Archive | April, 2008

Jewish women change their destinies by testing for genetic mutation

Jewish women change their destinies by testing for genetic mutation

Posted on 24 April 2008 by admin

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

Erika Taylor didn’t want to know whether she had the breast cancer gene.

“My thinking was I would never get a prophylactic mastectomy,” Taylor, 44, said of the idea of removing her breasts as a preventive measure. “I just thought it was horrible thing to do to myself, and if I was unwilling to do that, why bother finding out?”

Her grandmother died of breast cancer at 56, and her mother battled and beat the disease in her 30s. Taylor, who is single and the mother of a 14-year-old boy, always suspected cancer was in her future, but taking steps to confirm that was not something she wanted to do. Until she got her own diagnosis.

A routine mammogram last November revealed early stage noninvasive cancer cells in Taylor’s milk ducts, making information about her genetic status vital for determining her treatment.

“All of a sudden, the idea of ‘I would never do such a thing’ goes out the window,” she said. “It’s astonishing how quickly you go, ‘OK, OK, what do I need to do? I’ll do it.’” Taylor’s mother tested first, and when she was identified as a carrier of the BRCA 2 genetic mutation common in Ashkenazi Jews, Taylor tested next. In January, she found out she, too, carries the gene that makes it likely that even if she were to rid herself of her diagnosed cancer, it would probably recur.

Like a growing number of women, Taylor faced both the gift and the terror of knowledge.

One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews — compared to one in 500 in the general population — carries a mutation that gives women a 50 percent to 85 percent chance of getting breast cancer by the time they are 80. The genetic mutation, discovered in 1994, also increases the likelihood of melanoma and ovarian, prostate or pancreatic cancer. While within the general population about 5 percent of cancers can be attributed to a hereditary syndrome, in the Jewish community, that number is closer to 30 percent.

The good news is that knowledge about how the mutation causes cancer is opening scientific doors to more effective, targeted treatment for those already diagnosed. And people who have the genetic mutation can take preventative measures to drastically reduce their breast and ovarian cancer risk.

Surgery — removal of the breasts and ovaries — reduces the risk of breast cancer by 90 percent, to well below the 13 percent odds of getting breast cancer in the general population. But less-drastic measures, such as drug therapy, removal of just the ovaries and careful screening to catch and cure the cancer at an early stage, can also save lives. Genetic information also helps women feel empowered to take control of other factors that raise risk, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity.

“The use of genetic information to understand a person’s risk for diseases like cancer is clearly reaping huge benefits,” said Dr. William Audeh, a medical oncologist with an emphasis on hereditary risk at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. “It’s gone from being a somewhat frightening piece of information that gave people concerns to a hugely important piece of information that empowers people to either take preventative steps that can save their lives or to accurately target therapy if one develops cancer. There is a general understanding that genetic information for cancer is going to be critical for taking the best care of people.”

Knowing she had the genetic mutation sent Taylor, editor of the trade publication, Pool and Spa magazine, into a tailspin of research and soul-searching. Treatment for DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) usually consists of removal of the tumor and perhaps radiation. But Taylor’s genetic status put her in a different risk category, and after hearing from four different doctors that her cancer, even if cured, would return, she opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction. Her surgery is scheduled for May.

Taking the test

While Taylor confirmed her genetic status after a cancer diagnosis, experts encourage people to test before cancer strikes. For Ashkenazi Jews, having just one relative who has had premenopausal breast cancer warrants getting tested, according to geneticists. (For non-Jews, testing is indicated if there are two relatives.) Any history of male breast cancer or any ovarian cancer in the family also raises a red flag, as do multiple cases of melanoma or pancreatic cancer. And women who themselves have early onset breast cancer should be tested, so they can tailor their treatment and inform other family members.

In the last five years, the number of people testing for the BRCA mutation has increased by 50 percent every year, according to Myriad Genetics, which patented the blood test for BRCA about 12 years ago. About 70,000 people tested last year. Myriad recently launched an East Coast direct-marketing campaign for the test.

Of the estimated 600,000 people who carry the gene in the United States, only about 20,000 have been identified. Of those 600,000 carriers, about 150,000 are Jewish, mostly Ashkenazi. Other ethnic groups, such as French Canadians and Filipinas, also have a genetic predisposition, as do some Latina subpopulations — some of which have been traced back to having Jewish genes.

Only about 15 percent of people who test come out with positive results, though the percentage is somewhat higher among Jews. But even a negative result is not entirely reassuring, since it indicates only that the specific mutations were not found. Other as-yet-undiscovered mutations, or other genes, could also cause a heavy incidence of cancer in a family, according to Dr. Ora Gordon, director of the GenRISK adult genetics program at Cedars.

Gordon encourages anyone being tested to see a genetic counselor to get the results properly interpreted and to understand their options if they find out they are carriers.

“When learning about this for the first time, very frequently people say to themselves, ‘If I’m not going to have surgery, I shouldn’t get this test.’” Gordon said. “But that would be a tremendous loss in terms of potential reassurance for people who are not carriers and for identifying people who might have a whole variety of other options that might provide very substantial risk reduction.”

Prophylactic bilateral mastectomy — or having both breasts removed before any sign of cancer — seems to be growing in popularity as an option in the United States, though hard statistics are just now being compiled.

One recent study of women with the BRCA mutation and a cancer diagnosis put the rate of mastectomy at 50 percent in the United States, the highest by far of anywhere in the world. In Israel, that number is 2 percent, Gordon said.

In Los Angeles in particular, the numbers seem to be especially high.

Gordon estimates that 65 percent to 70 percent of BRCA-positive women in Cedars’ cancer programs opt for the surgery, some immediately, some after a few years of surveillance. The quantity and quality of medical options makes the surgery more attractive in big cities, and Los Angeles has a high tolerance for breast surgery, Gordon said. She is spearheading a study about decision-making among BRCA-positive women at Cedars’ Gilda Radner early detection program, which screens genetically high-risk women for ovarian cancer.

Gordon understands that a woman’s decision about treatment is intertwined with her relationship status, her self-image and how many family members she saw battle or succumb to cancer.

Surgery or surveillance?

“The decision to take off your breasts is really hard. It’s a part of your body that is associated with your outward appearance, and it’s a part of who you are. It’s a part of your sex life,” said Joi Morris, who was 41 when she learned she carried the same genetic mutation that gave her mother and grandmother breast cancer at a young age.

Morris remembers a day, not long after she found out, when she really confronted the issue as her sons, then 7 and 10, played at the beach.

“My kids were in the water and jumping and playing and having a fabulous time, and I looked down at my breasts in my swimming suit and thought, ‘Oh my God, what would it be like to not have these?’” It’s a seesaw of emotions, she said, because at the same time, “you wake up every morning, and you know you are at risk, and you wonder if there is something in there you can’t find.”

Morris initially opted for close surveillance — a regimen of regular mammograms, manual exams, ultrasounds and breast MRIs — the most sensitive, noninvasive screening available, used only for high-risk patients. Her first MRI revealed a lump close to her chest wall.

“I panicked. There is no other way to put it. That lump turned out to be benign, but the whole process was so stressful for me and hard on my family. I just decided if this lump is not cancer, the next one could be,” Morris said.

She had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, with immediate reconstruction. As it turned out, her surgery wasn’t prophylactic at all — pathology revealed pre-cancerous cells scattered throughout both breasts.

Early in the process, Morris turned for support and information to FORCE: Facing Our Risk for Cancer Empowered, an organization that advocates for people at high genetic risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Today, she is an outreach coordinator for FORCE, helping link women through face-to-face groups and one-on-one pairings as they face life-altering decisions.

“It was very hard getting those results,” said Lisa Stein, a 43-year-old mother of two, who found out she has the gene last year. “I was trying to prepare for being positive, but I don’t think you ever can. After I got the results, I really struggled. I was feeling raw for a while, crying easily knowing that it was going to be life-changing.”

Stein’s mother died of breast cancer at 57, and her grandmother died of ovarian cancer, but she didn’t test until her older sister, Lauren Rothman, tested positive.

Rothman opted for a mastectomy, but Stein chose to keep her breasts.

“I think I knew instinctively that I was not going to have a double mastectomy. That felt too radical to me,” Stein said. “I didn’t feel psychologically prepared or that it was necessary. I don’t feel like cancer is imminent; I feel like I have a few years to take it in and think about it and prepare, so I’ve put that decision on hold.”

She goes in for screening every few months, and she said the anxiety of waiting for those results has been manageable.

Both Rothman and Stein had their ovaries removed, however, which doctors are now recommending for women who test positive and who are finished having children or who are over age 35. Removing ovaries not only reduces the risk of ovarian cancer — which is notoriously hard to catch early and thus has a high mortality rate — but it reduces the risk of breast cancer by 50 percent. Stein also went on Tamoxifen, a drug taken by breast cancer survivors to reduce the risk of recurrence and which reduces risk by 50 percent in BRCA-positive women. The birth control pill, which stops the ovaries from cycling, can also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer but requires more vigilant screening for breast cancer.

Both ovary removal and Tamoxifen push women into menopause, with all its emotional, sexual and physiological ramifications.

“I think of myself as a healthy person but not like I used to — it’s kind of tainted,” Stein said. “It’s an identity issue. I still think of myself as youthful, but suddenly, I’m dealing with instant menopause, and that doesn’t sit well with me. But I’m dealing with it.”

Stein and Rothman provide support for each other, despite the different routes they’ve taken.

“I came to reality very quickly — and the reality was I wanted to see my children grow up, and I didn’t want cancer, and I didn’t want chemotherapy. I wanted the rest of my life,” Rothman said. Her daughters were 3 and 5 years old when she had surgery.

Rothman, a program director for Hadassah of Southern California, traveled to New Orleans for her breast procedure — two surgeries and tatoooing — at a small clinic that specializes in natural-tissue reconstruction, where a solid flap of fat is removed from the belly and inserted into the shell of the breast after tissue has been removed. The surgery offers a more natural result than silicone implants, though it is longer and more involved.

“This procedure has provided me with a new outlook on life. It has taken a huge weight off my shoulder,” Rothman said. “I no longer go into mammograms thinking, ‘Is this the year I’m going to get cancer like mom?’”

And she loves her new body — she got not only a breast lift but a bonus tummy tuck, too.

Advances in reconstructive techniques mean that women have several options for maintaining a body they can feel proud of.

Decades ago, radical mastectomies removed all the tissue and muscle of the chest wall. Today, the muscle is not removed, and reconstructive surgery, usually at the time of mastectomy, can leave intact the women’s natural skin, but in most cases the nipples and areola are removed. A silicone implant, or, as in Rothman’s case, fat from the abdomen, fills the pocket from which breast tissue was removed. Nipples and areola are tattooed on, or some surgeons use a new technique that leaves a woman’s own nipple and areola intact. Doctors try to bury scars in the fold beneath the breast, though that is not always possible.

But even the most beautifully done reconstructions leave a woman with scars and no sensation in her breasts.

“When women come to see me, my approach is to listen to them and find out where they are in life and how they relate to their own breasts,” said Dr. Kristi Funk, a breast surgeon and director of patient education at Cedars’ Brandman Breast Center. “Women have different feelings about sexuality and what roles breasts play, and that makes a big difference.”

