Thursday, May 18, 2017

A message from Dokshitz, Belarus

A Message from Belarus

Dear Friends, I miss you all.  I just want to let you know what I have been up to. I will see you during Shavuot. Aaron
Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor
Maria Balash with Aaron Ginsburg
A brief update from Aaron Ginsburg, president of the Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy. As many of you know I am visiting Dokshitsy this week. 
Alan Kaul, my friend from Massachusetts, who also traces his routes to Belarus, and our able guide Daria Khaparikha accompanied me. We viewed the work that was done in cooperation with the Dokshitsy District in 2008 at the Jewish cemetery and holocaust site in Dokshitsy.
In Begomel, about 17 miles east of Dokshitsy, we met with Nikolai Trahinin to review our projects to mark the sites associated with the murder of that Jewish community on October 2, 1941. Subsequently, we met with Alla Vladimirovna Korolevich, the head of the Begomel museum, which is devoted largely to the partisan activity in the area during World War II. Near Begomel, we were warmly welcomed by residents of three small villages; Bradok, Uskrimie, and Karolina.
Today we visited the public school in Parafyanovo where about twenty students entertained us with a half hour version of Pygmalion, including music and song, in English. While in Parafyanovo, we visited Maria Balash(see picture), a childhood witness who with tears described being forced to watch the horror of the local Jews being murdered. Seventy-five years ago, in May, 1942, the Jews in Parafyanovo were murdered leaving less than ten survivors. We also saw the town's Holocaust site.
Thanks to the local government head, Galina Azarevich and to school principal Victor Korostik, on Monday, May 22 in the early afternoon, there will be a holocaust memorial ceremony in Parafyanovo. We will walk from the ghetto, where the Jews were forced to live by the Nazis during the war, to the site where they were killed, and then have a brief ceremony.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Heroes, Then and Now

Heroes, Then and Now



Nahshon, Lunette Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo
On Shabbat Touro Synagogue had many visitors. One of our witty locals quipped, “What’s this? Are we in Brooklyn?” 

Visitors were also present from Connecticut, New Jersey, and Chicago. We were joined by Jackie Mandel's parents from Los Angeles, and by the Mandel's son-in-law and daughter Rabbi Yaakov and Kayla Lasson and grandson Abie from Detroit. The congregation kvelled over Abie together with the family.

Edward Sopher, a New York attorney originally from London whose father was born in Bombay, wrote that his visit was “Quite special.  A beautiful and bright synagogue. And very reminiscent of the classic Spanish and Portuguese style, only much brighter and without the choir box. It’s notable and inspiring to see a synagogue slap-bang in the middle of town with big windows on every side-showing more confidence in the promise of freedom of religion than in the 15 other countries I have visited, where the synagogue is always down some side road with obscured windows facing the alleyway.” 

In the afternoon, I attended mincha at Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts. I told Eldad Ganin about meeting Edward Sopher and his face lit up. Eldad often travels on business. Each time he has been in Mumbai, India (Bombay), he has met Shlomo Sopher. Edward Sopher confirmed, “In Bombay Solomon Sopher took over looking after the Fort synagogue after my uncle died.  He is ironically more closely related on his mother's side than my father's, but he knows my father David Sopher quite well.” 

In the Torah reading for Pesach Shabbat Hol Hamoed, Moses was the reluctant prophet, so God had the grace to show Moses his backside.  The focus on the body was carried to the extreme in the haftarah from Ezekiel, in the valley of the dried bones. The bones reassembled themselves…with God’s help. The message: A scattered Israel could also be reassembled.

Rabbi Mandel discussed the parsha, although the incident he referred to is not mentioned in the Torah, but in the Talmud. 

“Who is the hero of passover? Is it Moshe? Not according to the Talmud. According to the Talmud, the Egyptians were chasing the Jews-and when the jews reached the water they were trapped. They didn’t know what to do-Moshe was praying. In Sotah 37a we are told, ‘Moses was prolonging his prayer. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: ‘My beloved ones are drowning in the sea and you prolong your prayer to me?’ Moses said before Him: ‘Master of the Universe, but what can I do?’ God said to him: ‘Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward. And you, lift up your rod and stretch out your hand (Exodus 14:15-16).’”

