Thursday, September 18, 2014

Selichot in the South
SJLMAGThursday, September 18, 2014

The High Holy Days season kicks off with Selichot, an evening service following Shabbat that begins the themes of repentance and forgiveness. Congregations across the region are holding special events the night of Sept. 20 (except as noted).

Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El will screen “The Jewish Cardinal,” the Birmingham premiere of the acclaimed film about Jean Marie Lustiger of Paris. A dessert reception will start at 6:30 p.m., followed by the Selichot service at 7 p.m. The film follows the service, and Rabbi Jonathan Miller will be joined by Rev. John McDonald for a discussion of issues raised in the film.

Temple Beth-El in Birmingham will have a string quartet and piano performing music for the season starting at 8 p.m. The Selichot service will follow.

Knesseth Israel in Birmingham will show a film at 8 p.m. and have a service at 10:30 p.m.

Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem in Montgomery
will have Selichot services at 7:30 p.m.

Temple Emanu-El in Dothan will have Selichot on Sept. 21, starting at 5 p.m. “the Book Thief” will be screened and a covered dish dinner will take place during the film. The service will follow the movie.

At Temple Beth-El in Pensacola, “Sof HaOlam Smolah — Turn Left at the End of the World” will be screened at 7 p.m. Set in southern Israel in the 1960, the award-winning film follows a Jewish family from India as it struggles with the challenges of adjusting to life in a new country. The film is for mature audiences. Services will begin at 9 p.m.

At Temple Sinai in New Orleans, George Dansker will present "I'll Kneel but I Won't Cross Myself: A Survey of the 20th-Century Jewish American Opera Singer.” Dansker is a librarian with the New Orleans Public Library who covers the New Orleans opera scene for the New York-based Opera News Magazine and has provided music criticism for the Times-Picayune. He has written for Carnegie Hall Magazine and the Louisiana Philharmonic and provided liner notes for many CD and DVD releases. Recently he co-produced and annotated an annual fundraising CD and DVD for Broadway. The program starts at 7 p.m., followed by an 8 p.m. reception and services at 8:15 p.m.

Touro Synagogue
in New Orleans has a Selichot confession board outside the chapel, where congregants can add their struggles. Thousands of these confessions, requests and prayers are being gathered for viewing in communities across the country. Touro will also hold a Tot Shabbat Selichot at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 20.

The Touro Selichot program will be “Teshuvah at Angola,” starting with a screening of “Serving Life,” about inmates at the Louisiana prison who volunteer to staff the prison’s hospice. Babysitting will be available as this film is not for children. After the 5 p.m. screening there will be a 6:30 p.m. dinner and discussion with Norris Henderson, founder of Hospice at Angola. The service will be at 8 p.m., and reservations are requested for the dinner and babysitting.

Anshe Sfard in New Orleans will have Selichot at 10 p.m. Effi Naghi will add Sephardic flavor by leading “Anenu.”

Shir Chadash in Metairie is holding Selichot at 8:15 p.m. Rabbi Ethan Linden noted that when the congregation was formed 52 years ago, bringing the Conservative movement to New Orleans, it was decided not to have Rosh Hashanah be the first service, but Selichot.

In Shreveport, B’nai Zion will have dessert and Havdalah at 7:30 p.m., followed by Selichot at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NOLA Federation discusses non-Jewish membership, increased campaign
SJLMAGWednesday, September 17, 2014

Cantor David Mintz of Touro Synagogue leads Hatikvah, with Carol Wise, Alan Franco, Michael Weil and Morton Katz.


Campaign success and the definition of membership as it pertains to non-Jewish donors were two hot topics at the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans’ annual meeting on Sept. 16.

Held at the Uptown Jewish Community Center, the meeting drew about 150, many of whom were there to be part of the discussion on a controversial amendment to the Federation’s articles of incorporation.

The change, which would expand the definition of membership to include tightly-drawn parameters for non-Jewish members of Jewish households, was discussed but was not voted upon. Federation President Morton Katz said that with the level of discussion in the community and the need for more input, it was decided before the meeting that there would be a special meeting on Dec. 17 at the Jewish Community Campus in Metairie to vote on the proposal.

Currently, one is a member of the Federation if one is Jewish, abides by the mission of the Federation and is a donor.

The membership article’s new wording, proposed at the meeting, was “All persons of the Jewish faith and members or former members of their households who are over the age of majority, support the mission of the (Federation), and who contribute to the Annual Campaign shall be Members” through the end of the following fiscal year.

For example, this would include non-Jewish spouses or partners, former spouses or partners, or non-Jewish widows or widowers of Jewish community members.

Many in the audience had issues with the amendment’s wording, especially the definition of household, noting the wide range of households. Another possibility mentioned was someone who converts out of Judaism, and one speaker suggested the issue could lead to litigation.

