Archive | August, 2011

Jamie Schanbaum is on the move

Jamie Schanbaum is on the move

Posted on 25 August 2011 by admin

Meningitis vaccination laws geared to prevent spread of dire illnesses

UT Junior Jamie Schanbaum, is the hero behind the Jamie Schanbaum Act, and now the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act — making it a requirement for all new students enrolling in a Texas university to show proof of receiving the meningocococcal vaccine. | Photo: Deb Silverthorn

By Deb Silverthorn

If at first you succeed to some extent, keep pushing the envelope. Not a quote that can be attributed directly, but these words define the strength, persistence and resolve of former Dallas resident, Jamie Schanbaum.

On Nov. 12, 2008, Schanbaum woke up at a friend’s home, feeling more than not right. “I went home and couldn’t stop feeling cold and nauseous,” said the former Temple Shalom member. “By the time my sister took me to the hospital I couldn’t even stand on my own.” Schanbaum was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicemia, a diagnosis that would change the course of her life.

That diagnosis of an incredibly rare form of meningitis, an inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord, almost ended Schanbaum’s life. But with determination, spirit, incredible medical care and an angel on her shoulder, the UT Austin junior came through. Having survived multiple surgeries, the loss of all 10 fingers and the amputation of both of legs below the knee, Schanbaum holds her head up high and is unwavering in her belief that other students shouldn’t suffer her fate.

In April 2009, Schanbaum’s determination, along with her family and State Senators Wendy Davis and Eddie Lucio, Jr., came to fruition with the passage of the Jamie Schanbaum Act which required, as of January 1, 2010, bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campuses in Texas.

“That was only a start,” said Schanbaum, who smiles proud at the chance to announce a new law, the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act (SB 1107). This law which goes into effect in January 2012, requires that all students under the age of 30 who enroll in any Texas college campus for the first time, be vaccinated against meningitis.

College students are especially vulnerable to the disease because new students are coming together from different places and share close living quarters. Meningococcal disease is a deadly bacterial infection spread through coughing, sneezing, sharing drinks, utensils and kissing or other person-to-person contact. Symptoms of the disease show up initially as the flu, however, the disease spreads so quickly that about 10 percent of sufferers die from it, often within hours of the onset of symptoms even if they have begun to receive treatment. According to the Texas Medical Association, as many as 15 college students die each year from meningitis, with some 1,500 cases of meningococcal disease diagnosed annually in the United States.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which provides vaccine advice to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has furthermore presented information that the meningitis vaccine, previously thought to be effective for at least 10 years, is now thought to be so for less than five. Recommendations have been made that children, many of whom are vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 12, should receive a booster vaccine at the age of 16. This additional booster is aimed to protect these youth through the highest risk period up to age 21 years.

Nicolis Williams, a Texas A&M student was stricken with Meningitis and died on February 11, 2011. Parents, Arlene and Greg, and sister Tiffany have vowed to not allow any other student to suffer his fate. | Photo: Submitted by Arlene Williams

Nicolis Williams is a Texas A&M student who died on February 11 of this year, shortly after contracting meningitis. In his memory, and in Schanbaum’s honor, Senators Davis and Lucio and State Representative Charlie Howard, came together, to elaborate on the original Schanbaum Act.

Howard, from the Williams’ home city of Houston, was introduced to the family after their loss. When they learned of the Jamie Schanbaum Act and that family’s involvement in pursuing an extension to support all students, the Williamses wanted to get involved.

“As we realized that our son wasn’t going to survive this terrible disease, we looked at each other and said that no one should ever have to go through this,” said Nicolis’ father, Greg Williams who, with Nicolis’ mother Arlene, and sister Tiffany, intend to carry the memory of the economics major through this endeavor. “This is a senseless death. I was beyond consolation but I wanted to do something. There had to be something we could do.”

Williams met Jamie and Patsy Schanbaum as both families were testifying to push through the Act. During the lengthy process, he realized the chance “to project our message. We didn’t know about Jamie’s story — or the severity of this medical issue before, or our son would be alive. Getting the word out is now our mission.”

“So many think this kind of tragedy will hit one in a million. There’s no reason for us, or any family, to be that one,” added Arlene Williams. “This is a lasting devastation. The story must get out because, when it’s too late — it is TOO late!”

For Schanbaum, it almost was too late — and while she survives and continues to fight, the meningitis took its toll.

“It never occurred to me I wouldn’t be well and home soon. I had no idea that seven months in hospitals, more than 50 ‘dives’ in a hyperbaric chamber, which saved my life, at least 15 surgeries and skin grafts and more, were in my immediate future,” she said. “All because I missed out on the vaccine. People HAVE to get the vaccine. I don’t want anyone else going through this, and I don’t want any other parents to have to watch their child have to suffer, or worse, to watch them die.”

In fighting her own battles, Schanbaum has earned the respect and pride of her family — along with the love they have for her. “I’m so proud of Jamie — and how she has handled herself, and the responsibilities she’s taken on to becoming the face of this disease, from the start,” said mom Patsy Schanbaum. “She will save lives, I’m sure she already has.”

“Jamie has a purpose in life and that is to make sure that everyone knows to have this vaccine. How strong this miracle child is, and how well she’s doing — there is no end to the pride I feel for her,” said her grandfather, Gene Schanbaum, a resident if Dallas. “She’s fought off this disease that attacked her body and she’s strong, she’s well, and she is focused on the mission in life, to have every student — everyone who might be in danger, to get this shot. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s easy to conquer this disease.

For more information or to support Jamie Schanbaum, as she shares her experiences and knowledge so that all can avoid this devastating but vaccine preventable disease, visit

On the road with Jamie Schanbaum

Meningitis survivor Jamie Schanbaum won a gold medal at the 2011 USA Cycling National Championships. Next stop — she hopes — the 2012 London Olympic Games. | Photo: Submitted by Jamie Schanbaum

Jamie Schanbaum has put the pedal to the metal and is racing to make history on many tracks. The 22-year-old Meningitis survivor is making the campuses of Texas’ universities safer for their students and community members. As for herself, she’s speeding down the road of good health.

Having earned a gold medal, in the Augusta, Ga. — June 2011 USA Cycling National Championships, Schanbaum will likely qualify to participate in the 2012 Paralympic Games, in London.

Jamie is a formal casual cyclist who took her new wheels in October. Her brakes have been rearranged, allowing her to push to slow and stop, rather than pull the brakes in, as she lost her fingers to the disease that changed her life. While Jamie lost both legs to amputation, the rest of her bike, is similar to that of any other cyclist.

“My trainer suggested cycling would be good to help me strengthen my legs and my core,” said Jamie, who trains by three to five days a week, riding trails in Austin, where she is a student at the University of Texas, as well as at an indoor biking center. “What started out has therapy is something I now think of as awesome. I love being part of the picture, to feel the wind blowing past me, and the time I spend training is time is time I treasure. That it’s turned into an opportunity where I’m vying for a spot on the Olympic team, that’s just, wow!”

— Deb Silverthorn

Check with your physician to ensure vaccine coverage

By Dr. Susan Sugerman

The Center for Disease control recently issued new guidelines for the administration of the meningococcal vaccine.

