Sunday, July 24, 2016

At Touro Synagogue August 6, 2016 The Periodic Table and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer by Aaron Ginsburg

At Touro Synagogue August 6, 2016 
The Periodic Table and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer 
by Aaron Ginsburg

On Saturday, Shul was crowded. Unusual for this summer, there was enough of a breeze to blow off my yarmulka. Ralph and Delia Klingbeil sponsored the Kiddish in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary and their daughter Jennifer and George Borhegyi's 20th wedding anniversary, and their daughter Abigail and David Zipkin's 10th wedding anniversary. 

A few weeks ago I wrote how Avi Weiss, son of Rabbi Lowell Weiss, pulled out the trick drawer of the talesim out a little too far and the drawer landed on the floor. This week, Rabbi Weiss was accompanied by his son Yoni who lives in Israel. Sure enough, the drawer fell out again, although Yoni was not the culprit. There were so many visitors that we ran out of talesim. Soon a cardboard box labeled Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer appeared, laden with talesim. Many of us would have appreciated it if there were a few bottles of brew, preferably chilled, in the box too.

After introducing our visitors, Rabbi Marc Mandel announced Ralph’s topic for Kiddish, “Anniversaries and the Periodic Table.” Amused murmuring arose from the congregation. Ralph is a physicist, as is my brother-in-law Alan Levine. Knowing Al, I expected something witty,sparkling and slightly droll. Visitors came from Baltimore, Westchester, Paris, Israel, and included the Defining Moments Group, a group of Jewish National Fund leaders. The group was supported by Jennie and Jay Schottenstein.

The Defining Moments Group’s scholar-in-residence, Erica Brown, also attended services. Rabbi Mandel pointed out that many of Erica’s books were in sync with the Parsha and the Jewish calendar. For example, “Inspired Jewish Leadership” described our visitors from the JNF, “Leadership in the Wilderness” reflected the book of Numbers (Bamidbar-In the Wilderness) that we completed today. “In the Narrow Places, Daily Inspiration for the Three Weeks” was written for the period between the 17th of Tammuz, when the walls of the Second and possibly the First Temple Jerusalem,were breached, to the Ninth of Av, when both the First and Second Temples were destroyed.  Erica hit a home run, and we did not even hear from her!  

At the Kiddish, Ralph said he and Delia met at a physics lab at Hofstra University. Delia was a student and Ralph was an aide. Ralph noticed that Delia’s lab partner was having some trouble with the concepts. Delia said that, “Force is force, and 1 newton(a measurement of force) is equal to 10dynes.” Her succinct explanation, to the fifth power, no less, got Ralph’s attention. They were married two years later. Ladies, study your physics!  Incidentally, Delia is a mathematician.

Ralph started his talk by describing Primo Levi’s book, The Periodic Table. Levi uses the elements to describe his experiences in Aushwitz. For example he relates Argon, “Inert and satisfied with its condition” which “does not combine with any other element” to the Jewish people.

Ralph was inspired to use the Periodic table in a different way. He relates the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom to a year, and the characteristics of that element to a person or event. So his grandchildren are in their “ boron(5), nitrogen(7), magnesium(12) and phosphorous(15) years.” Ralph is in his “Hafnium year-lustrous and silvery gray. Delia is in her lutetium year-she resists corrosion in dry, but not moist air and is counted among the rare earths.”

Ralph continued, “Somebody wonderful married me back in 1966 and we have reached our tin-year anniversary, #50. Tin has low toxicity and is malleable. Next year, our #51, is our antimony year. Antimony is stable in air but reacts with oxygen if heated.”

“This year you may be a rare earth or a a noble metal or a rare gas or something else. Maybe you will be more malleable and less brittle, or perhaps less gaseous. I wish each of you a healthy, joyful and meaningful journey through your lifetime on the periodic table.”

Shabbat Shalom and thanks to Ralph Klingbeil for sharing his talk with me.

At Touro Synagogue, July 23, 2016 The View from the Bridge, Three Jays, and Rabbi Mandel Discusses Politics

The view from the Sakonnet River Bridge
source:google maps
We could have used the air conditioning repair
man at shul.
The View from the Bridge, Three Jays, and Rabbi Mandel Discusses Politics
by Aaron Ginsburg

I drive to Newport via Fall River to avoid the toll on the Newport Bridge. The view from the Sakonnet River Bridge always takes my breath away. There is the water below the bridge (the Sakonnet River), the water above (Mt Hope Bay), and towards the west, the Mt Hope Bridge. If that is not enough, once on the island  of Aquidneck there’s a watery view of Island Park.

Island Park brings pleasant memories of the cottage that belonged to my Fall River grandparents, Jacob and Sarah Karnowsky Pokross. In addition to my grandparents, my parents and sisters, I remember spending time with my aunt, Celia Dress, and her daughter, Miriam, z.l. who married Charles Lasky.

