DALLAS HAS BECOME A CRITICAL LINK IN
THE ETERNAL CHAIN OF TORAH
By Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman
One of the great men who carried Torah to the shores of America was Rabbi David Leibowitz. A student of the famous Slabodka Yeshiva in Lithuania, he was charged by his mentor and uncle, the famous Chofetz Chaim, to be a teacher of Torah. He saw in the United States fertile ground for this mission. Torah study in 1930s America was almost non-existent, and Jewish connection to the Torah was waning. Many assimilated American Jews told him these ideas were obsolete and this ancient way of life could never take root in modern, enlightened times. Undaunted, he founded the Rabbinical Seminary of America, naming it Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim after his illustrious uncle. It was only the third Yeshiva in America, founded in 1933 during the height of the depression. He was told he wouldn’t last 10 days. And by all logical accounts it shouldn’t have. But he knew the strength of the unbroken chain. He was certain that if he stayed true to the ideals and lessons he had carried with him from his predecessors, he could not fail.
Unfortunately, correct as he was, Rabbi Leibowitz was not destined to witness the fruition of his dream. He died in 1941 at the young age of 52, leaving the Yeshiva and his mission to be carried on by his son, Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz, then only 24 years old. Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz went on to lead the Yeshiva for nearly 70 years. During his illustrious career, Rabbi Leibowitz taught and inspired generations of students. He trained an army of hundreds of dedicated men and women, ready to reach out all across America and share their Torah knowledge and passion with other Jews. The unbroken chain was being extended all across North America. From Vancouver to Ottawa, from Los Angeles to Miami, there are now dozens and dozens of institutions that were founded by students of the seminary with the singular goal of teaching Torah and it’s timeless message and values to Jews of all backgrounds.
Rabbi Leibowitz was once asked how his students, with limited exposure to other cultures, could presume to build Torah in all of these far flung, diverse communities. He answered, “we are not experts in all of the different communities and demographics, but we are experts in Judaism and we know what a Jew is. And a Jew, wherever he is located, has a soul that is receptive to Torah and its timeless message.”
Dallas, Texas was just such a community. The first Jews came to Dallas in in the middle of the 19th
century, founding the first Jewish cemetery in 1854. A JCC was founded in 1879, becoming a hub of Jewish activity and identity. The Federated Hebrew Charities was incorporated in 1911, eventually becoming the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas in 1976. The Federation is the center of Jewish philanthropy in Dallas. Its mission is to help ensure the continuity of a strong and vibrant Jewish community in Dallas, Israel, and throughout the world.
The Torah education component was started with the founding of Akiba Academy in 1962 by Mr. Marcus Rosenberg. It was the first institution of formal Jewish education in Dallas and became the foundation stone upon which the thriving network of Jewish Dallas schools was built. It has educated generations of students here in Dallas and still holds a special place in the hearts of many dedicated Jewish Dallas families. Years later, Rabbi Aryeh Rodin, one of the students mentored by Rabbi Leibowitz at the Rabbinical Seminary in New York, came to Dallas, looking to make his contribution to Torah in America. After three years in his first pulpit in North Dallas, Rabbi Rodin moved a few miles further north, and founded Congregation Ohev Shalom, with the mission to “teach Torah to Jews of all backgrounds.” This was the beginning of what would become known as the Far North Dallas Jewish community.
“We could see the potential and momentum growing south of LBJ” Rabbi Rodin recalls. “It was an exciting time to be there. But we felt there was an opportunity to take Torah where it hadn’t yet taken root”. He was right on both counts. Jewish life in Dallas saw rapid and explosive growth in the following years.
The “down South” community quickly grew, galvanizing local Jews to new levels of affiliation and attracting others from around the country. They founded a number of successful synagogues and schools, and a Kollel dedicated to outreach and education, which itself now has several satellites. The Far North community, founded by Rabbi Rodin, now boasts multiple synagogues, its own eruv, and hundreds of religious families. Besides the original Dallas Eruv south of LBJ and the Far North Eruv, there is an eruv in Plano and, thanks in large part to the efforts of Shirley Rovinsky, an eruv south of Forest Lane extending beyond Northaven Road to Lakehurst Avenue.
“From the beginning,” Rabbi Rodin recalls, “we knew from the moment we opened Ohev Shalom that we wanted to bring in a Yeshiva. A Yeshiva is the crown jewel of a community and it was always our goal to establish one here in Dallas.”
In 2003, that dream became a reality. Rabbi Rodin reached out to two young rabbis who had recently graduated from the rabbinical seminary in New York. Rabbi Shlomo Pacht and I were inspired by the message of the Yeshiva and excited at the prospect of coming to spread the highest possible levels of Torah study and the transformative power of a Yeshiva to the Dallas community. We both had successful teaching careers in New York City at large, established Yeshivas, but saw Dallas as a “promotion” because it afforded an opportunity to bring a Yeshiva to a place that didn’t yet have one. With modest means, but a passion and conviction to make a difference, we opened Texas Torah Institute in August 2003. In 2008, when the Yeshiva and the community had grown substantially, Rabbi Daniel Ringelheim joined us as a third director of TTI.
Dot and Basil Haymann and their children, Gary and Julie Haymann, Sandy and Andrew Marks, and Tracy and BJ Elliott, generously donated a campus for the Dallas Yeshiva. The Haymann Family Campus, located at the corner of Frankford Road and Davenport, is home to the Katav-Akrish High School, Mesivta Emes L’Yaakov, which is named after Maggie and Juda Katav’s fathers.
Fifteen years and hundreds of students later, Texas Torah Institute has become a pivotal part of the growth of the Dallas Jewish community. Since the founding of the Yeshiva, other students of the Rabbinical Seminary have come as well. The community has welcomed Rabbi Zecharia Sionit, who founded the Sefardic Torah Center of Dallas, and Rabbis Shalom Rodin and Tzvi Wachsman established JET (Jewish Education Texas), a hub for Jewish learning and identity for unaffiliated Jews.
“A Yeshiva can’t be started in a vacuum,” Rabbi Ringelheim points out. “There had to be fertile ground for the planting of this type of institution. We build on the work of all who came before us. People like Bob Goldberg and the entire Goldberg family have been working to preserve Jewish identity for years. Without Jews who are proud to identify as Jews and identify with Torah values, there is no one to teach Torah to. It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when people in Dallas had to fight an uphill battle to make sure these ideals were valued, preserved and, most importantly, passed on to the next generation.”
He is referring to Bob Goldberg, this 2018 guest of honor at the Texas Torah Institute Scholarship Banquet. The Yeshiva presented Bob a lifetime achievement award. Bob and his wife, Lois, have been Pace Setters of the Jewish Federation for many years and Bob was a member of the Federation board of directors. He has been involved with the JCC on so many levels; from coaching little league, to major building campaigns, to sitting on the board of the organization itself. Bob was once named JCC Man of the Year. In fact, three generations of the Goldberg family have been on the Board of the JCC.
Bob and Lois passed on their values of
Jewish identity, communal responsibility, and leadership to the next generation and beyond.
Every one of their children has taken a leadership role in Dallas Jewish life. Their sons and daughters-in-law, Kenny and Sherry, Neil and Lisa, have chaired numerous boards and been involved with many Jewish organizations, from the Holocaust Museum to AIPAC to Jewish Federation. Bob and Lois’ daughter, Jeri Finkelstein, and her husband, Bill, have been synonymous with Dallas Kosher for nearly 30 years. From the creation of the annual Dallas Kosher Chilli Cookoff, Bill’s brainchild, to ensuring that every major event in Dallas adheres to the strictest level of kosher law, the Finkelsteins have had a profound impact on the awareness and observance of Jewish dietary laws in Dallas. Bill and Jeri Finkelstein have also been active supporters of the Federation and Bill established the Mt. Zion cemetery.
From the Goldberg Early Childhood Center at the JCC, established by Kenny and Sherry Goldberg, to supporting Akiba Academy and Texas Torah Institute, the Goldbergs have taken a leadership role in every stage of Torah education available in Dallas.
Shane Stein, who is both a proud Akiba Academy alum and parent, received TTI’s 2018 Community Leadership award. Shane sits on many boards within the Jewish community and is a member of the Jewish Federation of North America National Young Leadership Cabinet. He is following in the tradition of his parents, Shelly and Barbara Stein who have been extremely active in the Dallas Jewish Community for decades. Shelly has received numerous honors, including awards from the Texas Chamber of Commerce and the UJA Federation of New York. Barbara has chaired many community events and was a Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.
“There is a Dallas Yeshiva today, more than 60 students are studying at Texas Torah Institute, because of the work and the sacrifice of those who came before us. It is our responsibility to pass
that commitment to the next generation,” says Rabbi Ringelheim. “That’s why it’s especially gratifying to honor these two very special individuals and their families. Bob Goldberg, representing all the hard work that came before us, and Shane Stein, as we look to the future. The great chain of Torah is where the past meets the future.”
We welcome you to visit our Yeshiva, for it is yours as much as our students’ and ours. Please email Mrs. Sarah Broderick at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (972) 250-4888 to schedule a visit to the Haymann Family Campus at your convenience.
Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman is one of the founding Rabbis of Texas Torah Institute and, with Rabbi Daniel Ringelheim, heads the TTI Bais Medrash program. He received his Smicha Yoreh Yoreh / Yadin Yadin from the Rabbinical Seminary of America, Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, and has been teaching since 1996. Rabbi Kaufman’s keen insight and personal warmth have made him a very popular teacher among his TTI students and within the greater Dallas community, where he lives with his wife Shifra and their children. Rabbi Kaufman can be reached at (972) 250-4888.