Teenagers and young adults may have missed being immunized against meningococcal meningitis because of problems related to variable supply over the past five years. Therefore, while most should have received the vaccine at their 11-12 year-old check up, many need to “catch up.” Noting that that antibody levels may fall to non-protective levels after five years, the CDC advises a “booster” dose at age 16 (as long as the first dose was given at least 8 weeks prior), which sends the antibody titers to exponentially higher levels. This is recommended for anyone ages 16 through 18. It should be offered to 19-21 year-olds who enroll in college. It is not recommended for persons over age 21 (but may be given on request); it absolutely should be given to those in particular high-risk groups (e.g. military recruits, certain immune or spleen problems, etc., see link for details). The CDC does not distinguish between the effectiveness of the two meningococcal vaccine products presently on the market in the U.S. For a thorough explanation of the new guidelines, visit

Susan Sugerman, M.D. is a board certified pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine. She practices at Girls to Women Health and Wellness in Dallas,

Comments (0)

Ask the Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi

Posted on 25 August 2011 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

With all the attention given by the media recently to the Arab mode of dress, I was wondering why Orthodox Jewish women aren’t dressed similar to Arab women with a burqua or niqab (covering the face and body). If this is the most modest way for a woman to be presented and the purpose of Orthodox Jewish dress is to preserve modesty, why not be as modest as possible?

— N.N.W.

Dear N.N.W.

There is a core distinction between the Jewish laws and customs of modesty and the Muslim mode of dress, reflecting two absolutely contrary worldviews.

First, the Halachah, or Jewish law, has clear parameters as to the requirement of dress for women to ensure and preserve modesty, such as skirts that reach below the knee and sleeves which cover the elbow. These guidelines are not about being “as modest as possible.” Rather, the guidelines focus on covering areas which have the halachic distinction of “ervah”; in other words, areas of the body that if exposed, could unnecessarily cause lustful attention and attraction.

The parameters established by Jewish law are predicated upon the principle of “Kol kevudah bas melech penimah” — “The complete glory of the daughter of the king lies on the inside.” (Tehillim/Psalms 45:14). This verse sums up the need for a Jewish woman to be modest in all her ways, as true royalty ought to be.

Every Jewish girl and woman is considered by Judaism to be a princess, a carrier of royalty. Just as the King and Queen don’t reveal all their riches to the masses, so too the Jewish woman keeps her honor covered and not exposed to the eyes of all to behold. Much like Buckingham Palace’s honor is in its changing of the guard, which shows there’s something inside worth guarding, a Jewish woman also has her “royal guards;” her clothing, which protects and suggests a profound inner self that deserves regal protection.

The face, however, is one area which should always be revealed. The Hebrew word for face is “panim,”which shares the same root as the word “p’nim,” which refers to one’s “insides” or deepest essence, the soul. This teaches us that at the same time the physical body masks ones essence, the face reveals one’s soul. “The wisdom of a man illuminates his face” (Eccles. 8:1).

A woman covers her body so the beholder can focus on her true royalty. Revealing the rest of the body causes a focus on her physicality and deflects the center of attention from her true essence. In many cases this causes the spiritual essence to retreat deeper within herself woman, covering itself with, and taking a back seat to, the physicality which she attempts to expose as her real self when, in fact, her real self is hidden.

The bottom line of all this is the Jewish woman is considered royalty, “the daughter of the king.” One place in the Talmud shows a discussion about the amount one must pay if he would embarrass a Jewish woman. The first opinion is that payment depends on her standing; if she is a rich woman than the price is high. However, the halachah is determined in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Akiva that every woman deserves the same payment because “all Jews are the children of kings,” every Jewish girl is royalty and to cause her embarrassment is to slight her regal bearing! (See Bava Metziah 113b and numerous similar rulings in the Talmud).

My understanding of the Muslim mode of dress, such as the niqab, is diametrically opposed to all the above. When you force someone to cover her face you are making a statement that there is no deeper essence to be shown.

I was recently dumbstruck when I watched a long film of an interview with a leading sheikh who expounded, unabashedly, on the virtues of wife-beating, a Muslim practice. He explained how such abuse becomes a husband’s religious obligation when his wife acts out of line. He repeatedly emphasized the “honor” Muslims show to women in that they’re not allowed to beat them in a place that will leave a permanent mark, and that the stick used can’t be too large and heavy, and that the husband should preferably use his hand so as not to cause a permanent wound!

With a straight face, even with a smile, this sheikh went on to explain that one should not beat his wife for just any transgression: a beating is reserved mainly for when a wife is unwilling to submit to intimate relations. This, together with general suppression demonstrates that a Muslim woman is a non-person or lower-caste person than the men in control.

How does this compare with the Jewish mode of dress based on a Jewish woman’s being “a daughter of the king”? It’s suggested that a Jewish woman dress modestly, but to expose her face, so her inner soul can be seen and beheld. But the Muslim woman, who is 100-percent covered, is not allowed to expose even her inner soul.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at

Comments (0)

Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 25 August 2011 by admin

Preparation for Elul

Last week I mentioned that the month of Elul will soon be upon us. I also mentioned that Elul, for me personally, means preparation. Another reader was nice enough to share her experiences with the upcoming month of preparation, noting that Elul is special to her. “I frequently attend the morning minyan,” she writes. “At the end of the morning prayers every day during Elul, the shofar is blown.” This individual goes on to write that some days she hears a lone shofar, while other mornings half a dozen people sound the call. “It so sets the mood for the coming High Holidays,” she concludes.

I imagine it does. Thank you for sharing.

And now for a somber event

September 11, 2001 was a day few of us will forget. Even now, almost 10 years later, I remember with a peculiar sort of clarity where I was, the fear I felt and the tears that were shed at a special service I attended, when Kaddish was recited for the victims of those horrific attacks.

There will be many remembrance activities this coming September 11, one of which will take place at 4 p.m. at Good Shepherd Catholic Community Parish Hall, 1000 Tinker Rd. in Colleyville. This is an interfaith memorial service to include prayers, reflection and discussions about how to best honor those who died on 9/11. Jewish organizations will be involved, including Beth Shalom, Beth Israel, Jewish Community Relations Council of Tarrant County, Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County and Jewish War Veterans, Post #755 taking their part with others including the Colleyville Fire Department, various Baha’i communities, Colleyville’s First United Methodist Church, the Islamic Association of the Mid-Cities and, of course, Good Shepherd itself.

For more information, contact Sandra Lydick at Good Shepherd at 817-421-1387 or Childcare is available. Though the flyer mentions signing up at the church’s website (, I checked there and didn’t see anything about the event. However, you may have better luck.

And a happier event

The good folks at the B’nai B’rith Isadore Garsek Lodge remind us that the Sept. 4 outdoor movie event is a little more than a week away. This free event (which starts around 7:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Beth-El) will feature the movie “Grease,” as well as an appropriate PG-13 rated cartoon before the main showing. Concessions are $1 and include kosher hot dogs, cold drinks and popcorn, with all proceeds directed toward BBYO upcoming programs. All that’s necessary are lawn chairs, a family and preparation for a good time! In the event of inclement weather (we should be so lucky) or excessive heat, the event will be moved indoors. So come on out to see a great movie and to have a great time! For more information call the Movie Hotline at 817-927-2555.

And a happier occasion

Under the category of “whoops,” I want to apologize to Rhoda Stryer and family for failing to include news about her 95th birthday and celebration in previous issues. Her birthday was June 23, and her daughter Debbie Stryer-Levine did contact us at the time and well … the news never made it into print.

From what Debbie writes, Rhoda enjoyed a wonderful celebration. On June 25, Rhoda, Debbie, her other daughter Fredi Stryer, and friends and family met at the birthday girl’s house for, as Debbie tells it “mimosas and mingling.” Then a chartered, air-conditioned bus took everyone to Café 1187 in Benbrook, where 40 friends and family dined on delicious food and had a wonderful time. The bus then returned everyone to Rhoda’s house for more mingling and celebration. “It was a wonderful afternoon and Rhoda had a wonderful birthday,” Debbie writes. “She thanks everyone for attending and making her birthday special.”

