Friday, August 18, 2017

The Good Land and the Good Sea

The Good Land and the Good Sea

At Jewish Newport, August 12, 2017


Rabbi Marc Mandel greeted the congregation, and then spoke briefly,

“This morning’s parsha [Parashat Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25] deals a lot with the land of Israel and its unique place in Jewish Life.

“Israel is referred to as Haaretz Hatovah (האֶ֣רֶץ הטוֹבָ֑ה) The good land. Our generation has been blessed to live in a time when Israel has developed into a beautiful, modern and successful country.

“At our Kiddish today we will hear from a speaker who is very devoted to Israel. Avi Nevel recently founded the R.I.I.C.-The Rhode Island Israel Collaborative which will promote commerce academics and science between RI and Israel.

“Avi has served as the chairman of the Israel Task force committee of the Jewish Alliance, and is on the executive board of the New England  Israel Business Council. In 2015, Avi co-organized the first Rhode Island economic mission to Israel: Thanks to Avi.

“The connection between our community and Israel is a strong one: We are a small community, but that doesn’t we can’t try to build our connection to Israel.”

At the Kiddish,  sponsored by Philip Mintz, Avi Nevel recalled learning about the YamTov project from Attorney Doron Levit. “Yamtov [Good Sea] is a national enterprise to bring about change in people by connecting them to the sea through challenging activities, along with emotional processing and social integration in sailing clubs through the country.  Sail to Prevail, a Newport program run by Paul Callahan has similar objectives.” 

With the help of Discover Newport’s Evan Smith, the Israeli group and the Newport group connected.

From September 10-17 an Israeli delegation will come to Newport. Among them will be people from the military and police and civilians who were wounded in action or in terrorist incidents, as well as a woman whose brother was killed in action. They will sail daily with “Sail to Prevail,” and do some sightseeing also. We hope to meet them at Touro during a Friday evening in September.

The hope is that in 2018, a group from Rhode Island will reciprocate by traveling to Israel.

There is still a lot to be done to put the visit together, and Avi Nevil is working with Rabbi Mandel and Bea Ross.

Let’s pray for smooth sailing!


Shabbat Shalom

Friday, August 11, 2017

Rabbis and Their Children

Rabbis and Their Children

At Touro Synagogue, Saturday, August 5, 2017
by Aaron Ginsburg aaron.ginsburg@gmail.com



It was a full house last Saturday at Touro Synagogue. We’ve heard a lot about cases concerning Congregation Jeshuat Israel and its appurtenances and paraphernalia.  On Shabbat, the case was about Rabbis and their children.

 Rabbi Mandel was welcoming and his remarks were succinct.

“Welcome to everyone who is here. I also want to welcome to my mother and her husband Eddie.

“Special thanks to all our members and friends who have been offering their support to our synagogue.

“This is the parsha [Parashat Vaetchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11]  that talks about parents and children.
כִּֽי־תוֹלִ֤יד בָּנִים֙ וּבְנֵ֣י בָנִ֔ים When you have children and grandchildren, וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ you shall teach your children כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר when your children shall ask you questions.

“Rabbi Loel and Patty Weiss have much to be proud of with Yoni and Sasha who are leaders in Ra’anana, Israel and are building the Jewish State. Avi and Devra are very active in the Jewish community in Las Vegas, and Eitan and Amy are Jewish educators and directors in Minneapolis.

“Fortunately for Jackie and I, our children are also in town this shabbat. Many of you know them-they are all doing wonderful things in work and school.  Special greeting to Rochelle, Doni’s fiancé from West Hartford!

“The Orthodox Union publishes a magazine called Jewish Action-and the current issue has the following cover article,  “Growing up in the public eye: children of Rabbis.

