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Tina Epstein demonstrates The Art of Adapting

Tina Epstein demonstrates The Art of Adapting

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

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

 

 

By Deb Silverthorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Adapting — Parkinson’s can be viewed at bit.ly/2v6FGCL. To contact Ayala to support the documentary and his work, email cjamesa20@yahoo.com or call 314-477-8995.

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Presidents and their ties to Israel: Reagan to Trump

Presidents and their ties to Israel: Reagan to Trump

Posted on 26 July 2018 by admin

Photo: Yaakov Saar/GPO via Getty Images
President Ronald Reagan, left, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin at the White House, Sept. 9, 1981

By Ron Kampeas
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Israel turns 70 this year.
And no relationship has been more important than its on-again, off-again friendship with the United States and its presidents.
In this series, we describe the U.S.-Israel friendship through portraits of 13 of those presidents, from Harry Truman to Donald Trump.
Part II, featuring Ronald Reagan to Trump, is below. Part I, from Truman through Jimmy Carter, was published in the July 5 issue of the TJP.
Ronald Reagan: A cold warrior who cared — and sold spy planes to the Saudis
When Ronald Reagan cowed the Soviet Union into winding down the Cold War — his successor, George H.W. Bush, formally ended it — a key component of his animus toward Moscow was the treatment of its Jews.
“He was someone who was truly committed to overturning the Communist system and gaining freedom for all people, but he had a particularly soft spot in his heart for Soviet Jewry,” Mark Levin, a longtime advocate for Soviet and Eurasian Jewry, told JTA in 2004 when Reagan died.
When Theodore Mann, the chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, returned from a visit to the Soviet Union in 1981, the first call he received in his law office was from Reagan.
“He wanted to know all about the trip,” Mann said in 2004.
On Reagan’s watch, in 1986, the Soviets released Natan Sharansky, the prisoner of conscience who spent nine years in Soviet prisons. Reagan’s ties to the pro-Israel community extended back to his Hollywood days as an actor and union leader. As California governor in 1967, he headlined a pro-Israel rally at the Hollywood Bowl.
Reagan won over the wary with his avuncular affect.
“This man cared,” Shoshana Cardin, who led a number of Jewish organizations, once said of Reagan, but his persuasive powers could also be a sharp-edged weapon.
In 1981, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied hard against a proposed sale of AWACS spy plans to Saudi Arabia. Reagan met with Jewish senators one on one and threatened to unleash dual-loyalty charges if they voted against him.
“It is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy,” the president said. The Reagan administration in 1981 joined a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
After Israel’s Christian allies in Lebanon massacred Palestinians in 1982, Reagan sent U.S. troops into Lebanon — against advice from Israel.
He and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin exchanged barbs, and Begin famously chided Reagan for treating Israel like a “banana republic.” Reagan secretly planned to surprise Begin with a peace plan that would have pulled Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Under pressure from Reagan, Israel allowed PLO leader Yasser Arafat to safely leave Lebanon.
On Reagan’s watch, authorities arrested Jonathan Pollard, a civilian Navy analyst who was a spy for Israel, and Israeli figures were caught up in his administration’s efforts to trade arms to Iran for the release of U.S. hostages in Beirut, and then funnel the proceeds to right-wing militias in Central America. In his final months in office, a lame duck beyond political pressures, Reagan established ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
To the chagrin of even his closest allies, Reagan went ahead with plans in 1985 to visit Germany’s Bitburg cemetery, where 40 members of the Nazi Waffen SS were buried.
“It is precisely because you have so impressed us in the past with your deep understanding of the need to keep the meaning and memory of the Holocaust alive that we have been so keenly disturbed by your plans,” Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust memoirist, said in a telegram to Reagan.
George H. W. Bush: The patrician advocate for Jews in distress and the Madrid peace talks
George H.W. Bush was involved in Soviet Jewry advocacy since his days as ambassador to the United Nations under President Richard Nixon. As Reagan’s vice president, his responsibilities included efforts to free Jews in distress — not only in the former Soviet Union but in Ethiopia and in Syria.
Bush quarterbacked Secretary of State George Schultz’ confrontation with the Soviets over Russia’s captive Jews and was instrumental in persuading the Syrian dictator, Hafez Assad, to allow young Jewish women to immigrate to the U.S. so they could marry within the faith. As president, he gave the nod to the Marxist Mengistu regime in Ethiopia that led to Operation Solomon, the mass airlift to Israel in 1991.
Following his success in the 1991 Gulf War, Bush convened the multilateral Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid. It was marked by his tensions with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. But in retrospect, Bush was as tough on the Arab interlocutors, and just the fact that Saudi Arabia, Gulf states and North African countries sat at the table with Israel led to Israeli diplomatic inroads in those countries.
Pro-Israel activists will never forget — or forgive — when Bush said he was “one lonely guy” facing off against “thousands of lobbyists on the Hill.” He was referring to lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who in 1991 were pushing back against his pledge to suspend loan guarantees to Israel unless it froze settlement building.
But lacking Reagan’s easy charm, the patrician Bush couldn’t get away with the tough-guy talk and instead sounded self-pitying and mildly anti-Semitic. His secretary of state, James Baker, didn’t help things when he reportedly dismissed the prospect of Jewish protestations by saying, essentially but much more crassly, “To hell with them — they don’t vote for us anyway.”
After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Iraqi strongman pelted Israel with missiles. Israel itched to respond, but Bush insisted that Israel take it on the chin so he could assemble as broad a coalition as possible to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Israel complied, and its leaders were stunned when in the war’s aftermath, Bush used American actions to protect Israel during the war as leverage to get Israel to Madrid. It seemed galling because Israel had been reluctant to accept the assistance in the first place.
Bill Clinton: The ‘chaver’ who brought Israelis and Palestinians together — up to a point
“Shalom, chaver,” Bill Clinton said at the funeral of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and those two words encapsulated the intimate passion Clinton felt toward Israel: He was a friend, one close enough that he wanted to bid goodbye to a man he saw as a mentor in his language.
Clinton’s relationship with the American Jewish community was similarly intimate. Unlike George H.W. Bush, he was an adept retail politician and made it a point to win folks over. The pro-Israel community, likewise, understood that this was a president who responded best to friendly overtures. AIPAC named as its president Steve Grossman, a Massachusetts businessman and early Clinton backer. In 1995, over cigars on the White House balcony, Grossman talked Clinton into imposing the first sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear program.
Clinton, in his first term, had the luck of working with an Israeli administration whose peacemaking agenda matched his own. In what one reporter called “a triumph of hope over history,” Clinton brought Rabin and Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, to the White House to shake hands on their first agreement on ending their conflict.