Funk also finds out about the woman’s relationship status, and how she has been affected by a family history of cancer.

More information, better treatment

Family histories can be deceptive, however. Some families don’t know their medical histories, because they were lost due to the Holocaust or immigration.

The gene also can hide out in male members of a family.

A BRCA 1 gene mutation raises the risk of male breast cancer to 6 percent, and there is no increased risk for other cancers. BRCA 2 mutation also increases the risk for melanoma, prostate and pancreatic cancer. Still, men who carry the gene are likely never to get any cancer, although they have a 50 percent chance of passing the gene to children. Families with few females may never discern any cancer history.

Dora Cohen (not her real name) suspects it was her father who passed the BRCA 1 gene mutation to her. Last year, she was diagnosed with DCIS, a noninvasive cancer, which was treated with a lumpectomy and radiation. Of the many oncologists she saw, only one recommended that as an Ashkenazi woman in her 40s, she probably should have genetic testing.

In the last six months, Dora has had her ovaries, uterus and breasts removed.

Her daughter, Diane (not her real name), who is 27 and has been married for two years, doesn’t want to get tested yet.

“I see what my mom is going through,” Diane said. “I want to have kids, and I’m not in a place where I would take those measures [mastectomy and removal of the ovaries]. Knowing I’m positive and having that pressure on me would be something very difficult to live with.”

She and her husband of two years have pushed up their plans for children, and she worries that a positive test could jeopardize her medical insurance, especially because she is self-employed.

Federal and California law provide fairly good protection against genetic discrimination from insurers, stipulating that a genetic predisposition cannot be considered a pre-existing condition. But individual policies are not as well protected as group policies.

Still, genetics experts say much of the fear is overblown. They point out that there has been little litigation involving genetic discrimination, and that the insurance industry is open to the reality that genetic testing can lead to better and more cost-effective treatment. Most insurers cover genetic testing, and some genetic counseling — a rapidly growing field.

“The genetics community has been struggling to help people understand the importance of talking to someone who knows the nuances of genetic testing,” said Heather Shappell, a genetic counselor and founder of Informed Medical Decisions, which offers over-the-phone genetic counseling.

Genetic tests do not always yield a yes-or-no answer, Shappell said, and often doctors aren’t sure how to read the results and guide patients through their decisions.

In August, Aetna extended full coverage for Shappell’s phone-counseling services to its 14 million policyholders.

What geneticists are looking for is an error in the sequencing of the BRCA gene.

All people carry two genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, which prevent cancer by repairing damaged cells. A mutation damages the genes’ repair function, which leads to uncontrolled growth and causes cells to become cancerous.

About 95 percent of Ashkenazi Jews who have the mutation have one of three errors, which means the mutation is easier to find and the test costs much less — about $400, as compared to $3,000 for a test that analyzes the entire gene.

As researchers learn more about how BRCA mutations cause cancer, they are developing targeted treatments.

A clinical trial with sites at Cedars and City of Hope uses a drug called a PARP-inhibitor to shut down the cell’s backup repair function. Normal cells are not affected, because the primary repair pathway is still functioning. But cancerous cells are left with no functioning repair system, so those cells die. Because normal cells are not affected, there are few major side effects.

“We have a promising situation where you have a treatment which is completely targeted to cancer and leaves the normal cells alone. And that is very different from treatments like chemotherapy, where there is toxicity to every cell,” said Audeh of Cedars.

Another study in Israel has found that women with ovarian cancer who are BRCA positive respond better to chemotherapy and have a higher survival rate than women who are not carriers, according to Jeff Weitzel at City of Hope. Weitzel, an investigator in the PARP-inhibitor trial, is also working on a study that manipulates hormones to reduce breast density, which makes surveillance through mammography and ultrasound more effective.

In February, the Jerusalem Post reported that doctors for an Orthodox woman undergoing in-vitro fertilization at Hadassah Hospital were able to identify and screen out embryos that had inherited her BRCA mutation.

‘A gift of life’?

But while such progressive procedures have been generally well received in Israel, there is still social reluctance to test for the gene, especially in traditional circles, where families fear a genetic flaw could hurt the marriageability of their kids.

Debra Nussbaum Stepen, a Los Angeles therapist who now lives in Israel, is trying to break those perceptions. She works as a therapist at a clinic for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, and she volunteers for Bracha, a Hebrew-language Web site for BRCA carriers.

The name of the site — bracha means blessing and is a play on BRCA — connotes that knowing one’s genetic makeup is a blessing that can save one’s life.

It is a lesson Stepen learned personally.

Her father had several kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, and before he died at 77, Debra urged him to get genetic testing. She was 51 and had never had cancer when she found out she carried the gene.

“My doctor told me my breasts were ticking time bombs, and I couldn’t go to bed at night knowing that and thinking today am I going to get cancer?” said Stepen, who has three stepchildren and a new stepgranddaughter.

She observed her father’s first yahrzeit in New Orleans, where she was undergoing the third and last part of a double mastectomy and reconstruction.

“I said to my husband, in my father’s death he gave me the gift of life,” Stepen said.

It takes time to reach this comfort level. As Erika Taylor prepares for her surgery in a few weeks, she worries about the “gift” she may give to her son. She and her mom have talked about how irrational that guilt is.

“I can say to my mom, ‘You didn’t know. It’s OK. It’s not your fault,’ she said. “But when it comes to me and my son, I think how could I have done this to my son. I am in abject horror that I might have passed this on to him. I know it’s irrational, but the whole idea fills me with grief.”

At the same time, she has hope.

“My grandmother died from breast cancer at 56. My mother almost died of this disease. And I’m not going to even come close to dying,” Taylor said. “My hope for my son, if he has this, is that he may not have to have any medical intervention at all. Maybe they can repair this mutation. The idea that there is trajectory moving in the right direction gives me some comfort and hope.”

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Passover 5768

Passover 5768

Posted on 17 April 2008 by admin

Another story for the Haggadah: the year Zayde barely finished

By Toby Axelrod

BERLIN (JTA) — Zayde fell into a deep sleep at the seder table one Passover. We were too busy clearing dishes and gabbing to notice.

Suddenly came the shouts from the dining room: “Pa? Pa?”

I still feel the sudden cold, see everyone moving to the kitchen door.

Zayde was sitting at the head of the table in his chair with the wooden arms. His face was pale; his black kippah rested on wisps of white hair, his chin on his chest.

Zayde was our patriarch, a rabbi, a storyteller, a bridge to our lost family. Leading the seder was his job for life. Not only was the entire Haggadah chanted, family legends were repeated and old shtetl melodies were sung. We made “lightning rods” out of afikomen — scraps of matzah into which we bored holes for lightning to go through. Zayde would keep them until the following Passover.

He had left the Polish village of Luboml in 1925 and had come by ship to New York. Two years later, through an ad in a Yiddish paper, Zayde found his pulpit at Ahavas Shalom, a synagogue in a former bakery in Great Barrington, Mass. My bubbe and my father, then 4, crossed the ocean to join him. ##M:[more]##

Until 1984, Zayde led services, taught the bar mitzvah boys, performed chuppahs, gave advice. Zayde was also a kosher butcher, a gas station operator, a winemaker during Prohibition and an amazing teller of true stories.

But now he was silent.

Uncle Duddy shook him, exclaiming, “Get him up!” The table was shoved aside, splashing wine onto the white tablecloth and shaking the candlesticks. Zayde was carried into his room and placed on his bed with pillows under his feet.

We gathered at his door, just off the dining room. Zayde looked like a marble statue with a kippah. My cousins Benjy and Danny rubbed his feet. Slowly the color returned. He opened his eyes.

“What happened?” Zayde asked.

“You fell asleep,” he was told.

“That kind of a sleep I don’t like,” he said to laughter.

We dragged a wooden chair into his room and placed an old yahrzeit glass on it with just enough wine for him to dip his finger. From his bed, Zayde concluded the seder. Lightning did not strike — not for nearly two years.

In our family — in many families — leading the seder seems to be a job for life. First it was Zayde, then my dad. Now I am the one. Our family’s Haggadah grows another story longer.

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s Berlin correspondent.

Astronaut in space for Passover remembers a fallen Israeli hero
By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (JTA) — As Jews around the world prepare for Passover, the festival of freedom, one adventurous soul is experiencing emancipation in a most literal fashion.

In his new abode aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman has slipped the bonds of gravity and won’t return to Earth’s shackles for approximately two months.

Reisman, 40, a mechanical engineer from Parsippany, N.J., is the first Jewish astronaut to live on the orbital outpost, a multinational complex that has been under construction for 10 years.

For this Passover, living in weightlessness will require adaptation on his part. For example, matzah is out — the crumbs would be uncontainable.

Shortly before Reisman launched aboard the shuttle Endeavour March 11 from the John F. Kennedy Space Center, he was asked about spending Passover in space.

“I haven’t really thought that much about that,” he said.

Reisman did spend time planning how to honor Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died in the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster.

Following the tragedy, Reisman was given the choice of helping the investigation or providing emotional support to Ramon’s family. Reisman chose the latter.

“It was so incredibly tragic,” he told the Jerusalem Post during a visit to Israel. “Ilan had a great sense of humor and worked very hard to represent not only Israel but every Jew in the world.”

When he was tapped for a space mission of his own, Reisman asked Ramon’s widow, Rona, if there was anything she would like him to take into space.

“Ilan flew a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence,” Reisman told JTA in a preflight interview. “It was a scroll and he kind of played with it in orbit, and they have a video of that. She gave me another copy so I can kind of have the same experience with it up in orbit, and then I intend to return it to her when I get back.”

Reisman also is flying a cloth with the symbol of the state of Israel signed by President Shimon Peres, as well as a necklace blessed by a Buddhist priest and a set of rosary beads.

“I pretty much have all my major religions covered,” he joked.

Reisman’s Passover in space will be spent getting to know two new crewmates, Russians Sergey Volkov and Oleg Kononenko. The cosmonauts will replace space station commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko, who depart on April 19, the first night of Passover.

Fortunately for Reisman, his Russian is stronger than his Hebrew — he made it through cosmonaut training without a translator and took his exams in Russian as well.

But his Jewish heritage comes through, too. When one of his shuttle Endeavour colleagues asked about the camera view during a spacewalk last month, Reisman quipped, “The camera work is great. We’re going to have you shoot my cousin’s bar mitzvah.”

Soon the space station will have a more permanent mark of Jewish contributions to space exploration: Reisman’s replacement, Jewish astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, is bringing two mezuzot.

At an informal Italian seder, tradition amid the din
By Ruth Ellen Gruber

MORRUZZE, Italy (JTA) — I spend a good chunk of my time in an old stone farmhouse in central Italy’s Umbria region. It’s a beautiful part of the country, but a region where few Jews have lived since the Middle Ages.

Indeed, around here, the generic word for “person” is “cristiano,” Christian.

Many Americans and other foreigners have weekend or summer houses in the area, and while I don’t think I know any Italian Jew living within 40 miles of my house, quite a large percentage of my “foreigner” neighbors are Jewish, or at least have Jewish connections.

