Archive | March, 2014

Around the Town

Around the Town

Posted on 27 March 2014 by admin

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Daytimers host presentation about women in Islam

Dina Malki presented “Muslim Women between Liberation and Oppression” to the March meeting of Daytimers at Congregation Beth El in Fort Worth. The interfaith dialogue was a valuable and meaningful experience for all who attended.

The Grand Hall was filled with more than 50 deeply interested men and women who came for lunch and stayed to listen to Malki’s presentation, which was titled, “Muslim Women Between Liberation and Oppression.” Most of the audience said they always perceived Muslim women to be oppressed. This interfaith and cultural exchange demonstrated the high civility of its participants.

While Malki did show the portions of the Qur’an that support the equality of women, Muslim women are still faced with the reality of Islamic governments that appear to think differently. For example, women in Saudi Arabia still cannot drive a car.

An active question and answer session followed, and while many issues need more study, this well-attended gathering certainly presented the Muslim viewpoint in a face to face meeting.

Next month Daytimers will gather in a “Take Me Out To The Ballpark” session April 9. The always fascinating Dr. Bobby Brown will regale those who attend with his life story about how a baseball player (for the New York Yankees) got his medical degree while playing, became the president of the American League, moved to Fort Worth to practice cardiology and went on to be a vice president of the Texas Rangers.

Keeping with the baseball theme, Daytimers will be serving hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn and Crackerjacks for lunch.

To sign up for this exciting event call Larry Steckler at 817-927-2736 to make a reservation. The presentation with lunch will cost $9. Presentation alone is $5.

Next Showtime Film Series movie is April 6 at CAS

At 6:30 p.m., Sunday, April 6, Congregation Ahavath Sholom will show the sixth film in its 2014 Showtimes Film Series, “Brothers.”

The underlying theme of the movie is conflict in Israel between Chassidic and secular Jews. Yossi Yaacobi will lead the discussion after the showing of the film.

The movie is the story of two estranged brothers, one an Orthodox Jewish lawyer in Brooklyn, the other a kibbutznik in Israel. The lawyer goes to Israel for a trial representing students in a Yeshiva who want to avoid military service. He gets involved with his brother, and the story of the estrangement comes out. The 116 minute film has been reviewed as awesome. It was shown at Temple Emanu-El Film Festival in Dallas last year to great acclaim.

All of the Showtimes Film Series films are free, so are the refreshments. Everyone in the community is invited.

Hats off to Showtimes’ committee members Liz Chesser, Elizabeth Cohen, Kate Cohen, Foster Owen, Dr. Jane Pawgan, Debby Rice, Reggie Rog, Jayna Sosland, Jim Stansbury and Riki Zide.

Congregation Ahavath Sholom’s 2014 Showtimes Film Series is funded by Congregation Ahavath Sholom as well as the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, and we appreciate their help so much.

For more information please call Congregation Ahavath Sholom at 817-731-4721.

See you at the movies

Annual senior mini-seder

Isadore Garsek Lodge of B’nai B’rith will host its annual Senior Mini-Seder at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, April 8 at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth. The service will be meaningful, the food great and the company even better. You can RSVP to Lesley at Jewish Family Services, 817-569-0898.

Photo: Submitted by Ben Weiger | Pictured here are some of the 35 members of Congregation Beth Shalom’s Sylvia Gray Chaverim who attended the premiere of Richard Allen’s play “Starbright and Vine” at Stage West March 1. Clockwise from bottom left are Andrea Snow, Sarita Cabrero, Stephen Cabrero, Mark Lewis, Jeff Rothschild, Lisa Rein, Susan Held, Sherwin Rubin, Ivy Gold and Michelle Rothschild.

Pictured here are some of the 35 members of Congregation Beth Shalom’s Sylvia Gray Chaverim who attended the premiere of Richard Allen’s play “Starbright and Vine” at Stage West March 1. Clockwise from bottom left are Andrea Snow, Sarita Cabrero, Stephen Cabrero, Mark Lewis, Jeff Rothschild, Lisa Rein, Susan Held, Sherwin Rubin, Ivy Gold and Michelle Rothschild. | Photo: Submitted by Ben Weiger

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A dad’s bar mitzvah prayer

A dad’s bar mitzvah prayer

Posted on 27 March 2014 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I hope you remember me. I’m Boris N. Today I was having a conversation with a friend regarding her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah. She and her family are not observant, and I was trying to explain to her the Baruch Shepatrani bracha recited at a bar mitzvah, just to realize that I really don’t understand the full meaning of this important blessing. I looked at my English siddur only to become more confused. I know you are the right person to help me understand and give the right perspective to help my friend. Also, I’m sure this will end up being a great subject for your readers.

Thank you so much for you help.

— Boris N.

Dear Boris,

friedforweb2It’s so nice to hear from you again and I hope you and your family are well.

