Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Is there a Doctor in the House?

Is there a Doctor in the House?
At Touro Synagogue
August 25, 2018

At Touro Synagogue in Newport on Shabbat we heard from three doctors: a spiritual doctor, Rabbi Marc Mandel, a medical doctor, Morton Glasser, and a social doctor, Irene Glasser (Irene is a doctor of anthropology, so perhaps I should say a societal doctor.)

After greeting one and all (and they came from as far as London), Rabbi Mandel said,

“The Torah teaches us to take care of our health. It’s a mitzvah to take care of your health, mentioned several times in the book of Deuteronomy, [4:15] take good care of yourselves וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם מְאֹ֖ד לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם.
“In this week‘s Torah reading we are told [Deuteronomy 24:8]
הִשָּׁמֶר בְּנֶגַע-הַצָּרַעַת, be careful for certain diseases. Smoking certainly causes diseases in the human body.

“I saw an interesting video online from a Dr. Dave Montgomery, a cardiologist at the Piedmont Heart Institute.[ a video is at] He said most people associate cigarette smoking with lung problems, but he said that it is really your heart and blood vessels that get damaged the most from smoking.

“Just this week there was a major medical discovery: the healthier your heart, the healthier your brain, meaning the more measures of cardiovascular health older people had, the less likely they are to develop dementia. But I’m not a doctor and will let our kiddish speakers talk about these issues.

“…It hurts me when I see people who are meticulous about attending the weekday minyan take breaks during davening for smoking: Don’t they realize that taking care of your health is a mitzvah just like davening? Don’t they realize that the torah frowns on this type of behavior? Why is that ignored?

“As we approach the new year, Rosh Hashanah, let’s do what we can to help all people live healthier and holier lives. Shabbat Shalom!”

At the kiddish, which they sponsored, Drs. Morty and Irene’s brief talks were related but very different.

Dr. Morty started with good news. Smoking rates in the United States have gone down considerably. He attributed it to the high price of cigarettes, which is caused by high taxes, and said we should think what the implications of this are for other health issues. He stayed away from the reasons why people smoke.

The damage from smoking takes years to accumulate, he said, and young people, who don’t have a long range outlook, have fewer inhibibitions to stop them from engaging in risky behavior like smoking.

He pointed out that American Indians (and Eskimos and other indigenous peoples) have the highest rate of smoking, in part, at least, because tobacco on reservations is untaxed.  

Dr. Irene began by saying how tobacco was traditionally used by native Americans. Tobacco was sacred and reserved for shamans who used it on special occasions. This is what the Europeans saw when they arrived. They deduced that it was a healing plant, and that is how it was initially presented back home.

I asked Newporter Mrs. Namel Chadash if she had the inside story.

“Now listen, Mr. Aaron! Ven you vant to know vat really happened, don’t go to Vikipedia, komm zu mir! Ven those pilgrims or puritans (I never could figure which was which) landed at that rock in Old Virginny (Have I got that right?), they found smokin’ locals who were feeling pretty good.

“John Rolfe, (who married Pocahontas, no less) said to his friend, Captain John Smith, ‘Methinks we could sell a lot of this back home. People are always looking for something to help them feel happy.’

“John Smith, a sly one vas he, replied, ‘John, methinks that is not the best vay to sell tobacco. Let’s call it medicine. People will pay anything for their health, and ve can avoid the sin taxes.’ The rest, as they say, is history!”

Dr. Irene focused on the homeless population in Rhode Island. Many of them smoke. Rhode Island’s adoption of universal healthcare has been very successful in increasing the availability of healthcare to all, but, reaching out to homeless people to give them information about smoking cessation is difficult. Smoking is one of many health issues they face. Living much of their time on the street is not conducive to counseling.

One approach is to make counseling available in soup kitchens. This was tried as a pilot program. Many of the homeless were interested in learning how to stop smoking, which indicates that anti-smoking efforts have reached them, and were grateful for any information. Unfortunately, the pilot program ran out of money and was not refunded.

Another approach is to train employees in shelters or day programs in smoking cessation. This was done in Rhode Island, but getting those employees into counseling did not work out; they still had to perform their regular duties.

