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Rose reminds us of value in photographs

Posted on 13 April 2017 by admin

The play began with a shiva, which clearly telegraphed that it would end the same way. The play was Rose, written in 2000 by Martin Sherman. It was presented in Dallas by Wingspan Theatre Company at the Bath House, one of the city’s cultural centers. It’s a one-person, two-hour monologue that encapsulates the history of our people from the Holocaust to modern Israel.
Rose is the title and only character, who sits throughout – not on a hard wooden bench, as she says she should for a shiva – telling her story. She is old, at the end of her life, and was played convincingly by accomplished local Jewish actress Barbara Bierbrier, who I’m sure won’t mind my saying that she’s no spring chicken either. But then, neither am I …
I went to the play because I knew what Rose would be about, and because I’d recently missed an important shiva myself. Back in my hometown, my son’s mother-in-law recently passed away at age 86. She had been ill for a long time with an inoperable abdominal tumor; at the time she herself thought was appropriate, she refused all further treatments and entered hospice care — in her own home, augmented by the loving presence of her children and our shared granddaughters and great-grandsons. Although near the very end she could no longer move or speak, she had managed to remain herself throughout.
I could not attend the funeral and shiva because Ruth Ann’s practice was totally traditional; she had asked in advance that whenever she died, she wanted to be buried immediately — within 24 hours — with a simple graveside funeral. The time came on a recent Thursday morning; the rest was the next morning. It was a cold, snowy Friday in Pittsburgh. My son told me, rather ruefully, that his dear mother-in-law had made her request last summer, when she had a spell that looked near-death to her and everyone else. But she recovered, and nobody thought to ask her if those initial requests could be set aside in case of inclement weather.
And of course there was no way I could get there in less than 24 hours. But I called the deli that Ruth Ann always used when she needed trays for any occasion, and asked it to send a standard shiva tray. They won’t need it, I was told. Ruth Ann was well-known and respected in her community as a longtime teacher in its leading Jewish day school; by the time I called, there had already been orders placed for enough shiva trays to see everyone through the afternoon following the funeral, and to feed all the family on Shabbat. So I ordered platters of vegetables and fruits for Sunday. I had several emails and calls of gratitude — for two days, all they’d been eating was lox, bagels, tomatoes and onions!
But maybe through her shiva, my dear Ruth Ann, who had been my friend in high school, my sorority sister in college, and a constant figure in my life even after I had moved far away from her, long before our children met and married, taught our younger generations an important lesson. It was my son who called to verbalize: “We were all sitting there, passing around old snapshots,” he told me. “And everyone was touching them, and remembering things. You can’t do that with pictures in our cellphones…”
That, and the text of Rose, made me finally, fully understand why survivors of all tragedies — from the Holocaust to our recent wind and fire home destructions — try hardest to rescue their family pictures. Why they are the soul-soothing presences at shivas — even in the play, where Barbara Bierbrier painted them so vividly with her words.
(If Dallas’ great theater figure Rene Moreno had been Jewish, we would have been sitting shiva for him. Rose was the last play he directed. His funeral was on the day of its final performance.)

