Tuesday, December 27, 2016

At Touro Synagogue December 24, 2016

At Touro Synagogue December 24, 2016

It's just a coincidence!
by Aaron Ginsburg

On Saturday the lone visitor at services was a young man from New York. He is a living symbol of the Jewish journey. His mother is Moroccan and Sephardic. His father is Polish. They settled in Venezuela. The young man grew up in Miami, went to school in Chicago, and got a job in New York. There are still relatives in the old country (Venezuela).

Rabbi Marc Mandel devoted his sermon to the coincidental timing of Hanukah with Christmas.

“Chanukah begins this evening in just a few hours. You probably remember a few years ago when Chanukah fell out on Thanksgiving. Now it's falling out on December 24 the same time that Christmas falls out. Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a teacher at Yeshiva University and he used to be a rabbi in Oceanside, New York. He was contacted by the newspaper USA Today. They asked him, “Is there a message Implicit in the major faiths celebrating the religious traditions at the very same time?” 

This evening, as Christians and Jews share a major moment for spiritual  reflection, what message can there be for us? Rabbi Blech said, “Jews differ with Christians on many points of theology. We do not agree on crucial issues, on the identity of G-d and the idea of the Messiah. But we do agree that we are bound by a commitment to morality into a life of meaning and purpose.” 

During the time of Chanukah, Hellenism preached that life has no purpose-the only thing to do is to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you will die.

This year, Christians and Jews can mutually celebrate life's meaning and purpose and may we all come together to brighten the world and to create a better and more complete planet. Shabbat Shalom!”

On aish.com Rabbi Blech continued the focus on meaning rather than miracle, “What was at stake in the story of Hanukkah was the survival of the very idea of holiness. Judaism taught that the purpose of life is that life must have a purpose.”

In this analysis Greek culture doesn’t look good. That might be because it was a very appealing rival. Greece not only meant its mythology of gods acting like people, but also literature, science, philosophy and an interest in history. Of course, this was a two-way street. While some Greeks admired the people of the book, others realized that Israel’s approach to life had an appeal and portrayed Judaism very negatively.

What is a coincidence?  According to Google It’s “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.”

Humans have a need to find a pattern. A coincidence is a situation where we can’t discern the pattern. In the Torah, there are no coincidences. If there is no obvious reason for an event, the Almighty must have a message for us. The wisdom of Judaism is its ability to use the message to teach us how to live a purposeful life.

In today’s parsha, Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 - 40:23, Joseph is imprisoned because of his loyalty to his faith and his employer. Rabbi Ron Fish of Temple Israel, Sharon, Ma compared Joseph’s avoidance of temptations to the story of Chanukah, which is about avoiding the temptations of Hellenism.

While in prison, Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and his cupbearer. After telling the cupbearer he will be freed, Joseph asks him, “Think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place.”  But, “The cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him.” There is nothing unusual about a lack of gratitude, but in the Torah nothing happens without a reason. Was Joseph being punished for asking the cupbearer for help rather than trusting in G-d?

Pharaoh had a dream, and the cupbearer remembered Joseph’s ability to interpret. And so began Joseph’s meteoric rise from prisoner to vizier. Was Pharaoh’s dream a coincidence, or a miracle?  

Rabbi Mandel said the Haftarah, Amos 2:6 - 3:8, is the only totally negative haftarah. It has no words of comfort.  

After chastising Israel for its sins, Amos continues, “When a ram’s horn is sounded in a town, Do the people not take alarm? Can misfortune come to a town If the Lord has not caused it? Indeed, my Lord G-d does nothing Without having revealed His purpose To His servants the prophets. A lion has roared, Who can but fear? My Lord G-d has spoken, Who can but prophesy?” 

In the haftarah every event has a cause. The prophet Amos speaks because G-d has spoken. There are no coincidences. 

And what of the miracles of Chanukah?  When my uncle Arthur Green, z.l., was at Harvard (class of 1922), he wrote a short essay about the real miracle of Hanukah. “The miracle was not,” he wrote, “that the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, or that the pure oil was found, or that the oil lasted for eight days. The miracle is that we still celebrate Chanukah.” 

Shabbat Shalom and a Fraylichen Chanukah @tourosynagogue @newportri

Monday, December 19, 2016

At Touro Synagogue December 17,2016

At Touro Synagogue December 17,2016 
Do not walk alone
by Aaron Ginsburg

It should have been lonely at Touro Synagogue on Saturday. After a very cold Friday the weather was transitioning from snow to rain. Many of our regulars were away. But we were not alone.