The blessing you are referring to is: Baruch Shepatrani M’onsho Shelaze, or “Blessed are You who has exonerated me from the punishment of this boy.” This is the blessing recited by the father after his son’s aliyah to the Torah as a bar mitzvah.

There is a dispute among the authorities of Jewish law if this blessing is to be recited, since it doesn’t have a source in the Talmud. Consequently, we recite as cited above, without mentioning the name of G-d, in order to keep in mind all opinions.

The source of reciting this blessing is a Midrash. The verse says, concerning the development of Jacob and Esau, “and the boys grew up; and Esau was a man who knew how to hunt, a man of the field, and Jacob was a peaceful man, one who dwells in the tents” (Gen. 25:27).

The Midrash explains that “grew up” means they became bar mitzvahs at that time. Esau became a killer and an idol worshiper while Jacob followed in his father’s footsteps and became immersed in the study of Torah. It compares the brothers to a fragrant flowering bush that began to grow intertwined with a prickly thorn bush; when the two began to grow it was hard to tell them apart. Only when the two plants matured could one discern that from the flowery plant one could enjoy a fragrant smell while from the other all one could get was to be pricked by its thorns.

Similarly, when children are young it is often difficult to discern their distinct character traits; when they mature and begin to go out on their own, what they absorbed in their youth and where they are heading suddenly becomes quite clear.

The Midrash says that until the age of bar mitzvah, the parents are obligated in the teaching of their children and are responsible for their actions. From then on, as they become adults, they become responsible for their own actions.

In Judaism, every life stage ushers in a new level of responsibility; to become a “man” or a “woman” at the time of bar or bat mitzvah means to take on a new level of responsibility for one’s actions.

Therefore, says the Midrash, at the time of the bar mitzvah the father recites this blessing to thank the Al-mighty for bringing his son to this new level of responsibility, while at the same time freeing him for direct responsibility for those actions as he has been responsible up until this stage of his son’s life.

This does not at all mean that the father who recites this blessing is now freed from furthering his child’s education, as a mensch and as a Jew. It means that now that obligation has now entered a new stage of development. Up until the bar mitzvah the obligation upon the parents is to build the ground-level foundation upon which will be built the rest of the child’s life.

From then on, and throughout life, we need to continue to nurture and enhance the lessons and principles which were the building blocks of that original foundation.

Until the time that foundation is completed, we, the parents, are halachically, by Jewish law, deemed responsible for their every action as the child is not yet considered to have a mature mind of their own.

After the bar mitzvah, when they enter adulthood, the child assumes his or her own responsibility for their actions which put them and their parents into a new stage in their relationship, both to each other and vis-a-vis religious responsibilities one to the other.

This is a cause for celebration; one that is marked by reciting the blessing thanking the Al-mighty for freeing us from this responsibility, effectively passing on the torch to the next generation.

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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Minister, church set standard for equality

Minister, church set standard for equality

Posted on 27 March 2014 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebYou’ve probably read or heard about a recent gay wedding in Dallas that was both unusual and controversial. Unusual, because the men involved had waited an unusually long time for this opportunity to marry: one was 80 years old, the other 84. Controversial, because the ceremony was held in a bona fide Protestant church, with a bona fide Protestant minister officiating.

We’re at a time in America when the clamor for same-sex marriages is being heard loud and clear, and quite a few such unions are already taking place. We may yet see the chance for equality that African-Americans fought for in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and that women fought for in the ‘60s and ‘70s, extend to gays and lesbians as well. But such fights are always long and hard. Minority groups of all kinds continue to be marginalized in various ways, and those of the same sex who want to be officially married represent such a minority in our time.

However, George Harris and Jack Evans are now officially wed. I know neither of these men, and I don’t know the Rev. Bill McElvaney who married them. But I do know something about the denomination in which he ministers, and something about the church denomination in which the wedding took place. And the two are not the same.

McElvaney is pastor emeritus of Northaven United Methodist Church on Preston Road in North Dallas. My husband and I are very good friends of a couple who are longtime members of that church. We’ve learned from them that their congregation is one of “compassion, peace, justice and reconciliation.” All are welcomed there, and that really means “all”: “We believe in separation of church and hate” is one of its mottos.

But Northaven is more than a bit out of step with the official view of the denomination itself: the United Methodist Church holds that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Retired Pastor McElvaney chose to officiate at this wedding in another church rather than his own, to spare it denominational ire, and the very real possibility that Northaven’s current minister might suffer if the nuptials were held there. A trial and defrocking are real possibilities for those who go against the rules; McElvaney himself is also at risk.

So the nuptials, a very “gay” event in two senses, took place in Northwest Dallas’ Midway Hills Christian Church. This denomination is often confused with the Church of Christ, which it is not. The name that best expresses its identity is “Disciples of Christ,” and its members take that as a serious charge for social action. “We are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world,” they say. “We welcome all…as God has welcomed us.”