The change would not open membership to donors who are not in any form of a Jewish household.

There will be further discussion to “get the wording right,” but with a requirement of advance notice to the community, that might push the vote back further.

Katz said New Orleans now has a much younger Jewish community, with many interfaith couples. ”We have to welcome them because they have welcomed us. They want to be a part of our Jewish community and they were a big part of our increased campaign” this past year.

Of the 20 Lemann-Stern Young Leadership participants, there are “three or four couples who are intermarried,” and “we have to be inclusive to those people.” That isn’t just his opinion, he noted, but of the Federation board.

Katz noted that there are many communities where the Federations have non-Jewish board members, “but this by-law change does not address that,” and there has been a lot of misinformation going around about that.

He noted that one has to be nominated to the board, and then the slate is approved by the membership. The nominating committee is 100 percent Jewish, and to be nominated to the board “you have to do some good things for our Jewish community… and then you might get nominated.”

After several people raised concerns about the amendment’s wording, Temple Sinai Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn concluded that part of the meeting by thanking the board for taking on the issue.

Earlier in the evening, the Federation’s annual campaign success was celebrated, with a special presentation to co-chairs Brian Katz and Susan Good.

Morton Katz said they did “a bang-up job” and the campaign had increased to $2.7 million. There were 95 new gifts and 366 increased gifts.

Good said the success “was the work of our community,” not two people.

Part of the campaign push this year was to ask donors for an 18 percent increase. Morton Katz said the increase came after several years of campaigns in the $2.5 million range, and he hoped to see $3 million in the coming year. He noted good results in approaching the corporate community for support, and while there was some success in reaching non-Jewish donors, more can be done with additional manpower.

Good and Brian Katz presented the Anne Goldsmith Hanaw and J. Jerome Hanaw Tikkun Olam Award to Valerie Marcus and Juan Gershanik for their work on behalf of the campaign. Good noted that Marcus hosted the Lion of Judah event, for women who contribute at least $5,000 per year to the campaign.

Brian Katz said Gershanik “is always willing to do anything that is asked of him.”

Joking about his accent, Gershanik said it usually took him less than an hour to convince donors. “Of course, they didn’t understand the first 55 minutes.”

Carol Wise also reported good results on behalf of the Jewish Endowment Foundation. The evening also served as the JEF annual meeting.

She noted that the foundation has $48 million in 450 funds, up $4 million from last year. Over $2.7 million was allocated by JEF. “We’re not a large Jewish community, yet we provide an impressive amount to our Jewish community and other organizations,” she said.

There are also $9 million in promised bequests through Create a Jewish Legacy.

Bobby Garon presented the Herbert J. and Margaret Garon Young Leadership Award to Gary Zoller. Garon said “it is uncanny how much we have in common.” Zoller “completed Lemann-Stern in 2009 and has not looked back,” Garon noted.

Zoller said he was grateful for the example his parents set for him, and is “proud with my wife to set that example again, for our child and for the future of our community.”

Federation Executive Director Michael Weil spoke about four main areas for Federation in the coming year.

One emphasis is young leadership, through endowing Lemann-Stern and providing more educational content to JNOLA, and to “widen the tent” of inclusivity.

In fundraising, the Federation will work to continue widening the donor base, especially among the young. He said the Chai Society for young donors attracted 800 households.

Strategic allocation is also on the agenda, spending money more efficiently and moving away from the traditional allocation process.

The Federation will also emphasize connections with the global Jewish community. There will be an emphasis on encouraging young people to visit Israel, deepen relations with Rosh Ha’Ayin and expand ties between Israel and the greater New Orleans community.

He also announced plans for a New Orleans “mega-mission to Israel” in June 2017. “We expect every single one of you to be with us,” he said.

Guest speaker for the evening was Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He noted that “saying Happy New Year is not so easy this year” given events in the Middle East and people citing the Pew Report on the state of the American Jewish community. In the last year “I heard from more people invoking the Pew study, most of whom had never read it.”

He said “there has never been a time in our 3,000-plus year history that Jews have lived in the world as we live in the United States and in Israel,” with “the power to create the world of our dreams.”

Rabbi Gabe Greenberg of Beth Israel noted that though the High Holy Days are a time when God is judging the world, “when we come together as a congregation, our prayers can tear up the divine decree.”

That teaches that “when we come together as a community, there is nothing that our collective aspirations can not accomplish, even in the divine realm.”

Monday, September 8, 2014

Legendary Mississippi State announcer Jack Cristil dies
SJLMAGMonday, September 08, 2014

Photo courtesy Mississippi State Athletic Dept.

Jacob Sanford "Jack" Cristil, the legendary voice of Mississippi State University athletics, died on Sept. 7 at the age of 88.

