Monday, June 27, 2016

At Touro Synagogue June 25-26, 2016

It was nice to return to Touro synagogue after a one week absence. It must be summer. There was a gentle breeze through the open windows, and yet I did not reach for gloves to keep me warm.

After greeting both visitors and locals, and thanking them for coming, Rabbi Marc Mandel reviewed the parsha. Much of it dealt with the journey in the desert, and various trial and tribulations. The children of Israel became discouraged and discontent. Murmuring in the wilderness was a recurring theme while wandering in Sinai. They expressed this by complaining about the food. It seems that manna was no substitute for the real thing. The real thing was the "free" food they received when they were slaves in Egypt, particularly the fish. 

Rabbi Mandel had discussed the parsha with his wife, Jacqueline, who said the key word was "free."  The Rabbi pointed out how as a society we've become accustomed to getting something for nothing. This extends through most western societies, and we often expect to receive things with little or no effort. It's not just about food but extends to all facets of our existence, from education to our relationships with our fellow human beings. No pain, no gain! 

That's all pretty serious, but there was a lighter moment in the parsha. Near the beginning we learned about wave offerings. Now waving a sheaf of grain around is no big deal, but in the parsha, Moses and Aaron each had to wave around the Levites who were being dedicated to the service of the almighty. They had to wave not one levite, but 20,000!  The midrash vayikra (400-500 c.e.) drolly comments on the prodigious strength of Moses and Aaron. Obviously the Rabbonim did not take everything in the Tanach literally, and this was their oblique way of saying so. By the same token, don't take anything I say literally either!

At the kiddish, vegetarian cholent, prepared by Jackie Mandel, with herring hit the spot. Visitor Doreen Davis spoke about her glass mosaic art, which may have started as a hobby but became much more. Elie Cohen asked some very astute questions. He said as a physician and a surgeon, getting the details was important, both about the patients and about their conditions.
At the annual meeting

On Sunday Congregation Jeshuat Israel had its annual meeting. Rabbi Mandel expanded on what he said about the parsah on Shabbos. Complaining, if obsessive, can be counterproductive, and he urged us to continue to work together constructively to solve problems in the congregation and in our other relationships.  

Letter from Cape Town
Cape Town Hebrew Congregation
Gardens Shul new building 1905
Co-president Naftali Sabo brought to our attention a letter to the congregation from a congregant at the Gardens Shul in Cape Town, the oldest congregation in South Africa. I know several people in Cape Town, including joe Polliack and David Shapiro, because of their Dokshitz background. Although the Garden shul does not have its original 1849 building it still possesses the synagogue built in 1863, as well as it’s new building from 1905.  The 1863 building might be the oldest synagogue in South Africa.
Philip Mintz and I compared our trips to Africa, which for both of us meant an excursion from Israel to Sinai. My first trip to Israel was in 1980. Israel has changed tremendously since then, largely due to mass migration from Russia, so 1980 seems like the Stone Age. Philip's first trip was in October 1967, just after the six day war in June that was virtually antediluvian.  

In Jerusalem Philip was sitting near the back of the almost full tour bus. The last to board was a women in the same tour group, Shirley Nemtzow Schaffer, widow of Julius Schaffer. Shirley sat next to Philip. When she later told Philip it was the only available seat, he pointed out that in the back of the bus there had been an empty seat next to a handsome young Israeli officer who was providing security. Shirley retorted that the Angel Gabriel had blocked her vision with his behind... A few days later they met up with Sonny and Chicky Friedman who were also visiting Israel. Chicky told Shirley to marry Philip, which happened on June 12, 1968. Shirley Nemtzow Mintz died at the age of 100 on October 2, 1915

After the meeting there was a picnic in the Rabbi's yard. Gary Klein was the cook.

The weekend at Touro was very complete starting with davening, words of Torah, and cholent on Saturday, and culminating with hot dogs and hamburgers at the Rabbi's Tisch on Sunday. It would not surprise me if the leftover hot dogs end up in the cholent when Rabbi Mandel next puts on his chef's cap. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

At Touro Synagogue June 11-13, 2016: The President and the Ostrich


On Saturday I noticed the upside-down talis of the visitor seated in front of me. After helping with the talis, I welcomed him and asked where he was from. He replied "Cincinnati but now Houston." He was playing hooky from a convention and couldn't resist davening at Touro.  So, says I, "Do you know my friend who lives in Houston, Dr Arthur Forman?  Arthur was my college roommate and is a recently retired neurologist from MD Anderson Cancer Center. Houston has one million people, so I was not expecting a positive response. The visitor said Arthur was one of "our" best clinicians and very empathetic to the patients.

