The 2023 Tarrant County B’nai B’rith Jewish Person of the Year was revealed on Sunday, June 4 at Mira Vista Country Club. The honor was given to Sophia Nason for her extraordinary service to the Jewish community. Jim Stanton, last year’s award winner, introduced Nason to the 140-plus community members in attendance.
“While the award winner has contributed to the welfare of our community for years, those contributions have not always been recognized as our winner has steadfastly remained in the shadows, so to speak, as a ‘hidden figure’; today, however, we will remedy that,” he said.
Nason’s husband, Alex, was a previous Person of the Year winner in 2011.
Stanton explained that Sophia Nason has supported the endeavors of her husband and the lodge. It was her “unsung contributions to our lodge that led to the locally and internationally recognized successes for which our lodge received accolades over the past several years,” Stanton said.
In attendance were the Nasons’ sons, Robert and Michael.
Also on the program was David Michaels, director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. Michaels discussed the rise in antisemitism and the unfair treatment of Israel at the UN.
The B’nai B’rith scholarship grants were also given to four graduating seniors (see sidebar).
The Fort Worth-based lodge has presented the award since 1951 to honor an outstanding community member.
B’nai B’rith is the world’s oldest and largest Jewish social service organization. The greater Fort Worth unit is one of the most active in the United States.
After 43 years, Nasons return the favor with Garsek Lodge event
Editor’s note: Chuck Kaufman, past president of B’nai B’rith International, shared his thoughts with the TJP about honoree Sophia Nason and her husband, Alex, and the essential role they play in the thriving Isadore Garsek Lodge of B’nai B’rith in the following essay:
By Chuck Kaufman
Since 1980, Alex and Sophia Nason have generously repaid any indebtedness to agencies, notably the Jewish Agency for Israel, that helped them leave the former Soviet Union for the United States. In 2023, with Jews fleeing the Ukraine and Russia as war between the two countries rages into year two, they were motivated to support rescue efforts to their own experiences 43 years ago.
When Alex picked up his diploma as a highly ranked engineering student in the former Soviet Union, he figured to get a prime job, even by Communist standards. The top student could choose from maybe 400 opportunities. Alex was just below the top 10, still quite an achievement.
Alex, at 23, had to settle for an assignment in Kishinev. Given his rank in the graduating class, something wasn’t right. He recalls the moment as if it was yesterday.
“Which of these do you want?” the officiating president and KGB chief asked.
Nason scanned the list and pointed out an option.
“This place is not for you,” the KGB leader responded.
“Why?” he asked.
“This is not a place for you. … Are you a Communist?”
“Is your father?”
“No,” again Alex replied.
“My dad was wounded 18 times in World War II,” Alex said, showing as much loyalty to the motherland as possible. “Does that make a difference?”
Nason had an idea where all of this was going.
“You’re also Jewish,” his superiors reminded.
“Yes, I am. What does that have to do with it?” Alex asked.
Feeling trepidation and not wanting to create trouble for himself, his wife Sophia and 6-month-old son Robby, he accepted the Kishinev assignment. But as Alex was walking home, he knew then that he and his young family had to leave the country.
The process for getting permission to emigrate required a productive, trouble-free working record. Regular meetings with KGB officials were held to ensure that the visa application was active. For the Nasons, the wait lasted three years.
When the exit visa was finally granted, the Nasons left with few belongings and $300 in their pockets. From Russia through Czechoslovakia to Vienna they went.
The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) entered their lives and supported them for two weeks in Rome, then two more months in a one room apartment in Ladispoli. JAFI also helped them with paperwork for an American visa.
“After some initial processing help from HIAS, the Jewish Agency made a huge difference to getting us through very difficult times,” Alex said, recalling those tense times in route to Houston, Texas, where he landed a great job with Bechtel and later would move to Fort Worth. Back in 1980, 60% to 70% of Soviets went to Israel; the remainder went to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where in most cases émigrés were reuniting with family or sponsoring organizations.
Fast-forward to 2023 in Fort Worth, where Alex, Sophia and his B’nai B’rith lodge would produce an event to raise funds and partner with the Jewish Agency to help resettle more families leaving war-torn Ukraine and Russia.
“Before I left, my dad told me, if you are ever in trouble, find B’nai B’rith,” Alex recalled. He did, and the B’nai B’rith dinner and dance on the one-year anniversary of the Ukrainian-Russian war allowed the Nasons and 278 guests to return the favor from more than 40 years earlier. They recently sent a check to JAFI for $65,000, enough to assist 13 families with airfare and care in one of JAFI’s aliyah centers in Poland, Hungary or Moldova en route to settling in Israel.
Maj. Gen. Doron Almog, chairman of the executive of JAFI, praised the Garsek B’nai B’rith Lodge for its “exceptional effort.”
Amira Ahronoviz, the new CEO of the Jewish Agency for Israel, said, “It’s so moving to see such true solidarity for our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world. We are grateful to these efforts to raise the necessary resources for our lifesaving work.”
The evening event itself was extraordinary, what with dancing and a menu of chicken, spinach borscht, onions, potatoes, buckwheat — every Ukrainian reportedly consumes 26 pounds of it annually — and hardboiled eggs garnished with caviar spooned in place of yolks, all washed down with beverages, not the least of which was Ukrainian vodka.
Nason praised his wife, Sophia, for taking on the enormous cooking task. “So many people came over to us and said we hadn’t eaten cooking like that since my grandmother made it 50 years ago,” he said. “We also mailed recipes out to dozens of people. We were so grateful that this was a community event supported in such a heartwarming way by both Jews and Gentiles.”
“In total, during the last year, the agency helped more than 60,000 Jews and non-Jews to resettle,” Nason told the guests on Feb. 19. “One idea that has kept Jews together is the fact that throughout history, they have taken care of each other. It, therefore, made sense for the oldest Jewish organization serving as first responders to Jews and others in peril, to provide help to the agency.
“It was tough work but well worth it.”
B’nai B’rith awards 4 grants to high school grads
Another highlight of the B’nai B’rith Person of the Year event is the announcement of grant recipients. Madison Matejka, daughter of Amy and Kenneth Matejka, was the top grant winner and will attend the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. Leah Kreindler, daughter of Fran and Eric Kreindler, will attend The University of Kansas, where she plans to study business and marketing. Sima Galaganov, daughter or Talya and Misha Galaganov, will study mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin. Charles Morris, son of Inbal and David Morris, will study psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton. The Garsek Lodge awarded $4,000 in grants this year.