Yet to the consternation of the Palestinians, Clinton would never get ahead of Israel. Although the Oslo track clearly was destined toward statehood for the Palestinians, Clinton did not articulate that outcome until his last weeks in office. In 2000, after the Camp David talks ended without a deal, Clinton broke with protocol and blamed Arafat for the failure.
After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Clinton thought it important enough to preserve his friend’s legacy that he blatantly electioneered on behalf of Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres. Rattled by a series of deadly terrorist bus bombings, Clinton pushed Middle East leaders into convening a summit against terrorism starring Peres. It didn’t work. Benjamin Netanyahu was narrowly elected to his first term in office, and the U.S.-Israel relationship turned rocky.
Clinton grew frustrated at what he said was Netanyahu’s predilection for introducing out-of-left-field demands after talks on an issue had wrapped up for the day. In one instance during the 1998 Wye River negotiations to advance the Oslo process, Netanyahu asked Arafat to assassinate a Gaza Strip police chief. In another, during the same talks, he asked Clinton to release Jonathan Pollard, the civilian Navy analyst who was caught spying for Israel. (Clinton was ready to do it, but his intelligence chiefs were outraged and threatened to quit.)
Clinton learned his lesson by the 1999 elections and kept out — kind of. His two campaign advisers, Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, traveled to Israel to advise Netanyahu’s challenger, Ehud Barak, and Barak won.
George W. Bush: Launching a war on terror, and making the case for democracy
The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 seemed for Israelis to be a turning point in U.S. foreign policy, burying once and for all the American realist strain that posited engagement with bad actors as a dirty but necessary statecraft. George W. Bush’s “with us or against us” approach to the war on terrorism, his very coinage of the term “war on terrorism,” was music to the ears of Israelis who for years had said that partners in peace must renounce absolutist demands and absolutist means to achieve them.
Bush extended his outlook to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Relaunching the peace process with his “road map” in 2002, one explicit condition was that he would no longer deal with Yasser Arafat, who had steered his PLO factions into participating in the bloody second intifada.
“The Jewish community started to see a resolve for promoting peace by motivating the Palestinians to take good actions rather than starting with Israeli concessions,” Jay Lefkowitz, a former Bush White House policy adviser, told JTA in 2004.
The same year, Bush made history when he recognized some Israeli claims to the West Bank. His vision of a new Middle East borrowed much from Natan Sharansky’s 2005 book, A Case for Democracy.
Bush also never demanded that Israel hew to standards he would not: Once the United States launched targeted killings against suspected terrorists, the Bush administration put an end to State Department statements condemning Israel for doing the same.
In his second term, during Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, Bush overrode his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who was pressuring Israel to end the war before it was ready to do so.
“It is important to remember this crisis began with Hezbollah’s unprovoked terrorist attacks against Israel,” Bush said at the time.
Fred Zeidman, a Jewish Texas businessman and a longtime Bush backer, told JTA in 2004: “If there has ever been a thing that was not politically expedient, it was the way he handled Israel.”
Ariel Sharon was elected Israeli prime minister just about the same time Bush became president, and the two already were close: Two years earlier, Sharon had taken Bush on a helicopter tour of Israel to make tangible how small and vulnerable the country was. There was talk that Sharon would be to Bush what Yitzhak Rabin was to Bill Clinton: a wizened, war-tested father figure and mentor.
That didn’t quite work out, perhaps because Bush already had two competing father figures — his actual father, who unlike Clinton’s was alive, and his vice president, Dick Cheney. In any case, by 2005, the honeymoon was over. Bush had agreed not to press Israel on settlements as long as the growth remained “natural,” but Bush administration officials had concluded that the growth was anything but natural. A Texas summit in April of that year between the two leaders turned sour: Sharon, unlike most other leaders, was not invited to spend the night at Bush’s ranch, and instead was ensconced in a Waco hotel. About all the leaders could agree on was that Israel would withdraw its settlements and troops from the Gaza Strip that summer. By the time of the 2009 transition to the Obama administration, Bush administration officials were so frustrated with Israel they treated the “natural growth” agreement as null and void.
Also irritating the relationship was the raid in 2004 by federal agents on AIPAC’s offices in pursuit of evidence of espionage charges that years later proved groundless.
A tireless democracy promoter, Bush insisted on Palestinian elections in 2006, which Israel correctly feared would bring about a Hamas victory. (It didn’t help that Rice, on multiple occasions, likened what she witnessed in the West Bank to her upbringing in the Jim Crow South.)
Bush also rejected Sharon’s advice to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq and get out, again pinning his hopes on Iraq to set an example as an Arab democracy. Instead, a long U.S.-led occupation went south and set the stage for the rise of Iran in the region — and ultimately dampened American enthusiasm for involvement in the Middle East. Israelis complained privately that Bush’s focus on Iraq was giving Iran a free hand. Adding salt to the wound, Bush denied an Israeli request in 2008 for permission to fly through Iraqi airspace to hit Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons facilities.
He remained beloved nonetheless and delivered a speech at the Knesset in May 2008 marking Israel’s 60th anniversary.
“You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,” Bush said to applause. “And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side.”
“Such statements about the State of Israel have never been spoken before by a U.S. president in the Knesset,” marveled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Barack Obama: Acts of friendship and diplomatic pratfalls
Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential hopeful, did something few before or since have accomplished as a speaker at AIPAC’s annual conference: In 2008, the then-U.S. senator from Illinois received a standing ovation for talking about something that had nothing to do with Israel.
“In the great social movements in our country’s history, Jewish- and African-Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder,” he said.
Obama seemed to herald a return to an alliance long troubled, in part because of differences over Israel and increasing African-American sympathies for the Palestinians. Candidate Obama sought out the council of Israel’s then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and a range of pro-Israel figures in the United States on the threat posed by Iran and on the means to achieve peace. As president, he expressed affection for the state — and for the Jewish community — in ways that suggested his belief in the U.S.-Israel alliance stemmed from his perspective as a black man.
“To a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating,” he told the Adas Israel congregation in Washington in May 2015, the first address by a president to a Jewish congregation. “The example of Israel and its values was inspiring.”
