Archive | January, 2014

Being ‘guardians of the earth’

Being ‘guardians of the earth’

Posted on 30 January 2014 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

seymourforweb2This week I told the story of King David and the spider and the one about King Solomon and the bee. Both stories are about how an insect saved a king. The Tanach is filled with stories and commandments of how we are supposed to treat the land and all that live on that land. From the very first chapters in Genesis, we are told to “rule” and “master” and “to till and tend.” In some ways today, we have taken the “rule and master” as license to do whatever we wish and our land is paying the price. How can we get back to the real idea that G-d has given us a gift and we must take care of that gift?

We must remember a very important Jewish value: we are “shomrim adamah” — “guardians of the earth,” and this lesson must start young. What we are learning today is not only that the earth needs caring for but that caring for, the earth helps everyone of us in so many ways. I often recommend books, but here is a website — We need to experience the land to connect to it and value it and care for it, and through our experiences, we will grow. Look at these texts from our tradition and talk about them with your friends and families:

  • You must not sit down to your own meal before you have fed your pets and barnyard animals.

— Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 40a based on Deuteronomy 11:15

  • The whole world of humans, animals, fish and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air, and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny.

— Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 2

  • Every kind of fish, bird, and animal contributes something to the world you live in — even the ones you may consider to be unnecessary, such as fleas, gnats and flies.

— Midrash Genesis Rabbah 10:7

The stories of King David and King Solomon remind us that everything has a place and a purpose even if we don’t see it at first. So before you step on that spider, think of King Solomon and maybe just send it out into the world.

Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady,

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Keeping tabs on the six million

Keeping tabs on the six million

Posted on 30 January 2014 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebIn 2005, the United Nations declared Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day marking the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation. Nine years later, I would like to introduce you to our nation’s newest — and perhaps its most unusual — Holocaust memorial.

“Keeping Tabs” is a massive sculpture in a new park on the campus of Community Day, a Solomon Schechter School in Pittsburgh, Pa. My son is on its staff and when I visited early last year, he took me to view the site. Even then, while it was still under construction, the sheer size took my breath away.

And now it is finished. Standing 9 feet high, it consists of 960 massive glass blocks stacked and sheathed in stabilizing steel arranged in the shape of a Magen David. Inside each block: 6,250 pop top can tabs. Do the math: multiplied, the two numbers total six million.

You have probably heard of the school children in a small Tennessee town who collected six million paper clips as a way to comprehend the Holocaust as depicted in the 2004 documentary “Paper Clips.” The Pittsburgh project involved many more students in a much larger venue and it took a long, long time to complete. The project began with Community Day’s social studies teacher Bill Walter who got the idea back in 1996, blossoming into a dream that consumed the whole school and its community. In 2002, there was a student design contest; one of the children on the winning team is in medical school today.

Through all those years, children and adults alike collected pop top tabs. Why these? Because Pittsburgh is their home! Pull tabs were developed by Alcoa Aluminum back in 1962 and first used by the local Iron City Brewery on its beer cans. For a long time these tabs could be found only in Western Pennsylvania, until the idea caught on and spread — as did the zeal to collect six million of them for Community Day.

At the very beginning, this project’s intention was the same as the paper clip one: to tangibly see what six million of something looks like as a way to visualize the human scope of the Holocaust. But after five years, fish tanks in the classroom where it all began were overflowing with tabs and Head of School Avi Baran Munro made the decision that something permanent had to be done with them.

“Each one of these tabs represents a life, an important life,” Munro said. “Once you’ve attached this meaning to them, you can’t throw them out. That would be so wrong.”

Because of this, an artist was brought in to work with students on design concepts. Once the student choice had been made, an architect took over to develop the winning idea into something permanent.

From first idea to finished sculpture: almost 18 years — Chai! The cost: donations and grants amounted to $1 million, which includes actual construction, funds for maintenance of the monument and an educational endowment. “Keeping Tabs” will now become a central source of Holocaust study for all the city’s students and teachers.

Walter, the now-retired teacher who started everything, said this at the recent dedication of the finished product: “We counted so many of [the tabs]. We counted them for years, and after a while it seems routine. But then you spot one a little different — an odd color, or size. It’s unique, just like they were, and it hits you all over again: This represents somebody who died.”

Now visitors can walk around this massive star, see those tabs, and remember.

My thanks to Robert Zulio (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) and Megan Harris (Trib Total Media Pittsburgh) for their helpful reportage on the occasion of the dedication, and of course to my son, Sol B. Marcus, for my personal introduction to “Keeping Tabs.” I look forward to revisiting the now-finished site and taking my own star-walk this summer.

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Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 30 January 2014 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

It was a typical Texas summer evening when I first met the Beckerman family in 1970.

Shortly before my fifth birthday, mom had invited our new Hildring Drive East neighbors, Greta and David and their children Iris, Neil and Heidi over for swimming and dinner. Iris’ fiancé Sid was also on hand.

It was a magical evening that was punctuated with 10-year-old Heidi crashing through our sliding glass door and requiring stitches to her lip and hand.