I didn't know this was a royal "we" until Rabbi Marc Mandel introduced Dr John Mendelsohn, a past president of MD Anderson Cancer Center.  He oversaw the hospital grow from a major cancer research center to a major treatment center and, at the tender age of 79,  is still very involved in medical affairs. Rabbi Mandel asked him if intended to slow down. Dr. Mendelsohn replied that this had not occurred to him. He was in Newport to get an award.

Dr. Mendelsohn spent 15 years at the university of San Diego, 10 years at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and found time to help develop an anti-cancer drug, antibody 225, also called  Cetuximab, or Erbitux, against the receptor for epidermal growth factor which is used to treat colon cancer and head and neck cancer. Rabbi Mandel offered to explain this during a future sermon, but I think he should stick to simple topics like Talmud, Torah, and is there a minyan in sight.

The parsha today was B'midbar, in the desert. The rabbi posed the question, "What is the connection between the parsha and Shavuot." The connection was that the Torah was given in the desert, and on Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah. But why in the desert? Captain Goldman though that there are fewer distractions in the desert, making it easier to focus. Rabbi Mandel explained that the desert did not belong to anyone. By giving the Torah there it was clear that the Torah did not belong to any one person or group of people, but each and every member of Klal Yisrael.

As Dr Mendelsohn slipped out the door to get back to work, he commented on the friendliness of the congregation.

Sunday the first day of Shavuot

Rabbi Mandel asked, "Why does the Torah portion include the 10 commandants…when there are many portions of the Torah that could have been cited?"  The Rabbis were concerned that people might think that the ten commandants were the whole Torah. We know that Torah includes all the commandments, and, indeed, the whole corpus of interpretation. Rashi  addressed this by saying that the ten commandments include all the commandments….

So why two tablets and not one?  There are many answers, which lead to the conclusion that nobody knows. Perhaps it is to help us remember. By  reading across the side by side tablets, the number of commandments is reduced to five. For example, number 4,  "Observe the Sabbath," is connected with number 9, "Don't bear false witness." By observing Shabbos we are testifying to our belief in creation, which included a day of rest. Reading across the firsts and sixth, we have "I am the Lord, your G-d," and "You shall not murder."  The connection: man is made in the image of G-d and our reverence for the ubershter extends to our fellow human beings.

At the dairy lunch, ably and deliciously prepared by Jackie Mandel, summer  visitor Susan Gelbart
spoke about being a docent at The American Museum of Natural History in New York. The museum is fairly laid-back but there is one unbreakable rule: "Do not touch a child!"  But sometimes situations arise. During a talk about ostriches Susan held up an ostrich egg. A rambunctious lad jumped up and, with his fist, smashed it to smithereens. Susan managed to maintain a calm, smiling demeanor. Would you?

Monday, the second day of Shavuot

On Monday we observed the second day of Shavuot including yizkor. The rabbi commented on the mass murder in Florida. Although we don't know how to prevent these incidents now, he felt eventually we will. He observed that this is not the Jewish way, which encourages us to observe Torah and the laws of civil society. Our departed ones had to deal with challenges just as we do. He mentioned World War I and World War II and the disastrous consequences of the breakdown of civil society. This was in our mind as we recited the twenty-third psalm, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." To make this true, we need to be with G-d, and walk in his ways.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

At Touro Synagogue June 4, 2016

At Touro Synagogue today a visitor asked if the fixtures (the chandeliers and candlesticks) were original.  It was sweet to be able to say yes!

The survival of our shul is a tribute to those who have kept an eye on it for 263 years... the colonial congregation, the British army during the Revolutionary War,  Abraham and Isaac Touro,  Congregation Shearith Israel, the renewed Congregation Jeshuat Israel and the Touro Foundation  and to many other groups and individuals. The building also survived because of the care by the city of Newport and its residents.  And our little corner of the world has been spared the wars and turbulence that has affected most of the world since the Synagogue was dedicated in 1763. This says something about America!

Today we finished reading the book of Leviticus. As is customary, at the end of the reading the congregation rose and we recited "Chazak, chazak, v'nischazek," “Be Strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other.”  Rabbi Mark Mandel spoke about those three words, giving three situations where we need strength.  We need strength to believe in Judaism and in Hakadosh Baruch Hu. In our world there are many things that might lesson that faith.  We need strength to pray. There are many distractions, and we make ourselves busy virtually 24 hours a day 7 days a week-hopefully six days a week. And finally we need strength in our daily lives. Sometimes life is difficult, yet we must be strong enough to carry on and overcome the challenges. And one of those challenges was at hand.