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Finding meaning in counting

Posted on 13 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
These days many of us are obsessed with counting whether it is calories or steps or something else. We have always counted days to different events or counting how old we are or any other “counts” we may be interested in. This brings us to the ritual of today — Counting the Omer. For those of you who have never heard of this, here is the scoop on omer counting:
There is a special period between Passover and Shavuot called “sefirah” meaning counting. The practice is observed from the night of the second seder until the eve of Shavuot. We are counting the days on which the omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple – this connects the Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that the Israelites were told that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the Exodus. They were so eager about it that they began to count the days, saying, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.” The Torah text for this is Leviticus 23:15-16.
Throughout time this period has been a sad time because of many massacres in Jewish history in the distant past and now, in modern times. During this time period we observe by refraining from joyous events and other customs. The one “day off” is Lag B’Omer which is the 33rd day.
As always, I have a new book to recommend from the Central conference of American Rabbis: Omer – A Counting by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar. Rabbi Kedar says in the introduction, “time, in the Jewish consciousness, is purposeful and directed, ripe with potential and filled with meaning. Yet even as we look toward the future, counting each day forces us to acknowledge and appreciate the significance of the moment. Every day presents us with the choice to stay where we are, to revert to where we have been, or to progress toward fulfilling our destiny.” Her book give us the blessings and the words to say plus something to think about each day.
Nothing is better than a good book for learning (OK, I am biased!) but once you understand this process of “Counting the Omer,” make it easy — there’s a app for that! Go to “Omer Counter.” It will give you the blessing and remind you each day plus you can check off when you have done it.
Now if you are not into books (what a sad thing for “the people of the Book”), you can get an app to remind you when to count, what to say and a few thoughts. Sometimes you have to do a ritual to find the meaning — try it and you may find meaning for yourself and your family!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Let’s not forget work of Dallas Kosher

Posted on 06 April 2017 by admin

Dear Readers,
I would like to share a thought with you that overtook me as I was driving yesterday.
Let me preface by saying that with Pesach around the corner, the theme of appreciation is in our minds and consciousness. So much of Pesach is about appreciation. We thank God for our redemption, for our freedom, for our birth as a nation. We express appreciation for our ability to practice freely as Jews in this country and many other aspects of our lives. As Jews, we are taught never to take anything for granted. Every morning we recite a blessing thanking the Al-mighty for … waking up!
And for our very existence, for our sight, ability to stand, the clothing we wear, and so much more. By noticing the blessings in our lives, big and small, and not taking them for granted, we are in a position to appreciate these things so much more and express our heartfelt appreciation for the many gifts we receive from Above on a constant basis.
That being said…
Yesterday I received a call from a visitor from Israel who was given my number by his rabbi before he left, to find out from me where he could eat comfortably from the standpoint of someone very scrupulous in his observance of the laws of kosher. He had noticed that the local stores and restaurants are under the DK, and is this reliable? I replied that the DK, Dallas Kosher, is top-notch and he can be totally comfortable with relying upon anything under their name.
With that he said that, if so, he has no further questions because Dallas seems to provide everything he needs, and we bid each other well.
As I drove on, I contemplated what had just transpired. Living in a relatively small town from a religious Jewish perspective, I was able to, wholeheartedly and comfortably, extend my recommendation to a very scrupulous Jew from Jerusalem to eat anything under the jurisdiction of our “small-town” local vaad, or kosher supervisory agency! I thought back to similar conversations I have had over the years with similar visitors, always being able to remark proudly that our local vaad is of the quality and caliber of the kashrut organizations of the large Jewish metropolises, and they can eat comfortably (and tastefully!).
I reflected on how unusual that is for a city with the kosher-observant population the size of a town like Dallas. I realized that I had begun to take that fact for granted, not thinking about how much hard work, caring and thought needed to have been put in to achieve that level; how much dedication on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis to retain that level of integrity and professionalism!
Especially during the period before and during Pesach, when Jews’ “kosher nerves” can become very taut, finding all our Pesach needs, even fresh meat and sliced deli, is a big deal.
This is a great time, as a community, to express appreciation to Rabbis Sholey Klein and David Shawel, and to their many mashgichim (observers) working with them, to the staff and board of the DK, to Meira Naor and her staff. Even if you don’t keep kosher yourself, you still benefit from a city which is more cohesive and unified by nearly all organizations running their big events at the highest common denominator, inclusive of all.
This is largely to the credit of the many years of hard work, explaining and caring of Jeri Finkelstein, her husband Bill and her boards over the years. How many cities in America can boast of the likes of a Kosher Chili Cook-off where Jewish organizations of every stripe, background and affiliation are represented and where Jews of the highest caliber of kosher observance can taste all their chili?
Let’s all join together this Pesach season and express our thanks and appreciation to Dallas Kosher!