It was one of my earliest memories of how quick my dad Jimmy responded in a crisis. Something I witnessed on more than one occasion. He quickly began treatment and helped get Heidi to the ER.

The Beckermans were one of several Jewish families who had a member that worked for Radio Shack and received a corporate transfer from Boston to Fort Worth to be on-site at the Tandy Corporation headquarters here.

Greta and David quickly became part of the Fort Worth Jewish community and secular community landscape — David in his quiet, thoughtful and precise way with tremendous business acumen, and Greta with her larger than life, vivacious, full-speed ahead demeanor.

I have so many wonderful memories of the Wisches spending many milestones with the Beckermans and the Bogarts that they are too many to enumerate.

It’s been birthday month for Greta Beckerman. She is shown here with son Neil and daughter Heidi.

It’s been birthday month for Greta Beckerman. She is shown here with son Neil and daughter Heidi.

It was great, however, to celebrate Greta’s 85th with her and the Beckerman clan hosted by Greta’s children, Heidi Kirby and Neil Beckerman, at Neil’s beautiful North Dallas home Jan. 18. Greta’s actual birthday was Jan. 17.

In attendance, along with Neil, were his children Michelle and Drew Beckerman. Michelle, who holds her master’s in special education, is a special-ed teacher at Dan D. Rogers Elementary School in Dallas. Drew is a recent graduate of Claremont McKenna College and will soon be moving to the Seattle area to begin his career as a financial analyst with Microsoft.

Daughter Heidi Kirby and her son Daniel were also there to celebrate. Heidi’s husband Michael was down with the flu and her older son Matthew could not make it in from Fort Collins, Colo. Daniel is a freshman at OU, where he is studying sports management/business and is a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. College life seems to be agreeing with him.

Not able to attend from Boston were Greta’s daughter and son-in-law Iris and Sid Newman and their daughter Jill, who teaches dance in Boston.

Greta’s nephew Steve Adelman, her sister Claire’s son, now lives in Dallas, and was also there for the celebration.

It was fun to hear Greta get a call from her older sister, Claire, who couldn’t be there in person.

Joining me along with my husband Alex, were my sisters Judy Wisch and Susan Wisch, and cousins Richard Kahn and Barry Pierce all of Dallas.

Also celebrating were Robin Levine Steinberg of Dallas and Harry Kahn, Nancy Sheinberg and Rich and Terri Hollander all of Fort Worth.

Close friend Patricia Ndugwa also joined the fun.

I thought I knew just about everything about the Beckerman family, but I did learn something new that night: the classic Beckerman toast for a special occasion. It goes like this:

I drink to your health when I’m with you.
I drink to your health when I’m alone.
I drink to your health so often,
I’m damn near losing my own!

Toasting Greta Beckerman on her “39th” birthday are from left, Harry Kahn, Rich and Terri Hollander and Nancy Sheinberg.

Toasting Greta Beckerman on her “39th” birthday are from left, Harry Kahn, Rich and Terri Hollander and Nancy Sheinberg.

A small plug for chicken soup

The flu hit our family hard earlier this month.

No. 3 Jimmy came down with it Jan. 7 and missed a week of school, seemed to improve for a couple of days and then got sidelined with double pneumonia.

The day I got his diagnosis, I was pretty frazzled. Alex was out of town on business. We were on deadline at the TJP and I was trying to figure out how to get it done and whip up a batch of chicken soup.

I needed the big guns, Campbells and an out of the box mix wouldn’t suffice.

The same day, I received an email from Betsy Maselek, owner of Betsy’s unique company will ship you chicken soup, matzoh balls and all, fresh and ready to eat.

I told Betsy about the plight of flu in the area, and she shipped a batch to us on the double. I had it Wednesday, neatly packaged and semi-frozen with a lovely kosher challah.

It was delicious, and would make a great care package for someone in college, a loved one who’s under the weather or just because.

Nothing says “I love you” like a comforting bowl of Jewish penicillin, and if your loved one is far away, this is a great option.

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Knesset delegation marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Knesset delegation marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Posted on 30 January 2014 by admin

By Cnaan Liphshiz

OSWIECIM, Poland (JTA) — Watching thousands of Poles dance to Klezmer music just 50 miles from the Auschwitz death camp, Johnny Daniels could feel an ambitious plan taking shape.

The experience last year at Krakow’s annual Jewish Culture Festival prompted Daniels, a 28-year-old Israeli and Holocaust educator, to organize the largest-ever Knesset delegation to Auschwitz.

Nearly half the Israeli parliament was in Poland Jan. 27 to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 69th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. They also conducted a joint session with counterparts from the Polish parliament.

“At the festival, I realized the Holocaust had a huge impact also on Polish society, and I decided to do something connected to how we relate to each other,” said Daniels, the director of From the Depths, a nongovernmental education organization.

At the camp, the Israeli delegation — which comprised 58 Israeli lawmakers, including several ministers — marched to the Birkenau death complex in formation, flanked by the Knesset guard and flying Israeli flags. Amid the snow-filled crematoria, they stopped to sing the Israeli national anthem in the freezing wind before breaking into smaller groups, many of them praying and remembering murdered relatives.

