By Judy Tashbook-Safern
Special to the TJP
The Schultz family has a passion for Jewish education and their legacy of philanthropy is legendary. What is lesser known, but of great significance, is that Leslie Schultz collects angels.
And she knows her Italian literature. Quoting the novelist and filmmaker Luciano De Crescenzo when accepting the Center for Jewish Education’s Lifetime Achievement Award with her husband Howard on Sept. 26 at the Renaissance Dallas Richardson Hotel, Leslie encapsulated her philosophy of life and astutely defined the value of community:
“We are each of us angels with one wing. We can only fly when we embrace one another.”
Leslie and Howard together, often with the help of others, have founded programs such as LearningFest, Passport to Israel, Teen Tzedakah Foundation, Schultz Israel Scholars and Schultz Leadership Fellows. The Center for Jewish Education recognized the Schultzes for their vision, leadership and generosity at A Night to Celebrate Jewish Education, an event that drew close to 800 people just days before the High Holy Days.
On behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the CJE facilitates and convenes the Dallas Jewish community on issues pertaining to Jewish education, serves to enrich existing programs, catalyzes new initiatives, incubates new programs, and links the spectrum of Dallas Jewish educators to ensure engagement of all members of the Greater Dallas Jewish community.
Meyer Denn, executive director of the CJE, characterized Leslie and Howard Schultz as heroes who bring creativity, empathy and compassion for the Jewish people to every project.
At the CJE’s Night to Celebrate Jewish Education, Denn and Dr. Paige Ware, dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU, announced the Leslie and Howard Schultz Excellence in Jewish Education Award.
This award, funded by proceeds of the CJE’s event honoring the Schultzes, will be the first of its kind to provide a full scholarship for a Dallas Jewish educator to receive a master’s degree in Education from the Simmons School at SMU. The announcement came as a surprise to the Schultz family, who were visibly moved by the news.
Upon completion of a master’s degree in Education at SMU, the Schultz Scholar, under the auspices of the CJE’s Institute for Advanced Teacher Education, will provide our community’s Jewish educators with a designated number of professional development courses, as well as moderate one community of practice each year for a three-year period. Schultz Scholars will remain consultants to the CJE, offering professional development classes, mentoring and coaching for individual teachers, and serving as advisors on strategic issues relating to professional development.
Grandson Ben Romaner introduced Leslie and Howard Schultz in a touching speech, which was capped by a video in which granddaughter Dalya Romaner said, “You often hear grandparents say how proud they are of their grandchildren. We are here to say how proud we are of what our grandparents have done.”
Howard Schultz, witty as ever, brought the audience to a spontaneous burst of laughter when he thanked everyone for skipping the landmark presidential debate to join them for this celebration of Jewish education. He then acknowledged the many shoulders upon which he and Leslie stand. He spoke of learning determination and optimism from his mother and expressed pleasure in seeing the same in his children and grandchildren.
Pioneer in field
The Schultzes, who charmingly completed each other’s sentences, spoke of being change agents and emphasized that while money can always be earned and raised, there is no more precious resource than time, which they said they felt privileged to share with our community.
Funds raised by A Night to Celebrate Jewish Education far exceeded the CJE’s expectation and Denn reports that he and his office were flooded with phone calls and emails to rave about the event featuring keynote speaker Rachelli Sprecher Fraenkel, a pioneer in the field of female Talmud study and mother of Naftali Fraenkel, of blessed memory.
Rachelli Fraenkel rose to international prominence when her 16 year-old son, Naftali and two other teenaged boys, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Sha’ar, were abducted and murdered in the summer of 2014. Fraenkel was interviewed by major media outlets and invited to speak at the United Nations. Her brave, miraculously smiling face would become forever associated with the issue of international terrorism. More than that, Rachelli Fraenkel became a powerful symbol of faith to people of every religion.
A devoted wife and mother of six remaining children, an instructor at two Jerusalem seminaries (Matan and Nishmat), Fraenkel is notoriously difficult to book for speaking engagements, but she made time to fly to Dallas just days before Rosh Hashanah. She was greeted by more than 400 Dallas Jewish day school students Monday morning and then spoke to the crowd of nearly 800 Monday evening.
In a talk moderated by former CJE Advisory Committee Chair Pam Hochster-Fine, Fraenkel spoke openly about her family’s struggles with the loss of their beloved son and brother.
“It is a bit numbing at first,” the bereaved mother acknowledged. “But slowly you come back into your life. There is this divine gift of healing and with kids it is easiest to see how we heal.”
Fraenkel shared that each evening when saying the bedtime Shema with her children, they conclude with a line from the prophet Samuel, saying: “And God will do what God sees fit to do.”
Fraenkel said that with the Shema her family also recites a few lines about the protective angels who surround us each day, guarding our coming and going. She noticed that after their brother went missing with his friends, her children added the names Naftali, Eyal and Gilad to Gabriel, Michael, Uriel and Raphael among the angels who protect us.
“For some, faith is a bedrock. I am of the other part though. Faith is very dynamic. Sometimes you feel close to God and sometimes you feel doubt. God is great enough to contain my occasional doubt in Him. I realize there is this concept of being let down when you pray for something that doesn’t happen, but to me that feels irrational,” Fraenkel said.
“Before, there were bad things that happened to other people and I believed in God. So, now it’s my turn. Are we all going to live happily ever after?”
There was an anxious pause before she answered her own question. “It ain’t so.”
Then she broke the tension with a laugh at her English usage as she repeated the word ain’t. “It ain’t so, as they say in Brooklyn.“
“And in Texas!” someone from the audience shouted to appreciative laughter.
“As they say in Brooklyn and Texas, it ain’t so. We don’t live happily ever after. I am not naïve. The whole world is facing terror. To combat evil, you have to name it. To pretend it is not there, doesn’t help.”
In another example of the divine gift of healing, Fraenkel shared that her 6-year-old daughter said there was something good about her beloved big brother dying before she entered first grade.
“Oh yeah?” the mother asked.
“Yes, now Naftali is coming to school with me every day.”
Leslie Schultz collects angels. So, thank God, do we all.