The Spark

A PUBLICATION OF TORCH Spring Edition
FREEDOM Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe
When thinking about the holiday of Pesach, many things come to mind; eating Matzah, drinking the four cups of wine, and, of course, spending quality time with family and friends. But sometimes, with all the tumult surrounding Pesach and the Seder night we forget to ask what is this all about. What lesson can we learn from our Pesach Seder that will help us enjoy a more fulfilling life? Our tradition teaches us that our holidays are much more than just commemorating an historical event. Each holiday has a unique character and message that it represents. The key to understanding the hidden lesson of the holiday is to analyze the historical event which it commemorates. Pesach commemorates the redemption of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. Considering our culture, slavery is something very difficult for us to comprehend. But, to be a slave is to have no freedom. A slave is powerless to choose what to do or where to go. It is

April 2012
quite difficult for us to relate to this because, with the exception of a few of our early teenage years, we do exactly what we choose to do; or, do we? The human being consists of a body and a soul. The soul yearns for the eternal, for such things as peace and tranquility among mankind in this world, as well as building a relationship with Hashem through His Torah and Mitzvos. The body, on the other hand, yearns for things more along the line of a cup of Ben and Jerry’s® (New York Super Fudge Chunk is my favorite), or better put, we all have our obsessions, whether it is golf, flying, fashion, music or just food. Perhaps the key to understanding how to relate to the message of Pesach lies within the relationship between the body and soul. The desires of the body and soul are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, there are times when they interfere with each other. We have things in life we’d like to improve, be it spending more time with our families, growing spiritually, or fixing up a friendship gone sour. While sometimes we accomplish these things, often we neglect them until they fall by the wayside. Perhaps this is somewhat similar to slavery, because we truly want to accomplish these things, but we have other “things” distracting us. However, even after we choose to accomplish them can we consider ourselves completely free if we don’t carry out what we choose to do? This is a lesson we can learn from Pesach. Pesach is a time of freedom. Freedom from that which limits us, whether actual slavery or just those "things" that restrict the spiritual growth we would like to see in ourselves. This Pesach we can free ourselves from all

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Rabbi Wolbe teaching the Thursday evening Shalhevet Partnership class at Congregation Beth El in Missouri City, TX

Freedom with Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe Alumni Focus with Rabbi Danny Masri Slingshot an award for innovation New Family Joins TORCH meet the Cohens Page 1

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TORCH | Connecting Jews & Judaism

material distractions and afford ourselves the freedom to focus on our spiritual endeavors. May Hashem bless us all with spiritual growth from this Pesach and remove the burden of "slavery" from our lives so that we can focus on our connection with our Judaism.

privilege and honor to officiate at some of their weddings.” Rabbi Masri has been able to lend his talents to other institutions in Houston, since his tenure with TORCH ended in 2010. He taught at The Emery Weiner School, a private, college-preparatory middle and high school. When Congregation Beth Rambam, a local Orthodox Sephardic congregation, realized that the talented young rabbi was available, they wisely chose to hire him as their assistant rabbi. Last year, when the position became available, Rabbi Masri became the full time Rabbi at Beth Rambam, where he currently holds a pulpit. Rabbi Masri enjoys talking about all of the positive changes that are taking place at Beth Rambam. He explains, “There are some really great classes offered daily at Beth Rambam. It is also a great place to Daven (pray), and we have a really nice breakfast every morning.” Rabbi Masri teaches a class after the breakfast. Beth Rambam boasts a beautiful new campus, which helps the congregation be a warm and welcoming place. They hold programming for young professionals, teenagers and small children as well. Classes are offered in English, Spanish and Hebrew. The congregation also takes care of Houston’s Jewish needy. They have founded and operate the Tomchei Shabbat program for several years now, ensuring that every Jewish family has the food it needs for Shabbat. There is something else that is new in Rabbi Masri’s life. He beams when he talks about his wife and beautiful children, including their latest addition, a sweet baby girl, Adina. His family has grown accustomed to a life of Chessed (kindness) and reaching out to other people. This made his career transition particularly positive and smooth for the Masri family. Rabbi Masri has not forgotten the lives he has touched and inspired through TORCH. Many of his former students still grace his family’s Shabbat table. Teaching and inspiring is his life-work and he never stops. Do times ever get hard for this rabbi? “There will always be times of frustration and challenge, but you get through it. Working in this community for seven years, you see everything and you learn to expect it.” It has been a very enjoyable journey for Rabbi Masri. He has seen the fruits of his labor, and will continue on his path for many years to come. Did You Know? Over 8,700 Subscribers receive our weekly Torah emails! Join the madness! Subscribe. Today. www.torchweb.org