Unlike during previous Israeli events in Auschwitz — including the 2003 flyover by Israel Air Force fighter jets — the visitors heard family stories from Poles like Piotr van der Coghen, whose father, a resistance fighter and medic, treated his Jewish fellow prisoners as an inmate at the Plaszow camp.

Another Polish lawmaker, Ewa Wolak, spoke at the joint inter-parliamentary session in Krakow about a growing awareness among Polish priests and farmers of the need to demarcate the countless mass graves of Jewish Holocaust victims that dot the Polish countryside.

For Poles, the Knesset delegation arrived as Polish interest in the Holocaust and Jewish culture continues to grow, yielding a slew of recent books and movies and the opening of several Jewish museums and culture festivals. Foremost among the new museums is the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, whose core exhibition is due to open later this year in Warsaw. The number of annual visitors to the Auschwitz museum has more than doubled since 1988, from 600,000 to 1.4 million.

There is a “growing recognition of how the Holocaust was an enormous loss also for Polish society,” said Shevah Weiss, a Poland-born Holocaust survivor and former Israeli ambassador to Warsaw. “Gradually, more and more Poles are discovering the enormity of that loss and are moved to attempt to recover some of it.”

Holocaust studies and interest in Polish Jewry’s heritage is growing in Israel, too. Israel’s education ministry last year announced a new program for teaching first graders about the Holocaust. Currently, the subject is not taught until junior high. Some 25,000 Israeli teenagers are sent to Poland each year, at a cost of $30 million annually.

Joining the Israeli lawmakers was a delegation of 24 Holocaust survivors, including Noah Kliger, who recalled reciting the Kaddish mourning prayer with other Jews while sitting on a heap of corpses in a Nazi railway car. They agreed to pray only after the son of one of the dead agreed to share his bread with them.

“Eating the bread, I asked where his father was,” Kilger said in his speech. “He said, ‘Somewhere under all these corpses.’”

Several U.S. politicians joined the ceremony as well, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who spoke of “a profound emotional experience,” and Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate.

“As we’re standing here in our warm coats and still cold, I can’t imagine the suffering of those who were forced to work here in pajamas,” Huckabee told JTA. “The Knesset stands here as testament that the will of good is better than the will of evil. Their flag signifies how, had there been a Jewish state, there would’ve never been a Holocaust. That’s why there must always be a secure Jewish state.”

Sending the Knesset members cost Israeli taxpayers $130,000, according to The Marker daily. Another $400,000 was raised by From the Depths, Daniels’ outfit, to cover events surrounding the inter-parliamentary session in Krakow.

A large chunk of the organization’s budget for producing the event came from Stewart Rahr, an American philanthropist who grabbed some tabloid headlines last year after he reportedly sent a video to friends showing him having sex with three women in a limousine. Knesset spokesperson Yotam Yakir and Daniels both denied a New York Post report earlier this week that Rahr had covered the Knesset members’ travel costs as well.

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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 30 January 2014 by admin

By Linda Wisch-Davidsohn

Shrell receives Ebby Halliday Community Service Award

Good wishes to Julie Shrell, co-founder of Be The Difference and the Wheel to Survive, Indoor Cycling Event for Ovarian Cancer (Feb. 23 at the JCC), who has been recognized as the 2013 recipient of the MetroTex Association of Realtors Ebby Halliday Community Service Award.

Julie Shrell

Julie Shrell

Shrell began her real estate career in 1986, as a Realtor with Ebby Halliday Realtors. In 2001, she became a loan officer, working at Chase Mortgage, Met Life and then Executive Home Mortgage, which, in 2009, became part of Southwest Bank. Shrell participated in the MetroTex Association of Realtors Leadership Academy, for which she has served as finance committee chair, and is currently vice chair of its alumni committee.

In 2012, one of Shrell’s BTD co-founders, Lynn Lentscher, recently retired as senior vice president of residential sales at Republic Title, also received the MetroTex Association of Realtors Ebby Halliday Community Service Award as well as Women’s Council of Realtors Ebby Halliday Leadership and Service Award.

DCMS installs Todd Pollock, M.D., as its 131st president

Dallas County Medical Society installed Todd Pollock, M.D., as its 131st president Thursday, Jan. 23, at the Park City Club. Two awards were presented: the Charles Max Cole, M.D., Leadership Award to Richard Joseph, M.D. and the Millard J. and Robert L. Heath Award to Larry James, CEO of CitySquare.

Stephen Brotherton, M.D., president of the Texas Medical Association swears in Todd Pollock, M.D. as president of the Dallas County Medical Society Jan. 23. | Photo: DCMS

Stephen Brotherton, M.D., president of the Texas Medical Association swears in Todd Pollock, M.D. as president of the Dallas County Medical Society Jan. 23. | Photo: DCMS

Dr. Pollock, a plastic surgeon, practices at North Dallas Plastic Surgery. He also serves as parliamentarian for the Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons and as program committee co-chair for the Parkland Surgical Society. He has previously served as president of the Dallas Society of Plastic Surgeons, medical staff president at Presbyterian Hospital Allen and chair of the DCMS Board of Censors.

