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Thank you for being my anchor after my wife’s passing

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Rabbi Stefan J. Weinberg

Ten days ago, I was sitting in Beit Aryeh at Levine Academy; it was the annual Israel trip send-off for the eighth-grade graduation trip. The room was filled with ruach — with anticipation and excitement — as the trip of a lifetime was about to unfold for this year’s graduates from Levine Academy.
I found myself crying through the morning as I had done the previous year. . . the first two years the trip has departed without my wife, Wende, leading the expedition. Indeed, this trip encompassed everything Wende taught, dreamed and sought to instill in her students.
Wende died on Dec. 4, 2016 — she was 57 years young; we were married for 34 extraordinary years. She was the light of my life, and I lost a part of my soul when she died. She fought a valiant battle against lung cancer having never touched a cigarette, yet giving us all 18 additional months of her sweet smile and incredible discipline following her diagnosis.
A woman stopped me one morning following a class I had been teaching at shul, shortly after Wende had passed away; she wanted to share a story with me. She told me that when her husband had passed away a number of years earlier, a friend gave her a new address book, stating, “None of your friends will remain — you will need a new set of addresses and phone numbers.”
I was terribly saddened to hear the story but not surprised. I know circumstances change, friendships evolve, and we all struggle to find our way through the journey we call life, but this seemed so cruel and unnecessary. And then this woman said to me, “You won’t need a new address book because you are surrounded by a congregation and community that loves you, will support you, and help you through this difficult period of your life.”
With more tears flowing from my eyes I write this note to you, my extended community in the Dallas Metroplex. Wende and I were so very fortunate to serve our community in many parallel ways — she as an educator at Levine Academy for more than 30 years and me as a rabbi, first at Shearith Israel and, for the past 20 extraordinary years, at Anshai Torah. For more than 30 years, Wende and I lived and shared our passion — educating and building a stronger Jewish community with you. It has been a blessing and a privilege to serve you, and I write to say thank you for your continued support during this difficult time in my life.
Wende’s first yahrzeit passed a few months ago. The woman who stopped me after teaching a course was right — I don’t need a new address book. You continue to be my anchor. Of course, I am so fortunate to have the community associated with Anshai Torah support me in every way imaginable. They have received periodic updates regarding my spiritual and emotional journey.
You, the greater community who I see at events across the city, with whom I travel to Israel, collaborate on community events, acknowledge in parking lots, see during dinners, or while shopping in a mall — you have all helped to give me the strength to persevere, to find my way through the pain of loss. Thank you for the calls, notes, invitations, hugs and good wishes — your support has reminded me time and again of the value of community. As I have said to the Anshai Torah membership, may we collectively strive to ensure that no one in our community feels disenfranchised, especially when they need us most. May none of us ever need a new address book because our friends were only good-weather friends.
As a token of the legacy Wende left behind, we at Congregation Anshai Torah have commissioned a Sefer Torah to be written in Wende’s memory. We will dedicate the Sefer Torah on Sunday afternoon, April 15, at 4 p.m. Should you like to participate in this endeavor, join us for the final celebration, or seek any information about the project, please go to our website at anshaitorah.org and click on Project 613.
Thank you again for your relentless support and presence. On behalf of my three girls — Danielle, Jordana and Adina — and me, I thank you for your constant source of inspiration — indeed, you have been a blessing to each of us.

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The blessings of giving have been revealed in mourning

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Jaynie Schultz

My mother died Feb. 24, 2018. In preparation for the end of the second phase of the mourning period, Shloshim, I have been reflecting on how to express my appreciation to our beautiful community for their support since that horrible day.
Word spread like wildfire, despite the fact that she passed away on Shabbat. Almost as quickly came the offers of help. From the funeral onward, friends and community members have taken care of everything for us, from meals to helping my father move. Not a day goes by when we do not get calls, cards and offers of comfort. So beyond the extensive generosity of time, spirit and means, what does this teach us?
I received a condolence call from a friend whose parents are much like mine in their philanthropy and community activism. In that conversation, I realized something really important that changed the way I view philanthropy.
Jewish tradition teaches that we are required to give, and for that we are blessed. There is no specificity to the blessing and we are certainly taught not to give only for that potential blessing. Any rewards are ambiguous at best.
When we were growing up, we didn’t play “house”; we played “meeting.” Not a birthday, anniversary, holiday or special celebration went by without a gift to a nonprofit. My parents gave millions and percentages way beyond the traditional tithe of 10 percent to tzedakah. They lived humbly and made certain we knew that their success was a gift from God. We should never feel entitled to the wealth they earned; anything we receive is a gift. We are expected to give significantly ourselves, and gifts in the Schultz Family name always include contributions from each of us.
So, in speaking to my friend, I realized that the time and money given to the community by my parents has come back to us in comfort and concern. Everywhere we turn, people are reaching out offering hugs and words of praise for my mother. The schools we support sent notes from students of all ages sharing what they love about their schools. One rabbi told me that every “amen” and every lesson learned on campus is a tribute to my mother. The respect given by the students when I come in the morning to say Kaddish is a daily reminder of what my parents did for us.
I suddenly felt stricken with sadness for the families of people who never gave and only passed their wealth internally, within their family.
Many years ago I learned from Rabbi Benjamin Blech that when we study the concept of the sins of the father being passed down, it could mean that parents who do not provide an education for their children do pass on that sin because the children are the ones who suffer from ignorance. The same could be said for giving. My parents have given so much and we, their children and grandchildren, benefit directly and very personally through the comfort offered by our community. Micah Romaner called it a circle of love.” Had my parents shared their time and treasure only with us, I would certainly feel much more alone right now. As Pastor Mack Fleming said, “What you honor rewards you.”
During shiva, when people depart, they say “May God comfort you among the other mourners in Zion and Jerusalem.” We have been comforted by God in the many blessings he bestowed through life and the painless and quick death for my mother, Leslie Ann Vile Schultz. The blessing promised in the Torah for giving has been revealed, and it is not only from God but from every person touched by my parents.