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We need little less ‘freedom,’ lot more Seder

Posted on 06 April 2017 by admin

It’s that special time of the year again when supermarkets in heavily Jewish neighborhoods advertise their Passover wares, all conveniently stocked under one roof. And inevitably, some clichéd tagline along the lines of, “helping you celebrate freedom!” will grace those holiday ads.
The advertising executives, with their catchy phrases, harken us back to the times when God redeemed His people from the bonds of Egypt that we may lighten our pockets at our local grocery stores.
It may sound unusual, but every year when I encounter these advertising slogans it brings about a particularly painful and prolonged visceral reaction inside of me. It bothers me. Do these chain stores think they understand the freedom that I am celebrating?  And for that matter, I’m not sure my fellow Jews understand either.
I imagine families around their Seder tables, struggling in their attempt to connect to a story of slavery and redemption thousands of years old. More recent examples of slavery and freedom from bondage will become topics of conversation. The slavery and liberation of Black slaves in the south will surely be referenced, and perhaps a somber contemplation of the current plight of Yazidi women in the hands of ISIS. The value of freedom will be extolled and most likely an acknowledgment of the blessings of life in America, “the land of the free.”
The modern conception of freedom, however, lies far in its connotation from the Biblical freedom that we commemorate in the yearly Seder. After all, for all of the blessings that modern freedom affords us, it has been nothing if not a mixed blessing for the Jews. For inasmuch as there has never been a time in our history with as much religious freedom, economic opportunity or physical security as we have now in America, there has also never been a time such as this of such great internal defection, with nearly 6 in 10 Jews intermarrying, 1 in 5 Jews describing themselves as having no religion, just 19 percent of Jewish adults who feel that observing Jewish law is essential to being Jewish and just 26 percent of U.S. Jews who describe their religion as being very important in their lives (A Portrait of Jewish Americans — Pew Research Center, 2013).
It’s no surprise, then, that Hanukkah has overtaken Passover as the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday. Tim Newcomb, in an article in Time (“Why Hanukkah Is the Most Celebrated Jewish Holiday In America,” 2011), notes, “The lack of strict rules makes the holiday easy — and fun — to celebrate, which may be why research now shows Hanukkah is more celebrated — whether through the lighting of candles, gift giving, attending a party or a full celebration of the festival in Jewish practice — than even Passover.” In other words, Hanukkah, unlike Passover with its myriad rituals and requirements, is the quintessential holiday for the modern, “free” American Jew — fewer rules and more fun.
What, then, is this freedom that the Torah asks us to commemorate for all generations?  If you read the Biblical text carefully you will notice that the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is not so much a freedom from bondage but a transfer of ownership from one slave master to another. As Moses stresses over and over in the Biblical narrative, it is only for the purpose of serving the one and only God at the Holy Mountain that the Hebrews were to leave the confines of Egypt.
“And afterwards, Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, ‘So said the Lord God of Israel, “Send out My people, and let them sacrifice to Me in the desert.” ’ ” (Exodus 5:1)
The Jews were to leave the tyrannical rule of a human despot for the loving service of their Maker on high.
The sages of the Talmud hint to the Torah’s unique vision of freedom by stating that the same letters that make up the word cheirut, “freedom,” also comprise the word charut, “engraved,” a reference to the engraved lettering of the Ten Commandments of stone. The lesson is that true freedom is only to be found in adherence to divine law.
Here lies the paradox of the Passover celebration. The night of the celebration of our national freedom is commemorated in highly legalized pageantry. The name of the night’s proceedings, the Seder, meaning “order,” is taken from the detailed laws that dominate the night.
The freedom that we commemorate on Passover is a liberty laced with great personal and national responsibility. If we exercise our freedom to fulfill our obligations and spiritual calling, then freedom becomes a vehicle for good; but if we approach freedom as carte blanche to do and act as we please, then freedom takes more away from us than it offers in return.
The great freedoms of our country have given a broken people reeling from the horrors of Nazi Europe a fresh chance at life and they have also, unmistakably, taken a toll on our people’s spiritual core. As we celebrate our freedom from Egyptian bondage together with our freedoms of today, let us remember the costs of freedom and ensure that we are celebrating and utilizing the honorable brand of freedom and not the indulgent variety that has become popular of late.
To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin, email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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This Passover, I offer heartfelt bon appétit!