He received a psychology degree from the University of Texas at Austin, a biology degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and his medical degree in 1990 from the Chicago Medical School. After a residency in general surgery at UT Southwestern and another in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Chicago Hospital, Pollock has been in private practice since 1997.

Todd is married to Kasi Pollock and is the father of Abby. He is the son of Hannah Kay and Dr. Harlan Pollock.

Dr. Beth Levine receives the 2014 Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award from the ASCI

Dr. Beth Levine, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and director of the Center for Autophagy Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, has received the 2014 Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award from the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI).
The award recognizes Levine’s fundamental contributions to the understanding of autophagy — literally, “self-eating” — a housecleaning process in which cells destroy damaged proteins and organelles.

Each year, the award recognizes the outstanding achievements of ASCI members in advancing knowledge in a specific field and in mentoring future scientists. The award is named after the late Dr. Stanley Korsmeyer, an oncologist and researcher who identified key genetic mechanisms that govern cell death and survival. The ASCI, established in 1908, is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected medical honor societies and counts more than 3,000 physician-scientists as members.

Last year, Dr. Bruce Beutler, Nobel Laureate and director of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense, became the first UT Southwestern faculty member to receive the Korsmeyer Award for his discoveries in innate immunity. Levine’s honor thus marks the second award for a UTSW researcher.

“I am truly honored to receive this award in memory of a great physician-scientist, Stanley Korsmeyer,” said Levine, also a  professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology. “This recognition underscores the importance of autophagy as a crucial pathway in health and disease and thus represents an accomplishment for the entire field of autophagy research.”

Inspired by Korsmeyer’s co-discovery of Bcl-2 as a B cell lymphoma oncogene, Levine began her research career by searching for proteins that interacted with the Bcl-2 protein. These experiments led to the identification of a gene she named beclin 1, and her subsequent characterization of beclin 1 opened the molecular era of disease-related autophagy research. Levine showed that it is an essential mammalian autophagy gene and important for preventing many tumors. One copy of the gene is lost in about half of human breast and ovarian cancers; beclin 1 prevents lung cancer, liver cancers, and B cell lymphomas in mice; and Bcl-2 and other oncogenes inactivate beclin 1.

Levine demonstrated how Akt, a gene in the insulin-signaling pathway activated in many cancers, inhibits autophagy by inactivating beclin 1, allowing unregulated tumor cell growth. More recently, her research showed that the epidermal growth factor receptor, expressed at abnormally high levels by many types of cancer cells, deactivates autophagy by binding the protein beclin 1, leading to increased rates of tumor growth and chemotherapy resistance in non-small cell lung cancer.

Levine’s work has also revealed the crucial role of autophagy in defense against intracellular pathogens. Her group showed that autophagy genes protect against lethal alphavirus encephalitis and Salmonella typhimurium infection, and found that a herpes simplex virus neurovirulence factor acts by antagonizing the protein beclin 1. Furthermore, her work suggests that the beclin 1 gene and the autophagy pathway slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, increase life span and underlie the beneficial effects of exercise on glucose metabolism.

Recently, Levine and her colleagues identified an autophagy-inducing peptide called Tat-beclin 1. Mice treated with this peptide are protected against several infectious diseases. In additional experiments, the team demonstrated that human cells treated with Tat-beclin 1 are resistant to HIV infection and are more efficient at clearing mutant huntingtin (sic) protein aggregates. The peptide may thus have therapeutic potential in the prevention and treatment of a broad range of human diseases.

Her current research focuses on the role of autophagy in normal development and aging, the mechanisms by which autophagy genes suppress tumors, biochemical mechanisms that regulate beclin 1, and the role of autophagy in infection and exercise physiology.

Levine, who holds the Charles Cameron Sprague Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science, was elected last year to membership in the National Academy of Sciences, representing one of the highest honors attainable by an American scientist. She was elected to ASCI membership in 2000 and to the Association of American Physicians in 2006. Her other honors include the American Cancer Society TIAA-CREF Award for Outstanding Achievements in Cancer Research and an Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award from The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas.D

Dr. Brian  Schwartz to present seminar at Baylor Plano

Dr. Brian G. Schwartz, cardiologist, will present a seminar as part of Baylor Plano’s Heart Hospital from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3.  The seminar is part of Baylor Plano’s Heart Hospital’s education series on heart failure, and is open to anyone living with heart failure, or have a loved one managing this condition.

The sessions are free and different topics are offered monthly.  Call 1-800- 4-BAYLOR to register as seating is limited.  It will take place in the hospital’s auditorium at 1100 Allied Drive in Plano.

Jack Repp to speak at UNT

University of North Texas students, faculty and staff members and others will hear a firsthand account of the Holocaust and what it was like to live in Auschwitz and other camps during a lecture given by Holocaust survivor Jack Repp.

The lecture will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4 in Room 255 of the Eagle Student Services Center, 1147 Union Circle in Denton.

Repp, who was born Yitzik Rzepkowicz in Radom, Poland, will discuss the four years he lived in various ghettos and concentration camps, including Kielce, Auschwitz  and Dachau, and a death march that he endured until he was liberated when he was 21.