Disciples get “down and dirty” to help all those in need. I learned this from a dear departed friend who was a life-long member of the Christian Church, and I participated in many efforts with her and her dedicated Disciple friends, who became my friends as well.

A funny personal experience: I was teaching Confirmation class at a large temple when I asked the rabbi’s secretary which church she belonged to. When she named a nearby Christian Church, I said, “Oh, you’re a Disciple!” She was truly surprised that a Jew would know about her denomination, and told me so. And I had the pleasure of responding: “I’ve waited all my life for a chance to say this: Some of my best friends are Disciples!” And so they are.

So Midway Hills Christian Church was a safe place for a gay wedding, and perhaps also for the dozen Methodist ministers who attended it, sitting together and attesting by their solidarity that they were with the Rev. McElvaney when he said “George and Jack are offering a gift, an invitation and a challenge to the United Methodist Church to become a fully inclusive church.” With their presence, they were saying, “From your mouth to God’s ears…”

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Chili Cook-off winners share secrets to their success

Chili Cook-off winners share secrets to their success

Posted on 27 March 2014 by admin

By Rachel Gross Weinstein

Making the perfect batch of chili is no easy task — a lot of time, effort and a good balance of flavor and spice are added to the pot. Chili cooks around the city are perfecting their recipes for the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off March 30.

Fifty teams are competing again this year. This includes teams that are seasoned veterans and many new ones.

The Dallas Fighting Maccabees/YJAM took home the first place trophy last year. Rachael Abrams, who cooked the chili, said the biggest key is to continually taste it and add ingredients as needed from there.

“I didn’t use a recipe and when I tasted it, I knew it needed more cumin, so I added that,” she said. “My advice for people is to not limit themselves to a recipe, especially when making it on such a large scale. Don’t be afraid to try something different; that’s the biggest thing that can make or break the chili. The whole day last year was so much fun, from getting there early in the morning, to making sure we had all of the ingredients. We really didn’t expect to win, but just went out there and did the best we could. It was a great accomplishment.”

Abrams plans to add a few more ingredients to the chili this year, but other than that, she just wants to have a good time. She really enjoys the camaraderie among the teams.

Moishe House won the chili cook-off in 2012 and won the People’s Choice Award in 2013. They are excited to compete again this year. | Photo: TJP archives

Moishe House won the chili cook-off in 2012 and won the People’s Choice Award in 2013. They are excited to compete again this year. | Photo: TJP archives

Moishe House was the big winner in 2012 and also won the People’s Choice Award last year. Team member Karli Ward said they usually stick to the same chili recipe each time, but agreed with Abrams that adding ingredients while tasting it is imperative.

“Our recipe isn’t written down anywhere, but we know what to use and always taste it,” she said. “Although the chili is an important part of the event, it’s all about having fun. That’s what goes into winning as well. We always have a blast competing and it’s a great day.”

Along with cooking the chili, judging can also be challenging. Each judge tastes and ranks the chili of every team, and all of the attendees vote for their favorite chili to win the People’s Choice Award.

The judges this year are: April Barney, local chef and food teacher; David Feder, chef, dietitian and food writer; Jennifer Staubach Gates, Dallas City Council member; Wayne Goldberg, CEO of La Quinta and director of the Texas Future Farmers of America Foundation; Harriett Gross, TJP columnist and freelance writer; Lee Kleinman, Dallas City Council member; and Craig Watkins, Dallas County District Attorney. Winners are expected to be announced around 3 p.m.

Town Village North won in 2011 and has a long history of competing in the chili cook-off. Team member Robin Teig said the secret to the perfect chili is a mystery, but she does have a few tips.

“To get great chili, you want some spice, but not too much and it should be meaty, not runny. It needs to have good color and not be too smoky,” she said. “The judges from year to year may have different tastes, so that makes it harder too. The best thing about the chili cook-off is that everyone in the community comes together, from babies to seniors. It’s wonderful to taste all of the chili, the greatest part is the people, music and overall atmosphere.”