Personally, I believe making it to 95 years is a great accomplishment. The fact that Rhoda topped off her day surrounded by loving friends and family was icing on the birthday cake. So again, Rhoda, happy, happy birthday and may you have many more!


Joe Klein, a self-described “long-time Fort Worthian” who currently lives in Bedford with his wife Hannah, tells us he is now a published author. After having written a series of articles relating to his childhood in Pittsgrove Township, N.J. (a portion of historic Salem County), the Elmer Times Newspaper published all six of the articles. But these aren’t just any articles. They tell a colorful history of 19th century Jewish immigrants who arrived in this area of south-central New Jersey.

“The area, known as Alliance, was host to the establishment of a large settlement of Eastern European Jews, who escaped pogroms in the early 1880s,” Joe writes. As such, the articles’ content features a variety of topics ranging from old-country shuls, to his two-room school house (complete with outhouse — I can just picture that during frigid New Jersey winters), to dirt roads, Germany POW camps and everything else. He says the articles were originally written for “their use as history and for his peers and the younger generations still living in the area.” Upon contacting the Salem County Historical Society, he was referred to the Greater Elmer and Surroundings Historical Society — which, has, as its membership, the Elmer Times publisher and editor.

This is way cool for me. My ancestors settled around the Philadelphia area at that time (they came over from Russia probably for the same reason that Joe’s family did; to escape the pogroms). Philadelphia isn’t all that far from Pittsgrove Township, though back then, one didn’t hop into a car and make the 30-minute trek to the city, of course. Still, that particular region has a definite, and important, part in American Jewish history. Thank you, Joe, for sharing it with readers and for letting us know about it.

And welcome back

Len and Rose-Marie Schweitzer write that they recently got back after spending a month in Salida, Colo., population 5,500. Salida sounds lovely, nestled as it is “in a valley surrounded by three mountain ranges and blessed by the Arkansas River flowing through it,” according to the Schweitzers. Though it took this couple a few days to adjust to the 7,000-mile elevation, Len and Rose-Marie became acclimated — and then busy. They walked a local 2.5-mile scenic trail several times a week, hiked on a regular basis with a local seniors group, took line dancing and swam twice a week at the Salida Hot Springs swimming pool. Whew!

For leisure, Len and Rose-Marie dined frequently at the Laughing Ladies restaurant, owned by the couple’s son and his wife, Jeff and Margie Schweitzer. They also listened to quality chamber music, courtesy of the nearby Aspen Summer Music Festival. “Salida has a 33-year relationship with the Aspen Summer Music Festival and each year invites some of their performers to present concerts in the high school auditorium,” the Schweitzers note.

It sounds like a wonderful time.

Cashing in on a gourmet meal

And speaking of wonderful times, a gourmet dinner party won at the Beth Shalom Annual Gala auction took place on Aug. 6 at the Arlington home of Rochelle and Joe Bekerman. Randy San Antonio tells us that, as part of the Gala, held on April 30, the silent and live auction event included the donation by Chef Philippe Lecoq of a catered gourmet dinner party complete with champagne, wines, hors d’oeuvres, desserts and servers. The meal was prepared by Chef Philippe himself. Randy notes that this was the 14th year Chef Philippe graciously donated his services to the Congregation Beth Shalom fundraiser. At around midnight, this close group of friends ended the evening by discussing plans for next year’s bid.

I bet they did. Specially prepared, gourmet meals don’t come around all that often. Congrats to the group and a belated “Bon Appetite!”

Under the category of ‘training our future’

We received terrific news from Congregation Ahavath Sholom and Beth-El Congregation. CAS notes that the first day of religious school on Sept. 11 will begin at 9:30 a.m. with a 9/11 Memorial Service, followed by parent/student orientation (complete with surprise entertainment). Boys and girls will be invited to learn how to sound the shofar and then to participate in the shul’s Shofar Corps, which will be part of CAS’ High Holidays services. This will be followed, a week later, with instruction to the children about how to make their own shofars at the CAS Shofar Factory.

And this is just the beginning. Many family oriented activities will take place during the High Holidays, as well as during Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

Chairperson of the Education Committee, Louise Vermillion said she anticipates a “banner year” for the school as Rabbi Gary G. Perras assumes the office of education director. Vermillion points out the new guidelines for the school which include a refreshing blend of traditional Judaism and contemporary ideas and practices. Furthermore, the children will learn to be proficient in Hebrew prayer in order to lead Shabbat services and prayers for important family occasions. Above all, the goal here is to “show our children the beauty and celebration of the Jewish holidays and life-cycle observances,” Vermillion and Rabbi Perras point out. For more information about the CAS religious school, contact Rabbi Perras at 817-731-4721 or

Beth El students enjoy the first day of religious school. | Photo: Ilana Knust

Moving on to Beth-El, we’re told that religious school is already underway, having started on Aug. 21. Beth-El’s Education Director Ilana Knust writes: “We gathered together all morning, parents and students, to celebrate our theme: ‘And we were there … From Exodus to Mount Sinai’ in a very interactive and unique way. We ‘crossed the red sea’ through the Temple, we wandered and complained in the desert and received the Torah at Mount Sinai, complete with thunder, sounds of the Shofar and lighting.”

This year, Knust continues, “the goal is not only to learn the text, but also to follow as many mitzvot as possible so we can return to God what He did for us during and after the Exodus.”

Knust tells us that the overall curriculum this year will focus on “the heart and soul of the Jewish people, from Exodus to Mount Sinai.” This was a very important part of Jewish history — mainly because much of Judaic foundation is based on our people’s exodus from slavery and the receipt of God’s word.

As such, the Beth-El curriculum will teach the kids to “celebrate freedom from prejudice, intolerance, and injustice and understand the potential we all have within us, to learn to believe in ourselves and learn the beautiful truth in our past and traditions,” according to information about the religious school.

More specifically, children in kindergarten through fourth grade will focus on the theme “From Hunger to Happiness,” while those in fifth to seventh grade will work on “From Homeless to Shelter.” Children from eighth through 10th grade will study “From Slavery to Freedom.”

Comments (0)

Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 25 August 2011 by admin

Nishmat Am celebrates six years in Plano

Mazel tov to Congregation Nishmat Am as it gets set to mark its sixth anniversary. Thanks to Stanley Siegel, Nishmat Am executive director for sharing the details of the plans that are under way for the gala next month.

Cantor Jacob and Mara Cohen

To mark its sixth anniversary, the Plano synagogue will hold its Annual Fall Gala on Sunday Sept. 18 and will honor two couples that have been central to the synagogue’s growth and success since its inception — Aaron and Debra Kaplan and Cantor Jacob and Mara Cohen.

The Gala will be held at the NTX Auto Museum and will acknowledge the many accomplishment of the synagogue since it was founded in 2005 by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen.

With a membership of 200 families, Nishmat Am attracts members and participants from North Dallas and Collin County. It is known for its lively and participatory form of prayer and its robust educational programs. The musical Friday Night “Freilachs,” Lunch and Learn, Gateways to Judaism and weekly Torah Reflections are only some of the many programs that typify the extent of programming. This Fall, a newly expanded Adult Learning Center will be launched as will an expanded youth program.

The Fall Gala will note these accomplishments, so much of which is due to the commitment and drive of the evening’s honorees.

Debra and Aaron Kaplan

Aaron and Debra Kaplan are part of the group that joined Rabbi Cohen in establishing Nishmat Am six years ago and have been loyal and dedicated members ever since.

Aaron, a member of Nishmat Am’s board of directors and a former vice-president, is an internationally acclaimed symphonic and film composer, orchestrator, pianist, songwriter and performer whose talent spans many musical genres and whose music can be heard worldwide on radio, television and film. So much of Aaron’s talents are devoted to Jewish causes and Israel.