“Sometimes, the children of Rabbis feel extra pressure due to the fact that their families are in the spotlight. Psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz, himself the son of a rabbi, as well as psychologist, and Rabbi Dr Irving Levitz. According to Dr Levitz, seventy percent of  Rabbis children believed their fathers were over involved with synagogue life. Dr. Pelcovitz stresses that parents should include their children in their important work-Carmi has always helped me here at Touro with the minyans and other important work. It's a delicate balance between family life and community life. 

“The greatest Jewish leader was Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Rabbi. When was the last time you heard about Moshe's children? We hear about Yehoshua-we hear about Pinchas-but not about Moshe's children. 

“So we give a yasher koach to Patty and Loel-they have walked the tightrope of Rabbi and family very well. In a sentence they had a real challenge-because Patty was a dedicated Jewish  educator for many years-but they succeeded. May we all follow in their footsteps as we go on our life’s journey together with our families. 

“Join us for kiddish…sponsored by Rabbi Loel and Patty Weiss in honor of their children and grandchildren who are visiting them this week.  

“Shabbat Shalom!”

At the Kiddish, Patty Weiss made brief remarks, stimulated by the article about Rabbis and their children. She told us the three rules in the Weiss household.

1. The rules of the house are the rules. 
2. Don’t ride on a motorcycle.
3. Marry someone who is Jewish.

Rabbi Weiss amplified the first rule. This is what you do if you want to live here. Their sons agreed that they had never ridden a motor cycle. I observed the Weiss family beaming about their Jewish wives and daughters-in-law.

This case is now closed!

Friday, August 4, 2017

A visit to the MFA with Touro Synagogue


A visit to the MFA with Touro Synagogue 

Sunday, July 30, 2017
by Aaron Ginsburg aaron.ginsburg@gmail.com

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On Sunday, 35 members and friends of Touro Synagogue  took a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was the last day for the exhibit of photographs by Henryk Ross, taken in the Lodz Ghetto. It was also a chance to check on the Touro rimonim, and see a few other things at the museum. I took a one-hour tour led by a docent to see the art of Europe. The tour was excellent. Some people have favorite words. The docent’s favorite word was “beautiful” and every painting was beautiful. I suspect the elevators and the bathrooms were beautiful too.

Rita Slom said, “Our trip to Boston was a delightful day for all of us.   During our short bus ride David and Linda talked about their last visit and answered questions about what we might see. The first place most of us went to was the
Newport room with our rimonim.  It's a breathtaking scene. 
“Then we went to see the Lodz exhibit. Most of us had tears in our eyes as we saw what these people suffered    
“My wish was to see the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum a ten minute walk from MFA. So I got on the Fenway and visited there.  It is where the largest art theft took place.   
“When we climbed onto the bus we went to Harvard Street to eat and buy whatever Jewish food you could want. Six of us had Kosher Chinese food...a real treat.

“On the way home we had treats that Jeanine had brought for us.  

“Thanks to the Rabbi, Cliff Guller, David and Linda Nathanson and Jeanine.” [Philip Mintz was also involved in planning the trip] 

Rabbi Marc Mandel also enjoyed the museum, the bus, Brookline, and David and Linda’s commentary.

The special exhibit was called, “Memory Unearthed, The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross.” The exhibit began with a short video from an Israeli documentary featuring Henyrk Ross and his wife talking about their experiences in Lodz. 

Ross was a professional photographer. He worked for the Judenrat taking photos for identity cards and propaganda, and by using the film very efficiently, was able to take a least six photographs a day of what it was really like in Lodz, at great risk to his and his wife’s lives. He buried his pictures in 1944, and retrieved them after liberation. Ross testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann and his photos were used as evidence.

After the war Henryk Ross never took another photograph. He seemed to be a prisoner of what he witnessed and of the photographs he took. Having seen his photographs, I suspect Ross was aware of the great photographers of his era, and was among the greats himself. 

Newporter Billy Spargo commented, “I had just finished reading "Yellow Star"  by Jennifer Roy, niece of Sylvia Perlmutter, 1 of 12 children who survived the Lodz ghetto. It is a book of poetry she began when she was 4 1/2 yrs. old. This made the Henryk Ross exhibit all the more poignant. I walk by the Touro Synagogue every day so viewing the Rimonim was a must. Also, there was a local  art exhibit, at Temple Ohabei Shalom!  Toda Raba to all who made the trip possible.”