"As a lifelong Bulldog, my heart is heavy at learning of the passing of legendary MSU broadcaster Jack Cristil," said MSU President Mark E. Keenum. "Jack's deep love of this university was always evident in his words and in his deeds. He was a tireless ambassador for Mississippi State and he brought great honor and distinction to our university as one of the most revered radio announcers in American history.”

When he retired in 2011 because of health concerns, his 58 years as the radio broadcaster for Mississippi State was the second-longest in the nation. He announced his retirement in the post-game show following the basketball team’s 84-82 loss to LSU, saying his medical treatments would not permit him to represent the university “the way it should be represented.”

He was known for his on-air quips, especially in games where the Bulldogs were being trounced. Victories were hailed with his signature “You can wrap this one in maroon and white.”

Cristil’s love for broadcasting came at an early age.

The son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Cristil noted years ago that his parents spoke Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish but allowed only English to be spoken in the house. His mother was a Russian revolutionary who escaped the czar’s forces.

When he was six years old, his parents bought the family’s first radio and he discovered sports broadcasting. The idea that he could be sitting at home in Memphis and hear someone in a stadium far away telling him about a game “enthralled” him and he knew that would be the path he would eventually take.

He started bouncing a ball in the street outside his home and doing play-by-play of imaginary games.

After graduating high school, he served in World War II, as an aircraft engine mechanic in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

He then briefly studied broadcast journalism at the University of Minnesota before returning to Tennessee and starting as the radio announcer for the minor league baseball team in Jackson, Tenn. He would announce baseball for teams in Anniston, Memphis and Clarksdale, joking that he worked his way up to Double-A baseball.

While in Clarksdale he sent audition tapes to then-Mississippi State Director of Athletics C.R. "Dudy" Noble, having never been to Starkville. His announcing career for the Bulldogs began with a 34-6 win over then-Memphis State in his Tennessee birthplace on Sept. 19, 1953.

Cristil called 636 football games since 1953, or roughly 60 percent of the football games played in the history of the institution. He was in his 54th season as the men's basketball play-by-play voice, having described the action of almost 55 percent of all the men's basketball games played at the school.

In all, Cristil delivered game descriptions to Mississippi State fans across the Magnolia State and around the world for more than 1,500 collegiate contests.

"Jack Cristil connected with generations of Bulldog fans and remains an icon for all who love the Maroon and White," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said. "No school's broadcaster was as synonymous with their institution as Jack Cristil was with Mississippi State. Jack's passing leaves a large void, but I think all Mississippians appreciated his dedication and talent, and Jack will always be the Voice of the Bulldogs."

Cristil was most recently presented the Lindsey Nelson Award, given annually to the nation's premier sports broadcaster. He was honored with the prestigious College Football Foundation Chris Schenkel Award in 1997 for excellence in college sports broadcasting. Nelson and Schenkel were longtime national award-winning broadcasters.

In 1992, Cristil received the Ronald Reagan Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters. That same year, he was also the first non-coach/non-athlete to ever be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Cristil was inducted into the Mississippi State Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

A winner of the Mississippi Sportscaster of the Year Award a record 21 times, Cristil was named the Southeastern Conference's Broadcaster of the Year in 1988.

In a tribute to Cristil on the Senate floor in 2011, Sen. Thad Cochran noted that the university’s basketball team ignored an unwritten state rule in the 1963 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which forbade any state university team from playing integrated teams. The team snuck out of town in the middle of the night to play Loyola in Michigan. “This was a significant blow to segregationist sentiment in Mississippi. Jack was right there with the team as it defied its own Governor to help move our State forward,” Cochran noted.

After his retirement, Cristil participated in the production of a biography called "Jack Cristil: Voice of the MSU Bulldogs." The book, written by MSU journalist in residence Sid Salter with a foreword by author and MSU alumnus John Grisham, sold 10,500 copies and raised over $170,000 for the Jacob S. "Jack" Cristil Scholarship in Journalism at MSU.

Earlier, Jack and Mavis Cristil had established a need-based scholarship in their name to benefit Lee County students at MSU with academic talent who needed help with tuition, books and fees.

"Jack Cristil was a courageous, tenacious man possessed of a great love for Mississippi State University," said MSU Chief Communications Officer and Cristil's biographer Sid Salter. "His tired body finally failed Jack, but his keen mind and that great staccato baritone voice never failed him. I count his friendship as a tremendous gift to me and to my family. We all loved him."

It wasn’t just the broadcast field that enjoyed his vocal talents. He frequently was lay leader of Shabbat services at Temple B’nai Israel in Tupelo.

In June 2011, a stretch of U.S. Highway 82 in Starkville was named the Jack Cristil Highway, along the route he would take to Starkville from his Tupelo home.