“Israel lacked confidence in Moshe. Nachshon ben Aminadav had confidence and faith that Moshe was the true messenger of Hashem. He dove into the sea with full faith in Moshe’s ability to save the people, and the waters parted. Israel followed Nachshon’s example.”

Sometimes it takes a person like Nachshon to push forward and make things happen. So Nachshon is the hero of the Exodus.

The rabbi said that most synagogues are run by boards composed of volunteers, and they sometimes have trouble making decisions. He thanked the board members of our congregation who provide the leadership that we need and benefit from. 

Rabbi Mandel also mentioned Karen and Gerry Goldberg, who were visiting from Connecticut. “They are leaders of the Jewish community in West Harford,” he said, “like Nachshon Ben Aminadav, who was the first to jump in the water, and then the sea split.”

Roger Williams also made things happen. He went to London to secure Rhode Island’s colonial charter. The charter featured freedom of religion, separation of church and state, fair treatment of Indians by  recognizing that they owned their land, and the right of the residents to elect the Colonial government and enact their own laws. Williams was also against slavery, but after he died in 1700, the town of Newport insisted that slavery be permitted, and its merchants engaged in the slave trade.

The obituary in the New York Times described Robert Taylor as an innovator in the world of computers. 

In 1966, on his first day as the director of the Information Processing Techniques Office, part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as ARPA at the Pentagon, he realized that the three computers that the agency was funding needed a way to connect. He spoke with his boss, who took one million dollars out of ballistic missile defense to solve the problem. This led to Arapnet, which was a precursor to the internet.  Dayenu! That accomplishment would have been enough for one man.

But in 1961 he was working for NASA, and heard about Douglas Engelbart who was studying how humans would interact with computers. Taylor put money into the project, which led to the computer mouse, invented by Engelbart. Dayenu!

In 1991, Taylor created the Digital Equipment Systems Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. The Laboratory created one of the first internet search engines AltaVista. Dayenu!

Robert Taylor died of complications of Parkinson’s disease on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

Shabbat Shalom!  @tourosynagoguenewport @templeisraelSharon 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Passover Reflections

Passover Reflections

by Aaron Ginsburg 


Passover starts long before we sit down for the seder. First there is a thorough house cleaning, during which I discovered that those blue circles on the kitchen floor were the remains, flattened and dried, of 6 months of blueberries that rolled off the table. I was very surprised to learn the floor was a boring gray.  

The object of all the cleaning is to get rid of the chametz. Just to be safe, Jewish law provides a loophole; the chametz that remains is sold, usually to a rabbi, who then resells it to a non-jew. At the end of Passover, it is repurchased. 

On Sunday I picked up food for 70 people from Zayde’s Market, in Canton, Ma, for the  Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Touro Synagogue Newport, RI) community seder. On arrival in Newport there was a whole crew getting the Levi Gale house ready for the seder.

On Monday morning I attended services at Temple Israel, Sharon, MA. It was the fast of the first born. It’s a very minor fast, and after studying some Talmud, a siyyum made that fast unnecessary. There were a lot of people at services, far more than at our usual daily minyanim. I don’t think it was for the food!

Selling and burning of the Chametz was the next order of business, under the leadership of Rabbi Ron Fish, who had both the sales contract and the lighter fluid ready to go.  Lulavim (palm branches) from Sukkot were used for fuel.

On the first night I attended a community seder led by Rabbi Yossi Kivman at Chabad in Mansfield, Ma. His wife Tzivi was ill…the Rabbi soldiered on. Tzvi is starting to feel better. The seder was running a little late, so I went home and had an instant seder. I boiled an egg for the seder plate, and made my 5 minute Italian charoset. Actually, it took me 35 minutes to remember how to assemble the blende, so it was 40 minute charoset!  A rolled up slice of Turkey filled in for the zeroa (shank bone). It’s amazing how fast a seder can be when you don’t have an audience.