After being liberated by the American army, he moved to the U.S. in 1949 to work for his uncle selling clothes, and settled in Dallas. He owned Repp’s Department Store on Second Avenue near Fair Park for 44 years. Repp spearks at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.

For more information, contact the Jewish and Israel Studies Program office at 940-369-8926 or

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A parable for the troubled

A parable for the troubled

Posted on 23 January 2014 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I was present at a shiva house recently where you spoke and related a parable of a sage to explain why people suffer, sometimes for a very long time. I was inspired by the message but don’t remember all the details, and wanted to share it with someone whose mother is going through a lot of suffering presently. Could I trouble you to repeat it for me?

— Linda T.

Dear Linda,

friedforweb2What I related is a parable offered by a leading Kabbalist from Jerusalem, as related by my esteemed friend and colleague Rabbi Akiva Tatz:

There was once a man, Moe, who passed on from this world, and found himself walking down a long street toward a great light. He heard a loud noise, and looked up to see three very large dump trucks carrying a cargo of dirt, giving off lots of dust and noise. He hailed one of the trucks and asked the driver where he’s going. The driver responded, “to your court case!” Moe asked him what was in the trucks. The driver responded, “these are all your sins; for your court case!” Moe gulped and nervously asked the driver if he could hitch a ride. The driver responded, “no room in here!” as he and the other trucks drove on.

Moe, who continued walking toward the light, looked up a few minutes later to see a small golf cart whirring along quietly down the road, with a small, neatly wrapped package in the backseat tied with a ribbon. He asked the driver where he was going? The driver responded, “to your court case.” Moe asked, “What’s in the little package in the back?” The driver responded, “Those are all your mitzvot!” Moe, now really nervous, asked if he could have a ride. The driver replied, “Sure, plenty of room in here!”

After Moe arrived at the courthouse, he saw the angels and a huge scale. First the dump trucks unloaded their loads of sins onto the scale, causing that side of the scale to come crashing down onto the ground and the other side to lift high into the sky. Then the golf cart driver climbed a high ladder and gently placed his neat packet onto the scale, not making a dent. Moe turned from red to a deep shade of crimson.

Just then, Moe heard the rumbling of more trucks. Three large dump trucks entered, laden with more dirt. Moe cried out, “What are those?! What are they carrying?” They explained, those are all the sufferings you had in your life below! The three trucks began dumping their loads onto the mitzvah side of the scale, slowly lowering the scale to equal the sin side. When they became exactly equal, the last truck finished its load. Joe cried out, “Isn’t there any more suffering in there?”

We never really know why any individual goes through suffering in this world. (Only in the days of yore when we had prophets could we find out why one is going through suffering, as we often find in the Scriptures. At one point in our history prophecy came to an end, for a number of reasons; from then on we became a “non-prophet” organization). Many of our greatest leaders, including Moses, were troubled by the seeming success of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous, and questioned God Himself why he does so.

The only thing we do know is that God is just and nothing happens without reason. For this reason a mourner recites a blessing at the funeral, “Blessed are You, Ha-Shem King of the universe, the true Judge.”

From the vantage point of eternity, the transient suffering in this world is a small price to pay if it leads to an eternity of bliss and pleasure (although when one is going through it, it is not pretty and defies the comprehension of those surrounding the sufferer). May we all merit to good health and happiness and suffer no more!

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

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Two quiet movers and shakers

Two quiet movers and shakers

Posted on 23 January 2014 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebThere are so many people in our community who do so much, people that most of us have never met or even heard of. I’d like to introduce you to two of them today.

Bob Brenner is a long-timer in this area, and a resident of Highland Springs senior living in Plano since the middle of 2012. I’ve known Bob as a Jewish educator and a multi-year member of Congregation Shearith Israel. What I didn’t know, until I read Highland Springs own newspaper, is that he’s been a key force in founding a multifaith dialogue group in his new home. With credit to that paper, I pass on these facts:

A veteran of Shearith’s sharing with All Saints Catholic Community, Bob found new appreciation of different beliefs than his own in this new home, where he became friends with Dale Hooper, a retired Baptist minister from Fort Worth. During many chats over coffee, the two “disagreed completely with one another, but without being disagreeable,” Bob said. So they took the idea of starting an interfaith dialogue at Highland Springs to Lil Smith, its pastoral ministries coordinator, who says her job is “to encourage the spiritual journey of every resident.”

The group began early last year with 28 members: Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Mormon. From the relatively easy sharing of holiday celebrations, they’ve moved on to tougher stuff: talking about their personal faith journeys. Dale Hooper says, “our goal is to learn from each other.” Co-founder Bob calls it “an eye-opening experience.”

Bob Brenner has found a way to enrich the lives of his neighbors by sharing his Judaism with non-Jews.