On April 28, that home was damaged as a tornado went through Tupelo.

Cristil is survived by daughters Kay Cristil Clouatre of Baton Rouge, and Rebecca Cristil Nelson (Andrew) of Tupelo; grandchildren Jake Clouatre of Baton Rouge, and Lindsey Newhall of Tupelo. He is also survived by two sisters, Zelda Cristil Esgro of St Louis, and Miriam "Mimi" Cristil Lapides of West Palm Beach, and a number of nieces and nephews.

Cristil was preceded in death by his wife of 33 years, Mavis Kelly Cristil, in 1988. He was also preceded in death by his parents, Mollie Kabakoff Cristil and Benjamin Herman Cristil of Memphis, by a sister, Charlotte Cristil Hiller, and by brothers Harold Cristil and Stanley Cristil.

Services will be at 11 a.m. on Sept. 10 at the Tupelo Chapel of Holland Funeral Directors. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 9 and 9 a.m. until service time on Sept. 10.

A public memorial service on campus will be announced.

In lieu of flowers, the Cristil family requests memorials to the Cristil Scholarships at MSU, the Girl Scouts Heart of the South or Sanctuary Hospice House.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jew Hollow Road among odd Alabama street names
SJLMAGWednesday, September 03, 2014

Editor's Note: This was originally published in October 2010, but an al.com feature on odd street names in Alabama this week prompted us to post it online.

The city of Gardendale, located about 10 miles north of Birmingham, has among its amenities a large municipal soccer complex, located at the intersection of Fieldstown Road and Jew Hollow Road.

Jew Hollow Road?

The story behind the name can be found in the history of coal mining in north Jefferson County.

The Pratt Coal and Coke Company was formed in 1878, and would establish mines in numerous locations surrounding Birmingham, eventually being bought by TCI. One of the mining camps, at Mineral Springs, was named Jew Hollow Mining Camp.

A mining camp was a small company town. This one reportedly had a depot, post office, skating rink, commissary and dry goods store, a community center and small houses that the miners would rent from the company.

According to Joyce Blankenship, a member of the Gardendale Historical Society, there were three Jewish families who had dry goods stores in the mining camp — the Gordons, Kronenbergs and Levowitzes. It is assumed that this is where the name Jew Hollow came from, because there were three Jewish families living in this hollow, which is a term for a small valley.

Many Jewish merchants in the area started out in mining towns. In Parrish, another nearby town in mining country, one can see a neighborhood with the street names Engle, Nichols, Cohn, Goldstein and Levine.

Blankenship said she got the information from Thelma Minyard, who is now deceased, when she was working on a booklet on the history of Mineral Springs School.

According to the school’s website, the school was established by the Pratt Coal Mining Company for the education of miners’ children and other children in the area, and the first location was in Jew Hollow.

After the mines were tapped out around 1920, the mining company moved some miners to Brookside and others to the Republic Mines. The county assumed control of the school, moving the students to a new building in 1922 that was used until the school was closed in 1972. The original Jew Hollow building was torn down and some of the lumber used for the Hand family home, which still stands in Fieldstown.

Another Jew Hollow connected to a mining camp is in Prenter, W.Va.

Also in Gardendale, just off New Castle Road, is Jew Hill Road. In that case, the store on that road reportedly was run by Syrians, but people apparently thought they were Jews because of their darker complexion, thus the name.

Monday, September 1, 2014

U.S.-Israel Energy Summit Held in New Orleans
gingerMonday, September 01, 2014

The inaugural U.S.-Israel Energy Summit was held in New Orleans to highlight the benefits of partnership between Israel and the United States in energy research and development.

Held at Tulane, the two-day summit starting Aug. 25 brought together 11 academic institutions for discussions on how university energy research can lead to new breakthroughs to solve technical, business and social challenges in the energy industry.

It is also seen as a first step toward establishing a U.S.-Israel Energy Center to further collaboration.

Participating were Tulane, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Louisiana State University, McNeese State University, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University, The Hebrew University, The Israel Institute, University of Haifa, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the University of Texas.

“This summit is a big step forward in our work to enhance the energy partnership between Israel and the United States,” said Senator Mary Landrieu. “Louisiana and Gulf Coast companies are in a unique position to use their unparalleled expertise in offshore oil and gas development to help one of the United States’ closest allies develop its newly discovered energy resources. We are poised to help Israel secure its energy independence and security for years to come and to boost economic opportunities along America’s working coast.”

This year, Landrieu introduced the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Enhancement Bill, to further the collaboration between the U.S. and Israel on energy development — including natural gas and alternative fuels — and seeks to bolster that relationship by encouraging cooperation in the academic, business, governmental and other sectors. She also organized oil and gas trade missions to Israel in 2011 and 2012.