On the first day of Passover, the haftarah is Joshua 5:2-6:1.  There is curious incident at the end of the haftarah,

“13 Once, when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked him, "Are you one of us or of our enemies?" 14 He replied, "No, I am captain of the Lord's host. Now I have come!" Joshua threw himself face down on the ground and, prostrating himself, said to him, "What does my lord command his servant?" 15 The captain of the Lord's host answered Joshua, "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.”

When Joshua asked the messenger what he was commanded, he was obviously expecting something important.  No such luck!  “Take off your sandals!” The messenger called out Joshua for being rude, and by implication haughty.

It’s unlikely that Joshua, a prophet noted for his piety, needed to be reminded that he was God’s servant. So who is the message for? Undoubtedly the message is for us, the readers of this passage.  

When we burn the chametz that we eat, we should also be banishing the chametz in our minds, including the idea that we are number one.

Later, I traveled on to the community seder at Touro Synagogue in Newport. I was delayed by one hour by an accident on Route 24 south. My friends in Newport told me they were worried about me. It’s nice to be missed.

Rabbi Marc Mandel led a spirited seder for 70 people. To break the ice, some of tables had to guess a Passover item after hearing three clues. As the meal was being served, the Rabbi called on several people to describe synagogues they had visited. We heard about synagogues in the US Virgin Islands, CuraçaoPonta Delgada, Portugal (Azores), Rome, and Kiev. 

Zayde’s food was a hit in Newport. It was good, and there was plenty of it.  Thanks to Josh Ruboy and the crew. I’m sure most of us avoided the scale for a few days. 

Chag Sameach!

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Zissen Peisach!

A Zissen Peisach!


Shabbat was almost entirely a local affair at Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI. 

Among the visitors were Amir Sofer, his wife and children. Amir is the mayor of the Merom HaGalil Regional Council  מועצה אזורית מרום הגליל which was established in 1950. It covers an area of 69 square miles, and consists of 14 moshavim, one kibbutz, 8 communal settlements, a Druze village, and a Circassian village. The total population in 2014 was 14,600.  

By way of comparison, the Dokshitsy District in Belarus is 810 square miles, and has a population of about 30,000.

Moshav Meron is one of the communities in the district. There is a lot of action there on Lag BaOmer. The Zohar, which was attributed to Rabbi Shimon, said that Rabbi Shimon’s hillula (Yahrzeit) was on Lag BaOmer. Pilgrimages to the burial cave in Meron have been documented from the 12th century. Nowadays almost a million people make the pilgrimage on Lag BaOmer. It's Israel’s Woodstock!

As Rabbi Marc Mandel explained, the Haftarah spoke about the prophet Elijah, who traditionally visits all seders, 

“The Shabbat before Peisach is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Large Shabbat. Why is it called שבת הגדול?

'No one knows for sure. Some say it’s because of the last posuk of the special Haftarah,  Malachi 3:4 - 3:24

הִנֵּ֤ה אָֽנֹכִי֙ שֹׁלֵ֣חַ לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת אֵלִיָּ֣ה הַנָּבִ֑יא  

‘Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet and he shall restore the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents.’  לִפְנֵ֗י בּ֚וֹא י֣וֹם יְהוָ֔ה הַגָּד֖וֹל וְהַנּוֹרָֽא 'before the great and awesome day.'

'Because the haftarah ends with the word גדול, some say it is called Shabbat Hagadol. 

"But it's fascinating that the theme of the haftarah ends with the relationship between parents and children and that one of the main themes of the holiday is
 וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, ‘And you shall tell your children about the story of Pesach.’

"When I was with my family for Purim, we discussed where our kids would be for Pesach, and when I said that my kids were working at Pesach programs, my sister  was surprised and said, ‘That's not what we do.’”

To the best of (limited) memory, Rabbi Mandel told us that helping other families celebrate the holiday was a worthwhile experience.

Jewish Newport wishes you all a zissin peisach, whether or not you are with your familiy, whether you are on the sea, on the land, on a plane, or on an island. Chag sameach!  
!חַג שָׂמֵחַ

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I don’t need you anymore!

I don’t need you anymore!
at Touro Synagogue March 18, 2017

A few years ago, I stumbled on a help wanted ad, “Wanted, rabbi, expert in layning and leading, friendly, team player, likes island living.”  I always wondered what shul posted that ad.

