By Harriet P. Gross
I’ve long believed that there are only two kinds of people in this world: balloons and stringholders. The first have big, ideas; the second tether them to the earth while finding means of implementation. The first are the dreamers; the second, the builders.
Texas Torah Institute, blessed with both, honored one couple in each category at its recent 10th anniversary celebration.
Rabbi Aryeh and Rebbetzin Henny Rodin are quintessential dreamers who opened their shul, home and hearts in 2003 to the first boys getting a local yeshiva education. Ivan and Melanie Sacks anchored this dream from the start and have moved it to reality — and beyond.
(Appropriately recognized in 2010 when the yeshiva’s current campus was dedicated and named in their honor: members of the Basil and Dot Haymann family – builders extraordinaire.)
I am not an Orthodox Jew. But I have the background to understand Orthodoxy, and therefore I admire and respect it. And I know that no community can truly call itself Jewish unless and until all streams of Judaism live comfortably within it.
When I moved to Dallas more than 30 years ago, there was one kosher store, which was absolutely filthy. The overhead light housings were filled with dead bugs, and the dust on many cans was thick enough to write in. I was afraid to buy anything.
For me, kashrut involves more than ritual slaughter of approved animals and hechshers on packages; I applaud today’s Conservative movement for its Magen Tzadek, a mark certifying the ethical treatment of both food producers and our environment. But this is now. That was then …
… When I went home and called my Chicago rabbi for his advice, which was part serious, part in jest: “Ask if they’ll deliver, so you won’t have to see the dirt.” That’s the day I realized the most observant of our people could not be comfortable here, and the rest of us could never claim Jewish community completeness without them.
Was it the chicken or the egg? I don’t know. But gradually, over the past three decades, comfort has come for those Jews who rely on clean and dependable kosher markets, eruvim for Sabbath enhancement, Orthodox synagogues in a variety of sizes and worship styles and educational opportunities to meet very specific needs.
This last is where Texas Torah Institute comes in. What began in August 2003 with eight boys in two grades learning together at Congregation Ohev Shalom now boasts a student body of 55: 33 high schoolers who may leave for college after graduation; 22 who’ve opted to stay on for three additional years of advanced, intensive Torah study.
Today, it’s possible for parents who want the most rigorous, traditional Torah education for their sons to find it right here. About a third of TTI’s current students are local boys who a decade ago would have had to go elsewhere for yeshiva study. But now, young men from elsewhere are heading here.
Example: Aaron Yurowitz, an attorney with Hewlett-Packard, came from Queens, N.Y., to see what Dallas had to offer. More than simply satisfied, he’s become a booster of both city and yeshiva, urging friends to relocate their families here as he has done. He now serves as TTI’s president.
The celebratory dinner attracted more than 500 supporters and raised funds for continuing expansion. Rabbi Daniel Ringelheim, a rosh hayeshiva, described the event as providing “good food for the body, inspiration for the soul, and good laughs for the heart.”
For this last, rumors were floated that the promised but unnamed “special guest speaker” might actually be George W. Bush. Well, it did turn out to be a president: an incredibly realistic, humorous Barack Obama impersonator. Torah study is serious business, but there’s always room for some fun.
Also at the dinner, the young men of TTI’s first graduating class rose as a group to pledge $18,000 for the future of their yeshiva. Talk about balloons and stringholders!