Archive | January, 2020

Interview with Barbara Sasser

Posted on 31 January 2020 by admin

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

Below is the transcript of my interview with Galveston resident Dr. Barbara Sasser, the granddaughter of Alex Frieder. Prior to the release of “Quezon’s Game,” a one-hour documentary, “Rescue in the Philippines,” directed by Russell C. Hodge and Cynthia-Scott Johnson was produced by 3 Roads Communications and Frieder Films. Narrated by Liev Schreiber, the film further illuminates the story of how the five Frieder brothers together with the president of the Philippines, Paul McNutt and Army Colonel Dwight Eisenhower aided in the rescue mission of over 1,300 Jews. The documentary, which aired on PBS stations across the country, is available to watch on Amazon Prime or through the website at:

Susan Kandell Wilkofsky:  Good morning Barbara. I am thrilled to speak with you this morning.

Barbara Sasser:  Me too. I’m happy to have the opportunity to participate in this.

SKW: I write for the Texas Jewish Post and I see that you live in Texas, is that right?

BS: I do. I live in Galveston.

SKW: So are you a subscriber of the Post?

BS:  I’m happy to start, send me a link!

SKW: I thought the film (“Quezon’s Game”) was absolutely fascinating. What a story! I’m also a Jewish film festival programmer and I’m amazed at the stories that are out there, still waiting to be shared. This is certainly one of them. So, you are the granddaughter of Alex Frieder who was one of the central figures portrayed in “Quezon’s Game.” And your mother, was she born there?

BS:     She was born in the Philippines. Yes, she was.

SKW: Did she enjoy life in the tropics?

BS:     Well, it was an interesting childhood for her in particular, She’s the youngest of three girls. The family is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. There were five brothers but only two were in “Quezon’s Game.” The reason the family was in the Philippines was because they were in the cigar business. They distributed cigars in the United States through Cincinnati and New York. None of the brothers wanted to live in the tropics full time so they alternated every two years. Mom was born during one of her father’s two year stays. They went back and forth to Cincinnati every two years until she was 14.

When she was 13 or 14 the refugees began arriving. So she was actually there to see this whole plan come to fruition and understand what was happening.

SKW: So let’s go back a little bit. When did you first learn about your family’s involvement in the plan to rescue Jews? Is this something that your family spoke of often?

BS:     The knowledge that my mother was born in the Philippines and grew up there was common knowledge. You could clearly see its influence throughout our house in her choice of decoration; how she furnished the house. But the story of the refugees was not spoken of often. And in fact, it wasn’t part of family lore as we say. But it was brought back to the front page around 2004, when the book Escape to Manila was published by one of the boys that left Germany and went to Philippines as a child. He grew up in the United States after spending time in the Philippines. After the war, most of the refugees came to the United States. He settled in Washington, D.C. and became a docent for the Holocaust Museum in DC. He would tell his fellow docents, “Yes, I went to the Philippines during the Holocaust,” and they laughed. Not one of the more common places you would think. He spoke to all of his co-refugees and put a book together which was published and it was quite a big deal.

SKW: That’s remarkable!

BS:     In Cincinnati there was a gathering of 90 members of the Frieder family. and representatives from the Philippine diplomatic corps. I don’t know if we had the ambassador from the Philippines come to Cincinnati, but certainly higher ups in their embassy staff. Unbelievably, one of Quezon’s granddaughters, actually his only granddaughter, lives in Columbus, Ohio and she attended. And we had local Filipinos as well. We also had a representative from McNutt’s family (Paul McNutt, High Commissioner to the Philippines). So it was a weekend’s worth of activities, where we all got to know each other and share stories. Many of the refugees also came to that event. So that put the story front and center and kind of took off from there.

SKW: In 2013 you produced the documentary “Rescue in the Philippines.” Why now a feature length film?

BS:     Well, OK, we should clear that up. I produced the documentary which I started working on in 2010. It took a while to germinate and put my efforts toward it. But once I did, I went full force and got it made in a couple of years. It was distributed on public television stations around the country and it’s been shown in a lot of impressive places; the U.N., the Holocaust Museum and at the presidential palace in the Philippines with the president in attendance. That was a highlight!

SKW: That’s impressive!  

BS:     I did not produce “Quezon’s Game.” I made the documentary “Rescue in the Philippines,” and “Quezon’s Game” is a fictionalized version of that story that was made by Filipinos in the Philippines. They certainly had seen “Rescue in the Philippines” and had done their own research. And there’s a temple in the Philippines that has documentation of the story. So they were Filipino filmmakers, and they had the backing of the government-backed cultural film development, people in the Philippines, and the largest television station in the Philippines – the three of them got together and produced “Quezon’s Game.” They did talk to me, and they solicited some suggestions here and there. I’m just pleased that it’s doing so well both in the Philippines and that they were able to get a national release in the United States which means that more people will learn about this story.

SKW: Absolutely.

BS:     One of our major goals in doing our film was, A) to get the history out, and B) to hopefully have the Philippines recognized by Yad Vashem and other Holocaust-related organizations as a rescuing nation. We would also like to have Quezon recognized as Righteous Among Nations. So if this film helps with that, that’ll be wonderful!

SKW: Where can we see “Rescue in the Philippines”?

BS:     It’s on our website: where you can get a link. It’s also on Amazon Prime.

SKW: Perfect. After seeing “Quezon’s Game” I’m sure others would like to see your documentary as well.

BS:     Just search for “Rescue in the Philippines.”

SKW: I wish I had seen it before I spoke to you, but at least I will get a chance to see it later. So let’s switch back to the story. I wasn’t clear about this one concept however. Normally, money would be the deal-breaker for transporting the refugees, but that seemed to be no problem. The exit visas and governmental papers were the tricky part of the equation. Where did the funding come from?