In 1996, his award winning song, “We’re Coming Home,” was selected as the best religious and Jewish song of the year in America. It has been recorded and broadcast both in the United States and overseas to raise millions of dollars to rescue persecuted and oppressed Jews around the world and bring them to Israel. And now, Glenn Beck is using “We’re Coming Home” on his Facebook page “,” to help promote his mega-event in Israel, “Restoring Courage” that took place earlier this week. Its purpose is to show support and stand by Israel. An Israeli version with Hebrew lyrics has also been recorded.

Debra Lewis Kaplan is an international author and lecturer on Mind-Body Medicine and spiritual psychology. She is an integrative psychotherapist who maintains a successful private practice and teaching center in Plano. She is also a senior faculty member for the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Debra has worked for over 30 years as a child, adult, marriage and family therapist and her specialties include stress reduction, spiritual growth and intuition development, grief and crisis counseling and Mind-Body-Spirit Medicine.

Among her many academic and professional accomplishments and awards, Debra’s pioneering work with children and their families traumatized by war and terrorism was no more apparent than when she answered the call after 9/11 to counsel the families of first responders as well as her work in Israel for the CMBM program, “Healing the Wounds of War.” Her work has been utilized in New Orleans after Katrina and earlier this year in Haiti following the devastation of the earthquake

The Kaplans are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Melissa and Leah, as well as their son-in-law, Michael Slaughter, and granddaughter, Cady Elizabeth Slaughter.

Jacob and Mara Cohen have been central to the life of Nishmat Am since its inception. Their involvement and contributions have put their mark on almost every part of the synagogue’s life.

Raised in Dallas, Jacob Cohen is a graduate of the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Ill. and of Brandeis University. He is known to many in the community as “the young cantor,” having been trained by his father, Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen and by some of Israel’s most prominent traditional cantors. Jacob’s leading of services — especially during the High Holidays — are both moving and inspiring to the throngs who delight in his voice and in his cantorial style. In addition to his cantorial duties, Jacob also serves as chief financial officer of The Renewed Group, Inc., a manufacturer and wholesaler of eco-friendly and sustainable apparel.

Mara Cohen is a native of Connecticut and a graduate of Yeshiva University’s high school and college in New York. For the past three years, Mara has been a teacher at the Ann and Nate Levine Academy’s Early Childhood Center and has led the Tot Shabbat program at Nishmat Am on Shabbat mornings.

The Cohens are proud parents of Orly and Avi, both students at Levine Academy.

The entire community is invited to participate in the Gala and to acknowledge the special spirit that Nishmat Am and the Kaplans and Cohens have brought to the expanding community in North Dallas and Collin County.”

For more information and to make a reservation for the gala, contact Nishmat Am at 972-618-2200 or at

Free Hebrew Reading Course

The Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas(JSI) is offering two free Hebrew Crash Courses Level 1 and 2 to all members of the Dallas Jewish community. These courses were designed by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) in an effort to open the door to Jewish growth and commitment.

Level 1 is designed to teach those with no basic knowledge of the Hebrew language how to read Hebrew in five easy lessons. Level 2 is geared to reading select prayers for the High Holy Days. The five week Hebrew Reading Crash Course Level 1 began on Aug. 23, 2011. The five week Level 2 Course begins on August 25. The two classes take place from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Registration for both courses is still open. They are taught by Gail Stolovitsky. For further information and to learn of the location of the classes, call JSI at 214-789-7241 or send an e-mail to

Hadassah breaks records with Movie Night!

The Dallas Chapter of Hadassah hosted their annual summer movie night on Aug.17. A sold out show packed the theater with more than 160 attendees. In true Hadassah form, the diverse audience consisted of men, women (both younger and older), professional and retired and more. “The Help” did not disappoint the audience with continuous laughter mixed with shock, and yes, even some tears. Susie Avnery chaired the event, along with several volunteers making the evening a huge success. Each attendee received a goodie bag filled with Kosher snacks sponsored by Andrea Krolick Custom Interiors, Dallas Jewish Funerals, IsoBreathing, Inc., Legacy at Willow Bend and Legacy at Preston Hollow, Medallion Assisted Living and Memory Care, Shear Haven Salon and Spa and VistaCare Hospice. Robbe Epstein, the co-V.P. of Programming assisted in putting the bags together and enlisted the help of her daughter Rachel Epstein and her friend Sylvia Schepps, both seventh graders at Akiba Academy.

Before the movie, The Dallas Chapter President Terri Schepps, addressed the audience with passion stating, “We must be ambassadors for this organization. Hadassah is the second largest employer in Jerusalem. Can you imagine what it would be like without Hadassah in Israel? We can’t imagine that — we must step up and share with others what is going on in Israel, with Hadassah. They are depending on Dallas, Texas to stand with them — they are depending on us to do something.” A short video was shown highlighting Hadassah’s accomplishments in Israel as along with a short documentary about Multiple Sclerosis and the advances Hadassah is making. Audience members were encouraged to check out more videos at Hadassah’s website,

Hadassah is currently offering Life, Child and Associate memberships for $100 during 2011, for its 100th birthday. The Dallas Chapter’s goal is to reach 1,000 new members during this campaign. They have also been tasked to raise more than $350,000. They have raised over $50,000 to date and are turning to the community for donations of any size. Susie Avnery and Robyn Rovinsky Mirsky, the Co-VP’s of Fundraising, are asking for community members to stand with Hadassah and to help Dallas meet their fundraising goal. Contact the office at 214-691-1948 or email at to make a donation. One of the most popular levels of support is the Keepers of the Gate, a commitment of $1,000 a year. This commitment can be paid in monthly increments of $83.33. Visit the local website at

Comments (0)

Ask the Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi

Posted on 18 August 2011 by admin

Rabbi Fried,

One of our most beloved ideals is the value we place on human life. What do we do when we have to choose between two innocent lives? Let me set out an example: Someone is driving along a narrow cliff road. That person is coming around a bend at a reasonable speed. At the same moment a bicycle rider is rounding the same bend from the opposite direction. Then, at the worst possible time, the cycler loses control and heads straight into the path of the car. The driver’s only two options are a) attempt to brake (but will still hit the cycler with deadly force), or b) navigate the car off the cliff (which will cause certain death). Neither party meant to harm the other. Whose life should the driver choose?

N.N. W.

Dear N.N.

Murder is one of the three cardinal sins for which one must forfeit one’s own life before taking the life of another. If someone holds a gun to your head and instructs you to kill another person or he’ll take your life, you must choose your own death over killing another. The Talmud explains the reason for this law: “Who says your own ‘blood is thicker’ than the other person’s blood, perhaps his ‘blood is thicker’ than yours?” This means you have no way of knowing who is more important in the eyes of God and therefore do not have the right to take another’s life for the sake of your own. (Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a).

The commentators explain that this Talmudic ruling applies only if you are told to perform an action to kill the other person. If, however, the gunman tells you to not move while he throws you on another person in a way in which the other will be killed (if you don’t obey the gunman you’ll be killed), you need not forfeit your life to prevent that occurrence. Since you will be taking no action, you are like the ax in the hand of the chopper. The chopper is committing the action, with the ax considered an extension of his hand. In that case, since you are committing no action, you may apply the opposite reasoning: Who says the other’s blood is thicker; maybe your blood is thicker! (Tosefos and Ra’n loc cit; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 157:1).

