Thursday, December 21, 2017

Lights and Latkes

At Touro Synagogue December 16, 2017

Lights and Latkes


As told to Aaron Ginsburg

Now listen bubbele, I know you like to write things, and then talk about them, and hear other people talk about them, but, Mr. Ginsburg, step back. Now it’s my turn.
You’ve heard the expression, “The Mountain came to Mohammed.” I saw it for myself on Shabbos, but this time, Brooklyn came to Touro Synagogue. In addition to Brooklyn, Stamford, Albany, and London were represented.
At 9:15, I arrived at Newport's Touro Synagogue. (Honey, I like to sleep late on Shabbos.) Prayer was paused pending the imminent arrival of a minyan. Soon we began the Barchu, followed by singing Kal Adon, which is my arrival benchmark.
Vey iz mir, because of Hanukah we recited the full Hallel. I thought we would never get out of shul. Fortunately, our Rabbi, Marc Mandel came to the rescue after the Torah service, and we made up for lost time.
Have a told you about our rabbi? With a sweet name like Mandel..I can’t help it, I think of mandelbrot when I hear his name, he is a great guy. Most importantly, he knows how long a sermon should not be. When he gives a Dvar Torah, a word of Torah, he counts the words, and he doesn’t like high numbers.
Rabbi Marc Mandel began by reading from an article by Mrs. Chaya Batya Neugroschl, Head of School, YU High School for Girls. I think they call her “Mrs.” for short.

She quoted Ramban our magnificent sage with the distinguished beard. How can someone with a beard like that not be full of wisdom?

ִמִצְוַת נֵר חֲנֻכָּה מִצְוָה חֲבִיבָה הִיא עַד מְאֹד וְצָרִיךְ אָדָם לְהִזָּהֵר בָּהּ כְּדֵי לְהוֹדִיעַ הַנֵּס וּלְהוֹסִיף בְּשֶׁבַח הָאֵל וְהוֹדָיָה לוֹ עַל הַנִּסִּים שֶׁעָשָׂה לָנוּ
The precept of lighting the Chanukah lamp is exceedingly precious, and one should carefully observe it in order to acclaim the miracle, ever praising and thanking God for the miracles which he has performed for us. Hilchot Chanukah 4:12 
In Hasmonean times, the Mrs. said, Hanukah was one of many mini-festivals celebrating the victories of the Maccabees. After the second Temple was destroyed, only Hanukah remained. I guess someone decided those extra Monday holidays were taking up too much time. 
Why Hanukah? Perhaps because light represents wisdom and learning. Our Rabbis usually look for the spiritual aspect of things, and downplay the military side of the story. The Maccabees with their military prowess and tough guy approach were inconvenient. The Rabbis were following in the footsteps of the Prophets, who also were not fans of the Kings. 
Nowadays, the miracle of the lights shares the billing with a heavier event, the miracle of the latkes. Of course, my latkes are as light as a cloud, a cumulonimbus cloud. 
Alan Rosen, a visitor from Albany pointed out the special Haftarah’s famous phrase, “Not by might, but by my Spirit,” rebukes the Maccabees.
לֹ֤א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the LORD of Hosts.”
Rabbi Mandel described a famous debate between Hillel and Shammai on how to light the Hanukah candle, "Shamai said, look to the future, that's why he starts with 8 candles. Hillel looks to the present, that's why he starts with 1 candle."
I think Hillel and Shamai were kind of silly. What about you? Fortunately, Rabbi Mandel pulled a rabbi out of a hat.

In our lives, Rabbi Mandel said, we need to both take care of today, and plan for tomorrow. And we should let the light of Torah guide us in both!
How succinct! How wise! Oh, and did I tell that Rabbi Mandel knows how to carry a tune?
Visitor David Lipshitz said, “There are two days of our life that we have no control over, yesterday and tomorrow, so we need the best that we can today, and start the process over tomorrow.”
The Greenpoint Shul
At Kiddish, I overheard  Alan Perlmutter mention his shul, Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Shul. My ears perked up. 
The previous week at the Union of Reform Judaism URJ 2017 Biennial convention in Boston, I visited the vendor booths. I spoke with  Avi Zuckerman. Avi came up with a make your own Yad project for B’nai Miztvot. What a clever way to bring a memorable, tangible Jewish focus to a celebration which often is less than spiritual. One good Yad deserves another! Let's give  Avi a hand!