Rachel Amado Bortnick has been teaching Jews something about Judaism that most of us never knew before. If your heritage, like mine, is Ashkenazic — basically Eastern and Central European — you know we were called “Yids” because our parents and grandparents spoke Yiddish that Jewish mixture of German and Hebrew. But Rachel’s heritage is that of Jews who never heard — or even heard of — Yiddish. Their Jewish language is Ladino, a meld of Hebrew and medieval Spanish closely related to the Latin from which it was derived.

I learned, when Rachel was president of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society that she was born in Izmir, Turkey; her ancestors were among the many Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 for their refusal to convert to Catholicism. Most of these Sephardim (from Sefarad, the Ladino word for Spain) traveled eastward to the then-welcoming Ottoman Empire, where they and their language thrived. But today, there is no Jewish community in the world where Ladino is spoken, where it would be a child’s first language.

“Our history is in our language,” Rachel says, and her passion is spreading both Ladino and its story. She has gathered an online community of native Ladino speakers like herself and those who would like to learn the language, and she recently spearheaded Dallas’ participation in the First International Day of Ladino, which recognized this five-centuries-old language in Israel, South America, New York and other places where many Sephardim eventually settled.

Rachel talked about her native language during the event at Southern Methodist University. Her co-chair, Dina Eliezer, was serenaded that evening by Raquel Pomerantz Gershon leading all in singing Happy Birthday to her — in Ladino! Special honors were given to our area’s senior Ladino speakers: Edith Arye Baker, best known locally for her eponymous art gallery, and Holocaust survivor Alegra Tevet, who baked enough Greek pastries for everyone to enjoy.

Sometimes people are well-known only where they live, like Bob Brenner and his interfaith dialogue group at Highland Springs, or among people with a shared interest, like Rachel Bortnick and her small band of Ladino speakers and aficionados. But like those pebbles thrown into ponds, their ripples cause effects much larger than themselves. And those among us, like these two quiet achievers, deserve wider recognition. Please join me in celebrating them.

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Respecting nature in Judaism

Respecting nature in Judaism

Posted on 23 January 2014 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

seymourforweb2We have just celebrated Tu B’Shevat and hopefully it is not one of those things we either don’t know about, so don’t stop and think about it, or we know about it, went online and bought a tree at and are done! There are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonder of nature and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times — commanded by God to care for our earth. Yes, we must teach our children but today more than ever, we must be reminded to go out in nature and renew our sense of wonder in the world.

Before you begin: Do not be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Begin by reading the full text aloud. Ask “what do you think it is saying?” Then begin to break down the text into smaller pieces. Remember that there is no right answer, but that each of us must find meaning for ourselves (and even young children are capable!).

  • Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say: “If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 31b)
  • It is forbidden to live in a town in which there is no garden or greenery. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kodahsim 4:12)
  • When you besiege a city for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down. (Deuteronomy 20:19)
  • Whoever destroys anything that could be useful to others breaks the law of Bal Tashchit. (Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim 32a)
  • The whole world of humans, animals, fish, and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny. (Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 2)

As you walk outside to begin your day, say this:

May our souls be rekindled as we open our hearts to the world and take good care of God’s world. “When you look out at the world around you, you are looking at God; and He is looking back at you.” -Reb Kalonymus Kalman Shapira

Shalom from the Shabbat Lady,

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family JCC.

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Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 23 January 2014 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

I love a good it’s a small world story. On Sunday, I was celebrating the “50 and fabulous” birthday of my friend Dr. Susan Mandel. Susan is now a Dallasite, but a former resident of Fort Worth, where her older son Nathan attended Trinity Valley.

It was a lovely girls night out: a delicious dinner at Blue Mesa, followed by creative fun at Quiggly’s Clayhouse (I’m not so crafty … but I persevered). When singing happy birthday, one voice stood out. Harmonizing beautifully, this girl had talent.

I introduced myself and asked her if she sang at her synagogue. “Yes I lead the choir at my synagogue in Fort Worth,” she replied.

It was none other than ourtowner Angie Kitzman, with whom I’ve corresponded for a couple of years now, as she does yeoman’s work providing me with Federation and other Fort Worth news. In fact, the next two items are courtesy of Angie!

The Thelma Yellin Big Band Jazz Group performed at Beth-El Congregation Jan. 12. | Photo: Angie Kitzman

The Thelma Yellin Big Band Jazz Group performed at Beth-El Congregation Jan. 12. | Photo: Angie Kitzman

Thelma Yellin Big Band Jazz Group performs at Beth-El

On Sunday, Jan. 12, Fort Worth was graced with a group of fantastic musicians from the Thelma Yellin Fine Arts High School in Israel. Just fewer than one hundred people came in from the beautiful weather to listen to an incredible performance. The performers stayed to talked with community members before going to dinner hosted by B’nai B’rith at Congregation Ahavath Sholom.

Special thank yous to Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger of Beth-El Congregation, Rich Hollander and Harry Kahn of B’nai B’rith, Rabbi Andrew Bloom and Congregation Ahavath Sholom for all their contributions. It was truly a community event. David Clay and his son John, and Larry Berlin volunteered their time, expertise and vehicles to the cause.