There has also been cooperation between Israel and Gulf Coast companies as Israel develops the recently discovered Leviathan natural gas fields off its Mediterranean coast. The field is being developed by Noble Energy of Houston. There was one public event during the summit, a lecture by Peter Evans, vice president of the Center for Global Enterprise. His research explores and explains he structural changes in the global energy industry that arise from new production technologies, increasingly dense transportation networks, and the surging adoption of information technology.

Tulane President Michael Fitts said the summit “incorporates several of my long-term goals for Tulane: to promote interdisciplinary collaborations that address societal, economic and environmental challenges; to develop new areas of technological innovation where Tulane can make a real difference in the world; and to expand Tulane's global impact.”

Friday, August 29, 2014

Two exhibits to complement "Jerusalem" at Mobile Exploreum
SJLMAGFriday, August 29, 2014

The National Geographic IMAX film “Jerusalem” that has been screening at Birmingham’s McWane Center this summer opens at the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center in Mobile on Sept. 13.

In Mobile, the movie will be accompanied by two complementary exhibits and there will be a lecture series.

Daniel Ferguson, who produced, directed and wrote the film, will visit for a grand opening on Sept. 16. After a screening he will discuss the film’s creation and purpose.

Complementing the film will be “Cultural Artifacts of the Holy Land” and “Families of Abraham.”

The artifacts exhibit will include over 50 items from the original settlement of Jerusalem through the 20th century. They will be on loan from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Ceremony.

“Families of Abraham” is a contemporary photography exhibit of 180 pictures by eight photographers showing the lives of 11 Jewish, Christian and Muslim families over the course of a year. It was created by curator Eleanor Brawley, with assistance from the Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, N.C.

A five-part lecture series will showcase a variety of topics ranging from everyday culture to significant archeological discoveries throughout history. The series will feature local and regional scholars, as well as archeological experts, who will unveil historical and cultural topics as they relate to the exhibit. John B. Switzer, Bill Warren and Dennis Cole are the featured speakers, presenting a series of topics from November 2014 through March 2015.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to host such an exciting film and exhibit combination here on the Gulf Coast. This experience is something we feel will shed light on a very historic and cultural significant area of the world,” said Exploreum Executive Director Jan McKay.

The 45-minute National Geographic film will be shown on the IMAX dome screen, giving one a bird’s eye view of Jerusalem, with a perspective that is new even to those who have been there numerous times.

The film traces Jerusalem’s story from the Jebusites, who inhabited the site 5000 years ago, through the Jewish, Christian and Muslim periods. The story is told through three young women, one of each faith, detailing what Jerusalem means to them and their respective religions. In the film, their stories intertwine but rarely intersect.

The Mobile Area Jewish Federation is hosting a community screening on Oct. 12 at 4 p.m., and reservations can be made by calling the Federation office. The screening is “a gift to the community,” and contributions to support the Federation’s work in Ukraine and Israel are requested.

The film and exhibits will be in Mobile through April 4. In Birmingham, the McWane Center run continues through Nov. 26.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mobile gaining new Chabad presence
SJLMAGTuesday, August 19, 2014

Just days after it was announced that there would be a new Chabad center along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Mississippi center picked up a new neighbor.

Rabbi Yosef and Bina Goldwasser are setting up Chabad of Mobile this month after visiting the community earlier this year. While there have been several visits to Mobile by traveling Chabad rabbis, Goldwasser said Rabbi Yossi Posner from Chabad of Alabama in Birmingham was interested in seeing someone move there.

Goldwasser hopes to open a Chabad House that “should be a home where every Jewish person could feel welcome regardless of their background or affiliation,” he said.

Goldwasser visited Mobile for Chanukah and met with many people in the community. They “were very positive” about it, he said. He went back a couple of moths later and led a class on Chassidism, and held a Purim party.

They are moving to Mobile from Crown Heights with their two-year-old son, Menachem Mendel. A "Meet Chabad barbecue" is scheduled for Sept. 7 at 4:30 p.m., at 288 Mayflower Street.

Goldwasser was a Day School student in his native Pittsburgh, then went on to yeshiva in New York and France. Bina Goldwasser was raised in North Miami Beach, then attended high school in Chicago and women’s seminary in Tzfat. She has worked in Jewish day camps in four states.

They plan to provide classes, community events, Shabbat and holiday meals and other services to the community.

Mobile’s Jewish community numbers roughly 1,200. Goldwasser said he has already met with the Mobile Area Jewish Federation leadership and Rabbi Steven Silberman of Ahavas Chesed. He also said that in his visits he met with many who are not currently affiliated in the community.