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From a Passover of alienation to a Passover of empathy

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Hanan Schlesinger

One of the most oft-repeated themes of the Torah is that we must remember that we were slaves and strangers in the Land of Egypt, and that God redeemed us with an outstretched hand. Both the experience of slavery and the experience of redemption are meant to radiate one central and fundamental call to action that the Torah comes back to again and again:
Slavery and strangerhood: Love the stranger and care for him, provide for him and show him empathy. Feel his pain and act to alleviate it, deal kindly with him, for you yourself know what it means to be a stranger and a slave.
Redemption: Walk in the footsteps of God, who redeemed us from Egypt, and redeem the slave and the downtrodden. Provide for them as God provided for us. Just as God’s mercies are upon all His creatures, so ought our mercies to be upon all His creatures.
The world is divided into us and them. That is the way that it has to be. In order to experience the security and the love of the family, the clan, the nation, there have to be those who are not part of our inner concentric circles.
At the same time, however, one of the most central directives of the Torah is that this division must never be so stark as to alienate the “us” from the “them.” Our love and concern must radiate out beyond the “us” toward the “them.” Our sense of us must empower our people to reach out to them.
We recall and relive our experience in Egypt on the holiday of Passover, the centerpiece of the Jewish year and the focal point of the process of handing down the tradition to the next generation. And the focal point of Passover is the Seder night with its Haggadah text. The Haggadah tells us: “In every generation one must see himself as if he personally went out of Egypt.” We spend the whole night bringing alive the events of slavery and redemption.
Toward what end? What is the takeaway? Clearly the answer ought to be to develop within us the historical memory that will constantly remind us and inspire us to love the stranger and redeem him from his suffering.
Yet this message is completely missing from the Haggadah. It certainly harps on our misery in Egypt, but instead of using that experience to nurture empathy for those who suffer, it sees in it a paradigm for the panorama Jewish history, reminding us, “In every generation they rise against us to annihilate us, and the Holy One Blessed be He saves us from them.”
The reason for this lacuna — at least one of the reasons — may be that during the 1,000-plus years during which the Haggadah text developed, we Jews were the slaves and the strangers, and the dominant cultures were antagonistic to our way of life and often to our very existence. We were the other and little love was lost on us. Our forefathers were too busy surviving to find room in our hearts and in our texts to teach ourselves about love of the stranger and empathy for his suffering. The larger message of Passover was postponed for the distant future.
That future may have arrived. Reality today is different, in Israel and to a large degree in many parts of America, from that which our forefathers knew. We are no longer the other that we used to be, and there are other peoples, cultures and ethnic groups that have taken our place. In Israel we are the dominant culture and in America we are part of the mainstream.
These are the conditions of life that the Torah envisioned, and not the circumstances under which our forebears have lived for the past 2000 years. As such, it is time for our Haggadahs and our celebration of Passover, as well as our Jewish consciousness and our behavior, to reflect that change and to go back to basics.
Let the Seder be our forum to proclaim and inculcate an ethic of empathy for the other emanating from two intertwined experiences: 1, Never again! Never again shall any people suffer what we suffered in Egypt. And 2, We take it upon ourselves to continually struggle to redeem the other, just as God redeemed us.
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger lives in Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion, and serves as the director of international relations for Roots/Judur/Shorashim, the Israeli Palestinian Local Initiative for Understanding, Nonviolence and Transformation. He also frequently travels to Dallas, where he serves as the executive director of the Jewish Studies Initiative. His website is www.ravhanan.org.
This piece appeared originally on Rabbis Without Borders, a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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It’s time to set transgender people free from oppression

