Sunday, June 26, 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. 

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