In his words of Torah, Rabbi Marc Mandel opined about a congregational rabbi’s role,

“This Sunday, in New York City, Yeshiva University will be hosting its Chag HaSemikhah, which is a triennial graduation, celebrating the new rabbis ordained from 2015-2017: In this week’s Parsha, Parashat Ki Tisa, the challenges that a rabbi can face emerge and there are many insights about Rabbinic leadership.

“In a bizarre series of events, while Moshe is receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, his brother Aharon is somehow pressured into building the Golden Calf. God tells Moshe, ‘Go back down לֶךְ־רֵ֕ד, I don't need you anymore.’ God says to Moshe, ‘Your purpose as a rabbi was to be the spiritual leader of the Jewish people, but, now that they are worshiping a golden calf, what do I need you for? Go back down לֶךְ־רֵ֕ד, you’re fired!’

“What is the job of a rabbi in our modern times? Do rabbis have any influence over their communities? Or are they like Moshe and Aaron-who were helpless and couldn't prevent the people from fulfilling their desires and wishes to live their own lives?

“There are many challenges facing Jewish communities today. Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center indicate that the number of Jews who participate in Jewish community life is decreasing, and there are many questions about the Jewish future.

“What can a rabbi do to counter these powerful forces that are threatening the future of the Jewish people? Can rabbis prevent our communities from assimilating, or are we just like Moses and Aaron, participating in the building of modern idols that the people prefer? 

“The Parsha teaches us that Moses did not give up. True, he does smash the Ten Commandments. But he also got the Levites together, and they pledge their dedication  and commitment to follow the laws of the Torah. There was a plan for the future and Moshe went back up to Mt. Sinai and prepared for the next set of commandments.

“The broken commandments always traveled with the Jewish people as a reminder of that dark chapter and they remind us today, that we must rebuild our communities as we look forward to the future of strong and united Jewish communities.

“Rabbis cannot do this alone. Just as Moses worked with the Levites, rabbis and congregants must work together to build our communities and to plan the Jewish future together.”

In keeping with the theme that it takes a community, the parsha began with a census. God did not command that a census be taken, but just got right into the technical details, “When you take a census of the Israelite people according to their enrollment, each shall pay the LORD a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled…the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel.” 

In this day and age, joining a community is voluntary. We are all equal, and we all need to work together for our island community to survive. An island is like a boat, and each member of the crew has a role to play to keep the ship afloat.

Shabbat Shalom

@jewishnewport @tourosynagoguenewport @newportri 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mordechai, Esther, and Haman

Mordechai, Esther, and Haman
  Jewish Newport: Blog  Facebook

On Saturday, March 11, 2017, we observed Shabbat Zachor. Shabbat Zachor is one of two special Shabbats before Purim.  We take out two Torahs, read the maftir aliyah from the second Torah, and say a special haftarah. This year, It was also the day before Purim.

In the maftir, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, we are told, “Remember what Amalek did to you on your way our of Egypt…You shall erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens, you shall not forget.” 

זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃… תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח 

This meant the annihilation of the Amalekites; in the haftarah Samuel orders Saul to destroy the Amalekites without exception. In the Talmud, Haman is said to be an Amalekite.  

In his words of Torah, Rabbi Marc Mandel, of Touro Synagogue, Newport, RI, spoke about Esther. In his usual light hearted way, he related Purim to modern times,

“Many Jewish newspapers  and magazines do a special issue on Purim to celebrate the holiday. Something like a Purim spoof. When I lived in Los Angeles, the Jewish Journal used to do a special Purim issue every year. 

“Last year the issue had Donald Trump on the cover and the spoof was about President Donald Trump. Well, the joke’s on us because Donald Trump is now our president. 

“But the Purim story seems to live on! There seems to be one person in the White House who is positioned to act as a force of righteousness and a person who could help us as Jews. Like Esther this person is a woman, Ivanka Trump.

“Ivanka is a Jewish woman with sway over a non-Jewish family member in a position of power. Ivanka has championed some causes like climate change and paid maternity leave.