BS:     Funding came primarily from the Jewish community in the Philippines. There were a number of wealthy Jewish businessmen who had been there prior to the Holocaust.

SKW: Really? I wasn’t aware of that – but there are Jews everywhere!

We both laugh.

BS:     Yes. Jews arrived in the Philippines in, maybe, the late 1800s. There were a number of Iraqi Jews and French (Alsatian) Jews that went to the Philippines for commerce and they stayed there and made a life there. For that matter, the Frieders arrived not in the late 1800s, but in the early 1920s, and they were there because of the Filipino cigars. And so there was a Jewish community. The first actual temple was built in 1924. My grandfather had a role in building that, although it’s called Temple Emil after a different Jewish businessman, Emil Bachrach. And then a number of those Jews stayed after World War II and there continued to be a Jewish presence in business after the war. So that’s where I think most of the money came from, but in addition they wrote to and received money from the Joint Distribution Committee in New York. They (JDC) support projects like that – helping to resettle Jews all over the world. And they had a subcommittee of the main board called the Refugee Economic Cooperation, and that was charged primarily with finding jobs and economic opportunity for Jews wherever they were going in the world. And there was a large project planned, not in Manila, but on the island of Mindanao. It was a whole different island in the Philippines, and there was a plan to resettle 10,000 and even more Jews on Mindanao. That was in the works. The land had been bought. The refugees had been chosen. The development, road and what crops and what animals were going to be raised was all planned out. But by late 1940, early ’41, it all fell apart because of Pearl Harbor. So the number of Jews that were able to be rescued were around1300, but there was a plan in place for many, many, many more.

SKW: I thought it was amazing that Quezon said exactly what Oskar Schindler said, “I could have done more.”

BS:     If it was up to him, it would have been more.

SKW: Do you think that once he realized he was so ill, this became an important element of his legacy? He already had legislated great reforms in his country.

BS:     Quezon is one of my heroes. I mean, he exhibited the highest moral character I think of all the players in the story. And he did some wonderful things! And he was a humanitarian for sure. I think it was important to him to save as many Jews as he could. He thought it was the right thing to do. We have a quote from him in our film that says he considered himself a good Catholic, and the most unreligious thing he could think of would be to think badly of the people that brought them their Savior. Now, that’s the real quote. And you have to remember that “Quezon’s Game” is a fictionalized version.

SKW: I’m sure they weren’t privy to all those conversations that went on during poker games.

BS:     Right! He had friendships with Jews. He had a Jewish physician. He had a Jewish businessman as a best friend. His son was best friends with one of the boys from Germany, who lived upstairs from his family’s restaurant. This boy got picked up every Saturday morning by limousine and taken to Malacañang Palace to spend the weekend with Quezon’s son.

SKW: He actually talked the talk and walked the walk.

BS:     And it is true in the film. It talks about land that was Quezon’s that he donated. It wasn’t all the land that he had, but it was a lot of land that he donated to the Jews to build a community so that they could be farmers like the model for Palestine. And that was his own personal land that he gave to the Jews.

SKW: Do any of the refugees – their descendants – still live there?

BS:     Yes, there are some descendants of refugees still in the Philippines. They’re mostly Jews who married Filipinos and stayed there. I don’t personally know any of them. Most of their forefathers didn’t go to the Philippines because they wanted to go to the Philippines, right? It was a place that because of my grandfather and Paul McNutt and Quezon, the Philippines were willing to let them in. My grandfather placed ads in the German newspapers, as it is shown in “Quezon’s Game.” They put German ads in the papers that said the Philippines were accepting Jews – and people wrote in droves, many more than could be accepted.

SKW: So how were the selections made? I would imagine they wanted one or two of every profession, like Noah’s ark. A doctor, a baker, etc.

BS:     A little bit. A little bit. Quezon, the Frieders, and the Jewish community came up with lists of jobs that were either lacking in the Philippines or they needed more of. And those job positions got priority. One job position that was listed was a rabbi – single and over 40 years old.

SKW: That was fundamental!

BS:     So they did recruit a rabbi, for sure. The film fictionalizes the decision making process a bit. Quezon was not personally invested in choosing them. There was a Jewish committee that went through the dossiers and picked names, and then it was cleared by Quezon, or by Quezon’s office, and then sent to the State Department for approval. Paul McNutt did work very hard to get those visas approved. And he got them!

SKW: McNutt was obviously instrumental in the process.

BS:     The State Department didn’t like it, but the Philippines was a colony and it wasn’t the continental United States. So they didn’t press down too hard, but McNutt certainly did buck the State Department. And without him, it wouldn’t have happened. He left in ’39 to go back to the United States and run for president. The high commissioner that succeeded him was not as dedicated to the program as McNutt, and it started to fall apart. Each one of those players – Quezon, McNutt, and the Frieders were all crucial to making this process happen and those relationships were built over those poker games.

SKW: Truly a high-stakes poker game! Eisenhower played an important role – as sort of an intermediary.

BS:     Right. We talk about Eisenhower in our film, as they did in their film. And Eisenhower was a very good person. What I know about Eisenhower, is….he’s another hero. We know historically that the Frieders offered him a job in ’39 when he was going to leave the Philippines and go back to the United States. They offered him a job to manage the larger refugee influx that was planned for the island of Mindanao.

SKW: Obviously he turned it down. He went on to bigger and better things.

BS:     Right. Exactly!

SKW: So it must be a wonderful feeling to know that your ancestors had a part in saving so many lives.

BS:     It’s an unbelievable feeling. It is, and it’s big shoes to fill.