2014 Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off Teams

Adat Chaverim Brotherhood
Akiba Academy
Ann and Nate Levine Academy
Anti-Defamation League
Bnai Zion Foundation
Camp Nageela Midwest
Camp Sabra
Camp Young Judea Texas
Chabad of Dallas
Chabad of Plano
Chabad of Texas at A&M University
Congregation Anshai Torah
Congregation Beth Torah
Congregation Shaare Tefilla
Congregation Shearith Israel
Zohar USY
Dallas Fighting Maccabees/Young Jewish Altruistic Movement (YJAM)
Dallas Hebrew Free Loan Association
Dallas Holocaust Museum
Dallas Jewish Historical Society
Dallas Kosher (VAAD)
Dallas Yachad
Far North Dallas Richardson Democrats
Harvey J. Bloom Post 256 Jewish War Veterans
Hebrew Men’s Poker Association
Henry Litoff
Hillel Academy of Tarrant County
Jewish Community Center
Jewish Family Service
Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas
Legacy Senior Communities
Makom – Congregation Shearith Israel
Moishe House
Ohr HaTorah
Queen’s Winery
Republican Jewish Coalition
Sephardic Torah Center of Dallas
Temple Emanu-El
Temple Shalom
Tiferet Israel
Tom Thumb Supermarket
Torah Day School of Dallas
Town Village North
University of Texas at Dallas Hillel
Yavneh Academy of Dallas

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Dallas Doings

Dallas Doings

Posted on 27 March 2014 by admin

By Linda Wisch-Davidsohn

New Officers installed for the Temple Emanu-El Couples Club

Good wishes to the new officers of the Temple Emanu-El Couples Club who were recently installed at Prestonwood Country Club by founding member Nelda Golden.

The new officers for 2014-2015 are: Co-Presidents Edie and Paul Singer; Co-Vice Presidents-elect Betty and Marvin Hyman; Co-Vice Presidents (Social) Marsha and Stan Friedman and Toni and Frank Aaron; Co-Vice Presidents (Membership) Rozann and Harry Hermann; Secretaries Lois and Alan Kohn; Treasurers Sandra and Dan Gorman; and Parliamentarians, Carole and Barry Cohen.

Newly appointed committee chairs are Joyce and Jerry Zellman (Sunshine); Renee and Buddy Gilbert, (Publicity); Susan and Morris Hasson, (Historians); Elaine and Bernie Weil( Communications); and Annette and Art Morganstern (Special Events Chairmen).

The Temple Emanu-El Couples Club, founded 24 years ago, is a social club open to all members of the temple. One of the couple must be 55 years of age or older. Prospective new members from the Jewish community are also invited to join. If interested, call Rozann and Harry Hermann 214-341-1000.

Photo: Buddy Gilbert | New Temple Emanu-El Couples Club officers are from left, Co-Presidents Paul and Co-Vice Presidents-Elect Edie Singer and Betty and Marvin Hyman.

New Temple Emanu-El Couples Club officers are from left, Co-Presidents Paul and Co-Vice Presidents-Elect Edie Singer and Betty and Marvin Hyman. | Photo: Buddy Gilbert

Emily Clifton earns Girl Scout Gold Award

Mazel Tov to Emily Clifton, daughter of Sherry and John Clifton of Allen, and granddaughter of Ethel and Harlan Holiner of Dallas, who recently earned The Girl Scout Gold Award. This award represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Emily’s project entailed making 100 dresses out of pillowcases for little girls in Africa. She organized friends to join her “sewing parties” as they ironed, cut and sewed the dresses. Emily is a junior in high school and a member of the National Honor Society and the varsity bowling team for Allen High School.

Elixir Entertainment celebrates 10 years

Added good wishes go to Jason Traub, who followed in the footsteps of his party-planning mom, Patty Traub, when he started Elixir Entertainment. Jason will celebrate his first decade in business with a party April 10, at British Beverage Company, 2800 Routh Street in Dallas. Festivities will begin at 5:30 p.m. and continue through 8:30 p.m. Free valet parking will be available. The event will feature an open bar, great appetizers and Elixir highlight videos. As an added perk, gift certificates and Elixir t-shirts will be awarded to many of those attending the event. Please RSVP if you think you are able to attend by accessing the Facebook event page:

Jason states that “I began this company back in the spring of 2004, and I’m so proud to announce we’re now entering our 11th year of business! Elixir continues to grow and it’s so exciting to see what projects we get involved in and where our work takes us. Just this past year, we shot video in California, NYC, Chicago, Omaha, Louisiana and other cities outside of Dallas. Some of our clients include The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, Junior League of Dallas, The Retail Connection, Waldman Bros, many prestigious schools and just an enormous number of great families who we absolutely love to work with over the years! There’s so much to say about the first decade of Elixir, but the most important thing is simply “Thank You.” Without you all, none of this would be possible.”

Brentfield students help fight hunger as part of DI project

As part of the Destination Imagination program, the Brentfield Elementary fourth graders pictured above, chose a challenge, called “Pitch and Play,” which required them to identify a community need, then match the need with a local agency and find a way to serve them. The children, who call themselves the Swimming Mustaches, created an elevator pitch and went from door to door collecting canned goods, toiletries and cash to support the Jewish Family Service Food Pantry. As part of this project, the children toured JFS, met with agency leadership, delivered and stocked their donated items, and in the process learned much about the services this incredible agency offers. The team far surpassed their goal. They collected enough food and money to feed more than 20 families for one week. Their service project earned them second place at the regional tournament.

