By Ben Tinsley
FORT WORTH — Barry Abels, the new executive director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County, has brought his love of Jewish culture and history to exciting new programming for the community.
“Barry has hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back,” said Todd Blumenfeld, Federation board chair. He explained that Abels has been able to incorporate what he’s learned from his past posts and incorporate what’s worked with what fits with the Tarrant County Jewish community.
“He’s a doer, and everyone that I’ve spoken to in the community has had nothing but positive things to say about him, and having worked with him pretty closely since he got here, I would say the same. He’s exactly what we needed and I feel like we are lucky to have him.” Blumenfeld added.
From superheroes on Zoom to presentations about the Jewish experience in China, Abels is pursuing diverse experiences on behalf of the community, said Carole Rogers, Psy.D., director of Jewish Family Services. “He loves Jewish culture, and he loves the history of being Jewish,” Rogers said.
One example of the creative programming is tonight at 7 p.m., when author Roy Schwartz presents: “Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero.” Find the Zoom link at tarrantfederation.org.
Another don’t-miss program is “Judaica Journeys,” a Jewish version of Antiques Roadshow, in which Judaica expert Arthur Feldman, owner of his eponymous gallery in Chicago, will be on hand at Ahavath Shalom Congregation at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, to discuss Jewish ritual items and Jewish artwork and provide requested background.
“He (Feldman) will be able to provide background information about the artist or manufacturer, country of origin and, if desired, an unofficial appraisal of the item,” Abels said.
The enhanced Federation programming also includes an upgrade to the PJ Library, with live and virtual opportunities to engage families around the books they receive, Abels said.
“This type of programming is not new to some communities, but until this past spring, we had not implemented any.”
Abels said with the help of Cindy Simon, who is coordinating the effort, the Federation has launched regular programming. He is also working with area religious schools to integrate PJ Library books and activities into the classroom.
“At Pesach, we did a virtual story reading about the holiday and after, children made their own Seder plate,” Abels said. “Just prior to Sukkot, several families got together at Oakmont Park for a picnic, story reading and a craft activity, making an edible sukkah.
“We will be continuing this program for the foreseeable future,” the executive director said of the PJ Library.
Meanwhile, the Federation has begun the process of establishing a new social networking effort for young adults, spearheaded by members of the community. “We are currently crafting our working parameters, mission statement, and identifying who all fits into this cohort,” he said, “We are also planning a number of networking events to get friends together and introduce others for the first time. Expect to see more on this project over the next two or three months.”
The Federation is now providing a tzedakah box to all bar and bat mitzvah celebrants, that is presented to them alongside other gifts during their ceremonies, Abels said.
Other programs and events on the horizon for 2022:
Robyn Helzner will present “Kreplach & Dim Sum: Yes, There Are Jews in China” on Feb. 26 and a concert titled “Celebrate with the Robyn Helzner Trio: A Concert of World Jewish Music,” both at Congregation Beth-El.
In early April, the Federation anticipates partnering with Texas Christian University for several programs related to Holocaust education.
Tim Lorsch will bring in his one-man show, “The Suitcase,” on April 27 in observance of Yom HaShoah.
For more information, visit tarrantfederation.org.