Obama put an end to the linking of loan guarantees to Israel’s spending on settlement construction and increased defense assistance to Israel to the unprecedented level of $38 billion over 10 years, making permanent hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to Israel’s anti-missile programs. He authorized assistance to Iron Dome, the short-range anti-missile system that has proven critical in Israel’s three wars since 2009 with Hamas on its border with the Gaza Strip. In 2011, when Israeli diplomats were trapped inside the Cairo embassy by rioters, Obama made their extraction a priority. “This was a decisive and fateful moment,” Netanyahu said. “He said ‘I will do everything I can,’” he said, referring to Obama. “And so he did.”
There was a hard edge to Obama’s embrace of the alliance: Israel’s military might and intelligence savvy provided the pressure that Obama sought to leverage Iranian compliance with his demands that it roll back its nuclear weapons program. Under Obama, Israel and the United States are believed to have worked together to create the computer virus that crippled Iran’s uranium enrichment capability in 2010. Israelis unhesitatingly said military and intelligence cooperation was closer under Obama than any of his predecessors.
Beyond the secret relationships, there were plenty of firsts: Obama was the first president to conduct formal Passover Seders in the White House; the first to mark Jewish Heritage Month in May with a party; the first to deliver a speech at the Israeli Embassy, marking Holocaust remembrance; the first, in 2016, to hold multiple Hanukkah parties to accommodate demand. (Multiple Christmas parties have long been a thing.) He may have been the first, in 2011, to structure a speech to a Jewish audience, the Union for Reform Judaism, around a d’var Torah.
But Obama’s relationship with Israel suffered from the flaw of every good friend who is certain he “gets” you: He doesn’t truly get you.
Before Obama was elected, he told a group of Jews, “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel.” The implication was that Netanyahu’s party was a nuisance — especially awkward after Netanyahu would return to office just weeks after Obama was inaugurated.
The conversation between Obama and Israelis — Netanyahu, in particular — seemed susceptible to pratfalls, however good the intentions on both sides.
Obama addressed the Muslim world in a 2009 speech in Cairo, and said Holocaust denial was corrosive and counseled acceptance of Israel; he was lacerated because it seemed to some that he predicated Israel’s existence on the Holocaust. The next year, Vice President Joe Biden landed in Israel for a let’s-be-friends trip; within hours the mood was soured when a midlevel Israeli bureaucrat announced, apparently to Netanyahu’s surprise, that there would be new building in eastern Jerusalem.
And the next year, in 2011, Obama outlined a Middle East policy that for the first time included a formal American endorsement of a longstanding Israeli demand that a Palestinian state be demilitarized. Whatever goodwill that may have garnered was squashed by Obama’s inclusion of the 1967 lines as the basis for a Palestinian-Israeli border. Netanyahu subsequently lectured Obama on Middle East history in the Oval Office.
Nothing frustrated Netanyahu and his advisers more than repeated assurances from Obama and his cohort that they knew what was good for Israel, particularly heading into the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.
“To friends of Israel, and to the Israeli people, I say this: A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief,” he said in a 2015 speech on the deal, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu decried the deal as a deadly one, saying its “sunset clauses” removing some restrictions simply delayed for a few years Iran’s nuclear weapons. He arranged with the Republican leadership in Congress to speak out against the deal in a joint meeting, infuriating Obama and prompting a rift between Israel and Democrats that persists until this day. AIPAC threw itself into trying to stop the deal, intensely lobbying lawmakers to kill it and other Jewish organizations to speak up against it.
The pattern — an act of friendship followed by a diplomatic slapdown — persisted until the end of the Obama presidency. His administration’s two final Israel-related acts were signing the deal with Israel that guaranteed unprecedented levels of assistance — and then letting the U.N. Security Council adopt a resolution condemning Israel’s settlements. Notably, it was the first time that Obama failed to stop a Security Council resolution that Israel opposed — his predecessors allowed through multiple such resolutions.
Obama was adamant to the end that he had Israel’s best interests at heart. Four days before he left office, he told Israel’s Channel 2, “I believe it would be a moral betrayal for the world not to protect and secure a homeland for the Jewish people.”
Donald Trump: Following through on his Israel promises
Donald Trump, the unlikeliest of Republican presidents, has gotten a reputation for unpredictability. But if he is consistent on one thing, it is his campaign promises. He tends to keep them.
On Dec. 6, 2017, he made good on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver,” Trump said. “Today, I am delivering.”
Trump not only delivers, he delivers with a vengeance. Recognizing Jerusalem and setting a schedule to move the embassy would have been enough for his Jewish base, but Trump accelerated the process and the embassy opened in May, albeit in temporary quarters.
The same goes for his other Israel-related pledges. Trump promised to block Israel-hostile actions at the United Nations; his ambassador to the body, Nikki Haley, has been perhaps the most proactively pro-Israel envoy since Daniel Patrick Moynihan under Gerald Ford. Haley has forced the United Nations to withdraw reports critical of Israel and stopped a Palestinian from assuming a senior position in the body because the same courtesy has yet to be afforded to an Israeli.
Similarly, Trump said he would reconsider the Iran nuclear deal; he has scrapped it.
“With President Trump, I have fewer disagreements,” Netanyahu said when he was asked to compare his interactions with Obama and Clinton. “It’s fair to say I don’t have any disagreements.”
Trump wants to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks and has entrusted the task to a team of three, all with solid pro-Israel ties, led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is Jewish.
In the second year of his presidency, Trump is bolder and more confident in his role, and is distancing himself from the foreign policy mavens who insist the United States must ensure stability worldwide. For example, he plans to pull out from Syria the 2,000 or so troops there training and advising U.S.-friendly rebel forces.
“It is very costly for our country, and it helps other countries more than it helps us,” Trump said in April of the U.S. presence in Syria. “I want to get out, I want to bring our troops back home.”
That’s not a prospect Israel relishes. Russia has joined with Iran and Hezbollah — both deadly enemies to Israel — in propping up the Assad regime in Syria. Israel is adamantly opposed to a long-term Iranian presence in Syria, and to an emboldened Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that launched a war against Israel in 2006.
Now that Syria’s civil war is winding down, the absence of a U.S. presence would give Russia, Iran and Hezbollah more room to consolidate their presence there. Already the prospect of an Israeli conflict not just with Iran but possibly with Russia is looming in Syria.
Trump’s base on the isolationist right has made it eminently clear it wants out of Syria, and Trump is being responsive. The same loyalty to his base could explain the horror he has stirred among American Jews with his failure to condemn — and at times his seeming encouragement of — white supremacists.
The most searing moment was last August, when it took Trump days to unequivocally condemn the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, an event that culminated in a car-ramming attack on counterprotesters that killed one. Trump said there were “very fine” people on both sides, drawing rebukes from across the Jewish spectrum — including, unprecedentedly, from AIPAC and even the Republican Jewish Coalition.

