Archive | September, 2019

Clean slates, new beginnings and apologies

Posted on 25 September 2019 by admin

The challenges of saying ‘I’m sorry’

On my very last day of sixth grade, a representative of the big school that all of us would be attending (from junior high through high school graduation) came with a bit of orientation. I’ve never forgotten what he said: “We give you a clean slate.” Then, after a pause: “But you know what people do with clean slates, don’t you? They scribble all over them!”
And so, we did. And so do all of us, every year, starting right after the High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah gives us 10 days before Yom Kippur to erase our past year’s slate, so we can start scribbling on a clean one. Which is just what we quickly begin to do.
In one religious school, years ago, we used to teach the little kids — kindergarten and first-graders — to sing a song with these words: “Let’s be friends. Make amends. Now’s the time to say ‘I’m sorry.’” Of course, we explained “amends” in ways they could understand before going on: “Take my hand and I’ll take yours; let’s be friends for always.”
I always wish adult life could be that simple. I try to use those 10 days of teshuvah — which in that little song are explained as “time to worship, time to pray” — to make amends. But I’m not ever as successful as I’d like to be. Sometimes my apologies are rebuffed, and I can do nothing more about them. Although, Judaism urges me to try again and again, time and distance may make this difficult. Sometimes, I learn that whatever I’m apologizing for is something the person I’m apologizing to doesn’t even remember, or makes nothing of what, to me, was an important no-no. And, sometimes I just plain forget something important until those 10 days are long over, and I’ve gone into another New Year with unfinished business on my unknowing conscience.
These days, some people send out blanket emails, apologizing to everyone in their online address books for anything they might have posted, or said, or done in the past year that could have offended one, or some, or all of the message’s recipients. Does this count? Should it?
Apologizing is always easier with my non-Jewish friends, who can accept it without fully understanding how and why this interesting annual soul-cleansing ritual is of such great importance to me. I do tell them that my life may depend upon it, and leave it at that. I don’t know if this is actually true, if failure to erase that well-scribbled slate in any given year may actually result in never having the opportunity to scribble again. But I prefer not to take any chances.
I have just thought of something. When I send my Shanah Tovah cards — which I still do every year, despite the ease of email — I might add a blanket “Please forgive anything I may have done in the past year to upset or anger you.” This might be a bit too impersonal to pass muster, so I’m not sure I’m willing to try it, at least not this year. But it’s something to think about for next year, which I hope my teshuvah efforts will have assured me that I’ll have: another year in which to try harder not to amass any matters for which I’ll have to apologize. Or, at least fewer of them.
But that’s for next year. This year is coming to its end, and the time is now here for me to say to all of you, “Thanks for reading me this year. And if I’ve written anything you don’t agree with — or dislike — or find totally offensive — please let me know.” Then I can apologize, with the assurance that I’ve said I’m sorry for something specific, because you’ve told me what that is. And then, maybe we can take each other’s hands and be friends — at least for next year, if not for always. Shanah Tovah!

Comments (0)

A visit to the new Dallas Holocaust Museum

A visit to the new Dallas Holocaust Museum

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

“Stories of Survival” is a temporary exhibit on loan from the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie.

A primer on beginning and ending that first visit

By Harriet P. Gross

This new facility is a marvel — and a challenge. Do not attempt to absorb it all in one visit. Plan to come back, again and again. 

But for your first time: 

1. Attend the brief introductory session on the first floor. Then proceed to the one exhibit that did not originate here, “Stories of Survival.” Subtitled “Object — Image — Memory,” this is a wall-mounted photographic array of plain “things,” items that survivors of the Holocaust and other human genocides across the globe managed to hold on to throughout their wanderings and sufferings. There is immense power in the simplest of things: a well-loved teddy bear — a letter — a photo — a book. When you learn from what horror it has been saved, you understand why it is treasured now — and will be, forever. 