The event was sponsored by Beth-El Congregation, B’nai B’rith, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, and the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County

Havdallah Sing-In: Singing and Sweets on Saturday

Music leaders from every congregation in Tarrant County will hold a community Havdallah and Sing-In at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. Community members are encouraged to bring their own instruments and, of course, their vocal chords and be prepared for an evening of music and a beautiful beginning to the week.

The event is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County and hosted by Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Congregation Beth Shalom, Beth-El Congregation and Congregation Beth Israel.

I think I can: An update on Hillel Academy

Etta Korenman shared the following on behalf of Hillel Academy, Northern Tarrant County’s new Jewish day school.

“I think I can.” The Little Engine That Could” is the children’s book that teaches children the value of optimism and hard work. The story’s signature phrase, “I Think I Can,” first appeared in a 1902 article in a Swedish journal.” (Wikipedia)

Teaching children optimism and the value of hard work may not be on the official syllabus at Hillel Academy, but the children, parents and teachers, know very well that those traits, and a little prayer, helped to see the school open. Not only open, but as one parent, Mrs. Melanie Bernstein said, “When I came to open house, the place was still a bit unfinished. However, in a few weeks, when classes began, the fence was up, things were painted, and it looked like the warm inviting and safe place it is.”

Walls alone do not make a school. Another parent said the level of education being taught, secular and Judaic, far exceeds her expectations. The children enjoy going to school everyday…no “mom my tummy hurts” for these children! With the smaller classes, the teachers are able to work with each child and move along accordingly, which has them surpassing other schools for like grades.

As a parent, we all want our children to feel important and cared for. One parent noted that at a previous school, their child often was overlooked, and was not even sure the director knew his name. Every parent I spoke with is planning on continuing next year at Hillel Academy, even the ones where it is a “shlepp.” (take it from me, it beats driving to Dallas) Anyone thinking of sending their child/children there next year, or now, the current parents give you a “thumbs-up recommendation.”

So, what are you waiting for … “I think YOU can.”

News and notes:

Dr. Julian Haber and Rita Hoffman are among the teachers at the Tarrant County College Spring Senior Education classes at the South Campus starting Jan. 27.

Dr. Haber is the instructor for the Great American Musicals on Mondays from 2 to 3 p.m., while Rita Hoffman’s specialty is mah jongg on Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon.

To register for these courses and more, contact the Senior Education Office, South Campus, Mondays through Thursdays from 1- 4 p.m. at 817-515-4538 or go to the Registrar offices at any TCC campus.

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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 23 January 2014 by admin

By Linda Wisch-Davidsohn

Congregation Shearith Israel‘s Annual Torah Fund luncheon will take place at noon, Sunday, Feb. 23 at the synagogue, 9401 Douglas Ave., Dallas. Now in its 71st year, the Torah Fund Campaign of The Women’s League for Conservative Judaism has raised more than $90 million to support The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles and The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Funds raised help ensure the future of Conservative Judaism by providing scholarship assistance to future rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators.

A theme for the Torah Fund is chosen yearly. How appropriate is it that the theme for this year is “Mishpachah” (family). The Torah tells us the stories of many families — from Adam and Eve to Abraham and Sarah, which emphasizes the central role of family and Judaism.

Kimberly Ross and her family exemplify the beauty and importance of mishpachah in Jewish life. Born and reared in Leesville, La., Kimberly’s parents were the only Jewish family in town. They made certain that she knew about her heritage, sending her to religious school an hour away from home. She graduated from Tulane University, and then received a master’s degree in early childhood special education from Vanderbilt University prior to moving to Dallas, where she taught preschool and kindergarten at the Lamplighter School for six years. During that time she met and married Jon Ross, a fourth generation member of the Shearith Israel family. They have three sons, Shane, Sterling and Stratton.

As her children grew, Kimberly became part of another mishpachah — that of Congregation Shearith Israel. She was instrumental in starting the ITSE program for parents and young children. She was a co-chair of Sisterhood Shabbat, and one of the chairs for Shearith’s 13/125 event honoring Rabbi William Gershon. Most recently, she has participated in the Wheel to Survive event in honor of her mother, a nine-year ovarian cancer survivor. She works tirelessly to spread awareness and to “be the difference” in order to end the fight against ovarian cancer.

For additional information about the luncheon, please contact Lisa Schwarz, at or Debbie Weinstein at

‘Building meals for super heroes’ is theme for annual sisterhood intrafaith brunch

“Building Meals for Super Hero Health” will be the theme when Tiferet Israel opens its doors at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 16, to welcome women from all area congregations for 2014’s Annual Intrafaith Sisterhood Brunch. Presenting the event’s program will be Tope Oguntona, nutritional health coach at the Preston Forest branch of Natural Grocers, a company that views wellness and nutrition education as a community service. And of course a healthy, Dallas Kosher-supervised meal by Café Fino will be served.

All Natural Grocers’ nutritional health coaches have degrees in dietetics or nutrition, and follow a rigorous program of continuing education. Tope earned her BS in food science and nutrition from Sam Houston State University. Passionate about helping people live healthier lives, she thoroughly enjoys educating others on how to reach optimal nutritional goals.