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Teammate keeps heart attack patient ‘staying alive’

Teammate keeps heart attack patient ‘staying alive’

Posted on 20 July 2018 by admin

Submitted photo
Mark Stromberg, left, says he owes his life to teammate Brooks Alkek, right.

By Ben Tinsley
btinsley@live.com

RICHARDSON — Dallas attorney Mark Stromberg beat astoundingly — frighteningly — narrow odds when he survived a recent heart attack that came on as he prepared to play in a Mother’s Day 2018 soccer game.
Stromberg, 57, said he owes his life to teammate Brooks Alkek, who performed extensive cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him when Stromberg went into full cardiac arrest on the field of this 9 p.m. game at Richardson’s Breckinridge Park.
“I was told I was lost several times,” Stromberg said. “I was pretty lucky.”
Alkek’s quick response to Stromberg’s heart attack allowed him to survive the eight minutes it took a delayed ambulance to arrive at the field and begin care on Stromberg, friends and witnesses said.
After stabilizing Stromberg, the ambulance took him to a Baylor, Scott & White Medical Center in the vicinity.
Stromberg said he didn’t realize how bad his condition was when he started feeling faint on the soccer field that day.
“All of a sudden, I passed out and didn’t remember anything until I woke up in the hospital,” he said.
Stromberg’s heart attack was one of Alkek’s most harrowing experiences, Alkek said.
This is Alkek’s account of what happened: Before the game began, Stromberg warmed up with their team. The two play in the “Over 40 League” in the North Texas Premiere Soccer Association (NTPSA).
About the time of the warmup, Stromberg started not feeling well. So, he went to sit on “the bench” for a bit in the hopes of feeling better.
“Our game commenced,” Alkek explained. “But less than 30 seconds later, the goalkeeper yelled ‘Stop the game’ and we were puzzled. We turned around when we heard him say, ‘Mark has collapsed!’”
Alkek said he looked over at the bench and saw Stromberg bent over backward on the bleachers.
“I knew every second counts in a situation like that, and I was on the far side of the field,” Alkek said. “But I got to him before anyone else and sat him up. It looked like a seizure, but I suspected cardiac symptoms. So I hugged him and picked up and turned him around. He had been really tense. His muscles tensed up and he relaxed.”
With help from others checking Stromberg’s pulse, Alkek immediately started performing CPR on Stromberg — 100 compressions a minute.
“I was doing it to the tune of Staying Alive,” Alkek said. “It was ‘Staying Alive, Staying Alive, bum, bum, bum, bum Staying Alive. …”
Alkek said he asked another player from the team to support Stromberg’s airway.
“So he cradled Mark’s head and I said ‘No, you’re supposed to tilt his forehead,’” he said. “I showed him how to keep the airway open and I continued compressions.”
The ambulance took what Alkek described as an “eternity” to get to the scene.
“We were at a sprawling park and there are a couple of complexes of field and I believe they went to the wrong complex at first,” Alkek said. “We were on Field 18. As I was doing CPR I could hear the sirens for quite awhile.”
Alkek said he was trying to calm his own breathing and use his own body efficiently so he could push himself to keep up the compressions on Stromberg as long as they were needed.
“Eventually, the paramedics got there and hooked him up to defib (a defibrillator), he said. “They shocked him until they got a rhythm.”
But things got scarier with the patient before they got better. Stromberg’s heart stopped again.
“They prepared to shock him and I pulled his wedding ring off and they shocked him again,” Alkek said.
When Stromberg was stabilized, the paramedics put Stromberg in their vehicle and left for the hospital.
“I don’t know how long he had been without oxygen, and I heard his ribs breaking when I was doing compression,” Alkek said. “I know that’s a part of CPR, but I didn’t know what to think at the time.”
Alkek said the emotional impact of helping Stromberg truly hit him when he climbed into a vehicle to follow the ambulance to the hospital.
“I got pretty emotional — I got weepy,” he said with a laugh. “At that point I took the opportunity to call my mom for Mother’s Day. I was feeling very sentimental.”
A member of the patient’s medical team could not immediately be reached to elaborate on the medical situation.
Reached after he had left hospital care, Stromberg said several times he could very well have died if not for Alkek. He said a cardiologist friend provided him with some grim statistics to back that belief up.
“If you have a cardiac arrest of some kind outside of a hospital and it doesn’t somehow stop itself, your chances for survival without complications are 1 or 2 percent,” he said.
The heart attack survivor said he woke up in the hospital “with a very sore chest.”
As Alkek indicated, his aggressive CPR injured Stromberg’s sternum and left Stromberg with broken or sore ribs.
But that means the CPR was performed correctly, Stromberg said.
“If you are not hurting the person, then you are not helping them,” Stromberg said.
When Alkek arrived at the hospital to see how the patient was doing, members of the ER staff shook his hand and told him how improbable it was that Stromberg survived.
Stromberg ended up staying in the hospital that Sunday, Monday and part of Tuesday before he was released. He returned to work May 25.
The entire incident has reinforced to Stromberg the strong importance of needing to know CPR.
“My life was saved by CPR and it is important people learn the most updated information about CPR because they may be called on to save somebody,” he said.
The 57-year-old patient has a 19-year-old son who is a sophomore at Texas A&M and a 21-year-old daughter who is a senior at the University of Texas.
He said he is lucky the 50-year-old Alkek, a resident of Addison, was there to help.
“The guy who saved my life, we have history,” Stromberg said. “My mother knows his mother and his mother knows my wife’s mother and … it’s all in the family.”

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County judge briefs Jewish leaders on many issues

County judge briefs Jewish leaders on many issues

Posted on 12 July 2018 by admin

Photos: JCRC
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins stands with members of the Jewish community and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.

 

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins updated a group of Jewish community leaders about family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, early childhood education, health care and fighting poverty during a June 26 meeting.
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas was host to the event.
“As Jews and as people of moral conscience, we understand the importance of treating all people with dignity and compassion. We are well aware of the humanitarian concerns along our borders and applaud Judge Jenkins’ efforts to meet the needs of children and keep families together,” JCRC Chair Melanie Rubin said to open the meeting. Rubin acknowledged Jenkins’ efforts in promoting quality early learning for all children. Leadership from various Jewish organizations were present at the briefing, including the Federation, National Council of Jewish Women, Temple Emanu-El, Temple Shalom, Congregation Anshai Torah and others.
“We are grateful that Judge Jenkins is an avid advocate for quality early learning,” said Rubin. “He appreciates the long-term effects this can have on a child’s growth and development, and how this serves as an important part of alleviating poverty and supporting a vibrant economy in our county.”
Since taking office in 2011, Jenkins has led the responses to public health emergencies, has made efforts to increase health coverage in Dallas County, and serves on many multi-agency boards and commissions, including Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas and the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce. Jenkins spoke about various initiatives in the county, including Dallas County Promise, a transformational effort between school districts, colleges, universities, workforce and communities to increase college completion.
The campaign guarantees tuition-free college to graduates of Dallas County high schools who apply for federal financial aid, regardless of income or GPA. The campaign is part of a national, nonpartisan initiative to build broad public support for funding the first two years of higher education for hard-working students, starting in America’s community colleges.
“More than 9,300 students are currently engaged with the Dallas County Promise campaign,” Jenkins said. “Completing all steps of the pledge, including filling out FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms, means their tuition for college can be underwritten, and they will graduate debt-free. This helps them start their career with the best chance for success. What we want to do, ultimately, is help lift people out of poverty.”

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Rabbis get firsthand look at border conditions

Rabbis get firsthand look at border conditions

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
A boy from Honduras is shown being taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border near Mission, Texas, June 12.