“Stories of Survival” is the first of what will be many special, on-loan exhibits in our new museum’s future. It is on loan from the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, a suburb north of Chicago. One would expect to find this place in the heart of the big city, but it was located here as an act of remembrance, and defiance. In the 1970s, when some 7,000 Holocaust survivors lived in that town, a group of neo-Nazis planned to march there. This threat galvanized many who had not spoken out before of their horrific past experiences, and they said a collective “Never Again!” The planned march became a free-speech issue that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before the would-be marchers finally gave up. So, in the end, there was no march, but the strong voices that emerged from that cruel threat have resonated ever since. In mounting this photographic exhibit, the Illinois Museum gave early recognition to survivors of other modern genocides in addition to the Holocaust. As such, it is a fitting introduction to our new Museum’s expanded mission: furthering all human rights, with the importance of the Holocaust always at its core. 

2. Make a few quiet moments in the Memorial Room as the last stop of your visit. This, now on view again for the first time in many years, was the heart of Dallas’ first Holocaust museum, which was located in the basement of the Jewish Community Center. Its founders were survivors, who remembered the many they had personally lost, and all the 6 million, with carved marble pillars and wall inscriptions for those who have no graveyard headstones. 

When it became apparent that the sub-ground facility was too small and too inconvenient to truly serve its educational purpose as well as its memorial one, the decision was made to move to larger quarters on Record Street. This location had one core exhibit (“One Day in the Holocaust”) and a succession of traveling ones that attracted so many more visitors, and served to turn so many young people into “Upstanders.” But it also was too small, and so inspired the campaign that has resulted in this new, permanent facility.

The survivors were afraid that their beloved Memorial Room would be lost after the first move, but today we can all see it exactly as it was: Everything has been brought out of storage and completely replicated in this new location. It is now a relocated room of testimony that will honor all the museum’s original founders, as well as their lost loved ones, in perpetuity. The peace of that quiet, white marble place makes it the perfect spot for a few moments of personal reflection at the end of your museum visit. 

But always remember this: Our new Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is truly overwhelming; it offers far too much to be fully absorbed in any single visit. Plan to come again — often. For here, the old has become new, real, accessible and vital to us as people truly dedicated to living lives forever guided by these two most important words: “Never Again!” 

Comments (0)

Touring the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum

Touring the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

Photo: Courtesy DHHRM
This restored boxcar was originally housed at the original Memorial Center for Holocaust Studies located in the JCC basement.

Museum hopes to inspire visitors to take action

By Eva Rosen

The new Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum opened in its permanent home Sept. 18, with the goal of educating a new generation of visitors, and inspiring them to take action. 

First established in 1984 by a group of Dallas Holocaust survivors, the museum is at 300 N. Houston St., more than five times the size of the original museum, which was in the Jewish Community Center’s basement. In addition to its permanent and rotating temporary exhibits, the museum features, in a Dimensions in Testimony(SM) Theater, a holographic recording of local Holocaust survivor Max Glauben. 

An interactive, holographic project developed by the USC Shoah Foundation, the exhibit will allow visitors to interact with a Holocaust survivor long after they are of blessed memory. The interactive technology allows visitors to speak with holographic images of survivors in real time. Glauben will be the featured survivor that visitors will interact with in the permanent theater.

As visitors enter the museum’s Holocaust/Shoah wing, they pass a wall printed with the definition of “upstander,” a term that sets the tone for the rest of the experience. An upstander is a person who “stands up for other people and their rights,” “combats injustice, inequality and unfairness,” or “sees something wrong and works to make it right.” 

Photo: Courtesy DHHRM
In the Human Rights Wing, the Genocide Room features 10 stories of genocide for each stage.

Mary Pat Higgins, president and CEO of the museum, hopes visitors will “gain an understanding of their responsibility to stand up for others.” She is especially eager for this message to reach younger audiences, so they will “leave the museum standing up to bullying, standing up to prejudice when they see it.”

The museum was crafted with a seventh-grader in mind, though visitors of all age groups and backgrounds have much to gain from the experience. Higgins reported that, in an internal study, the museum found that “50 of the middle school students and one-third of the high school students left the prior museum with a strong feeling of the ramifications of bystander behavior. Getting the students here earlier really made a difference.” The Museum Experience Fund, made possible by donors to the museum, will help younger audiences learn from the museum by waiving admission fees of Dallas Independent School District students on school group visits.

