Friday, August 25, 2017

Ivanhoe and George Washington

Ivanhoe and George Washington

At Touro Synagogue August 19, 2017

On Shabbat we were honored by the presence of Eli Gabay, Parnas/Presdent of Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel Congregation. Mikveh Israel’s roots are very similar to Touro Synagogue. It was a mostly Spanish and Portuguese congregation dating to the 18th century. They even received a letter from George Washington! 

Mikveh Israel’s rabbi is Albert E. Gabbai. Rabbi Gabbai left his birthplace, Egypt, in 1971 after being jailed for three years. Egypt has a habit of jailing Jews. He studied at Yeshivah University and got his smicha at the Shehebar Sephardic Center in Jeruslaem. 

Mikve Israel’s notables included Haym Salomon, who acted as a broker for Robert Morris, who was in charge of financing the American Revolution.

Mikve Israel’s Hazzan Isaac Leeser was among those who convinced seventy year old Judah Touro to include Jewish causes in his philanthropy. In Touro’s will, Touro Synagogue in Newport was one of the beneficiaries, as well as Moses Montefiore’s work in Jerusalem.

In 1838 Rebecca Gratz helped found the first Hebrew Sunday School. She may have been the model for Rebecca in Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.  [The picture is from the movie version. Rebecca is played by a very famous jewess.]

Rabbi Marc Mandel turned our attention to George Washington:

"This weekend is the annual celebration of the famous letter written by President George Washington, to the Jewish Community of Newport, in 1790.

"Washington wrote that America’s citizens have a right to applaud themselves for creating a policy worthy of imitation. America is not just about tolerating different religions; in America, all citizens have inherent natural rights.

"This concept of respecting human dignity is very much a part of this week’s parsha, Re’eh: the parsha repeats a certain theme several times this morning. 
וְזָכַרְתָּ֗ כִּ֣י עֶ֤בֶד הָיִ֙יתָ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם'   We should remember that we were slaves in Egypt.' 

"Why must we remember this sad chapter in our history? Why do we have to focus on such a tragic point of our history?

"Rabbi Soloveitchik from Boston taught us that when we recall that we ourselves were slaves, we will be sensitive to others in need because we know what it’s like to be vulnerable and we know what it’s like to be on the bottom of the food chain.

"Remembering our slavery in Egypt is a sensitivity training experience for us as a people. When our friend Professor D. S.  lectured here at Touro he reminded us that if you look carefully you will see that it is very often Jewish people that give the most charity, and are very philanthropic.  
Tzedaka! That mitzvah is in this week’s parsha.This is because as Jews we have internalized our responsibilities to society. 

'עֲבָדִים הָיִינו לְפַרְעהֹ בְמִצְרָיִם Avadim hayinu l'faroh b'mitzrayim.  We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.' 

'So the words of George Washington echo the words of the torah-All people are created equal and have inherent natural rights. The founding fathers of this country knew the bible well-many of them  read and understood Hebrew. Washington quoted from Yeshiyau [Isaiah] from the Haftarah that we are currently reading.

"I haven't been to the national museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. Maybe we will make a trip. But the story of the George Washington’s letter is a very important exhibit there. To paraphrase George Washington,-here in Newport we can applaud ourselves."

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Good Land and the Good Sea

The Good Land and the Good Sea

At Jewish Newport, August 12, 2017

Rabbi Marc Mandel greeted the congregation, and then spoke briefly,

“This morning’s parsha [Parashat Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25] deals a lot with the land of Israel and its unique place in Jewish Life.

“Israel is referred to as Haaretz Hatovah (האֶ֣רֶץ הטוֹבָ֑ה) The good land. Our generation has been blessed to live in a time when Israel has developed into a beautiful, modern and successful country.

“At our Kiddish today we will hear from a speaker who is very devoted to Israel. Avi Nevel recently founded the R.I.I.C.-The Rhode Island Israel Collaborative which will promote commerce academics and science between RI and Israel.

“Avi has served as the chairman of the Israel Task force committee of the Jewish Alliance, and is on the executive board of the New England  Israel Business Council. In 2015, Avi co-organized the first Rhode Island economic mission to Israel: Thanks to Avi.

“The connection between our community and Israel is a strong one: We are a small community, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to build our connection to Israel.”