He is eager to expand the availability of kosher foods in the area, and will be working with Rabbi Yeshayahu Tenenboim from Chabad of the Emerald Coast in Destin.

"We are excited to fulfill our life's dream by putting our skills, passion for Judaism and love of people into serving the spiritual needs of the Jews in Mobile with innovative, fun, and informative Jewish programming with a personal touch," Goldwasser said.

Their one question for Mobile is “what can we do for y’all?”

Monday, August 18, 2014

New Chabad emissary "coming home" to Mississippi coast
SJLMAGMonday, August 18, 2014

And then there was one.

With Rabbi Akiva and Hannah Hall moving to the Mississippi Coast this month to set up Chabad of Southern Mississippi, South Dakota is the only state in the country without a Chabad presence.

What makes this move even more unusual is that Hall will not need a map to find his way around — he went to high school in Ocean Springs.

Hall, who was raised by a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, said his family was always Jewishly active and connected to the community. While visiting relatives in Las Vegas, he attended Camp Gan Israel at Chabad there. “That was my first exposure to a full Torah lifestyle, and I really took to it,” he said.

Around his Bar Mitzvah age, the family became close with Rabbi Mendel Rivkin of Chabad in New Orleans. “After I finished public high school, I was looking to go to a yeshiva,” Hall said.

While in high school, he started observing Shabbat and keeping kosher, making weekly trips to stay with the Rivkins over Shabbat. In 2007, at age 18, he coordinated what was considered Mississippi’s first public Chanukah menorah lighting ceremony, attended by Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr. The ceremony has been repeated in recent years, and he and Rivkin have also visited the Fort Polk Army Base on Chanukah.

Hall said his family has been supportive of him. His father, Ron, is the regional director of guest experience at MGM Resorts International. His mother, Lara, was active in theater and died in 2009 at the age of 41, she was buried at the Beth Israel cemetery in Biloxi.

Just as Hall was finishing up his rabbinic degree, he was introduced to Hannah Black, who had grown up in another small Jewish community: Bakersfield, Calif., where her family belonged to a Reform congregation. After Chabad opened there when she was 10, the family became more involved and she started attending a Jewish school in Los Angeles at age 14.

They were married in the fall of 2012. The Rivkins and several others with New Orleans connections attended the wedding in Los Angeles. After the wedding, the Halls lived in Crown Heights before becoming Judaic teachers for a family in an area of California where there was no such opportunity.

As the Halls were finishing up their commitment in California they started looking at different options. Rivkin told him that there was an opportunity to start a Chabad House in Mississippi, “and you have a background in the area.”

“The idea of going on shlichus,” becoming a Chabad emissary, “wasn’t necessarily something I had in mind,” he said. But he figured if he didn’t take it, it might be a while before someone else did, “so it was our responsibility to accept it.”

He added, “we felt that we had been given an opportunity and a mission that was unique to us, and couldn't decline such a responsibility."

The Mississippi center will be linked with Chabad of Louisiana, but will be autonomous.

Hall’s base will be the Gulf Coast because that is the area he is most familiar with, but he hopes to branch out to places like Hattiesburg and Jackson. Biloxi is also a tourist area, and there are numerous Jews serving at Keesler Air Force Base.

They are moving the first week of September, and likely will have a Sukkot event as their formal introduction to the community. They plan to renew old friendships and network in the community to establish relationships.

They plan to have people over for Shabbat dinner and lunch, but are not anticipating holding services or a minyan right away.
“People are loyal to their synagogues,” Hall said. “We’re not coming there to compete or offer the same programs” as Beth Israel in Gulfport.

He plans to supplement “what is already there” and offer a resident rabbinic presence that has not been in the area before. He said the likely offerings will be adult education and Torah learning, while also providing outreach to the unaffiliated and to tourists.

He said the opportunity “to bring Jewish people close to Torah and chassidus is quite remarkable. In addition, my family still lives there, which will allow us to spend much more time with them than we were able to in the last few years."

Rivkin said “We are excited about this unique opportunity the the Halls have. We believe that they will do a great job working with the existing Jewish presence and the people of the Gulf Coast Jewish community.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Former Jacobs campers named assistant directors
SJLMAGThursday, August 14, 2014

Anna Herman, the new director of Henry S. Jacobs Camp, announced that two familiar faces will be taking on new roles at the Reform movement's camp in Mississippi.

Sam Pailet of New Orleans has been named the camp’s assistant director, and Becci Craig of Jackson will be the new NFTY Southern regional advisor and the camp’s summer assistant director.

“We are excited to have added two home grown Jacobs magicians to connect all of our generations. Together with Ellen Alexander, our Director of Development, and Sandy Doucet, our Business Manager, we will engage, connect and inspire our children, parents, alumni, and stakeholders,” Herman said.