Today at shul we learned of the death of Donna Klein Pimental.  Donna grew up in Newport and has been active at Touro for many years. In February we met many members of the Fastiff, Klein and Pimental families when they sponsored the Kiddish in honor of Donna’s mother Selma’s 90th birthday.  Please join me to comfort Donna’s husband, children, grandchildren, mother and brother and other friends and family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. V'ischazek! Let us strengthen each other! 

Donna Pimental 

MIDDLETOWN – Donna (Klein) Pimental, 62, of Middletown, RI passed away peacefully with her family by her side and in the comfort of her home on Thursday, June 2, 2016, after a valiant and lengthy battle with ovarian cancer.  She is the wife of Francis Pimental.
She leaves a legacy of caring and compassion that will live on through those she leaves behind. In addition to her husband, she is survived by her mother, Selma Klein, her brother, Gary Klein, her son-in-law and daughter Eric and Karyn Wilson, her son and daughter–in-law, Michael and Sara Pimental, her most cherished grandchildren Ariella and Grayson Pimental, and many extended family members who meant so much to her. 
She was preceded in death by her father, Norman Klein and her father and mother-in-law Frank and Florence Pimental. 
Born in Newport and a lifelong islander she graduated from Rogers High School and the University of Hartford with an education degree. Though she intended to teach locally, life had other plans. She and her husband, Frank took over the Pimental family business, the Paradise Motel and RV Park in Middletown in 1977. The business flourished under them, and helping manage the business and caring for her guests becoming a paramount part of her life. Years later she fulfilled the dream of teaching, often substituting in the Middletown Public Schools where she enjoyed the camaraderie of the other teachers and the relationships she fostered with the students.
In addition to her professional life, she gave incalculable time and energy to Touro Synagogue and its congregation.  She was a third generation congregant, and member of the leadership team for 30+ years, directly involved in many of the synagogue’s major projects during this time. Her fellow members and leaders of Touro Synagogue became her second family, producing many of her best friends.
Most recently, all while battling cancer, she turned her attention to her beloved grandchildren.  Always sure to have plenty of snacks in “Ammie’s crunchies jar” and the kid’s favorite toys, Ariella and Grayson spent countless hours with her and were, as she often said, “her best medicine.”
Her selfless personality and endless giving to others are evident in the stories we all share and the memories of our experiences together. Her loving nature and special qualities will live on forever in those she touched.  And though her father was known as “the perfect man,” she will forever be known as the “the selfless woman.”
Services will take place on Sunday, June 5, 2016 at 10 a.m. at the Hoffman Memorial Chapel, 11 Fowler Avenue in Newport. Interment will immediately follow at Newport Memorial Park, 123 Howland Avenue in Middletown.
Following the services and interment, the family invites all guests to the Pimental home at 265 Prospect Avenue in Middletown. Shiva will be observed at the Pimental home on Sunday, June 5, 2016,from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m., Monday, June 6, Tuesday, June 7 and Wednesday, June 8, 2016, from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Touro Synagogue Hebrew School Fund, 85 Touro Street Newport, RI ( or to Visiting Nurse Services of Newport and Bristol Counties, Hospice Program, 1184 East Main Road Portsmouth, RI (
For more information, please visit

Friday, June 3, 2016

B'nai B'rith Judah Touro Lodge, No. 998

In 1984 Bernard Kusinitz wrote "The History of Judah Touro Lodge of B'nai B'rith Independent Order of B'nai B'rith 1924-1979." In addition to the Lodge story, the 66 page booklet tells the story of the Newport Jewish community and how the lodge survived by rectreating itself as conditions changed in the community. It was Bernie's hope that, "G-d willing, B'nai B'rith will continue to play a major role in the social fabric of the Jewish Community of Newport County." I think you will enjoy the announcement for SPORTS' NITE on May 6, 1947, Abe Pechow, Publicity Chairman. Abe Pechow also organized the Bowling League, and on page four are the names of the members of the winning team from 1941. The complete list is "John J. Dannin, Captain, Dr. Arthur Josephson, Maurice Ginsburg, Irving Katzman, Monroe Doroff, and Reuben Brown. I look forward to seeing some of you at SPORTS' NITE! "This affair is strictly for men and boys." Shabbat Shalom! Thanks to Rabbi Marc Mandel for bringing the booklet to my attention.