Posted on 06 April 2017 by admin

Passover already — so quickly? Well, this happens annually, and this year is no different from all other years …
For me, it’s a good time to remember when I was a child who always envied my down-the-street friend Phyllis because her birthday was in early April. Mine, in mid-July, often decimated annual party attendance because it was camp season; sometimes I was at camp myself, so there was no party at all.
But when spring came around again, I realized I had no reason to envy Phyllis. Yes, she had a party every year, but also had the same cake every year: sponge. Because her big day always fell right in the middle of Pesach!
Try to imagine a light, airy, but oh-so-plain spongecake, no frosting, straining unsuccessfully to support its growing number of candles as the years passed. Not a pretty sight! That’s what I remember most. The other memory is that Phyllis always cried because she never had a “real” birthday cake!
Things have much changed since then — happily for me, since I’m no baker. What comes out of my oven for Pesach are wonderful mixes that come out of boxes first. Sometimes little pans even come right out of the boxes with them!  A small variety serves just fine for desserts, especially if augmented with special treats like chocolate matzo, or a fabulous Seder plate made entirely of chocolate. Nobody cries at my house!
And I’m no cook, either, but I do have two Passover specialties to pass along. One is the gefilte fish I “invented” myself. I just buy the appropriate number of jars of the best fish available — always the sweet kind — remove the pieces, getting rid of all traces of liquid or jelly, and place them on a baking sheet. Now, here’s the “secret”:  sprinkle them with a little garlic powder and more than a little fresh-ground black pepper, put the pan into a very low oven, and let the fish dry out. A thin slice of fresh carrot is optional, but it’s easier to pull some chunks of cooked carrot from the soup pot and add cut rounds from them at serving time.
That takes me right to the soup, which I must have — if only to assure easy decorations for the fish!  And I do make wonderful chicken soup, because I follow basic instructions that are the essence of simplicity from my ancient copy of Sara Kasdan’s Love and Knishes, subtitled An Irrepressible Guide to Jewish Cooking. She has said that “If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then knishes will get there faster… and stay longer.” I don’t make knishes, but here’s her foolproof soup recipe (augmented by a comment or two of my own):
Into your largest pot, put 4 to 5 pounds of chicken (Sara recommends a whole young hen, cut into quarters; I’ve had excellent results with an equal poundage of legs and/or thighs. Either way, trim off all excess fat first). Pour over 3 quarts salted (one tablespoon or less) cold water, cover and bring to a boil. At that point, uncover, reduce heat, and add a whole peeled onion (make a couple of cuts in it to release its juices), one bay leaf, several peeled carrots, and at least four celery tops (the leaves will add more flavor than the stalks). Then put the lid back on the pot and let everything simmer until the chicken is tender, which will be about three hours. (You can take a peek every so often and skim if you think it’s necessary.) Afterward, remove the chicken, strain the soup, chill it, and get rid of all congealed fat on the surface before putting back the amount of chicken you want in it, plus whatever carrots you have left after topping the gefilte fish.
And with that Passover “Bon appétit,” I wish us all a happy and delicious holiday!