Pailet attended Jacobs Camp since his Olim summer with eight years as a camper. After his NFTY in Israel trip in 2007, he returned to camp for the next seven summers and has served as a Machon, counselor, Cornerstone Fellow, sports department head and Olim unit head for the last two consecutive summers.

Pailet is a 2014 graduate of Louisiana State University Ourso School of Business with a major in management and a minor in entrepreneurship. He was an active member of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity.

He will live in Utica year-round, and Herman said his “business degree, service experience and relationships will add new dimensions to our future.”

Jacobs spent eight years as a camper, then was on staff as a Machon, counselor, Cornerstone Fellow, and this past season as a member of the senior leadership team as the camper care associate.

She was active in NFTY throughout high school, serving as regional president. At the University of Georgia she was on the executive board for Sigma Delta Tau sorority.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bentonville's Jewish community celebrates 10 years, looks to future growth
SJLMAGThursday, August 07, 2014

Congregation Etz Chayim in Bentonville closed this "starter" building last month and meets at an area church while planning for its next building.


While many small-town congregations struggle as their memberships age, a Jewish community continues to grow in northwest Arkansas.

Congregation Etz Chayim in Bentonville, Ark., is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month after closing its building and taking down the mezuzahs. But for this congregation, that’s a good thing.

Michelle Malashock, immediate past president of Etz Chayim, said when the congregation bought its previous location in 2005, “they never thought we would be here this long.”

On July 27, congregants took down the mezuzahs and the Eternal Light and said Shehecheyanu “as a nod to new possibilities.” Many of the religious items have been put into storage temporarily.

Susan Abrahams, the congregation’s treasurer, said it was “a great starter home” but “we have outgrown it and we are ready for the next.”

The tipping point, they said, came last August when it poured all night. Malashock had a “sinking feeling” knowing that the building was lower than the surrounding area, and sure enough she got a call that “it’s water everywhere” in the building.

With Rosh Hashanah fast approaching, “we had a wonderful offer to move for the High Holy Days,” and though the building wasn’t completely unusable, concern that another rainstorm could happen closer to the holiday without a backup plan in place led the congregation to accept the offer.

That temporary arrangement with First Christian Church to use their Waterway location has “formed into a long-term relationship,” Abrahams said. The church is located in what was originally intended to be a stable for a horse-themed development, and is set up in an informal setting for coffeehouse-style services.

Etz Chayim works with the church on many initiatives, Abrahams added. “They had what we would call Mitzvah week, and we participated in that,” and the congregation donates to several of their initiatives.

With a temporary home, Etz Chayim was able to list their property and start thinking about their next building. They did have an offer earlier this year but rejected it because it was not in line with what the congregation needed. With the July 27 ceremony done, it is now on the market again.

Malashock said the new building will likely be flexible in its design and available for other religious groups to use.

The growth of Bentonville’s Jewish community came with the explosive growth of the Bentonville area as a whole, due to one factor with its roots on the town square, in a building with the words “Walton’s 5-10” on the front.

That storefront is now a museum about the history of Wal-Mart. In recent years, vendors and suppliers have opened up shop there, bringing an incredibly diverse population to the area, and many newcomers have been Jewish.

Initially, the handful of Jews traveled half an hour south to Fayetteville for services, but soon figured that there were enough to support their own congregation.

In the summer of 2004, a group of 15 families established CEC, as they call it. Soon there were 35 families involved, and the numbers continued to climb.

The area also attracted a Chabad family. Rabbi Mendel Greisman set up Chabad of Northwest Arkansas in neighboring Rogers.

Etz Chayim services started at the Bentonville Boys and Girls Club. In 2005 they converted a former Assembly of God church into a synagogue, and welcomed representatives of the Baptist, Catholic, Muslim and Hindu communities to the dedication.

Malashock said Bentonville “has totally embraced us. Everyone is so interested in what we do.”

The congregation has not affiliated with a particular movement because of a diversity under its roof. Some members keep kosher while others come to services once a year. Since 2006, Rabbi Jack Zanerhaft has traveled from Tulsa once a month to serve the congregation.

After it opened, Etz Chayim received numerous items from small-town Arkansas congregations that were disappearing. The state’s Jewish population is currently estimated at 1,725.

Many items were contributed from Temple Beth El in Helena, which closed in 2006. Beth Israel in El Dorado gave them a Torah, which they later found out had originally been brought to Camden, Ark., by the Feibelman family in 1938 as they fled their hometown in southwestern Germany. They took their congregation’s Torah with them before the 400-year-old congregation was destroyed.

The Torah and ark are now housed at Waterway.

This past January there was a ceremony welcoming 11 new families into the congregation — but while the congregation is growing, it is not growing exponentially.