By Dave Sorter

Even after President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the policy of separating children from their parents as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border, local rabbis and other Dallas Jewish community leaders involved in finding solutions to the immigration crisis agree that much work remains to be done.
While families are now being detained together after being arrested because of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings, another apparent softening of the policy took place Tuesday. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was no longer handing illegal immigrants over to prosecutors because it did not have enough detention space, seemingly returning to the Obama administration’s “catch and release” protocol. Trump administration officials maintain that zero-tolerance remains in effect.
Trump issued his executive order on June 20. One day later, Dallas-area rabbis David Stern (Temple Emanu-El), Nancy Kasten and Elana Zelony (Congregation Beth Torah), along with local Anti-Defamation League regional director Cheryl Drazin, joined a national interfaith delegation that traveled to McAllen to see firsthand the conditions at the border. The national Religious Action Center and the Central Council of American Rabbis (of which Stern is president) helped organize the trip, which was initiated by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
And this group may have been prevented from visiting a detention center because of first lady Melania Trump’s visit there the same day.
Then, on June 22, Congregation Kol Ami Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis traveled to McAllen with a group organized by LULAC, the Latino civil rights organization.
Both Zelony and Kasten were struck by the inclement South Texas weather they encountered, especially flooding. They saw it as a metaphor for the suffering the separated children are experiencing.
“It made me realize people are literally sweating their way to the border,” Zelony said. “And people aren’t going to stop coming to the United States for a better opportunity. All I could think about were immigrants camped on the Reynosa side of the river.”
Added Kasten: “We were in a big coach. The bags were under the bus, and the water was 3, 4 feet deep. When we got to dry land, the bags were soaked; some people lost their computers. Cars were stranded in the middle of the road. The one thing I was thinking was that this separate-at-the-border policy is just one of many indicators that this administration doesn’t care.”
Trump and other administration officials have defended the zero-tolerance policy as a way to keep drugs and criminals out of the country and to uphold the law against illegal border crossings.
The June 21 group first visited the Catholic Charities Respite Center, which takes in people who crossed at the legal checkpoint and who are seeking asylum. It’s also too small for the current level of activity.
“They process up to 200 people a day,” Zelony said. “There are two showers and two toilets. The building is clean and efficiently run, but woefully inadequate. They need a larger facility.”
Some of the group, including Zelony, attended a federal court proceeding, where all of the about 50 immigrants whose cases were heard pleaded guilty to crossing the border illegally. Then, they attended a news conference, where people “quoted scripture and warned us to remember our world history,” Zelony said. “It was also pointed out that this wasn’t the first time we had separated parents and children. Slavery was mentioned, and I would add Ellis Island.”
After the news conference, the group tried to visit the detention center — which they were scheduled to do earlier but were bumped because of the first lady’s visit. However, the Border Patrol turned them back.
“That seems like it’s pretty typical down there,” Kasten said.
“All I could think about was what it must feel like to be an immigrant and make a long journey, to stand at the border only to be refused and told to return home,” Zelony said.
Dennis’ group didn’t get in either, but protesting from the outside, he did see conditions he did not like.
“It was indeed a neighborhood of faceless, windowless warehouses, and the facility holding hundreds of children isolated from their families was no different,” Dennis wrote. “…These children are being warehoused in a storage building designed for tires and floor tiles, now repurposed to store children.”
Then, it hit home. A bus neared the facility.
“At first, I thought it was another protest caravan,” Dennis wrote. “But then its features came into focus. We saw bars on the windows, with a cage wall behind the driver. A dozen heads, hands and faces of children and teens could be seen inside this rolling jail, built to hold felons and convicts.”
Some in the group surrounded the bus, trying to impede its progress. Those at the sides of the bus were waving at and shouting words of encouragement to the youngsters. Those at the front and back were angry. Guards, local police and a SWAT team converged. Negotiations took place, Dennis and others urged the crowd to step back, and the situation returned to that of a peaceful protest.
No one was prepared for any of that, Dennis wrote. His group was not prepared to see the children caged in the bus, and the guards at the facility were not prepared for the uprising. It was part of the chaos that struck Kasten one day earlier.
“There was a lack of clarity of who’s responsible for which aspect of the border crossing,” Kasten said. “But the chaos is just a distraction from the main issue: How does the wealthiest nation in the world harness its resources to help these children? It doesn’t seem people are interested in a long-term solution.
“We need ‘We the People’ to deal with the issue, but it’s been they and them and theirs.”
All those who took the trip understand more work needs to be done. Ensuring that families are reunited — which Trump’s executive order does not address — is the primary issue. Zelony wants to try to raise more money for the Catholic Charities Respite Center, by donating to Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She’s even thinking of asking the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas to include the agency among its allocations.
Kasten, meanwhile, received a calling to educate and advocate — and to empathize.
“What I got from the trip was that when you go to a place that’s different from your day-to-day life, you feel a sense of connection and empathy from other people,” she explained. “You come face to face with people who are reflecting God’s image in a way I never would have experienced had I not gone.”
She added that she wants to “go out and meet people and talk to them without preconceived notions. That’s something we all need to do.”
In fact, just two days after visiting McAllen, Kasten was heading for Washington for the last day of the Poor People’s campaign.
“I’m trying to find ways to educate people about the unintended consequences of systems the country has in place,” she said. “I’m starting to see patterns and gain a broader understanding.”

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New Holocaust Museum enters final phase of construction

New Holocaust Museum enters final phase of construction

Posted on 22 June 2018 by admin

Ann and Nate Levine, board members and major donors

 

Local survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides were recognized June 13 at a special “topping out” celebration as construction of the new Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum enters its final phase. Ron Steinhart, campaign co-chair; Brad Brown, president of Austin Commercial; Thear Suzuki, board member; The Honorable Florence Shapiro, Holocaust Museum board chair and daughter of Holocaust survivors; and Mary Pat Higgins each addressed the gathering.
A time capsule which included letters from survivors will be placed inside the walls of the new Museum.
Finally, the crowd shouted “Fly the Beam” in unison and watched skyward as construction workers secured it to the three-story structure.
Construction on the new museum commenced on Oct. 10, 2017 and is set to be completed in September 2019. Upon completion of the new 51,000-square-foot museum, Dallas will move to the forefront of 21st-century human rights education with all new interactive exhibitions, state-of-the-art theater and gathering spaces, accessible archives for documents and historical artifacts, and classrooms to accommodate school groups.
The new museum will be unique among the nation’s 21 Holocaust-related museums, featuring an expanded examination of the Holocaust with dozens of video testimonies from Dallas-area survivors, along with new, in-depth technology-enriched exhibits on other genocides, human rights issues and American ideals.

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Sukkah Project transforms tradition into art

Sukkah Project transforms tradition into art

Posted on 13 June 2018 by admin

Photo: Toronto Sukkah Project
An overhead view of Toronto’s Sukkah Project

 