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Pass along these lessons

Posted on 06 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Passover is a time for sharing stories, from the “big” one about the Exodus to the stories families share each year about the matzo balls that were too hard and Uncle Morris who drank too many cups of wine. Every story is about our journey as Jews. We add our story from generation to generation.
Last year I read this wonderful letter from a mother with the six Passover lessons she wanted to pass on to her children. It is from www.aish.com and written by Sara Debbie Gutfreund. The messages she wants her children to hear are lessons we can all take from the Passover Seder. So here they are, a bit edited and abbreviated.
1. Learn how to ask. Most great achievements in life begin with a question. Ask! Ask me about the salt water and the parsley. Ask about the Seder plate with the bitter herbs. All of this is here because I want you to ask me why.
2. Responsibility for each other. We invite all who are hungry to come and eat because we are responsible for one another. Some people are hungry for food, while others are hungry for wisdom. Whatever we have, we should share as much as we can.
3. Embrace challenges. On our table is salt water, which represents our tears. And there are bitter herbs that we will eat to remember the suffering. We speak of our challenges and remember our tears because we can see now how they transformed us. Embrace challenges. Learn from them. Remember them. They brought us to this place today.
4. Take action. Thinking and preparing for change are important steps but what matters in the end is following through with our actions. Matzo teaches us the importance of acting quickly. The world is full of great ideas that have never been realized. Matzo teaches us to move, to do, to run toward our goal.
5. Practice Jewish gratitude. Tonight we sing Dayenu. It would have been enough for us if all we did was wake up this morning, but You gave us water. And that would have been enough but in Your great kindness You gave us food, and more. This is the kind of gratitude that teaches us during the hardest of days that we have so much to be thankful for.
6. The meaning of freedom. Some people think freedom means being able to do what we want. But the Jewish definition of freedom is the ability to create a meaningful life with authentic values. Freedom is living a life of constant growth and striving to live up to our potential.
This year and all to come, take the story that has been passed to us and make it your own — add to it, learn from it and share it.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Still walking toward freedom

Posted on 30 March 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
We prepare for Passover in many ways, from buying food to cleaning our kitchen. The most important preparation is telling the story.
We have the story direct from the Torah and it is a great one with lots of action and wild plagues. We look to understand the why of the plagues and there is wonderful rabbinic insight. Moses is the hero of the Torah but there are also many other heroes. The women are amazing: the midwives Shifra and Puah, Yocheved (Moses’ mother), Miriam (sister), and Tziporah (wife). But the one we must hear about at our Passover Seder is the hero of the Red Sea Miracle — and it is not Moses.
The story at the sea says that Moses put his staff in the water and God split the sea — a great story but not a lot of action. So the rabbis told a new story in the Talmud. In the story, Moses puts his staff in the water and nothing happens. The people are panicked. So the hero rises — Nachshon, the son of Aminadav, steps into the water. As people shout for him to come back, he continues deeper and deeper. The moment he goes under water, the sea splits. (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 36b-37a, Mekhilta Beshallach 6)
The rabbis teach us that liberation comes to the courageous. Nachshon was able to believe and have faith — he was willing to risk because he trusted. Rabbi Adam Greenwald, in a commentary on this parashah, suggests that a good name for the Israelites would be B’nai Nachshon, children of Nachshon. We are the children of the one who walked into the sea because he believed in a better life for himself and his children.
After the sea opens and the children rush to the other side, they are free. But they still had miles and years to go before they reach the Promised Land.
At our Passover Seder, we stop the telling after we reach freedom. This year, let us talk about what happens when the journey continues and how Nachshon made it possible. The first steps were taken long, long ago and we are still walking toward freedom thanks to Nachshon.
Shalom… from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Secret Jewish treasures found in the Caribbean

