By Sharon Wisch-Ray
Everyone was all smiles as members of the Greater Dallas Jewish community gathered in the Stern Chapel at Temple Emanu-El June 7 for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ annual meeting.
Board Chair Mark Kreditor and CEO Bradley Laye addressed the room, and annual awards were given to Larry Steinberg (Helen Gross Leadership Award), Neil Beckerman (Bob Weinfeld Campaigner of the Year Award) and Brett Lazarus (I. Zesmer Young Leadership Award) and Sharron Laizerovich (Bess Nathan Young Leadership Award). Laizerovich and Lazarus were given unique works of art created by Dallas sculptor George Tobowlowsky.Keynote speaker Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson wrapped up the evening with a talk about divisiveness in the Jewish community regarding Israel.
Board Chair Mark Kreditor welcomed everyone and highlighted the Federation’s accomplishments — which were many — over the past year.
•Formation of the Outreach and Engagement Committee led by Ynette Hogue and Jim Tolbert, leading to an allocation for an outreach and engagement program. “This new service will directly impact and help every Jewish organization, synagogue, and partner agency by convening and connecting the newcomer to all the wonderful services our community offers. Dallas is and will continue to be a great place to live and be Jewish,” Kreditor said.
•The addition of Robert Caltabiano, a full-time security director, who is helping each Jewish organization review and enhance their security and safety plans.
•Another record campaign (which officially closes June 30) allowing for funding of 100 percent of core allocations to partner agencies of almost $5.1 million. An additional $1 million was allocated toward short- and long-term grants to various Jewish community organizations.
• A record 850 new donors to the annual campaign.
“I envision a community where every Jewish resident realizes supporting Federation through their meaningful gift is one of the greatest mitzvahs they can do for themselves and their family,” Kreditor said. “What kind of community would we have without all the good we get to do together?”
Laye echoed many of Kreditor’s remarks and acknowledged two of his Federation predecessors who were in the audience: Moe Stein, 92, and Walter Levy, who was planning to celebrate his 96th birthday in two days.
Laye, who two months earlier announced that he would step down as Federation CEO at the end of June 2019, added the community’s extraordinary response to Hurricane Harvey in Houston to the list of successes.
While the national Federation system has donated about $23 million to date to rebuild Houston’s Jewish infrastructure, the Dallas Jewish community was instrumental in providing 50,000 kosher meals over a monthlong period that included Rosh Hashanah, Shabbats and Sukkot.
Among the area businesses that were crucial toward this effort were Simcha Kosher Catering, A Taste of the World, Texas Kosher BBQ, Dallas Kosher, Stephens Transport, Chain Link Services, Jewish Family Service, The Aaron Family Jewish Community Center and a host of area synagogues.
Laye and JCC president Artie Allen transported more than 168,000 items to Houston that were collected locally and through an Amazon campaign spearheaded by the Federation’s National Young Leadership Cabinet.
“This is the power of Federation,” Laye said. “You support us, volunteer with us and bolster our Federation because, simply put, you can’t build it just for when you need it.”
Keynote speaker Artson, the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, addressed the growing concern in Jewish communities of hostility among Jews when it comes to Israel and partisan politics.
“There’s an upside and a downside to the kind of partisan passion that we are now living in. People care a lot and therefore we can’t talk to each other anymore. We can find both in our tradition as well.”
Artson outlined three areas of concern for the Jewish people:
•Trump versus Obama (not necessarily the people, but the partisan politics).
•The negative fallout for rabbis whenever they talk about Israel in public.
•Beating each other up along denominational lines, specifically among the Orthodox and non-Orthodox Judaisms and the indifferent.
Perhaps Artson’s strongest comments regarded what talking about Israel has come to for rabbis. He called it “the greatest obscenity in contemporary Jewish life.”
“The one subject rabbis can’t talk about publicly is Israel. How is it possible a generation after what is arguably the greatest miracle in 2,000 years of Jewish existence? In the shadows of the worst disaster of the past 2,000 years, the greatest slaughtering of our people, the Holocaust, is followed by the greatest miracle the ingathering of our people in our ancestral homeland, the establishment of a democratic state, and we can’t talk about it?
“A rabbi that wants to give a sermon about Israel is courting disaster, no matter what they say. And so the vast majority of rabbis, unless they are in a congregation that is uniform in their opinion, either say nothing or say very bland generalities.”
Artson suggested several solutions to the aforementioned problems. He cited the fact that there are 5,000 arguments in the Talmud and only 50 solutions. “That wasn’t an accident,” he said, “That was deliberate, because questions open us up. Answers shut us down.”
Artson explained that there is a difference between unity and uniformity.
“If we can remember that we are united with each other even though we are far from uniform, then maybe that will open the door just a crack to be able to converse about areas where that lack of uniformity.”