A similar ruling is found in reference to the question of two Jews walking in the desert, one with a flask of water and one with nothing. There’s only enough water for one of them to make it to the village; if they both drink they both will die before they arrive. One opinion is that the man with the flask should let his friend drink, so both will die. The final ruling is like the opinion of Rabbi Akiva who learns from the verse “your brother should live with you” (Lev. 25), which teaches that your own life precedes the life of another; you have the right to drink your own water and live though the other person will die. In this case, you are not performing an act to kill the other; you are only passively doing so by saving yourself. (Talmud, Bava Metzia 62:a).

In your theoretical case, the driver of the car performed no action to bring the car onto the other to save himself. Even braking would not stop the car in time to save him. He therefore would not be obligated to drive off the cliff to save the cycler who put himself in the path of danger.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at

Comments (0)

Dallas Doings

Posted on 18 August 2011 by admin

Greenhill students spearhead Berry fundraiser

B’nai mitzvah students who are a part of the Greenhill Class of 2017, have put together a fundraiser this Sunday, Aug. 21 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. On tap for the morning, among other fun activities, are face painting, manicures, Berry bracelets, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and a raffle. All proceeds from the event, located at Kids Cooking Company at the North East Corner of Preston and Forest, will benefit the Berry Children’s Trust.

The Mothers Circle welcomes non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children

Gina Gory has two messages for non-Jewish women who are raising Jewish children: you are not alone, and there’s a lot to talk about.

Several years ago she participated in a group called The Mothers Circle, meeting periodically to discuss the joys and challenges of interfaith families.

“It really encouraged us to learn from each other, ask questions and become affiliated in order to support our families’ decisions,” she said. “It helped us tremendously to guide us through certain situations.”

Now a new Mothers Circle is forming for women in similar circumstances. The initial meeting will be held Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson. No prior Jewish background is necessary.

Renee Karp, who will lead the group, says the program offers a positive response to intermarriage by sending the message, “We welcome you, we want you with us, we are here to help you.”

“It serves the Jewish community’s needs by ensuring that another family’s Jewish identity will be carried forward into the next generation,” she said. “But more importantly, it serves the needs of the individual families, by providing Jewish learning and meaning as well as ‘peace in the home,’ which is a Jewish obligation.”

The Mothers Circle was launched by the Jewish Outreach Institute in 2002 and has spread to two-dozen cities around the country. The local group is underwritten by the Howard and Leslie Schultz Family Foundation and the Edward and Wilhelmina Ackerman Foundation, and is free to participants.

Karp has worked with interfaith families for over a decade, but says non-Jewish mothers face unique challenges in a Jewish household.

“The Mothers Circle creates comfortable spaces for women to learn about Judaism, explore Jewish holidays and rituals, discover how to enrich their families’ Jewish experience and deepen their connection to the religion of their husbands and children,” she says. “And to do so with peers so they’re not all alone.”

Although Gory later converted to Judaism, she says the program is not intended to sway women from their faiths.

“It’s about educating, empowering and supporting mothers who have chosen to retain and live their faith, while still supporting their spouses and children to live a Jewish life,” she says.

The Mothers Circle is open to women throughout the Dallas area. For more information, contact Renee Karp at 214-676-7405, or

Congregation Nishmat Am expands youth and adult education programs this Fall

An expanded youth and adult education program will highlight activities at Congregation Nishmat Am of Plano this Fall.

Under the direction of its new Program Director Yifat Shemmer, Nishmat Am will offer programs for three youth group ages. They are AVIV, grades 2-5; GOLAN, grades 6-8; and BONIM, grades 9-12. Programs will be geared to the interest of each age group with an emphasis on social growth.

Shemmer, a graduate of Tel Aviv University, also holds a Teacher’s Certificate from the school. Previously, she was a Jewish student life coordinator and program director at the University of Pennsylvania Hillel, a youth coordinator at Congregation Anshai Torah of Plano, and an adult education teacher. Shemmer’s goals are, “to engage our youth in wholesome programs and activities, and to motivate them to build a greater connection to their synagogue and to Jewish life.”

In addition, there will be weekly Shabbat morning programs and a monthly Friday evening children’s program. Also new this year will be a youth choir directed by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen, the synagogue’s spiritual leader.

A full range of classes, special events and lectures will be featured in the Nishmat Am Adult Learning Center that will debut this Fall. It will offer courses in such topics as “Is There Life After Life,” “The Genesis of Justice,” “Beginner’s, Intermediate and Biblical Hebrew,” “The Kosher Gourmet,” and more. Additionally, an adult choir is forming that will be under the direction of Rabbi Cohen. It will perform during holidays and at special programs.

Rabbi Cohen said, “The expanded and comprehensive adult education program and youth program are the result of our making education and youth priorities for our synagogue.

These and many other programs, including religious school and High Holy Day services, will be featured at Nishmat Am’s Open House on Sunday, Aug. 21 from 10 a.m. to noon at the synagogue, 2113 W. Spring Creek Parkway (near Custer).

For more information, contact the Nishmat Am office at 972-618-2200, e-mail or visit the Open House.

Since its creation five years ago, Congregation Nishmat Am has been a force for the Jewish community in North Dallas and Collin County, providing spiritual, social and educational services to the region. Under the leadership of Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen and Cantor Jacob Cohen, Nishmat Am has attracted a large and diverse membership with its energetic and participatory style of prayer, active education program and many social events.

Morton Lewis AZA hosts ‘Think Pink’ Dance

All BBYO members and their friends are invited to dance the night away from 8-10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3 at the Zale Auditorium at the JCC. The annual breast cancer awareness event is hosted by Morton Lewis AZA. Cost is $10 per person with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Save the date: JCC’s 10th Annual Senior Expo is Nov. 1

The 10th Annual JCC Senior Expo, sponsored by Town Village North Dallas and Waldman Bros, is set for Nov. 1 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Aaron Family JCC. The event is free and open to the public, and all ages are welcome. Information and support will be provided to children of aging parents and relatives, as well as the senior community. Crime prevention, finding your passion, dealing with midlife divorce and choosing the right time to retire are among expo topics. Walk away with tangible insights on senior living and gain practical life coaching techniques to elevate your life to the next level. Browse more than 50 exhibitor booths, shop, listen to music, and play bingo. The first 100 attendees will receive a free brown bag lunch at noon. For more information, contact Heather Cordova at 214-239-7149.

Comments (0)

Dallas Jewish Arts Fest is back at the Meyerson

Dallas Jewish Arts Fest is back at the Meyerson

Posted on 18 August 2011 by admin

By Rachel Kaufman

The Slappy and Monday Comedy Show Photos: Courtesy of JCC

Back in full force after a three-year hiatus, the 13th Jewish Arts Fest (JAF) will make its triumphant return at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on August 28. The JAF is a showcase of Jewish music, crafts, performing arts and culture, with this year offering more vendors and entertainment than ever before.

“The Jewish Arts Fest is Dallas’s largest Jewish community event, and has brought thousands of people to the Meyerson (and one year to the Eisemann) for 11 years,” said Judy Cohn, the Jewish Community Center’s director of cultural programs. Launched in 1996, the event remained a popular staple until the economy went south. Cohn said that in 2008, the event attracted smaller-than-usual audiences.

“We decided to put it on hold until people started asking that we bring it back,” Cohn said. “When I began hearing ‘Is there going to be an Arts Fest this year?’ from numerous people, I discussed it with Artie Allen, JCC president, and we decided that it was time to try it again.”

The JAF got its start when a group of community members decided to put on a large community event dedicated to Jewish culture and tradition. “We wanted to keep the cost of admission low so that everybody could afford to come and enjoy an entire day of Jewish arts and culture,” Cohn. “When we think about how to reach people who are not going to be reached by conventional means, we have to think of other ways to touch them, like through culture and creative expression including art, music, dance, literature and poetry.”