Sukkot 2018 begins at sunset Sunday, Sept. 23 and ends at nightfall Sunday, Sept. 30. Dallas’ Jewish community will have an opportunity to celebrate this year with an innovative spin on the holiday. The Sukkah Project’s (SP) premiere is an opportunity for Jewish families to enjoy a new take on Sukkot, with attention drawn to the heart of the holiday, the sukkah itself.
The Sukkah Project: Dwell in Design, is presented by the Texas Jewish Arts Association (TJAA). If selected, entrants will design and construct a unique, nontraditional sukkah for a juried panel. A call for entries to the project went out in May to architects, builders and artisans.
“We have received 12 entries to date and expect more,” said Melinda Kollinger, project manager. “Half of those entries have been from out-of-state and one is from Mexico. Each entry includes the registrant’s intent to submit a proposal. They will have until July 13 to submit their design.”
Finalists will be announced in late August before off-site construction begins. Sept. 20 is the build date, and the featured event is Sept. 23. The sukkahs will be on public display at the Museum of Biblical Art (MBA) Sept. 21 through Sept. 27.
Veronique Jonas is immediate past president of TJAA and is chair of Dallas’ SP. She said, “TJAA was created in 2013 with the primary goal of promoting and enhancing the Jewish arts in Texas. Our hope is to expand the organization from visual arts to include various other art forms such as performing arts, literature and architecture.”
“When we were first introduced to Sukkah City in New York,” Jonas continued, “we knew that this was something we wanted to bring to Dallas. I believe that this is something that a large city like Dallas deserves.
“So, aside from being a natural extension of the arts, we see this as an outreach opportunity for the Jewish community to connect with the greater Dallas/Fort Worth population. The goal is the promotion of tolerance and understanding by educating and sharing the beauty of this most ancient Jewish tradition,” Jonas added.
The project chair expressed the meaning of Sukkot like this: “Sukkot highlights the importance of a safe refuge against the elements, and therefore reminds us of those in our cities who are homeless or under-housed, dislocated and estranged and their need to establish homes of their own.”
Jonas recognized the project’s beneficiaries: “This is our mitzvah opportunity to support National Center for Jewish Art; Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity; and Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas.”
The jury panel will include Enrique Norten, Hon. FAIA; Gregory S. Ibañez, FAIA, Principal, Ibañez Shaw Architecture; Max Levy, FAIA; Mark Lamster, Professor, Architecture School, UTA; Gary Cunningham, FAIA.
The 10 to 12 winning, full-size sukkahs will be constructed on the lawn of the Museum of Biblical Arts the week of Sept. 21 through Sept. 27. The museum is on the corner of Boedeker and Park Lane near NorthPark Center in Dallas.
A sukkah festival and awards ceremony will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, at the MBA. At this time, the planned program will include tours of the sukkahs, an Artists’ Village, daylong live music and entertainment, and children’s activities. Sukkahs will be open to the public throughout the week with a variety of programs being planned. There will also be activities for small children like puppet shows, face painting, the PJ Library, beading and others. The Dallas Street Choir will perform, along with Levine Academy’s choir. Rabbi Shira Wallach of Congregation Shearith Israel, who brought the SP idea to the TJAA, will speak.
As Sukkot falls right after the High Holy Days and the personal introspection that arises, thoughts of the state of the world, homelessness, hunger, and societal harms become more relevant. The coming together of the Jewish community, the arts of architecture, performance and visual on one day makes the festival-like occasion in September sound like a blessing.
“I’ve always loved Sukkot, as we celebrated and built a sukkah every year when I was growing up. The significance of Sukkot, with the holiday’s message of safe refuge and inclusion, is especially meaningful right now. The project is a compelling opportunity to both educate and unite our community,” said Anne Brownlee, who is leading marketing and communications efforts for the project.
The Sukkah Project is made possible in part from an Outreach and Engagement Grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas as well as private donors.
In addition to the Federation community partners at presstime include: Aaron Family JCC; Akiba Academy; Ann and Nate Levine Academy; Center for Jewish Education; Congregation Anshai Torah; Congregation Shearith Israel; Dallas Rabbinical Association; Hebrew Order of David, Shimon Perez Lodge; Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas; Jewish Family Services; Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas; PJ Library; Temple Emanu-El; Texas Jewish Post; and Yavneh Academy.
For additional information on the Sukkah Project, visit thesukkahproject.org.

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Joy given and received through volunteering

Joy given and received through volunteering

Posted on 31 May 2018 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Molly Pluss
Photo: Courtesy Molly Pluss
Molly Pluss treasures the time she spends volunteering for Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship riding center. For years, Pluss has been one of many volunteers, ages 12-80, who have provided more than 30,000 hours of support — many of those directed through Jewish Family Service’s Mitzvah Central.

 

By Deb Silverthorn

Twenty years and tens of thousands of volunteer hours ago, Barbara Schwarz created Jewish Family Service’s first Youth Mitzvah Central, then just six pages and 17 agencies looking for help. Renamed Mitzvah Central in 2006, with opportunities for all ages, the support via JFS’ publication is stronger than ever, now 73 pages and 104 agencies in all.
“Barbara is an amazing volunteer, and she has helped propel JFS’ reputation of great opportunities for fulfilling mitzvot because of what she’s built and what she continues to update,” JFS CEO Steve Banta said. “The halls of the associated agencies are full of our referrals.”
A New York native who was married to her beloved Harry, of blessed memory, Schwarz brought to JFS her years of working with the New York City Department of Aging and experience and dedication as a volunteer at the Jewish Braille Institute since high school. Schwarz has always set an example for her children, Jessica and Marc.
Honored in February with JFS’ Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award, Schwarz is a member of Congregation Anshai Torah who transplanted to Dallas in 1997 to be closer to daughter Jessica Schwarz-Zik, son-in-law Brian and her grandchildren, Jodi and Michael.
Spurred on by her grandchildren’s requirements as Solomon Schechter Academy (now Ann and Nate Levine Academy) students to fulfill mitzvah hours, Schwarz wanted to help find opportunities for pre-teens. She made it her project, and passion, to find programs for pre-teens, teens and those who remain teens at heart.
“I worked with Janine Pulman (JFS’ former director of volunteers) and Michael Fleischer (JFS’ former CEO) and Jackie Waldman, bringing leaders in the community together,” said Schwarz, who still coordinates the listings, now working with Jamie Denison, JFS’ community engagement manager.
The most recent listings posted to JFS’ website are sent to schools, organizations, synagogues, youth ministries, registered volunteers and agencies throughout the community. “We’ve done the research, we save you the time,” said Schwarz. “It couldn’t be easier for people to find a place to find meaning and make a difference — once, once in a while or on a regular basis.”
Visitors to JFS’ Mitzvah Central — bit.ly/2GCK3cs — will find listings with contact information, links to websites and information about each organization and the volunteer opportunities available. Listings also provide details about whether the positions are ongoing, single-time service and age or other requirements, when necessary.
JFS uses the listings internally as well. It makes recommendations to its clientele in many areas, many working through the Career Resource Center making connections. Printed copies of the listings are produced in the winter/spring, summer and fall, and are available at JFS.
Ellie Grant, director of volunteer services at Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship doesn’t always know where her volunteers come from, but knows the trail of many leads back to JFS and Schwarz’ efforts.
“We have volunteers from 12 to 80 years of age, and they come and make this place happen. We absolutely could not do what we do without them,” Grant said. “We count more than 30,000 hours, many more that volunteers have provided to us from JFS and other sources and that literally is worth nearly three-quarters of a million dollars if we had to pay for that time.”
Rain or shine, Grant says Equest’s volunteers prep horses for classes, lead them, assist in the arena, hand out medals and more. “It can be 25 or 105 degrees and Dallas’ volunteer community remains invested,” she said. “That people still answer our need, shows how people respect what we do and how we’ve penetrated the community.”
Equest is just one of the more than 100 agencies available, truly with something, more likely many things, for everyone. A number of the original postings, such as the Dallas Holocaust Museum and the Resource Center, still welcome helping hands two decades later.
“We could not do what we do on a daily basis without the dedicated and consistent service of our volunteers, well over 1,000 of them in 2017 alone, and many from Mitzvah Central over the years. Each one is one is a vital part of our team,” said Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager at The Resource Center, which serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of North Texas, as well as people living with HIV/AIDS primarily in Dallas County.
“Running this program is a mitzvah in and of itself,” Banta said, “and Barbara is indeed its gift and anchor.”
For the legions putting time into the community, Schwarz says, “you give, and you get. Volunteering is always a gift in both directions.”
For more information, visit bit.ly/2GCK3cs or call 972-437-9950.

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Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program at UTSW important resource for Jews

Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program at UTSW important resource for Jews

Posted on 24 May 2018 by admin

Photos: UTSW
Dr. Theo Ross in her UTSW lab. An oncologist, she wrote the book, A Cancer in the Family.