If I’m here at Passover, I make a seder. Passover ingredients can be hard to find — the nearest place to buy matzah is at least an hour’s drive away. But I love preparing the traditional dishes and going though the Haggadah with whomever I can round up to join me at the table.

This means roping in whichever of my Jewish, or Jewishly connected, foreign neighbors are in residence. Friends from Rome or Florence and visitors from abroad also sometimes swell the crowd.

Over the years my seder guests have numbered from three to nearly 20. (I’m not a stickler for ritual, and sometimes I shift the timing of the meal to an afternoon or even a weekend to enable as many as possible to attend.)

We can form a rather motley crew — Americans, English, Dutch, Italians, Poles … artists, journalists, diplomats, lawyers, teachers, a best-selling novelist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, a backpacking cousin touring the world before going off to teach English in China.

Inevitably, given the number of non-Jewish spouses and other friends who turn up, the Jews at the table often are outnumbered.

That’s just fine with me. At the seder we are enjoined to ask and to answer questions, to explain the Passover story in the simplest and most basic terms so that everyone — even those who don’t know what they should be asking — can understand.

I pass the Haggadahs around the table. They, too, are a motley collection: decades-old supermarket giveaways that speak to me of my childhood; an earnestly egalitarian feminist interpretation; an ArtScroll edition full of detailed explanation; a beautifully illustrated Italian version. Where some of them came from I don’t even know.

As in my childhood, we go around the table reading in turn, each guest taking a passage, then in unison we recite blessings or drip symbolic blood from our goblets. All the translations into English are different. Some guests read in Italian. Occasionally someone prefers to read in Hebrew.

It’s a cacophony, not a chorus. We laugh and talk — then we eat.

Throughout the meal, I keep at my side the most beautiful Haggadah of all — a facsimile edition of the Sarajevo Haggadah, the lavishly illustrated manuscript that was handwritten in Spain in the 14th century and brought by a circuitous route to Bosnia after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

The facsimile preserves the wine stains and children’s scrawls that mark the pages of the original, indelible testimony of long-gone seders who knows where, who knows when, who knows who.

I point them out to my guests. We, too, even in our own informal way, I tell them, are connected, asking and answering questions, carrying on a tradition that spans time, place, community and culture.

Abbreviated seder saves the day in Big Sky country
By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Like so many credit-card holders, I hoard points for the big, could-never-afford-this-otherwise events. At spring break in 2006, I had enough for a family outing to Montana and Wyoming, parts of the country we always wanted to see and ski.
The problem: Spring break coincided, as it often does, with Passover. So I made sure to pack the holiday necessities: the candles, the matzah and matzah cover, the grape juice.

But I forgot the Haggadahs.

I discovered this while unpacking just hours before the first seder, which is when we arrived at the Big Sky Montana ski resort. I grabbed the Yellow Pages and left a long, desperate message at the Reform shul in Bozeman, 30 miles away but well worth the drive to rescue the holiday.

Racking my brain, I thought surely a Haggadah must exist online. I hopped in the car and drove to the lodge, where I found the single computer attached to a printer. Googling every spelling permutation, amazingly all I found was a 30-minute seder for a fee.

I pulled out my credit card, paid the $15 and printed it four times. I drove back to our room just in time for the meal.

In the meantime, a member of the Bozeman synagogue had called to tell us, charmingly, that four Haggadahs were in a plastic bag hanging on the shul doorknob if I wanted to drive in, and we were more than welcome at the Passover day services. I left a message thanking her profusely and saying it was no longer necessary.

Whatever its drawbacks — among them little depth and the absence of the fun songs — the 30-minute seder worked wonders with the kids, then 5 and 7, who really enjoyed the story.

Ron Kampeas is JTA’s Washington bureau chief.

Top 10 talking points of Pesach

By Rabbi Stewart Weiss

The most widely-published of all Jewish books is the Haggadah. Each year, numerous new editions are released, offering new and probing insights into this marvelous work. Most fascinating, I think, is the halachic requirement that — for at least one night in the year — parents and children MUST speak to each other! Sad as it may be, despite all the labor-saving devices which mankind has created, we seem to have less and less “quality time” to spend with those we love the most.

Pesach provides a rare opportunity to review the Jewish experience with our entire family, and convey essential truths to our kids about who we are and what we are all about. Here are what I consider to be the “top 10 talking points of Pesach”:

1) Seder. This opening refrain is more than just a table of contents. It reminds us that there is an order not only to this evening’s ceremony, but to the world at large. While fate and fortune are a part of life, and though at times it may seem that the world is spinning out of control, we believe there is a guiding force in the universe, a master plan that has a beginning and an end. Ultimately, history will make sense — to those who know how to read it.

2) Ma nishtana? Not only is this night different from all others, but we, as a people, are different from any other people. Not just because we have survived the longest or suffered so much, but because we have a holy agenda and a purpose in this world. Not to dominate or rule the world, but to change it for the better. To study G-d’s ways so as to understand them, and then do our best to teach those values — ideally, by example — to humanity at large. That is precisely why we have survived — and suffered — through it all. At the end of each year, we ought to ask ourselves, “Ma nishtana?” — literally, “What has changed?” What have we done to effect positive growth in ourselves and others?

3) Chametz and matzah. Though these two foods appear diametrically opposed to one another, they actually contain the same exact ingredients — flour and water! Only one item makes them different: time. We sped out of Egypt, unwilling to wait even for the dough to rise. Time is invisible and intangible, yet it is one of the most valuable commodities known to man. We have a mandate to use our time wisely, to “watch” every second we are granted and do something important with it. Just as the Jewish calendar restarted at Nisan, we are given a new opportunity each day to sanctify time, not squander it.

4) We were slaves in Egypt. This answer to the Four Questions reminds us that of all virtues, humility may be the greatest. Though we have produced kings and prophets, we have humble beginnings. A matzah — unlike its haughty croissant counterpart — has a low profile that symbolizes humility. So, too, Moses was the greatest of our leaders — even speaking “face to face” with G-d — and yet he never fell victim to conceit or arrogance. Despite his pivotal role in the Exodus, his name is mentioned just once, in passing, in the Haggadah.

5) The four children. Everyone has a seat of their own at the seder table. Everyone is welcome and everyone is beloved by G-d, be he clever or clueless, disobedient or disconnected. Every child is different and unique, and each must be approached in his or her own way. We can start to reach our kids, suggests the Haggadah, by letting them ask us tough questions, and then responding honestly to each one.

6) Go out and learn. There is a big and beautiful planet out there. G-d created it because He loves us and because He wants us to enjoy it. Go out and see the world — scale the Alps, cruise the oceans, meet new people, expand your horizons. But — from everything, you must learn.

7) The 10 plagues. Why 10? Would not one, huge cosmic smack across Pharaoh’s face have been enough? But the total breakdown of Egyptian society — water turning to blood, crops and animals dying, insects and animals in rebellion, fire raining down, etc. — served to teach us that “normal” life is not a “given” and should never be taken for granted. Don’t turn to G-d only when things go wrong; seek Him out and thank Him when things go right, too.

8) Dayenu. Why is enough never enough? Why do we always worry about tomorrow when today is going along just fine? It’s good to prepare for the future, but it’s also good to appreciate the here-and-now. Accentuating the negative and finding the dark cloud behind every silver lining bespeaks a lack of faith and a denial of G-d’s goodness. Spend all day striving to be better, yes; but at the end of that day, be happy with what you have. Enjoy the family and home you’ve built, take a deep breath and say, “Dayenu!”

9) Maror. More than any other Jewish holiday, Pesach requires us to go back in time, to relive the experience of freedom and make it personal. But to appreciate liberation more fully, we must first feel the bitterness that accompanied our years in slavery; that is one role played by maror. The bitter herbs also serve to remind us that life — certainly Jewish life — is not always sweet and sublime. It has its moments of bitterness, frustration, disappointment and despair. We don’t sugar-coat Judaism; we swallow the maror — and then we move on.

10) One kid, one kid. This musical walk through Jewish history at the close of our seder depicts the great civilizations that have come and gone, the mighty empires that were once so full of sound and fury, but now signify nothing more than a memory. Through it all, the one little kid — the Jew — somehow survives. The seder ends on a decidedly confident and positive note: We may “butt heads” with powerful nations, but we don’t ever let them get our goat.

Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Ohel Ari Jewish Outreach Center in Ra’anana ( This article first appeared in the April 15 issue of the Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

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Around the Town — April 2008

Posted on 09 April 2008 by admin

Around the Town with Rene
Hollace Weiner’s newest book a must-read

Fort Worth author and historian Hollace Ava Weiner is on a roll! Her recently published “Jewish ‘Junior League’: The Rise and Demise of the Fort Worth Council of Jewish Women” is expected to reach the heights and popularity of several of Weiner’s previous books.

“From its founding in 1901 through the second half of the twentieth century, the Fort Worth Section of the National Council of Jewish Women fostered the integration of its members into the social and cultural fabric of the greater community. Along the way, it championed important social causes, including an Americanization school for immigrants and literacy initiatives. But by 1999, facing declining membership — and according to some, decreased relevance to the lives of Jewish women — the Council’s national and local leaders found themselves confronting the end of the group’s existence.

“Hollace Ava Weiner has mined the records of this organization at both the local and national levels, interviewed surviving members and examined Fort Worth newspapers and other local historical documents. Her lively and careful study reveals that the Fort Worth Council of Jewish Women was, in fact, so successful that it prepared the way for its own obsolescence. By century’s end, the members and the times had changed more rapidly than the Council.

“While ‘Jewish “Junior League’ focuses on a particular organization in a particular city, it simultaneously serves as a case study for the exploration of important themes of women’s and Jewish history throughout the 20th century.

“Hollace Ava Weiner, a former writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is also the author of ‘Jewish Stars in Texas: Rabbis and Their Work,’ now available in paperback from Texas A&M University Press. She is the editor of ‘Lone Stars of David,’ a coffee table anthology that won the 2006 Deolece Parmelee Award from the Texas Historical Foundation. A native of Washington, D.C., she resides in Fort Worth” with her husband, Dr. Bruce Weiner.

The book is chock-full of photos of well-known women and will bring to mind much of the good deeds done by Council and their dedicated members.

Harry Labovitz joins local MetLife firm

On the business scene, MetLife Financial Group of Texas, an office of MetLife, is pleased to announce that Harry Labovitz has joined the firm as a financial services representative.

Labovitz is a longtime resident of Fort Worth and the past president of Congregation Ahavath Sholom and Mid-Continent Region, USCJ.

MetLife Financial Group of Texas, an office of MetLife, offers a broad array of financial products and services including life, disability income, long-term care insurance and annuities, mutual funds and investment products. The company is located at 6500 West Fwy., Suite 950, Fort Worth, TX 76116, 817-377-5300.

