The 14th anniversary TORCH Gala dinner on Nov. 19 was a resounding success, celebrating the mission of TORCH: connecting Jews and Judaism. More than 475 people, coming from congregations across greater Houston, bonded over Jewish learning.
The program was opened by chairs David and Susan Marbin, who shared their story of personal growth through TORCH. Dr. Sam and Charlotte Axelrad were presented with the TORCHBearer Award by honorary chairs, Richard and Nancy Freed. This award was given in recognition of the work and the support the Axelrads have given TORCH. Sam Axelrad has fostered a teen Mussar program through TORCH and is teaching it at Congregation Brith Shalom in the evening high school program. (Mussar is the study of one’s character traits through the eyes of the Torah.)
Lynn Levit was presented with the Talmud Torah Award by honorary chairs, Abe and Fran Friedman. Levit has implemented a high school program for high school seniors to learn Mussar and prepare for life away from home after graduation. Last year’s recipient of the Talmud Torah Award, Malka G. Levy and her husband Brad, closed the evening with their comments on how TORCH has touched their lives.
The State of TORCH was delivered by executive director Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe. Rabbi Wolbe said, “In TORCH, we understand today’s generation is very different than any other. We are therefore employing the most innovative programming, including that of the Shalhevet division. Shalhevet – congregational partnerships – is one of our five vibrant divisions, and this year, expanded TORCH’s partnerships from seven to 14 institutions. ... We have more work ahead of us, and we plan to expand much more in the coming year.
“By teaching practical and relevant Judaism, we have become an important fixture of the vibrant Jewish community of Houston, where Jewish people are thirsty for study that is at the same level of intellectual sophistication as their other pursuits. This year, we received over 5,000 registrations for our classes. The light of Torah is truly shining brightly in Houston, Texas.
“Our students – of all ages – tell us how studying Torah has made them better spouses and parents, and even better children to their own parents. They tell us how it makes them think about what it means to be Jewish throughout their day. They tell us that their personal relationship with their Creator is more real, stronger and closer than ever. This is the power of Torah, and this is the power of TORCH.”
A highlight of the evening was a standing ovation for Rabbi Yossi Grossman, who has been part of TORCH since its inception 14 years ago. Highly respected, he has made an indelible mark in Houston. In 2009, Rabbi Grossman developed a division of TORCH, the Jewish Ethics Institute, dedicated to the sole focus of medical, legal and business ethics. He now is in the process of replicating JEI in 12 other cities across North America. It now officially is an independent organization, separate from TORCH.
TORCH president Daniel Schlossberg added, “The course of my life changed one evening nearly five years ago, and it all started with an invite for a Shabbos meal from Rabbi Wolbe. ...Up until that night, I had never had a Shabbos meal in a home outside of my parents’, nearly two decades ago. I arrived at the Wolbes, a bit timid, and was overwhelmed by their warmth and hospitality and so impressed with Rabbi and rebbetzin Wolbe. ... That evening actually became the start of a very special relationship with the Wolbes and TORCH, and the beginning of my return home to Judaism. Every Jew in Houston has access to TORCH and the experience I had.”
Every attendee was given a pomegranate tree to take home at the end of the evening. The trees, donated anonymously, were given because pomegranates are said to have 613 seeds, which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.
Current class offerings at TORCH include: 50 Shades of Greatness, The 5 Levels of Pleasure, 24 Traits to Perfection, as well as Learner’s Prayer experience, Hebrew Reading, and a Young Professionals weekly learning group, TALK. All these programs and more can be found at torchweb.org, or call 713-721-6400. To view the videos, visit torchweb.org/photos.php and click on Video Gallery.