Friday, August 26, 2016

An Atlanta Weekend

An Atlanta Weekend by Aaron Ginsburg

Rabbi Marc Mandel asked me to write about my visit last weekend to Atlanta. I went to Atlanta for the bar mitzvah of Adam Haber, son of Larry and Marcia Haber, grandson of Charles and Miriam Lasky z.l.  With Marcia’s brother’s Marc, Jay, and Robert, their children, my brother-in-law and sister Alan and Beth Levine, and the Haber relatives, I could have easily been at a family event in Newport, where most of us were born. And not only did we have star-power, we had minyan power!

Temple Beth Tikvah Roswell, GA Sanctuary
The Bar Mitzvah was at Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, Georgia. I was told it was modeled after a Chabad synagogue design. If so, it had much more finesse, with pink stone and a translucent dome. And with stadium seating there was not a bad seat in the house.

The Rabbi’s sermon would not have been out of place at Touro Synagogue. The theme was the official Olympic motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius. Faster, Higher, Better.  Although it sounds ancient, the motto was composed by Dominican preacher Henri Didon, 1840-1900, for a sports competition. His friend, Pierre de Coubertin proposed it as the official motto of the Olympics. 

Temple Beth Tikvah, Roswell, GA lobby
Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner pointed out that the motto was “not fastest, hIghest, strongest. In other words, it’s not just about the destination, its about the journey.” In terms of the parsha, Parashat Vaetchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11, Moses desperately wanted to enter Israel, and complained to the Almighty that it wasn’t fair. G-d replied, “Rav lecha, Enough! Go up to the Pisgah and see the valley (and all the people stretched below). Look at all that YOU have accomplished, and that you have mattered to all those whom you have carried all these years…

The Olympians are the ones who had the commitment, dedication to forge on, who never gave up and managed to go where others could only dream. And that was the real prize.”

She quoted Rabbi Harold Kushner, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth or power. Our souls are hungry for meaning…”  She commented, “There is a difference between success and significance. When we look at our own life’s journeys-what will we discover? Are we only looking to be faster, higher or stronger-OR is there something more?"

The Temple Synagogue, Atlanta
While I was in Atlanta I met with some Dokshitz descendants. Many Jewish Newport families, including mine, trace their origin to this shtetl, now in Belarus. One of the places we considered meeting was at a synagogue called “The Temple.” The congregation was the first official one in Atlanta, founded in 1867. Leo Frank, a member of the congregation, was lynched in 1913 by an anti-semitic mob. The Jewish community lived in a climate of fear for many years. 

Rabbi and Mayor after
Temple Synagogue bombing
Times change, and forty years later Temple senior Rabbi Jacob Rothschild was an outspoken opponent of segregation. On October 12, 1958, a bomb consisting of 50 sticks of dynamite was placed at the Temple’s north entrance, and did $100,000 worth of damage. The reaction was overwhelmingly supportive, unlike in 1913.  Mayor William Hartsfield posed with the Rabbi in the rubble. Atlantans raised $140,000 to repair the damage. A half-hearted attempt to convict the perpetrators failed.

Accompanied by my sister Beth Levine and her husband Alan, I met with cousins Caryl Paller and Donna Darrocot. Their grandfather, Hyman Kaminkovitz, was born in Dokshitz. Their great Aunt Sarah Shleifer was married to Hyman’s brother Ruben.  Her brother Jacob Schleifer married Sarah Kusinitz, a cousin of the Newport Kusinitzes. Hyman changed his last name to Minkovitz; Ruben changed his last name to Mink. I got to know them after I discovered Hyman’s 1915 naturalization petition, where he declared that he was born in Dokshitz. When I contacted them, they knew about the name change, but not about Dokshitz.

Also present were cousins Robbie Dokson and Stanley Baum. Robbie’s great-grandparents, Barnet Dokson( Dokshizkyn), and Sarah Markman were also born In Dokshitz. Robbie and Stanley are related thorough their great great Dokshizkyn grandparents, and Stanley's grandmother Lena Dokson was a sister of Robbie’s grandmother  Manie Dokson Dokson (she was married to a cousin). 