MetLife is a subsidiary of MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET), a leading provider of insurance and financial services with operations throughout the United States and Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific regions. Through its domestic and international subsidiaries and affiliates, MetLife, Inc. reaches more than 70 million customers around the world. MetLife is the largest life insurer in the United States (based on life insurance in-force). The MetLife companies offer life insurance, annuities, auto and home insurance, retail banking services and other financial services to individuals, as well as group insurance, reinsurance and retirement and savings products and services to corporations and other institutions. For more information, please visit

On the political scene

Prominent Republican politico and activist Craig Goldman will manage the southwest operation for Republican presidential contender John McCain. From a recent issue of the Dallas Morning News, we note that Goldman ran McCain’s Straight Talk American political action committee during the 2006 election cycle. It includes Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Goldman was an aide to former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm. He ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for the Texas House seat to replace Rep. Ann Mowery, who resigned. Raised in Fort Worth, he is the son of Carol and Ronnie Goldman.

Manchester Dance Ensemble to perform for Yom HaShoah program

On Thursday, May 1, 7 p.m. at Beth-El Congregation, the Tarrant County community will commemorate the Holocaust with its annual service and program. This year we are honored to have the Manchester Dance Ensemble perform their “Spirit Unbroken” and “In Anticipation of a New Nation.” Both pieces were choreographed by Lesa Broadhead, who is also the artistic director of the Manchester Dance Ensemble. These two dance works combine contemporary dance and music in order to emphasize the healing aspects, the power and the impact of the Holocaust as well as the formation of the state of Israel. On May 16, 1999, the MDE performed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the first dance performance in the museum’s existence. The MDE has performed diverse works, from “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” to “We Shall Stand Tall,” dedicated to the victims of 9/11, and “At Last,” dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. The ensemble, which has performed in their native Ohio, in New York and in Washington, D.C. is a pre-professional, not-for-profit company of talented dancers between the ages of 11 and 18.

This program is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County with financial support from the Dan Danciger/Fort Worth Hebrew Day School Supporting Foundation, Brite Divinity School and TCU Jewish Studies Program, Martin Hochster Memorial Post #755–Jewish War Veterans, Multicultural Alliance, TCU Hillel/University Ministries, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Beth-El Congregation, Congregation Beth Shalom and Congregation Beth Israel. For more information, please call the Federation office at 817-569-0892.

Around the Town with Rene
Fort Worth Hadassah Lunch and Learn: ‘What Women Need to Know about HPV and Cervical Cancer’

The Fort Worth Chapter of Hadassah is excited to invite women from Fort Worth and Tarrant County to a special Lunch and Learn on Sunday, June 1, 2008 at Beth-El Congregation. Beginning at 12:30 p.m., they will present an educational session to teach important facts about cervical cancer and how to prevent it.

The program encourages women to take their health into their own hands, learn the facts and spread the word. Hadassah’s “What Women Need to Know” was designed to empower women with key information and take advantage of one of the most important talents women have: communication.

Unlike most cancers, cervical cancer can be prevented. Did you know that there’s a new test you can have along with your Pap smear to detect the virus that causes HPV? It’s called the human papillomavirus test (HPV test). Recent research has shown that HPV is the cause in almost all cases of cervical cancer. Did you know that the two ages women are most susceptible to HPV and cervical cancer are 15–30 and 55–75?

Come to this luncheon and take control of your cervical cancer risk! Experts on hand to answer questions include Valerie Lowenstein, immediate past president and national chair of “What Women Need to Know about HPV and Cervical Cancer”; Melissa Mendelson, National Hadassah women’s health and advocacy associate specializing in HPV and cervical cancer; and Dr. Douglas Tatum, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth and the city’s leading expert on HPV and cervical cancer.

Hadassah’s working luncheon committee includes Debby Rice, Lihi Zabari Kamen, Karen Johnson, Elyse Kitterman, Karen Kaplan, Jill Imber, Cindy Simon, Randee Kaitcer, Orit Paytan, Mona Karten, Zoë Stein Pierce, Posy McMillen, Naomi Rosenfield, Laurie Werner and Rhoda Bernstein.

For more information, please call Debby Rice at 817-332-0022 or Lihi Zabari Kamen at 817-764-3452. See you there!

Thirteenth Mitzvah Day more successful than ever

Two hundred people representing Fort Worth’s religious community — Beth-El, Ahavath Sholom, and Arlington’s Beth Shalom — participated in the 13th Mitzvah Day on April 6. Sixteen nonprofit agencies across Tarrant County benefited from the various projects. The Blood Drive collected 27 units of blood, which exceeded the target goal of 20. The mitzvot will even extend beyond Tarrant County since one of the activities was “Cards for Soldiers,” which will be sent to U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mitzvah Day Co-chairs Dan Halpern and Jenny Solomon from Beth-El, Ben Weiger from Beth Shalom and Elaine Bumpas from Ahavath Sholom are grateful to all the volunteers who helped make the event a success.

The co-chairs thank Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger, Rabbi Baruch Zeilicovich and Rabbi Ned Soltz for their consistent and unwavering support. Additionally, thanks to the three congregation presidents, Mark Sloter, Al Fagin and Stuart Snow. Thanks also to the wonderfully helpful Beth-El staff, who are always present and know exactly what to do to make an event like this run so smoothly.

Dan Halpern acknowledged men from the two congregations who provided the food for 200 hungry workers. Men’s Club President Marvin Beleck and the Ahavath Sholom Men’s Club provided breakfast. Beth-El MRJ President Mike Kalpin and the Men of Reform Judaism provided the delicious lunch.

Halpern acknowledged Registrars Corrine Jacobson and Ellen Rubinson, as well as Mileyna Razack, who coordinated the T-shirts. Because of some last-minute publicity, there were dozens of people who walked in and wanted to help.

Finally, Halpern expressed his thanks to the team captains: All Church Home for Children, David Levine; Cards for Soldiers, Gloria Sepp; Carter Blood Bank, Genie Long; Friends of the River, Laurie Kelfer; Gladney Center, Joan Katz and Carol Minker; Habitat for Humanity, Marty Rubinson; Hebrew Rest, Jerry Weiner; Hospice, Terri Halpern; Food Bank, Linda Hoffman; Meals On Wheels, Lynell Bond; Ronald McDonald House, Howard Bellet, Faye Slater and Ann Cobert; Oak Park Retirement Center, Monica Braverman; Ellen Rubinson, Linda Hoffman, Angie Kitzman and Sonja Stein.

Brandon Chicotsky to speak about anti-Semitism on campus

Brandon Chicotsky, a young key figure on the local, state and national scene, will be the guest speaker at Fort Worth’s Isadore Garsek Lodge’s B’nai B’rith Jewish Person of the Year Dinner on May 4 at Ridglea Country Club. Born and raised in Fort Worth, he is the son of Donna and Robert Chicotsky.

He will speak on “The New Hate: Defending Israel and The Jewish Identity on College Campuses.”

Brandon Chicotsky is the founder of Texas Ventures, an entrepreneurs’ organization offering early-stage investments to young companies. He is an alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin, where he began acting on his passions for public service and strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.

He is a champion for Texas Hillel, the center for Jewish student life at his alma mater. On campus, he worked with Texas Hillel as a member of Texans For Israel to battle Israel’s detractors and anti-Semitic academia. In 2006 the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) awarded Brandon and his activist colleagues the Duke Rudman Award, their highest activist award for campus pro-Israel advocacy.

In 2007, Brandon established an Israel Travel Fund, which financed his third study abroad in the Middle East region. He is a member of the Texas Breakfast Club, AIPAC, NORPAC, Hillel International, B’nai B’rith, and Texas Ventures.

During his four years in college, Brandon worked on several national races. As a former president of Austin’s largest political charter, he co-managed a successful U.S. presidential campaign office of 40 interns and hundreds of volunteers. The office gained enough attention to garner a visit and cover story from NBC’s Tom Brokaw.

In the summer of 2006, Brandon organized pro-Israel students along the East Coast to join him in Senator Joe Lieberman’s re-election campaign in Connecticut. Prior to this campaign work, he interned in the Washington, D.C. headquarters of AIPAC. Some of his department work included meetings with candidates running for federal office to educate them on Israeli issues.

Brandon has studied abroad with numerous visits to the Middle East, Mexico and Central America. His trips to the Middle East region have included meetings with the Israeli military, cultural leaders and government officials over issues of Western economic interest, military conflict and counter-terrorism. He is an active advocate for America’s interest in the Middle East and frequents Washington, D.C. to lobby on legislative items concerning the region.

Currently, Brandon runs Texas Ventures in Austin and aids local candidates for public office. He aspires to work in the Jewish Liaison’s Office of the White House in 2009 and will pursue graduate studies in public affairs.

Rabbi Mecklenburger recognized

Congratulations to Beth-El’s Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger, who was recognized in Fort Worth Texas magazine’s March issue as one of Fort Worth’s “14 Brilliant Minds.” Writer Gail Bennison says that “the 14 gifted and very accomplished individuals recognized … have pushed their life’s work in innovative directions for the good of all mankind.” Mecklenburger was singled out as a “Modern Day Philosopher” for his accomplishments within Beth-El and within the Fort Worth community. He is the only religious leader recognized in this issue.

Mother’s Day party honors Israel at 60

The community is invited to join in a significant event at a party on Mother’s Day honoring Israel at 60. The community birthday gala will celebrate 60 years of Israel’s independence.

The May 11 evening celebration will be held at Beth-El Congregation, 4900 Briarhaven, Fort Worth.

As you step through the doors you’ll find your senses assaulted by the tastes, aromas and sounds of Israel. Listen and dance to modern Israeli, classic, Yemenite and Chassidic melodies sung by sabra Yoel Sharabi, who will captivate you with his wide repertoire and dynamic style. You will be inspired by a short ballet piece performed by Liliya Aronov and Assaf Benchetrit, both Israelis who are now with the Texas Metropolitan Classic Ballet.

Cocktails will be served at 6:30 p.m. and dinner will follow at 7:30 p.m. Dietary laws will be observed. Cocktail attire is suggested.

Tickets are $25 per person and may be purchased with cash at the Federation office; by checks sent to 4049 Kingsridge Road, Fort Worth, TX 76109; or by credit card by calling 817-569-0892. Babysitting is available by reservation only. All reservations must be made by May 5, 2008.

Sponsors include the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County with financial support from the Foundation of the Jewish Federation, Dan Danciger/Fort Worth Hebrew Day School Supporting Foundation, the Molly Roth Fund, the Israeli Community of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Yad B’Yad/HaShomer, and Ruthy and Eldad Erez.

The gala is endorsed by Congregations Beth-El, Ahavath Sholom, Beth Israel, Beth Shalom, the WRJ groups of Beth-El and Beth Shalom, Hadassah, the Jewish Education Agency, Brite Divinity School and TCU Jewish Studies, and UNT Jewish Studies.

JWI closing luncheon, May 7

Jewish Women International are secure in the choice of their president for the coming year. Ina Singer, who has served as head of the group for the last eight years, will continue leading JWI to greater successes. Ina tells the TJP that the closing luncheon will be held on Wednesday, May 7, 11:30 a.m. at the Olive Garden. Luncheon reservations are $7.50 and should be made with Rita Hoffman, 817-370-7209. JWI makes significant contributions to many local charitable and service organizations.

