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.

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