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Partners in Torah plans expansion in Houston
Jewish Herald Voice | March 12, 2009

A recent cocktail reception at the home of Dr. Zev and Susan Munk was designed to spread the word about the Partners in Torah’s planned expansion across Houston’s 50,000-plus Jewish com munity. The event was attended by a “who’s who” of Houston’s Jewish educational establishments and local Partners in Torah enthusiasts.

The organization’s signature phone study program has, in its decade-and-a-half of operation, engaged more than 30,000 Jewish adults across the United States. Today, it supports 14,000 weekly study partnerships.

Torah Umesorah's Rabbi Nate Segal spoke at the reception. Marshall Levit was presented with the Partners in Torah's Partner of the Year award. Levit was surprised with a visit from his long-term phone study partner – whom he had never before met in person. It was the highlight of the evening.

Levit, who, for the past three years, has been studying with Simcha Katz on a weekly basis, said he was in total shock. "Meeting Simcha for the first time and finally being able to put a voice to a face and make that connection in person was such a special, meaningful moment for me. I’m convinced that, moving forward, we’ll be able to build a much deeper friendship."

Levit believes that Partners in Torah has the potential to make a massive impact in Houston, particularly for people who are interested in Jewish learning, but who don’t know where to begin. “We already have a great Jewish educational infrastructure, and I think that Partners in Torah can really enhance what’s already being offered. Tuesday night’s event was important for establishing roots for a program that can blossom into something huge.”

Katz and his wife flew in from Brooklyn, N.Y., for the event. He agrees that the surprise meeting with his phone-study partner added a new dimension to their relationship. "Meeting Marshall for the first time was really amazing. Having started with learning about prayer, the two moved on to the study of business and Jewish law. Just over the phone," said Katz, "I didn’t realize how much he wanted to know – and how much he’s growing from the experience. I got to know him so much better, and our wives met and developed an immediate connection."

"Everybody was so emotionally moved by their meeting," commented Rabbi Segal, "but this type of emotional moment is repeated many times every day throughout the country. People everywhere are geting to know each other every day through Partners in Torah."

The other major high light of the evening was the presentation of the organization’s Young Leader-ship award to longtime Partners in Torah supporters Andy and Stephani Serotta.

Rabbi Eli Gewirtz, Partners in Torah’s national director, said, "We honored the Serottas for a variety of reasons. Several years ago, Andy made the growth of Partners in Torah a personal commitment. He saw it as a priority, both in terms of financial support and getting involved with his time." According to Rabbi Gewirtz, Serotta, a successful commodities trader, "literally put in hundreds of hours strategizing and planning various ideas to make this program a success. Since relocating to Houston, he has become a central figure in the city’s Jewish educational system. He helped found the local girls high school and is involved in TORCH, a local community adult education program which hosts a joint TORCH and Partners in Torah study program in Houston."

"We‘re thrilled to be involved with Partners in Torah," said Serotta. "It is a fantastic organization . . . at the reception, I told the story about how I first got started mentoring. Rabbi Gewirtz approached me about it, and I responded by telling him, ‘I have a very busy schedule.’ He responded by saying that I had no choice but to study with someone. ‘We have Jewish adults who want to learn more about Judaism.’ I told him, ‘I might be able to make time on Thursday nights from midnight to 1 a.m.’ So they set me up with a mentor on the West Coast! Everybody – no matter where you are or how much time you think you don’t have – there’s always more that you can do to help the Jewish people, and to get involved."

Marian Bell, another Partners in Torah participant who was at the reception, summed up the message that the event’s organizers hope to drive home. "People in Houston are very busy." They do have classes here, but with Partners in Torah you can really study at your own schedule. You can say ‘I want to study at midnight or 4 or 7 in the morning. I want to learn on Sunday.’ You don’t have to get in your car. You don’t have to pay for gas. You just need to have the desire to learn. "No matter your Jewish affiliation – you can learn about Judaism – anytime – from the comfort of your own home. That’s what Partners in Torah is all about!"

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