Sunday, July 17, 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."

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