Friday, March 30, 2018

A Little Piece of Heaven

At Touro Synagogue
March 30, 2018
Erev Pesach
A Little Piece of Heaven  

My day started at Zayde’s Market in Canton, Massachusetts.  Josh Ruboy and the team loaded up my car with the Passover order for the Seders at CJI. At the Levi-Gale house in Newport, Marcia Cohen, Eileen Kominsky, and Rabi Marc Mandel were waiting. 

Aaron Ginsburg with Josh Ruboy
If you didn’t sign up for the seder this year, I hope to see you next year. 

While I was in Newport, I had a chance to speak with longtime resident, Mrs. Namel Chadash

“So my kindele, I vant that you should know what happened to me this week when I was doing my Pesach shopping.

Eileen Kominksy, Rabbi Marc
Mandel, Marcia Cohen
"I had my hands on a beautiful bottle of schmaltz, you know, that lovely golden glob of cholesterol that's so good when its mixed into chopped liver. Lo and behold, next to me was my cardiologist. He looked at me, I looked at him. It was the last bottle of schmaltz on the shelf. 

"Vey iz mir, vat should I do? I knew my cardiologist wouldn’t let me forget my sin; I vould never hear the end of it. So my young ones, to make a long story short, I put the schmaltz back on the shelf. 
"So vat to you think happened? The second it got  back on the shelf, the cardiologist took it, and didn’t even look at me. 

"My children, I vant that you should think of me when you have chopped liver with schmaltz. And to my cardiologist, let me say, ‘You can count all the cholesterol you vant. You count, and I’ll enjoy the schmaltz.’

"Schmaltz, it’s liquid gold. Ok, maybe semi-solid gold. Life would not be complete if there wasn't schmaltz in this world.
Eileen Kominksy, Aaron
, Marcia Cohen

"They say when the Ubershter, you know, that's the one up above, cried because his children, the children of Israel, were lost, those tears turned into schmaltz. So schmaltz is a little piece of heaven. And did I tell you, if we didn’t have schmaltz, we wouldn’t have gribenes.

"A gut yom tov!”

And a gut yom tov from Jewish Newport!

@tourosynagoguenewport @newportri 

Friday, March 9, 2018

The horns of a dilemma; the American Interest

At Touro synagogue
March 3, 2018
The horns of a dilemma; the American interest

Parshat Ki Tisa began with the command to have a census…Everyone who was counted was required (from the age of twenty) to make an offering… “the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel.” This was the biblical version of one man, one vote, thousands of years ahead of its time.

Although the bible spoke out for democracy, this did not mean that everyone had equal qualifications. Going against the modern trend where everyone thinks they can master everything and do without experts, the bible comes down on the side of the tried and true,  

”See, I have singled out by Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah. I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft: to make designs for work in gold , silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood-to work in every kind of craft.” 

Obaoliab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan and others also had this skill, and were also assigned to make the Tent of Meeting and its appurtenances.

Rabbi Mandel mentioned that Michelangelo misinterpreted the bible, and so his sculpture of David has horns. The parsha says Moses’s face was radiant after meeting God. 

Moses Michaelangelo September 2015-1
Moses by Michaelangelo
According to Wikipedia, the error goes back the fourth century Latin translation by Jerome, known as the Vulgate. It may have been a translation error, or it might have been Jerome’s way of saying that he was changed by meeting God. The Hebrew word “Keren” can be understood in several different ways. As the years went by our understanding did not reflect the nuances in Jerome’s interpretation.

In the Parsha, the episode of the Golden Calf took place. Moses lost his temper, and smashed the Ten commandments. Sometimes losing one’s temper can have unfortunate consequences.  

The Israelites were punished and many of the died. Rabbi Marc Mandel said that, “The lesson of the sermon was that we need to be careful to observe the Mitzvot of the Torah, because if we are not careful it could lead to things getting broken which is never good, even if Moshe did do the right thing.” 

We were joined by  Adam Garfinkle and his wife, Scilla Taylor. Scilla runs the Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton, Maryland. Adam Garfinkle edits a magazine called the “American Interest.” He was in town to speak to students at the Naval War College. He spoke briefly at the Kiddish at the request of Rabbi Mandel. He started by saying, “I’ve always wanted to be at Touro synagogue,  and I am happy to be here for Shabbat.” 

Adam taught in several universities, wrote speeches for George W. Bush’s Secretaries of State, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He edited the “National Interest.” When that magazine changed its policies, he and others, Francis Fukuyama, being the prime mover,  founded the “American Interest.”

Francis Fukuyama is a political scientist. He has been labeled a neo-conservative, was involved with the Reagan adminstration and  supported the George W Bush in the run up to the Iraq war in 2003, but eventually opposed the war, and later, endorsed Obama for president. He is not someone that can be easily pigeonholed.  Mr. Fukuyama's grandfather was interned during WWII, like may other Japanese-Americans on the West Coast.