In its debut, JAF had 42 artists, and Tovah Feldshuh as the headliner. This year, 30 artists from all over the world will offer various crafts for sale in booths around the Arts Fest. Two of the artists from the first JAF, Veronique Jonas and Michael Chausovsky, will be back in their booths again this year. While the artists are one of the event’s largest draws, they aren’t  the only activity. The entertainers have always been a JAF highlight. Though previous events offered specific themes, this year’s will be more broad-based, with a focus on entertainers with whom participants are more familiar.

Rick Recht

“We invited Rick Recht (joined by the choirs at Akiba Academy, Levine Academy and Temple Shalom); comedian Elon Gold, whose show ‘Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish’ was a sell out when we brought him to Dallas two years ago, The Prince of Kosher Gospel, Joshua Nelson (joined by the choirs of Temple Emanu-El, Temple Shalom and Kol Rina of Anshai Torah), who has performed at our festival twice before and is universally loved, and The Slappy and Monday Show, two wonderful award-winning clowns,” said Cohn.

Adults aren’t the only ones who will be entertained this year. “We’re trying to reach out to teens,” Cohn said. With that in mind, two original plays by two Booker T. Washington H.S. for Performing Arts students — Jourdan Stein and Josh Greenfield — are on tap in the Speakers’ Corner, an interactive feature where experts discuss different aspects of Jewish culture.

“This is definitely a big social event for people my age because we all know we’re going to be there,” said Stein. “The volunteer opportunities in the Kidz Korner are always a big draw, and the plays, speakers and the music are important to me and my friends.”

Stein’s play, “Not So Different,” is “about two girls, a Palestinian and an Israeli, who are in the same hospital room. Together they realize that they’re very similar and that hate is not the answer to this problem,” she explained.

Greenfield’s staged work, “Genisis One,” is “a fictional story very loosely based on the structure of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, but by no means is it an adaptation of the story,” he said. “Rather it’s a fictional story using the characters and setting of the biblical story as a foundation.” Greenfield graduated Booker T this year and is headed to Israel for a gap year before college.

Also in the Speaker’s Corner will be Mark Kreditor, who will start the day off with his ever-popular “Jews, Pews and Blues — Synagogues Connections to the American Songbook” program.

Joshua Nelson

Kreditor, a community favorite, said, “I’ve presented before at the Arts Fest but this is time will be even better. It will have multimedia elements and I’m using the iPad and iPhone to do some pretty neat things I’ve never done before to enhance this performance.”

Stein, like many in the Dallas community, is really looking forward to spending the day inside the Meyerson. “It’s been away for a really long time and there’s a whole new generation that gets to come and experience it,” she said. “Everything is always fun and re-experiencing it is going to be great. They’ve really revamped a lot of stuff. It’s one of those times when you feel very Jewish and connected to your community.”

“This is the perfect way to spend a hot, summer day,” Cohn said. “We’re really excited about this fantastic event and we hope everyone will come out and take advantage of these wonderful opportunities to enjoy Jewish culture.”

Added Kreditor: “This is a 100 percent wonderful program!”

Elon Gold

What: The 13th Jewish Arts Fest
August 28, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Inside the Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. (at the intersection of Pearl and Flora Streets in Downtown Dallas)
Anyone interested in spending the day immersed in Jewish art and culture.
How much:
Buy tickets in advance through, any area Tom Thumb grocery store, or by calling the JCC at 214-739-2737. $15 in advance/$20 at the door for adults. $8 in advance/$10 at the door for kids 3 to 15. Kids under 3 are free.
Parking Options:
Self parking in the Lexus Red Garage at the AT&T Performing Arts Center: $5; Two surface lots across the street from the 7 Eleven Tower and Ross Avenue: $5; Hall Street Garage: $10; Cathedral Garage: $10; Meyerson Valet at the front entrance: $20

Comments (2)

Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 18 August 2011 by admin

It’s never to soon to start thinking about Elul

Much of what’s been written during this past month has been about the month of Av, and appropriately so. Tisha b’Av represents one of the more catastrophic events in our history. However, we’re nearing the end of Av; Rosh Chodesh Elul occurs Wed., Aug. 31. What’s so important about Elul? Elul is the gateway to the most important holidays of the year; the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe. One rabbi I knew likened Elul to a period of preparation, both mentally and spiritually, before heading into a period of atonement, prayer and thought.

How do you use Elul, if you do, to prepare for the High Holidays? Please send me your thoughts — I’m at

Mazel tov and ‘wow!’ to Isaac

Isaac Narrett will soon be a bar mitzvah. That’s where the “mazel tov” comes in. But the “wow” factor concerns his bar mitzvah project which, in my humble opinion, shows some really creative out-of-the-box thinking. He could have gone the route of food drives or volunteering, both of which are worthy activities. Instead, Isaac is hosting a chess tournament on Sun., Oct. 15 at Beth-El to benefit the Jewish National Fund Trees for Israel. This is a “non-rated” tournament, and beginners to advanced players of all ages are welcome to turn out (sponsors are certainly welcome as well). Yours truly will follow up with a more comprehensive story in the next few weeks, but any questions should be directed to Marcy Paul, 817-921-9204 or Isaac at

Welcome, Etta!

Etta Korenman enjoys the company of her grandaughter Layla. | Photo: Courtesy of Etta Korenman

Or should I say “welcome back and forth?” Etta Korenman arrived here from Israel at the end of June and, as she put it, “we have been running ever since.” Husband Michael Korenman, a general surgeon in Fort Worth, earned his fifth degree Black Belt in American Karate, Tai Kwando and Shizen Na — Etta says anyone now needing surgery can refer to him as “Master-Doctor Korenman.”

Earlier this month, Etta and the local Korenmans headed to Atlanta, Ga. for a reunion of the Joseph side of the family. Georgia is where Etta’s brother Stan and wife Carol live, as well as children Jason and Erin, who used to visit Fort Worth to attend Camp Shalom.

Also at Beth-El

Ina Singer, with the local chapter of Jewish Women International, reminds us that the group’s opening meeting will take place at 10 a.m., Sept. 7 at Beth-El. Guest speaker will be Dave Lieber, the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s “watch dog” reporter, whose topic will be scamming. Ina says this is a good program for those over 60 years of age. My thought is that it’s a good program for anyone, as we’re all victims to potential scammers. In short, no matter your age, if you need more information, contact Ina at 817-292-1580.

Calling all shofar players

Congregation Ahavath Sholom is on the hunt for men, women and children to join its Shofar Corps for the High Holy Day services. Membership of the Corps requires attendance at three out of four 15-minute rehearsals. Rehearsals are scheduled for noon on Sundays, Sept. 11, 18 and 25, and at 6:30 p.m., Tues., Sept. 20, following minyan. Shofar Corps members must bring their own shofars to rehearsals (CAS has shofars for sale through the office, ranging in price from $30 to $50).  Want to participate? Call CAS’ office at 817-731-4721.

Celebrating the great outdoors with Grease!

On Sun., Sept 4, the Beth-El parking lot will become an outdoor summer cinema, complete with a giant movie screen, terrific sound system and a collection of 1950s classic cars. But that’s not all — attendees will be treated to the PG-13 movie “Grease” (preceded, I’m told, by an age-appropriate 1950s cartoon). This annual family event is free, thanks to underwriting by the B’nai B’rith Isadore Garsek Lodge No. 269. The event is chaired by Jim and Elaine Stanton.