Around the Town with Rene

Lizzy Michan, Marc Bumpuss, Karen Silverberg, Steven Silverberg, Emily Cobert, and Carly Karten at the Community Purim Carnival.
Rosanne and Billy Rosenthal honored
Fort Worth philanthropists Rosanne and Billy Rosenthal came in for well-deserved added honors last week when the Multicultural Alliance presented their major award to them. Billy is the third member of his immediate family to receive the award. His father, the late Manny Rosenthal, noted community leader, received the award 20 years ago, and his mother, Roz Rosenthal, was recipient of the award nine years ago. The alliance was formerly known for years as the National Conference for Christians and Jews and later as the National Conference for Community and Justice.

In the past 29 years, the Rosenthals have been major benefactors to Cook Children’s Medical Center, Susan Komen for the Cure, Trinity Valley School, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Texas Christian University, Beth-El, Modern Museum, Texas A&M, UT and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, among others.
Among the past recipients of the award are Rabbi Robert Schur, M.J. Neeley, Dr. Edwin Guinn, Dr. John Richardson, Dr. Frank Cohen, David Beckerman, Van Cliburn, Hazel Harvey Peace and, last year, Tim Sear, Alcon executive.

Dinner chairs were Howard and Joan Katz, longtime friends of the Rosenthals. In acknowledging his friends, Howard said, “The work of the Multicultural Alliance, to teach young people that we can all be different but that our DNA is pretty much the same and that those differences enhance our society — that’s what Billy and Rosanne have demonstrated in their lives.”

Proceeds from the dinner support the Alliance’s programs, such as Camp CommUNITY for high school students and a weeklong retreat for seminary students. Both programs offer opportunities for young people to share life experiences with people of other cultural, racial and religious backgrounds.

Beth-El’s 13th annual Mitzvah Day, Sunday, April 6
Across Tarrant County, members of three Jewish congregations will be engaged in meaningful volunteer activities as part of Beth-El Congregation’s 13th annual Mitzvah Day. Over 200 volunteers will combine their efforts on behalf of 16 community-wide projects on Sunday, April 6. Mitzvah Day originated in Tarrant County at Beth-El Congregation, and congregants from Fort Worth’s Ahavath Sholom and Arlington’s Beth Shalom continue to join in giving back to our community.

A wide array of volunteer projects will meet the needs of almost every volunteer. Planting, building, sorting clothing and food donations, cooking or making cards for American service men and women are a few of the opportunities available, according to Chair Dan Halpern.

A new project for this year is assisting “Friends of the River” in a cleanup of the Trinity River and its banks. Volunteers can also assist Meals on Wheels to assemble and deliver pet food donations for Meals on Wheels clients’ four-legged friends.

Families with children can find child-friendly activities like preparing lunch at Ronald McDonald House for delivery to families staying in the house and at local hospitals. The Tarrant Area Food Bank also provides an opportunity for families to work together to help those less fortunate.

Finally, Halpern encourages everyone to double their mitzvah by giving blood to Carter BloodCare. There is a constant need in Tarrant County for donated blood, as someone needs blood every three seconds. The bloodmobile will be available through the afternoon, and Halpern encourages volunteers to come back for lunch at 12:30 and stay to donate blood.

Agency projects include All Church Home for Children, Friends of the River, Gladney Center for Adoption, Habitat for Humanity, Hebrew Rest Cemetery, Hospice, Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County, Mission Arlington, Mission Metroplex/YWCA, Oak Park Retirement Center, Ronald McDonald House, Tarrant Area Food Bank and Women’s Center.

Mitzvah Day begins with check-in and breakfast, followed by a short prayer service at 9 a.m. in the Great Hall. By 9:30, volunteers will be heading out to agencies throughout the area to work. Lunch will be provided at 12:30 for those finished with their projects.

Pre-registration is not required, although Halpern encourages potential volunteers interested in a particular agency project to let him know in advance.

“But if you just come on April 6, we will find something for you to do,” he says.
For more information or to sign up for a particular project, call Dan Halpern at 817-426-3239.

‘Shushan Idol’ hits Beth-El
Hundreds of people attended the Community Purim Carnival on Sunday, March 23 at Beth-El Congregation. Lunch was served by the Beth-El Brotherhood while the attendees shmoozed and bought tickets for the carnival. The celebration began with Tarrant County’s first annual “Shushan Idol” show, written by award-winning Richard Allen. Although Mordechai, King Ahasuerus, Queen Esther, Vashti and Haman vied for the Idol title, the Jewish community was the winner this year. By the sounds of laughter and clapping, it seems that the contest was a big success.

The carnival was full of fun and even included a station for each of the Purim mitzvot. Children who visited the Mishloach Manot (sending gifts), Reading the Megillah, Seudat Purim (meal of Purim) and Matanot Le’evyonim (gifts for the needy) booths enjoyed giving, getting and eating hamantaschen! In addition, they were rewarded with extra tickets for participating in all four booths. The youngsters also enjoyed face-painting, pie-throwing, ring toss, Mordechai’s Muffin Game, Shushan Shuffleboard, Purim Plinko, Wheel of Purim, Hit Haman’s Hat, and two bounce houses. Everyone enjoyed the sno-cones, popcorn and hamantaschen. The committee — Ilana Knust, Rivka Marco, Ruthy Erez, and Shirley Ben-David — worked very hard to make sure the carnival was both fun and educational. The smiles on the tired faces as they left seemed to say they had succeeded.

Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County with financial support from the Dan Danciger/Fort Worth Hebrew Day School Supporting Foundation, many Tarrant County organizations helped to make the carnival a success. BBYO, FWUSY, FWFTY, the Junior Youth Group of Beth-El, the religious schools of Beth-El and Ahavath Sholom, JEA, Beth-El’s WRJ, Beth-El Brotherhood and TCU Hillel.

From Mona
Hi all,
It’s been a long, busy winter. I don’t know about you, but I sure am glad it’s spring! And we’re having another Girls Night Out. I would love to see all of you there. We’ll be meeting at Lucile’s on Camp Bowie at 7 p.m. next Thursday, April 3. If you can be there, e-mail Cindy Simon at
The Regional Conference is coming up on May 16–18 in McAllen. We’ll be honoring our wonderful Laurie Werner as she steps down as region president. If you’d like to attend, please let me know.
Enjoy this pretty weather before it changes again!

WRJ breakfast May 4
Women of Reform Judaism will hold a Membership Appreciation Breakfast on May 4.

The menu includes quiche, fresh-fruit salad and coffee as well as good company and a special program.

All Sisterhood members will be honored with a free breakfast and enthralling speakers in Beth-El’s Great Hall. This is your opportunity to mingle with old friends and make some new ones. Members will vote for WRJ’s 2008–2009 executive board at the event of the year! This is the way the WRJ board thanks their membership for their support and dedication in helping the Beth-El Sisterhood reach new heights in 2008. The daughter and granddaughter of the legendary Stanley Marcus (as in “Neiman Marcus”) will speak during the breakfast meeting about their new book, “Reflection of the Man: The Photographs of Stanley Marcus.” In their first Fort Worth appearance, these two women — Jerried Marcus Smith and professional photographer Allison V. Smith — will tell the stories behind the pictures.
We know of Stanley Marcus as the retailing wizard who turned Neiman Marcus into an international shopping destination. However, many of us did not know that he was a gifted photographer who snapped candid shots of the rich and famous. Books will be for sale, and Marcus’s daughter and granddaughter will sign them.

This program is chaired by fellow WRJ “sisters” Carolyn Bauman Cruz, Solace Weiner and Liz Cooper. Questions? Please contact Carolyn Bauman Cruz at, or Liz Cooper at Want to bring a friend? No problem. Non-WRJ members are welcome to attend for a nominal charge of $5. Reservations should be made with Liz Cooper at

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Dallas Doings — April 2008

Posted on 09 April 2008 by admin

‘Dance the Night Away’ to feature Doc Gibbs

Doc Gibbs and his band will headline the “Dance the Night Away” event, Saturday, May 3, 7:30 p.m., at Temple Emanu-El, 8500 Hillcrest Road. This cabaret-style evening, part of the Showcase Series, will include table seating and refreshments.

Doc Gibbs is a multitalented entertainer: singer, comedian, impressionist, songwriter and pianist. He’s a one-man show, but he will appear with his five-piece band for this fun-filled evening of music and dancing. Doc and his band play a variety of musical styles: popular, country, rhythm and blues, jazz and timeless standards. He will also take requests and perform some of his sidesplitting singing impressions of other famous entertainers such as Elvis, Michael Jackson, Louis Armstrong and Willie Nelson.

Doc has been honing his skills as an entertainer since he began self-teaching piano at 8 years old. He continued with formal training through high school and graduated from Brandeis University in 1972. Throughout those years, he served as a church musician in accompanist, singer and director roles. He is a featured artist with Nana Puddin’ and Young Audiences (Big Thought) of Texas, providing inspirational, entertaining and educational shows for youth. He has provided show music for Percy Sledge, Joan Rivers and the Drifters, and has performed throughout the U.S. and internationally including China, Russia, Nigeria, the Caribbean and England. Doc also works as a speaker providing motivational and musical presentations that entertain and inspire.

He says he is blessed to be doing what he enjoys: performing, entertaining and speaking. His goal is to inspire, encourage, and make people laugh, fully living out his motto: “Doc makes you feel good!”

The Showcase Series is produced by the Temple Emanu-El Music Committee, chaired by Sarah Yarrin and advised by Cantor Richard Cohn. The series is celebrating its 18th year as a premier event at Temple Emanu-El.

Tickets are $15/adult; $12/senior/student; $7/youth 13 and under. Order online at or call Temple Emanu-El, 214-706-0000; Sarah Yarrin, 214-924-1487; or Rosalee Cohen, 972-233-2001.

‘Silenced Voices’ concert May 1

On Thursday, May 1, 7:30 p.m., at the UTD Conference Center, 800 W. Campbell Road, the Dallas Chamber Orchestra will feature a concert called “Silenced Voices: A Concert of Remembrance” highlighting musical works by composers murdered in the Holocaust. The event is presented by the University of Texas–Dallas Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies in cooperation with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Dallas.

Admission is free but reservations are required: 972-883-2100. Take note that the president and chairman of the Dallas Chamber Orchestra is Laura Rosenthal, a member of Chabad of Dallas; and two of its board members are Carol Tobias and Alice Rosen, members of Temple Emanu-El.

Bnai Zion celebrates 100th anniversary

Sunday, May 4, 10 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 14315 Midway Road, Addison, Bnai Zion will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a brunch honoring Patti and Howard Fields and Eli Davidsohn and recognizing Judah Epstein. Special guest speaker will be Alon Carmel, founder and former CEO of JDate. All proceeds from the brunch will be donated to AHAVA, a residential center for children ages 6 to 18 who come from high-risk home situations, where Alon spent a period of his childhood.

Cost of brunch: $50 per person and $40 for persons under 30 years of age.

Space is limited. Please call Avrille at 972-918-9200 or e-mail her at to make reservations.

Holocaust art exhibition at museum

During the month of May, the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance will present “The Color of Memory: Art by Two Daughters of the Holocaust.” The exhibition consists of the work of two artists, Julie Meetal and Veronique Jonas, whose paintings and sculptures embody the searing effect of the Holocaust on their families and on the Jews of Europe during World War II.

