the neighbor women were appalled except one: She’d gone to work full-time after consulting with her minister, who warned that her depression would escalate if she didn’t start doing something more fulfilling for herself.
I didn’t need my rabbi to tell me the same thing. But my husband made fun of my job and of my participation in a new-style women’s group, factors that heralded the end of our marriage.
Then I began full-time newspapering, writing on social issues including the burgeoning women’s movement and working with a sociology professor at the nearby state university who was a pioneer in women’s studies. She had managed to secure Friedan for a local speaking appearance, and on that day I was in my office while she made the 45-minute drive into the city to pick up the feminist icon. But Friedan was not in the hotel lobby at the agreed-upon time, forcing her “chauffeur” to abandon the car and rush into the lobby to call the room. When she finally appeared, Friedan was visibly unhappy and began to vent about how she was tired of travel, commitments, even resented the accompanying adulation, etc., etc., etc. The professor was appalled, and angry.
Here’s what I heard when my desk phone rang: “Harriet,” she screamed, “I can’t believe what I did!” For after having had enough of the continuous bad-mouthing, she pulled her car over onto the busy highway’s shoulder, reached across Friedan to open the passenger door, and said “Either you stop complaining, or you can get out here and find your own way back to the hotel!” After which Friedan closed the door herself, put her head back, and promptly fell asleep — silent for the rest of the trip!
Neither of those two women said a word to each other afterward. But that evening, I was front and center when Betty Friedan wowed a packed house with what may well have been the best speech of her long and controversial life!

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US connection to Ten Commandments slowly loosening

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

Usually, I don’t think too much, not too consciously anyway, about the Ten Commandments until Shavuot is almost upon us.
But this year is different. Two reasons: (1) the hoopla attached to the Trump election and inauguration; (2) the fact that I’ve done a major cleanup in my office and located something about those Commandments that shouldn’t have to wait for the holiday to be thought about.
The main file I emptied was huge, as piles of saved paper go. Everything old — some items by a decade or even more! They resided in an old-fashioned accordion-type file, with alphabetized compartments into which I’d thrown things more or less connected only by initial letters of their basic subject matter, and never looked at again. I was on the verge of just tossing the whole business into my recycling bags. But…but…but…
The desire to look before pitching won out, and I found a few treasures. The one that made me think of the Man on the Mountaintop early this year was a report from the Library of Congress quoting a presentation titled “Holy Moses! A Cultural History of the Ten Commandments in Modern America.” It was one of many talks by Jenna Weissman Joselit, then a Princeton professor spending the summer of 2007 as that Library’s Distinguished Visiting Scholar. More recently, she has become director of the Judaic Studies Program at George Washington, right there in D.C.
Let me quote a bit from what this prolific woman had to say a decade ago: “The Ten Commandments cast a long shadow over the body politic these days. Angry words about the appropriate role for the Commandments in 21st-century America fill the air, as proponents and opponents square off. Have they always been the stuff of controversy? Or is this a new phenomenon — the consequences of a rapidly changing world?”
I’ve seen this change during my own long life: America no longer seems to articulate, as it used to years ago, its prideful founding on Judeo-Christian values, which of course have their beginnings in our own Bible, with the Tablets — first written by the finger of God — that Moses brought down from that mountaintop. Today, the references seem to be all about Christian; the Judeo root that birthed the other is for the most part forgotten. How and why has this happened?
Joselit recognized it early. “Throughout much of the mid-19th and 20th centuries, Americans of all stripes identified strongly with the Decalogue and the figure of Moses, incorporating them into the domestic sphere as well as the public square — into the nation’s visual culture as well as its political rhetoric.” In her presentation, she cited many places in which the Ten Commandments once made regular appearances in our nation’s culture: synagogue and church architecture, plays and pageants in Sunday schools both Jewish and Christian, movies such as that huge epic by Cecil B. DeMille that we’ve all seen (and laughed after-the-fact at its pretentiousness), which she calls “legendary.” But most of these concrete references are long gone now. Yes, there are still six-pointed stars on our dollar bills, but hardly anyone notices them any more.
Joselit has too many credits to her name to list here. She has written many articles for a range of publications plus a column for The Forward; she has been a visiting professor at Yale, Temple, NYU and the Jewish Theological Seminary, and many other universities; she has served as consultant for many museums — Jewish and other — and as exhibit curator at the National Yiddish Book Center. And she has written a number of books on a variety of Jewish subjects.
But the one I think the most important is her newest. Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments will be released by Oxford University Press on April 28 of this year — just in time for the May 1 start of Shavuot!