Photo: Karen Garfield | ‘The Brentfield Swimming Mustaches placed second in the Pitch and Play category at the Destination Imagination Regional Tournament earlier this month. They are from left, first row, Grant Katz and Stella Wimberly; middle row, Harrison Murphy, Lily Garfield, Emily Okamura and Jenna Flournoy; and top row, Steven Mendelsohn.

‘The Brentfield Swimming Mustaches placed second in the Pitch and Play category at the Destination Imagination Regional Tournament earlier this month. They are from left, first row, Grant Katz and Stella Wimberly; middle row, Harrison Murphy, Lily Garfield, Emily Okamura and Jenna Flournoy; and top row, Steven Mendelsohn. | Photo: Karen Garfield

IU students win D.C. a capella competition

Congratulations to Dallasite Marissa Shrell and the entire company of Hooshir, the Jewish A Capella group from Indiana University Hillel, who won the Kol HaOlam Jewish A Capella competition in Washington, D.C. March 1, 2014. This is the second year in a row that the incredibly talented group of IU students competed and won the competition. Marissa is the daughter of Julie and Rob Shrell and is a junior at IU. To get a glimpse of their award winning performance, follow this YouTube link The video of their performance will be shown at a get together for IU alumni, parents and grandparents at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 27, at the home of IU parents Liz and Rusty Cooper. Hillel’s Rabbi Sue and Phillip Silberberg will be on hand to share the wonderful networking and programming at IU Hillel. Please email Liz Cooper at to RSVP.

News and notes:

  • Marlene Gorin was recently elected for a two-year term to the Jewish Community of Public Affairs board of directors. Marlene was JCRC director in Dallas for 18 years and also served a two-year term as president of the JCRC directors from around the country (the JCRCs are the grassroots organizations that work with JCPA)
  • The members of Alpha Epsilon Pi meet every other month for lunch to relax and have fun with brothers from all over the country. If you are a former or current member of AEPi, please email Arthur to be added to the notification list contact or 214-789-9274.
  • Good wishes to A.J. Rosmarin who has been named to the board of trustees of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas as of Jan. 1 for a three-year term.

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Three simple tasks cover it

Three simple tasks cover it

Posted on 27 March 2014 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

seymourforweb2When we talk with our children about faith in God, they ask us so many questions that we often cannot answer.

Judaism is a great religion with so many guidelines and things that we are supposed to do. There are 613 Commandments — that’s a lot of things to do.

Throughout our history, prophets, judges and rabbis have tried to sum up what we should do to lead a good life and do good for others. The prophet Micah summed everything up in three simple things to do, but these things include everything.

Only This (Micah 6:8)
Josh Zweiback & Steve Brodsky

What does God demand of you? Only this, only this.  (2)
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God  (2)

U-mah A-do-nai do-resh mim-cha
Ki im a-sot mish-pat V’a-ha-vat che-sed
V’hatz-nei-ah le-chet im E-lo-he-cha

Whenever we want to understand words from the Bible, we begin by asking questions. Micah asked the first question, “What does God demand of you?”

What is Micah trying to learn?

What does he ask about demands — does that mean that God expects us to do these things whether we want to or not?

Do we have a choice to behave the right way?

After we question Micah’s question, more questions come to mind. Think and talk about these questions with your family:

  • Why does Micah respond to the question, “Only this?” Is it simple?
  • What does it mean to “do justly”? How do we act in a just manner? What does it mean to be fair to others?
  • What is mercy? How do we act with mercy? Why does Micah say to “love mercy”?  Is that different from treating people with mercy?
  • Being humble, showing humility is a very important Jewish value. What does it mean? What does it look like? Why does Micah say to “walk humbly”? How do we walk with God?
  • Why just these three things? How do they relate to everything else we should be doing? Is this really enough?

How can we use this song in our lives? Sometimes when we wonder how we should be acting, this song may come to mind. There are so many things we need to remember — this makes it easy to sum up the really important things to do.

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

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Connecting to God

Connecting to God

Posted on 20 March 2014 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I am writing this letter anonymously because you know me and I am more comfortable asking you these questions and sharing my frustrations with Judaism if you don’t know who I am.

I am a Reform Jew who strives to know God. I say the morning blessings and light candles on Shabbat. I usually go to services Friday and Saturday and go to weekly Torah study. I do not keep kosher but don’t eat pork or shellfish. I say many blessings throughout the day.

So many of the prayers we say are thanks for receiving the Torah and asking God to teach us Torah. Torah is primary. Yet, I study it diligently and find an exceedingly angry and vengeful God. I want to have a relationship with God but do not see that God wants a relationship with me. He seems to have an on-and-off relationship with the Jewish people, but not individuals (unless they are patriarchs or prophets.) I know you are going to say that he wants us to do the mitzvot as the basis for a relationship. But it is unlikely that I am going to do much more than I do now.