Julie Meetal’s exhibition, “Out of Ashes,” is a series with 11 paintings, one large sculpture and three smaller pieces. The work directly reflects the Holocaust stories of her Hungarian parents and the larger fate of European Jews.

Veronique Jonas’ series of 12 paintings, entitled “The Color of Memory,” poetically envisions the experience of her family and the Jewish community on the Greek island of Rhodes.

The artists employ differing styles to achieve their aims. Meetal paints imaginatively, creating a dreamlike nexus of figures, symbols, and saturated color, while Jonas paints with a heightened realism to depict the buildings of the Jewish quarter of Rhodes.

For Meetal and Jonas, their art expresses the personal and emotional repercussions of the Holocaust for their parents and for themselves. Through their eyes, the viewer is able to understand the Holocaust not just as history, but as the story of real families and specific individuals. These artists give us both the facts of memory and its ineffable color of loss and remembrance. Meetal and Jonas want the testimony of their art to refute those who try to deny the Holocaust, and to awaken all of us to the threat of genocide around the world today.

Both artists live in the Dallas area and created the work in this exhibition independently. In 2005, when they were both participating in an exhibition in Israel, they found each other engaged in the same mission, and joined together to create the exhibition, “The Color of Memory: Art by Two Daughters of the Holocaust.”

Ticket prices are $6 for adults and $4 for students under 18, seniors, active military and groups of 15 or more. Prices include the Holocaust Museum exhibit, audio guide and “Color of Memory” art show. For more information, please contact the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance at 214-741-7500 or go to

Melton alumni to graduate, celebrate

At graduation on June 3, the Honu Frankel chapter of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School Alumni Association of Dallas will be launched. The celebration will allow family members and graduates to come together to celebrate Honu’s life and commitment to high-quality adult Jewish education. Honoring Honu’s memory and love of learning, her family worked closely with Rachelle Weiss-Crane and Annie Glickman to create this lasting tribute. The funds contributed will provide for tuition assistance, faculty development, guest speakers and other important initiatives in Dallas which will sustain the Mini School for years to come.

For more information, contact Annie Glickman at 214-239-7140 or

Akiba Academy celebrates its educational future: Mark Stolovitsky signs long-term contract as head of school

Three-and-a-half years ago, Akiba Academy was facing many challenges — moving onto to a new campus and transitioning to a new set of administrators and a newly-hired head of school. While remaining true to its core Modern Orthodox values and mission, Akiba Academy is stronger and more confident than ever before. ”We have seen our academic program, as well as the quality of administrative and teaching staff, rise to levels of excellence unprecedented in our school’s history,” said Elizabeth Liener, president of the board of trustees. “The culture at Akiba is positive, open and constructive. As a result, students and families genuinely enjoy being at our school and understand the value and beauty of the education we are providing. The numbers tell the story — during these past few years, we have grown nearly 30 percent in enrollment, while retention levels are at an all-time high. A recent third-party school assessment affirms the vibrancy and strength of our educational culture.”

The Board of Trustees of Akiba has announced that Mark Stolovitsky signed a long-term contract, remaining at the helm of Akiba Academy for at least another four years.

A law graduate of McGill University in Montreal, “Mar S.”, as he is known to his students, was admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1981. Following graduate studies in history of Jewish interpretation at McGill, he obtained a master’s degree in educational policy and administration from the University of Calgary.

His solid background in administration, financial management, marketing and institutional advancement provide the strength required to build cohesive team unity and integrity. His teaching skills give him the insightful ability to present Judaism meaningfully to students.

Under his direction, Akiba has also recently extended long-term agreements with the following key personnel: business manager Nancy Skinner, a 15-year veteran at Akiba; Dr. Beverly Millican, director of general studies, who came on board at the same time as Mark Stolovitsky; Rabbi Zev Silver, who leads the Judaic studies faculty; and Jordana Bernstein, director of early childhood education.

“The dynamic spirit of Mr. Stolovitsky has moved Akiba from a point of uncertainty and challenge to a position of strength and unlimited possibilities. His comprehensive experience and talents as an educator and a leader serve him well as he continues to effectively grow our school within the framework of our values and our mission. We are incredibly fortunate to have a head of school with his level of commitment, energy and vision,” Mrs. Liener added.

In May, as part of the Scholarship Raffle and Dinner event, Akiba will “Celebrate its Educational Future” with a special tribute to faculty and staff. For more information about Akiba, or to arrange for a tour, please contact Mireille Brisebois-Allen at 214-295-3400,

Swing into summer with Equity Bank’s End of Schoolyear Bash!

Come show off your putting skills at the first annual Equity Bank End of Schoolyear Bash! Enter in the miniature golf tournament or help sponsor a child player. All proceeds from the tournament and event will go to the Gladys Golman/Faye Dallen Education Fund (GGFDEF), a charitable foundation that provides training for preschool, day-school and religious-school teachers on the educational challenges of teaching children with learning differences. A buffet including kosher offerings will also be featured along with a driving range and batting cages.

The tournament will be held at Top Golf in Dallas, at the northwest corner of Park Lane and Abrams, on Saturday, May 18, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Sponsors include Equity Bank, Waldman Bros., Glazer’s Distributors, Current Energy, the Zweig Family, the Sol Levine Family, Rich Hippie, Ed and Jill Sedacca, Sheila and Jeff Chapman, Bonnie and Jeff Whitman, Michael and Jane Hurst, Kahn Mechanical, Carol and Steve Aaron, Martin and Susan Golman, Stan and Barbara Levenson, Harold and Ida Ann Zweig, David and Lauren Zweig, Bennett and Marion Glazer, Insurance Partners Southwest, Trevor and Elaine Pearlman, Levy and Sons Plumbing, Baxter Brinkmann and Lisa Stout, and Brown McCarroll.

The Gladys Golman/Faye Dallen Education Fund (GGFDEF) was created by Louis and Robin Zweig in honor of their son David, who has Asperger’s syndrome. The GGFDEF was started in September 2007 with the vision to provide educational resources for Dallas-area preschool, day-school, and religious-school teachers so that they, and their students with learning differences, could fulfill their educational responsibilities and needs. The fund finances educational seminars and training days, and focuses on helping teachers and religious-school leaders develop classroom strategies for learning differences such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADD/ADHD, dyslexia and other neurological disorders.

To date, the fund has sponsored and facilitated five training sessions in which 100 area teachers have gone through two-hour training sessions that introduce and explain the neurological disorders which affect our children today.

The fund is establishing a resource center in the Tycher Library at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, where parents, students, and teachers can access the latest information about neurological disorders, learn best practices and develop strategies to foster success.

Federation’s Jewish Education Department presents scholar Rabbi Marvin Tokayer

The Dallas Jewish community is delighted to welcome scholar Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, an internationally renowned expert on the Jewish experience in the Far East, to our city from May 2 to May 11.

Rabbi Tokayer will speak and teach across a wide swath of Jewish Dallas. Congregational visits include Shaare Tefilla, Temple Emanu-El and Anshai Torah. He will also visit with school-age children as well as adult learners at the Melton Mini School. In the community-at-large, he is scheduled to teach a seminar for teachers at the Holocaust Museum; visit SMU’s Bridwell Library, repository of a 12th-century Torah written by Chinese Jews; and lead a Talmud class, focusing on Asian study of the Talmud.

The author of 33 books in Japanese and a guide for tours of Jewish life in the Far East, Rabbi Tokayer served as rabbi of the Jewish community of Japan from 1968 to 1981, where he also served as vice president of the Jewish communities of East Asia and the Pacific. He is co-author of “The Fugu Plan,” the heroic story of the European Jews who found haven in Japan and China during the Holocaust. He recently retired as rabbi of Cherry Lane Minyan in Great Neck, N.Y.

While in Dallas, Rabbi Tokayer will participate in a diverse array of activities, including Sabbath afternoon study at Shaare Tefilla, an Orthodox synagogue; a Rosh Chodesh observance for women to commemorate the beginning of the month at Anshai Torah, a Conservative synagogue, and giving the Neustadt Lecture at Temple Emanu-El, a Reform temple.

Rabbi Tokayer’s visit is presented by the Jewish Education Department of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and is sponsored by Frank and Helen Risch.

Those interested in attending one of Rabbi Tokayer’s lectures are asked to contact Melissa Bernstein at 214-239-7134 or

Akiba Academy honored for noteworthy practices at Conference for Excellence in Jewish Education

A group of Akiba Academy of Dallas’ professional and lay leaders traveled to Boston last week to attend the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) Assembly for Jewish Day Schools. Over 1300 representatives from 265 schools were “Linked for Learning, Positioned for Growth” over the span of two days of content-rich seminars, enhanced through the use of innovative meeting practices such as World Café Conversations.

Keynote addresses from Pat Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, and Israeli statesman Natan Sharansky were the highlights of evening programming. Sharansky delivered a passionate message about the importance of one’s identity and the role played by Jewish day schools in this affirmation. Through moving anecdotes culled from pivotal, life-altering events, Sharansky passionately inspired this important gathering of Jewish educators and innovators.

This biennial conference also marked the debut of PEJE’s Marketing Awards initiative, designed to recognize Jewish day schools which have demonstrated exemplary practices in the area of marketing. Over 200 entries were considered and Akiba Academy was recognized for Excellence in Data Collection and Analysis, Responsiveness to Parents’ Needs with its Electronic Newsletter, and materials developed for Fundraising, Annual Campaigns. All winning entries are now part of PEJE’s community of marketing practices, and shared electronically with Jewish day schools across the U.S., Canada and other participating countries.

Revitalized from this infusion of knowledge, expertise and innovative practices in all areas responsible for Jewish day school growth and success, Akiba Academy is now, more than ever, poised to “Celebrate its Educational Future,” the theme of this year’s Scholarship Event and Faculty Tribute on May 15. That evening, Akiba will honor current faculty and staff members who exemplify best practices by delivering excellence in Judaic and general studies education every day. A special memento will be awarded to Akiba employees who have contributed to Akiba’s success for the last five years and longer.
Second Annual Passover Restaurant at the J

The “J” will be the scene of its Second Annual Passover Restaurant on Thursday, April 24, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Zale Auditorium, 7900 Northaven Road. The evening will include a delicious meal, great activities and fun for all the children.

Best of all, there’s no fuss, no muss and no cleaning! Fees for the evening and program are: adults, $15; children (2–12 years old), $10. Reservations and payment must be received by Tuesday, April 22. For more information, or to make a reservation, call 214-739-2737.≠

Daniel Bonner among 250 high school seniors that make a difference
Daniel Bonner, an outstanding senior from Yavneh Academy of Dallas, has demonstrated the academic excellence, school leadership and community involvement to earn a finalist spot in the 20th class of the Coca-Cola Scholars program. Bonner was selected as a finalist from a field of approximately 2,000 semifinalists by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and will start college next fall with the help of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of North Texas and the Coca-Cola Company. Including the 20th class of scholars designated in 2008, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation will have provided more than 4,000 young scholars nationwide with more than $35 million since the Foundation’s inception.

