By Deb Silverthorn
Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday.
Blessings are always better in numbers, and for Florence and Howard Shapiro, their 70th birthdays were enhanced by sharing them with a dear friend — Israel. To celebrate, the two were invited to the dedication of the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem, and what a party it was.
“We were just a few of the 800-or-so present from around the world, and this was an absolute honor we will never forget,” said Florence, the former Texas state senator who celebrated her birthday on May 2.
“The dedication defied all our expectations and was one of the greatest days of our lives. We’re still processing all we saw and heard but I’ve never been prouder to be an American and a Jew,” said Howard, whose birthday is July 12. “As is always the case, the moment my feet hit the ground at Ben-Gurion Airport, my batteries were recharged. In Israel, everyone has a story of united purpose, of preservation of our country, of advancement in so many areas.”
The U.S. Embassy first opened in Tel Aviv in 1966 and was officially dedicated at 14 David Flusser St. in Jerusalem on May 14. The couple attended the dedication and activities — pomp and circumstance abounding — with the Republican Jewish Coalition, of which Florence sits on the national board.
Dallas-area connections also attending were Elaine and Trevor Pearlman, Ross and Sarah Perot, AIPAC Board Chair Lillian Pinkus, Tim and Virginia Shepherd and Bradley Wine, a Plano native, now based in Washington and a Republican Jewish Coalition Board of Directors member.
“This moment means so much. Unemployment in Israel is at 3 percent, tourism rates are higher than ever, and we have strong relationships around the world — including with many Arab nations,” said Florence. “The demarcation of Jerusalem brings that all together with an exclamation point.”
The Shapiros realize all isn’t calm and that the terrorist threat is serious. Still, Florence says, “we can’t and shouldn’t change who we are and what we’re doing.”
Throughout the week, the Shapiros enjoyed sessions and/or personally connecting with dignitaries including Alan Dershowitz; Dr. Gary Frazier; U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman; Pastor John Hagee; Gil Hoffman, the chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post; former Sen. Joe Lieberman; and former Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren.
Having traveled on several Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas missions with family and other groups, the two looked forward to cutting time out for themselves. Their tour of Yad Vashem stood out.
“We’ve had many great experiences in Israel — for me that’s also been traveling with many non-Jews, seeing the land through their eyes — a whole different perspective,” said Florence, who previously toured Israel with the Houston Federation, also with former President George W. Bush and a number of senators. “This incredibly historic moment was nothing like anything we’ve ever experienced. There was a positive mood everywhere — the red, white, and blue of our flag side-by-side with Israeli flags everywhere.”
Married at Congregation Shearith Israel almost 49 years ago, the Shapiros have three children: Staci (Paul) Rubin, Todd (Jori) and Lisa (Rabbi Brian) Strauss; and 12 grandchildren: Brody, Eli, Natalie, Sam and Sophie Rubin; Ella, Harper, Olivia and Zach Shapiro; and Ari, Joshua, and Noa Strauss.
Residents of Plano, the couple remembers moving to the city of 17,000 — a small, quaint family town — at a time when there were no synagogues. Now, there are five. Supporters of Chabad of Plano/Collin County since its inception, the couple also belongs to Congregation Anshai Torah.
For the next generations, they are happy to see the expansion of Jewish life and education for all ages. “Our kids’ education, the shuls, camps and programs for all ages, is amazing. We’ve always been committed to Jewish life and constantly thrilled,” said Howard, who grew up in San Saba in the only Jewish family for 100 square miles — traveling to Austin’s Agudas Achim, where he had his bar mitzvah. Memories flood as he recalls his mother gathering him and his siblings to listen to Sunday radio broadcasts of Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Levi Olan.
From a small town with few Jews in the Lone Star state, to a town that has grown many times over, Howard and his birthday girl, Florence, have Jewish hearts in their core.
“I’m still trying to process one of the most spectacular times of our lives. The pride that’s swelling isn’t going to stop,” said Howard, reveling in all including celebrations of Yom Yerushalayim on May 13. “The city was packed with thousands of banners and flags, thousands, and a commitment to Israel, from both the Jewish and Christian communities passionate and present.”
Florence agreed. “We left feeling that Israel is in the best place it’s been in decades,” she said, “and with hopeful hearts that we can continue to enhance our relationships around the world.”