The museum’s three permanent wings are not separated by doors or curtains. This was intentional, as the museum wanted to avoid visitors “study[ing] the Holocaust and genocide and American ideals in vacuums,” Higgins said. She went on to say that the arrangement linking events such as the Holocaust to other genocides shows “what happens when prejudice and hatred go unchecked.”

The Holocaust Wing

The Holocaust/Shoah wing, with walls painted the garish red, black, and white of the Nazi regime, greets the viewer with a visual cacophony. It is organized geographically; one walks through a timeline of the countries whose citizens were targeted and devastated by the Holocaust, and can listen to and watch testimony of 68 Dallas survivors at video stations throughout the exhibit. The World War II boxcar, a part of the museum since it first opened, now contains a video of survivors describing the terrible conditions they were subjected to while forced to ride in similar boxcars. 

From there, the museum details the major death camps, the world’s response — or lack of it — to the Holocaust as reports streamed in, and the eventual liberation of the camps by Allied forces. A wall, with pictures of survivors who settled in Dallas, ends the first exhibit, before visitors walk through an open doorway into the Human Rights Wing.

The Human Rights Wing

The wing begins by presenting the 12 trials of the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals, known as “Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings,” during which more than 185 defendants were tried for their involvement in the genocide perpetuated by Hitler’s regime. 

Twenty-four Nazi party leaders and collaborators were sentenced for crimes against peace and humanity in the original Nuremberg tribunals, charges that hadn’t existed on an international level before the trials. 

The exhibit makes clear how the tribunals led to the Convention of Human Rights, on which the next room focuses. There, an art installation featuring peaceful blues, oranges and greens, lines one wall. This provides a welcome chance to reflect on what has taken place in the past, and the lengths we still have to go as a world to make human rights possible for all.

The final room of the exhibit, the Genocide Gallery, brings the chaos of the Holocaust/Shoah wing back in full force. For each of the “10 Stages of Genocide,” taken from a list created by Gregory H. Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, the museum presents three-dimensional displays of historical genocides from around the world. 

Each display personalizes each event to a new generation, by telling the stories of the people targeted in these cruel acts. The appeal to visitors, to stand up for human rights when they see these possible stages in their own community — for example, discrimination or dehumanization — is equally clear.

‘Pivot to America’

“Pivot to America” is the most interactive part of the three wings, featuring more than 15 touch screen timelines charting the discrimination faced by Latinos, African-Americans, women and LGBTQ individuals, as well as ongoing efforts to gain rights and protections for them in the United States. 

Each of the displays can be read alone or in groups, and the wealth of information means it takes hours to get through it all in one visit. As Higgins explains, “[this] gives them the power to look at the content and decide what they want to explore. And, hopefully, people will keep coming back.”

The exhibit ends with a Call to Action gallery, where visitors can use one last touch screen to become involved with a local nonprofit that is doing work in which they might be interested. . 

“You leave this museum with a sense of wanting to do something, so we wanted to capture that sense before they leave and life takes over,” Higgins said. 

Comments (0)

Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum opens

Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum opens

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

Photos: Amanda Harris Photography
Speakers at Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum ribbon-cutting ceremony, from left, Mayor Eric Johnson, DHHRM Board Chair Frank Risch, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Dallas Holocaust Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins, DHHRM Chair-elect Nate Levine, Immediate Past Board Chair The Honorable Florence Shapiro and Lydia Nimbeshaho, a survivor of Rwandan genocide.

Ribbon-cutting reinforces tenet: Being an Upstander is everyone’s duty

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Dallas-Fort Worth area Holocaust survivors, patrons, volunteers and invited guests celebrated the ribbon-cutting of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum Sept. 17. The museum opened to the public Sept. 18.

Mary Pat Higgins, president and CEO of the DHHRM, welcomed those in attendance and set the tone for the speakers who followed.

“In 1977, a small group of Holocaust survivors came together with an extraordinary vision to teach the North Texas Community the lessons learned from the Holocaust and to memorialize the 6 million Jews and millions of others persecuted by the Nazis. 

“These amazing survivors saw as their legacy the creation of a museum for future generations of students and adults. Their mission — and ours — is to teach the history of the Holocaust and advance human rights to combat prejudice, hatred and indifference.”