Bonner is one of 250 high school seniors selected nationwide to compete for a cash scholarship from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. On April 24, he will join other finalists as they travel to Atlanta, the headquarters of the Coca-Cola Company, for the Scholars Weekend to compete for 50 four-year college scholarships of $20,000 and 200 four-year scholarships of $10,000. Over the four-day weekend, the finalists will interview with a National Selection Committee, tour the city, meet with former Coca-Cola Scholars and participate in a range of activities including a community service project. Additionally, the 2008 class of Coca-Cola Scholars will be recognized at a banquet hosted by the Coca-Cola System, educators, local dignitaries and friends of the Scholars Foundation.

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation is one of the most-recognized and respected corporate-sponsored scholarships in America. The foundation was created in 1986 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Coca-Cola and to establish a legacy for the education of tomorrow’s leaders through college scholarships. The program is open to all high school seniors in the United States from 26,000 high schools. Coca-Cola Scholars come from all 50 states and more than one-third are minorities.

SMU tribute to Simon Sargon
The Meadows Wind Ensemble will present a 70th birthday tribute to Simon Sargon, renowned contemporary composer, pianist and professor at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, with guest performers including the Meadows Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Opera baritone John Sauvey. The concert will feature six of Sargon’s original compositions, including the world premiere of a piece written for the occasion. The concert will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 6, in Caruth Auditorium in the Owen Arts Center, 6101 Bishop Blvd. on the SMU campus. Tickets are $13 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7 for students, SMU faculty and staff. Free parking is available at Hillcrest and Binkley or in the garage under the Meadows Museum. To purchase tickets, call 214-768-2787.

The program will showcase the composer’s musical diversity, from classical to jazz, from comic to serious, based on themes ranging from war memories to nature to fairy tales. The concert opens with the world premiere of “Lift Off,” which was specially commissioned for the Meadows Wind Ensemble by its conductor, Jack Delaney. Inspired by the crashing of waves against a cliff along the Pacific shore, the piece suggests a soaring flight into gravity-less space. The work is followed by “After the Vietnam War,” a cycle of seven songs for baritone and orchestra written in 1984. The text consists of poems written by Vietnam veterans about their experiences. It will be performed by members of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra with John Sauvey.

The pace changes with the next work, “Dusting Around with Scott’s Rag” (1993), a jazzy, humorous variation on Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” It will be performed by the Meadows Wind Ensemble and flute soloist Kathryn Martin.

Following a brief intermission, the Wind Ensemble returns for “Rap Sessions,” a showcase for solo trumpet and solo trombone that it commissioned in 2003. Trumpeter Durango Ruiz and trombonist James Layfield will be featured.
This piece is followed by “The World of Anatevka,” based on authentic folk melodies of Jewish villages of Eastern Europe and Russia which were wiped out in the Holocaust. Sargon said, “These melodies express the deep emotions, the profound love of life and the basic universal concerns of the vibrant people who once lived in these communities and are now no more.”

The concert concludes with “The Town Musicians of Bremen,” a breezy and lighthearted work based on the Grimm fairy tale. Sargon composed the piece in 2002 to celebrate the birth of his first grandchild, Juliana. Michael Blayney (Juliana’s father) will serve as narrator, and choreography by SMU dance students will be featured.

Synaplex Shabbat
at Temple Shalom
The community is cordially invited to celebrate Shabbat at Temple Shalom’s Synaplex Shabbat, Saturday, April 5, 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m., and to share in an array of choices including services, classes and activities for every age and every member of the family. The event — free, open to the community, no reservations necessary — will be ushered in with a Synaplex Jewbilee, a coming together of rhythm and song before everyone participates in a myriad of classes and interests.

Beginning at 10, the series of programs includes:
Rabbi Brian Zimmerman will present “Pump Up The Seder: How to Lead a Great Seder with Kids from K-12.”
Dennis Eichelbaum, attorney at law, will discuss: “Parents’ and Students’ Rights in Public Schools.”
“Unlocking the Secrets of our New Prayer Book: Mishkan T’fillah” will be facilitated by Rabbi Jeremy Schneider.
“Baking for Passover” will be demonstrated by Ed Brandt of Ed’s Deli.

Attorney Rich Reister will discuss “Estate Planning: Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor will present “Separating Belief and Fact.” (How do we reconcile tradition and science?)
“A Taste of Rosh Chodesh” will be offered by Rivka Arad, Allison Harding and Jill Weinberg.

“Scrabble” will be available all morning for all ages, supervised by Sandy Poulin.

“Mah Jongg,” teaching and practice, will take place all morning with Pat Jortner.

“Texas Hold’em” will be facilitated by Amir Arad and Aric Stock from 10 to noon.

From 11 a.m. to noon, Rabbi Brian Zimmerman will present “Don’t Just Skip to the End and Eat: Dynamic Discussions for a Great Seder.”

During the same time frame: Dr. Pam Garcy, author, will discuss her newest book, “The Power of Inner Guidance: Seven Steps to Tune In and Turn On.”

Stephanie Comfort will escort participants on “A Journey to the Exotic Land of North Africa.” Your senses will come alive with the taste, aroma, music and art of Morocco.

Azhar Azeez and Rabbi Jeremy Schneider will present “Children of Abraham: Jews and Muslims in Conversation.”
Gil Elan will facilitate “Israel Update,” late-breaking news of Israel.

“Feeding the Jewish 101” is a stand-up comic offering by Ed Brandt.

“Whom Does God Choose and Why?” is the profound question to be posed by Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor.

A festive lunch will be served at noon, followed by additional entertainment:

From 1 to 2 p.m., Rabbi Andrew Paley will review the book, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.”

Cantor Don Croll and Eli Davidsohn will perform a program of Chassidic music.

The activity menu for students includes “Jerusalem Jewelry Making,” “Create Your Own Matzah Cover,” “Build a City in Israel with Legos,” “Jewish Guitar Hero,” “Football and Basketball,” “Who Wants To Be A Jewish Millionaire” and “Games, Games, Games.”

For more information on Synaplex Shabbat at Shalom, please contact Rivka Arad, director of Life Long Learning, at

AJCommittee welcomes
Ellen Avraham
Welcome to American Jewish Committee’s newest staff member, Ellen Avraham! Ellen, who recently joined the Dallas chapter, brings with her a wealth of experience. She has served as the deputy director of public relations and later as the regional coordinator with the Join Distribution Committee in Israel, as well as occupied the role of public information officer for the Consulate General of Israel in Boston, Mass. Ellen is in the U.S. with her two children and husband, Eli Avraham, who is the Schusteman visiting professor at the University of North Texas.

Akiba celebrates its
educational future
Three and a half years ago, Akiba Academy was facing many challenges — moving onto to a new campus and transitioning to a new set of administrators and a newly-hired head of school, just to name a few.

“We have seen our academic program, as well as the quality of administrative and teaching staff, rise to levels of excellence unprecedented in our school’s history,” said Elizabeth Liener, president of the board of trustees. “The culture at Akiba is positive, open and constructive. As a result, students and families enjoy being at our school and understand the value and beauty of the education we are providing. The numbers tell the story. During these past few years, we have grown nearly 30 percent in enrollment, while retention levels are at an all-time high. A recent third-party school assessment affirms the vibrancy and strength of our educational culture.”

The board of trustees of Akiba Academy recently announced that Mark Stolovitsky signed a long-term contract, remaining at the helm of Akiba Academy for at least another four years.

A law graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Mark S., as he is known to his students, was admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1981. Following graduate studies in history of Jewish interpretation at McGill, he obtained a master’s degree in educational policy and administration from the University of Calgary.

His solid background in administration, financial management, marketing and institutional advancement provide the strength required to build cohesive team unity and integrity. His teaching skills give him the insightful ability to present Judaism meaningfully to students.

Under his direction, Akiba has also recently extended long-term agreements with the following key personnel: business manager Nancy Skinner, a 15-year veteran at Akiba; Dr. Beverly Millican, director of general studies, who came on board at the same time as Stolovitsky; Rabbi Zev Silver, who leads the Judaic studies faculty; and Jordana Bernstein, director of early childhood education.

“The dynamic spirit of Mr. Stolovitsky has moved Akiba from uncertainty and challenge to strength and unlimited possibilities. His comprehensive experience and talents as an educator and a leader serve him well as he continues to grow our school within the framework of our values and our mission. We are incredibly fortunate to have a head of school with his level of commitment, energy and vision,” Mrs. Liener added.

In May, as part of the Scholarship Raffle and Dinner event, Akiba will celebrate its educational future with a special tribute to faculty and staff. For more information about Akiba, or to arrange for a tour, please contact Mireille Brisebois-Allen at 214-295-3400,

Hatikva 6 performs at Beth Torah
Congregation Beth Torah was transformed into a Tel Aviv nightclub on Sunday, March 23, as the Israeli rock-reggae band Hatikva 6 performed before an enthusiastic crowd of 250. The popular quartet, whose song “If I Meet God” has been nominated for Song of the Year in Israel, stopped in Richardson as part of a six-week U.S. tour sponsored by Israel at Heart. During their stay in Dallas, band members also toured local attractions, spoke to students at Levine Academy and were guests at a reception sponsored by SMU Hillel. Pictured l-r: Shelly Glikman, Ron Linial, Omri Glikman, Ido Lederman.

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Interfaith rabbi finds his niche

Interfaith rabbi finds his niche

Posted on 03 April 2008 by admin

By Laurie Barker James

Among the events of the Jewish lifecycle, the wedding is one of the most significant. It is marriage which leads to many of the other covenantal and celebratory events of Jewish life. But there remains a high rate of intermarriage between Jews and partners of other faiths. According to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the current intermarriage rate is around 25 percent for children who have two Jewish parents. In households where only one parent is Jewish, that rate rises to almost 75 percent. And that’s where the Jewish lifecycle blows a tire.

Despite the fact that many of our patriarchs and Torah heroes (like Moses and Solomon) married outside the Jewish faith, Jewish attitudes toward intermarriage range from simple concern to overt hostility. Both the Orthodox Union and Chabad spend much time and text on the reasons why Jews should marry only other Jews. Conservative Judaism has a special Web section for “Jewish Continuity/Prevention of Intermarriage,” with books and pamphlet titles like “A Return to the Mitzvah of Endogamy.” Although Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism do not condemn intermarriage, rabbis may or may not choose to perform interfaith weddings. Those who do officiate may impose conditions on the ceremony.

That’s where Rabbi David Gruber of Frisco comes in. Gruber describes himself as an “Orthodox rabbi turned secular humanist Jew.” In a world where it’s difficult to find a rabbi to marry an interfaith couple, Gruber is carving a niche as the rabbi who will say “yes” when others have said “no.”

Gruber, who grew up in an Orthodox home, says that he “lived the total Orthodox life.” He is an eighth-generation rabbi, and his father resettled the family from America to Israel when Gruber was 8.

After attending Orthodox day schools in Israel, Gruber attended Yeshivat Sha’alvim and completed his military service in the Israeli army. He was ordained by the chief rabbis of Israel, and worked in New Zealand as the rabbi at an Orthodox congregation. Gruber spent three years in Kansas City running a Jewish educational organization, and two years in Toledo, Ohio at a Hebrew day school. He came to Dallas to be the assistant principal of Judaic Studies at Yavneh High School in August 2004.