Billy Spargo’s great uncle was John Spargo(1876-1966). John Spargo, born in England, was mostly self-educated. He became a socialist, and was involved in the creation of the Labour Parliamentary Representation Committee, a forerunner of the British Labor Party. Spargo was on the right wing of Socialism, and was opposed to violence, and also to dictatorial tendencies.

He and his wife went to America in February, 1901. He joined the Socialist Labor Party, edited a socialist monthly, and eventually was a founding member of the Socialist Party of America in 1901.  He was opposed to one person being in charge.  He opposed extremist attempts to take over the party, and eventually broke with the party over whether America should join the Allies in WWI, which he supported. 

He wrote three books in 1905 and 1906 about child labor and about underfed children and child exploitation, and supported efforts to have the government take a more active role in defense of children.

In 1908 he wrote the best biography of Karl Marx in English up to that time.

Spargo became concerned about the effect of anti-semitism
on American Democracy. He took particular aim at Henry Ford, who supported an anti-semitic newspaper. Spargo considered Ford to be a naive dupe. This led to a letter signed by 136 notables published in the New York Times, lectures, and a book, “The Jew and American Ideals,” published in 1917.

John Spargo became a Republican in the mid 1920s. But, like Henryk Ross, he then retired from politics, and became a museum director in Old Bennington, Vermont. 



And on that note, I retire from Jewish Newport…until next week!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Its All About the Music

Its All About the Music

At Touro Synagogue July 28-29, 2017 

by Aaron Ginsburg
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Touro synagogue last weekend was all about the music.

On Friday evening Professor Jonathan Glasser, an associate professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia spoke about his work. The son of Morton and Irene Glasser, he said, “I am a historical anthropologist whose work focuses on modern North Africa, with particular attention to Algeria and Morocco. My current projects draw on ethnographic and archival work to consider the entanglement of materiality, personhood, and temporality in the urban, Arabic-language musical and poetic practice known as Andalusi music.” 

Jonathan doesn’t just study and write about this music. He also performs it through the through the William and Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. So we had a bargain: a professor and a musician! It’s like having a bottle of relish mixed with mustard. And we experienced both flavors!

As Jonathan described it,

“I talked about two connected research projects, said Jonathan. The first was a project about the revival of what is sometimes called Andalusi music in Algeria and Morocco starting around 1900--an urban classical music that is associated with al-Andalus, medieval Muslim Spain. Jews played an important part in this musical revival, and were prominent producers and consumers of this mainly secular, Arabic-language poetic and musical tradition. The project resulted in my book The Lost Paradise: Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016.

“The second, current project is a follow-up to the first, and looks more closely at relationships between Muslims and Jews around music, mainly in Algeria and its borderlands. This project is focused on both the Arabic-language Andalusi traditions and the more religious genres, in Hebrew and Arabic, that are considered offshoots of this repertoire. There are lots of interesting and sometimes surprising connections between Muslim and Jewish musical practices in North Africa, and we had the chance to taste a few of these connections through a musical demonstration that involved audience participation.”


Was the Andulsi revival was part of the rise of Arab Nationalism under the pressure of French domination and the need to create or recreate a secular culture with roots to the past? North Africa in 1900 was far removed from the glory of medieval Spain. It is not surprising that Jews participated in this revival. Their ancestors were active participants in its creation, and they were just as much a part of the culture as their Muslim neighbors. 

On Saturday morning about 60 people attended services. The weather was surprisingly cool. The fans were running full blast, and rather than trying to be near them, many of us hid from them. There weren’t enough columns to hide behind. I will bring my gloves next week, just in case.