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Cantor Sheri Allen

Passover is about our journey from oppression to freedom. Each year, we sing, “Avadeem hayeenu, Aatah b’nai chorin: We were slaves but now we are free.” But this year, I’m not as comfortable rejoicing when so many living in this country are experiencing heightened oppression resulting from a wave of xenophobia (fear or hatred of strangers or of anything that is strange or foreign) and homophobia that has swept over the country over the last few years.
Coincidentally, the first day of Pesach, March 31, is also International Transgender Day of Visibility. It was instituted as an annual holiday in 2009, “dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide” (Wikipedia). And why is bringing awareness of this particular group of individuals so important? Because, there are over 1.4 million adults — approximately 0.6 percent — who identify as transgender in America (NPR), and their needs and challenges are often overlooked, or even deliberately ignored.
In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted the largest survey examining the experiences of transgender people in the United States, with 27,715 respondents from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. military bases overseas.
The results are disturbing and sobering, and go far beyond having a bakery reject a gay couple’s request for a wedding cake. According to the survey, “Respondents reported high levels of mistreatment, harassment and violence in every aspect of life.” Ten percent were met with violence within their own families when they came out, or even kicked out of their homes. In school, a majority of respondents experienced verbal or physical harassment or assaults, and 17 percent were no longer able to continue attending as a result of these attacks.
Thirty percent reported being harassed, assaulted, fired or denied promotions at work because of their gender identity. One-third were living in poverty and/or had trouble communicating with or receiving service from their health care provider and/or were harassed in public spaces.
Many respondents were not comfortable using public restrooms for fear of further harassment or worse and even went so far as to control the amount they ate or drank in order to avoid them. And to make the problem even worse, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced that it won’t hear complaints about, or take action against, schools that do not allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
It’s shameful. And it’s against everything that the lessons of Passover teach us: namely, to treat the stranger with respect and dignity, because we know what it’s like to be the “other” — we were slaves in Egypt.
It’s an integral part of our story as well as our identity. Advocating for human and civil rights, promoting social justice. It’s what we Jews do.
So what can we do, specifically, to fight against this blatant discrimination? Ask your congregation if it is listed in Keshet’s equality guide. Keshet is a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights in the Jewish world, and its equality guide lists congregations and Jewish organizations across the country that are LGBTQ-welcoming.
Another suggestion from Keshet: Call your local school board. Ask it what its bathroom policy is and find out what proactive action it is taking to protect its transgender students from discrimination and harassment. Keshet also does training for Jewish professionals and volunteers on how to make their synagogues and institutions LGBTQ-friendly and inclusive.
I also urge you to check out Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s website: rac.org. Based in Washington D.C., it is a strong social justice and equal rights organization representing the Jewish community. There are many suggested ways to become involved in advocacy for a variety of different issues, ranging from LGBTQ equality to economic justice, the environment, immigration, women’s rights, hate crimes, civil liberties and interfaith affairs, just to name a few.
We can also lend our voices in support of the Equality Act. Current civil rights laws extend legal protection to people on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion. But not on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act would extend those same anti-discrimination measures to the LGBTQ community. It was introduced in the House of Representatives almost a year ago, with 241 original co-sponsors. According to the Human Rights Campaign, it had “the most congressional support that any piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation has received upon introduction.”
As Jews, we are mandated to uphold and honor the dignity, the inherent holiness of every human being, as we are all made b’zelem Elokeem, in God’s image. Calling our members of Congress and asking them to co-sponsor the Equality Act is the least we can all do to help fulfill this directive.
The word Mitzrayim (translation: Egypt) literally means “narrow straits.” We all sometimes find ourselves held captive in our own personal mitzrayim. Fear, obsession, work, debt and illness can lead us into the depths of despair and disconnection, causing us to land in a constricted space — a closet, so to speak — of our own making. Hopefully, it is a temporary dwelling place, and we find our way back out of that closet and into the light, free from whatever has kept us imprisoned, physically, mentally or emotionally.
Sadly, that is not always the case for many in the transgender community. I can’t imagine what it must be like for transgender individuals to feel trapped in a body that doesn’t belong to them, unable to express their authentic selves for fear that they will be harmed, and unsupported or even rejected by their families, their community, their country. No wonder they have a suicide rate that’s nine times higher than the rate for the overall U.S. population.
I hope and pray that in the not-so-distant future, equality for the LGBTQ community in all areas of life will be a non-issue.
In talking to my students, most don’t even understand what the issue is. I’m also encouraged by the fact that, 2½ years ago, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a number of recommendations that they hoped their member congregations would follow, including, “making bathrooms gender neutral, training staffers on LGBT issues, eliminating gender-specific pronouns on name tags and sorting Hebrew-school classes by birthdays rather than gender.”
We are observing a holiday that celebrates freedom from oppression. What better time to think about those who are still oppressed in our communities and in our country, and let them know that they are seen and heard, and we stand beside them. Our tradition teaches us that none of us are free until all of us are free. May the holiday of Passover inspire us to renew our efforts to fight for that freedom so that next year, we can say with all sincerity, “we were slaves, but now we are — all of us — free.”
Sheri Allen is the part-time cantor of Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of her congregation.

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