By Deb Silverthorn
As the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA) turns 30 this year, its rabbis and leadership celebrate thousands of students, hundreds of programs and, most importantly, the third generation of supporters.
DATA’s mission is to provide engaging and thought-provoking learning experiences, in a warm and inviting atmosphere, with its rabbis and rebbetzins dedicated to bringing the beauty, depth and joy of Judaism to Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations.
“We came to provide opportunities for people who wanted to learn Torah and that’s what we do,” said Rosh HaKollel Dean Yerachmiel Fried. “A few, then hundreds, now thousands over the years have come and connected to their heritage — our heritage — becoming a core of our vibrant Torah community.”
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Fried attended yeshiva in Chicago and planned to study medicine but changed his career path and moved to Israel for 16 years. He moved to Dallas in 1992 and founded DATA.
“I’m still teaching, and every day I am still learning,” Fried said. “You can never be ‘done’ learning and, with all that has come to us in these 30 years now, the next generation of learning is here.”
Fried has published five books and is now working on his sixth and seventh, a two-volume encyclopedia of Jewish thought and practice which is a compilation of columns published in the Texas Jewish Post and a new commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law.
With Rabbi Fried came three couples: Rabbi Aryeh (of Congregation Ohr HaTorah) and Chaya Feigenbaum; Rabbi Bentzi and Batya Epstein, he now director of DATA; and Rabbi Sholey and Chana Klein, he for 25 years the kashrus administrator at Dallas Kosher.
DATA’s flagship branch on Forest Lane is run by Fried and his wife, Marcy; Director Epstein; Rabbi Yehuda and Esti Abrams; DATA and Dallas Kollel CEO Rabbi Shaya and Shani Fox; and Rabbi Binyomin and Kayla Epstein. The organization has added the Jewish Learning Center of Far North Dallas, led by Rabbi Shlomo and Hudi Abrams; DATA of Plano, headed by Rabbi Nasanya and Devorah Zakon, Rabbi Yogi and Shifra Robkin and Rabbi Eli and Tova Nissel; its Young Jewish Couples branch and DATA of Richardson, both directed by Rabbi Moshe and Rivy Segal and Rabbi Avi and Ariella Honigsfeld.
DATA provides one-on-one learning, group learning, retreats, Torah portion and Talmud classes and Shabbat learners’ services. In the past 18 months, the organization has welcomed nine new rabbis and rebbetzins.
“Our goal is to help every Jew, wherever they are in their journey, to come closer to Hashem,” said Dallas Kollel CEO Fox. “Now, with 20 rabbis on staff, we can better reach Jews throughout the community.”
Rabbi Tzvi Rosenshein, the rosh kollel of the Dallas Kollel branch of DATA, moved to Dallas with his wife Miriam and family in 2020 and withstood pandemic challenges.
“There were lots of telephone conversations, meetings held where we sat at least six feet apart, outdoor meetings in the heat and cold,” Rosenshein said. “Still, we ended up with a wonderful team and we are all happy to be here.”
Working with Rabbi Rosenshein are Rabbi Ahron and Esti Gewirtzman; Rabbi Nosson Tzvi and Shana Mittel; Rabbi Daniel and Rochel Leah Taitel; Rabbi Yehuda and Shevi Stern; and Rabbi Chaim and Maidy Zakutinsky. The rabbis learn on their own by day, then lead Torah study in individual or small groups into the evenings.
Most of DATA’s Dallas Kollel Division classes and programs are held at Congregation Ohr HaTorah. Most programs are now in-person, some outdoors and others indoors and socially distanced, while some classes are offered online.
“Learning is the lifeline for us as Jews to connect to Hashem. Prayer allows us to speak to Him and studying guides us to know what to do as Jews, how to live as Jews,” said Rosenshein, who came to Dallas after many years in Lakewood, New Jersey. “Through DATA, we are creating a positive vibe in everything we do to impart that, at every stage of life, it is important to find ourselves closer to G-d.”
In 2021, DATA launched an Israeli division led by Rabbi Yitzchok and Tehilla Chazan; tapped Rabbi Dan and Jordana Kirschenbaum, who are expanding family outreach programming; and brought in Rabbi Jak and Yaffa Rubin to lead the Olami division geared toward young professionals.
Chazan, who moved to Dallas from his native Jerusalem, is the son of teachers long committed to outreach work and describes that as his calling too. He is focused on creating activities, social events, Shabbat dinners and more to connect Israelis in the D-FW area to Judaism in a deeper way.
“I never realized how many Israeli families there were here, giving so much potential to create a very successful program,” said Chazan. “All Israelis should come get involved and reach out to us as we hope they will become involved and give our fun and engaging Israeli style programs a try.”
The Kirschenbaum family’s outreach programs, run in connection with DATA of Plano, include classes, events, holiday and other programming.
“We’re here for family kiruv or networking, be it socially or spiritually, and even making professional connections. We want to help people build a structure of Jewish understanding in their lives,” said Kirschenbaum, who moved to Plano in 2021 from the Jerusalem Kollel. “Some programs are in smaller intimate settings and others will allow us to include bigger groups.”
In December they launched “Coffee Break,” study sessions on Tuesdays at the Kirschenbaums’ home for those who work from home or who have flexibility in their daytime schedules. This month, they are planning to launch Mussar Mondays, evening classes of Jewish ethics, values and more, as well as a Positivity Challenge, both of those for men and women.
And Jak and Yaffa Rubin will connect with young professionals, primarily singles from their mid-20s to mid-30s, by hosting weekly Shabbat dinners, monthly Kabbalat Shabbat celebrations and many other classes and programs. Their hope is to engage young people, introduce them socially and professionally and help them define Judaism in their own lives.
“Joining our Young Professionals division with Olami, which has 150 affiliate groups in Israel and Latin America, our resources and funding are heightened,” said Rubin, who was born in South Africa and who moved to the United States when he was 11. He and his family moved to Dallas last summer after five years in Austin with Jewish Learning Fellowship Texas. “We’re here for young people who have finished college, before they begin their own families, to help them realize what role Judaism plays for them and how they will integrate religion into their lives.”
Throughout DATA’s branches, its rebbetzins facilitate and lead learning opportunities and become friends with those in the community.
“The Torah is our inheritance, and every Jew should know what is in it. We want to share how to make Torah practical, how to accept it into whatever is each person’s journey,” said Rebbetzin Marcy Fried, who every Wednesday at 1 p.m. teaches the “Renew, Refresh, Reignite Your Judaism” class for women, in person and on Zoom, open to the community.
“We are bringing authentic Torah education and making it accessible. There are so many opportunities to learn, but ladies studying with ladies is a special time, a beautiful connection and, throughout the community, there are many opportunities for all of us to grow,” she said.
As he reflects on the past 30 years of serving the Jewish community, Director Epstein said that DATA’s horizon is wide.
“Thirty years ago, I thought we’d come, teach Torah and help the community grow and we’ve done just that. We’ve given and we’ve received so much in return,” said Epstein, who leads “Breakneck Through the Bible” courses in person and online. In 1992, the couple had signed a year’s lease in Lakewood, New Jersey, when Fried invited them to join him in Dallas.
“The number of Jews in the area has about doubled, now 70,000, and there’s so many more to teach and to grow in our Judaism with,” said Epstein. “In these past almost two years, when so much of the world stopped, we’ve grown, we’ve continued and we’ve brought Torah, learning and faith to new heights.”
For details and information, or to be directed to any of DATA’s divisions, email email@example.com or call 214-987-3282