Rabbi Marc Mandel mentioned our upcoming trip to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, to see an exhibit there on the Holocaust about the Lodz Ghetto,

“This weekend we are joined by a group that is focusing on defining moments [which sponsored Kiddish]. Certainly the Holocaust was a defining moment in Jewish history.

“…There are those who believe that the proper time to mourn the Holocaust is the day on the Jewish calendar designated to commemorate Jewish tragedy which is Tisha B’Av, which begins this Monday night. Tisha B’Av is already a day of fasting and mourning-

“Unfortunately there are many things to mourn in Jewish history including the loss or both Temples and the burning of the Talmud. Today Jewish communities round the world face many challenges. How do we respond?

“This week the New York Times had an article about how to build resilience. Let us find comfort in the words of Erica Brown, scholar in residence for defining moments [who has talked and written about Daily Inspiration for the 3 weeks from the fast of the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B’Av]. Let us find optimism in the activism of visitor Howard E. Friedman
[President of AIPAC from 2010-2012 and very active in the Baltimore Jewish AND NATIONAL community]. Let us find inspiration in the leadership of Jeannie Schottenstein. 

“We have to practice optimism, support other people, and go out of our comfort zones. This is what the State of Israel does all the time…

“These people will help us define our lives in a meaningful way as we all move ahead on our life’s journey. 

“Let’s us hope that the Jewish people will not experience any more Tisha B’Avs!

“Shabbat Shalom!”

Tisha B’Av caused several changes to the service. One sentence of the Parsha, Devarim, Devarim 1:12, “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!” 
אֵיכָ֥ה אֶשָּׂ֖א לְבַדִּ֑י טָרְחֲכֶ֥ם וּמַֽשַּׂאֲכֶ֖ם וְרִֽיבְכֶֽם׃  was recited to the tune of Aicha (Lamentions), which is read during the Tisha B’Av service.

At Kabbalat Shabbat, “Lecha Dodi" was sung to the tune of Eli Tsiyon  אֱלִי צִיּוֹן, one of the kinnot (dirges) we sing during Tisha B’Av. On Shabbat morning, Adon Olam was sung to the same tune.  

I asked my friend Janet Zucker to reprise Adon Olam. Although it is purportedly mournful, I suspect you will join me singing this catchy tune in the shower. It’s very appropriate for Touro. The faster its sung, the better it sounds, and the sooner the Kiddish is served.


The next posting will be about the trip to the Museum of Fine Arts.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Leadership and The Red Herring

Tomato herring, Kutsher's photo by John Margolies



Leadership and The Red  Herring

At Touro Synagogue

July 1, 2017

For Jewish Newport 
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On Shabbat, Touro Synagogue had a full house. It was so crowded that I sat in a corner, until I realized that the corner was the one place in shul where there wasn’t a cross breeze. No more corners for me.

Another week another parsha! Today it was Parashat Chukat, Numbers 19:1 - 22:1.  Rabbi Marc Mandel said there was a lot of action in the parsha. For starters, there was the red heifer. The related commandment is difficult to understand. The Rabbis wisely threw up their hands and said it was a command from Heaven. 

I think Rabbi Mandel agreed with the sages. There aren’t many things that flummox our Rabonim, but this is one of them.

What else is red and difficult to explain? “Red herring” comes to mind.

I turned to google for help:
noun: red herring; plural noun: red herrings
  1. a dried smoked herring, which is turned red by the smoke.
  2. something, especially a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting."The book is fast-paced, exciting, and full of red herrings.”

When herring is cured (smoked and salted), the story goes, it turns red. Fugitives from justice put a red herring on the trail to distract the dogs that were tracking them.

And a green herring? Nathan Ausubel’s, “A Treasury of Jewish Folklore” has the answer,

“What’s, green, hangs on a wall, and whistles?
“I don’t know.”
“A herring.”
“But a herring isn’t green.”
“It could be painted green.”
“But a herring doesn’t hang on a wall.”
“It could be hung on a wall.”
“But a herring doesn’t whistle.”
“Nu, so it doesn’t whistle.”