Irene was asked a lot of questions and comments were made by the audience. People speculated about why smoking is high in this population.

One person said that tobacco companies are currently trying to decrease the price of tobacco in military facilities. I could not document this. In fact, it appears the military is very interested in the health of sailors and soldiers, and takes this into account when deciding how to price tobacco products.

The subject of treating narcotic addiction also came up. A parallel group to the homeless is the prison population. Irene explained that in Rhode Island, we only have a state prison system, not a county system. This simplifies trying something different. In prison one cannot use illegal drugs, but that does not mean the addiction disappears. There are three medicines that might help, and Rhode Island enacted regulations to make these available to prisoners.

After the talk, I got more insight from Dr. Morty.  He said that even among the homeless, smoking has decreased. He added that there is a big difference between smoking two cigarettes a day vs. two packs a day. The percentage of smokers doesn’t tell the full story.

That reminded me of a book, How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff that my college roommate, Arthur Forman, brought to my attention 35 years ago when he was a Neurology Senior Registrar at the Radcliffe infirmary, Oxford, England.

In the 1960s and 70s, How to Lie with Statistics was often assigned reading in college and is one of the best selling books about statistics, having sold over 1.5 million copies, and that is just in English. To get off to a good start, Mr. Huff  begins with a quote he attributed to Disraeli, “There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics.” You can read the whole book at

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Tending our gardens

Tending our gardens

At Touro Synagogue
August 19, 2018

On Sunday after the reading of the Moses Seixas letter written on behalf of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport to President George Washington, Washington’s response was read. After several introductions, Col. Jonathan de Sola Mendes read the Seixas letter in a loud clear voice.  Dr. Philip Mintz read Washington’s reply in a clear, loud voice. A keynote speech by the President of Salve Regina University followed.

Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor stole the show! His short speech was well written, and he delivered it with elan. Pryor addressed current affairs but avoided politics. He spoke about principles, not about personalities!

The Secretary focused on Washington’s use of the “vine and fig tree.” When I asked him why, he replied, “ …I have been intrigued by that phrase since I first viewed it in Washington’s letter. My interest was enhanced when I heard the phrase read aloud at Touro Synagogue during last year’s ceremony. Upon giving Washington’s letter a close read in preparation for this year’s event, I decided to go ahead and research the vine and fig tree language. If you’ll pardon the pun, it turned out to be a fruitful exercise.”

And it was a fruitful exercise!
Washington wrote, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants–while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Pryor said Washington referred to the vine and fig tree almost 50 times. The phrase appears in the bible several times. Pryor said, “It appears that President Washington was referring to Micha 4:4.” 
 וְיָשְׁב֗וּ אִ֣ישׁ תַּ֧חַת גַּפְנ֛וֹ וְתַ֥חַת תְּאֵנָת֖וֹ וְאֵ֣ין מַחֲרִ֑יד
“But every man shall sit Under his grapevine or fig tree With no one to disturb him.”

Pryor noted that the next verse, Micah 4:5, says, ”Though all the peoples walk Each in the names of its gods…” Micah, and, in effect, the Almighty, were acknowledging the existence of other religions without criticizing them.  

It was a popular phrase during the Revolutionary War, according to Charles Royster(1). “Sitting unafraid under the vine and fig tree captured the deep longing in the human soul for independence from the power of arbitrary government, from injustice, and oppression.” 

Pryor may have drawn on a webpage about the vine and fig tree. Dr. David Tucker, senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, put the page together.

Pryor concluded,

“I dwell upon Washington’s reference to the vine and fig tree because I think it’s a beautiful image. But I also think it should speak to us today. I fear that, if we focus exclusively on the phrase, ‘to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance’ – to be clear, a profoundly important phrase, one that deserves our intensive attention – but if we focus exclusively upon this phrase, restated so absolutely in Washington’s letter, as if immutable fact -- we run a significant risk…the risk of assuming that, because these words were affirmed by the first leader of our nation, they will always be true, that this view will ever be affirmed and reaffirmed.