Mitchell Trestman from Baltimore led the second part of Shacharit and Reuven Epstein from Monsey, NY read the haftarah, which included visits to France and Spain. Although we did not learn much about France and Spain, on Sunday we learned about Cuba thanks to Chuck and Karen Flippo.

Chaim Weiss from Netanya, Israel led a lyrical Mussaf. The kedushah was sung to the tune of “Memory” from the musical Cats:   The lyrics, “Memory, All alone in the moonlight,” echoed Rabbi Marc Mandel’s words of Torah. 

“The talmud tells us that we should learn life lessons from our ancestors, “Maaseh avot siman lebanim [The deeds of the fathers are a signpost for the children].” What can we learn from Jacob?
In this week’s parsha, Vayishlach [Genesis 32:4 - 36:43], we read about wrestling with someone-it's not clear with whom. Jacob was injured in this wrestling match: the torah tells us that a prelude to this wrestling was that Jacob was by himself. He was all alone. The Talmud teaches us that we should learn from Jacob not to walk alone at night. We should not take  unnecessary risks. 

Furthermore the Talmud tells us Jacob was alone because he went back to Lavan's house because he forgot some items: how many risks was Jacob taking? He put his life in danger for a couple of insignificant items. Do we sometimes live dangerously? Do we make foolish decisions that could cause us harm?

Another message is, we shouldn't make decisions alone-we should consult with others before we make decisions.

There is much we can learn from Jacob.  Let us take these lessons to heart-Shabbat shalom.”

On Sunday morning a well attended minyan was followed by a narrated slide show about a trip to Cuba by Chuck andKaren Flippo. Karen began with a quiz to test our knowledge about Cuba. I noticed Rabbi Mandel listening intently. I suspect a pre-sermon quiz on our Jewish knowledge is in the offing.  

The Flippos visited Jewish communities in Havana and in Trinidad, Cuba. At the home of the leader of the Trinidad Jewish congregation, where services are held, Karen noticed a decorative dreidel from the Touro Synagogue gift shop on the shelves. Rita Slom confirmed that she had presented the dreidel during her visit! The dreidel reminds us that Touro Synagogue was dedicated during Hanukah, 1763, and symbolizes the dedication of the Jews of Cuba, who are truly a remnant of Israel, 
שְׁאֵרִית יִשְׂרָאֵל. Most Cuban Jews left when Castro took power. 

Cuba is a mix of the new and the old. The American boycott has had a great impact. The many cars from the 1950s have become taxis. Karen was thrilled by a ride in a Chevrolet Bel Air, circa 1957. The taxi ride rekindled memories of trips with her family in their Chevy Bel Air.
go to slide show

Monday, December 12, 2016

At Touro Synagogue December 10, 2016

At Touro Synagogue December 10, 2016

Stealing, Lying, and Cover-ups
by Aaron Ginsburg

It was another quiet weekend in Newport. Several people were away. Fortunately, we had a minyan for the Amidah. 

Rabbi Marc Mandel’s sermon covered a wide range of things, including Time magazine, Angela Merkel, Donald Trump, honesty in the work place, conflicts of interest, and intellectual property rights. 

Parashat Vayetzei, Genesis 28:10 - 32:3, takes place in a world where people cheat, lie, cover-up their deeds, and don’t face up to conflicts of interest.  The parsha’s dramatis personae play their roles in a world that is very real, and not much different from today’s world. Our Talmud sages tried to put the best face on things with some half-hearted damage control. As a patriarch, Yaakov got an upgrade! And that’s not much different from the way we handle things today.

Rabbi Mandel began by holding up the cover of Time Magazine. Actually he didn’t, but he should have.  It’s always good to have a prop to grab the audience’s attention.  The Rabbi used his words effectively,  

“Each year Time magazine picks a person of the year. Here’s a trivia question: Does anyone remember last year's person of the year? It was Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany.

This year it was Donald Trump. As Trump transitions into the presidency, many people are wondering  how is he going to separate his business interests from being the president?

Will he be able to distinguish between his personal interests and the interests of the country? This question is very relevant to this week's Parsha. 

In this week's Parsha,  Lavan accuses Yaakov of exactly that-Lavan tells Yaakov, “You were supposed to be working for me, but instead you made your own personal fortune!”