I had very abusive parents and our God feels like a continuation of that. Quit whining about your food or I’ll give you something to whine about…

I was at a Christian funeral last week. I was so moved by the unconditional love that Jesus has for those who believe in him. I wish our God loved us that way. It is very tempting. I do not feel loved by our God. I feel that He is constantly judging me and I can’t win, therefore He will never love me.

In Eastern religions, meditation is the key to oneness with the Divine. I practice meditation (without religious content), and find that it brings me closer to a connection with God.

I just don’t understand how Judaism does this. Or maybe it is only for Orthodox Jews. If this is the case, I will never be an Orthodox Jew so I can never have a relationship with our God.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense. I am just very frustrated with Judaism because it does not seem to offer me a way to connect with God as an individual.

Dear Anonymous,

friedforweb2Firstly, I would recommend doing away with your perception of Orthodox as opposed to other Jews. (A Jew entered the post office in December and requested 25 Chanukah stamps. The clerk answered, “Sure, sir, which denomination?” Frustrated the Jew exclaimed, “Oy vey, even here?! OK, give me 10 Reform, 10 Conservative and five Orthodox!”)

Although the different labels Jews assign to themselves might, at times, carry some value, for the most part they serve only as a smoke screen which masks the fact that we are all just Jews — the same Jews all of one family, albeit with different levels of observance. These labels often do nothing but serve as a wedge between us. And, in your case, could erroneously serve as a wedge between a caring Jew like yourself and God Himself!

Our tradition teaches us that the Al-mighty loves each and every Jew, regardless of their observance level. For that reason every Jew has a place in the world to come, which is a result of that love. This unconditional love is an outgrowth of us becoming His special, beloved children when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The unconditional love is there. It is up to us, the Jewish nation and each Jew individually, to tap into that love to the extent that he or she desires and is willing to make the effort and, at times, sacrifice to do.

The important thing to keep in mind is that in God’s eyes it’s not “all or nothing.” This is another mistake which we are misled into thinking due to labels. Technically, there’s no such thing as “becoming an Orthodox Jew.” There are just Jews, some observing more, some less. There’s not an Orthodox Jew out there that has “made it” and doesn’t have plenty to improve on! The important thing is that we’re all on the ladder and climbing upward; upward in our connection to God’s unconditional love for us, a love that he beckons us to embrace.

Focus, first, on what you are already doing. Don’t simply recite blessings; meditate upon them. Let a blessing take a few minutes to meditate deeply on the gift you are about to receive from the God that loves you and provides you with life, an apple, your sense of sight. Judaism is all about meditation; just that it’s not once or twice a day; we have meditative opportunities throughout the day!

If you perceive the God of the Jews as angry and vengeful, I suggest you consider amending your reading list and seek out those books and teachers who can provide you the positive insights and connection to the everlasting love of God to His children. Remember, most of what you find appealing in those other religions they learned from us!

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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Out of Ethiopia, comes empathy for one student journalist

Out of Ethiopia, comes empathy for one student journalist

Posted on 20 March 2014 by admin

By Jori Epstein

“Eighty percent of Ethiopians grow up illiterate and uneducated,” American physician Rick Hodes told my Yavneh Academy of Dallas student body in 2009.

Inspired by the same drive for advocacy that motivates our journalism careers, Dalit Agronin, Rachel Siegel and I founded the Students4Students Project to combat illiteracy and support education in Third World countries. We deemed it our responsibility as members of society, journalists and Jews to look beyond our comfort zone in hopes of repairing the world. Work with Students4Students gave us experience exploring issues about which we felt passionate and showing an audience (here it was our supporters rather than readers) why they should feel passion, too. With this mindset, we funded the construction of the Sera Warka school in Gondar, Ethiopia which Rick inspired us to support.

In his Dallas speaking engagements, Rick told of his experiences. His work in Ethiopia dates back to the 1980s, spurred by a Fulbright Fellowship and time as a relief worker. In 1990, the Joint Distribution Committee hired him as their medical director for the country, and he became immediately responsible for Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel via “Operation Solomon.” Now, he cares for medical patients suffering severe heart and spine conditions. He’s seen Ethiopian patients for years and lived among them for decades, legitimizing his analysis of the country’s culture and struggles. But still I didn’t understand exactly who the Sera Warka students were, what the Joint Distribution Committee (for whom Rick works and with whom we partnered to build the school) did, or even who exactly Rick was.

As the JDC volunteers organized activities for the Sera Warka students, Jori Epstein runs with some of the younger students through the village.

As the JDC volunteers organized activities for the Sera Warka students, Jori Epstein runs with some of the younger students through the village.

