By Judy Tashbook Safern
Special to the TJP
She has written more than 800 articles for the Texas Jewish Post over the last 10 years, many of which are profiles of previously unsung heroes among us: the aging Holocaust survivor reunited with one who rescued him, the martial arts expert who trained himself to use the symptoms of autism as building blocks rather than stumbling blocks, the inspiring bat mitzvah girl whose passion for charity ignited a social action movement, the enterprising kosher doughnut men, and many more.
But who is behind all these stories of kindness, courage, faith, and ingenuity?
Deborah Schulman Silverthorn. Deb Silverthorn, also known as MamaTex, is a word artist who paints pictures with them. She is famous for, in addition to her Texas Jewish Post stories, 1,000-plus more upbeat articles that have appeared over the last 16 years in the Dallas Jewish Week, the Dallas Morning News, Neighbors Go, North Dallas People, Preston Hollow People, The Plano Star Courier and Good Life Family Magazine.
“Please?” I begged Deb all spring and into the summer by email, text and cellphone.
I stalked her on Facebook: “You have written such great profiles of new rabbis, community leaders, little kids, and old friends. Your articles inspire and unite our community. We all look forward to your byline each week and can’t wait to see who you’ll introduce us to next. Please let me profile you for the TJP. It’s time we learn your story!”
“Me?” She modestly demurred. She was welcoming and coordinating her mother-in-law Marie’s move to Plano. She was readying her youngest, Jonah, to enter college. She was helping her husband Eric market his company Semaphore Mobile App Development. And she was writing! Deb was very busy writing.
“How about coffee?” I bribed her with Starbucks one Sunday and we stole an hour to luxuriate in personal conversation over caffeine.
Still, it was hard to get Deb to talk about Deb. Ever the storyteller, she told me about her beloved Mommala (Barbara Schulman, registered nurse) and her dearly departed Poppie (the Los Angeles attorney J. Brin Schulman, who famously represented the estate of Groucho Marx in a high-profile lawsuit in the 1980s). She is the adoring eldest of five and kvelled over her beloved siblings — Jessica, Joshua, Dayani (of blessed memory) and Iriet — and her soon-to-be bat mitzvah niece Abby, before telling me how she met her handsome husband Eric.
“We met at the ‘happiest place on Earth,’” Deb confides, recalling the connection made by a mutual friend almost 30 years ago. Deb worked in L.A.’s KFI/KOST radio newsroom and Eric was an engineer at Houston’s KRBE, in town to work the opening of Disneyland’s Star Tours ride. The friend asked Deb to take Eric to dinner and the fairytale began.
“He was a nice Jewish boy from a great family. His parents called me ‘little one’ before we met and I’ve loved them ever since. I feel so blessed to have met and married him.”
Deb can’t wait to talk about her accomplished children. Emilie, now 25, who followed her Oma Barbara’s example as a registered nurse, is now a neonatal ICU nurse at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Blake, 22, began interning for the Dallas Cowboys as a young teen and is now a video producer, videographer, and editor for his favorite team, earning a nomination for a Lone Star Emmy in his first season.
Jonah completed Plano West Senior High School’s medical career training program and this semester has followed his siblings to Texas Tech University, planning to become a physical therapist.
“I raised three Red Raiders,” Deb muses.
I prodded, wanting to hear more about what inspires Deb than about the Schulmans’ daughter or Eric’s wife or MamaTex.
“Oh,” she gasped. “I have to tell you about this great new program at Anshai Torah…”
Deb is the media coordinator for Anshai Torah, her Plano shul, but, by way of describing her spiritual influences, she gives credit to a dozen shuls and religious leaders.
“The Neilah service of Yom Kippur, just as the sun is setting, I need to be at Chabad of Plano,” she says. “The first year a curtain had been pulled back. It was so inspiring to watch the sun set on the windows just as I imagined the ‘Book of Life’ closing. The Block kids, every year since, catch the blinds and pull them back.”
Deb may think she is talking about herself, but she is never far from extolling the virtues of another. It’s not just that Deb is a storyteller extraordinaire. At one time she worked on The Super Mario Brothers and Zelda animated series and wrote and produced for EPSN’s Sunkist Super K.I.D.S.
She was a development coordinator for Hollywood’s William Morris Agency and at Vestron Pictures, where she discovered the script for what became the Jewish RomCom dance classic Dirty Dancing. She can’t help but promote others; this habit of credit-giving and promotion is hardwired into her character.
“You are so authentically and deeply engaged in life,” I marveled. “Everything seems to fascinate you. How do you decide where to put your creative focus and who you are going to profile?”
She answers with a smile. “Happy talk. I won’t write about someone getting fired or an organization going through hard times. I’d like my headstone to say that I wrote happy talk.”
For Deb, the happiest talk is about her family. She’s a loyal Los Angelino who fell in love with writing thanks to her middle school English teacher, Mrs. Stonehill, and the late Norman Corwin at the University of Southern California’s Journalism program. Deb laughs when she says that she and her Houston-bred husband moved to Texas for “three years,” 27 years ago.
“I am incredibly proud of my husband,” she says. “I had fun working with Allen Funt on Candid Camera, but that was nothing compared to Eric and our kids. Our family is my most important accomplishment,” says the humble woman with the enviable resume.
That resume includes 13 years as the director of communications at Yavneh Academy and at Akiba Academy before that. In 2014, she joined Eric at Semaphore Mobile as director of business development and marketing. “We have done marriage very well for 28 years and I am excited now to be professionally partnered too.
“I am a creative person and I’m enjoying finding new ways to express that through app development with the great company my husband has built. The idea that ‘there’s an app for that’ cannot be overstated,” Deb says, referencing the iconic iPad ad before launching into a list of brilliant apps Semaphore has built for its customers.
Semaphore Mobile (semaphoremobile.com) has produced hundreds of apps — iPhone- and Android-based — for business, health care, entertainment, and social media. “I am really energized to be contributing to the entrepreneurial community. Dallas’ startup and entrepreneurial culture is incredible. Semaphore isn’t a startup, we had apps up the day the APP Store opened in 2008, but the space is ours,” said Deb.
So, now that she has become a fixture at the Addison Treehouse, the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, LaunchDFW events and the NTTA’s monthly networking sessions, will we continue to find Deb in the TJP?
“I hope always!”
Judy Tashbook-Safern is a Dallas mom and published author.