At the Kiddish,  sponsored by Philip Mintz, Avi Nevel recalled learning about the YamTov project from entrepreneur Doron Levit. “Yamtov [Good Sea] is a national enterprise to bring about change in people by connecting them to the sea through challenging activities, along with emotional processing and social integration in sailing clubs through the country.  Sail to Prevail, a Newport program run by Paul Callahan has similar objectives.” 

With the help of Discover Newport’s Evan Smith, the Israeli group and the Newport group connected.

From September 10-17 an Israeli delegation will come to Newport. Among them will be people from the military, police and civilians who were wounded in action or in terrorist incidents, as well as a woman whose brother was killed in action. They will sail daily with “Sail to Prevail,” and do some sightseeing also. We hope to meet them at Touro during a Friday evening in September.

The hope is that in 2018, a group from Rhode Island will reciprocate by traveling to Israel.

There is still a lot to be done to put the visit together, and Avi Nevil is working with Rabbi Mandel and Bea Ross.

Let’s pray for smooth sailing!

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, August 11, 2017

Rabbis and Their Children

Rabbis and Their Children

At Touro Synagogue, Saturday, August 5, 2017
by Aaron Ginsburg

It was a full house last Saturday at Touro Synagogue. We’ve heard a lot about cases concerning Congregation Jeshuat Israel and its appurtenances and paraphernalia.  On Shabbat, the case was about Rabbis and their children.

 Rabbi Mandel was welcoming and his remarks were succinct.

“Welcome to everyone who is here. I also want to welcome to my mother and her husband Eddie.

“Special thanks to all our members and friends who have been offering their support to our synagogue.

“This is the parsha [Parashat Vaetchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11]  that talks about parents and children.
כִּֽי־תוֹלִ֤יד בָּנִים֙ וּבְנֵ֣י בָנִ֔ים When you have children and grandchildren, וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ you shall teach your children כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר when your children shall ask you questions.

“Rabbi Loel and Patty Weiss have much to be proud of with Yoni and Sasha who are leaders in Ra’anana, Israel and are building the Jewish State. Avi and Devra are very active in the Jewish community in Las Vegas, and Eitan and Amy are Jewish educators and directors in Minneapolis.

“Fortunately for Jackie and I, our children are also in town this shabbat. Many of you know them-they are all doing wonderful things in work and school.  Special greeting to Rochelle, Doni’s fiancé from West Hartford!

“The Orthodox Union publishes a magazine called Jewish Action-and the current issue has the following cover article,  “Growing up in the public eye: children of Rabbis.

“Sometimes, the children of Rabbis feel extra pressure due to the fact that their families are in the spotlight. Psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz, himself the son of a rabbi, as well as psychologist, and Rabbi Dr Irving Levitz. According to Dr Levitz, seventy percent of  Rabbis children believed their fathers were over involved with synagogue life. Dr. Pelcovitz stresses that parents should include their children in their important work-Carmi has always helped me here at Touro with the minyans and other important work. It's a delicate balance between family life and community life. 

“The greatest Jewish leader was Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Rabbi. When was the last time you heard about Moshe's children? We hear about Yehoshua-we hear about Pinchas-but not about Moshe's children. 

“So we give a yasher koach to Patty and Loel-they have walked the tightrope of Rabbi and family very well. In a sentence they had a real challenge-because Patty was a dedicated Jewish  educator for many years-but they succeeded. May we all follow in their footsteps as we go on our life’s journey together with our families. 

“Join us for kiddish…sponsored by Rabbi Loel and Patty Weiss in honor of their children and grandchildren who are visiting them this week.  

“Shabbat Shalom!”

At the Kiddish, Patty Weiss made brief remarks, stimulated by the article about Rabbis and their children. She told us the three rules in the Weiss household.

1. The rules of the house are the rules. 
2. Don’t ride on a motorcycle.
3. Marry someone who is Jewish.

Rabbi Weiss amplified the first rule. This is what you do if you want to live here. Their sons agreed that they had never ridden a motor cycle. I observed the Weiss family beaming about their Jewish wives and daughters-in-law.

This case is now closed!