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‘Stumbling’ on plain-sight memorials

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Several months ago, I ran into (not literally, thanks be!) an old acquaintance in a Tom Thumb parking lot.
It was chilly, so the usual pleasantries of reconnection were short. But she made an urgent request. As a Jew who had successfully exited Germany in advance of the Holocaust, she asked me to tell our TJP readers about something that has happened since in her native country: the profusion of commemorative plaques — permanent, ground-level reminders of those many others whose lives ended in that horror of all horrors.
Stolpersteine — literally, “stumbling stones” — now mark many places where long-gone victims once lived or worked. Permanently imbedded into pavements, these are literal “stumbling blocks” in the paths of pedestrians who now walk the cities of 18 European countries. They cannot be ignored.
Gunter Demnig, an environmental artist from Cologne who had first worked on several Holocaust memorials since the early ’80s, came up with this new idea a decade later. Taking his lead from the Talmud — “A man is not forgotten until his name is forgotten” — the Cologne resident began the installation of these sidewalk stones in 1993. Since then, many thousands have been placed.
Following Demnig’s original, each stolperstein is a 10-by-10-by-10 centimeter brass-faced concrete block whose inscription reads: “HERE lived (or worked) NAME, born YEAR, FATE, and DATE AND PLACE OF DEATH.” It is set in front of the last place occupied by that person of his or her free will, before Nazi deportation. In addition to Jews, other victims are remembered, such as Nazi-defying Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and Romani.
By the end of two decades, more than 35,000 stolpersteine had been installed, most in Germany, but others in Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. On July 3, 2013, the 40,000th stone was laid in the northern Netherlands near the German border. On Jan. 11, 2015, stone No. 50,000 was placed in Turin, Italy, preceding the 70th anniversary of the Auschwitz death camp liberation.
The original mission has broadened over these years to include certain others: surviving adults who were able to escape, and children who were saved. And the project has entered the most up-to-date realms of communication, including social media: A locator map is now available at www.stolpersteine-online.com, and the Stolpersteine mobile app provides updated pictures and data plus download assistance for searches. There is a YouTube video, a documentary film, and much more that can be accessed by the computer-savvy; the official website is www.stolpersteine.eu.
An interesting sidelight: Although more than 1,000 German towns and cities now embrace stolpersteine, Munich, where the Nazi movement originated, stopped allowing them in 2004, when its civic leaders decided that the city, so near to Dachau, was already surrounded by memorial sites. And surprisingly enough, strong support for continuing this ban has come from a leader of Munich’s 4,000-member Jewish community, Charlotte Knobloch, 82. She, who survived in hiding with a Catholic family, has argued that the victims are victimized again by people walking on their stones.
However, the ban has recently been lifted, due to residents like Peter Jordan, 91, who saw his parents’ stones dug up when it first went into effect: “It was as if they were deported a second time,” he said. And like 82-year-old Ernst Grube, who survived a concentration camp after losing his closest family members to the gas chambers: “The time has come for relatives to be allowed to choose their own way of remembering their dead.”
As I recently finished reading The Nazi Officer’s Wife, Edith Hahn Beer’s amazing Holocaust memoir, a single reference to one stolperstein in its appendix reminded me that it was high time to keep my pre-Thanksgiving promise. So I scurried off to learn enough to properly honor my autumn commitment to that old acquaintance’s request. The results are above, and I hope I’ve succeeded.
Now I’ll continue following the growing reach of this unusual project. Please do the same!