Speaker after speaker stressed that as human beings all individuals need to take personal responsibility to advance human rights and to combat prejudice and hatred.

“We need to do everything we can to prevent genocide from happening — and that starts with making the choice that we can no longer allow it to happen simply by not believing it can happen…

“It can happen, it does happen, and that’s why we have to keep telling the story,” said Frank Risch, DHHRM board chair and co-chair of its capital campaign. 

Governor Greg Abbott added that in addition to doing the typical things museums do — educating visitors and displaying artifacts — the museum was one that left them wanting to make a difference.

“This museum also inspires, it empowers. At a time in our world where there is transformational change, this is a transformative museum.” 

Abbott added, “Visitors will leave inspired to take action to ensure that atrocities like what they’ve seen in here will be eradicated from this earth.”

Abbott also said as governor of Texas the state of Texas was proud of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum and owed a debt of gratitude to those who made it possible and one of the “premier Holocaust and human rights museums in the world.”

When The Honorable Florence Shapiro, immediate past board chair and daughter of Holocaust survivors, took the podium, she illustrated the importance of the new museum with a timely anecdote, sharing her reaction to the shooting in El Paso Aug. 3 when 22 innocent people were murdered. She explained that the DHHRM is precisely the antidote that’s needed to combat senseless hatred.

“This museum teaches the history of the Holocaust and other genocides to show students what happens when hatred and bigotry can lead to violence — and permeate our society,” she said.

“At the new museum, we will educate students about the histories of persecuted and marginalized groups. By teaching this history, we educate visitors about diversity, tolerance and empathy.”

Shapiro said with her Aug. 3 defining moment she has set a goal to have 100,000 students visit the museum by the end of 2020.

She began the project by raising $250,000 for the Museum Experience Fund, so every student will be able to visit the museum regardless of their ability to pay.

Lydia Nimbeshaho, a survivor of Rwandan genocide, shared the impact the two upstanders made on her life. The courage of action of Dama Gisimba, who took her and her siblings into his orphanage at great personal risk. A second upstander was American missionary who blocked the doorway of the orphanage when “perpetrators/Interahamwe” came to kill those inside.

“I can never thank Mr. Wilkens enough for saving us. Because of him, I lived. He is the reason I am able to be here with you today.”

Mayor Eric Johnson said that he hopes that the new museum will draw people in and teach them tolerance and to be action-oriented.

“I want this museum — I am so grateful that (it is) right here in the heart of Dallas — to be a beacon for our entire community, a place for everyone. A place for respect and a place for acceptance.

“This is a place that can educate humanity about the history and nature of hatred. This is a place that can inspire an entire generation of upstanders.

“I believe the lessons taught in this museum will inspire us all — adults and children — alike to stand up for what is right — to fight hatred and intolerance with every ounce of our being so everyone knows that there’s no place for hate of any kind in Dallas or anywhere else in the world. Because fighting hatred is not just one person’s journey. Fighting hatred is humanity’s journey.

As he closed, Mayor Johnson declared Sept. 18, 2019, Upstander Day in the City of Dallas.

He also bestowed the key to the city to all DFW-area Holocaust survivors.

“Each one of you embodies the values of our community: strength, determination, hard work, resilience, hope and most importantly, being Upstanders.”

Nate Levine, who along with his wife Ann made the landmark gift ensuring the new museum’s long-term viability, concluded the speaker portion of the program. He shared some anecdotes from some of his tours with children, many of whom didn’t know what the Holocaust was when they arrived.

“At the conclusion of the tour I could see in their faces that the kids leaving were not the same kids that arrived just an hour ago.”

Another group of 15 students was so inspired by Anne Frank’s story they wrote their own diaries and presented them to Levine. 

Levine concluded, “Let us all hope and pray that the next century will be more respectful of human beings and the rights of people to live in peace — irrespective of their color, their religion or their race.”

The program concluded with Temple Emanu-El Rabbi David Stern leading the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Then, the Town View choir sang Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” as students from Cristo Rey College Preparatory School led Holocaust survivors in attendance to the stage for the ribbon-cutting.