The view from the Sakonnet River Bridge prefigured Balaam’s blessing in the Parsha Balak, “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! Like palm-groves that stretch out, Like gardens beside a river, Like aloes planted by the LORD, Like cedars beside the water;Their boughs drip with moisture, Their roots have abundant water. Their king shall rise above Agag, Their kingdom shall be exalted…”

I sprinted from my car to the shul, which was in suspended animation. I had arrived during a hiatus while the congregation awaited a minyan. Greeted warmly by a congregant with a hand shake, and a comment about my cold (from the car's air conditioning) hand, Rabbi Mandel thanked me for being tenth. Soon I was anything but cold in the sweltering 93 degree heat.

Jay, Jay, Jay is the sound of the bird. At Touro three Jays had Aliyahs, kiddish sponsor Jay Nisberg, my cousin Jay Lasky, and Jay Schottenstein. Jay Schottenstein recited the Haftarah from Micah. As he ended with, “He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your G-d,” a butterfly fluttered about the bimah. Was a celestial being visiting Touro Synagogue to hear to the words of the Prophet Micah?

My Uncle Arthur Green, who taught English at Chelsea High School, told me about the derivation of the word “butterfly.” It was originally “flutterby.” During the Middle Ages, when literacy depended on a few monks, one of them transposed “by” and “flutter.” Although the error was pointed out, he was stubborn and would not correct it.

Rabbi Mandel began his sermon by talking about the Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Ohio is a bellwether state, and has voted for the winner in Presidential elections since 1964. When Donald Trump asked Ted Cruz to speak, he was expecting an endorsement. But people don’t always perform according to the script. The same thing happened in the Parsha, when Balaam blessed Israel rather than cursing it at the behest of Balak, King of the Moab. The events at the convention might have just been politics, bur Rabbi Mark Mandel pointed out that Balak and Balaam really did intend for harm to come to Israel.

Also in the Parsha the talking mule certainly was not sticking to the script!

Jay Nisberg, a prominent accountant, spoke at the Kiddish. Mindful of Rabbi Mandel’s request to speak for ten minutes, Jay movingly described an incident he, with his wife and other family members, witnessed at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem. Mistakenly informed that a terrorist incident was unfolding, many of the 300-400 people in the dining room panicked as they looked for someplace safe to hide. The foreign visitors were particularly panic-stricken, while at least some of the Israelis seemed to be more stoic. What struck Sally, Jay’s wife, was the overwhelming fear that parents felt as they worried about their children, and the pressure that Israelis live under. Both Jim and Sally were asked if they would return, and their unhesitant answer was, “Of course we’re going back.”

Monday, July 18, 2016

At Touro Synagogue, Saturday, July 16, 2016 Three Marks and Three Immortals by Aaron Ginsburg


Three Marks

Touro Synagogue was both welcoming and wilting, with shirts and hair dripping and drooping. 

When I arrived, Rabbi Marc Mandel pointed out Mark Salzberg, from Newton, Massachusetts, and wondered if I knew him. I said no, then learned from Mark that his brother is Stuart Salzberg. I see Stuart most mornings at Temple Israel of Sharon, Massachusetts where he is saying Kaddish for their father. Mark was visiting with his wife Dina.

Visitor Mark Appel told me he had owned a vacant building in New York City and used it to found the The Bridge Multicultural Advocacy Project  whose "mission is to unite and energize people of every racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious group across New York City and  the United States…” for more information go to
Also visiting was Newport native Phillip Margolis and his wife Susan. My sister Beth used to babysit for Phillip.  Susan's sister Lynn is married to David Arons. The Arons live in Sharon and often visit Touro during Memorial Day weekend. 

Rabbi Mandel greeted people beginning with Mike Josephson. Mike's family was one of the first to come to Newport and reopen Touro after the colonial Jewish families had left. He thanked the Congregation for keeping Touro Synagogue going. He greeted and thanked a visiting surgeon from New Jersey, Dr. Jonathan Lewin, for sponsoring and speaking at the kiddish lunch and for being part of the greater Touro family.

He greeted Jay Schottenstein.  The Schottenstein family is renowned for their philanthropy. Jay's father Jerome's generosity  helped create Artscroll’s Schottenstein  Babylonian Talmud  in memory of his father Ephraim. After Jerome's death his widow Geraldine, Jay and his siblings continued to generously support the Talmud, in memory of both Ephraim and Jerome.  

 Three Immortals

Judah Touro
The Rabbi recognized Judah Touro as the first American Jew to make a major donation to the Jews in Palestine. This led to the building in 1860 of Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the first dwellings outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City. An inscription on the building  reads, "Mishkenot Sha'ananim was established with the money bequeathed by the benefactor Judah Touro, may his soul rejoice in Eden, in the holy community of New Orleans, May God protect it, in America, by Sir Moses Montefiore, in the year 5620 of the Creation."

History gave Moses Montefiore the credit, and the role of Judah Touro and his advisor and executor Gershom Kursheedt was largely forgotten. During his lifetime his support for Jewish causes was modest but by his bequests, including those to Touro Synagogue, he became an immortal paradigm of Jewish philanthropy. 

