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? 

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