Sunday, November 27, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 26, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving and the Art of the Deal

by Aaron Ginsburg

Thanksgiving weekend is a perfect time to visit Newport. The crowds are gone, but it is still fall, not winter. Visitors joined us from Boston, Stamford, Riverdale, Brooklyn, New York, and New Jersey. Some traced their background to Aleppo, Syria, others to Ukraine and Moldova.

First Deal 

Parashat Chayei Sara, Genesis 23:1 - 25:18,  starts with the death of Sarah and becomes a lesson in the art of the deal. Abraham is in Hittite-controlled Beer Sheva. Abraham spoke with his Hittite friends, and arrangements were made to purchase Machpelah from Ephron for 400 silver shekels, the going rate.

Second Deal

Then Abraham decided that it was time for his son and heir Isaac to get married. He commissioned his servant to fetch a bride from the old country. Negotiations  with the servant ensued. The servant was worried that the still unselected young woman would refuse to leave her home. Tradition tells us that the unnamed servant was Eliezer of Damascus, who was mentioned in Parashat Lech-Lecha. 

Third Deal

Once he chose Rebecca, the servant negotiated with her relatives. Further negotiations and gifts and a deal was made. At the last minute, Rebecca was consulted, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will.”

Fourth Deal

In the haftarah, I Kings 1:1 - 1:31, Bathsheba reminded King David that he should abide by the agreement for Solomon to succeed him. 

Nathan the prophet was the éminence grise. He told Bathsheba, “You must have heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has assumed the kingship without the knowledge of our lord David.

Now take my advice, so that you may save your life and the life of your son Solomon.

Go immediately to King David and say to him, ‘Did not you, O lord king, swear to your maidservant: “Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit upon my throne? Then why has Adonijah become king?”

While you are still there talking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.” 

Women were not yet accepted as independent actors, at least in print.


With Thanksgiving in mind, Rabbi Marc Mandel said that Jews were a thankful  people. The word Jew comes from the name Judah, which means thanksgiving. When Judah was born his mother Leah said, “Now will I thank the Lord.” The Torah continues, “Therefore she called his name Judah; and ceased bearing.”   The rest is history...and us; Judah’s descendants became the tribe of Judah, from which all Jews are descended. 

There were some children present, members of a visiting family of Syrian Jews from Brooklyn. The Rabbi asked them, “What’s the first prayer we say in the morning?”  They answered, “Modeh Ani.”  Modeh Ani is recited when waking, while still in bed.

מוֹדֶה (מוֹדָה) אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ מֶֽלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּים. שֶׁהֶֽחֱזַֽרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה. רַבָּה אֱמֽוּנָתֶֽךָ׃
Modeh (women: modah) ani lifanekha melekh chai v'kayam shehecḥezarta bi nishmahti b'cḥemlah, rabah emunatekha. I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.

Rabbi Mandel wondered, “Why do we say the amidah twice? Wouldn’t once be enough?” Long ago books were a scarce commodity, and every worshipper did not have a siddur. We repeat for the benefit of those that lacked a prayerbook.

One part of the Amidah cannot be delegated. A “thank you” must come directly from us. While the reader repeats the Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving") prayer aloud, we silently recite Modim deRabbanan ("thanksgiving of the Rabbis”).  We thank God for our lives, for our souls, and for God’s miracles that are with us every day.

That’s what Thanksgiving is about. And that is a big deal!

@tourosynagogue @discovernewport 

Monday, November 21, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 19, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 19, 2016
The Terebinths of Mamre and Corn Bread Crisps
by Aaron Ginsburg

 On Saturday we were blessed with many visitors, including Jeff and Tali Moskowitz from West Hempstead, Long Island. Jeff led services on both Friday night (with 1 minutes notice after passing the voice test) and on Saturday morning.  Jeff is in the corn bread snack food business. His davening was crisp, well seasoned and baked, not fried.   

We were also joined by Michael Field and Alan I Greenstein from Temple Emeth in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and Mr Brescher from New York. It being a small Jewish world, Michael and I attended an event at Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts last Sunday, and Alan I Greenstein, who shares the initials AIG with me, knows sisters Shirley Saunders and Beverly Bavly, who are active in the Touro Foundation. 

As often happens, Rabbi Marc Mandel got off the Bimah and went right to the door to greet some of the visitors, who did not suspect that the Rabbi was the greeter. 

Parshat Vayera, Genesis 18:1 - 22:24, has a lot in it, including the controversial binding of Isaac. Abraham’s tent, with its four doors always open to visitors, has become a symbol of welcoming. Speaking of welcoming, my sister Beth Ginsburg Levine wrote this month in the bulletin of Temple Emunah, Lexington, Ma:

“Visitors at Minyan

I have many responsibilities as the Thursday night minyan leader. Among these duties are to arrive at the synagogue every week before 7:30 pm; refer to the luach. (an annual calendar book that has instructions for additions/deletions to the service); be sure Dawny (the Thursday night gabbai) has everything she needs at her seat; refer to the yahrzeit list in case someone with a yahrzeit would like to lead the service. But, to me, one of the most important duties is to welcome those people that I do not know.