Yaakov is astounded by this accusation-he says, “I worked for you for twenty years-day and night and I barely slept- and now you accuse me of stealing from you?” 

And Lavan does not cave in. He tells Yaakov, “Everything you have is mine and you are a thief.”

Radically different ideas about who is right and who is wrong. The Rambam teaches us that we have to live our lives like Yaakov, and he calls Yaakov a Tzadik because he worked so hard for Lavan with complete honesty. Maimonides writes that that’s what the Torah obligates us to do-to work as hard as you can and to be honest at work.

It would appear that there's a lot of stealing going on in these Torah readings. Last week we had the episode of the Blessings and how Yaakov disguised himself. This week, Rachel steals her father’s idols and Yaakov is accused of stealing Laban’s sheep: sometimes it’s not clear if it is stealing or not. 

Like today with the internet there are file sharing websites where you can get books and movies-for no money. Is it stealing-it appears to be-but there are those who say, “All I did was download a file that is there for the taking.”

Thomas Jefferson said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” That’s actually a Jewish idea.-The passage in Tehilim (Psalm 119, verse 160) says, “רֹאשׁ דְּבָרְךָ אֱמֶת (The Beginning of G-d’s word is Truth.).” The Talmud, in Kiddushin 31a, asks, “Is only the beginning of G-d’s word truth? What about the end?”  And the Talmud says, “Of course, when you see the whole picture then you can see it was true all the way through.” Let us strive for complete truth and honesty, let us try to be like Yaakov Hatzadik in our endeavors.”

And if that fails, may our damage control efforts be successful without causing too much additional damage!

@tourosynagogue @discovernewportri

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

At Touro Synagogue December 3, 2016

At Touro Synagogue December 3,  2016
Twins and Trauma

by Aaron Ginsburg

Twas Parashat Toldot, and all through the shul,
Not a tourist was present, it was far from full.
We davened with speed, it sure was a breeze.
We were done by eleven with the greatest of ease.

The Parsha, Genesis 25:19 - 28:9, was about Isaac and his family, and begins, “This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham.”

Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau were rivals in the womb of their mother Rebecca. Rabbi Marc Mandel told us that Yaakov and Esau were engaged in a war of ideas, “Even before they were born Yaakov wanted to be closer the Beit Midrash and Esau wanted to be closer to idol worship.”

That is interpretation of course; the Torah says it more obliquely, “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp.”

Another interpretation is that the twins represent the two sides of a person. It is up to us to reconcile those tendencies, hopefully for good and for happiness.

One of the striking stories in the Parsha is how, with his mother’s help, Jacob pretended he was Esau by covering himself in skins to emulate Esau’s hair and received the blessing that should have been Esau’s, as the first born.The parsha states, "Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see." It seems a little far fetched.  Rashi must have realized this, and helpfully tells us that Isaac was traumetized for life by the Akedah, his binding before G-d prohibited Abraham from sacrificing him. This would explain his poor vision, and why he was a bookworm, not a hunter. 

Speaking of trauma, David Strachman commiserated with people suffering from Trump Trauma.  Some people were depressed by the outcome of the election. Now there is a name for the condition. I am happy to report that people have started to recover, although there always a possibility of a relapse. This can be averted by not watching and by not listening to the news, and by never reading the newspaper.

Once after a cold I had a persistent cough. I finally caved in and went to see my doctor, David Faling. He heard me out, listened with his stethoscope, and calmly told me I had a post-viral catarrh.  I was shocked to have such an elegant sounding diagnosis, and stopped coughing immediately.

Isaac was the only one of the Patriarchs who stayed in the land of Israel. 

Rabbi Mandel talked about  how we could help people In Israel who suffered in the recent fires. He observed that there was nothing new about pyro-terrorism. “… in this weeks Parsha, he said,”Yitzchak builds wells for water and the Philistines cover them up with dirt.”  Eventually, with the help of G-d, Isaac and Abimelech, king of the Philistines, made a treaty. 

Rabbi Mandel said, “Our synagogue has deep ties to Israel. Naomi Herstoff, daughter of Dr. James and Debbi Herstoff lives there-Yoni and Sasha Weiss children of Rabbi Loel and Patty live there. Rabbi Lewis z"l and Rabbi Katz z"l both moved there.”