Until I traveled to Ethiopia and was exposed to the Ethiopian culture, I knew little of their way of life and part of the world. This heightened understanding of human diversity (though I no doubt have much more to learn) will enhance my feature writing, showing others’ responses as I do in the passage from my trip journal below:

Ethiopians are similar to Americans in many ways. As we drive by, kids play soccer and tag. Girls gossip and laugh about the latest rumors they hear. Adults and children alike are intrigued by the new sight that passes them — yes, that’s us — and they stick together in groups as they watch our progress.

Yet despite commonalities, they also differ in many ways.

They certainly have a more resourceful and self-sufficient relationship to the natural world. As our construction guide told us, “I’m well-learned in this. In America, everything is done with machines or precast. But I know how to make the cement. I know how many parts cement, aggregate, sand bags and water constitute each pole.”

And he did.

The women and children carry young ones in cloth slings on their backs. On their heads, they pile heaps of hay, clothing, water jugs and more. Their strength is admirable and balance impeccable. I may curl 17.5 pounds (OK 7.94 kg, as I’m reminded at the Addis Ababa gym) but I doubt I can carry what they do, for as long they do with the composure that they have.

At the airport in Gondar, Ethiopia, Yavneh alumni Jori Epstein, Ilana Wernick, Miles Pulitzer and Zoe Klein board the plane back to Addis Ababa.

At the airport in Gondar, Ethiopia, Yavneh alumni Jori Epstein, Ilana Wernick, Miles Pulitzer and Zoe Klein board the plane back to Addis Ababa.

I couldn’t and didn’t live in their shoes for eight days, one day or even an hour. I was clearly American, white and financially privileged on this trip. I could afford to travel to their country and then return home. The reverse would be unthinkable.

But I think — and hope — that through my work, learning and interactions with those I visited, that I revealed that I am concerned, passionate, active and engaged in fighting Ethiopian poverty and mobilizing help.

The JDC opened me to a world of women transforming their lives with chicken feed and egg sales resulting from microfinance loans. It taught me that many impoverished Africans walked an average of 91.7 minutes daily to reach a safe water source (James Salzman, “Thirst: A Short History of Drinking Water”). They physically lug the jugs home and struggle to support a family with resource limitations most Americans could not imagine. The few thousand dollars the JDC collects for each well shortens their walk and minimizes the dangers that vulnerable women and young girls might face along those walks. The JDC also exposed me to the serious health concerns developing countries face, including tuberculosis of the spine and cardiac disorders. Rick modeled the power that goodwill, perseverance and setting priorities have to literally save lives.

Perhaps most personally meaningful was the work I did laying bricks and mortar at the Chanqua School and playing with students there. I was able to see firsthand the power of education at the Fassiledes and Sera Warka (that’s the Dallas-funded school!) schools. School attendance is not expected, required or even the norm in Ethiopia as it is in the United States. But it clearly empowers children — especially women — when they are able to attend school. It drives their aspirations for a better life, and the hope is that it will improve living standards and broader civic participation in Ethiopia by increasing the number of able community members and leaders. In the Students4Students Sera Warka, this has certainly been the case. Attendance has grown from just 15 students to more than 90, and the farmers who once hesitated to send their students to class now do so much more willingly. Previously uninspired students now dream of being teachers. And the overcapacity school looks for a new building, which Dallas and Austin fundraising efforts work toward accomplishing.

As a journalist, it’s my responsibility to convey these experiences and reflections via words and pictures to those who remain as ignorant about Ethiopian culture as I was before my travels. Raising awareness about the conditions of poverty there, while simultaneously conveying the individuality of each Ethiopian amidst that poverty, are my responsibilities as a writer and a concerned citizen of the world. I penned 60 plus pages detailing my trip and observations in my journal recording each experience as a true journalist should. And I’m working toward supporting a second Sera Warka schoolhouse. But also, I seek to use my understanding and exposure to Third World poverty to fight the battle against local poverty. Working with Dallas and Austin’s homeless newspapers, Street Zine and The Challenger respectively, has been an integral part of my journalism career. Contributing to Dallas’ publication and finding writers from the homeless community for Austin’s, I promote these individuals’ right of expression and preserve their dignity. My experiences in Ethiopia will not just help broaden my own perspective when writing, but also it will allow me to better understand effective tactics of addressing the local poverty situation. As I seek writers from the homeless community and cater to their writing skills accordingly, reflecting on my time in Ethiopia prepares me better for each situation I face.

Jori Esptein is a UT Austin sophomore. For more information or to support the Sera Warka school, contact

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One Louisiana town’s Jewish roots

One Louisiana town’s Jewish roots

Posted on 20 March 2014 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebSt. Francisville, Louisiana. Not too far up the Mississippi from New Orleans. Population: 1,765. Claim to fame: its annual Audubon Pilgrimage, when every stately old plantation home is spruced up and open for public viewing.