"The Mussar classes were like entering an emotional spa of serenity and understanding. We always learn something new! All the classes were exceptional. TORCH is a gift to Houston (and Sugar Land)" - Deborah Segal
SPOTLIGHT ON ALUMNI
Rabbi Danny Masri

At first glance, Rabbi Danny Masri does not seem like your typical congregational rabbi. He’s young, soft-spoken and has a kind and gentle way about him. After speaking with him for a few minutes, you come to realize that Rabbi Masri is all of the above. But he has a serious, no-nonsense side to him as well. He loves to teach and inspire people, and he does not take this responsibility lightly. That is what led him into his career. In 2005 Rabbi Masri and his family moved to Houston to work with TORCH. During his five-year tenure with TORCH, he grabbed every opportunity that he could to reach out and teach people about their rich Jewish heritage. Regardless of their background or affiliation, Rabbi Masri saw every Jewish soul as an opportunity to inspire and aspire to greatness. Rabbi Masri inspired hundreds of people to learn and thrive in their Judaism. Rabbi Masri initiated the T.A.L.K. program - a Havurah for Young Jewish Professionals. He not only taught them Judaism, but served as a living example. These young professionals were invited into Rabbi Masri’s home for Shabbat and Jewish Holiday meals, and were able to learn from his family. When asked about the relationships that he formed, Rabbi Masri replied, “I really enjoyed watching them grow throughout the years. Some are married with kids now. I even had the

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TORCH | Connecting Jews & Judaism

SLINGSHOT AWARD
Celebrating our Bar Mitzvah this past year has been a pivotal year of growth for TORCH. While this progress can be measured in many ways, one of the most significant indicators of TORCH’s growth is its recognition by Slingshot, an organization that selects 50 of the most inspiring and innovative non-profits in the North American Jewish community today, to promote philanthropic giving. Slingshot provides its philanthropic decision makers with an opportunity to network with peers, explore their Jewish interests, find causes that are meaningful to their own identities and experiences, and hone their leadership skills. “Slingshot, A Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation,” was first published in 2005, and is now in its seventh edition. Slingshot continues to highlight organizations in Jewish life with particular resonance among the next generation. There are many hundreds of Jewish agencies in North America, and Slingshot goes through many nominations to choose the fifty that best meet their conditions. All 50 organizations featured in Slingshot in a given year are eligible to apply for a Slingshot Fund grant. Slingshot Fund members pool their donations and spend five months examining proposals, conducting site visits and selecting grantees whose organizations not only fit the criteria, but also resonate with a next-generation audience. There are four criteria that are reviewed for each agency that is nominated. Evaluators decide which agencies best fit their profile based on review of the following qualities: 1. Innovation - How creative, inventive, pioneering or groundbreaking is the organization in responding to the changing needs of the Jewish community and the world around it? 2. Impact - Does the organization reach a critical mass of people? Is it affecting the attitudes and behaviors of its constituents and the Jewish community? 3. Strong leadership - Is there someone or some team at the helm who brings character, vision and guidance? Is this person or team paving a new path in the Jewish

community? Is this person or team seen as a strong leader(s) by the organization and by the field? 4. Organizational effectiveness - Is the organization sound? Is it strategic in the way it does business? Is it efficient and responsible about how it raises and spends money? TORCH has proven to be a groundbreaking organization in terms of its approach to Jewish education. Until fairly recently, a Jewish education was not accessible to many Jewish adults because of poor location, undesirable messaging and difficult concepts that many people without a prior Jewish education could not grasp. TORCH makes Jewish learning available to everyone, regardless of affiliation, by building relationships with synagogues of all Jewish denominations. By avoiding the labels common within Jewish education, TORCH serves approximately 15,000 participants each year through innovative programs that include lunchtime learning opportunities, one-on-one study, events and meetings in classrooms, coffee shops and many different synagogues. Going forward, TORCH is in the process of becoming even more focused and effective at reaching into the Jewish community. Did You Know? TORCH's Shalhevet classes are being offered in 11 congregations every week. Join One.
At Partners in Torah, study partners learn together for one hour a week. Shown are Simone Helfgott (L) with Malka Levy, Raquel Leyva (R) and Malka Finman who are among dozens of partners who attend.

