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May 4, 2018     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 4, 2018 The United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston being demolished. By Barry Gelman HOUSTON (JTA)--Over a four-day period at the end of August, Hurricane Harvey drenched this city with over 50 inches of rain, inflicting $125 billion in damages. The result of the flooding was especially devastating for the tight-knit and geographi- cally close Jewish community of Houston. Seven major Jew- ish institutions have been severely impacted by Harvey, and an estimated 2,000 Jewish families were affected by the floodwaters. United Orthodox Syn- agogues was particularly hard hit, as approximately one-third of our member households was damaged by the flood. The waters also destroyed our beautiful sanctuary, and ruined our daily and High Holidays prayer books as well as our extensive Judaica library. Our current building has been the home of our merged congregation since 1960. Harvey was only the latest in a series of floods, includ- ing in 2015 and 2016. As I write these words, the main sanctuary, executive wing and classrooms are being demolished. A room that holds memories of so many happy occasions has become a place of tears. We recently held a "fare- well" to the building and joined together one last time in our beautiful sanctuary for morning services. It was a morning of mixed emotions as many spoke about memories of growing up in our syna- gogues. Others spoke about the "end of an era," while oth- ers sat alone in small groups or alone and just cried. I shared some thoughts with the congregation: These walls brought to- gether three different congre- gations and ultimately com- bined them into one united synagogue. The seats of this sanctuary cradled generations of families grandparents, parents and their children, who came to pray here, to cry here and to rejoice here. These walls have absorbed the sounds of our prayers and the wisdom of our Torah. This room has been the setting where we offered thanksgiv- ing for our greatest triumphs and called out to God in tur- bulent times. We have expressed our greatest hopes and dreams here. Echoing off the walls of A room in United Orthodox and floors. this holy chamber is the life- time of our community the multigenerational and diverse sounds that can only be created by a community like ours. So many of us have seen our kids graduate from UOSGMS [the local Jewish Montessori preschool/kindergarten pro- gram] and RMBA [Robert M. Beren Academy, our Modern Orthodox day school] on our bimah. And how many hundreds and hundreds of lollipops have been distrib- uted up there reminding our kids that Torah, shul and community are the sweetest treats they will ever get. Yet there was also hope in the room that day. While it is simplistic and often insensi- tive to say things like "it's just a building" or "it's just stuff," the community is resolute Synagogues of Houston that was stripped of its furniture in believing that its strength derives from our members. We are facing a choice of how to rebuild our synagogue and where exactly in the neighborhood itwiltbe. These are important questions, even as we know that we are each others' most important resource. For now we will hold services and events in Freed- man Hall, a nearby building that has the advantage of being elevated. It's important that we try to save the monu- mental stained glass mural that serves as a dramatic backdrop to our bimah. Since the flood, our com- munity has seen its prayer books and library replaced, and funds have been raised to help our families recover from the devastation. The outpouring of concern, expressed by hun- dreds of volunteers coming to our neighborhood to help and provide food for flooded fami- lies for a full month after the hurricane, have been nothing short of extraordinary. One of the mostastonishing aspects of our recovery, how- ever, is how flooded families have been helping each other. Despite individual suffering and anguish, members of our community have continued to reach out to others. It is so easy (and understandable) for those suffering from loss to close in on themselves and focus only on their own challenges, of which there are many--economic, psycho- logical, social. I have not seen that. I have seen the opposite. Rabbi Barry Gelman is rabbi of United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images Alex Bregman makes a play in Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Nov. 1, 2017. By Hillel Kuttler WEST PALM BEACH (JTA)--Sitting on a couch near his locker at the Houston Astros' spring training facil- ity here in mid-March, Alex Bregman is reflecting about an encounter his father had at the World Series last fall. It was in Los Angeles, be- tween innings of the opening game. Sam Bregman was headed for a Dodger Stadium concession stand to grab a nosh wearing his Astros j ersey with the No. 2 and his sur- name stitched on the back--a facsimile of his son's uniform. The young Bregman, a third baseman, had just slugged a home run