SKW: So you’re doing your part, bringing the story to people who would not know about it otherwise, and hopefully set the stage for others.

BS:     Right.

SKW: Well, I really appreciate your time today, Barbara. This was fascinating and I hope the film does well. We will do everything we can to get the word out.

BS:     Well, thank you very much. I want as many people as possible to see “Quezon’s Game.”

SKW: And I think many will want to see “Rescue in the Philippines” as well.

The website again is?

BS: As long as you spell the word, Philippines correct, you’re good!

SKW: I will double-check that for sure.

We both laugh.

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‘Quezon’s Game’: a high-stakes poker game

‘Quezon’s Game’: a high-stakes poker game

Posted on 31 January 2020 by admin

Photo: Courtesy of ABS-CBN Film
At the side of Filipino President Manuel L. Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) throughout the delicate rescue operation was ambitious U.S. Army Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower (David Bianco), serving as head of the U.S. military mission in the Philippines.

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

When I mention the name Oskar Schindler, you instantly think of the man immortalized by Steven Spielberg in “Schindler’s List.” But when I speak of Filipino President Manuel L. Quezon, all I get are blank stares. That’s about to change.
Although the story has been primarily forgotten, “Quezon’s Game” is the true account of what transpired when good and righteous men and women stood up for what was right. When many countries (including the U.S.) turned a deaf ear to the plight of the Jews seeking to flee Nazi Germany, the president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines Manuel L. Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) was listening.
At the Malacañang Palace in Manila, a world away from the political upheaval in Europe, four men were playing poker and smoking up a storm. The group consisted of the Filipino president; U.S. Army Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower (David Bianco), who at the time was chief aide to General Douglas MacArthur; U.S. High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt (James Paolelli); and Jewish businessman Alex Frieder (Billy Ray Gallion). Frieder (a cigar manufacturer originally from Cincinnati) urged his friends to facilitate a rescue of persecuted Jews and provide a sanctuary for them in the Philippines. An ambitious plan was devised which proposed saving 10,000+ Jewish families and resettling them on Mindanao, a sparsely populated island in the Philippines. There were vocal critics of the proposal (both in the U.S. and the Philippines), in addition to the numerous obstacles: securing visas, exit permits and travel clearances. But despite the enormous hurdles that needed to be addressed, and hampered by health issues, Quezon persevered. Eventually, more than 1,300 Jews were rescued. In an emotionally charged scene, Quezon’s wife, Aurora (Rachel Alejandro), and daughter, Baby (Kate Alejandrino), welcome the refugees upon arrival. Unfortunately, the operation was terminated when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941. Three years later, while watching newsreels about the war, Quezon turns to his wife and laments, “Could I have done more?” This is a very similar sentiment echoed by Oskar Schindler.
According to the press notes, “Quezon’s Game,” which was directed by British national (and current Filipino resident) Matthew Rosen in his directorial feature film debut along with his Filipino wife, Lorena “Lori” Rosen (who co-produced the film), heard the little-known story of the film from members of the Jewish Association of the Philippines. They knew immediately that this exceptional story needed to be communicated to a wider audience.
Commented Rosen, “I am a Jew who grew up in England and have experienced bigotry, but after 37 years in the Philippines, to this day, I have never come across prejudice, dislike or distrust because I am white or Jewish. … This was truly a passion project for me. The story behind ‘Quezon’s Game’ remains a reflection of the Filipino people today, a warm and welcoming culture.”
He continues, “In a time of war, when the rest of the world was in despair and apathetic, the Filipino people — who were suffering their own hardships — shed a light on justice and morality to lead others. Quezon fought a lonely battle for what was right up until his untimely death. The message of this amazing story, which was largely forgotten, is more important than ever in today’s growing climate of intolerance — and my wife, Lori, and I wanted to tell it. It’s my ‘thank you’ to the Philippines.”
Listen for two songs which are featured in the film, composed by concentration camp prisoners. They are titled, “Why Does the White Man Sit in the Front of the Bus?” by Karel Švenk and “Wino,” a tango by Z. Stryjecki, performed by Madrid’s In Memoriam Orchestra. Švenk was interned at Theresienstadt and his musical compositions were smuggled out of Terezín by George Horner, a member of Švenk’s band. Permission was granted to use the music by the Terezín Music Foundation (TMF), a nonprofit entity dedicated to honoring the musical legacy of the artists imprisoned at the camp.
Švenk was eventually sent to Auschwitz and later died on a subsequent transport to Mauthausen. Little is known about the writer of the tango, who also perished in the Holocaust. His or her manuscripts — now housed in a Polish museum — were found with just a first name initial and last name.
If I have one criticism of the film, it is with the overall hue — a sepia tone that’s cast over the film. It bestows a very old-fashioned pallor. Perhaps this was the intention of the filmmaker? Some heavy-handed dialogue, coupled with the overly generous display of cigar smoke, distract a bissel. But since this is a fictionalized version of the story and we weren’t there, who is to say that it’s not an accurate depiction of the times? None of this should deter you from seeing this inspiring film. It’s such a timely message, especially when just days ago, Jan. 27, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. If you stay for the credits (and I suggest you do), you’ll have a chance to read more about the special bonds between Israeli and the country that cast the deciding U.N. vote in favor of Israeli statehood.
Through the generosity of the film’s production company, ABS-CBN Film Productions, a Texas audience was treated to a sneak peek before the local opening of the film. The evening was attended by members of 3 Stars Jewish Cinema, local Filipino community leaders, the press and the Houston-based heads of the Community Management and Business Development team.