Andrew Dietz,who grew up in Connecticut, also joined us. Dietz and Teitz are different ways of spelling the same name, from the first letters of the words Dayan Tzedek, righteous judge. Andrew’s grandfather Shmuel Dietz was born in Dokshitz. In 1912 he settled in Springfield, MA.

Andrew and Robbie met at a Southeast Region Anti-Defamation-League board retreat. They were paired in an icebreaker. Andrew told Robbie that his grandfather was born in Dokshitz. An astonished Robbie replied, “Hold it buddy!” 

We met at a pub/restaurant called Gordon Biersch in downtown Atlanta. Although beer was featured on the menu, most of us ordered iced tea.  I reviewed the recent activities of the Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy.

The Swan Hous at the Atlanta History Center
Before catching my flight Monday evening, I visited the Atlanta History Center. The 33 acre site includes a museum devoted to Atlanta history, a circa 1850 farm, and a 1928 mansion. The mansion reminded me of Bellevue Avenue, although by Newport standards,  it was pint sized. With the exception of one maid, all of the servants commuted to work. 

Atlanta is a large amorphous blob spreading over the red Georgia soil. Tomorrow I will commute from my apartment in Foxboro to The Jewel of Aquidneck Island, Touro Synagogue and join the Kehillah Kedusha in service to the Ubershter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

At Touro Synagogue, August 21-22, 2016 A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

At Touro Synagogue, August 21-22, 2016  
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
by Aaron Ginsburg

On Shabbat shul was so crowded that Saul Schweber was unable to sit in his usual seat. Now that is unusual. Also unusual was the temperate weather.

It was Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort.  The haftarah (Isaiah 40, 1-26) is the first of seven haftarahs of consolation that follow the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction.

At my desk is the Hertz Chumash I received at my Bar Mitzvah at Touro Synagogue a few years ago from the Sisterhood of Temple Shalom, Louise Ehrlich, president. My favorite phrase is in verse  21, “Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? Don’t you get it…?” In plain English, the Ubershter is saying, “Get with the program!” 

The haftarah begins, “Comfort ye, comfort Ye my people, Saith your G-d). J. Hertz explains that this command to comfort Israel is directed to the prophets and all those who comfort Israel. Rabbi Marc Mandel observed that the law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel provided comfort to the Touro community during the recent challenging time.

The tented Kiddish was sponsored by Amy and Bob Book and Jeanie and Jay Schottenstein. Jay thanked Rabbi Mandel for increasing the ruach of the Newport Jewish community, and thanked the law firm for its help and dedication to Touro. Jay turned to  his friend Bob Book for the name of a law firm. The firm did at least one million dollars of pro bono work for Touro Synagogue. That's not bupkis! The Yiddish word bupkis has nothing to do with pastry. It may be derived from a Polish word meaning animal droppings.

Jay also said that all Jewish communities should visit Israel, and hoped that Touro Synagogue would soon visit.

In the afternoon, attorney Floyd Abrams spoke about the First Amendment to the constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” 

Floyd started with the fact that Washington discussed religious freedom 236 years ago.  He mentioned that at the Constitutional Convention, a Bill of rights was voted down. James Madison, the prime mover behind the Constitution, was among those opposed, believing that the Constitution did not threaten basic rights. He changed his mind at the end of the Convention, realizing that many would oppose the Constitution without a Bill of Rights, ran for Congress on that basis, and started pushing for passage  of the Bill of Rights immediately after Washington was inaugurated.

Bob Book thanked the law firm, and attorney Gary Naftalis accepted a Ben Shahn print that was a gift from the Congregation to the firm for the dedication and hard work. Now I would say that picture is worth a thousand thousand words! 
Park Service Brochure illustrated by Ben Shahn

According to the New York Times, Gary  Naftalis is known as Columbo with a law degree. He favors rumpled, not high-priced, suits. His ironic, fact-seeking approach wins.  Gary often keeps his clients out of court by pointing to out when cases are illogical or unfairly singled out his client. If the case does go to court, rather than dazzle with tactics, maneuvers, and histrionics, he makes his point with facts that disarm witnesses to the chagrin of the prosecuting attorney.