off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. A fan grabbed Sam Breg- man's arm. "Are you Alex's dad?" "I am," the elder Bregman replied. "Is he Jewish?" "Yeah." The man was a Dodger fan, but still he flashed what Sam Bregman described as "a look of great contentment" at the ballplayer's heritage. "I got such a kick out of it," Sam Bregman said in a phone interview near his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "It made me feel so proud." Alex Bregman's take on the encounter: "It's definitely cool to have fans around the world give their support. It keeps you motivated to know that everyone has your back." Bregman can expect to have more fans on his bandwagon, Jewish and otherwise, follow- ing a strong 2017 season and the first World Series title for the Astros--to which he con- tributed mightily He knocked in a run in each of the first five games, added a second home run, threw out a run- ner at home plate to preserve a scoreless tie in Game 4 and had the run-scoring single that ended an epic Game 5 in the 10th inning, 13-12. During the 2017 season, the former No. 2 overall draft pick out of Louisiana State averaged .284, pounded 39 doubles and 19 home runs, and stole 17 bases. Two days after the Game 7 road victory, Bregman cel- ebrated at the championship parade in Houston. Thou- sands of fans lined streets in a city still recovering from Hurricane Harvey flooding a couple of months earlier. "To see their pure joy," Bregman said, "gave me the chills." The experience capped a memorable year for Bregman that began with his playing for the U.S. team that won the World Baseball Classic title in March. Israel's squad, which fin- ished sixth overall in the WBC, had sought his ser- vices. In retrospect, he said, "I probably should've" played for Israel "because I got [just] four at-bats" playing as a backup for the Ameri- can team. Regardless of who comes calling in 2021, Bregman said, he's unlikely to participate. His Astros will start de- fending their championship on Thursday in Arlington, Texas, against the Rangers. Bregman will turn 24 the next day. "There are a lot of things I want to accomplish in this game. Winning is right there at the top," Bregman said. "We have a great team to repeat as champs." Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he expects Bregman to "build off the momentum he generated in the postseason and throughout the whole season last year." "While he's established himself as a major league player he's not even close to what he's going to be," Hinch said. He called Bregman "a true baseball rat," someone who "loves the game, loves practice, loves being around his teammates." But his mother, Jackie, will tell you that her son is more than about baseball. His foundation, AB for AUDS, provides computer tablets to children with autism and Down syndrome. Brady Columbus, a son of Breg- man's former hitting coach and Bregman's godson, is autistic. Jackie Bregman spoke of her son's kindness. "Alex is so patient with people, and I'm really, really proud of him for that," she said in a phone interview. She recalled her son de- fending elementary school classmates being bullied. And he was also on the other end: A boy made fun of Alex's pending bar mitzvah as he was leaving school to meet with the cantor, and a Chinese-American teammate on Alex's basketball squad stood up for him. The experiences, she said, "taught him what it was like to be marginalized." Years ago, the family at- tended an appearance by several players of the minor league Albuquerque Isotopes. One player was aloof. "Sam and I said to Alex, 'Don't ever be like that,' " she recalled. But Jackie Bregman also knows her son is driven to excel on the field. "He would not mince words. 'I don't just want to play baseball; I want to be the best,'" Jackie Bregman remembered her son saying. "He was determined." In junior high in Albu- querque, Bregman attended a University of New Mexico baseball camp. The Lobos' baseball coach, Ray Birming- ham, preached dedication to greatness. "Alex took that so literally that he'd hit in the batting cages until he got calluses," recalled Sam Bregman, who had grown up on the field at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, where his late father, Stan, worked as a lawyer for the Washington Senators. It was Stan, "Grandpa Zayde," who gave his grandson a card set of Jewish baseball players. Someone else who wit- nessed that commitment was Darvin Ham, who coached the New Mexico Thunder- birds, an NBA Development League team the Bregmans owned. In postgame conversa- tions and at the Bregman home, Alex Bregman "was like a sponge" of information about the makings of athletic achievement, said Ham, now an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks. "He was a very good lis- tener. He took mental notes," said Ham, who considers Alex Bregman "a little brother." Bregman explained his early competitive drive. "Coach Birmingham said you have to decide," he re- called. "I woke up at 5 am. to go to the cage to school to the cage: defense and hitting. I did that every day for years, [beginning at] probably age Bregman on page 15A