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

UT Southwestern’s Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program wants to do for pancreatic cancer what colonoscopies did for colon cancer: Catch it before it’s too late. This multi-disciplinary team of gastroenterologists, radiologists, surgical oncologists and geneticists want to help people who are at high risk for the disease. This is of particular interest to the Jewish community, which has a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer than the general population.
The background
It is widely known that people who carry mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers. In fact, 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews, both men and women, carries a BRCA gene mutation — more than 10 times the rate of the general population, according to the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and Sharsheret (sharsheret.org).
However, what is not common knowledge in the Jewish community are the other cancers influenced by BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Among them is pancreatic cancer. Rare, but particularly deadly, pancreatic cancer represents only 2 percent of all cancers. Yet, it is responsible for 40 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, making it the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths each year.
What makes it so difficult to treat is that people often do not feel symptoms of the disease until it is advanced and aggressive.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose for the following reasons:
• There aren’t noticeable signs or symptoms in the early stages of pancreatic cancer.
• The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, when present, are like the signs and symptoms of many other illnesses.
• The pancreas is hidden behind other organs such as the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and bile ducts.”
While having a BRCA1 mutation raises your risk of pancreatic cancer by only about a couple of percentage points (to 1-2 percent), a BRCA2 mutation can increase that lifetime risk to 5-10 percent for people who have the mutation, explained Dr. Theo Ross, a professor of Internal Medicine and the director of the Cancer Genetics Program in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Care Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center. She is a member of the program’s multidisciplinary team as well.
Ross explained that in addition to the BRCA mutation, family history is key. “If you have a first-degree relative with pancreatic cancer or two others with pancreatic cancer, such as a cousin… you have a familial risk.” These are the folks who could be screened in the Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Clinic for precancerous cysts and followed closely thereafter.
Time to get tested
Ross stresses the importance of genetic testing for all members of the Jewish community. “The number of people that have a BRCA mutation and know they have a mutation is a small percentage,” she said. “Maybe 15 percent of people with the mutation know about their mutation. If they don’t know, they don’t know about the pancreatic cancer risk.” Ross encouraged people to get tested even if it’s with one of the at-home tests to start. One such test is available at Color.com. Color’s BRCA Test sells for $99. The test can be ordered by your private physician or an independent physician belonging to an external network. The company sends you a saliva collection kit and prepaid return label for you to send your sample back in. Ross says the test is solid. However, it’s important to review your results with a genetic counselor. And, she says, just because you test negative for BRCA1 or BRCA2 doesn’t mean you are in the clear. There are many genes that influence hereditary cancer syndromes. If you see patterns in your family, even if you test negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, it’s important to discuss your family history with a genetic counselor.
She became interested in genetics when she was in medical school and started putting two and two together: The number of people in her family who had cancer was alarming. Still, it took years for Ross to ultimately discover she is a carrier of the BRCA1 mutation herself. She discovered this only after she survived melanoma, one of the many cancers enabled by the BRCA mutations. She tells her story in her 2016 book A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance. The book, which is now available in paperback on Amazon and from other resellers, is a resource guide for everyone and anyone who is concerned about their cancer risk. Despite the technical topic, it is easy to read.
The program
UT Southwestern’s Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program was launched in 2016. Dr. Nisa Kubiliun, the director of the program, believes it is poised to make a difference in the lives of those who are at high risk for pancreatic cancer. “Back in the day, nobody realized that pancreatic cysts were a significant cause of pancreatic cancer. They were largely ignored,” she explained. Over time, pancreatic cysts can evolve into tumors.
“When we started, we thought there were people who had pancreatic cysts and needed to be monitored,” she said. Kubiliun said that watching the progression of precursors to pancreatic cancer is a relatively new process. She believes that pancreatic cancer probably develops over the course of many years, but people have only been watching cysts recently.
“Our greatest opportunity is to prevent pancreatic cancer in the first place,” she says. By monitoring changes in the pancreas over time, surgeons can remove a cyst or precursor lesions of the pancreas that look troublesome before they actually turn into cancer.
Kubiliun says the program is growing rapidly, much under the auspices of its benefactor Jewish community member Nancy Wiener Marcus.
“I met Nancy shortly after we launched the program. From the minute I met her she’s been a force for really catapulting the program into the next stratosphere. She’s gone to incredible lengths to get the word out to the community. Her energy, her passion and her desire are inspiring.”
Currently the program is seeing about 20 new patients per week. Kubiliun explains what a good candidate for the program is: anybody with a strong family history of cancer; anybody with a history of pancreatic cancer or cysts of the pancreas; and anyone with a known genetic mutation.
A referral from a physician is not necessary. “They can simply go to our website (https://utswmed.org/conditions-treatments/pancreatic-cancer-prevention/) or call (214-645-8300) and say, “I need to be seen, can I be evaluated?” Kubiliun said they have never turned an individual away. “There is no downside for reaching out and asking us to take a look at your medical history,” she says.
One such person who joined the program is glad she did. Suzanne Calibretti, who is BRCA positive, was being screened with MRIs when the team noticed a change in her pancreas over time. “She was at the step right before it becoming cancer,” said Dr. Kubiliun. “Had she not had that operation, had she not had that pretumor removed, it would have been a completely different ball game. I can’t emphasize enough the greatest opportunity is to prevent pancreatic cancer in the first place.”
The mensch
If you’ve ever met Nancy Wiener Marcus, then you know she has a heart of gold. About five years ago, Marcus wanted to do something important for her 70th birthday. “I wanted to give some money toward something to help and I wanted it to go toward pancreatic cancer.” Initially, Marcus gave an endowment in honor of her own UTSW gastroenterologist Dr. Mack Mitchell for a fellowship. “That way it could go toward learning about the pancreas and other GI problems,” she explained.
However, Marcus felt the urge to do more and later was introduced to Dr. Kubiliun over lunch one day.
“What do you need?” Marcus said she asked Kubiliun. “It was pulling at me. I needed to do something else. You have to be doing something to make this world a better place.”
Initially, Marcus was going to provide $5,000 for a freezer for storing cells. “By the time I got home, I’d decided I’d start a fund of about $100,000 to get this thing (the Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program) going.
Marcus is passionate about getting the word out about the program. “My goal is to bring awareness and knowledge to our community. Most doctors don’t know this program even exists. And the Jewish community members don’t know that if they have a mother or aunt who had pancreatic cancer, they can go get tested and see where they are on the spectrum, so they can be followed and detect and do something before it gets into full-stage pancreatic cancer.”
Marcus hopes to bring an education program to the Jewish community in November during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
“I keep asking myself, what else can I, Nancy, in my own little way be doing to bring about awareness and knowledge to our community so we can arrest the rapid growth of this disease?”
Marcus emphasized that being able to give the money has been a blessing, but if people don’t know about the program, “What’s the point? We need people to get people to take care of themselves and their family.”
A case in point
Many in the Dallas Jewish community know about Jamie Lambert, now 48. The TJP covered her story in November 2016, 16 months after her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and her Team Jamie Facebook page has about 750 followers.
“The cancer diagnosis in July 2015 was not the first health scare. In July 2014, her gallbladder was taken out and she was discovered to have pancreatitis. She never really recovered.
“She went to the doctor a year later, worried when her body started turning yellow. An ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) found something, and led to a biopsy.
“‘(The doctor) comes in the room, and he says, ‘You have pancreatic cancer,’ Lambert said. It was adenocarcinoma. ‘And he walked out of the room. We knew you don’t live when you have pancreatic cancer.’
“She found an oncologist she liked, Dr. Michael Savin at Medical City, who later closed his office in March and moved to Portland. Savin didn’t have good news.
“‘I was given six months, 12 months to live,’ Lambert said.
“Her stage 3 cancer was too far along for a Whipple surgery, a common method for dealing with pancreatic cancers. But it’s hard to find the disease in time. It was a devastating blow.”
The UTSW Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program didn’t exist when Jamie was diagnosed. And in fact, a virtual expert on pancreatic cancer today — as many people become when they are afflicted with a dangerous disease — she didn’t know about the program until the TJP shared it with one of her sisters.
Lambert would have met the criteria to be followed, having had pancreatitis and a mother and grandmother that had breast cancer. Interestingly, neither she nor her sisters tested positive for BRCA mutations; however, as Dr. Ross stated earlier, those are not the only mutant genes responsible and testing genes like PALB2 for mutations is key.
Dr. Kubiliun explains that when someone develops pancreatic cancer so young, at age 45, and has a positive family history of cancer, it’s even more important that her first degree blood relatives are followed by a program like the one at UT Southwestern. Now that they know about it, those wheels are set in motion.
In the meantime, Lambert, who has been living with pancreatic cancer for about three years, is going about living her life with her husband Kevin and their three children. “I take care of my kids, pick them up from school, exercise and try and connect with other people who are going through what I am going through.” Jamie, who undergoes chemotherapy twice a month, lives every day to its fullest. “Life’s too short not to,” she says.