I told Avi how much I enjoyed Touro Synagogue, and he told me about his shul, the Greenpoint Shul.
I pulled out Avi’s business card, and of course visitor Adam Perlmutter knew him well.
Adam told me an Avi story. Avi went to a restaurant in Boro Park, which is noted for its large Ultra-orthodox and Hassidic community. He sat down, and asked the waiter if the restaurant had a hechsher (Kosher certification). The answer was, “Yes, of course.” Avi said, “ Nu, so where is it?” (the hechsher should be conspicuously posted). The waiter got a little exasperated, and said, “It’s right there on the wall.” Avi said, “It's hard to read.” By now the waiter was visibly upset. He took the hechsher off the wall. Avi glanced at it and said, “I’ve never heard of the Rabbi who signed this document. Are you sure this hechsher is valid?” What happened after that, I don’t vant to tell you.
I wasn’t going repeat the following, but I can’t resist. When I contacted Avi for more details, he wrote, “Adam is a dear friend so whatever Adam tells you cut 80% off and throw it away then divide the 20% left in half, than shrink the leftovers to minimal, and you got the truth. LOL.” When Adam introduced the story, he said exactly the same thing about Avi!
Talk about friendship!
The Greenpoint Shul was built in 1902. As Jews moved away, the shul managed to hang on thanks to a dedicated Rabbi. Times have changed, and Jews have returned. Recently the Greenpoint Shul was restored, and Touro Synagogue was the model that the Congregation kept in mind. Touro and Greenpoint are both small Orthodox shuls that make all feel welcome.
David Lipshitz is the son of the Dzirka Rebbe. The Djerkas are one of many Hassidic dynasties. Dzirka, Györke, Hungary, is now Ďurkov, Slovakia. David suggested I use the word “jerk” as a mnemonic device to help remember “Dzirka.” 
While walking in Newport, David recounted, “Someone came up to me and said, ‘Why are you wearing a Halloween costume two months after Halloween.’” David replied, “For me every day is halloween.” 
During a walk in Brussels, a man castigated David for being a f-ing Jew. He ran after him, and said, “Why are you blaming me for something I had no control over? My parents were both f-ing Jews, and I had nothing to do with it!”
At this point, I asked David if he had thought of becoming a comedian.
We all enjoyed the kiddish. David commented that Kiddish was to help people relax and communicate, and that G-d did not need the Kiddish, but we did. 
G-d does not need us to have minyan, nor our thrice daily prayers. These are for us, to lead us to live a better life.
So, bubbele, I want that you should go to many a Kiddish, pray three times a day, and live a better life. And, Mr. Ginsburg, don’t forget to visit me so you can enjoy my latkes! #greenpointshul #jewishnewportri #newportri #tourosynagoguenewport

Friday, December 8, 2017

At Touro Synagogue The Laws of Employment

 The Laws of Employment

At Touro Synagogue, December 2, 2017 

We were a merry, well heated band at Touro Synagogue on Saturday. Our minyan arrived early. We had the usual core of regulars, supplemented by Navy personnel, visitors from New York, and from Newton, MA.

In the Parsha, one of the dramatic events was when Yaakov’s name was changed to Israel…actually, it wasn’t changed, it was just an additional name. 

Yaakov’s name was changed twice, first after a wrestling match (Rabbi Mandel said it was not clear who he was wrestling with), and once by the Almighty. One might wonder if this was an editing mistake. I think the explanation might be that since Yaakov did not know who he wrestled with, it was better to make clear the source, and the higher the better.

Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke about employee-employer relations. He made clear that the obligations run both ways:

“Yaakov’s father-in-law, Lavan, was chasing after him and caught up with him, and Yaakov says to him, ‘What do you want from me? I worked for you for 20 years. I barely slept-and I helped your estate make great profits.’

“The Rambam, Maimonides, learns out from this that just as there are laws as to how an employer should treat an employee, there are also laws about how an employee should treat an employer.

“In the laws of employment, (Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Laws of Employment, Chapter 13, Law #7), a worker can’t waste time and must work as much as he can. The Rambam says,  'If you are working you can leave out the 4th Bracha of the Benching because it is only a Rabbinic Bracha.’ The Rambam called Yaakov a Tzadik for working so hard.

“What was Lavan’s reaction? Lavan says, ‘Everything you have is mine. You own nothing.’

“How do you think Yaakov felt when Lavan treated him this way?

“We see in today's working world, very often, the workers are not appreciated. They work hard but they're not appreciated. So it goes both ways-in today’s world-The workers must work honestly and diligently and the employers must recognize  and honor the workers for their efforts.

"Shabbat Shalom!"

After services we adjourned to the Kiddish. There was more than enough food for all, which stimulated the conversation.

I got a chance to speak with Mr. and Mrs. Lake, of Newton, Massachusetts. Mrs. Lake is a member of a renowned rabbinical family, the Soloveitchiks. 

Mr. Lake told me he was an immigrant. He came with his family from Plissa in 1938. Plissa is now in Belarus, but at the time it was in Poland. It is close to Glubokie, just 12 miles away. On June 1, 1942, the 412 Jews in Plissa were murdered during the Holocaust. Two survived the massacre, but one of them was subsequently murdered.

"During the 1950s," Mr. Lake said, “I was in the army, stationed in Germany. I brought my wife, and we rented an apartment on the first floor of a house. Fluent in Yiddish, I was able to understand German, and make myself understood. Invited to church, I explained to the landlady, “Ich bin Jude.’  

“Coming home one Friday, I saw that the landlady was on her hands and knees washing my floor. I asked, ‘Why?’ and she replied, ‘It’s your sabbath.’”

The Lakes were invited to a party at the landlord’s apartment. The other guests were the landlord’s friends. Not knowing anyone, Mr. Lake started thumbing through a photo album, and discovered the landlord has been a Gestapo officer. It was a subject Mr. Lake and the landlord never discussed.