Let’s hope, that with our-and G-d’s help, Israel will be secure and live peacefully with its neighbors, and that you will be spared a post-viral catarrh.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 26, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving and the Art of the Deal

by Aaron Ginsburg

Thanksgiving weekend is a perfect time to visit Newport. The crowds are gone, but it is still fall, not winter. Visitors joined us from Boston, Stamford, Riverdale, Brooklyn, New York, and New Jersey. Some traced their background to Aleppo, Syria, others to Ukraine and Moldova.

First Deal 

Parashat Chayei Sara, Genesis 23:1 - 25:18,  starts with the death of Sarah and becomes a lesson in the art of the deal. Abraham is in Hittite-controlled Beer Sheva. Abraham spoke with his Hittite friends, and arrangements were made to purchase Machpelah from Ephron for 400 silver shekels, the going rate.

Second Deal

Then Abraham decided that it was time for his son and heir Isaac to get married. He commissioned his servant to fetch a bride from the old country. Negotiations  with the servant ensued. The servant was worried that the still unselected young woman would refuse to leave her home. Tradition tells us that the unnamed servant was Eliezer of Damascus, who was mentioned in Parashat Lech-Lecha. 

Third Deal

Once he chose Rebecca, the servant negotiated with her relatives. Further negotiations and gifts and a deal was made. At the last minute, Rebecca was consulted, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will.”

Fourth Deal

In the haftarah, I Kings 1:1 - 1:31, Bathsheba reminded King David that he should abide by the agreement for Solomon to succeed him. 

Nathan the prophet was the éminence grise. He told Bathsheba, “You must have heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has assumed the kingship without the knowledge of our lord David.

Now take my advice, so that you may save your life and the life of your son Solomon.

Go immediately to King David and say to him, ‘Did not you, O lord king, swear to your maidservant: “Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit upon my throne? Then why has Adonijah become king?”

While you are still there talking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.” 

Women were not yet accepted as independent actors, at least in print.


With Thanksgiving in mind, Rabbi Marc Mandel said that Jews were a thankful  people. The word Jew comes from the name Judah, which means thanksgiving. When Judah was born his mother Leah said, “Now will I thank the Lord.” The Torah continues, “Therefore she called his name Judah; and ceased bearing.”   The rest is history...and us; Judah’s descendants became the tribe of Judah, from which all Jews are descended. 

There were some children present, members of a visiting family of Syrian Jews from Brooklyn. The Rabbi asked them, “What’s the first prayer we say in the morning?”  They answered, “Modeh Ani.”  Modeh Ani is recited when waking, while still in bed.

מוֹדֶה (מוֹדָה) אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ מֶֽלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּים. שֶׁהֶֽחֱזַֽרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה. רַבָּה אֱמֽוּנָתֶֽךָ׃
Modeh (women: modah) ani lifanekha melekh chai v'kayam shehecḥezarta bi nishmahti b'cḥemlah, rabah emunatekha. I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.

Rabbi Mandel wondered, “Why do we say the amidah twice? Wouldn’t once be enough?” Long ago books were a scarce commodity, and every worshipper did not have a siddur. We repeat for the benefit of those that lacked a prayerbook.

One part of the Amidah cannot be delegated. A “thank you” must come directly from us. While the reader repeats the Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving") prayer aloud, we silently recite Modim deRabbanan ("thanksgiving of the Rabbis”).  We thank God for our lives, for our souls, and for God’s miracles that are with us every day.

That’s what Thanksgiving is about. And that is a big deal!

@tourosynagogue @discovernewport 

Monday, November 21, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 19, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 19, 2016
The Terebinths of Mamre and Corn Bread Crisps
by Aaron Ginsburg

 On Saturday we were blessed with many visitors, including Jeff and Tali Moskowitz from West Hempstead, Long Island. Jeff led services on both Friday night (with 1 minutes notice after passing the voice test) and on Saturday morning.  Jeff is in the corn bread snack food business. His davening was crisp, well seasoned and baked, not fried.   

We were also joined by Michael Field and Alan I Greenstein from Temple Emeth in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and Mr Brescher from New York. It being a small Jewish world, Michael and I attended an event at Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts last Sunday, and Alan I Greenstein, who shares the initials AIG with me, knows sisters Shirley Saunders and Beverly Bavly, who are active in the Touro Foundation. 

As often happens, Rabbi Marc Mandel got off the Bimah and went right to the door to greet some of the visitors, who did not suspect that the Rabbi was the greeter. 

