Friday, September 2, 2016

At Touro Synagogue, August 27, 2016 The Lincoln Square Synagogue and Gene Wilder

 At Touro Synagogue, August 27, 2016 
The Lincoln Square Synagogue and Gene Wilder
by Aaron Ginsburg

It was another warm Shabbat at Touro.  And Rabbi Mandel’s sermon took a serious turn.

The Parsha continued Moses’s description of the trials and tribulations of the previous forty years as the children of Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land. 

Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke of visitors last week from Efrat, Israel who made Aliyah from New York. He  recalled Rabbi Steven (Shlomo) Riskin, the first Rabbi of Efrat, who also made Aliya from the City. In the 1960s and 70s Rabbi Riskin helped to make Lincoln Square Synagogue a place that attracted many young Jews. It was the place to be for Jewish singes on Friday night, and was called “wink and stare.” Rabbi Mandel seemed to speak from personal experience. 

Lincoln Square Synagogue built 1970
photo: Beyond my Ken
The first bat mitzvah at the Lincoln Square Shul was that of Elena Kagan. When she grew up she spoke at Touro Synagogue…and became a Supreme Court Justice.

Recently the Lincoln Square Synagogue has lost its cachet. There are a lot of imitators, and the rising cost of real estate has  pushed the young observant community further north on New York’s upper West Side, to the 90s and beyond. Membership fell from 1000 to 500. 

The new Lincoln Square
Synagogue Sanctuary design &
photo by David Asaclon
How does Lincoln Square Synagogue plan to recover? A $51 million dollar Shul was completed in 2013.  Only time will tell if this is a cure, or merely edifice complex.

Rabbi  Mandel mentioned Nefesh B'Nefesh, which helps people form North America make Aliyah, including lone soldiers who have no family in Israel.

The Rabbi described a recent e-mail exchange with a potential visitor to Touro Synagogue. The inquiries were routine. How are services conducted? What is the schedule? Then the final question arrived, “Is there an Israeli flag in Touro Synagogue?”  The Rabbi replied “Yes,” and the rejoinder was, “‘I'm sorry, I will not be able to visit.” 

The Rabbi lamented a growing trend in some Orthodox circles to reject the State of Israel. He was especially concerned at the extreme to which this can be carried.

There are case’s and case’s, but sometimes being consistent can lead to shooting oneself in the foot. This sounds to me like political correctness.

So what is political correctness? Per wikipedia, it describes “language, policies, or measures that are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society.” It often leads to censorship or self-censorship to prevent offending..

In the 1930’s communists and others matter-of-factly discussed the “politically correct” line to take about an issue. The phrase was used ironically to describe people who hewed to the ever-changing party line since what was politically correct on Tuesday  became doubtful on Wednesday and counter-revolutionary by Thursday. 

The term was only rarely used before the 1987. Usage exploded in 1990 after a New York Times article by Richard Bernstein. Political correctness has been adopted across the political spectrum as a put-down of the other side. 

Gene Wilder, who died this week, was not politically correct. Ben Kessel wrote that Gene’s movies would not have made the cut in a politically correct world:

“In “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” Mr. Wilder plays a character named “Dave.” … In the film, Dave is deaf, but, here’s a shocker, Gene was not. Some believe that a fully abled person portraying a person with disabilities is offensive. Recently at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, a trio of girls dressed as the “Three Blind Mice” for Halloween. They were reprimanded by the university’s “Bias Incident Team” for supposedly mocking the disabled; yes, that’s how much creativity is being stifled by this outrage culture.

“Blazing Saddles” would never be made today. The Warner Brothers film was controversial even for its time. Director Mel Brooks certainly understood he was pushing buttons when he kept the N-word in the script 17 times. But the difference between then and now is that the movie was made and audiences understood the significance of language and how powerful it is in conveying a message and breaking the malaise of everyday reality.”

At the Kiddish, sponsored by Paul Tobak in honor of Zal Newman’s birthday, Sam Spencer enlightened us about the parsha, Parashat Eikev,  Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25. The parsha starts by saying that if the rules of Torah are obeyed, G-d will assure success in the Land of Israel.  G-d would even assure that the conquest of the land would be done in such away that it would not be destroyed in the process.  Moses pointed to the miracles in Egypt, with great might and an outstretched arm, implying that the conquest of Israel would also be brought about by miracles. 

Rashi downplayed the idea that we should expect miracles a second time.
The Lubavitcher Rabbi believed that the generation of the Exodus was condemned to die before reaching the Holy Land was because they were expecting miracles. 

It is a human characteristic to value things that we work hard for, and devalue things that drop from heaven.  It takes work to obey the commands of Heaven, and to conquer the land.  Miracles in Egypt were one thing. But after the revelation at Sinai and the receipt of Torah, which itself was a miracle, we had our marching orders. The “miracle” is up to us, to follow the path of righteousness and walk in G-d’s ways, and to love Eretz Israel in an active, rather than a passive way.

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