Secret Jewish treasures found in the Caribbean

Posted on 30 March 2017 by admin

Caribbean_general_map2Just about everyone enjoys going on a treasure hunt. So if you’re Jewish and possibly thinking of a future cruise, why not plan a trip to the Caribbean which includes stops at one or more of nine Jewish “treasure” locations?
Unlike the storied pirate’s treasure of chests overflowing with shining gold coins, brilliant gems and jewelry, you will find instead evidence of what remains, including cemeteries and synagogues, of the earliest Jews of the Americas, the “New World.”
As a result of the forced conversions and expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal starting in 1492, many Jewish families migrated to the new world of the Americas, searching for religious and economic freedom. My wife and I recently returned from a cruise which included a stop at one of those Caribbean islands of Jewish refuge. Originally colonized by Denmark, Saint Thomas was sold to the United States in 1917 for $25 million.
Opting out of the cruise company’s excursions in St. Thomas, which included “swimming with the sharks” (who needs such excitement?), we instead took a short cab ride to the front entrance of the beautiful St. Thomas Synagogue, rebuilt in 1833.
Unlike our first visit many years ago when we found it open, but dark and unattended, there was a friendly and informative congregant-volunteer. The beautiful hanging lights were aglow as we received a very informative tour.
Like our first visit, the floor was covered in sand. We were informed that the sand floor tended to muffle the voices, lessening the volume of interior sounds which might be heard outside the building.
While in their little gift shop next door, I read a flier about a young photographer who was traveling the Caribbean, visiting and photographing locations of the earliest Jewish settlements, buildings and cemeteries, of which St. Thomas was one.
I wished that our ship would also be visiting those other Jewish heritage sites, but no such luck. Instead, I would have to contend with doing the necessary research after we got back to Dallas.
To my pleasurable surprise as I searched for information on the “Jewish Caribbean,” I found that the photographer I had read about in the St. Thomas Synagogue’s gift shop had indeed completed his project and with the aid of two highly qualified historians of Jewish history, had recently published the results of his Caribbean photographic “treasure hunt.”
The book, Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean, The Legacy of Judaism in the New World, by Wyatt Gallery, is newly available at the Tycher Library at the Dallas JCC.
The Jewish historical treasure locations can be found in Curacao, Aruba, Suriname, Barbados, Jamaica, Nevis, St. Thomas and St. Croix. Some of their cemeteries and structures are deteriorating and in need of care, protection and supervision.
According to Wyatt Gallery, as evidenced by some of his photographs, a number of sites are deteriorating, are unsupervised because of a lack of Jewish residents, and — having no protection — are open to weathering, pollution, and possible vandalism.
Before Jews came to colonial America, they pioneered and struggled to make a life in the New World. Take a look at Jewish life in the Caribbean by reading Wyatt Gallery’s excellent photographic history.

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Important parts of life can’t be stolen

Posted on 30 March 2017 by admin

It should have been a time for well-deserved rest and joyous reflection, returning home after a truly meaningful family occasion miles away.
But when Malka Amster turned the key that opened the door to her Dallas apartment, she found it had been ransacked.
Of course all her jewelry was gone. But she cried hardest over one item: a small gold ring, bearing the red and white stripes of the Polish flag overlaid with the initials P.C. — for Pola Cymrot. Her mother. A Holocaust survivor.
“It wasn’t a particularly beautiful ring, or even valuable,” Malka told me. “But I always wore that ring when I needed something a little extra, a little more confidence, the feeling of being special.” She hadn’t needed any of that in Florida, where she had gone to meet her new grandson at his bris.
All but one other of Pola Cymrot’s family were among the Nazis’ Polish victims. She grew up in the Warsaw orphanage of Dr. Janos Korczak, the Jewish author/pediatrician who ultimately died with his young charges in Treblinka. But before that, Pola had reached working age, so the Nazis moved her at 15 to make bombs in a munitions factory. Yet somehow she managed to hold on to her little signet ring.
Malka’s grandson is named Elan Gavriel in memory of the uncle she never knew, her mother’s brother Elimelich. He was only 12 when Malka’s own grandmother, recognizing that all were surely doomed, allowed the boy to join a band of young people attempting an escape to Siberia. But somehow, he was lost in the woods, and no one could ever learn what happened to him.
“This was a particularly difficult loss for my mother,” Malka said when she told this sad story at the bris. “She knew that the other members of her family had been murdered, but she never knew what ever became of her dear, sweet little brother.”
Pola met her future husband after the war, at a wedding in Poland. “He was a handsome partisan on crutches,” Malka says. “It really was love at first sight. The fact that they were both wearing the same tweed jackets gave them a reason to talk to each other!”
Passing time brings with it many challenges and changes. Malka had her own, although thankfully not like those of her mother. She came to Dallas four years ago to start a new life for herself, bringing many skills with her. A professional Jewish educator since 1978, when she became the University of Denver’s first Judaic studies graduate, she also studied with President Kennedy’s White House physician and has had a private muscle therapy practice since 1987. Additionally, she is a trainer of classical horses!
As a newcomer to our city, “I decided to see some Jewish films,” Malka says. “I loved 3 Stars Jewish Cinema, and asked if I could volunteer.” Soon afterward, she accepted her current position as its managing director, which gives her the welcome opportunity to spread Jewish arts and culture more widely through an ever-increasing number of film showings. At the same time, using one of the six languages she speaks fluently, Malka also facilitates a Yiddish group at Shearith Israel.
“One can never be prepared to come home to an apartment that has been burglarized, or the feeling of invasion and loss,” she said. She appeared on Fox 4, making a public “no questions asked” offer of $1,000 for return of the ring that survived all the horrors of the Holocaust, only to be stolen from a quiet Dallas apartment. No takers so far.
Yet: “It’s the important things in life that can never be stolen,” Malka says, with philosophical resignation. Does she mean her new grandson? Her current satisfying activities? Her memories? She didn’t specify. And I didn’t ask.