Parshat Vayera, Genesis 18:1 - 22:24, has a lot in it, including the controversial binding of Isaac. Abraham’s tent, with its four doors always open to visitors, has become a symbol of welcoming. Speaking of welcoming, my sister Beth Ginsburg Levine wrote this month in the bulletin of Temple Emunah, Lexington, Ma:

“Visitors at Minyan

I have many responsibilities as the Thursday night minyan leader. Among these duties are to arrive at the synagogue every week before 7:30 pm; refer to the luach. (an annual calendar book that has instructions for additions/deletions to the service); be sure Dawny (the Thursday night gabbai) has everything she needs at her seat; refer to the yahrzeit list in case someone with a yahrzeit would like to lead the service. But, to me, one of the most important duties is to welcome those people that I do not know.

Sometimes the stranger turns out to be a Temple Emunah member whom I have never met, but most times he/she is a visitor to Temple Emunah. These visitors usually are either saying Kaddish during their year of mourning or have a yahrzeit. Because Temple Emunah has one of the few daily minyanim in New England, visitors from near and far come to our service. 

There are Temple Isaiah members we see regularly, some of whom feel a bond with their fellow Emunah minyanaires. There are some that come so regularly during their mourning year that they become service leaders. There are business travelers in the Lexington area who come to say Kaddish. There are vacationers who travel through New England and stop at Emunah because of our daily minyan. 

There is the woman who lives in western Massachusetts with a yahrzeit on Sukkot. She usually is in our area and I see her every year. There is the man from Brooklyn who comes to Lexington so often for work that he has become a regular at Wednesday morning minyan and Study with the Rabbis. There are those who come for a yahrzeit who are former members of Temple Emunah. They left our congregation for a variety of reasons, but count on our daily minyan.

Each of these visitors needs to be welcomed to our service. On Thursday nights, I try to greet everyone before the service begins. If there is a latecomer, I try to greet them after the service ends. I have found that this small, friendly gesture is greatly appreciated. Some visitors have eventually joined Temple Emunah because of the warm welcome; some have handed me donations to give to the synagogue. Others express their pleasure and gratitude at receiving the welcome. When you come to minyan, I urge you to say hello to someone you don’t know. It may be a lasting memory of Temple Emunah for a visitor.”
Beth Levine

Rabbi Mandel took his words of Torah from the first sentence of the Parasha, “ The LORD appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre…”  

I have no idea what a terebinth is, but I love the sound of it. In fact, I want one for my coffee table. The Rabbi said, “God meets Abraham in the town named after Mamre. Rashi tells us that Mamre was Abraham's advisor. Since God was testing Abraham several times, he asked his advisors what to do, and only Mamre told him to follow the requests of God each time, so Mamre was rewarded in this Parsha.” 

Abraham was subjected to 10 tests or trials by the Almighty. Although Abraham sought advice from many people, he was responsible for the decisions he made.The Rabbi continued,

“Who are our advisors in life? Who will be Trump's advisors? Perhaps his son-in law, Jared Kushner.”

The Rabbi welcomed Michael Field near the end of his sermon. Michael told us that he went to school in New Orleans, and that Judah Touro was a local hero. Not only did he assist a synagogue that became Touro Synagogue, but by his generosity he founded a hospital, the Touro Infirmary. Across the street from the Touro Infirmary is the Touro Prytania Parking Garage, which is $4 for 2 hours. The Touro Foundation supports the hospital, and gives the Judah Touro Society award “annually to a living individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the welfare of Touro Infirmary.”  At Tulane University there is a Judah Touro scholarship.

Let’s pray that President Trump will select wise advisors, and will make wise decisions for our country and for the world. And in our own lives may we find advisors with wisdom and make wise choices. 

@tourosynagogue @jewishnewport

Monday, November 14, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 12, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 12, 2016  
Moving On
by Aaron Ginsburg

On Saturday we had quite a crowd. Elie and Marcia Cohen sponsored a special Kiddish, and we were joined by many of their friends and family to celebrate this special day. Elie read the Torah, just like he did at his Bar Mitzvah in Egypt back in the days.

It was a special treat to see Eleanor Davis and her son Bobbie. When I saw Eleanor outside, I went out to greet her, and Mike asked me to take charge of the gate while he helped Eleanor go upstairs. Wrapped in my woolen tallis, I stopped people to make sure they were coming to pray, and stopped traffic while a couple of people crossed the street. In truth it was rather quiet in Newport, and there wasn’t any traffic to stop! A cool breeze came from the sea. Next time, I’m wearing two taleisim!