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CJE leader Denn, family headed to Israel

CJE leader Denn, family headed to Israel

Posted on 10 May 2018 by admin

Photo: Meyer Denn
The family will spend the next year in Israel on sabbatical, living and loving the land in person.

By Deb Silverthorn

It’ll be a fond, albeit emotional, farewell for Meyer Denn and family at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24, at the Aaron Family JCC’s Mankoff Center.
Fulfilling a dream, Denn, outgoing director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Center for Jewish Education (CJE), and his family will take a Sabbatical year in Israel — following their hearts to share the land, lore, and links to their heritage. With careers of teaching the core of the Jewish people at the core of this couple, Denn and his wife, Marni, look forward to having history come to life for their children Sydney, Jordan and Xander.
“We’ve wanted this gift for our children, and we’re so blessed to live in a time of miracles when the Jewish people have returned and are prospering in our country,” said Denn, who hopes to work in Diaspora affairs, education and engagement, and also share the country with tourists (“Come on Texans,” he says).
Denn was born in Wharton, Texas, and raised in Bay City. An involved Young Judaean in his youth and active in communal politics from early on, as a high school senior Denn ran for and won a seat on the city council. With a Bachelor of Arts in history and Judaic studies from UT Austin, he moved to Los Angeles where he served as executive director of the Pacific Jewish Center.
In 1997 he moved to Israel, working for the Jewish Agency and as a licensed tour guide. After returning to Los Angeles, where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in literature, a master’s degree in education and an MBA in nonprofit management from the University of Judaism, he reconnected with Marni, and his future was solid.
Since Denn’s arrival in Dallas, the then JED, Jewish Education Department of the Federation, has transformed into the center of our community, now the CJE.
“Meyer has brought together all walks of Jewish life, making what everyone cares about, something everyone cares about. He’s given the Federation a new credibility and a relationship with every institution in town,” Jaynie Schultz said. “Learning has become bigger than only for our children — education has become accessible and joyful for all ages.”
Ten years ago, Denn told the Texas Jewish Post that “as I’m meeting with rabbis, heads of school, teachers and lay leaders of the community, I’m finding an enthusiasm that is contagious and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s beautiful.” Ten years later, that sense of community and his commitment to understanding and enhancing it is his legacy.
“My role is to promote all types of Jewish education: day school, congregational, through organizations and agencies, and to bring crisp and new ideas through which we can partner,” Denn said.
“There was enough happening in our Mankoff space before Meyer, and he has brought it to life,” said Joy Mankoff. “Ron and I wanted more than a ‘room,’ we wanted learning, and a spirit for learning, and from the first time we met Meyer there was a click. He’s made that spirit contagious.”
Federation President and CEO Bradley Laye credits Denn with significant contributions. “The CJE has become the central convener and leader of major Jewish educational initiatives,” said Laye. “Meyer’s vision, creativity and of course his sense of humor, along with a stellar team of professionals, has made the CJE successful.”
Brought to Dallas as an enthusiastic and passionate visionary with the sharing of a new breadth of Jewish education and Jewish life, he’s opened many doors to help members of the community explore their Jewish identity.
Denn helped formulate numerous professional development opportunities for the community’s educators including the attendance of 200 early childhood educators at the National NAEYC Conference, bringing the Conscious Discipline philosophy to the community, sending 24 educators to Israel as part of the Schultz Israel Educator Fellows to teach Israel in the classroom, and the funding of scholarships for three community educators to receive master’s degrees from the Simmons School of Education at SMU.
Almost 2,300 children receive free books through PJ Library and thousands participated in LearningFest programs. The Night to Celebrate Jewish Education events hosted several distinguished speakers, all of whom also addressed area day schools.
The CJE supported strongly the growth of the Special Needs Initiative into becoming the Special Needs Partnership at Jewish Family Service and through Incubator Incentive Grants, CJE invested nearly $100,000 to seed new and innovative programs.
Technology grants for early childhood educators, Shabbat Scholars-in-Residence and this spring’s 13 Reasons Why NOT: Turning the Tide of Teen Suicide are additional examples of the impact Denn and his department has had on the community — the full list able to fill pages.
“I’m most proud that we’ve created an environment for every Jewish perspective in our diverse community to have a seat at the table of Jewish educational discussion and vision and that they show up and participate,” said Denn. “Today, our institutions engage and collaborate in impressive and meaningful ways and there’s a respect and trust that’s been built which continues to develop between our communal institutions.”
Denn believes his staff and all he’s worked with are positioned to maintain the department’s strengths. “We’ve constructed an educational landscape and brought the community’s leadership to understand how to serve its constituents,” he said.
“Meyer helped build up and promote those here who teach, those who support education, and those who want to learn,” said Helen Risch. “He’s upped the scale and helped us realize what we can achieve. We owe him and with his guidance, and the understanding, talent, and experience that we now hold, we’ll only continue to grow.”
Denn and his wife moved to Dallas in 2008 with their daughters and with the imminent debut of their son that fall. Akiba Academy, where Marni taught for years, has been their children’s academic home. With Sydney now headed for high school, the season was right for a family adventure of a lifetime.
“We’ve asked our kids to learn what they can about Judaism and to learn Hebrew, to have diverse experiences, and develop meaningful relationships,” said Denn. “We’ve been blessed here and we’ll never lose touch of our Dallas family. Learn Jewish. Think Jewish. Do Jewish. It’s what we’ve taught, what’s been learned, and it’s the key to goodness for everyone within Jewish Dallas’ grasp.”
Given that home is where the heart is, the Denns will always be home, wherever they go. Shalom y’all — it’s just the beginning.
The goodbye is co-chaired by the Mankoff, Risch, and Schultz families and the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Center for Jewish Education.
There is no cost to attend, but RSVPs are requested by email to kschlosberg@jewishdallas.org. Anyone wishing to share stories, photos or well-wishes should email them to jaynie@jaynieschultz.com, and anyone wanting to share in a donation to the family can send such to the Denn Fund at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, 7800 Northaven Road, Dallas, TX 75230.

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