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Big, Orthodox gathering set for Big Apple

Posted on 12 January 2017 by admin

This Sunday, something big will be happening in New York: something kosher: The Orthodox Union will present “Day of Torah in the City.”
All day there will be study, speakers, discussions and much learning — everything addressing issues that will help shape Orthodox Jewry’s future in the United States.
We all know the OU sign that marks much of what we eat as kosher. But OU stands for much more; it bills itself as the national umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry. Allen Fagin, its executive vice president, has said that “this program marks an important milestone, as the Orthodox Union begins to expand its focus — to provide learning opportunities for Orthodox Jews to increase the meaning of, and inspiration for, their religious observance.” So the purpose of this special day goes far beyond the two letters found on so many food items.
Hundreds of men, women, even children are expected to be at Citi Field in Flushing, New York, to hear speakers and have conversations about a variety of topics, ranging from kashrut (of course!) to what part Judaism plays in American politics. Both men and women will be presenting aspects of Jewish law, the Bible, codes of moral and ethical behavior and Israel. Discussion is expected and questions encouraged.
The scheduled presenters promise to be as varied as the day’s subjects. While education at every level, for males and females, will of course be expected topics, there will be some new and timely ones: For example, Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, a Puah Institute director, will speak on medicine and fertility in accordance with halacha. And there will be pairs of speakers to address some topics jointly, providing varying individual viewpoints. Fagin promises, “This is where the best and brightest of Torah Judaism will share their views on the future of Orthodox Jewry.”
While adults and teens are learning, children will have programming of their own, in appropriate age groups from ages 1 through 10.
In an early publicity release for this big day, Moishe Bane, OU’s incoming president, conflated past and present: “Since 1898, the Orthodox Union has played a pivotal role in addressing the needs of American Orthodoxy,” he said. “The OU has been a unifying influence and a voice of communal leadership and representation. Throughout, the organization has recognized that the American Orthodox community’s primary aspirations are in its spiritual sustenance and growth. (These are) dependent on the involvement of each child and adult in Torah study. The OU is uniquely positioned to provide American Orthodoxy with this necessary and broad expanse of Torah study.”
Continuing into the present, “Our ‘Torah in the City’ program offers community members the opportunity to taste a varied selection of some of the topics and approaches within Torah study,” Bane said. “We hope the experience will encourage a continued quest by our community members to find the sparks of Torah that speak to them.”
In addition to being the globally recognized symbol of kosher certification, OU has represented American Orthodoxy and its interests through contacts with the nation’s government, outreach to all Jews, and efforts to assist the disabled. Among its many programs are the Institute of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., the National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), and Yachad–the National Council for Jewish Disabilities.
If you happen to be heading to New York and want to attend this event, you’ll find that free parking and lots of kosher food will be available, and weather won’t be an issue since Citi Field is an indoor venue. But pre-registration ($25) is required. Go to ou.org/citi for full information on this unprecedented Day of Torah and a list of all speakers.
Of course, one day cannot remake an ages-old movement. Nor should it. But this day promises to open doors that may take our American Jewish Orthodoxy in bold new directions.