At the sixth annual Kosher Awareness Month opening Day! Over 150 people enjoyed the Signature Kosher BBQ, the class on Kosher 101 and a Supermarket Tour and a Kosher Scavenger Hunt

The Spark | Spring 2012

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NEW FAMILY JOINS TORCH
TORCH recently welcomed Rabbi Yaakov and Devorah Cohen to the TORCH staff. “The Cohen's have shown up with such amazing energy and vitality that is spreading quickly throughout the city. They bring with them a treasure trove of knowledge and are ready to share in so many ways,” says Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe, Executive Director of TORCH. Rabbi Cohen grew up in an unaffiliated Jewish home in California with no strong ties to his religion. After attending California State University Northridge, Rabbi Cohen decided to take a backpacking trip across Europe and ultimately landed in Israel. He had no specific plans for what he wanted to do there, but he met a Rabbi who inspired him into enrolling in classes at his Yeshiva, the Diaspora Yeshiva of Israel. Rabbi Shabtai Teicher who was the Outreach Director and a Rabbi in the Yeshiva where Rabbi Cohen studied, was also Devorah’s father.

other programs such as a new “Brachot (blessings) party” where women meet monthly and experience the miraculous powers of blessings. Devorah feels drawn to the mystical insights in the Torah which are still meaningful and relevant today. Her background is in drama and comedy. She also aspires to do a little matchmaking. “There is no greater joy than facilitating the building of Jewish homes. ” she comments.

Rabbi Cohen teaching Kabbalah at the Thursday Afternoon Shalhevet Partnership program at Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism near the Galleria/Tanglewood

Rabbi Cohen likes taking lofty mystical ideas and bringing them down to everyday life to provide inspiration and relevance. He has produced a few Torah-based videos and aspires to teach through media in an engaging and meaningful way. Some of his classes are available on the new TORCH Torah Channel at www.torchweb.org. The Cohen’s have 6 children, ages 17, 16, 11, 10, 4 and almost 1. They love to open their home to people of all backgrounds and look forward to sharing it with the Jewish community of Houston.
Special Thanks to Heidi Mandl from www.StartYourBusinessWrite.com

Rabbi Cohen married Devorah and stayed in Israel for 9 years following his ordination. He continued to study with Rabbi Teicher, learning Kabbalah and training in outreach. He was ultimately recruited by Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, of Congregation Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio. The Cohens lived in San Antonio for 10 years. Rabbi Cohen says he feels compelled and concerned by the rampant assimilation of American Jews and is therefore motivated to teach “the beauty of our religion.” He adds, “There is no greater satisfaction than knowing you’ve made that connection and are touching people’s lives.” The Cohens are very excited about the programs they teach with TORCH. Rabbi Cohen’s classes in Kabbalah and Mysticism are always full, as is his Foundations of Judaism class, a yearlong series on the fundamentals of Judaism. Devorah is leading a weekly women’s breakfast study group, has re-started the Partner’s in Torah program, and she plans to start a class on Dream Interpretation. She is involved in many

THE SPARK Spring 2012 Newsletter
President: Etan Mirwis Board of Directors: Daniel Schlossberg, Israel Tarshish, David Marbin, Aaron Brown, Belinda Denn, Wayne Dorris, Steve Finkelman, Dan Goldfine, Ben Helstein, Malka Levy, Ron Moses, Vicki Samuels Executive Director: Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe

TORCH
Torah Outreach Resource Center of Houston
10101 Fondren Road, Suite 515 Houston, TX 77096 Tel: (713) 721-6400 • Fax: (713) 721-6900 info@torchweb.org • www.torchweb.org

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TORCH | Connecting Jews & Judaism