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Abbott’s no-refugee stance irks advocates

Posted on 31 January 2020 by admin

By James Russell
Special to the TJP

Faith leaders nationwide expressed dismay at Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to deny resettlement for new refugees earlier this month. Abbott, a Republican, said in his letter to the Trump administration that Texas has already taken in more refugees than most other states and the influx of immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border seeking asylum is burdensome on the state.
In 2016, Abbott sued the federal government to prevent the resettling of Syrian refugees with potential terroristic ties. The lawsuit was dismissed. He withdrew from the federal resettlement program.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as the Pew Research Center, nearly 84,000 people have resettled in the state since 2002. Texas is second only to California in this time period. Refugees, as defined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, do not live in the United States, are of special humanitarian concern, able to demonstrate they were persecuted or feel persecuted due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group and have not already settled elsewhere. In contrast, asylum seekers are already in the country and seeking legal status.
The process for both is extensive, lasting between 18 months and three years.
The governor’s decision was in response to a Sept. 26 executive order by the Trump administration requiring refugee agencies to receive permission from states and municipalities before resettling them. Democratic and Republican governors of 42 states have opted in.
A federal judge halted the order Jan. 15 after Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and HIAS, a global refugee resettlement nonprofit with Jewish roots, filed suit in November.
The ruling may have muted Abbott’s move, but it still rattled local, state and national leaders who work with refugees.
In Austin, on Sunday, Feb. 2, HIAS and two dozen other organizations are convening an assembly of speakers calling for more advocacy for refugees.
“The event is a call to action featuring a number of speakers who pivot the crowd toward action at the conclusion,” said Isabel Burton, HIAS’s senior director of community engagement initiatives. The Austin Jews for Refugees Assembly will be the organization’s sixth gathering.
Last week, The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum issued a joint statement with Holocaust Museum Houston denouncing the decision and emphasizing the Jewish imperative for accepting refugees.
“Just as we continue to express our deep concern over the resurgence of virulent antisemitism by reminding people of the connections to the history of the Holocaust, so too, we disagree with turning our backs on refugees arriving on our shores after suffering the ravages of war and religious tyranny,” the statement reads.
Nationally, Mark Hetfield, the president and CEO of HIAS, blasted Abbott.
“He’s doing a disservice to Texas by conflating refugees with asylum seekers with undocumented immigrants,” he said. “The biggest barrier for refugee advocates is getting the facts out there. With Abbott’s decision, refugee advocates now have another barrier to a popular governor who is leading with fear, not facts.”
Abbott’s move also clearly aligns the governor with President Trump. Both have made restricting undocumented immigration and border security key planks of their administrations.
Trump already slashed the number of refugees welcome in the country from 30,000 to 18,000 in 2020. Asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants are not refugees. But conflating them is politically expedient.
“It’s another way to indicate you’re turning off the switch, but you’re doing that to the most vulnerable,” Hetfield said.
Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum Chairman and HIAS Board Member Frank Risch was puzzled by the decision as well. The governor has been a passionate advocate for Holocaust education and genocide awareness. Abbott spoke at the museum’s September opening, calling it “a reminder of the evil that can exist in the world and it stands as a memorial to those who lost their lives, so that their memory will never fade.”
While the governor has been strident on matters of the southern borders, said Risch, “what we are talking about here are people who have been deeply vetted by the Department of Homeland Security, people with deep suffering. Texas of all places has a burgeoning economy and need for labor.”
Refugees are a net positive for Texas and the country, according to two reports.
The National Immigration Forum’s 2018 report “Immigrants as Economic Contributors: Refugees Are a Fiscal Success Story for America” noted they have a higher likelihood of being entrepreneurs than the rest of the population and have filled key positions in the workforce, including in the manufacturing and health care sectors.
A report issued in 2019 by New American Economy noted refugees resettled in Texas combined for more than $6 billion in household income and paid about $1.6 billion in taxes in 2015.
Abbott’s move also has moral implications, said Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El.
“The decision was disastrous. It goes against very core Jewish values and history. We have a clear history of admitting refugees and as refugees,” he said, noting the Torah emphasizes welcoming the stranger. “This is simply another way to say, ‘not in my backyard!’”
He also questioned why Abbott made a statement in the first place. The deadline for governors to respond was Jan. 21. “If you opt out, you don’t have to say a word. By making an an anti-refugee statement, he’s fostering an anti-refugee sentiment.”
Stern said the ruling was fortuitous, coming within a month of the yahrzeit of Holocaust survivor Katherine Bauer and the day after Temple Emanu-El and the Jewish community mourned the death of Jack Repp, another Holocaust survivor.
“They’re two engines of Jewish life who wouldn’t have arrived here because of Abbott’s decision,” Stern said.

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

Photo: Joel Schwitzer
Governor Abbott, AJC Dallas Regional Director Joel Schwitzer and members of the Texas Diplomatic Corps.

Gov. Abbott mentions Commission on Anti-Semitism, Holocaust Education Week and adopting international definition of anti-Semitism