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Enjoy books, clean home

Posted on 05 January 2017 by admin

Books! That’s the word topping my list of resolutions for this New Year.
“Do something with them!” is what I wrote down in preparation for entering 2017.
I’ve always thought there’s a problem with a home that sports no visible books. But now, I also believe there’s a parallel wrong with a house that shows too many books (as well as having “invisible” ones in rooms that casual visitors seldom enter…).
The latter is my home. In addition to piles of books in living- and dining-rooms, there are bedside books, and even a basketful of bathroom reading (someone once said literacy could be improved by this, so I took him up on it!). But my office is the worst, with three wide, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, each with six overloaded shelves. Since these shelves are deep, each one carries a double row, so it’s easy to forget — more accurately, impossible to remember — what’s in the back. And just to get to the verticals, I have to remove the horizontals sitting on top of them.
Several years ago, when I had sagging shelves repaired, I went through everything without mercy, got rid of many books, and organized everything left into usable categories. But since that time, as new volumes have come in, and as I’ve pulled out old ones to use and failed to put them back in their proper places, I face the inevitable. This is my year to tackle that huge task again.
These are the decisions I have to make: Which books that I’ve already read do I love enough to want to keep — perhaps for reading again some day? Which books that I’ve never read yet do I really intend to read some day? Which books, from past times of studying, teaching, or being enthralled with certain topics whose hold on me is long gone, do I really need to retain? Of course I want them all, whether for memories or future intentions. The last time I went through the painful exercise of judging, and acting on my judgment, was more than three years ago. Now I’m facing another bullet-biting episode.
When I think about all this rationally — always hard for a book-lover to do — I know there are very few titles that fit into the first category. I will never part with my childhood copy of Little Women, for one. Then there are classics, like Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy, which any real student of almost anything should have read, but I haven’t, yet. And how much non-classic poetry still merits space on my shelves?
Some portions of my “collection” are virtually sacred: I will not give up books written by people I know, or books about my hometown, or books dealing with any world religion (including various Bibles, the Quran, the scriptural Book of Mormon). But I tell you all this because I’ve amassed an astounding amount of Judaica through years of teaching and writing: for pleasure (many volumes of stories, both very old and very new), or for research and reference (prayerbooks, explanations of customs and ceremonies), plus topical tomes (subjects such as our religious approaches to illness, death and dying, or writings by Israelis or about Israel, or modern novels appearing at least potentially interesting). And I’m more than willing to share.
I’ve already begun my shelf-clearing by taking 40 volumes to Half-Price Books, for which I netted $35. But no Judaica; I’m unwilling to part so casually with any of that — certainly not for less than $1 per book! So if you’re part of a Jewish library, or a Jewish school, or an individual with an interest in any variety of such things, please let me know. As soon as I’ve completed the shelf reorganization scheduled to begin this coming weekend, I’ll be ready for all comers to take a look, and take away.
Please help me — and you — enjoy a happy, productive Reading New Year!

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Finding more meaning in 8 shining candles