Some people were pleased by the election results while others were upset and disconsolate.   

Using the parsha, Lech-Lecha, and the examples of Abraham and of Marcia and Elie Cohen, Rabbi Marc Mandel urged us to move on:

It’s customary to give a few words of greeting and of Torah. 
Yasher Koach to Dr Herstoff for leading us in the pesukei dezimra and in the shacharit, and to Saul Woythaler for the first part of the musaf, and to the Renee Cohen for the prayer for the United States Government and to Audrey Paiva for prayer for the State of Israel, and to co-president Naftali Sabo for the prayer for the United States Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces.
Thank you to our kiddish sponsors Marcia and Elie Cohen in honor of Elie’s Bar Mitzvah. 
A special welcome to Renee and Audrey and Joe-Jillian and Joline, and to Larry and Charlene and all their friends who are here for this special Kiddish. 
Well, the election is over and now is the time to move on.
Today’s Torah reading is Lech-Lecha-that’s what Lech-Lecha means-move on-carry on with your life. It’s over, and now we can go back to managing our lives in a productive way.
These words, Lech-Lecha, are very powerful. Marcia and Elie Cohen guide their lives with these two words, Lech-Lecha. They are always on the move. They are always moving on and doing something productive. 
One day last week I was talking to Elie and he had 7 meetings that day, at the hospital and the University, etc. And Marcia is alway on the move. Lech-Lecha-she’s taking someone to Boston and Providence to visit their doctors or she’s hosting people who are visiting.
It’s always Lech-Lecha-it’s always something productive and helpful. Of course, Eli left Egypt-and he went like Avraham to search for a better life for himself. At that time Egypt wasn't the right place for him to live.
Like Elie and Avraham, we are all in search for a better life for ourselves and for our families and for our country. Jews have been here in Newport since the 1600s. That’s a long time. Why are they here?  Because they were looking for a better place to live, and they found one. So we have a lot of stake in this country.
Every Presidential election is important for us. That’s why Moses Seixas wrote the letter to George Washington. He wanted to know,  “Did they make the right choice by moving here?” And George Washington told him, “Yes you did!” 
And that’s what we want to hear from every president. We want to hear them say, “You made the right choice by moving here, because every American citizen has rights to freedom and happiness.”  
That’s what Elie wanted when he left Egypt and that’s what every American wants for their families.
In today’s Torah reading Avraham and his nephew Lot go separate ways- and that’s what seems to be happening in the United States today-people  are divided. We have to learn from Elie and Marcia to bring people together-because that’s what they do-they bring people together like they are doing today with this special Kiddish.
Let us hope and pray that we will come together as a country and that Jews in Israel and all over the world will live securely. Shabbat Shalom

The Rabbi  words were not just about the election, but about any time things don’t go the “right way.” It’s not easy, but with the help of the Rabbi and Shabbat, let’s give it a try!

After services, most of us went across the street for the wonderful Kiddish and a chance to schmooze. Marcia and Elie brought us together. Let’s emulate them and Lech-Lecha! 

@tourosynagogue @jewishnewport

Sunday, November 6, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 5, 2016

The Parsha and the election;  How do we know what a person is like?

by Aaron Ginsburg

Today we read the second parasha in the book of Bereishit, Noach (Genesis 6:9 - 11:32). In the parasha, the Tower of Babel story seemed to be very dubious about the benefits of city life. But  when Noah planted a vineyard and  got drunk, it was connected to his being a man of the land, אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה, in other words, a farmer. I don’t know about you but I think the country is fine, if city comforts are available, such as wifi! One can be good or bad anywhere.

Rabbi Mandel discussed the parasha and Tuesday’s election:

“This Tuesday is election day and America will be choosing a new president. This has been a crazy election season. The debates have been about personal attacks and insults. How do you judge a candidate? How do you really know what a candidate is like? 

We see from this week’s Parasha, Noach, that it is very difficult to really know what a person is like. Noach is believed to be in the Torah as a tzadik. A tzadik is a righteous person. How many people in the Tanach are referred to as a tzadik?

Does he act like a tzadik? It doesn’t seem that way. He doesn’t protest about the flood at all. As long as he feels safe, the flood doesn’t seem to bother him.