Friday, August 4, 2017

A visit to the MFA with Touro Synagogue

A visit to the MFA with Touro Synagogue 

Sunday, July 30, 2017
by Aaron Ginsburg


On Sunday, 35 members and friends of Touro Synagogue  took a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was the last day for the exhibit of photographs by Henryk Ross, taken in the Lodz Ghetto. It was also a chance to check on the Touro rimonim, and see a few other things at the museum. I took a one-hour tour led by a docent to see the art of Europe. The tour was excellent. Some people have favorite words. The docent’s favorite word was “beautiful” and every painting was beautiful. I suspect the elevators and the bathrooms were beautiful too.

Rita Slom said, “Our trip to Boston was a delightful day for all of us.   During our short bus ride David and Linda talked about their last visit and answered questions about what we might see. The first place most of us went to was the
Newport room with our rimonim.  It's a breathtaking scene. 
“Then we went to see the Lodz exhibit. Most of us had tears in our eyes as we saw what these people suffered    
“My wish was to see the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum a ten minute walk from MFA. So I got on the Fenway and visited there.  It is where the largest art theft took place.   
“When we climbed onto the bus we went to Harvard Street to eat and buy whatever Jewish food you could want. Six of us had Kosher Chinese food...a real treat.

“On the way home we had treats that Jeanine had brought for us.  

“Thanks to the Rabbi, Cliff Guller, David and Linda Nathanson and Jeanine.” [Philip Mintz was also involved in planning the trip] 

Rabbi Marc Mandel also enjoyed the museum, the bus, Brookline, and David and Linda’s commentary.

The special exhibit was called, “Memory Unearthed, The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross.” The exhibit began with a short video from an Israeli documentary featuring Henyrk Ross and his wife talking about their experiences in Lodz. 

Ross was a professional photographer. He worked for the Judenrat taking photos for identity cards and propaganda, and by using the film very efficiently, was able to take a least six photographs a day of what it was really like in Lodz, at great risk to his and his wife’s lives. He buried his pictures in 1944, and retrieved them after liberation. Ross testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann and his photos were used as evidence.

After the war Henryk Ross never took another photograph. He seemed to be a prisoner of what he witnessed and of the photographs he took. Having seen his photographs, I suspect Ross was aware of the great photographers of his era, and was among the greats himself. 

Newporter Billy Spargo commented, “I had just finished reading "Yellow Star"  by Jennifer Roy, niece of Sylvia Perlmutter, 1 of 12 children who survived the Lodz ghetto. It is a book of poetry she began when she was 4 1/2 yrs. old. This made the Henryk Ross exhibit all the more poignant. I walk by the Touro Synagogue every day so viewing the Rimonim was a must. Also, there was a local  art exhibit, at Temple Ohabei Shalom!  Toda Raba to all who made the trip possible.”

Billy Spargo’s great uncle was John Spargo(1876-1966). John Spargo, born in England, was mostly self-educated. He became a socialist, and was involved in the creation of the Labour Parliamentary Representation Committee, a forerunner of the British Labor Party. Spargo was on the right wing of Socialism, and was opposed to violence, and also to dictatorial tendencies.

He and his wife went to America in February, 1901. He joined the Socialist Labor Party, edited a socialist monthly, and eventually was a founding member of the Socialist Party of America in 1901.  He was opposed to one person being in charge.  He opposed extremist attempts to take over the party, and eventually broke with the party over whether America should join the Allies in WWI, which he supported. 

He wrote three books in 1905 and 1906 about child labor and about underfed children and child exploitation, and supported efforts to have the government take a more active role in defense of children.

In 1908 he wrote the best biography of Karl Marx in English up to that time.

Spargo became concerned about the effect of anti-semitism
on American Democracy. He took particular aim at Henry Ford, who supported an anti-semitic newspaper. Spargo considered Ford to be a naive dupe. This led to a letter signed by 136 notables published in the New York Times, lectures, and a book, “The Jew and American Ideals,” published in 1917.

John Spargo became a Republican in the mid 1920s. But, like Henryk Ross, he then retired from politics, and became a museum director in Old Bennington, Vermont. 

And on that note, I retire from Jewish Newport…until next week!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Its All About the Music

Its All About the Music

At Touro Synagogue July 28-29, 2017 

by Aaron Ginsburg

Touro synagogue last weekend was all about the music.