Addressing AJC’s international Holocaust observance in Austin, Governor Greg Abbott cited the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the need to educate today’s generation.
He addressed the consular corps of Texas, AJC Dallas and AJC Houston boards and the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission in the State Capitol 72 hours after returning from an overseas visit to Israel and Switzerland.
“The world must never forget the pain, the suffering endured by the Jewish people, nor the wickedness and savagery imposed upon them,” he said.
In announcing Holocaust Education Week for all public schools in Texas, the Governor said with the rise of anti-Semitic attacks he will be creating a Texas Commission on combating and monitoring anti-Semitism.
“We share in the blessings of liberty, we share in the burden of vigilance,” he said.
“And we will never forget the stories of strength and perseverance of those who did make it out alive,” Abbott added.
Abbott spoke about another task for the Texas Legislature. He said he will ask state lawmakers to adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism in the next legislative session.
AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs Rabbi Andrew Baker assisted in drafting the definition for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It defines anti-Semitism as:
“ … A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The working definition provides a description of the multifaceted hatred of Jews, conspiracy theories, and Holocaust denial, and offers examples of anti-Semitism as it relates to Israel, noting that anti-Zionism is frequently a mask for anti-Semitism and Jewish communities are often targets of anti-Israel animus. The definition is an important tool for police, prosecutors and judges and for monitors and data collectors.
With 42 consuls general representing every region of the globe, he spoke of his recent visit to Yad Vashem in Israel. Governor Abbott said, “Texas will always stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
In introducing Governor Abbott, Randy Czarlinsky, AJC Houston regional director, emphasized his work with AJC and the Jewish community on a number of domestic and international issues. including anti-BDS legislation, hate crimes, trade between Texas and Israel, combating human trafficking and recognizing the impact on the Texas economy and jobs for Texans resulting from U.S. foreign aid to Israel and around the world.
He added that 20 countries have adopted the international working definition of anti-Semitism.
Following the Governor’s remarks and announcements, Fred Zeidman, former chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and current board member, thanked Governor Abbott for his strong relationship with the State of Israel and the Texas Jewish community. He thanked the governor for his three initiatives.
Zeidman congratulated the governor on receiving the “Friends of Zion Award” during his visit to Jerusalem last week.
Following Zeidman were the dean of the consular corps, Argentine Consul General Gabriel Volpi and Lynne Aronoff, chair, Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.
Volpi thanked Governor Abbott for having the consular corps attend the remembrance observance and his commitment for educating the next generation.
Aronoff, thanking the governor for declaring this week Holocaust Education Week, outlined the purpose of the Commission, which was established to ensure that resources are available to students, educators, and the general public regarding the Holocaust and other genocides.
“It is a desire of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission to forge a relationship with interested parties to coordinate or modify courses of study and awareness programs, and coordinate commemorative events,” Aronoff added.
Abbott presented the signed Holocaust Education Week Act documents to Aronoff and Czarlinsky as representatives of the Commission and AJC in recognition of their efforts to enhance Holocaust education and fight anti-Semitism.

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Grady Raskin scores as president of Dallas Renegades

Grady Raskin scores as president of Dallas Renegades

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

The XFL’s Dallas Renegades team president Grady Raskin and Head Coach Bob Stoops helped unveil the team’s new logo during a press conference August 21, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Ian Halperin/XFL

Homegrown Raskin excited for XFL launch

By Deb Silverthorn
When the Dallas Renegades take the field at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, at Globe Life Park in Arlington, against the St. Louis BattleHawks, the teams will be part of the opening weekend kickoff of the XFL season. At the helm for Dallas is team president, Grady Raskin.
“There are 87 million avid football fans in the United States and many of them want more,” said Raskin, excited about the upcoming opener. “The XFL and Dallas Renegades are here to give it to them and I’m proud to lead the organization that will provide fans with more action and less down time, or as we like to say — less stall and more ball.”
The son of Sandy and Dr. Philip Raskin and brother of Robbin, Raskin is a graduate of Greenhill School and George Washington University, where he earned a degree in sports management. Raised at Congregation Beth Torah, and now a member of Temple Emanu-El, Raskin spent his teen years with BBYO’s Brandeis chapter, and as an adult connected to the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Young Adult Division.
“Grady is one part of this great big wheel. We’re excited for and proud of him and we’ll be there rooting him and the team on to victory,” said Raskin’s father, forever a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but one more so of his children and grandchildren. “Our kid is smart and he’s a great businessman and he’s a super son, husband and dad — he’s got it all and we’re as impressed as can be.”
Raskin and his wife, the former Allyson Edelstein, are the parents of Mya and Myles — his at-home greatest cheer squad. The whole family is excited about this new chapter.
Starting his career with an internship in minor league baseball, and with the 1996 Olympics, Raskin served as director of advertising sales for the Texas Rangers, Dallas Stars, Mesquite Rodeo and American Airlines Center, vice president of business development for the Rangers and Stars and most recently as the Stars’ vice president of corporate partnerships.
“I’ve been blessed in a transient business to work my dream in my hometown and this opportunity allows me to continue that,” said Raskin. “The Metroplex loves football from high school, colleges and the pros. We take it very seriously and the XFL and the Dallas Renegades, with our head coach, Bob Stoops, are going to fill some of the months that were previously ‘quiet’ on football fields.”
“Quiet” no more, the league is divided into the XFL East (DC Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis BattleHawks, Tampa Bay Vipers) and the XFL West (Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, LA Wildcats, Seattle Dragons). Live broadcast coverage will be spread between FOX, FS1, ABC and ESPN.
The team’s Globe Life Park has been reconfigured from its Texas Rangers setup. In partnership with the City of Arlington, the transformation included pulling 18 rows from the former third base side and adding seating to what used to be left field to create the football venue.
“Starting here with the Rangers in 1996, I have so many memories of this park,” said Raskin. “Rather than taking it down, we chose to continue its legacy and that means games, memories, friends and families coming together right here. It’s very exciting.”
The Renegades family fun will include a spirit crew, high school area bands, and affordable pricing. Season ticket packages begin at $100 per seat and single-game tickets starting at $24.
“The Renegades’ experience is tailgating, entertainment and football from a whole new perspective,” Raskin said. “Our fans are cowboys and businesspeople, we’re culture and country, we’re motorcycles and high heels. The Renegades represent the broad spectrum that is North Texas and we’re here to welcome the community for a good time and some winning football.”
For Dallas Renegades ticket information, visit

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Beyond the Walls: Downtown Dallas serves as students’ classroom

Beyond the Walls: Downtown Dallas serves as students’ classroom

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

Photo: John Allender
CityLab High School Co-founder Peter Goldstein and his 10th grade students with the “Founders Gate” at the Marilla Street Activation Project in downtown Dallas. The Founders Gate was designed and built by CityLab students when the school opened in 2017.