Gary is part of a team that included fellow attorneys Jonathan Wagner and Tobias Jacoby. When I spoke to Jonathan he reiterated that, “We agreed to represent Touro Synagogue and Congregation Jeshuat Israel because we believed that the cause was a worthy and just one—one worth fighting for, the preservation of a vibrant congregation and synagogue that is the cradle of religious liberty in the United States.  We were proud and honored to have represented Congregation Jeshuat Israel in a once-in-a-lifetime trial and on behalf of one of the crown jewels of the state of Rhode Island and  one of the American Jewish community’s  great treasures.”

On a personal note Jonathan added, “I am saying Kaddish for my father, and standing  on the amud and reciting the Haftarah was a wonderful experience in such a  historic synagogue, and among the many highlights of the weekend for me.”
Rabbi Dr. Marc Mandel, Rabbi of Touro Synagogue speaks at GW Letter Reading

On Sunday, after Rabbi Marc Mandel offered the benediction, and, along with Touro leaders, offered words of greeting,  the Moses Seixas  letter to George Washington  was read by Fall River, Massachusetts State Senator Michael Rodrigues.  Michael and others in both Fall River and the Azores have worked for years to restore the Sahar Hawamain (Gates of Heaven) Synagogue in Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal which was build in 1820. Read part of this moving story in a Fall River Herald article

Wes Fastiff, brother of Selma Klein, spoke after Gary Naftalis read the George Washington letter. As most speakers do, Wes wondered what insight he could bring following the long line of learned speakers including Supreme Court Justices. Wes read George Washington’s letter carefully, and focused on,…”May the father of all mercies scatter light,and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here , and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”

Wes’s professional career for 57 years has been in the field of labor and employment law. Here was George Washington emphasizing equal opportunity in employment for everyone 250 years ago! How different this was for Jews who for years had been restricted from many occupations by guilds and governments. 

Many Jews, depending on their prosperity level, were forced to   choose money lending, which was considered unChristian, and a few other tolerated occupations, such as tax farming, managing the estates of landowners,  peddling, and petty trading. This often put them in an adversarial role to the peasants, a resentment that was in addition to religious based anti-Jewish attitudes.  

In Wes’s words, “Washington’s reference to occupational freedom for everyone in our new Nation held out a concept of exceptional importance.…For our new Nation to truly offer a society where all, including Jews, could be “in our several vocations useful here,” the New World had to reject the Old World’s occupational prejudice and bigotry.”

With the exception of Ulysses S Grant’s General Order No 11, which expelled Jews from the area he controlled, and prohibited Jews from getting licenses to do business with the army, The United States federal government has never restricted the occupations of Jews. 

The order was quickly countermanded by President Lincoln as being unconstitutional.  As he also demonstrated in the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln was very much in tune with the intentions of our forefathers, especially those who signed the Declaration of Independence and who crafted the Constitution.

When Wes’s father Jacob, came to Fall River in 1920, he started as a fruit peddler. Jacob and Wes’s mother Ida, who arrived in 1921, became shopkeepers. No legal impediment stopped their son Wesley from becoming an attorney.

Wes continued, “Beginning with the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964-enacted five years after I began my career, followed by other federal legislation such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act…

We now have laws on both the federal and state level that seek to ensure equal employment opportunity — which is simply a modern name for occupational liberty-not only on the basis of religion, but also race, Sex, age, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status, physical or mental disabilities, medical conditions, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic Information, military and veteran status, and still others.”

Concluded Wes, “George Washington’s vision of two-hundred and twenty-five years ago is still a reality today.”

Among the attendees were Shirley Saunders and her sister Beverly Bavly of Massachusetts. Beverly’s granddaughter Ariel Bavly sang “America” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  As Shirley Saunders succinctly put it,  “It was a beautiful day and a beautiful event.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

At Touro Synagogue Saturday, August 13, 2016 Its been “Yuge!”

At Touro Synagogue Saturday, August 13, 2016

Its been “Yuge!”
by Aaron Ginsburg

What is the most distinctive architectural element at Touro Synagogue? The ark? The bimah? The chandeliers? How about the windows? Today they allowed seagulls to join us. 

Rabbi Marc Mandel recounted a conversation last week with a visitor from France. By an open window, the visitor explained that in a French  synagogue, people are afraid to sit by a window, lest they become a target. Today French Jews live in a climate of fear. Armed soldiers stand by for their protection. 