But around 2006, Gruber says, something “clicked” for both himself and his wife regarding their religious practices. He went on a “spiritual journey,” he says, which actually began from the long Jewish tradition of study and learning. After much reading and research on the many aspects of Judaism and religion in general, he came to the conclusion that, for him, Orthodox Judaism no longer “made sense.”

Gruber left Yavneh, as he could no longer be their Orthodox head. He and his family moved to Frisco, where he found a job in the financial industry. There, they assumed a Jewish secular humanist life.
“To me, Judaism is primarily an issue of culture, history and an intellectual tradition,” Gruber says.
Secular Jews, according to Gruber, have a long history of pride in their culture and civilization. Gruber estimates that between a quarter and a third of the Jews in Israel are secular Jews, and that many American Jews are as well.
“Many of those people that they call unaffiliated, the Jews who do not belong to a house of worship — and even some who do belong — are secular Jews,” he says.

But secular Jews still want to be part of Jewish lifecycle celebrations. Gruber quickly observed from different Web sites and “the blogosphere” that there were many Jews who wanted a Jewish wedding ceremony with a rabbi, even if they were not participating in any other aspect of Judaism.

“The internet has revolutionized the world,” Gruber says. “In the past, people had nobody to talk to about these issues.”

Though as an Orthodox rabbi he would never have officiated at an interfaith wedding, Gruber’s journey to secular Judaism changed his view on the subject.

“Today, I have one criterion for what I do with my life,” Gruber says. “I ask — will what I do help my fellow human beings?”

Gradually, Gruber made contacts with people like Rabbi Lev Baesh, the director of the Resource Center for Jewish Clergy at the organization Gruber credits Rabbi Baesh for pointing him to his current path.
“He [Baesh] said that his organization, among many things, helps couples find rabbis to officiate at their weddings,” Gruber says. “And he told me they had nobody in Texas.”

And so Rabbi Gruber, who formerly served Orthodox congregations, became Rabbi Gruber, the interfaith rabbi.
Gruber understands why Orthodox and Conservative rabbis (who see Jewish law as binding) would choose not to officiate at an interfaith wedding. However, he questions why Reform or Reconstructionist rabbis would not perform a wedding, especially when that celebration might lead to the couple becoming more involved in Judaism, not less involved. Unlike other rabbis, the only question Gruber asks the couples who contact him is: “Do you love each other?”

“I want people to have a warm experience with Judaism,” he says, “instead of finding themselves turned away.”
For more information on Rabbi Gruber, visit his Web site at www.interfaith

Three new intermarriage reports urge
understanding, greater accessibility
By Sue Fishkoff

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Three new scholarly reports on intermarriage argue for increasing Jewish educational opportunities, encouraging Jewish behaviors among both intermarried and inmarried Jews and opening the doors even further to intermarried couples and their children.

One report, the result of a new study, shows an intriguing correlation between rabbinic officiation at an intermarriage and how “Jewish” the family becomes.

“I would encourage the community to think more broadly,” said Leonard Saxe, a professor of Jewish community research at Brandeis University and a co-author of one of the three reports. “The ‘tragedy’ is not intermarriage but that we haven’t created an engaging Judaism that Jews, whether married to Jews or non-Jews, want to take part in.”
Saxe’s report, “It’s Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah” (, is about to be released by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute and Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis.

It analyzes intermarriage data from several sources, including the 2000–2001 National Jewish Population Study and a 2007 Reform movement leadership survey, concluding that intermarriage itself is not as critical in determining a family’s Jewish involvement as the Jewish partner’s background and education.

In addition to that report, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston just completed an in-depth investigation of its 2005 Greater Boston Community Study of Intermarried Families and Their Children. The investigation ( follows up on the study’s much-debated finding, reported in November 2006, that 60 percent of children in the city’s intermarried homes were being raised as Jews.

Also, the National Center for Jewish Policy Studies, an affiliate of Hebrew College in suburban Boston, will soon release a new study of 140 interfaith couples in Boston, Atlanta, St. Louis and San Francisco that describes an intermarried population whose eagerness to explore Jewish involvement is often stymied by communal barriers.
With all of the reports and debates over intermarriage in the past two decades, some might think three more studies are overkill. Saxe disagrees.

“This is all a positive development,” he said. “The simple, end-of-the-world take on intermarriage that came out of a simplistic interpretation of the National Jewish Population Study data is now being better understood. It means people are paying attention to intermarriage in a more serious and thoughtful way.”

The “Chuppah” report, like the other two, goes beyond hand-wringing to suggest policies aimed at greater Jewish engagement for both the intermarried and the underinvolved.

Relying both on national and internal Reform movement data, it shows that the Jewish behaviors and practices of intermarried families who are raising their children as Jews is almost identical to those of inmarried Reform Jews.
Saxe and his co-researcher, Fern Chertok, caused a stir when they presented that finding at the Reform movement’s biennial in December.

Their policy recommendations — that Reform Jews in particular must participate more actively in Jewish life if they wish to model Judaism for their children, and that this is more important to the Jewish future than staving off intermarriage — dovetailed with the initiative announced at the same convention by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism, urging greater Shabbat observance among Reform Jews.

Creating a home filled with Jewish rituals and Jewish learning, Saxe and Chertok conclude in their report, has more influence on Jewish continuity than whether or not one marries a Jew. Thus the Jewish community would do well to encourage the former rather than worrying overly about the latter.

The newly released Council of Jewish Philanthropies report came about in part as a response to widespread criticism of its central finding that twice as many children in Boston’s intermarried households are being raised Jewish as was reported by the latest National Jewish Population Study.

“People asked, what did we mean by ‘raised Jewish?’” said Gil Preuss, vice president for strategy and planning at the CJP. “They said the way we asked the question led to a higher number of families saying they were raising their kids as Jews.

“So we looked at what that means in terms of real practice: Day to day, week to week, what are these families doing?”

The result of that investigation not only confirmed the earlier findings, including the 60 percent figure, Preuss said; it also showed that a couple’s initial decision to raise their children as Jews is the critical factor in determining an intermarried family’s level of Jewish involvement.

Once a couple decides on a brit milah or baby naming for their newborn, he said, “the rest follows,” from synagogue membership to religious school to Shabbat observance.

The CJP report also showed, as did the Steinhardt report, that at least in Boston, intermarried families in which the children are raised as Jews look pretty much like inmarried Reform Jewish families in terms of Jewish practice. Nearly 70 percent of the children in both groups become bar or bat mitzvah; similar percentages are enrolled in religious school and are members of congregations, although the intermarried families tend to join later and leave sooner; and both groups attend services with the same frequency.

That didn’t happen on its own, local Jewish leaders say.

“I believe strongly that our approach in Boston works,” said CJP President Barry Shrage, a longtime advocate of communal investment in Jewish outreach and education. “Our efforts to make our community more welcoming and to create more meaningful Jewish experiences are linked to the finding that 60 percent of the children born in intermarried households are being raised as Jews.”

One major difference was noted in the religious education of teenagers. Whereas 37 percent of inmarried Reform families and 61 percent of Conservative families enroll their children of high-school age in Jewish education, that number drops to 13 percent among intermarried families who are raising their children Jewishly.

The CJP is using this to beef up its financial support for Jewish education, for teens and younger children, as part of its strategic plan to be unveiled in May.

“The CJP will now spend a lot of time and money to strengthen the Jewish educational experience for 9- to 16-year-olds and their families,” Preuss said.

Also, the National Center for Jewish Policy Studies has released the findings of a new and extensive intermarriage study headed by University of Connecticut sociology professor Arnold Dashefsky.

Researchers interviewed 149 intermarried couples, mostly Jews married to Christians, in four cities, asking about their Jewish behaviors, degree of involvement with their Jewish communities, and negative and positive experiences with those communities.

Titled “Intermarriage and Jewish Journeys in the United States,” it was not a random study — the respondents already were involved in Jewish or interfaith organizations from which researchers obtained their call lists. So with the Jewish partners having more Jewish background than the national samples used in other studies, the quantitative findings may not be widely applicable.

Still, researchers say it could prove useful to Jewish institutions and communal leaders seeking ways to engage the most Jewishly interested intermarried families in their midst, a good target audience in any case. The researchers plan to follow these families for years to see how their Jewish behaviors evolve.

Couples said their interest in Jewish participation was stymied in some cases by a less-than-welcoming community and the fact that a rabbi would not perform their wedding ceremony.

Perhaps the most interesting findings had to do with rabbinic officiation at interfaith wedding rites.

At a time when the Reform movement in particular is deeply divided between those rabbis and cantors who perform intermarriages and those who do not, the study found a statistically significant correlation between intermarriages performed by Jewish clergy and the later involvement of the couples in Jewish life.

It marked the first such study to do so explicitly, say researchers who worked on this and the other two studies.
The study found that 87 percent of those intermarried couples who were married by Jewish clergy later raised their children as “Jewish only,” compared to 63 percent of the couples married by co-officiants, by non-Jewish clergy or in secular ceremonies.

Also, 50 percent said it was very important that their grandchildren be Jewish, compared to 18 percent of the second group.

Even more striking is the correlation between rabbinic officiation and later avoidance of Christian behaviors.

Just 2 percent of those married only by a rabbi now belong to a church, compared to 26 percent of those married in other ways; just 2 percent of the first group attend church on Easter Sunday, compared to 21 percent of the second group; and 46 percent of the first group put up a Christmas tree, vs. 65 percent of the latter group.

The researchers were quick to explain that the study is not suggesting that rabbinic officiation itself has any influence on a couple’s future behavior.

“The findings do not indicate causality,” Dashefsky cautioned.

Rather, he stresses, it is “a marker on a pathway, on a couple’s Jewish journey. These people were looking to involve themselves in Jewish life; this is part of the whole package.”

That is not how the couples themselves saw it, however.

Among those couples in which a rabbi refused to perform their intermarriage, one-third — 30 percent of the Jews and 36 percent of the non-Jewish spouses — claimed that the refusal distanced them from any form of institutionalized Judaism. Conversely, nearly half (46 percent) of Jewish spouses who were married by a rabbi claimed that rabbinic participation in their wedding ceremony “had some influence” on their lives.

These results only obtained in cases when a rabbi was the sole officiant, not when a rabbi co-officiated with non-Jewish clergy.

Researchers say an interfaith couple that opts to have only Jewish clergy officiate at their wedding ceremony indicates a level of interest in and commitment to Judaism that does not pertain when a rabbi and a minister officiate together.

“It’s a symbol of the direction this couple wants to go,” Dashefsky said.

As in the other two intermarriage studies, the Hebrew College study found that even the most Jewishly engaged intermarried families are more prone to do things that inmarried Jewish families “don’t feel comfortable with,” Dashefsky said, like put up a Christmas tree.

That should not be seen as making them less Jewish.

“It doesn’t stop them from fasting on Yom Kippur, lighting Chanukah candles or joining synagogues,” he said.
The challenge is for Jewish institutions and leaders to approach such families in a more nuanced, less all-or-nothing fashion, he said, allowing them to move at their own pace toward, or away from, greater Jewish engagement.
“I hope our study opens a discussion about how the organized Jewish community should think about engaging people who are not following all the norms of Jewish life,” Dashefsky said. “Guess what? Most Jews don’t follow all the norms of Jewish life.”

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