By Avery Cooper
Downtown Dallas is the classroom for just a little over 200 students at CityLab High School, located in the heart of the city center.
The Dallas Independent School District CHOICE School, in its third year of operation, focuses not only on architecture, environmental science and urban planning, but also it prepares future community leaders interested in making a difference.
“They’re kids that are very active in the community, very involved in the community,” Principal Lynn Smith said. “Really, they’re kids that want to make a difference in the world. We talk about that a lot, especially in urban areas which need our support.”
Smith, in her second year leading the school, said her hope for students is for them to be prepared for life’s next steps and continue their work as leaders as urban areas grow.
The school, “open concept” without traditional classrooms, gives students a chance to be involved in real-world decisions current Dallas city leaders face. The teens will have the opportunity to work with industry experts who are designing Harold Simmons Park, set to be the “biggest urban park in the nation.”
“Our students are working directly with the Trinity River Conservancy to talk about activating areas where people can have entrance into the park, into the Trinity River,” Smith said. “We’re kind of excited, we’re kind of becoming the ‘think-tank’ for students in this area.”
Smith said parents send their kids to CityLab to have a different educational experience by learning through projects, not just sitting in rows.
CityLab has doubled its student population since opening, but the plan for the concept has been in the works for decades.
“This conversation has been going on a long time,” said CityLab co-founder and architecture instructor, Peter Goldstein.
Goldstein said the idea was to use the city as a classroom and take learning beyond the walls of the school and work with industry professionals to enhance students learning.
“One of the ways we’re cutting edge, and part of our objectives with CHOICE schools is to be the learning lab for the district, where we can try out new ideas to engage students,” Goldstein said.
From working alongside New York City planners to data research and roof gardens with the Texas Trees Foundation to help alleviate the heat island, Goldstein said CityLab students are learning to look at the world with multiple lenses.
“What gets me excited is seeing students engage with the city at this level,” he said. “We had this meeting where our kids were sitting at a table with traffic engineers, architects, urban planners and nonprofits where their ideas are being sought out and see them come to fruition. I think that’s what makes CityLab truly unique.”
Goldstein said he knows all the students won’t go on to be architects or urban planners, but the goal is for them to be creative problem solvers.
“No matter what profession they go into, our goal is for them to be engaged and informed about the community and promote inclusivity,” he said. “We want our students to know their voice matters.”
CityLab Board Chair and District 11 Dallas City Plan Commissioner Jaynie Schultz said she hopes the school becomes a place that the community turns to when they want to connect with a student body that’s reflective of the city of Dallas.
As a leader in the Jewish community, Schultz said her own experience as one of only a few Jewish students in a large school formed her path into leadership, and she is encouraged by schools that offer diversity and promote inclusivity.
“I hope our community will embrace this incubator,” she said. “It truly is an incubator for the future of business and activism from every walk of life.”

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Celebrate Special Needs Awareness Month with JFS

Celebrate Special Needs Awareness Month with JFS

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

Photo: Lorraine Friedman
Leading Shabbat B’Yachad services are Temple Emanu-El’s Director of Learning and Innovation Rabbi Amy Ross, Institute of Southern Jewish Life Fellow Margo Wagner, song leader Ian Simpson and Associate Director of Learning and Innovation Hannah Rubin-Schlansky. The Feb. 22 Shabbat B’Yachad service is one of many programs scheduled in partnership by JFS for Special Needs Awareness Month and Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month.