“But as the American Jewish community deals with increased anti-Semitism, Ivanka’s advocacy for the Jewish community is conspicuous by its total absence.

“But in all fairness to Ivanka, it is Jared Kushner, son of Holocaust survivors who should step up and accept Esther’s role.

“But neither Ivanka nor Jared has ever agreed to take this role. Esther did accept the role although at first she didn't want to and only did so because her Uncle Mordechai convinced her.

“So we are left to wonder, how will our modern day Purim story play itself out? We hope that our Purim story will have as happy an ending as the Book of Esther.

“Happy Purim!”

A few people had hoped that the Rabbi would discuss the command to "blot out the memory of the  Amalekites." Should we take this literally? And how can we take this literally? 

This is not a new issue. In the Talmud, Yoma 22b, Saul argued with God about  killing all the Amelikites, just as in Bereishit Abraham argued with God about destroying Sodom. “R`Mani said: ‘Because of what happens 'in the valley': When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Saul: ‘Now go and smite Amalek,’( he[Saul] said: ‘If on account of one person the Torah said: Perform the ceremony of the heifer whose neck is to be broken, how much more [ought consideration to be given] to all these persons! And if human beings sinned, what has the cattle committed; and if the adults have sinned, what have the little ones done?’”

In Berakhot 28a, “Rabbi Yehoshua said to Rabban Gamliel: ‘Do Ammon and Moab reside in their place? Sennacherib already came and, through his policy of population transfer, scrambled all the nations.’” If the nations are scrambled, we can no longer tell who is an Amalekite,  and the command is void. (My Jewish Learning). The Rabbis had already decided to let the ancient text stand, so they did what they often did, found a loophole.  

Another approach is to say that Amalek represents a state of mind, or the evil inclination, not an ethnic group. Joseph Caro did not include the commandment to blot out the Amalek in his code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch.

Sometimes people have identified the Amalekites of their day, be they Romans, Germans, etc. This is a slippery slope, and raises all the issues that the biblical command raises. 

Rabbi David Golinkin said, “In our day, perhaps the most important lesson is not hatred of Amalek but aversion to their actions.”

Golinkin’s grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Golinkin, served in Zhitomir, Ukraine, Dokshitz, Danzig, and Worcester, Massachusetts and was on the Beth Din of the Vaad Harabonim of Massachusetts. 

Rabbi Mordechai Golinkin was zealous for his people during the time of a modern Haman. In 1942 he joined four hundred rabbis in a March of the Rabbis on Washington to persuade the United States government to do something about the Holocaust. At the White House, President Roosevelt left out the back door to avoid meeting them. 

The political fall out helped lead to the creation of the War Refugee Board. The Board and  the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee sponsored Raul Wallenberg in 1944. Wallenberg saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Budapest, Hungary. The Rabbis never learned that their efforts helped to save lives.

Many are bothered that the command to blot out the Amalekites is in the Torah at all.  Torah is a big tent, including Tanach (bible), Talmud and all that follows. Although Judaism has preserved its earliest writings, it is much more.


David Golinkin, The Jeruslaem Post, March 9, 2006 THE FIRST WORD: ARE JEWS STILL COMMANDED TO BLOT OUT AMALEK?  Ask the Expert: Blotting out Amalek How do we know who's an Amalekite?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Former Supreme Court Justice hears Touro Synagogue case

Former Supreme Court Justice hears case between Jeshuat Israel and Shearith Israel by Aaron Ginsburg

Touro rimonim at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
photo by Aaron Ginsburg
The case between Congregations Jeshuat Israel, of Newport, RI and Shearith Israel of New York City over the fate of the eight million dollar rimonim, created by colonial silversmith Myer Myers, and control of Touro Synagogue must be an important one. A former United States Supreme Court Justice sits on the three judge First District Federal Appeals Court panel hearing the case.  

On Wednesday, March 8, several members of Jeshuat Israel went to Boston’s Seaport District to listen to oral arguments at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse. Shearith Israel has appealed Rhode Island United States District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr.’s decision to award control of the rimonin and Touro Synagogue to Jeshuat Israel. 

