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 

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