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Intellectual pursuit important in Judaism

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Over the past year, I read all the books I could on the topic of Judaism versus other religions. It did not take long to decide Christianity is illogical. I don’t find it bothers me that it is the largest religion because they “just believe.” They are no different from the vast majority of my Jewish friends in yeshiva who “just believe” what they hear without putting much thought into it. Do you feel there’s any difference?
— Aryeh
Dear Aryeh,
We need to draw a vital distinction between the fact that Christians “just believe” and that many of your friends in yeshiva “just believe.” It is true that, when you compare people to people, the masses that accept things at face value without putting thought into it and do things by rote, you may not find much difference. They are oftentimes buying into different belief systems by rote. If many of them would have happened to have been switched and brought up by the families of the opposite beliefs, many would probably fall right in line with whatever is being taught to them. That does not show a similarity in the belief systems, rather a similarity in some of the people following them.
When it comes to the actual systems of belief, however, they could not be more diametrically opposed in their outlooks, especially with regard to taking their beliefs for granted! Often in certain branches of Christianity, to “just believe” is meritorious. Numerous times former Christians have approached me to discuss conversion to Judaism because they were not allowed to ask questions! When they would approach their religious leaders with difficulties about their religion, contradictions in teachings and the like, they were dealt with like heretics or told they need to “just believe” and not ask questions.
For some reason, otherwise inquisitive people, even people of science who are rigorous in their criticisms of scientific theories and in their peer reviews of the ideas and postulates of their colleagues, see fit to have a double standard about religion. They have been brought up since their youth that, with regard to religion, you are required to “just believe.” With regards to much of Christianity, to “just believe” is not a lack of effort by the masses; it goes to the heart of the belief system.
The Torah and Judaism, however, could not be more diametrically opposed to that outlook. The first thing a child is taught, at the Pesach Seder, is to ask questions! We have an entire, vast Talmud which consists largely of rigorous challenges to anything and everything stated, whether in verses, Mishnah, rabbinical statements, even acts of the Al-mighty! Our greatest teacher of all time, Moshe, strongly challenged God on some of His actions, and God accepted his challenges — not only without rebuke, but He changed many of His decrees due to Moshe’s challenges! We also point out the mistakes and misdeeds of our greatest leaders, those of Abraham, Moshe and others.
With regards to our essential belief system, the monumental work Daas Tevunos by the esteemed sage R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Italy 1700s) writes that we have an obligation to not take our beliefs at face value, rather to delve deeply into them, challenge them and come to a deep understanding — an understanding that sits well in our hearts and satisfies the inquisitive, intellectual part of our souls.
Most people, many of the friends you mention, may not be so intellectually inclined and they’re satisfied, perhaps, with what we call emunah peshuta, or simple belief. I’m not out to judge them, but that’s the people, not the religion. As a religion, certainly anyone who has an intellectual side to them needs to work on achieving a profound understanding of everything Jewish.

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