The Jeshuat Israel members were led by co-presidents Dr. Naftali Sabo and Professor Louise Ellen Teitz, and by Rabbi Marc Mandel. Two Boston area members of the Touro Foundation, Shirley Saunders and Susan Goldberg, attended, as did Benyamin Yakovian, who visited Touro on Saturday. 

Member Marc Ladin drove up from South County. (There is no county named South County in Rhode Island. It refers to parts of Rhode Island on the west side of Narragansett Bay, south of Greater Providence.) Other attendees included Bea Ross, Bailey Siletchnik, Stephen Groskin, Gary Klein, Patti Weiss, Rhonda Sabo, and me.

I took the train from Sharon, Ma, to South Station. The walk along the waterfront included a great view of the Seaport District across the Fort Point Channel. After crossing Seaport Boulevard’s Evelyn Moakley Bridge, I arrived at the courthouse.

I was in such a rush that I didn't have a picture ID. Fortunately, I had a picture of my passport on one of my devices and after showing it and checking the devices, I was allowed through security. 

Once inside, we made our way to the courtroom in time to hear the first case. Our case was fourth on the docket. 

Each side in a case is allotted a set number of minutes, the appellant going first.  The appellant has the option of saving a few minutes for rebuttal. The three judges had read and discussed the briefs, and agreed on the questions they wanted answered. 

Soon after a lawyer began an oral argument, he or she would be interrupted by a question from Justice Sandra Lynch. Occasionally former United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter or visiting Judge Bobby R. Baldock asked for a clarification. Nowadays, Supreme Court Justices don’t usually retire, but soldier on until the very end.  David Souter retired in 2009 after 19 years on the Supreme Court and returned to his New Hampshire home. 

The attorneys have to be prepared to discuss every possible aspect of the case, not an easy task. If they waffled, they were admonished to get moving, or were told, “We’ve already discussed this,” or asked, "Do you really want to go there?" One young attorney smirked when she was listening to her opponent. Justice Lynch read her the riot act about proper behavior in court. I’m glad I was sitting in the back!

In our case each side had 20 minutes. Attorney Louis Solomon spoke for Shearith Israel. He argued that Shearith Israel’s obligation regarding Touro Synagogue was to the Jewish Community of Newport as a whole, rather than specifically to Congregation Jeshuat Israel. 

When Jeshuat Israel’s attorney, Gary Naftalis, spoke, the judges asked,”Didn’t the 1903 lease between Shearith Israel and Jeshuat Israel [for Jeshuat Israel’s rental of Touro Synagogue] supersede the previous history?” Hadn’t both parties agreed that Shearith Israel owned the Touro Synagogue building and everything that went with it?

Naftalis's response was twofold. He said, "You can't lend something that you don't own.” This may have applied to both the building and the rimonim. He also made the point that the lease was for the building...and the rimonim were not part of the building. Some discussion then ensued whether the rimonim were included in the lease.
Judge Lynch concluded by congratulating both lawyers on the high quality of their arguments, undoubtedly with the briefs in mind.

A lot of legal manpower is going into establishing whether Congregation Jeshuat Israel is congruent with the Jewish Community of Newport. Our minds were overflowing with the matter, and we needed to cool off.

The view from the Moakley Courthouse. source: courthouse
 architects Pei Cobb Fried& Partners
Several of us decamped to the cafeteria for a light lunch. The cafeteria is one of the great bargains in downtown Boston. Not only is the cost of the food extremely reasonable, but the room’s massive windows provide a great view of downtown Boston. 

We then returned to our homes to anxiously await the court's decision, which may not be released for several months. Meanwhile Shabbat, Purim and Passover will provide some welcome respite.

Method Acting, Jewish Style

Method Acting, Jewish Style

At Touro Synagogue, March 4, 2017 By  AARON GINSBURG 


"Unless the theater can ennoble you, make you a better person, you should flee from it." Constantin Stanislavski  

Bama tova means both a good platform and a platform for good.  Bama also means stage. In Biblical Hebrew, bama בּמה means ‘high place.’ Bima בּימה, the platform in a synagogue, has a different origin, probably the Ancient Greek word bema, which means both ‘step’ and ‘platform.’ Source: Wikipedia. 