Enough about herring!

In his words of Torah, Rabbi Marc Mandel focused on Moshe’s leadership style. He started with a pithy quote from Warren Bennis,  “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”

source: http://www.wheel.ie/leadership
Peter Drucker, a management pundit, has this to say about leaders,

“All the effective leaders I have encountered-both those I worked with and those I merely watched-knew four simple things:

“1. The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders.

“2. An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He or she is someone whose followers do the right things. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.

“3. Leaders are highly visible. They therefore set examples.

“4. Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, or money. It is responsibility.”

“How did Moses measure up?” Rabbi Mandel continued,“Well, let’s see. Moshe sent out twelve men to evaluate the land of Israel – which resulted in the people panicking and wanting to go back to Egypt: that was not the right thing to do; not good leadership, not a positive example

“In today's parsha, Moshe strikes the rock, instead of speaking to it. That was not the way he was supposed to do it, and it was not good management.

“In our own lives, are we good managers? Do we manage our lives effectively or do we just run from one crisis to the next–can we learn how to be better managers in midlife?”

Visiting Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, the founder and principal of SAR High School spoke at the Kiddish, which was sponsored by friends of Touro Synagogue. Last month, Rabbi Harcsztark won the Covenant Award for excellence in Jewish education.

Not that Rabbi Harcztrark planned to speak at the Kiddush. When Rabbi Mandel senses that a tasty herring is at Touro Synagogue, he pounces. If you are a piece of herring, warning given!

After our plates and palates were sated, he also spoke about Moshe hitting the rock, which led God to prohibit Moshe from entering the promised land. 

As a teacher, Rabbi Harcsztark shared with his students the many commentaries about Moshe and the rock. Although he did not understand it, he could not avoid teaching Maimonides. For Maimonides, Moshe’s transgression was his anger, shown when, before striking the rock, he said, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?”

Many years later students who were graduating made a display which included the work of each student. At the bottom of his display, one student wrote, “Rabbi Harcsztark, thank you for giving me a second chance.” 

One of the duties of school principal is dealing with students who misbehave. In this case, Rabbi Hartcszark had calmly expressed faith that the student would get his act together. But until he saw the student’s thank-you note, he didn’t realize the impact that he had on the student.

In a relationship, such as teacher to student, parent to child, or in any relationship, how we react to a situation can have a profound impact on the other person. Do we lose our tempers?  Are we overly critical? Are we demeaning? What we say to someone, and how we say it, may have a profound effect on their self-image, an effect that may last for years. 

Moshe’s punishment was for his anger, and for expressing it by angrily calling the Children of Israel “rebels.” When we are critical, our tone and our emotions can have as much or even more weight than our words.


Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Tent of Meeting

A Tent of Meeting  by Aaron Ginsburg

 @Touro Synagogue Saturday, June 24, 2017

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When I arrived at Touro Synagogue, a murmur went around the room. Chicky Friedman was present with her son James Friedman, who was visiting from Sweden.
Michael Slom was also visiting his mother Rita. Rita was chosen as the Honorary Chair of the Newport Public Library’s annual fund raising event, “A novel evening at the Beach,” which took place last Sunday. 

The Torah reading was Parshat Korach. Korach was a rebel. Moses, who had trouble with the politics, stalled for time. He asked Korach to appear in the morning at the אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד, the Tent of Meeting with fire pans ready. It was your fire pans against my fire pans.

Moses would have felt comfortable if he had been in Newport on Saturday morning. We had a very heavy rain storm. Heaven sent a bolt of lightening, followed by the crash of thunder, during the first aliyah, just as fire pans were mentioned. Was it a coincidence?

There was no problem hearing the thunder. With the humidity, the atmosphere was very close in shul, and most of the windows were opened so we could get some fresh air.

Incidentally, Karoch was a levite, as it said it the first aliyah. There were no cohanim present, so a resident levi handled the first two aliyot. I can’t remember whether it was Mike Josephson or Lester Hoffman…but we had that covered.