Sometimes the stranger turns out to be a Temple Emunah member whom I have never met, but most times he/she is a visitor to Temple Emunah. These visitors usually are either saying Kaddish during their year of mourning or have a yahrzeit. Because Temple Emunah has one of the few daily minyanim in New England, visitors from near and far come to our service. 

There are Temple Isaiah members we see regularly, some of whom feel a bond with their fellow Emunah minyanaires. There are some that come so regularly during their mourning year that they become service leaders. There are business travelers in the Lexington area who come to say Kaddish. There are vacationers who travel through New England and stop at Emunah because of our daily minyan. 

There is the woman who lives in western Massachusetts with a yahrzeit on Sukkot. She usually is in our area and I see her every year. There is the man from Brooklyn who comes to Lexington so often for work that he has become a regular at Wednesday morning minyan and Study with the Rabbis. There are those who come for a yahrzeit who are former members of Temple Emunah. They left our congregation for a variety of reasons, but count on our daily minyan.

Each of these visitors needs to be welcomed to our service. On Thursday nights, I try to greet everyone before the service begins. If there is a latecomer, I try to greet them after the service ends. I have found that this small, friendly gesture is greatly appreciated. Some visitors have eventually joined Temple Emunah because of the warm welcome; some have handed me donations to give to the synagogue. Others express their pleasure and gratitude at receiving the welcome. When you come to minyan, I urge you to say hello to someone you don’t know. It may be a lasting memory of Temple Emunah for a visitor.”
Beth Levine

Rabbi Mandel took his words of Torah from the first sentence of the Parasha, “ The LORD appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre…”  

I have no idea what a terebinth is, but I love the sound of it. In fact, I want one for my coffee table. The Rabbi said, “God meets Abraham in the town named after Mamre. Rashi tells us that Mamre was Abraham's advisor. Since God was testing Abraham several times, he asked his advisors what to do, and only Mamre told him to follow the requests of God each time, so Mamre was rewarded in this Parsha.” 

Abraham was subjected to 10 tests or trials by the Almighty. Although Abraham sought advice from many people, he was responsible for the decisions he made.The Rabbi continued,

“Who are our advisors in life? Who will be Trump's advisors? Perhaps his son-in law, Jared Kushner.”

The Rabbi welcomed Michael Field near the end of his sermon. Michael told us that he went to school in New Orleans, and that Judah Touro was a local hero. Not only did he assist a synagogue that became Touro Synagogue, but by his generosity he founded a hospital, the Touro Infirmary. Across the street from the Touro Infirmary is the Touro Prytania Parking Garage, which is $4 for 2 hours. The Touro Foundation supports the hospital, and gives the Judah Touro Society award “annually to a living individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the welfare of Touro Infirmary.”  At Tulane University there is a Judah Touro scholarship.

Let’s pray that President Trump will select wise advisors, and will make wise decisions for our country and for the world. And in our own lives may we find advisors with wisdom and make wise choices. 

@tourosynagogue @jewishnewport

Monday, November 14, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 12, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 12, 2016  
Moving On
by Aaron Ginsburg

On Saturday we had quite a crowd. Elie and Marcia Cohen sponsored a special Kiddish, and we were joined by many of their friends and family to celebrate this special day. Elie read the Torah, just like he did at his Bar Mitzvah in Egypt back in the days.

It was a special treat to see Eleanor Davis and her son Bobbie. When I saw Eleanor outside, I went out to greet her, and Mike asked me to take charge of the gate while he helped Eleanor go upstairs. Wrapped in my woolen tallis, I stopped people to make sure they were coming to pray, and stopped traffic while a couple of people crossed the street. In truth it was rather quiet in Newport, and there wasn’t any traffic to stop! A cool breeze came from the sea. Next time, I’m wearing two taleisim!

Some people were pleased by the election results while others were upset and disconsolate.   

Using the parsha, Lech-Lecha, and the examples of Abraham and of Marcia and Elie Cohen, Rabbi Marc Mandel urged us to move on:

It’s customary to give a few words of greeting and of Torah. 
Yasher Koach to Dr Herstoff for leading us in the pesukei dezimra and in the shacharit, and to Saul Woythaler for the first part of the musaf, and to the Renee Cohen for the prayer for the United States Government and to Audrey Paiva for prayer for the State of Israel, and to co-president Naftali Sabo for the prayer for the United States Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces.
Thank you to our kiddish sponsors Marcia and Elie Cohen in honor of Elie’s Bar Mitzvah. 
A special welcome to Renee and Audrey and Joe-Jillian and Joline, and to Larry and Charlene and all their friends who are here for this special Kiddish. 
Well, the election is over and now is the time to move on.
Today’s Torah reading is Lech-Lecha-that’s what Lech-Lecha means-move on-carry on with your life. It’s over, and now we can go back to managing our lives in a productive way.
These words, Lech-Lecha, are very powerful. Marcia and Elie Cohen guide their lives with these two words, Lech-Lecha. They are always on the move. They are always moving on and doing something productive. 
One day last week I was talking to Elie and he had 7 meetings that day, at the hospital and the University, etc. And Marcia is alway on the move. Lech-Lecha-she’s taking someone to Boston and Providence to visit their doctors or she’s hosting people who are visiting.
It’s always Lech-Lecha-it’s always something productive and helpful. Of course, Eli left Egypt-and he went like Avraham to search for a better life for himself. At that time Egypt wasn't the right place for him to live.
Like Elie and Avraham, we are all in search for a better life for ourselves and for our families and for our country. Jews have been here in Newport since the 1600s. That’s a long time. Why are they here?  Because they were looking for a better place to live, and they found one. So we have a lot of stake in this country.
Every Presidential election is important for us. That’s why Moses Seixas wrote the letter to George Washington. He wanted to know,  “Did they make the right choice by moving here?” And George Washington told him, “Yes you did!” 
And that’s what we want to hear from every president. We want to hear them say, “You made the right choice by moving here, because every American citizen has rights to freedom and happiness.”  
That’s what Elie wanted when he left Egypt and that’s what every American wants for their families.
In today’s Torah reading Avraham and his nephew Lot go separate ways- and that’s what seems to be happening in the United States today-people  are divided. We have to learn from Elie and Marcia to bring people together-because that’s what they do-they bring people together like they are doing today with this special Kiddish.
Let us hope and pray that we will come together as a country and that Jews in Israel and all over the world will live securely. Shabbat Shalom

The Rabbi  words were not just about the election, but about any time things don’t go the “right way.” It’s not easy, but with the help of the Rabbi and Shabbat, let’s give it a try!

After services, most of us went across the street for the wonderful Kiddish and a chance to schmooze. Marcia and Elie brought us together. Let’s emulate them and Lech-Lecha! 

@tourosynagogue @jewishnewport

Sunday, November 6, 2016

At Touro Synagogue November 5, 2016

The Parsha and the election;  How do we know what a person is like?

by Aaron Ginsburg

Today we read the second parasha in the book of Bereishit, Noach (Genesis 6:9 - 11:32). In the parasha, the Tower of Babel story seemed to be very dubious about the benefits of city life. But  when Noah planted a vineyard and  got drunk, it was connected to his being a man of the land, אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה, in other words, a farmer. I don’t know about you but I think the country is fine, if city comforts are available, such as wifi! One can be good or bad anywhere.

Rabbi Mandel discussed the parasha and Tuesday’s election:

“This Tuesday is election day and America will be choosing a new president. This has been a crazy election season. The debates have been about personal attacks and insults. How do you judge a candidate? How do you really know what a candidate is like? 

We see from this week’s Parasha, Noach, that it is very difficult to really know what a person is like. Noach is believed to be in the Torah as a tzadik. A tzadik is a righteous person. How many people in the Tanach are referred to as a tzadik?

Does he act like a tzadik? It doesn’t seem that way. He doesn’t protest about the flood at all. As long as he feels safe, the flood doesn’t seem to bother him.

He doesn't really believe so strongly in G-d. When does he enter the ark? When he is about to drown.

And he has a drinking problem and is not in control of himself. Is this the behavior of a tzadik?

So it is very difficult to really judge people. We have to use all the information we have and decide based on what we have seen and what we know from the candidate’s past.

Let us hope a pray that we all have the wisdom to choose the best candidate and may the United States continue to prosper in every possible way.”

Was the rabbi really discussing the election, or was that just an example to illustrate the question? You decide.

Among our visitors on Shabbat was Rabbi Alex Ozar and his wife Lauren Steinberg from Stamford, Connecticut. The Rabbi is studying at Yale for a doctorate in Philosophy & Religion, focusing on how modern Jewish thought was affected by non-jewish modern philosophical thought.  His wife is a terrorism expert at the Anti-defamation League headquarters in New York City. 

One of the topics that came up was the Kosher restaurant scene in Stamford.  Navaratna, a vegetarian Indian restaurant, and Shoosh  (sushi) were special favorites. Want desert? No problem! The Stamford Dairy Queen is also certified by the Vaad Hakashrus of Fairfield County. Of course Newport has the Raw Power Juice Bar and Kitchen, certified by our own Rabbi Marc Mandel. 

Lauren Steinberg spoke briefly at Kiddish about her work. Her group consists of five people tracking and analyzing domestic terrorism. Part of the focus is on radical Islamic terrorism. Except for the fact that they are mostly males, the terrorists don’t seem to have a lot in common. One issue is how to distinguish terrorists from people who, although they might sympathize with Hammas, a terrorist organization, are totally opposed to domestic terrorism. The ADL shares what it learns with government officials and the FBI. 

@tourosynagogue @jewishnewport