“…the vine and fig tree portion of Washington’s letter reminds us that the shelter and safety provided by such vine and tree are being offered by living things–living things that themselves need to be nourished, cared for, and protected. We cannot take the vine and fig tree for granted–because there are multiple forms of ailment and types of pathogen that will infect them and cause them to wither if we do not care for them–that is, if we are not careful. Therefore, we must work diligently and vigilantly to ensure that the environment supports the vine and tree overhead. Together, we must actively prevent blight from taking hold and disease from taking root.”

Voltaire, one of the dominant thinkers of the 18th century, wrote in Candide, 1759, about tending a garden. In a New Yorker article, VOLTAIRE’S GARDEN, Adam Gopnik said, “As Tocqueville saw half a century later, home-making, which ought to make people more selfish, makes them less so; it gives them a stake in other people’s houses. It is not so much the establishment of a garden but the ownership of a gate that moves people from liking a society based on favors to one based on rights. Enclosing his garden broadened Voltaire’s circle of compassion. When people were dragged from their gardens to be tortured and killed in the name of faith, he began to take it, as they say, personally.”

Having a garden and a home leads to caring for society and one’s fellow man. If we don’t care for them, we can never sit under our vine and fig trees without being disturbed. During the American Revolution, Americans banded together in a body politic and and in an army to safeguard the right to live undisturbed.

1. Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 103

Friday, August 10, 2018



At Touro Synagogue
August 4, 2018

It was very warm in Touro Synagogue. In his brief words of Torah, Rabbi Mandel focused on one word in the parsha,

“There’s a famous song by the Rolling Stones called Satisfaction[]. This song is about a person who goes through life and can’t seem to find satisfaction in every day living: this song speaks to us in our times. Are we satisfied with our lives or are we always looking for more, for something else? One of the main themes in today’s Torah reading is satisfaction.

“The parsha says you shall eat, you shall be satisfied, and you shall thank God for the food that you have eaten. This is the source for the mitzvah of birkat hamazon- the benching that we do after we eat.

“Here at Touro synagogue we are fortunate that Debbie and Jim Herstoff and family have donated beautiful booklets for birkat hamazon.

“The implication of this passage is you only have to thank God if you were satisfied after you’ve eaten that if you are not satisfied there is no requirement to say the prayer. The Talmud addresses this theme in Masechet Brachot, page 20b. God tells the angels, ‘the reason I have a deep affection towards Jewish people because even though the Torah says you only have to bench if you are satisfied, but the Jewish people are stringent and  bench even if they ate less.’

“There is a popular phrase that sometimes ‘less is more.’

“Sometimes, even though we eat less, we are more satisfied. Let us hope and pray that we can learn the lesson of birkat hamazon that states less is more and let us hope and pray that in our everyday living we will find satisfaction.

“Shabbat Shalom!”

Among those in attendance was Rabbi Emeritus, Mordechai Escowitz. Visitors were also present from New Jersey, Florida, and London.

Like everything else, the Rolling Stones are subject to interpretation.  A lot of the short lyrics criticize Madison Avenue and the blitz of advertising on the radio and television. The balance of the song ridicules musicians, and all of us, for our pretensions that we are the greatest, and that members  of the opposite sex should be falling at our feet.

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

@tourosynagoguenewport @jewishnewport @newportri

Friday, August 3, 2018

À la recherche du temps perdu

À la recherche du temps perdu
At Jewish Newport
July 28, 2018

It was hot at Touro Synagogue, especially when the lights and fans went out. Rabbi Marc Mandel kept his sermon short.

“In the summer of 1852 the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, brought his family from Cambridge, Mass to Newport for a vacation. Longfellow became entranced with Touro Synagogue’s cemetery up the street.

“He wrote a poem about it. Here are some short excerpts:

‘How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town.

‘Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,
No Psalms of David now the silence break,
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.

‘What once has been shall be no more
And the dead nations never rise again.’

“Today Longfellow was proven wrong. We did read the decalogue, the Ten Commandments. And we are not a dead nation. We’re here. We’re alive.

“If the Ten Commandments are so important, why aren't they part of our daily prayers?

“Well, that’s a trick question because the Talmud teaches us that they really are part of our prayers-they are incorporated into the Shema. The Shema and the Ten Commandments are very similar. And we read the Shema today too-the first paragraph.