The icing on the cake was that Zal Newman, arriving from toasty Arizona with Barbara Epstein, recited his Bar Mitzvah haftarah, which he first recited in 1931. Barbara's son David was also present.

Next to every column was someone who had celebrated their Bar Mitzvah at Touro Synagogue. The Honor Roll included (by name and Bar Mitzvah year),
Zal Newman 1939
Mike Josephson 1946   Lester Hoffman 1947
Brian Gilson 1963
Aaron Ginsburg 1963
David Epstein 1965
Michael Slom 1967
Jimmy Friedman 1968
And Saul Schweber was delighted to see his students from the United Hebrew School!
Torah Synagogue was truly an אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד, a Tent of Meeting. 
Shabbat Shalom!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

In Search of Jewish Rome

In Search of Jewish Rome by Aaron Ginsburg

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Last Shabbat, I davened at the Great Synagogue of Rome, Tempio Maggiore di Roma. I felt at home. The Sephardic nusach recalled the services at Newport’s Touro Synagogue. An audio system failed to improve the acoustics. The cantor was barely audible. 


The tall synagogue building, with its square aluminum dome, proudly shares the skyline with many domed churches. The interior space is much smaller than the height would suggest. 

On Saturday morning there were about 200 people present. The men sat in the center, the women on one of sides.  Each seat has a plaque with a person’s name. On the back of each seat, was a book rest, and a locked storage box for Talesim and Tefillin. 

Piazza Gerusalmme, next to the Great Synogogue.
 In the center is thePortico of Octavia,
Portico di Ottavia, built by Augustus 






I entered through a side door. Inside the entrance hall a jug of water enabled people to wash before entering. A small room was full of lit 24 hour Yahrzeit candles. 

In contrast to Touro Synagogue, no one greeted me, except an Israeli on a work assignment.

In my search for the Jewish community, I noticed that there were several events to celebrate Jeruslaem day, Yom Yerushalaim, 50 anni 1967-2017

I attended “Footnote,” a 2011 Israeli movie with Italian subtitles. The protagonist was a professor who was jealous of his son for receiving recognition in the same field. At the film, I spoke with a friendly couple whose English was excellent. The woman originated from Bulgaria.

Did I mention that President Trump waved at me? I was crossing the street when I saw several heavily armed policemen and women shooing traffic and pedestrians away from the intersection. I read on the internet that the President had arrived in Rome earlier. 

Was President Trump in the
black car when he
waved to Aaron Ginsburg?
Soon, a motorcade of 50 cars sped by. I waved, and, it is safe to assume, the President waved back. Then we both continued on our way, to recover from our stressful trips, mine to the Ukraine and Belarus, and his to the Middle East. I bet he was more stressed out than I was!

Aaron Ginsburg, center, Gianluca Galderisi,
left, and Fabiano Fiore, right, from
ROME - Historic Adventure Tours
Last Sunday, I hired a couple of guides. Gianluca Galderisi and Fabiano Fiore, of Rome Historic Adventure Tours, met me at the Pyramid of Cestius, which was a tomb. There was a fad for everything Egyptian after the Roman Republic conquered Egypt. If you can’t take one, you can build one.

Our first stop was Rome’s Rose Garden, the Roseto Comunale, on the Aventine Hill overlooking the Circus Maximus. Beyond the Circus, on the Palatine Hill, the House of Augustus, the Domus Augusti, still stands.

I returned to chilly Boston on Tuesday, after a balmy week in Rome, where the high temperature was 86 degrees on the cold days.

On Wednesday, I was home again at Touro Synagogue. Rabbi Marc Mandel devoted his sermon to the Ten Commandments, which were given by God on Shavuot, with the rest of the Torah:

“One of the customs of שבועות (Shavuot) is the reading of the Ten Commandments on the first day of יום טוב (Yom Tov). Since we received the תורה on שבועות (Torah on Shavuot), we read about the dramatic episode when the Jews received the Ten Commandments.

