At Touro Synagogue Saturday, October 8, 2016
by Aaron Ginsburg
by Aaron Ginsburg
On Shabbat Touro Synagogue was back to basics. Not a single tourist was present. Presumably, they were leaf-peeping.
The short torah portion, Parashat Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 31:1 - 31:30) tells of the transition of leadership from 120 year-old Moses, to Joshua who was a mere 96. Moses said, "I cannot come in and go out anymore and I cannot cross this Jordan.” Moses wasn’t happy about it, but the boss is the boss. G-d decided it was time for a change. Moses and Joshua had very different. Joshua usually plowed right in to get things done. Moses often needed reassurance from above.
Moses repeatedly told Joshua “chazak ve'ematz" ("be strong and have courage”).It was clear that Joshua had courage and strength. Moses was probably telling Joshua to be strong in his faith and not to entirely depend on his own strength.
Several of the more senior members of the congregation were called up for an aliyah including Mike Josephson, Zal Newman, Saul Schweber, and Herb Meister.
Rabbi Marc Mandel said, “Mike’s great-grandparents were the first to have the key when the synagogue reopened for worship in the late 1800s.” Mike held up his keyring and quipped, “And I still have the key!”
When Saul Schweber came down from the bimah he realized that something was not quite right with Cliff Guller's appearance, “Cliff, where's your suit?” Cliff owned up, "It's at the dry cleaners.”
Herb Meister noticed that I had not cut all the threads on my new jacket, and, joined by several others, pulled out a pocket knife to correct the situation. Note to myself: be sure to cut the threads before Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Mandel pointed to the command “Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel.” The Rabbi said, “It’s a little ambiguous. Does it refer to the song that is in the next parsha or to write a Torah scroll?” Writing or having a Torah scroll written is a mitzvah. The rabbi mentioned that congregant Henry Spencer brought a Torah to Poland to help reestablish Jewish learning and worship with the help of the Lauder Foundation. The mitzvah is not limited writing down the Torah, but includes using the Torah to teach.
|Dr. Bruno Feitler|
Our kiddush speaker, Dr. Bruno Feitler, is a Touro National Heritage Trust Fellow at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. He teaches early modern history at Federal University of Sao Paulo (Brazil). His topic was the Jews of Pernambuco. His talk was organized by Melvyn Blake in memory of his friend Bernard Bell. Dr Feitler said that one of the main sources were the well-preserved records of the Inquisition.
The Dutch West India Company conquered Pernambuco, a major sugar producing area in the northeastern part of Brazil. Dutch rule lasted from 1630-1654. They colony allowed religious tolerance. Some Jews came from Amsterdam. Some of the Portuguese residents were cristãos-novo (New Christians) and a few of them returned to the Judaism.
Many of the Jews who were forced to leave Spain in 1492 crossed the border to Portugal. When the king of Portugal prohibited the practice of Judaism in 1497, he did not want to lose a large and productive part of the population.The Jews were forcibly converted. These “New Christians” were treated with suspicion and legal discrimination for many years. In Portugal, the legal discrimination continued until 1772.
When the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue of Recife, the capital of the colony, needed a rabbi, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca took the job. Rabbi Aboab’s marrano family had immigrated to Amsterdam from Portugal when he was 7. He lost his job in Amsterdam when three Sephardic communities combined.
After Dutch rule ended, da Fonseca returned to Amsterdam and become the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic community. This resulted in his being among those who excommunicated Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza, a Hebrew scholar and a philosopher, questioned almost everything. Spinoza was probably excommunicated out of fear that his ideas would spread to the Sephardic community, whose faith was new after having returned to Judaism.
About 50 Jews joined the Rabbi and returned to Amsterdam. From there, some went to Curaçao, Barbados, Jamaica, and eventually New Amsterdam (New York).
A few years ago I was speaking with Hamburg, Germany resident Lisolette Hermes da Fonseca. When she said, “I’m a direct descendant of Rabbi Aboab,” I pulled “Aboab: First Rabbi of the Americas” from my bookshelf. The book, by Emily Hahn, was published in 1959.
In the American southwest, some Synagogues have many Mexican-Americans worshippers who believe that they come from a new Christian background and are therefore Jewish. They don’t quite understand that to “return” to Judaism they need to convert.
G'mar Chatimah Tovah!