Keynote speaker, new rabbi, mission to Western Galilee
Photo: Department of Biomedical Engineering UT Austin Avi Wolfson addresses new graduates of the UT School of Biomedical Engineering, May 22.

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Avi Wolfson keynotes UT Austin School of Biomedical Engineering May 22 graduation ceremony

Dallas’ own Avi Wolfson, son of Kerrie and Dr. Steven Wolfson, keynoted the May 22 graduation ceremony for biomedical engineering graduates at UT Austin.
Wolfson graduated from Akiba Academy in Dallas. From there he attended Dallas ISD School of Science and Engineering at Townview, then UT Austin, where he double majored in Plan 2 Humanities as well as biomedical engineering.
After that he earned his Master’s at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston. He currently works for GE Healthcare and lives in London.
An added mazal tov to Avi and his new bride Ruth, who were married April 12.
The couple met at MIT as grad students.

Dallasite Rabbi Wendi Geffen assumes leadership of prominent Glencoe synagogue

Rabbi Wendi Geffen, 40, will become the ninth senior rabbi in the 95-year history of North Shore Congregation Israel. Geffen, who is originally from Dallas, has served the prominent Reform synagogue in Glencoe, Illinois, since her rabbinic ordination in 2002. She is the daughter of Joanie S. Geffen and Arthur Geffen, both of Dallas.
Geffen was selected to head the congregation of 1,350 families after a yearlong nationwide search. The congregation’s choice follows a trend among Reform synagogues across the country that are seeking to strengthen their reach in and more fully engage the communities they serve.
Geffen will lead one of the largest congregations in the Chicago area. She is one of only five young female rabbis nationwide to head synagogues with memberships that exceed 1,000 families.
“Today’s synagogue must be recognized as a living, dynamic, networked organization,” Geffen said. “When we redesign what the ‘walls’ of the synagogue look and feel like, people will gain a powerful sense of connection in an expansive yet intimate way.”
Along with being a spiritual leader, Geffen will administer a nonprofit organization with a multimillion-dollar budget. She acknowledged the challenge to develop funding sources beyond membership dues “so that membership manifests itself not through an annual invoice but through a deep sense of pride and demonstrated philanthropic giving.”
Although Geffen began her duties July I, the synagogue has planned a weekend of ceremonies, lectures and festivities to mark the occasion.
Geffen’s formal installation will take place Friday, Aug. 28, during Friday evening services at the synagogue. The guest speaker that evening will be Rabbi David Stern, senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-EI in Dallas, the third largest Reform synagogue in the country and where Geffen belonged.
Rabbi Stern, an internationally known human rights advocate, was recognized as one of the most influential rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine.
On Saturday, Aug. 29, Cantor Richard Cohn will speak at a luncheon in Geffen’s honor.
Cohn is the director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, the only Reform Jewish cantorial school in North America and the nation’s first institution educating cantors. Cohn, who previously served as cantor at North Shore Congregation Israel and Temple Emanu-El, also has been a vocal soloist with the Chicago, Jerusalem, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Grant Park symphonies.
The weekend culminates Sunday, Aug. 30, with several social justice projects that highlight Geffen’s priority of service to the community, including Operation Backpack (filling backpacks for underprivileged school children) and weekend meals projects for families in need.
There also will be a performance by CircEsteem, a nonprofit organization sponsored by Cirque du Soleil, the internationally recognized theatrical entertainment group.
The weekend activities are very much in keeping with the spirit that Geffen embodies, engaging with synagogue members as well as the greater community, according to congregation President Jody Weinberg.
“Rabbi Geffen believes the Jewish tenet of ‘repairing the world’ to be a critical part of living a Jewish life. She also is dedicated to helping those interested in developing their Jewish identities fulfill their goals,” Weinberg said.
Added Geffen, “As a compelling and vibrant faith and culture, Judaism — its practices, prayer, teachings and interpretations — enables us to transform ourselves, our communities and our world from the way they are to the way they can be.
“The profound gift of serving as a rabbi enables me to share my love of Judaism and its potential in order to foster growth and understanding with the hope of changing lives for the better.”
Toward that end, Geffen said she plans to expand on the synagogue’s mission of maintaining an open, inclusive congregation that welcomes interfaith families, families with special needs, people of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds and the LGBTQI community.
“New or veteran, seeker or cynic, activist or unsure — all are welcome and invited,” Geffen said. “A necessary step for the future must include rethinking old paradigms and synagogue engagement to increase interest among demographics previously overlooked.”
With North Shore Congregation Israel embarking on a more innovative approach to connecting with members and being a resource and partner in the community, synagogue leaders say Geffen was the obvious choice.
“A visionary leader and distinguished orator and teacher, Rabbi Geffen is passionate about Judaism, Torah and the ways these ancient sources of wisdom add meaning to our lives and enable us to better our world today,” Weinberg said. Geffen and her husband, Scott Duby, are the parents of two young children.

Save the date: JFGD Partnership Mission to the Western Galilee, April 3-9, 2016

Experience what makes the Western Galilee unique.
Learn about the programs supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. We will tour the region, meet with influential leaders, and connect with Israelis from the Western Galilee who are engaged in the Partnership program.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas makes a direct impact on the day-to-day lives of Israeli citizens through a direct partnership with the Western Galilee, the northernmost part of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea, through the Partnership 2Gether program with Israel. The goal of Dallas’s Partnership program is to build strong, meaningful relationships between the Dallas Jewish community with the land, spirit, and people of the Western Galilee to ensure a safe, secure, and vibrant State of Israel.
The land cost is $3,100 for double occupancy plus airfare. Single supplement is available at $850.
The mission begins in Israel around 4 p.m. Sunday, April 3, and ends at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 9. For additional information, email Sarah Golman at 214-615-5275.
The Dallas Partnership Committee is chaired by Pam Hochster Fine, Jolene Risch, and Ron Romaner.

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