By Harriet P. Gross
My good friend Wendy Harpham, physician and longtime cancer survivor, has written a number of books. Based on her own experiences, they are important guides for others who share aspects of her story. At this time, I’m thinking of the one entitled “Happiness in a Storm,” whose message goes beyond offering hope to individuals dealing with illness.
Today, just because we’re Jews, we’re all riding a fragile raft in the middle of a raging anti-Semitic storm, a cancer of hate that threatens our smug complacency. We may feel snug and safe here in America, but we must face the fact that its rising tide is already engulfing so many of us elsewhere. As with physical cancer, this disease may strike any of us at any time in any place. Myself — I’m collecting bits of hopeful happiness, and passing a few of them along to you here.
Let’s start with Jewish Family Service. Our Dallas agency is one of six local nonprofits recently recognized with meaningful monetary grants by AWARE — the Alzheimer’s Women’s Association for Resources and Education. This group, which has already raised millions to fund research on a disease that doesn’t discriminate when it picks its victims, chose JFS, which doesn’t discriminate either as it dispenses help throughout our community. Its new grant will fund “support for a social worker to provide independent living services to adults with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers,” according to the announcement.
Now, consider the recent “Dia Internasional del Ladino: A Week Celebrating Judeo-Spanish Culture.” Notice how this event has grown from its single-day introduction last year. Thanks largely to our local Turkish-born dynamo with a purpose, Rachel Amado Bortnick, the linguistic heritage of Jews expelled from Spain at the time Columbus discovered America is now being resuscitated and honored. Locally, Southern Methodist University is supporting this effort through its Jewish Studies program. I attended the showing of “Saved by Language,” a film about Ladino, the little-known tongue that is to Sephardic Jews what Yiddish is to Ashkenazim. The screening room in SMU’s Fine Arts Center was filled for this world premiere, and not just by Jews: lots of students crowded in and signed up to receive course credit for watching this compelling documentary. And plans are already underway for an even bigger celebration next year.
Even more good things are happening! We’ll have the opportunity to learn about something else not well enough known in Jewish history by heading off to the University of Texas at Dallas to view a photographic biography of Helen Suzman, the South African Jew who — despite long odds — was able to openly oppose her country’s policy of racial apartheid and — despite even longer odds — whose efforts were amazingly successful. And if you already caught the exhibit during its recent showing at the Dallas JCC, don’t miss the panel discussion on Suzman scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, in the ATC building on the UT-Dallas campus.
What about the recent birthday celebration of Greater Dallas Section, National Council of Jewish Women? The huge crowd included more than Jewish women; there were men, too, and non-Jewish women, some of them of color, all representing the many local service agencies and community projects NCJW has initiated and/or supported during its 102 productive years in our community.
And last, but most certainly far from least: Our Jewish Community Relations Council has announced its 3rd Annual Interfaith Passover Seder for Monday evening, March 23. This year, “Let all who are hungry come and eat” will be more than a line from the Haggadah as people of all faiths gather to focus on poverty in our area and what can be done about it.
Alzheimer’s. A diminished Jewish language. Apartheid. Poverty and hunger. Each of these is a storm. We have many opportunities to learn, and do something, about them. Maybe, as we do, we can bring some happiness to others. And to ourselves.