I wanted to take this opportunity to share my tremendous joy with you, as myself and all those involved in DATA, the Dallas Area Torah Association, celebrate our 25th year!
This coming Monday night, Dec. 11, will be a Gala Celebration of 25 Years of Impact at the beautiful Plano Event Center. The event will feature a moving talk by the much sought-after speaker Charlie Harary of New York. It will be crowned by a performance by the renowned composer and concert pianist Baruch Levine, who has composed an inspiring new piece in honor of this event.
I have no words to accurately express to you how rewarding the past quarter of a century of learning, teaching and engaging with the Dallas Jewish community has been. The rabbis and rebbetzins of DATA have had the honor and good fortune to have met, studied with, and become lifelong friends and confidants of thousands of amazing people. We have been together in classes, Shabbatons, programs, lunch and learns, Israel trips, and at our Shabbat tables in our homes. The Jews of Dallas are sincere, intelligent, engaging and thirsty for knowledge and connection, and it has been such a blessing to have been involved in that process. It has been such a distinction to have had the merit to impart to them the timeless wisdom of the Torah and its teachings, enhancing their and our lives, relationships and connection to our heritage. Twenty-five years of guiding young, budding scholars through a top-level rabbinical ordination program, which has seen more than 40 rabbis achieve an esteemed ordination in Dallas!
It was on a Saturday night, motzai Shabbat, in my beloved Jerusalem. We were outside the synagogue reciting the beautiful “blessing of the new moon,” when I contemplated where I had arrived — from my childhood in Indianapolis, Indiana, to the top of the world! Jerusalem! Surrounded by sages and holiness! My children in the best cheder, school for children…am I crazy?! Tomorrow morning I’m going to leave all this to get on a plane for a pilot trip to some distant place called Dallas, Texas?! Am I really going to do this?!
Then my thoughts shifted to what I knew firsthand, growing up in a non-observant household, seeing so many of my friends and family become assimilated, with complete apathy, completely lost to the Jewish people. I knew well and had experienced the terrible numbers of Jews being lost, some 100,000 a year, causing one sage and Holocaust survivor, Rav Shimon Schwab ob’’m, to proclaim the Silent Holocaust occurring in America.
I thought to myself, it’s so easy to stand here, surrounded by sages, and feel safe when — in fact — back in America the house is burning down! If there’s anything that can be done to at least put out part of that fire, how can we stand back and watch the house burn when we may, perhaps, have the ability to pull someone out of the fire?!
That’s the thought that got me onto the plane.
And that’s what the amazing rabbis and rebbetzins (whom it has been my distinct honor and privilege to work with and be surrounded by) have done over all these years. They have connected so many back to their heritage and roots, providing Jewish wisdom and pride, keeping them in the fold.
At our first DATA retreat there was a South African young man who came kicking and screaming (invited by Dr. Sol Lurie ob’’m and his wonderful wife Ruth, who chaired that retreat). This young man was known as “the skeptic,” and only agreed to come because he would “show those rabbis a thing or two.”
At the end of the retreat he got up and spoke, admitting why he had come. But, he exclaimed, after the beauty of what he saw and heard, in a way he’d never experienced before, for the first time in his life he was truly proud to be part of his people and its heritage and wanted to remain part of it. He concluded, with much emotion and tears in his eyes, “I’m not ready to give up shrimp and may never be, but from now on I’m only dating Jewish girls.”
That story, and so many more like it, is what we came for; that’s why these 25 years have been so rewarding!
I express my appreciation from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have learned with us, supported us and been there for us. We look forward to the next 25 years with all y’all, and really hope you will join us in celebrating this milestone celebration of impact; it’s not too late! Just go onto dallastorah.org and press “reserve my seat.” I look forward to greeting you there! Mazal tov!