Surrounded by the survivors, Ann and Nate Levine cut the stage-long red ribbon.

Comments (0)

Around the Town: Tarrant County, Bnai Brith

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Tarrant County’s Reform congregations to host Joy Ladin as Selichot scholar

The Reform congregations of Tarrant County — Arlington’s Beth Shalom, Colleyville’s Beth Israel and Fort Worth’s Beth-El — will host Joy Ladin as their Selichot Scholar-in-Residence. The weekend will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at Beth-El, 4900 Briarhaven Road. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, Cantor Sheri Allen and Rabbi Brian Zimmerman will lead the service and Ladin will deliver the sermon.

Saturday morning, Beth Shalom will host Shabbat services at 10 a.m. at the synagogue, 1212 Thannisch Drive.

A Selichot lecture and service will conclude the trio of events at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Beth Israel in Colleyville, 6100 Pleasant Run Road.

Joy Ladin holds the Gottesman Chair in English at Yeshiva University, and in 2007 became the first and still only openly transgender employee of an Orthodox Jewish institution. Her memoir, “Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders,” was a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award. her recent book, “The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective,” is a Lambda Literary Award and Triangle Award finalist. She has also published nine books of poetry.

All in the community are welcome. For more information, contact any of the three congregations. This program is made possible through the generosity of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

B’nai B’rith Person of the Year Dinner

Don’t forget, B’nai B’rith International President Chuck Kaufman will be the guest speaker at this year’s Isadore Garsek Lodge Person of the Year Dinner. Hollace Weiner will present the history of the Isadore Garsek Lodge. The program is 6:30-9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Beth El-Congregation, 4900 Briarhaven Road. Babe’s Chicken Dinner House is catering and tickets will be available for purchase through Friday. To purchase tickets, contact, Marvin Beleck, marvinbeleck@aol.com; Rich Hollander, rich.d.hollander@gmail.com, 817-909-4354; Alex Nason, anason53@gmail.com; or Dan Sturman, dsturman@charter.net. This year’s B’nai B’rith person of the year will be revealed Sunday.

Comments (0)

Dallas Jewish Funerals hires Scott Bennett

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

Bennett takes on the role of pre-planning advisor

Dallas resident Scott Bennett has joined Dallas Jewish Funerals as pre-planning advisor. As part of his role, Bennett will meet with families and individuals to focus on pre-planning requirements and needs. “It’s the smart thing to do,” he said. “Smart financially, and a great gift of love to our children, who will sincerely appreciate not having to worry about funeral arrangements and financing when it’s time to go.”

Bennett’s previous job experience included chief marketing officer for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as advertising, marketing and sales executive involved with national and international brands including Anheuser-Busch, Kraft, British Aerospace and Verizon.

Raised in Dallas from the early 1960s, Bennett celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Shalom, attended Richardson High School, and graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with a bachelor’s degree in advertising. 

He went to work for the ACS in 2007 because a decade earlier, his then 6-year-old daughter, Ana, had been diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening form of leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia. 

“I remember my wife and I thanking the doctors and nurses daily for all they did for our daughter, and our family,” Bennett said. “Each night I would say a quiet prayer asking God for our daughter’s recovery and to send thanks to the anonymous research lab scientists who developed the experimental drug protocol that was being used to treat our daughter.” Shortly after joining the American Cancer Society, Bennett met Dr. Jerry Yates, the head of cancer research at the Society. Soon to retire, Bennett asked Yates to share his crowning career achievement. “Without blinking an eye, he said he led the team that developed the first successful experimental protocol to successfully treat acute myeloid leukemia. With tears in my eyes I thanked him for saving my daughter’s life,” Bennett recalled.

Bennett and his family (including wife, Cristy, and son, Sam) returned to Dallas in 2013 to be closer to family. Daughter Ana is in Indiana and his other son, Evan, resides in Atlanta. Shortly after arriving in Dallas, Bennett ended up looking after his father’s affairs and ongoing care when his mother suddenly passed away. “With the help of many including my wife, my sister, Stacy Horowitz, and my brother Gary, we dove in to help my father. We had to deal immediately with his living arrangements, care and financial situation,” Bennett said. In the process Bennett met with quite a few people in estate planning, including Zane Belayea, owner and chief operating officer with Dallas Jewish Funerals. 