Many are leaving for Netanya, Jerusalem, Miami, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. As a leader of his synagogue, our visitor is torn. Should he follow his compatriots? Our visitor challenged us, “Do American Jews really appreciate what it means to be able to sit by an open window at Touro Synagogue.”

Kiddish today was sponsored Naftali and Rhonda Sabo in honor of honor their 45th anniversary and of Naftali’s birthday and. Before reciting the Haftarah, Tal observed that the prophet Isaiah was the person Israel needed when the First Temple was destroyed. Isaiah issued words of warning and words of comfort. 

Today's Haftarah Isaiah 1:1-27 always precedes Tisha B’av.  Isaiah condemns the hypocritical observances of his time, “What need have I of all your sacrifices?…Your new moons and fixed seasons Fill Me with loathing; They are become a burden to Me, I cannot endure them.” What does the Almighty want? “Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.”

At Kiddish, Rhonda Sabo spoke. Her topic was “Crossing the Bridge to the World of the Other (and what I have learned from Martin Buber)”. 

Come in Houston,"Is that
 Rhonda's (from Niles, IL) footprint?
We hear she is flying high
after seeing Naftali. Please confirm."
In 1969, when the Apollo mission was headed for the moon, Rhonda read  Martin Buber in her Psychology 101 class. But Buber did not make much of an impression! She had just met a prince sitting on a white horse, Naftali Sabo, sitting on her cousin’s  white couch. This did not go unnoticed in the heavens: Sky high Rhonda was undoubtedly  encountered by the Apollo mission. 

Like all relationships, their marriage has had ups and downs. We were happy to celebrate with them today. As Donald Trump might say, it's been "Yuge." Rhonda does not usually quote from the Trump but it fits. Bernie Saunders also says, “Yuge.” Bernie and Donald were both born in Brooklyn and tawk like New Yawkers.

Rhonda wanted to be a couple therapist. But her early experiences discouraged her. She either was not good at it, or the approaches she tried weren’t effective. 

Rhonda  devoted over 20 years of work career to helping patients with Multiple Personality Disorder(Dissociative Identity Disorder). The disorder follows a trauma; psychotherapy is a recognized treatment. 

A few years ago  Mona, a friend, suggested that the dissociative personalities were starting to rub off. Perhaps Rhonda should revisit couples therapy. New models of treatment emphasized the relationship between a man and a women, rather than their individual issues.

These approaches owe a lot to Martin Buber. In his book I and Thou, I-it is a relationship that looks at the second party as an object, while I-Thou looks at a relationship as including the whole of its members. Buber is over my head.  Let’s say in I-Thou we merge, while in I-it we remain separate.

Was Buber was thinking of Shakespeare's sonnet 116,  “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit  impediment?” Shakespeare's love takes on a life of its own that's eternal and strong enough to survive the storms and tempests that we encounter.

Rumi, (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī) 1207-1273, formulated the idea,  

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing 
and rightdoing there is a field.”

Rumi is one of the most published poets in the United State. He founded the Whirling Dervish sect. Whirling Dervishes, famous for their dance, take a vow of poverty and beg to learn humility. The funds cannot be for themselves but must be used for charity. The Whirling Dervishes were suppressed by Turkey in the 1920s and were only allowed to resume their activities in the 1950s when the government realized they were a tourist attraction.

Sometimes even the strongest building needs maintenance. That's where relational couples therapy comes in. Rhonda now devotes herself to strengthening a couple’s relationship. Strengthening the relationship will lift the partners, helping them deal with their personal issues.  

Rhonda and Naftali in 1969
Did Rhonda know that while she prepared her talk Tal was preparing some photos of the highlights of their relationship, from when they just met in 1969 to a wedding two years later,  to their son’s wedding, and to their two grandsons? A good relationship is an adventure. After 45 years  it's been “Yuge!"  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

At Touro Synagogue, Saturday, July 30, 2016 Coffee Milk, Cocoa Puffs, The Democratic Convention and Who is a Choctaw?