When Adam was asked if a biography was online, he said there was a wikipedia article. He would not vouch for its accuracy, saying it was probably submitted by his son.

In response to a question, he said that he had stopped reading Commentary Magazine years ago because its articles were all written from the same point of few.

He said that he is careful to included opposing points of view in the “American Interest,” sometimes having articles with opposite opinions side-by-side. This reminds me of the Talmud, which often mentions two sides of an argument. Today, many of us only read things that we agree with. It’s easier to just expose ourselves to things we agree with, but is it in the American interest, or in our interest? 

Friday, March 2, 2018

From Riga to Or Yehuda

Saturday, February 24, 2018


From Riga to Or Yehuda

by Aaron Ginsburg

It was nice to be home at Touro Synagogue after a long trip to Israel.

The parsha dealt almost entirely with Aaron, his sons, and assistants, and their duties as priests in the Ohel Moed…the Tent of Meeting. The topics ranged from the clothing a priests wore (it should be made by “all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill”), to how they should be consecrated, what and how to sacrifice and what incense to burn (the aromatic kind was preferred). We adorn our Torahs with breastplates modeled after the priestly breastplate described in the parsha.

Purim was coming up, and Rabbi Mandel said,

“When I was at Congregation Beth Shalom in Lawrence NY, Rabbi Kenneth Hain asked, why is it "When Adar comes in, we increase in happiness" (Mishenichnas Adar marbin b'simcha, משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה). Why Adar and Purim? Why not Nissan for Pesach or Tishrei for Sukkot? A rabbi ( I have forgotten whom ) said, because on Purim we created our own redemption, so that is real joy, when we initiate and create our future that is true joy. On the other holidays, it was God who did the miracles.”

It’s not our role to wait around for miracles.  We need to create our own opportunities both as individuals and as a community. We have the potential. Do we have the will?

The parsha began with instructions, “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.”  That’s שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת shemen zayit in Hebrew.

During the Israel trip I met Michael Somin. He was born in 1966 in Dokshitz (where several Newporters trace their roots). Michael visited Dokshitz in August, 2017, for the first time since immigration to Israel in 1978. Michael asked if I had room in my luggage to take something back, and then gave me a gift of a two pound can of pure olive oil made in Omer, Israel, a suburb of Beer Sheva.

During my trip I met several relatives of Newport’s Friedman family. After a brief visit with Friedman family member Shai Viseman in Tel Aviv, I had some free time. I went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. A special exhibit on display was about “Forbidden Music: X-Ray Audio in the USSR, 1946 - 1964.”  From the 1940s to the 1960s, banned music was produced by making recordings on X-Ray film, which could be played on a record player.  The exhibit focused on jazz and Western rock n' roll, immigrant music, and prisoners’ songs.

In 2013, musician-composer Stephen Coates found a recording for sale in St. Petersburg, Russia. He started the X-ray Audio Project  to gather information, and wrote the first history on the subject in 2015, “'X-Ray Audio’ The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone.” This led directly to the traveling exhibit.

When I visited Regina Zhuk, another Friedman relative and asked if she had heard of these recordings, she replied, “I’ve heard of them, and I have some.” They were a different type of banned music, Jewish music.

Regina Friedman Zhuk was born in Moscow, grew up in Riga, and immigrated to Israel in 1999. When I spoke of how one of my Kusinitz great-uncles who was a revolutionary was arrested in Moscow 1937 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, and then sentenced to a second ten years six months after being released, she had a similar story about her father. She had never told the story before, because her parents engrained it in her that she should never speak of it.

In 1937 in Moscow, her father, Abram Friedman, was visited by an acquaintance who was also from Dokshitz. The visitor wrote her father’s name and phone number in his notebook. When the visitor was arrested so was Regina’s father. He was sentenced to 10 years.

When he was released in 1947, he joined his family in Riga, where they had moved after the war. To help avoid being rearrested, a friend obtained a clean passport that did not mention the arrest. That was not enough. He and Regina’s mother, Mara Shulman Friedman, hid in the open by moving to Rostov-on-Don for several years to get away from the heavy but not so efficient hand of the KGB. Rostov-on-Don is a 23 hour drive from Riga today. Now that’s a long way!

Libyan Jewish Museum
I met another Friedman family member, Paula Shaham, at the Libyan Jewish Museum in Or Yehuda, where she is the education director. The museum’s website  is in Hebrew, English, and Italian. Most Israelis that I met have never heard of this museum. Just a few blocks away, the Babylon Jewish Museum, tells the story of the Jews from Iraq. Paula recounted how she lived in a tent after arriving in Israel, and how various members of the family in Israel were helped by their relatives in Newport. 

As I write this, the wind is howling, it’s raining, the electricity is out, and it’s a long way from Israel, Riga, Dokshitz, and Rostov-on-Don, but not so far from Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

Shabbat Shalom

#tourosynagoguenewport #newportri