“I met Zane at a networking event when I returned to Dallas,” Bennett said. “Zane later helped me, and my family pre-arrange our father’s funeral. About three years later, my father passed away. The funeral service was perfect. The rabbi was excellent. Everything was planned in advance, so when my father passed, our family could focus on grieving and not having to worry about funeral arrangements and financing. I found so much comfort in the process that I referred other families to Zane.”

Belayea eventually recruited Scott to join him and focus on pre-planning in the Jewish community. According to Belayea, Bennett “enjoys engaging families and has a sincere, transparent way of helping people navigate through a process that some of us have a difficult time confronting.

“I remember Scott’s initial reaction when I approached him about working in the business, said Belayea. “He said he could hear his mother’s voice, proudly saying, ‘My son, the funeral director!’”

Bennett is passionate about funeral pre-arrangement. “It’s a smart thing to do,” he said. “Smart financially, and a great gift of love to our children, who will sincerely appreciate not having to worry about funeral arrangements and financing when it’s our time to go.”

In his free time, Bennett enjoys golf and photography. He’s also the founder of My Home My Life, a nonprofit dedicated to meeting the housing and social needs of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Comments (0)

Honoring Roddie Edmonds, Righteous Among Nations

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

This non-Jew saved 200 Jewish POW during WWII

Many accounts of bravery have emerged among the many thousands of American prisoners of war during World War II in the Pacific and European Theatres.

September 20 is POW/MIA Recognition Day, a day worth remembering the actions of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, Tennessee. Edmonds, along with others of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, was forced to surrender to an overwhelming force of Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, toward the end of the war in Europe.

As was the custom, officers went to one camp while the enlisted men went to another, Stalag IXA, located near Ziegenhain, Germany.

Jewish-American soldiers had been warned to throw their ID tags away, so they could not be singled out by the Jew-hating Nazis. In violation of the Geneva Convention, the Nazis were sending those soldiers to slave-labor camps where chances of survival were minimal.

As the highest-ranking enlisted man, Edmonds was in charge of all 1,275 prisoners — 200 of whom were Jews — whose well-being he considered his responsibility. After they arrived in the bitter cold, the Nazi commandant ordered Edmonds to identify all the Jews in his group, and to have them in formation the next morning. Instead, Edmonds ordered all 1,275 men to assemble outside their barracks, which they did. Outraged, the Nazi commandant drew his pistol, pointing it at Edmonds, demanding that he identify the Jews.

“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds said. “If you want to shoot Jews, you must shoot everyone.”

He warned the commandant that, with the war ending, if the prisoners were harmed, he would be hunted down and tried as a war criminal. The commandant holstered his gun and walked away.

Edmonds, who also served in the Korean War, never received official recognition saving the Jewish soldiers. It was only after his death in 1985, when his wife gave Edmonds’ two diaries to his son, a Baptist minister, that Edmonds’ bravery became known to his own family.

In 2015, Yad VaShem named Roddie Edmonds a Righteous Among the Nations.

Unfortunately, an attempt to confer the Congressional Medal of Honor has stalled because no battle had been fought nor blood shed in his efforts. Yet, with or without a medal, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds will always be remembered as a non-Jewish, Jewish American Hero.

Comments (0)

Particularism & universalism: Outlook divides us

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

I’ve lived my life between the two largest Jewish communities of our time, those of Israel and the United States. And over the past several decades, drastically different levels of religious observance and opposing positions on the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians have both been described as some of the driving factors behind a growing divide between these two communities. However, at its core, this divide is about more than simple policy; it’s about the opposing ways that our communities view the world. By and large, the Jewish community of Israel is particularist and American Jewry is universalist. 

Particularism is usually defined as attachment to one’s own group, party or nation, whereas universalism is loyalty to or concern for all of humanity. Though Judaism has always fostered elements of both, modernity has seen individual Jews and even entire Jewish communities adopting only one exclusive lens through which to view the world. 

Yossi Klein Halevi, eminent Zionist author, writes of these differing ideologies as various interpretations of Jewish history.