“While the days of drive-in movie theaters are mostly gone, we still enjoy the experience of outdoor flicks,” writes Harry Kahn, president of the Tarrant County B’nai B’rith lodge. “There’s nothing like sitting outside with friends on a balmy summer night with the stars twinkling overhead and a great movie on a large screen. We are very excited that we will once again be able to bring the entire Tarrant County Jewish community together for this unique and fun event.”

The movies start at 8 p.m., with the fun beginning before that with music and a tailgating party. Concessions are available beginning at 7:30 p.m., with BBYO teens selling soft drinks, bottled water, popcorn and glow necklaces — all for $1. All proceeds are being used to support BBYO activities. Viewers are advised to bring lawn chairs, and in the event of inclement weather (we should be so lucky) or excessive heat, the event will move inside. Need more information? Call the Movie Hotline at 817-927-2555.

Daytimers and the path of Kahn (with apologies to Star Trek)

Barbara Rubin has been doing an excellent job of keeping us up to date on what’s going on with the group’s upcoming tour to the “Genghis Kahn: The Exhibition” exhibit at the Irving Art Center, scheduled for Sept. 14.

This looks like a really cool exhibit, complete with more than 200 artifacts such as jewelry, robes, weaponry and mummies from Genghis Khan’s Mongolia. But this exhibit is more than going and gawking at a bunch of arrows or clothes. Upon entry into the exhibit, attendees are given particular identities (princess, Mongol, warrior or even horse) and as they travel through the exhibit, interactive screens describe how those particular identities lived during Kahn’s time.

I wrote about this last week, and Barbara told me a couple of days ago that there were only 17 spaces remaining (this number could have decreased even further since then).

The group will meet at the Intermodal Transportation center at noon and will travel via TRE and DART to the Arts Center. Cost for transportation, lunch (catered by Subway) and admission is $20, or $15 if you want to bring your own lunch. Reservations are ABSOLUTELY necessary and as mentioned above, spaces are going fast. For information call Barbara Rubin at 817-927-2736, mail your check to Beth-El, 4900 Briarhaven Rd., Fort Worth, TX, 76109 or log onto to register.

Update on Johnson County Jews

Every time I put something into this column, I receive another e-mail from yet another Johnson County Jew. I’m gratified to realize that there are more of these “outliers” than I previously believed. The latest, lovely response comes from Gay Wynns of Burleson, who tells me there are others dotted around southern Tarrant County and Johnson County. I’m cheered by this response. Furthermore, it’s driven me to say, right here in print, that we’ll schedule a get-together of Johnson County and southern Tarrant County Jews on a Sunday in late October (after the High Holidays, of course, and depending on the Cowboys’ football schedule). As soon as I can get my act together, I’ll put more information here. Thank you all, again, for getting in touch … and keep those messages coming!

Have a story or a thought? You can find me at Until next time …

Comments (0)

Ask the Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi

Posted on 11 August 2011 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

Why do the Jewish people have such a large number of mitzvot? I recently learned in religious school that the gentiles only have seven mitzvot, while the Jews have 613. Why such a huge discrepancy? Is God out to make life difficult for his “chosen people”?!

— Leah G.

Dear Leah,

Excellent question! There are many reasons why God chose to give us the number of mitzvot He did. We examine a few of them in the limited space of this column.

The Mishna says: “The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to bring merit (“lezakos”) to Israel (the Jews) therefore he increased to them Torah and mitzvahs, as it is written (Isaiah 42) ‘God desired to bring them righteousness so He expanded the Torah and glorified it’” (Mishna Makos Ch. 3).

This Mishna seems counterintuitive, based on your question. If more mitzvot are difficult, how is this, then, a merit for the Jews? It would seem to be a punishment, as you have suggested!

Maimonides, the 13th century commentator, says the following: “It is a core Jewish concept that if a person observed one mitzvah out of the 613 properly and respectably without tainting it with any personal motivation, rather purely for its own sake out of love; that person will have merited, from this one observance, to the world to come. This is the meaning of the Mishna. The mitzvahs, by them being many, make it extremely likely that during a Jew’s entire lifetime at least one of them will be fulfilled with perfection of thought and deed. With that perfect mitzvah the person’s soul will attain eternal life…” (Ramba’m Commentary to Mishna end of Makkos).

We see from this Maimonides that the increased number of mitzvot is not a penalty, but rather, an expression of God’s immense love for His people and His desire for them to merit His ultimate, eternal goodness.

Another, deeper explanation is given to the number of mitzvot. The word “lezakos” in the Mishna, besides meaning “merit”, also means “to purify.” Every mitzvah one performs brings the body and soul to a greater level of spiritual purity and perfection; a tikkun for that person. The person’s personal tikkun also brings about a tikkun to the world. There are numerous areas in which each person, and the world, needs a tikkun. Each mitzvah affects the person and the world in a different way. The Midrash compares this to a royal orchard planted by the King’s botanists. Each of the varied trees gives off a different fragrance, diverse fruits and colors with no two alike, provided abundant and manifold pleasures. God’s providing His children with this opportunity is a demonstration of His great affection and desire to provide us with a wide range of diverse and distinct pleasures.

Lastly, the Kabbalists explain that the 613 mitzvot, made up of 248 “positive” and 365 “negative” mitzvot (do’s and don’ts), correspond to the same count of parts in a person’s body. Each mitzvah matches up precisely to its bodily counterpart, providing it light and life. These sages elucidate an even deeper understanding: our bodies were actually created by God to fit the mitzvot! This is based partly on the statement of the “Book of the Zohar” (“Book of Illumination,” the key text of the Kabbalah): “God peered into the Torah and created the world.” This means the Torah was not introduced into the world once it was created; rather it is the blueprint of creation itself. A part of the soul also corresponds to the same body parts. In this way the body and soul very precisely achieve their perfection, their tikkun, through the mitzvot.

How fortunate we are to be the recipients of so many special, unique mitzvot! May we be open to the possibilities of growth and joy they can provide.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at

Comments (0)

Inside Empire

Inside Empire

Posted on 11 August 2011 by admin

By Uriel Heilman

The assembly line at Empire Kosher Poultry’s plant in central Pennsylvania is the largest kosher one of its kind in America, with 240,000 chickens and 27,000 turkeys passing through every week. | Photos: Uri Heilman

MIFFLINTOWN, Pa. (JTA) — The end came swiftly for the chicken I’ll call Bob.

Propelled into a trough of sorts by a machine that tips a crate’s worth of birds onto the assembly line — “They’re like children, sliding down,” the head kosher supervisor said — chicken Bob was seized by a worker’s practiced hands and guided toward the shochet, or ritual slaughterer, along a stainless steel panel meant for calming the birds.

While a second worker held down his legs and body, the shochet gently grasped Bob’s head and, in what seemed like a split second, made his cut before the lifeless chicken was deposited into a funnel for the blood to drip out.

Every six seconds or so, another chicken followed.

The shochet, clad in a bloodstained yellow rain slicker and with a transparent plastic cap covering his hair and beard, swayed rhythmically as he worked, almost as if he were davening. Alongside him, 11 other teams of three, each led by its own shochet, labored methodically.

In all, 60,000 chickens would be killed by late afternoon. It’s all in a day’s work at Empire Kosher Poultry, the largest kosher chicken company in the United States.

Empire churns out 240,000 chickens and 27,000 turkeys a week, from quartered broilers to turkey salami. With a staff of 750, a fleet of two dozen trucks and a vertically integrated operation in central Pennsylvania, where hatcheries, feed mills, farms and processing all come together, Empire says it produces a healthier, cleaner, more reliably kosher chicken than anywhere else in America — and in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

To back up its claims, Empire agreed to give JTA a first-ever camera tour of its facilities, providing unfettered access to everything from the kill room to the farms to the assembly line where chickens and turkey are sliced, processed and packaged into all manner of raw poultry, nuggets, cold cuts and hot dogs. The only restriction was that JTA was not permitted to photograph the kill room or certain proprietary methods.