Women especially love Tope’s relaxed take on healthy meal planning: “Real superheroes don’t just put on capes. They fuel up with dense foods that give their bodies the energy and endurance to leap tall buildings in a single bound — and still empty the dishwasher at the end of the day,” she said. She and Tiferet’s Sisterhood hope many women will join them to “learn basic principles that get the Kryptonite out of your diet and help you experience the POW! of superhero health.”

Sue Kretchman, president of the hostess sisterhood, invites women to make reservations at $18 per person by contacting the synagogue office, 214-691-3611 or, and asks for them by Jan. 31 to facilitate meal planning. Congregation Tiferet Israel is located at 10909 Hillcrest Road, Dallas, just north of Royal Lane.

The J to present Shabbat in nature this Sunday

Most families are looking for fun activities to do with their children in grades K-6. From 3-4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, is a perfect opportunity to spend some “qt” (quality time) with your youngsters and experience the Aaron Family JCC’s program “Shabbat in Nature.” For a mere $6 per project (parent participation required), children and parents will be able to experience “Jewish Time” with their five senses: by creating their own natural spice box; a song session; a marshmallow roast; and fun in the woods at the J. For registration or more information, contact Rachelle Weiss Crane at the J at either 214-239-7128 or

Celebrating their Golden Anniversary last month were Deanna and Jerry Kasten. Pictured back row, from left are Reyna and Andrew Kasten, Ruth Kasten Joseph, Jerry and Deanna Kasten, Howard and Jenny Cohen and Spencer Joseph; pictured front row from left, Eli Kasten and Coco Cohen, the youngest members of the family.

Celebrating their Golden Anniversary last month were Deanna and Jerry Kasten. Pictured back row, from left are Reyna and Andrew Kasten, Ruth Kasten Joseph, Jerry and Deanna Kasten, Howard and Jenny Cohen and Spencer Joseph; pictured front row from left, Eli Kasten and Coco Cohen, the youngest members of the family.

Simchas — Deanna and Jerry Kasten celebrate Golden wedding anniversary

Jerry and Deanna Kasten celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a family weekend at Hyatt Lost Pines Resort in Bastrop, Texas, the weekend of Dec. 21-23.

Jerry and Deanna met at the University of Texas in Austin when they were both students in 1959. They married four years later on Dec. 22, in 1963 and moved to Dallas, where they have lived since. Family members joined in the celebration with wagon rides, a guided hike in Bastrop State Park and activities at the Hyatt for the holidays like family dinners and games. The Kastens were joined in Bastrop by Reyna and Andrew Kasten and Eli, Ruth Kasten Joseph, Howard and Jenny Cohen and Coco and Spencer Joseph. Not present was oldest grandson, Harrison Joseph, who was home with the flu. The group was also joined by niece, Vanessa Kasten Urango and her family, who came from Houston for the event.

Ann and Nate Levine Academy Headmaster Mark Stolovitsky, center, taught the same topic, “The Christian/Jewish Relationship: Year 1 to 2014,” to two generations of the Hacker family in the fall — Merle (left) at the Frisco Lakes mini-Melton class and Carly, in his eighth grade Jewish studies class.

Ann and Nate Levine Academy Headmaster Mark Stolovitsky, center, taught the same topic, “The Christian/Jewish Relationship: Year 1 to 2014,” to two generations of the Hacker family in the fall — Merle (left) at the Frisco Lakes mini-Melton class and Carly, in his eighth grade Jewish studies class.


One of the best parts of writing this column is writing about people I have known since I came to Dallas. A recent conversation with Merle Hacker was a joy to listen to — and now write about. Many years ago, Merle was one of the best in apartment rentals and leasing agents in Dallas. It would be fair to say that she successfully found apartments for at least three Wisch sisters. Merle is a fascinating lady who stays active and continues her Jewish learning. She and her husband, Sonny, live at Frisco Lakes. The JCC has hosted several mini Melton courses at Frisco Lakes’ Activity Center through their Shalom Club. Recently, Merle, a veteran of many Melton courses, took a course entitled “The Christian Jewish Relationship” taught by Ann and Nate Levine Academy Headmaster Mark Stolovitsky. On the first day of the course, Mark asked Merle if she was related to Carly Hacker, daughter of Suzie and Howard Hacker, and an eighth grader at Levine. The answer from Merle was a resounding, “Yes! She’s my granddaughter.” Mark stated that he had never taught the same course to two different generations in all his years of teaching! Carly, an accomplished student, is president of Student Council at Levine, and will attend JJ Pearce next year. She is also the granddaughter of Gloria and Lionel Reiman and the great-granddaughter of Rose Fruchthandler of Montreal.

The course material studied by both grandmother and granddaughter explored some of the following: “The Christian/Jewish Relationship: Year 1 to 2014.” Why do Jews have a collective discomfort with the image of a cross? What are the mother/daughter dynamics in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity? Questions like these and more were addressed in this course and they studied the changing image of Jews found in the stories of Christianity throughout history; and the ways this has impacted the Jewish/Christian relationship.

For additional information on Melton individual courses or the Melton School, contact Rachelle Weiss Crane at the JCC, 214-739-7128.

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