 “Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two biblical commands to remember,” he explains. “The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: Don’t be brutal. The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: Don’t be naive. 

“The first command is the voice of Passover, of liberation; the second is the voice of Purim, commemorating our victory over the genocidal threat of Haman, a descendant of Amalek. ‘Passover Jews’ are motivated by empathy with the oppressed; ‘Purim Jews’ are motivated by alertness to threat.”

The Jewish community of Israel, though not without its fierce universalist progressives, is largely made up of “Purim Jews.” Zionism at heart has always been a particularist endeavor, it deals with the fate of the Jewish people, not the entire world. And after decades of war and terrorism, surrounded by enemies who claim to seek their destruction, Israeli Jews have come to identify strongly with particularism, a worldview normally adopted by ethnic communities that feel unsafe and insecure about their place in the world. American Jews are often seen as naive, assimilationist, and more concerned with social justice everywhere than with Jews anywhere.

For their part, American Jews, even those proud Zionists, live their lives as “Passover Jews.” After centuries of successfully integrating into American society and climbing up the socio-economic hierarchy, American Jews feel secure enough to reach out to disenfranchised communities. Commitment to broad social justice and political causes including immigration reform and religious tolerance are seen as the essential values that Jewish history seeks to teach us. They find Israeli Jews nationalist, provincial, conservative, and out of touch with “true” Jewish values.

What these communities lack is the understanding that each of these approaches are authentically Jewish; they’re each an expression of different lessons of our history. Halevi writes, “both are essential; one without the other creates an unbalanced Jewish personality, a distortion of Jewish history and values.”

Particularist Israeli Jews are spearheading the first sovereign Jewish state since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 136 CE. If anything, we should feel more secure in our identity and more free in our expression than any diaspora community. In true Zionist fashion, we must be able to escape the ghetto mentality and extend a hand to others. And though throughout the short history of our state we’ve extended aid all over the world in times of natural disasters, in the wake of another national election, it’s time for us to acknowledge the stranger that lives and struggles right beside us. To see so fully our own identity and heritage that we are blind to the narratives of others is a violation of the Jewish sense of justice.

American Jewry, the most prosperous Jewish community that has ever existed, has spearheaded Jewish universalism and solidified it into a distinct political agenda. But with staggering rates of intermarriage, plummeting rates of synagogue attendance, and widespread estrangement from the Jewish state, American Jews would do well to take the lessons of particularism in their hearts. Jewish tradition, the Hebrew language, our sacred texts, and our attachment to the Land of Israel are all particular and essential parts of Jewish identity. American Jews cannot forge forth as citizens of a multicultural world without first having a deep love and appreciation for their own rich heritage.

Rav Kook, the intellectual father of Religious Zionism, wrote that modernity has whirled the three central dimensions of Jewish identity — what he terms “the holy, the nation and humanity” — away from each other and that “the sacred, then, is the energy that synthesizes all three elements — religious commitment, national identity and ethical universalism.” Inspired by our love for God, we must challenge ourselves to see both the world in our people and our people in the world.

Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

Comments (0)

The dos and don’ts of apologizing

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

There is more to ‘sorry’ than just saying it

Dear Families,

As we approach the High Holidays, I am reading more and more on how to prepare. Apologies are definitely being thought about and written about, as this is the season to say “I’m sorry,” and to mean it. 

JewishBoston.com offers a fascinating article by Judy Bolton-Fasman titled “The Art of the Apology: The Dos and Don’ts of Apologizing.” The information comes from an interview with journalist and author Marjorie Ingall, who is a co-founder of SorryWatch, a blog that analyzes effective and botched apologies.

One of the key issues with any apology is that you must own the actions and consequences. It is important to say the actual words, “I’m sorry,” not “I regret.” Said Ingall: “An apology needs to stand on its own feet and be unconditional, even if you think the other person owes you an apology.”

The article goes on to refer to Maimonides, who tells us to apologize three times. If the other person does not accept the apology, you have done your best. “Our tradition notes that this notion of holding on to your venom and rage after receiving an apology is like holding onto a lizard while going into the mikveh,” noted a wonderful quote from the article. I’m not sure if that was from Bolton-Fasman or Maimonides, though it sounds more Rambam-like! Meanwhile, you are not obligated to forgive, but who are you hurting by not doing so?