The recent tour had two ostensible purposes. One was to draw an implicit contrast with other kosher food companies in the news. While managers declined to get specific, the most infamous industry example is Agriprocessers, the Iowa-based kosher meat giant that was felled in 2008 amid a host of financial crimes and labor and safety violations following years of negative media reports. Agriprocessors’ former CEO, Sholom Rubashkin, is serving a 27-year prison sentence for financial fraud and money laundering. (He has appealed for a new trial, arguing that the judge was biased.)

Second, and perhaps not unrelated, Empire officials say they are considering expanding into the kosher meat market — something the company once did, albeit without great success. With plans on the drawing board to go back into beef within a year — Empire would buy already slaughtered cuts of meat and build a business around processing — the company is launching a public relations campaign to tout its approach to chicken production, including advertisements in the Jewish media.

A private company with annual revenues over $100 million, Empire says the ways it raises its chickens and treats its workers are the keys to the company’s success.

Since 2008, Empire’s chickens have been antibiotic free, and the company now has an organic line available at retailers such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Empire’s workers are unionized — a rarity in the kosher business — with salaries ranging from $8 to $11.40 per hour, and health, vision and dental plans. Empire is a graduate of the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA Challenge program — the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s initiative to improve workplace safety and health management — and the company employs an on-site nurse. Over the past 10 years, the company has invested more than $2.5 million in a wastewater treatment facility that recycles its effluents.

“There is a better standard in that plant in terms of the conditions of the workers and the way they’re treated — not just physical conditions — compared to other chicken poultry processors,” said Wendell Young, president of UFCW Local 1776, the union that represents Empire’s employees.

In an interview with JTA, Rabbi Morris Allen, the program director of the Conservative-backed seal of ethical kosher food production that will be rolled out this fall, said that Empire’s practices appear to make it a good fit for the Magen Tzedek seal, which guarantees certain standards for treatment of workers, animals and the environment. Allen visited the Empire plant several months ago.

What has enabled Empire to be profitable, company officials say, is its vertically integrated operation. From conception to supermarket, Empire approaches its chicken operation with scientific precision.

“We hatch our own eggs, feed them with our own blend of feed from our feed mill and keep close watch as they grow. We have control from conception until packaging — no third parties,” said Greg Rosenbaum, the company’s CEO. “We can say to the world that humane standards had been applied at every stage.”

It all starts with breeding. While companies like Purdue may breed chickens for large breasts because breast meat is in highest demand, Empire’s chickens are bred for kashrut. That means large breasts could add weight that damages the chicken’s tendons, rendering the chickens treif, or unkosher, when slaughtered. No growth hormones are administered; hormone use for poultry is illegal in the United States.

“We worked over the years to get the breed just right,” said Jeff Brown, Empire’s chief operating officer, told JTA over a chicken lunch. “It was developed specifically for kosher processing.”

At Empire’s hatchery, the temperature, humidity and duration of incubation is strictly calibrated to ensure maximum yield. Eggs are turned every hour on the hour to keep the chicks inside from sticking to the eggshells. Once the eggs hatch — and 82 percent will — the chicks are inoculated against avian sicknesses such as Marek’s disease and coccidian before being trucked to farms spread out over five Pennsylvania counties, all within 90 miles of the Mifflintown plant.

Area farmers raise the chickens, but Empire dictates and remotely monitors how the chickens are housed and provides all the feed. It takes approximately 1.8 pounds of feed — mostly corn, but also some soy meal and other ingredients — to grow a pound of chicken. The birds’ diet is strictly vegetarian and kosher for Passover all year round.

When the chickens are 38 to 48 days old, they are loaded onto crates and trucked to the plant for slaughter.

The workforce at Empire’s plant is full of incongruities. More than a third of the farmers who raise the kosher chickens are Mennonites. Rosenbaum, the CEO, is a Reform Jew who does not keep kosher. Rabbi Israel Weiss, the head mashgiach, or kosher inspector, writes Hebrew science fiction novels in his spare time under a pen name. The staff is filled with Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians whose familiarity with kashrut — and the Yiddish terminology that surrounds it — exceeds that of some religious Jews.

“For the first year-and-a-half it was a total learning experience,” said Neenah Glenn Lauver, a Mifflintown native who works as Empire’s director of product marketing. “Even still, I’m learning things about the culture we serve.”

A phalanx of rabbis work at the plant, living on-site in dormitories during the week and spending weekends at home with their families in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia or Lakewood, N.J. The plant has its own mikvah, or ritual bath, where the shochets immerse before beginning their workday, and a shul with multiple morning minyans and evening classes. The father of Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Chasidic boy from Borough Park, Brooklyn, who was abducted and murdered last month, used to work at the plant as a mashgiach.

In deference to the shochets and mashgiachs, the assembly line does not run on Fridays so they can get home for Shabbat. In deference to the assembly floor workers, the plant also closes on the first day of buck hunting season.

A typical day starts in the kill room at 4 a.m., but it involves frequent breaks for the shochets so they can stay fresh; no shochet works more than five hours in a given day.

Shechitah is a very complex job, you have to be rested,” said Rabbi Aron Taub, a shochet from Baltimore who has worked at the plant since 1989. “It’s not like doing any other physical job. You have to have a lot of concentration.”

The knives used by ritual slaughterers must be checked every few minutes during use and can cost up to $300.

Approximately every five minutes, a light goes on signaling the shochets to stop their work and check their knives for nicks. If a shochet finds an imperfection, all the chickens from the last few minutes are discarded. That goes not just for his work but for all the hundreds of chickens killed by the shochets during that period because the birds are mixed in together. The reason is kashrut: If a single shochet’s work could be singled out, he theoretically could come under pressure to compromise his standards to achieve a better pass rate. That’s a conflict of interest. In the contest between efficiency and kashrut, kashrut always wins.

As the chickens move along the assembly line, a mashgiach inspects every yolk sack and tray of intestines for treif characteristics. When a mashgiach finds a slaughtered chicken that has a suspicious bulge on its yolk sack, he pulls it off the line for further scrutiny. Another rabbi making rounds takes a closer look, sometimes slicing open tumor-like lumps to look for telltale signs of treif. Birds that are disqualified are sold to companies that make dog food.

There are USDA inspectors on-site, too, but the rabbis remove about five times as much poultry from the assembly line as the government inspectors.

On the assembly line, the birds are soaked for 30 minutes in tap water before they are salted for an hour and then triple rinsed. A machine pulls open the necks to drain the blood. Another cuts open the wingtips so water can get in.

As the chickens move along, a steel rod dislodges the windpipe and eviscerates the bird. A machine with rapidly spinning, finger-like protrusions removes the feathers. Plucking a kosher chicken is more difficult for kosher producers because the warm water used by producers of treif chicken to remove feathers cannot be used in the kosher process.

Eventually, the finished products are wrapped whole, cut up or processed into foods like turkey pastrami, all-breast chicken nuggets or Empire’s seasoned chicken in a bag, which cooks in a microwave in 20 minutes.

With a limited shelf life, the chickens are rushed onto refrigerated trucks to delivery points across the country on the same day they are killed. Some long-haul trucks have tandem drivers so they can drive nonstop all the way to California. A chicken slaughtered in Pennsylvania on a Tuesday can make it to a supermarket shelf in Los Angeles by Thursday.

Just in time for chicken Bob to end up on your Shabbat table.

Comments (0)

View or Subscribe to the
Texas Jewish Post

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here