Sunday, July 24, 2016

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.”

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