(Yes, esteemed bird painter John James Audubon did actually live here once, for four short months in the 19th century, while he tutored the daughter of one of those stately old plantation homeowners. But during those months he produced perhaps his best-known work, the bald eagle, so the fame claim is probably justified.)

I hopped off the sightseeing bus at the little visitors’ center to find out which house to visit, and found, instead, a display of local Jewish history! There are no Jews at all left now, but its former Jewish residents certainly left their mark on St. Francisville.

A sizable Jewish community in the heart of West Feliciana Parish (Louisiana’s equivalent of County) “flourished during the late 19th century,” according to its historical society. The Jews first met in a hotel and then in an opera house, incorporated Temple Sinai in 1901 and two years later built its home. The local newspaper described the dedication: “The sacred building was filled by a large congregation composed of both Jews and Gentiles. It was an hour of rejoicing” with “processions of children bearing palms and candles.” But not too many years later, the boll weevil arrived in St. Francisville and the Jews departed, reestablishing their mercantile businesses in New Orleans. In 1921, the small synagogue was bought by local Presbyterians and became their church home.

Julius Freyhan, businessman and philanthropist, was a key figure in both the Jewish community and the town during his lifetime, which ended in 1904. Before his death, he had established a foundation whose first bequest funded the building of a public high school in St. Francisville to serve all students of West Feliciana Parish. The Freyhan Foundation’s assets grew over the years, while both the former synagogue structure and the school — which still bears Julius’ name although it graduated its last class in the 1950s — fell into disrepair. In 2007, the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation listed these two buildings among the state’s 10 most endangered sites. So Freyhan’s legacy was tapped to help make things right.

In December 2012, the Foundation completed a seven-month restoration of Temple Sinai, whose first “open house” event was a Holocaust program last August, jointly sponsored by the Foundation and the Parish Historical Society. On a summer Sunday evening, local teacher Mark Lester told the story of Polish survivor Eva Galler to a standing-room-only audience that included many of her New Orleans family’s former classmates and neighbors. “We all must speak out and let such prejudice and intolerance be remembered,” Lester said, “so that we can learn from it and help eradicate it.”

Once I heard all this, of course I had to see the “new” Temple Sinai for myself. It is again today just what it used to be: “The fine building, 35×50 feet, had a number of large stained glass windows and high ceilings contributing to perfect acoustics. The handsome circular pews, altar and raised choir gallery were of quarter-sawn oak. The exterior, painted dove gray trimmed in green, featured doorways topped with arched gothic windows and wide central steps flanked by tall twin towers.”

But the stained glass windows are in solid colors, without any religious significance, and there are no Jewish ritual objects of any kind on display; Temple Sinai, somewhat ironically located on Prosperity Street, is now a treasured historic monument, but no longer a house of worship. When I asked a local resident what happened to the Protestants who had until fairly recently prayed together there, she replied, “Oh, they’re all Methodists now!”

(The Julius Freyhan Foundation currently seeks donations to help complete restoration of “his” high school. Anyone interested in contributing, or in obtaining more information, should visit

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Spring is the perfect time to connect with the outdoors

Spring is the perfect time to connect with the outdoors

Posted on 20 March 2014 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

seymourforweb2Yes, it will be spring (and even summer) with consistent warm to hot weather! And along with spring comes the opportunities to re-connect with nature. There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors and so many reasons to do so (even scientific ones that getting out in nature is important for your health). I recommend an ancient book called “Perek Shirah.” Some sources ascribe it to King David, who wrote it after being told by a frog that its “song” to God was loftier than David’s own Book of Psalms. Others give credit to King Solomon, who understood the “speech” of animals, vegetables and minerals. Still, others suggest that various sages of the Mishnah may have written it.

My copy comes from ArtScroll Publishing and it is a beautiful little book filled with beautiful pictures and the “songs” of nature. It is a perfect companion to a stroll in the wild! Here is what the preface explains about “Perek Shirah”:

“Some say that each creature literally sings its own song. Human beings cannot hear them, of course, just as there are many sounds in nature that human senses cannot detect. A second opinion is that the singing is done by angels… The third opinion is that the songs are not actually spoken; they are implicit in the roles of the creatures. Accordingly, the “song” of the sun, the ocean, or a cat or dog is what we should learn from it.”

No matter who wrote it or where the songs come from, the message is important — every part of the universe has a job that it carries out and that its “song” will teach us something. For example, when you see the vegetables growing, we say from Psalms 6:11 — “Water its ridges abundantly, settle its furrows, soften it with showers, may You bless its growth.” The growing vegetables make us aware that God created the earth to let us grow and be strong and healthy. How wonderful to see vegetables and to be thankful!

Now, get outdoors and enjoy all the beauty of the world and be thankful for the gift of being thankful — that is a step above!

Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.

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

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