What a doll

Matthew Kalina and Rachel Weiss. 

Ellen Futterman, Editor

What a doll

Rachel Weiss admits she had hoped the Hanukkah gift she received from Matthew Kalina would come in a small box, one that was ring size. 

“I knew he was going to propose — we had talked about it — so I knew it was coming. But I didn’t know when or how,” she says, explaining the two had dated for five years, after meeting at a Hanukkah party in 2010 at Next Dor, a gathering place in the Central West End for Jewish young adults.

Yet there was the gift box and it was big. Way too big for even the Hope Diamond.

But when Weiss unwrapped the box she found something even more precious: the American Girl Rebecca Rubin doll. 

Weiss had read about the 18-inch doll in the Jewish Light when she first appeared in 2009. Rebecca’s backstory says she’s a 9-year-old who lives with her Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, siblings and grandparents on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1914.

Weiss felt an instant affinity because her great-grandmother, with whom she was very close, was also named Rebecca Rubin. She, too, had been an immigrant, and came to this country from Eastern Europe at a young age. 

Kalina, 36, knew how Weiss felt about the doll. Still, when he brought over this giant present, she had no idea what was inside.

“I’m unwrapping it and started crying hysterically,” Weiss says. “I couldn’t believe it.

“Then Matt says, ‘I think she has something for you.’ I was scared to take her out of the box because there were all these twisty tie things. But he said, “I think she has something for you inside her jacket.’ ”

When Weiss opened the jacket, she found a purple ribbon hanging from the doll’s neck with an engagement ring attached. Purple is Weiss’ favorite color and the jacket itself was purple tweed.

“It really was an amazing proposal,” adds Weiss, 31, who is a social worker. “Not only did I get a beautiful ring but also an amazingly sentimental gift that I will cherish.”

The couple is planning to be married by Rabbi Emeritus Jeffrey Stiffman of Congregation Shaare Emeth in November. A reception at Westwood County Club will follow.

When I asked Weiss what colors she had chosen for the wedding decor, she said she’s keeping that a secret. But I’m betting on purple.


Rock on

Understandably Rick Recht is excited. Right before Passover, his organization, Jewish Rock Radio (JRR), will launch the “JRR Gift of Music,” which will distribute Jewish music directly to thousands of young adults in St. Louis, Memphis and other cities across the United States. 

Recht, executive director of JRR, says this will be the largest distribution of Jewish music in history, with free digital music downloads to young adults every three months for a two-year period. JRR’s initiative will share Jewish music digitally in partnership with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and organizations that work with young adults, including Next Dor, J Grads, YPD, Q Jews, and others. 

“The mission of Jewish Rock Radio is to strengthen Jewish identity and engagement for youth and young adults through the power of music,” says Recht. “What better way than to put the music directly into their hands so that they can experience it in every aspect of their lives? It can remind them of their Jewish camping and youth group experiences and the most profound experiences of their Jewish lives, all of which are soaked in Jewish music.”

Recht explains that members of organizations such as Hillel or YPD will receive an email from that organization telling of upcoming activities. Members can then click on a button that transports them to a customized web page, and on that web page the music downloads automatically. It also gives them the ability to share the music with a friend, who in turn will receive “the gift of music” for two years.

“I look at this as a game changer,” adds Recht. “It’s like a Birthright of music for teens and young adults.”  

Recht says this initiative was made possible through grants from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, the Kranzberg Foundation, and the support of dozens of local philanthropists. The JRR Gift of Music will include music from artists such as David Broza, Rick Recht, Josh Nelson, and more.


Hot stuff 

You remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Well right in time for Passover comes the Horseradish Challenge, proceeds of which will support youth-focused programs at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

To participate, go to horseradishchallenge.com before, after or during Passover week (April 22-30) to sign up, then grab a teaspoon of horseradish and a video camera or smartphone. Announce your name and participation in this cause; challenge three others to do the same, and then swallow. Upload your video to Facebook, Instagram or YouTube using the hashtag #horseradishchallenge and donate $20.


Decisions, decisions


In addition to paying taxes, mid-April is when high school seniors must decide which college to attend. If you haven’t had a child go through this process, it can be grueling. But it doesn’t have to be.

Dave Zuckerman and his wife, Lois, founded a volunteer, college mentoring service called Mentors 4 College (M4C) to help high school students select and apply to their ideal college. Since they began the service five years ago, 20 mentors have worked with more than 300 students at Parkway North High School. Zuckerman says the service is entirely free and open to anyone, but Parkway North students get first preference because that’s where his kids went to high school as well as most of the mentors’.

“Compared to real college counselors, what we do is pretty lightweight,” says Zuckerman, who is a retired consultant and member of Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community. “It’s intentionally that way. Our goal in starting this was to help the college counselors at Parkway because the district is so huge and dealing with thousands of kids can be overwhelming. We are sheepdogs and cheerleaders, nudging these kids in the right direction.”

Zuckerman says once a student signs up at mentors4college.org, he or she is assigned a mentor who stays with that student through the duration of high school. Parents as well as students must attend the mentoring sessions, which occur over a couple of hours per semester.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, Parkway North High, along with M4C, is sponsoring a talk by Brandeis University admissions counselors at Parkway North on getting into competitive colleges. It is free and open to the community.

Meanwhile, Zuckerman says he and his mentoring team would gladly train people in other area school districts if they were interested in starting a similar service.