Often at this holiday time, we make general blanket apologies and sometimes even to a group via email. And, we all accept that apology in spirit, of course. Maimonides says, however, that you must state what you did wrong and show remorse and follow by making amends, if possible. The main object is to acknowledge, so the hurt does not happen again.

Here are a few more recommendations from the article.

• If you’re not sorry, don’t apologize because you will do it badly.

• Don’t ask forgiveness in an apology. Forgiveness is a gift for the wronged person to grant. You don’t ask for a gift.

All of these thoughts are good for us at this time of year. Yet often, we hurt others unintentionally without realizing it. This year, as we make our “New Year’s Resolutions” (though we don’t really call them that, from a Jewish perspective), let us all ask for greater awareness of our actions and especially our words. Additionally, don’t wait for this time each year to apologize for everything. Listen to your words, look to see their impact and strive to be kinder all year. And if you have reason to apologize, stand up and own the mistake.

Comments (0)

Keeping it fresh: Appreciate the newness of every moment

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

Every day can be unique, with the correct mindset

This summer featured a fun dose of fresh and new for our family vacation. We went on an Alaskan Cruise with my extended family — (Wow, Alaska is stunningly beautiful!) — and spent time in Vancouver and Seattle, two other places we had not previously visited. One of summer’s special blessings is the opportunity to experience necessary moments of renewal by taking a break from our normal activities. But of course, before you know it, summer comes to a close and we are back to the grind again. In these first few weeks of September, we might already find ourselves sneaking peeks ahead to December, or February or June, thinking about our next opportunity for travel. Aside from going to the Southwest or American Airlines apps and booking flights, are there other ways to find renewal amid, rather than outside, our routine? 

A teaching from this week’s parashah, Ki Tavo, offers some insight along these lines. On the doorstep of the land of Canaan, our ancestors are commanded to bring forward the bikkurim, their offerings of first fruits, when they ultimately get settled in the fertile land that God has given them and begin reaping its bounty. Each Israelite is instructed to go to the Kohen, the priest, and tell him: “I acknowledge today before God that I have entered the land that God swore to our fathers to assign us” (Deuteronomy 26:3). Later in the parashah, we also read hayom hazeh, this day, “the Lord commands you to observe these laws and rules, to observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul. You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your God, that you will walk in God’s ways…” (Deuteronomy 26:16-17). The repeated use of the word hayom in this chapter and the next chapter grounds the action in the immediate present. Reflecting on the one time the phrase hayom hazeh — this day — specifically appears in the text regarding the command to observe the mitzvot, commandments, the great medieval biblical commentator Rashi (11th-century France) quotes an earlier teaching saying that each day the mitzvot should be like new in your eyes. Said another way, an Israelite in that era was expected to relate to the commandments every day, in the same way, as that day when he was on the doorstep of Canaan, excited about reaching the end of the desert-wandering period, and in the same way as when he was offering his first fruits to God in the spirit of gratitude for being settled in the land and enjoying its fruits.

Even at the beginning of something exciting and completely new — entry into Israel, the promised land — our ancestors were reminded several times to be present in the day and moment at hand. Our experiences on a daily basis are not always going to be as awe-inspiring as seeing Israel for the first time, or as breathtaking as seeing the Alaskan glaciers for the first time. But the Torah reminds us that it is important for us to appreciate the uniqueness and newness of every moment and every day, even if those moments and days could just as easily be classified in the “ordinary” or “routine” category. Truly, is anything ever completely routine or the same? 

We may feel as though we are repeating patterns and cycles of life, but the third year on a job is not the same as the first year or the first day, the experience of 11th grade is different from first grade, and the 23rd year of marriage is different from the first, or the eighth or the 12th. There is something fresh and new to be found in even our longest cycles, if we only look for it.

May this coming New Year of 5780 bring each of us countless fresh, precious and blessed moments in our lives.

Rabbi Ari Sunshine in senior rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas.

Comments (0)

View or Subscribe to the
Texas Jewish Post

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here