Bama Tova, founded by Benyamin Yakovian, promotes cross-cultural relationships to help people bridge the gaps between them. A Bama Tova in both senses, it is worthy of your support. 

Yakovian conceived of and directed the video, “Workers.”  In the video, he gives rides to Palestinian day workers in Israel. It is a very long day, which starts well before dawn and must end with their return to the Palestinian territory.

Benyamin Yakovian source: Bama Tova
Born in Iran, Benyamin Yakovian moved with his family to Israel as a child. He lives in Jerusalem. Currently at Harvard, he will soon return to Leipzig University to finish his doctorate.

Yakovian called Touro Synagogue to get details about services, and Rabbi Marc Mandel responded. It transpired that Yakovian was a cantor. Before you could say lickety-split, Hazan Yakovian agreed to lead ma'ariv on Friday, mussaf on Saturday, and lain two aliyot. 

Dr. James Herstoff stepped onto an irregular curb walking on Touro Street Saturday morning before services, and twisted his foot as he fell into the street. Rabbi Mandel fetched some ice, which was applied in shul. After the ankle started swelling,  Dr Herstoff prudently went home. Pesukei dezimrot and shacharit were added to Hazan Yakovian’s list. 

Sunday, Dr. Herstoff went to the doctor. He had broken a fibula, and got the boot, which he will be wearing for six weeks. We look forward to his speedy recovery and his return to Touro Synagogue. Meanwhile, he has authorized me to have an extra schnapps on Saturday.

Yakovian davened in the Sephardic style. His voice resonated with piety and sincerity, and was bigger than the room. Listening to him was an inspiring experience that brought me to tears. With his help our prayers mingled together, piercing each other's hearts as they hopefully rose even higher. 

Rabbi Mandel discussed the building of Touro Synagogue, 

"Since our synagogue, the Touro Synagogue, is the oldest synagogue building in the United States, there are many mysteries connected to the structure. One of the mysteries is, how did the architect Peter Harrison know how to design this synagogue? Harrison wasn't Jewish. How did he know what a synagogue looked like? He could have use this morning's torah reading as a blueprint for what a synagogue should look like.

"This morning's parsha, Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1 - 27:19)/ פרשת תרומה, discusses the architecture and design of a synagogue – and it is summed up in the passage God says, 'make for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell among you.
(Shemot 25:8עָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם ׃)’ Wherever Jews have lived they have built synagogues. It was no different in Newport. 

"But the question remains, how did architect Peter Harrison know how to design Touro synagogue? Had he seen the Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Curaçao, which was constructed in 1703? Our member Saul Woythaler recently visited that synagogue. Saul – does it look like Touro Synagogue?[Saul said, 'Yes.'] Or had he seen Shearith Israel's Mill Street Synagogue in New York, which was dedicated in 1739? Or perhaps it was Hazan Isaac Touro, who shared his knowledge of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam?

"We have to remember that the Jewish community in Newport spent a century without a dedicated place of worship. Synagogues, in the 13 British colonies, were rare before the American revolution. 

"By the late 1750s, the Newport Jewish community had the financial means to begin construction of this synagogue. It was a mark of the integration of the Jewish community into the mainstream of American life that they secured the collaboration of a leading American architect. But Peter Harrison was knowledgeable about Christian houses of worship and he needed Isaac Touro's advice about the requirements of Jewish law. It's quite possible that Isaac Touro used this week's Torah reading as his guide. 

"The final result is a fusion of different traditions and stands as an early example of the adaptive melting pot of styles and ideas that characterizes American architecture.

“Shabbat Shalom!”

A synagogue is a bama, a platform or stage for the community to commune with each other and with G-d. Services are a type of play. The audience, both our fellows and the one above, is demanding; we hope for a review that is both just and merciful. 

Constatin Stanislavski, the Russian actor, director and teacher, thought deeply about the theater. To enable actors to understand and portray characters realistically, the Stanislavski method acting system uses actions and situations to activate actors’ emotions. The Jewish method of acting uses the synagogue’s design, the service, and the hazzanut. With G-d’s help, our system enables us to pray with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our might.