Posted on 28 December 2016 by admin

My cousin Michael — the one who has taken on that immense task of compiling all the leaves on our many-branched family tree — had a very special relationship with the grandpa he called Zaidy (Michael’s spelling). Since Zaidy’s passing was during Hanukkah of 1978, Michael has made this his time of cemetery pilgrimage. And memories.
Every Hanukkah, he remembers how Zaidy would teach the words of Reb Nachman of Bratzlav as interpreted by Reb Shlomo Carlebach: “The candles we light on Hanukkah are the only real consolation for the children of Israel.” Says Michael, “From 1978 on, I and my entire family needed more than ever to find consolation in the lights of Hanukkah, as Zaidy’s passing left our world in real darkness.”
And this is what Reb Shlomo taught: We light the Hanukkah candles when the darkness and cold of winter reach their strongest points. With each passing day of Hanukkah, the number of lights gets greater, and the warmth emitted by these lights gets stronger. By the eighth day of Hanukkah, we will have lit 36 candles (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8, not counting the shamash that serves them all). These 36 candles symbolically correspond to the 36 hidden tzaddikim, the righteous individuals who, unidentified to us, are the pillars of our universe.
Reb Shlomo would also teach this: “The Hanukkah experience can best be understood as an encounter of former lovers who agree to meet every year for eight days, to reminisce as they also return to a place in time where their feelings of love are as strong again as they once were. For these eight days, we recreate that love, and the light of the Holy Temple, with hope that the whole world can witness the great light that once was and, God willing, will one day be again.”
Cousin Michael revered his Zaidy in life, just as that Zaidy had revered and passed on the teachings of Nachman and Carlebach. “My grandpa was a visionary,” he says. “A trailblazer. A spiritual giant. He left the only home he ever knew at the tender age of 16 and traveled across the ocean in search of a better world. And here, in his new country, he made sure that all his children — daughters as well as sons — received a good Jewish, as well as secular, education.”
Every Hanukkah, as Michael makes his cemetery visit, he also recalls that Reb Shlomo told the story of a boy who, after many years, finally discovered the grave of his beloved grandfather. Suddenly, his Zaidy was alive again, and the boy fell on the grave and said, “Zaidy, nobody ever took your place in my heart. Zaidy, do you know how much I love you? Do you know how much I miss you? All those years when I was crying inside — did you hear me?” And then the boy heard a voice: “My sweet child, I swear to you that your Zaidy heard you all the time. And your Zaidy hears you today.”
Michael is always comforted by The Testament, the words of Rabbi Richard Marcovitz, his family’s spiritual leader for decades, written before his death:
“Fret not at my passing, nor cry bitter tears. The Lord has been good to me for, lo, these 90 years.
“Don’t think I’m blind to tragedy, or that all my life was calm. But despite the storms and wounds I’ve witnessed, my family served as healing balm.
“I’ve lived to see children’s children, and to me they were truly grand. As I say goodbye to you, I pray that at God’s right I might stand.
“If my life can teach a lesson to every one of you, then let this be my testament: Be a mensch, which means — be a Jew.”
Because of what Michael has shared, I will stand before my menorah tonight with new knowledge and appreciation of those eight shining candles. May all of you do the same.

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How Jewish custom became the central point of Christianity

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

People send me things.
A fellow Rotarian who belongs to a very fundamentalist Christian church recently sent me an email.We know each other well from years of mutual participation in the same service club. He was not trying to “convert” me — he knows me too well for that — but only wanted to share an interesting sidelight from his own tradition, which was also new to him. His source is Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts: The Prophecies in the Feasts of Leviticus, a book by Michael Norten, who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Norten writes about gaining this new knowledge himself at a conference on Bible prophecy, where a teacher was expounding on the birth of Jesus as presented in the Gospel of Luke. In it, some shepherds, watching their flocks at night, hear an angel tell them of a divine sign: They would find a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. But — why was this a sign?
The teacher explained: These were not lowly shepherds, but priests from the temple who were assisting in the birth of lambs. Some they would certify as unblemished, to keep for future sacrifices. As each such lamb was chosen, “the priests would wrap it with strips of cloth made from old priestly undergarments,” he continued, after which they would put that lamb into a manger (just a trough that holds animal feed in a stable) to keep it from being trampled by the flock.
So when these shepherd-priests followed the angel’s instructions and saw a wrapped baby lying in a manger, they interpreted this as God’s own unblemished lamb, prepared for sacrifice! The teacher further theorized that since Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was the wife of a priest, she had probably provided swaddling cloths made from her husband’s own garments.
Author Norten was intrigued, and began asking questions. He learned that each Jewish family marked the lamb it would take for Temple sacrifice with a name, and equated this with the letters INRI, with which Pontius Pilate marked Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. They stand for four Latin words that translate to “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” His conclusion? Just as the Jews marked their sacrificial lambs with their family names, Jesus was marked with the name of his “family,” which was, ostensibly, all the Jews of his time.
And Norten pushes even further: The Latin inscription, he says, translates into Hebrew as “Y’Shua HaNatzri V’Melech HaYehudim,” whose initial letters are YHVH. Since the V and W may be interchanged, he reads this in English as “Yahweh” — the “unpronounceable” name of God as often pronounced by Christians.
All people like to look back on important events, in their own lives and the lives of groups to which they belong, trying to understand by relating the “afterward” to how and why these things happened. The story that Norten heard during a conference on Biblical prophecy illustrates one way in which the seminal story of Christianity may be explained.
I had never heard any of this before, and neither had the devout Christian who passed it along to me. I see it as one backward-looking interpretation of one incident in one book of what is today called the “New Testament”; I equate that kind of interpretation to the way so many Christians read so much of “Old Testament” Isaiah: as a foreshadowing of the arrival of Jesus as Messiah. But I also find this an interesting new Jewish-laden way to look at how a baby was “crowned” with divinity at birth, later coming to be called, in a then-new faith born of Judaism, “the Lamb of God.”
As we light Hanukkah’s first candle this year, Christians will be welcoming the birth of that very Jewish baby who ultimately became the central figure of their new faith. I only hope they remember that our faith is what gave them theirs …