“So this is one of the most important Torah readings of the year. Its also Shabbat Nachamu based on the Haftarah that Saul read. We pray for consolation. We pray for redemption-may we see it speedily in our time.

“Shabbat Shalom!”

Longfellow appeared to be very familiar with Judaism. His lack of sympathy might owe something to the times he lived in. America’s great future, which was believed to be a break with the past, was apparent. We Jews can boast of a great past, and do our best to make it part of our present. (Thanks to the Maine Historical Society for this insight.)

According to the Mishnah, during the Second Temple period the Ten Commandments were recited daily before the Shema. The Talmud explains that (Yerushalmi Berakhot, Chapter 1, fol. 3c), “It would be proper to read the Ten Commandments every day; and why don’t we? Because of the zeal of the heretics lest they say: These alone were given to Moses at Sinai.”

Over the years, our Rabbis have been concerned that we not elevate the Ten Commandments at the expense of observing the other commandments.

Rabbi David Golinkin reviewed this in ‘Whatever Happened to the Ten Commandments?’ His grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Golinkin, was a Rabbi in Dokshitz, where many Newporters trace their roots, in the 1920s. His headstone in Worcester, Massachusetts, says he was the rabbi and Av Bet Din of Zhytomyr, Dokshitz, Danzig and Worcester, and was on the Vaad Harabonim of Massachusetts.

Ralph and Delia Klingbeil sponsored the Kiddish and spoke about their recent trip to Frankfurt and the Netherlands. The Klingbeil’s friend, Heidi Keller Moon, who also traces her routes to Jewish Frankfurt, accompanied them on the trip and joined us on Saturday.Ralph said, “This kiddish is dedicated to the chemical element lithium-atomic number 3 – for the 3 of us who journeyed together. Lithium is a soft, silvery-white alkali metal and it is the lightest metal and the lightest solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly reactive and flammable.”

At Frankfurt's Old Jewish Cemetery, Heidi visited the grave of her great grandfather, Moses Keller and a nearby memorial to a cousin of her of her father, who was murdered in Aushwitz.
The Philanthropin

Freida Steinhauer
Ralph’s mother, Freida Steinhauer Klingbeil, was born in Frankfurt. They were able to see some of the places associated with her life. She studied at The Philanthropin, a Jewish school founded in 1804 by Mayer Amschel Rothschild, as did Heidi Keller Moon's grandmother, Elsa Ruths. The building still stands, and is still a Jewish school!

Kaiserstraße 68
Kaiserstraße 68 today
Ralph's mother worked for Karl Kahn, Kaiserstraße 68, and this building also still stands.

The Jewish cemeteries in Frankfurt, to Ralph’s surprise, were not destroyed, and Ralph was able to place a stone  from Mackerel Cove, Jamestown on the matzeva his grandfather, Louis Steinhauer, at the New Jewish Cemetery.

When they went to eat, Ralph saw the sign for the Struwwelpeter Restaurant. Ralph recalled, “I experienced an involuntary and stunning memory flash of Struwwelpeter from almost 70 years ago. Struwwelpeter is a perverse, sadistic book for 3 to 6 year old children, written in 1845. One story is about trying to make a boy, Conrad, stop sucking his thumbs. The tailor and his scissors solve that problem. I loved the book and from about years 3 to 4 we were inseparable.

Der Struwwelpeter is one of the first modern illustrated children’s books. It’s ten stories about the results of children’s misbehavior. It was written by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845 when he couldn’t find a good book for his 3 year old son. It’s a precursor to comic books, and has been translated into many languages, including English by Mark Twain.

Heinrich Hoffman was born in Frankfurt, where he became a psychiatrist. According to Wikipedia, he was skeptical whether his treatment was helping his patients, and was also skeptical about ideology, and was against religious, philosophical and political bigotry.

Seeing the name of the restaurant and pictures on the walls of the book was enough to bring the childhood memory to Ralph’s mind.

This is called an involuntary memory. The phrase was coined by Marcel Proust in his novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). In the book, the protagonist recalled a memory after being served madeleines, a pastry.

“And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine (