A Little Genealogy Goes a Long Way!

One afternoon in early 2013, I received a phone message from Rabbi Zell of Tiferet Israel. He said to call him back on his personal cell phone, so I did. He had received an odd e-mail from a man identifying himself as Douglas Parker from New York who believed he was a cousin of a congregant named Bill Pakowsky.

The rabbi, not knowing my maiden name, asked around to see if anyone knew of a Bill Pakowsky, to which Tina (Tobolowsky) Israel replied that the Pakowsky family had been very active at Tiferet Israel. Tina had provided the rabbi with my married name and phone number.

The rabbi wanted to know if it was OK to forward this e-mail to me and I said that was fine. I read it over very carefully. There were several details in it about my grandfather, Morris Pakowsky, and his family; things I didn’t know about, but Douglas Parker did. For example, my grandfather and father kept the original spelling of their last names, but the rest of the siblings (there were 7) didn’t. They ended up with “Parker,” “Parks” and a few other last names. This was all news to me, and I grew more and more interested in what this cousin had to say and what he knew.

Douglas included his phone number in case I wanted to call and chat. I reached him and we began our official connection with each other. He had done some research into his grandfather’s background and family tree, and that’s how he discovered that he had family in Dallas. He looked through newsletters of synagogues here and came across my father’s name – and, as they say, “The rest is history!!”

It’s been a wonderful discovery. I’ve visited my new cousin and his brother in New York, and his sister in California. We’ve kept in touch pretty regularly and I hope some day they’ll come here for a visit and a “Big D” welcome.

The moral? I encourage everyone to look into your family trees; you never know what goodies you’ll discover!!

Marcus Rosenberg and his Legacy of Jewish Learning in Dallas

Today, Dallas boasts six Jewish day schools. How did a city in the Southwest, one that could not keep even one Kosher restaurant in business in the 1970s, get to a point that it could accommodate and maintain so many Jewish schools? Actually, the seeds for Dallas’ diverse and growing Jewish community that supports these schools were planted more than 50 years ago by a man named Marcus Rosenberg.

Growing up in the idyllic town of Bardejov, Czechoslovakia, before World War II, Marcus’ rights and freedoms as a Jew were protected by a democratic government. However, when the fascist Hlinka party gained control of the country in 1939, the situation took a dire turn. Sympathetic to the Third Reich, the new government instituted a vast number of Nazi-like, anti-Jewish laws and began deporting its Jewish citizens “to the east.”

The Rosenberg family was torn apart by war, deportations and horrific experiences in the Nazi death camps. Miraculously, Marcus and three of his siblings survived, returning to Bardejov to rebuild their lives. Within a few years, the country was again taken over, this time by Communists – and the Rosenbergs escaped to the United States.

Marcus found his way to Dallas to reunite with family members in the area, and in his new life here, he emerged as a dynamic, unstoppable businessman and influential philanthropist who greatly enriched Jewish life in the city. It was in Dallas that Marcus established the first sustainable Jewish day school, Akiba Academy of Dallas.

When Marcus came out of Auschwitz, he struggled with serious questions about God. Although he was always profoundly silent about that period of his life, the effects of the war greatly impacted his personal theology. Yet, he loved being Jewish, and when the opportunity presented itself, he became fully committed to doing what he could to give children a strong Jewish education and identity. The best way for Marcus to dull the hurt in his heart was to give back to others, and in large part, he did this by obligating himself to the next generation.

From the establishment of Akiba Academy in 1962, the concept of educating Jewish children in a day school environment took hold, and other day schools were gradually established in the area, reflecting various Jewish denominations and the continual growth of the community.

For more information about the life of Marcus Rosenberg, his memoir, Markus, Planter of Trees, is available in the library of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society and in the Tycher Library at the J.

Let’s Pray for Each Other

I have a client in Atlanta who does bookkeeping; he is an incredibly nice guy and has a great practice, but what really sets him apart is his faith.

We produce a quarterly newsletter for him that includes a “president’s message” in which he expresses some kind of view, mostly about the future business outlook. For the most recent newsletter, he talked about prayer. I knew he was a deeply religious man; in fact, for his client gift this past holiday season, I made a donation to his local church in his honor. I was stunned when he sent us this message:

We recently made a decision to pray for each of our clients by name in our weekly team meetings. We have actually already had the opportunity to pray for particular needs that our clients have had, such as when they have lost a loved one or have been in the hospital.

We would love to be able to pray for you and/or your business more specifically. Obviously, we are not asking that you share anything personal or confidential in nature. But, if you have something you need prayer for and you feel comfortable in sharing, we would love to pray for you. Our desire is to not only see our clients experience God’s blessing in their business, but also in their families and personal lives.

I was deeply moved by his words, and while we have vastly different religions, I believe there is a strong, universal message here that anyone of us, regardless of our religion, can take away.

It’s prayer. Prayer for each other, our families, neighbors, co-workers and just about anyone else you can think of. In a time when our nation is divided on so many issues, it seems to me prayer is sorely needed in our lives. I’m not a preacher by any means; I’ve always considered myself more spiritual than religious, but I, for one, am going to pray more often.

It is the mission of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society to “preserve and protect collections of written, visual and audible materials that document the history of the Dallas Jewish community, to make these materials available to the public and researchers, and to keep the past as a living legacy for our community.” A huge part of this mission is rooted in Judaism, which translates – for me – to observing my Jewish values and heritage.

If this blog resonates for you, then that’s great; if it doesn’t, then I know you’ll find your own path to faith.