Events slated throughout February

By Deb Silverthorn
Hearts flow around the world when February arrives, and locally, those hearts are expanded greatly as Jewish Family Service presents programming to honor Special Needs Awareness Month and Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. Events are planned to encourage learning, understanding, inclusion, integration and inspiration of, by and for those living with special needs and their families.
“While the special needs movement is a year-round process, February has become a focal point to highlight challenges, to build broader community awareness and to take additional steps to make our community inclusive and engaging for all,” said JFS’ Director of Special Needs Partnership and Programs Lorraine Friedman. “With our community partners,” said Friedman, “we can touch hearts and minds, furthering the mission of awareness, inclusion and empowerment.”
Events are slated across the community all month. They include:
Monday, Feb. 3, 7-9 p.m., at JFS, 5402 Arapaho Road, Dallas
With the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Center for Jewish Education, JFS presents “When Worry Takes Hold: How Teachers Can Help their Students Cope,” for teachers. JFS clinicians, Drs. Liz Ener and Jamie Smith, will speak about how stress affects learning, implementing targeted strategies and how teachers can help build their students’ emotional resilience and ultimately positively impact learning capacities. To RSVP, email
Friday, Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m., at Congregation Anshai Torah, 5501 Parker Road, Plano
Congregation Anshai Torah hosts Kabbalat Shabbat services with guest speaker, Amy Kelton. Head of upper elementary grades at Shelton School, Kelton, a licensed dyslexia and academic language therapist, will speak about “The World of Exceptionalities: How We Can Help Our Children and Adults Shine.” Dinner will follow services.
“Our world is replete with those who are ‘exceptions to the rule.’ Those exceptionalities are our responsibility and we have so much to learn,” said Anshai Torah’s Rabbi Stefan Weinberg. “We welcome Amy as we deepen our appreciation for those needing our attention, care, love and understanding, reminding ourselves how we can impact their lives and their families.”
RSVP to Congregation Anshai Torah by calling 972-473-7718 or email
Wednesday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m., at Studio Movie Grill, 1170 N. Central Expwy., Dallas
“Normie,” a documentary, follows Dallas millennial, Annemarie Carrigan, who is seeking independence and intimacy and grappling with the illusion of normal and the realities of living with Down syndrome. Carrigan and the movie’s producer, Kurt Neale, will follow the screening with a question-and-answer session. To order tickets for the “Normie” screening, email
Saturday, Feb. 22, 11 a.m., at Temple Emanu-El, 8500 Hillcrest Road, Dallas
Temple Emanu-El invites the community to Shabbat B’Yachad, a “no shush” service for all including those for whom attending traditional services might be challenging. Standing, jumping, sitting on beanbag chairs are all part of bringing more shalom into Shabbat.
“We are honored to serve all the families of our community. We want to be a part of the Jewish journey of those who have special needs and their families and help them find their connection to God and this incredible community we share,” said Rabbi Amy Ross, Temple Emanu-El’s director of Learning and Innovation, who oversees Youth Learning + Engagement. “We invite everyone in our community to come and pray with us, come and sing with us, come and be a part of community without any of the concerns that might keep them away from a typical service. Together we find joy, and that is something everyone can share in.”
Sunday, Feb. 23, 3-4:30 p.m., at Shearith Israel, 9401 Douglas Ave., Dallas
The Celebration for ALL Abilities is an afternoon of activities including arts and crafts, games, dancing and bingo. The afternoon is presented by Special Needs Partnership of Jewish Family Service, Shearith Israel, Friendship Circle and Yachad. To RSVP for the Celebration for ALL Abilities, email Sarah Lipinsky at
“We are excited to once again share with our partners as we created this event to help bring Jewish people of all abilities together within the broader Dallas community to foster friendships in a welcoming, inclusive space,” said Sarah Lipinsky, Congregation Shearith Israel’s director of education. “We’re bringing back favorite activities and it is an event not to be missed.”
Tuesday, Feb. 25, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., at Temple Emanu-El, 8600 Hillcrest Road, Dallas
Parents, educators and all faith leaders are invited to JFS’ Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas (FIND) symposium. The collaboration of churches, synagogues and mosques will identify exemplary programs and create awareness, benefiting those living with special needs, within all faith communities. To register for the FIND symposium ($65 includes kosher lunch), visit
Building and creating awareness and understanding, sensitivity and inclusion and empathy and compassion, JFS’ Inclusion Experience, a hands-on, multisensory simulation, allows participants to experience realities faced by people with specific disabilities. With year-round scheduling available, BBYO International Convention goers, members of JFS’ Young Leadership Board and Temple Shalom Religious School students will participate in February.
“For more than a decade, JFS’ Special Needs Partnership has been convening Dallas institutions to drive a culture change in how we include people with special needs in our community,” said JFS’ CEO Cathy Barker. “We’re gratified that many of our schools and religious institutions have special needs resources, programs and budgets to enable us to be successful.”

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Around the Town: Denis Benjamin, Matt Nover

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

Inspired by nature: Denis Benjamin’s Images

Dr. Denis Benjamin’s professional focus, curiosity and enthusiasm have propelled him on a journey of discovery, learning and appreciation for nature’s beauty, bounty and benefits.
Whether painting landscapes, flowers and animals of his native South Africa, or following his fascination with the complex world of mushrooms, the retired physician and Beth-El member now seems equally at home in the role of both student and teacher.
Specifically, his work as a doctor and pathologist and his scientific knowledge of mushrooms led him to become an amateur mycologist: hunting, observing, studying, gathering and writing about wild mushrooms.
Trained as a physician in his native Johannesburg, South Africa, Benjamin immigrated in 1970 to the Pacific Northwest, where he completed his residency in pathology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He practiced pediatric pathology at children’s hospitals in both Seattle and Fort Worth.
His travels and mushroom foraging expeditions have served as inspiration for his paintings. Reflecting on his many decades of studying and learning about mushrooms in comparison to less than 10 years of painting, Benjamin finds truth in what a mentor told him: “Life is planned serendipity, and the planning doesn’t matter.”
The artist had never before picked up a paint brush when he joined his wife for a watercolor class at the age of 69. By chance, the instructor in the class was renowned Russian botanical artist Alexander “Sasha” Viazmensky. A course at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle followed, but Benjamin credits instruction from Viazmensky as his true inspiration.
When Benjamin asked his instructor to characterize his abilities, Viazmensky told him there are two kinds of artists: “Artists with talent and artists with courage.” When told he had courage, Benjamin admired the observation, acknowledging that he didn’t have natural ability but he was willing to work very hard and put himself out there.
Among his activities are serving as a research associate for the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) and founding the Botanical Art Collective of North Central Texas in 2017.
The mushrooms and the art have combined to lead Benjamin to authorship as well. Following his first book, “Mushrooms: Poisons and Panaceas,” viewed as a landmark book on the health effects of mushrooms, “Musings of a Mushroom Hunter: A Natural History of Foraging” has been praised for its distillation of 40 years of Benjamin’s insights, observations and anecdotes on foraging for wild mushrooms.
He is also the author of “The Compleat Physician: Reflections from a Golden Era of Clinical Medicine,” an autobiography featuring his medical education in South Africa and the United States and his career as a pediatric pathologist. This book is the featured selection to be discussed by Beth-El’s “People of the Book” reading group in May.
An exhibit of Benjamin’s work, mushrooms and otherwise, will be on display in the Temple boardroom from February through May. Displayed art will be on sale during the course of the exhibition.
— Submitted by
Arlene Reynolds

Matt Nover installed as assistant rabbi at NJ synagogue

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Matthew Nover, who has been installed as asistant rabbi and education director of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor, New Jersey. He is the son of Maureen Givant Nover and Mark Nover, and the grandson of Shirley Givant and Earl Givant z”l. Rabbi Nover was ordained as a rabbi in May 2019 by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He earned his B.A. in Jewish Studies from Rutgers University and graduate degrees in Hebrew Bible and Jewish education from JTS. Matt was born in Fort Worth, where he attended religious school at Congregation Ahavath Sholom and is a graduate of Fort Worth Country Day School. He spent summers at Camp Young Judea in Wimberley, Texas, and attended Nativ, the Conservative Movement Gap Year program in Israel. Matt and his wife Heather, branch director for METNY/Haglil Region USY, reside in East Windsor, New Jersey, with their 3-year-old daughter Jane.