“In many synagogues, it is customary to stand for the reading of the ten commandments. Not everyone agreed with this custom. The Rambam was opposed to standing for the Ten Commandments because he felt it gave too much attention to one part of the תורה (Torah)-and all of the Torah has equal importance.

“But most synagogues do have the custom for standing for the Ten Commandments. For us in Rhode Island at the Touro Synagogue, the Ten Commandments have a special significance.

“In the summer of 1862, the famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, brought his family from Cambridge Massachusetts to Newport for a vacation.

“While walking the local streets, he became interested in the old Jewish cemetery, up the street. He wrote a poem called, ‘The Jewish cemetery of Newport.’ Here are some verses from that poem,


‘How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves, 
      Close by the street of this fair seaport town, 
Silent beside the never-silent waves, 
      At rest in all this moving up and down!

‘Closed are the portals of their Synagogue, 
      No Psalms of David now the silence break, 
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue 
      In the grand dialect the Prophets spake. 

‘But ah! what once has been shall be no more! 
      The groaning earth in travail and in pain 
Brings forth its races, but does not restore, 
      And the dead nations never rise again.’

“Longfellow’s view of Jewish life in Newport was very dim. As far as Longfellow was concerned the Jewish community of Newport was gone forever.

“But another famous poet also wrote a poem about the Jewish community of Newport. Emma Lazarus used to spend summers here in Newport with other New Yorkers. Her poem, ‘The Jewish Synagogue in Newport,’ was written as a response to Longfellow’s poem, ‘The Jewish cemetery at Newport,’ and used the same title format, and the same meter. She wrote,

‘Here, where the noises of the busy town,
   The ocean's plunge and roar can enter not,
We stand and gaze around with tearful awe,
   And muse upon the consecrated spot.

‘What prayers were in this temple offered up,
   Wrung from sad hearts that knew no joy on earth,
By these lone exiles of a thousand years,
   From the fair sunrise land that gave them birth!

‘Nathless the sacred shrine is holy yet,
   With its lone floors where reverent feet once trod.
Take off your shoes as by the burning bush,
   Before the mystery of death and God.’

“The last stanza of the Longfellow poem included the phrase, ‘Dead nations never rise again.’ Lazarus concentrated on the living power of the synagogue-and said, ‘The sacred shrine is holy yet.’ 

‘Each time that we read the Ten Commandments in Newport, we prove that Longfellow was wrong. 

‘Thank you for being with us this שבועות (Shavuot), thank you to our visitors and to our members.’

The Ten Commandments at the Rose Garden’s entrances recall the hundreds of years, from 1645 to 1934, that the garden was the site of Rome’s Jewish Cemetery. The site was given to the Jewish community after the Jewish cemetery in Trastevere was destroyed, as reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1934. The Jews had been forced into a ghetto in 1555, where they were forced to reside until 1870. The Great Synagogue and The Portico of Octavia, the Porticus Octaviae, built by Augustus, dominate the nearby Jewish Quarter’s Piazza Gerusalemme.

In 1934, the fascist government decided to turn the cemetery into a park. The city of Rome and the Jewish community, which was not in a position to disagree, agreed that the remains would be moved under Jewish supervision and a Jewish school would be built.  

A parade with Mussolini and 15000 athletes led to the construction of road bisecting the cemetery. Under pressure to finish the work in time, the contractor worked on Shabbats and Jewish holidays. Many of the graves were moved, but many remain. And so it is still a Jewish cemetery. 

photo by Luciano Rosseti, couresy of Rome Gardn Authority.
The rose garden arrived in 1951. A couple of olive branches were thrown to the Jewish Community, still reeling from the Holocaust, as if this could make right the destruction of a Jewish cemetery. The paths resemble a seven-branched menorah. Jewish visitors often place stones atop monuments with the Ten Commandments in Hebrew that are at each entrance. 

Chag Sameach!