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After loss, relearn joy of holidays

Posted on 15 December 2016 by admin

One afternoon, before the first cold spell struck, I was struck by how beautiful so many trees looked this year.
The reds and yellows were unusually dazzling for North Texas, and I enjoyed them as much as I did the annual vibrant displays during all the years when I lived much farther north.
But I realized, as I always did in earlier times, that this beauty is just a prelude to annual “death”: Colors fade, leaves fall and trees — plus much else — shut down for the winter.
This year has been a sad time in our Jewish community. Many have left us, including Jean Fagadau, a National Council of Jewish Women stalwart; Hank Meltzer, a past president of Tiferet Israel; and Wende Weinberg, the heart and soul of Levine Academy for so many years, whose illness claimed her even as many were readying for the major tribute dinner in her honor.
Thinking these things made me appreciate the fine information sheet prepared by VITAS Healthcare, which I found during my regular monthly “story time” visit to what was — until recently — The Legacy Preston Hollow, now sold in anticipation of our Federation’s forthcoming Legacy Midtown Park. I continue going to the now-renamed senior facility to share memories and discussion with the Jewish residents remaining there. But the attractive information sheets I found deal with “Loss and the Holiday Season,” appropriate for people of all ages and all religions, or none.
No senior facility is without losses — of residents themselves, or of those suffered by the residents. And these losses loom especially large at major holiday times, which “… take on new meanings and feelings when you are coping,” begins this valuable one-pager, with good information that’s easy to read and absorb. “Gatherings of family and friends, parties, religious holidays and events are all different now. Joy-filled songs, festive meals and shopping for gifts, or just being thankful for what you have, may have changed.”
The text goes on: “Looking at others, combined with your grief, may create a conflict in your heart. You want to honor your loss and memories … and you want to enjoy and celebrate holidays for spiritual or traditional reasons. Guilt and confusion go hand in hand. What can you do?”
The wisdom on this single piece of paper should be shared with everyone, not just seniors, because everyone inevitably experiences loss, and its sadness often returns to overtake celebratory feelings at times that were joyous when we shared them with those no longer here. Good advice is given, beginning with the idea that holidays are times to “surround yourself with people who love and support you,” but cautions, “let them know of any needed changes in your routine. Lean on them … let them help you …”
Since sharing should always be the essence of happy holidays, VITAS advises that it’s not only possible, but truly important, to “share the joy, love and happiness while honoring the past and your loss.” Yet while some people can still find comfort in old rituals at such times, others may experience them as unbearably painful; in these cases, it’s fine to initiate new ways of marking holidays, to create new traditions that can also encompass and celebrate the past.
VITAS provides a list of suggestions for such new, post-loss “traditions,” ranging from enjoying the foods and fun that your late loved ones always loved, to setting an extra place at your table in honor of a special person recently gone. The basic idea is not to give up entirely either the grieving or the celebration, but to find comfortable ways to meld them, to move personal life forward after a loved one’s death. Personal testimony: I have done this myself, successfully, since my own husband passed away.
If you would like a copy of this excellent advice, call VITAS at 214-424-5600. Even if it’s not needed now, it will help everyone when our inevitable leaves fall in the future.

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