He doesn't really believe so strongly in G-d. When does he enter the ark? When he is about to drown.

And he has a drinking problem and is not in control of himself. Is this the behavior of a tzadik?

So it is very difficult to really judge people. We have to use all the information we have and decide based on what we have seen and what we know from the candidate’s past.

Let us hope a pray that we all have the wisdom to choose the best candidate and may the United States continue to prosper in every possible way.”

Was the rabbi really discussing the election, or was that just an example to illustrate the question? You decide.

Among our visitors on Shabbat was Rabbi Alex Ozar and his wife Lauren Steinberg from Stamford, Connecticut. The Rabbi is studying at Yale for a doctorate in Philosophy & Religion, focusing on how modern Jewish thought was affected by non-jewish modern philosophical thought.  His wife is a terrorism expert at the Anti-defamation League headquarters in New York City. 

One of the topics that came up was the Kosher restaurant scene in Stamford.  Navaratna, a vegetarian Indian restaurant, and Shoosh  (sushi) were special favorites. Want desert? No problem! The Stamford Dairy Queen is also certified by the Vaad Hakashrus of Fairfield County. Of course Newport has the Raw Power Juice Bar and Kitchen, certified by our own Rabbi Marc Mandel. 

Lauren Steinberg spoke briefly at Kiddish about her work. Her group consists of five people tracking and analyzing domestic terrorism. Part of the focus is on radical Islamic terrorism. Except for the fact that they are mostly males, the terrorists don’t seem to have a lot in common. One issue is how to distinguish terrorists from people who, although they might sympathize with Hammas, a terrorist organization, are totally opposed to domestic terrorism. The ADL shares what it learns with government officials and the FBI. 

@tourosynagogue @jewishnewport http://www.navaratnact.com 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

At Touro Synagogue Saturday, October 29, 2016

At Touro Synagogue Saturday, October 29, 2016 
by Aaron Ginsburg

 On Friday on the way to Newport, as I drove through the rock-cut on Route 24 towards the Sakonnet River Bridge, the sky seemed to be on fire. When I approached the bridge, the clouds had slightly broken up on the horizon just as the sun was setting. It was spectacular…Was it the end of the world, or it’s beginning? It seemed like a scene from this week’s Parsha,  Bereshit (In the Beginning).

The Stone Chumash translated the phrase Tohu v’ Vohu as “utterly empty.” When I entered Shul on Saturday the Shul was utterly empty, although this was remedied before we got to the Torah reading. 

Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke about books. During Sukkot, we read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). In Kohelet 12:12 we read “And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” The author of Kohelet was having a bad hair day, or was extremely depressed. Alas, there was no Prozac or shock therapy available to snap him out of it. 

The Rabbi noted that today’s Parsha referred to a book. “This is the book of the generations of Adam (Bereshit 5:1).” 

This brings to mind the Documentary Hypotheses. A lot of effort has gone into the hypotheses, which states that the Torah was written by many hands over many years.  From a historical perspective these ideas are very interesting..but it is still our Torah, and we can continue to learn and be inspired by it.  

Rabbi Mandel held up a copy of the “Jewish Voice,” which had a front page obituary for Professor Jacob Neusner. Neusner, who taught in many places, wrote 950 books. Cliff Guller calculated that to be one every two weeks if he started at age 20. Perhaps it was a substitute for weight watchers.  There was some question about how good Neusner’s books are, and about the validity of his conclusions about Jewish history and religion and the accuracy of his translation of Jewish texts. 

By comparison, Isaac Asimov wrote or edited only about 500 books, and wrote a mere 90,000 letters and postcards. Asimov was a polymath. A biochemistry professor at Boston University, he wrote many classic works of  science fiction, and mysteries, popular science, and even “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” and Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare.” 

Asimov was born in the shtetl Petrovichi. When Tzar Nicholas I decided to expel the Jews from Russia proper, a wealthy citizen moved the border marker so the town would be inside the Pale of Settlement, enabling the Jewish residents of the shtetl, 50% of the population, to remain in their homes. His first language was Yiddish, and his second language was Brooklynese. I have read far more books by Asimov then by Neusner. What about you?

Our visitors today included two couples from Stamford, Connecticut. It was slightly unclear whether they were coming for the Touro experience or for the cholent, but they stayed for both the service and Kiddish sans cholent. @tourosynagogue