On Friday evening Professor Jonathan Glasser, an associate professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia spoke about his work. The son of Morton and Irene Glasser, he said, “I am a historical anthropologist whose work focuses on modern North Africa, with particular attention to Algeria and Morocco. My current projects draw on ethnographic and archival work to consider the entanglement of materiality, personhood, and temporality in the urban, Arabic-language musical and poetic practice known as Andalusi music.” 

Jonathan doesn’t just study and write about this music. He also performs it through the through the William and Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. So we had a bargain: a professor and a musician! It’s like having a bottle of relish mixed with mustard. And we experienced both flavors!

As Jonathan described it,

“I talked about two connected research projects, said Jonathan. The first was a project about the revival of what is sometimes called Andalusi music in Algeria and Morocco starting around 1900--an urban classical music that is associated with al-Andalus, medieval Muslim Spain. Jews played an important part in this musical revival, and were prominent producers and consumers of this mainly secular, Arabic-language poetic and musical tradition. The project resulted in my book The Lost Paradise: Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016.

“The second, current project is a follow-up to the first, and looks more closely at relationships between Muslims and Jews around music, mainly in Algeria and its borderlands. This project is focused on both the Arabic-language Andalusi traditions and the more religious genres, in Hebrew and Arabic, that are considered offshoots of this repertoire. There are lots of interesting and sometimes surprising connections between Muslim and Jewish musical practices in North Africa, and we had the chance to taste a few of these connections through a musical demonstration that involved audience participation.”

Was the Andulsi revival was part of the rise of Arab Nationalism under the pressure of French domination and the need to create or recreate a secular culture with roots to the past? North Africa in 1900 was far removed from the glory of medieval Spain. It is not surprising that Jews participated in this revival. Their ancestors were active participants in its creation, and they were just as much a part of the culture as their Muslim neighbors. 

On Saturday morning about 60 people attended services. The weather was surprisingly cool. The fans were running full blast, and rather than trying to be near them, many of us hid from them. There weren’t enough columns to hide behind. I will bring my gloves next week, just in case.

Rabbi Marc Mandel mentioned our upcoming trip to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, to see an exhibit there on the Holocaust about the Lodz Ghetto,

“This weekend we are joined by a group that is focusing on defining moments [which sponsored Kiddish]. Certainly the Holocaust was a defining moment in Jewish history.

“…There are those who believe that the proper time to mourn the Holocaust is the day on the Jewish calendar designated to commemorate Jewish tragedy which is Tisha B’Av, which begins this Monday night. Tisha B’Av is already a day of fasting and mourning-

“Unfortunately there are many things to mourn in Jewish history including the loss or both Temples and the burning of the Talmud. Today Jewish communities round the world face many challenges. How do we respond?

“This week the New York Times had an article about how to build resilience. Let us find comfort in the words of Erica Brown, scholar in residence for defining moments [who has talked and written about Daily Inspiration for the 3 weeks from the fast of the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B’Av]. Let us find optimism in the activism of visitor Howard E. Friedman
[President of AIPAC from 2010-2012 and very active in the Baltimore Jewish AND NATIONAL community]. Let us find inspiration in the leadership of Jeannie Schottenstein. 

“We have to practice optimism, support other people, and go out of our comfort zones. This is what the State of Israel does all the time…

“These people will help us define our lives in a meaningful way as we all move ahead on our life’s journey. 

“Let’s us hope that the Jewish people will not experience any more Tisha B’Avs!

“Shabbat Shalom!”

Tisha B’Av caused several changes to the service. One sentence of the Parsha, Devarim, Devarim 1:12, “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!” 
אֵיכָ֥ה אֶשָּׂ֖א לְבַדִּ֑י טָרְחֲכֶ֥ם וּמַֽשַּׂאֲכֶ֖ם וְרִֽיבְכֶֽם׃  was recited to the tune of Aicha (Lamentions), which is read during the Tisha B’Av service.

At Kabbalat Shabbat, “Lecha Dodi" was sung to the tune of Eli Tsiyon  אֱלִי צִיּוֹן, one of the kinnot (dirges) we sing during Tisha B’Av. On Shabbat morning, Adon Olam was sung to the same tune.  

I asked my friend Janet Zucker to reprise Adon Olam. Although it is purportedly mournful, I suspect you will join me singing this catchy tune in the shower. It’s very appropriate for Touro. The faster its sung, the better it sounds, and the sooner the Kiddish is served.

The next posting will be about the trip to the Museum of Fine Arts.