 At Touro Synagogue, Saturday, July 30, 2016

Coffee Milk, Cocoa Puffs, The Democratic Convention and Who is a Choctaw? by Aaron Ginsburg

Cocoa Puffs

On the way to Newport I remembered that when the Ginsburg family drove by the farms on the East Main and West Main roads,  my sisters, Judy and Beth, and I categorized the cows by color…there were white milk cows, chocolate milk cows, and coffee milk cows. Coffee milk was my favorite, while my sisters preferred chocolate.  Get the lowdown about coffee milk at 

As lovers of chocolate milk, my sisters were in seventh heaven when Cocoa Puff cereal was introduced.  The bottoms of the boxes  became trains that inspired us to repeat the slogan, “Cocoa Puff, Cocoa Puff, Cocoa Puff.” I am still repeating it. 

Women of America and Israel

Our Torah reading, was Parshat Pinchas, Numbers 25:10 - 30:1. During his sermon, Rabbi Marc Mandel carefully brought up the Democratic Convention. Hillary Clinton is the first female presidential nominee of a major American political party. 

Speaking of Pinchas, my great-grandparents were Penny(Pinchas) and Jennie Pokross(originally Pokrassa). Penny and Jennie and three of their children, including my grandfather Jacob Pokross, immigrated to Fall River, Massachusetts from Gorodishche, Ukraine. The Pokross family are Levis. I’m aware of three other families from the Gorodishche area (Cherkassy and Zlatopol) that  have a Pinchas Pokrassa among their ancestors. Two of the families are levis, and two lived in Gorodishche at the same time as my family. Chances are good that the four Pokrassa families are related. As if I didn’t already have enough relatives!

Rabbi Marc Mandel pointed out that in the parsha four women  stood up for themselves and others. The daughters of Zelophehad, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah said to Moses,

“Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against the LORD, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons.Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!”

Moses did what he usually did in a tough spot. To correct the blooper, he used the Moses-Ubershter hotline to consult Higher Authority.

Golda Meir in 1914
 in Milwaukee
“The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter…”

This was all about dividing the still unconquered Land of Israel. Jay Schottenstein and the Rabbi had been discussing Israel, and Jay said, “Israel needs people’s love and support.”

Rabbi Mandel mentioned another lover of Israel, Golda Meir. When she was smuggled into Jordan to meet King Abdullah, he asked that the Proclamation of the State of Israel be delayed . She replied, "We've been waiting for 2,000 years. Is that hurrying?”

Who is a Choctow?

The Kiddish was sponsored by Dr. Morton and Irene, Ph.D., about "Living in the Choctaw Nation 1962-1964.” Morton is a family physician and Irene is an anthropologist.  

When Morton was a medical student in New York City, he wanted to go into family medicine. But medicine in New York was highly specialized, and all he heard from his teachers was, “No way.” 

In 1962 young Morton and Irene escaped New York. He joined five other physicians and staff manning a 150 bed hospital in The Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. He delivered many babies and although not a surgeon, assisted during many surgeries. 

Irene was a musician in her pre-anthropology days. I immediately thought of my anthropology professor, Colin Turnbull.  As a musician he became acquainted with the music of the African pygmies. He went on to become a noted anthropologist.  He told us that when he was a young man he did not follow his father’s wishes for his future. His father took him out to the backyard with a chest containing the family papers, and proceeded to chop the chest to bits with an axe!

In 1830 Mosholatubbee sought to be elected
to the Congress of the United States. 1834,
Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Choctaw Nation was expelled from the Southeast in the 1830s and sent to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears after signing an unequal treaty. During the Civil War they chose the Confederate side. They paid a heavy price.

During World War I American Choctaw soldiers became code talkers after being overheard speaking the Choctaw language. This prevented the Germans who tapped into American lines from understanding what they were hearing, which contributed to several American victories in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France.

Among Morton and Irene’s neighbors was the Macleod family. Years later, when the Glassers attended a Scottish clan event they mentioned the Choctaw Macleods to clan members, who were very aware of the Choctaw compatriots. The Choctaws have a broad definition of who is a Choctaw and they now number over 200,000.

Over the years, as American policy has changed, the Choctaw’s rights and status have changed. It is only in the last 60 years or so that they have been able to reestablish themselves after years of suppression at both the state and federal levels.

Who is a Jew?

It is easy to leap from “Who is a Choctaw?” to “Who is a Jew?”  Today, according to Halacha, a Jew is a child of a Jewish mother or a convert who has had to jumped through numerous hoops. But Biblical times were pre-halachic. Ruth, a Moabite, joined Israel because she wanted to, and that was that. What hath 3300 years wrought?