Rabbi Mandel then turned to the parsha. In parashat Chukat both Aaron and Miriam die, and Moses learns that he would not accompany his people into the promised land. Rashi thought that this was because Moses struck the rock in anger, rather than use his voice to bring forth water as he had been commanded. So Moses, Miriam and Aaron did not enter the promised land, nor did they have the opportunity to help build it up, an opportunity that Judah Touro took advantage of. We are in a position to follow in Judah Touro's footsteps. Will we rise to the occasion?

At the kiddish, Jonathan Lewin feigned reluctance to speak. Would he be able to measure up to Rabbi Mandel's glowing introduction? He then continued with insights into the parsha.  

The parsha begins with the law of the red heifer, which states that to restore ritual purity to a person  who comes in contact with a dead body, a red heifer must be sacrificed and its ashes be sprinkled on the person. But if the sprinkling is not done the right way it also results in ritual impurity. 

Our Rabbis were concerned that people would use the red heifer to discredit Judaism by punching holes in the story of the holy cow. Some Roman writers examined Jewish writings with a fine toothed comb in hope of discrediting the people of the book, who were widely admired and thus feared. 

When discussing the parsha with his children Jonathan often finds that it's not necessary to go beyond the first few sentences. Chukat's second verse begins "This is the law of the Torah." זֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה  But why doesn't it say, "This is the law of the red heifer?"  Chazel teaches that this was to emphasize that that the law of the red heifer is a command from the Almighty. We may not understand it, but we must obey it. To acknowledge that something is illogical is very logical. Our immortal Torah, including the red heifer, withstood the brickbats of the Ancient Roman literati. 

LeBron James
Speaking of immortals, Jonathan concluded by quoting basketball superstar LeBron James. When asked why the Cleveland Cavaliers title, and the Finals Most Valuable Player award felt different from the ones he earned as a member of the Miami Heat, Cleveland native LeBron said, "I'm home, This is what I came back for.” Jonathan came back to visit Touro Synagogue because it feels like home.

Jay Schottenstein listened approvingly. Did Jonathan Lewin know that Jay and LeBron are acquainted?

"I'm home, This is what I came back for."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

At Touro July 8, 2016 A Rite of Passage and a Grammar Lesson

 Friends from Buenos Ares posing
in front of the bookcase with the trick drawers.
Today was unusual for a July day. It was only 69 degrees in Newport. The fans and congregants at Touro hummed softly, a little traffic noise entered through the open windows, and the sound of seagulls was in the air. 

Avi, the son of Rabbi Loel and Patty Weiss, was among the visitors. Behind the bimah, opposite the door, a long bookcase holds siddurim and chumashim. Drawers at each end contain talleisim.  But they are trick drawers. Pulled out more than halfway, the drawer pops out and falls on the floor. Sure enough, when Avi pulled out a drawer to get a tallis, down went the drawer. He spent some frustrating moments trying to get it back in. But getting the genii in the bottle is much harder than taking it out. After Avi gave up someone with more experience took over. His dad Loel Weiss deftly inserted the drawer. No doubt Rabbi Weiss had already gone through this rite of passage! Et ainsi la perturbation de la force a été résolue. (Hint: that was for Star Wars fans.)

Today we read Parsha Korach, which includes the story of Korach’s complaints about Moses and Aaron, and their response. For neither the first nor the last time, Moses had trouble getting the genii back in the bottle, and consulted a higher authority.  

After greeting visitors and locals, Rabbi Marc Mandel turned to the parsha. He started with an entirely different subject, dikduk (grammar)! He recalled being taught grammar in high school, including how to diagram a sentence.  Had any of congregants gone through the same experience? Through the fog of memory, several of us recalled our grammar lessons. Subject, predicate, object. According to, “The subject is the "who" or "what" of the sentence, the predicate is the verb, and the object is any noun or concept that is part of the action of the subject.”  

The Rabbi told us Korach was a smart person, and even had some good arguments! But the way he went about things was not so good. 

The parsha starts with Numbers 16:1: “Now Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi,and Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, descendants of Reuben took.”  As Rashi observed, there is no object in the sentence. So what did they take? They took themselves. And that’s the problem! Their concern was for themselves, particularly their status and prerogatives.  On the surface, Korach was rebelling against Moses, but his real target was the almighty. Korach's punishment was being swallowed by the earth. Every effort was made to allow his followers to separate themselves and avoid divine retribution.  

The haftarah reading was Samuel 11:14 - 12:22. The prophet Samuel, unlike his ancestor Korach, brought people together. Samuel asked for a thunderstorm in the dry season when he brought Israel together to install Saul as king, and so it was. What a gentle miracle, compared to Korach’s dramatic end! Zal Newman ably recited the Haftarah. His 90 year old voice was stronger than many others in the congregation!  I overheard a couple of 80 somethings wondering if their voices would be as strong as Zal’s if they attained his age.

Referring to the divisiveness in our country,  the Rabbi urged us to follow the example of Samuel and work for the greater good by bridging differences and bringing people together.

The Kiddish was sponsored by Susan Horgan in honor of her dad, Mike Josephson. Rabbi Mandel pointed out that Mike works for the greater good by being a regular on Saturday mornings and helping insure that there is a minyan.
Thanks to proofreader Janet Green Zucker