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Cody Strull’s bone marrow donation inspires others

Cody Strull’s bone marrow donation inspires others

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

Photo: DKMS
Marty Turco, president of the Dallas Stars Foundation, with Cody and Max.

At their Jan. 16 game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Dallas Stars shared a video with the crowd to highlight their employee Cody Strull’s selfless act of donating his bone marrow to save a Wisconsin man and to encourage others to get tested. At the game, 295 new potential donors registered. A few days earlier, Cody and the Dallas Stars supported a recent donor drive for Harrison Marcus, a local third grader, who is a member of the Dallas Stars Youth Hockey League, recently diagnosed with AML (acute myeloid leukemia). Without a matching donor in his family, Harrison is in need of an unrelated donor. A drive was held at Harrison’s school, Parish Episcopal School, on Jan. 12 and 1,100 new potential donors registered. A virtual drive has been set up for those who missed that donor drive and would like to sign up for Harrison and others.
Cody, who is the son of Keo Strull and Brian Strull of Dallas, graduated from Richardson High School, where he played baseball. He was a member of Rubin Kaplan AZA and attends Temple Shalom. He joined the DKMS registry at a ZBT Dad’s Weekend event during his sophomore year at the University of Texas, Austin. Two years later, he received a life-changing phone call that he was a 100% match with Max Stephenson, a Wisconsin resident who was battling chronic myeloid leukemia. In July 2018, Strull donated his stem cells, saving Stephenson’s life. The two met for the first time on the DKMS Awards Breakfast stage in November, where Stephenson thanked Strull for giving him a second chance at life so he could be around for his wife, four children and seven grandchildren.
“When I was called upon to donate, I viewed the whole experience as a boxing match — Max was the one in the ring fighting cancer, getting thrown down and making punches. I was just the guy in the corner, cheering him on, keeping him hydrated and helping him so he could stand back up and continue to put up a strong fight,” said Cody Strull. “I would do it a million times over again if I could.”
To view the Dallas Stars video featuring Cody, visit
To register for the virtual bone marrow donor drive, or to help find a donor for Harrison Marcus and others, visit

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Ambassadors to Ukraine: returning to my roots

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

Growing up, I was always told by my parents how difficult it was to be a Jew in the Soviet Union. They were treated differently than their neighbors, mainly because of their religion. And at the same time, the Communist authorities refused to allow Jews to worship or have a communal life. One was both oppressed for being a Jew, and then not permitted to be one. This story was personal to me as the child of parents who had experienced Soviet persecution, and as someone who was able to grow in my Jewish identity here in America. I felt obligated to return to the former Soviet Union with BBYO, when BBYO sent a delegation to a conference of young Eastern European Jews, and prove that this generation, our generation, would be the one to embrace their Judaism.
Before I went on the Ambassadors to Ukraine, it was nearly impossible for me to comprehend that at ages 24 and 22, respectively, my parents forfeited their Soviet citizenships and embarked on a journey to a brand-new country whose language they couldn’t even speak. They had $300 in their pockets, two suitcases and a toddler in tow. Talk about a leap into the unknown. Unsure if they would ever see their families again, my parents strived to make a better life for themselves. Without their bravery, I would have never had the opportunity to be confident and active in my faith.
While on Ambassadors to Ukraine, I had the privilege of praying at Babi Yar, the site of the infamous Nazi massacre, and singing at the Podil synagogue, and lighting Shabbat candles with hundreds of Jewish teenagers just like me. Attending AJT IC (Active Jewish Teens’ International Conference), where I watched 500 Jewish teens from across the world gather in Ukraine to celebrate Judaism, was the most inspiring experience of my life (AJT is a program of the JDC and a joint venture with BBYO). I was so moved by seeing the initiative AJT teens have been taking to ignite a Jewish flame in their communities. Not only did I have an incredible time exploring Kyiv and the surrounding areas in Ukraine, I made some of my closest friends yet. If I have learned anything from AJT, it is just how resilient we are as people, always rebounding from tragedy, reinventing ourselves, rediscovering our roots, and affirming our will to remain true to our faith, community, and culture. BBYO is a lot of things: a youth organization for me as a teen, a place for me to make other friends, but it is also part of this long effort in Jewish life to preserve in each generation the fundamentals of our history and culture.
I’ve often heard that one must see something to believe it. This trip left me with experiences, knowledge, and amazing memories that will stay with me forever. And really brought home to me the enormity —the profundity — of the experience of Jews in the former Soviet Union, a story that I am part of, but which until this point, I did not fully understand. I’m so thankful to BBYO, Genesis Philanthropy Group, AJT and their partners for making this experience possible for me and my peers, and I am now confident that regardless of where I am in the world, I know I have people who will gladly greet me with open arms. We are one people, no matter the languages, borders and ages that separate us.
Alexa Gotsdiner lives in Plano. She is a junior at the Dallas International School and currently serves as the gizborit (treasurer) of Ginny Weinstein BBG. Dallas will host BBYO’s International Convention Feb. 13-17.

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