Malashock explained that there is a lot of turnover, because many executives are sent to Bentonville for just a couple of years, then they transfer away. The congregation currently has about 55 families, and that number is starting to increase as more people elect to stay long-term.

But the new congregational board is mostly people who have arrived in the last couple of years. Only one board member has been around since the beginning.

Malashock is from Kansas City, Abrahams came to Arkansas from Atlanta.

With a young-skewing congregation, Etz Chayim has far more Bar Mitzvahs than funerals. The 30 students in the religious school make it the second largest in the state.

That was one of the problems with the old building — there were two small classrooms. Just before the flood, a closet at the entrance was being converted into a third, even smaller classroom.

As part of the long-term building plan, Etz Chayim is embarking on a campaign called ReJEWvenate Bentonville. The goal is both to raise money for a new building and to raise engagement and activity within the community.

The 10th anniversary celebration will be on Aug. 22 at 6 p.m. at Avondale Gardens. The Shabbat dinner will be catered by Kosmos Greek restaurant, and many founders who have since moved on to other communities will attend. Malashock said it was scheduled so local members would be back because school will have started, but former members along the East Coast could travel because school has not yet started for them.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Touro Synagogue welcomes Cantor Mintz
SJLMAGFriday, August 01, 2014

This Shabbat, the joint Reform summer services in New Orleans shift to Touro Synagogue, which will officially welcome Cantor David Mintz.

The Aug. 1 Shabbat service will be at 6 p.m., followed by a meet-and-greet at the Oneg. He started at Touro on July 8 and visited the Henry S. Jacobs Camp last month.

A native of the Boston area, Mintz was recently ordained as a cantor at Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion, where he earned a Masters in Sacred Music. He also has a Bachelors of Music from Boston University and a Masters from the Manhattan School of Music.

He succeeds Cantor Jamie Marx, who is now cantor at Temple Sholom in Broomall, Pa., near Philadelphia.

Mintz worked at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and served as cantorial soloist at Temple Judea in Massapequa, N.Y. While studying at HUC-JIR, he served as the cantorial intern at Central Synagogue in Manhattan and Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, as well as student cantor at Adat Chaverim in Plano, Tex.

While in cantorial school, he was the recipient of a fellowship in the Tisch Leadership program, which fosters transformational leaders in the Reform movement.

He also had a summer chaplaincy internship at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, and was the recipient of a Fischl-Kohn Memorial Grant to travel to Prague with the Defiant Requiem Foundation to research his cantorial thesis on the music of Theresienstadt.

Through the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Mintz toured several Southern communities as a cantorial student, including Temple Sinai in Lake Charles and Temple Shalom in Lafayette.

In October 2012, he was part of a week celebrating the heritage of Monroe’s Jewish community. Coordinated by the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Temple B’nai Israel, he gave a public concert, did a “meet and greet” on campus and led a discussion on Jewish music and culture.

In June, a week before moving to New Orleans, he and Deborah Reinhold Sacks were married. She is a Jewish educator, musician and community organizer.

She has joined the faculty of the Jewish Community Day School, where she will teach the weekly Torah portion through text study and creative arts. She has led teen trips to Israel, and spent a year working in Israel caring for Jewish and Arab children from abusive and dysfunctional families.

She has also been an educator at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute, a pluralistic spirituality program geared towards young adults' exploration of Jewish identity through text, the arts, and creative spiritual practice.

Touro is known for its musical programming, highlighted by the JazzFest Shabbat every April.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kosher Cajun adds pizza, sushi days to menu
SJLMAGThursday, July 31, 2014

Kosher Cajun is expanding its repertoire.

The New Orleans-area institution has long been known for traditional deli dishes and kosher takes on Louisiana classics like jambalaya, red beans and rice, and gumbo. With the completion of a new prep space, Kosher Cajun is offering Pizza Wednesdays, Sushi Thursdays and Fried Chicken Fridays.

The expanded menu comes as the store recently finished a much-needed new prep area for catering. To accommodate a limited dairy menu in what had been only a meat establishment for sit-down meals a counter was added in the grocery area, on the other side of the store from the main seating area.

The pizza is available by the slice in cheese, mushroom or “veggie patch” varieties, or by the entire pizza. For full pizzas there is a build-your-own option — cheese and vegetables only, of course.

While pizza is available in-store from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays only, it can be ordered on other days with a five pizza minimum.

The pizza counter opened on July 8, then moved to its usual Wednesday slot on July 16.

The sushi menu returned in mid-June and includes cucumber avocado, tuna rolls, salmon rolls and a California roll that uses imitation crab.

Also new to the menu is iced and hot coffee, along with latte. For dessert, there are fresh-baked pareve cookies.

The store is now also making regular deliveries to Memphis, with pickup at the Baron-Hirsch parking lot.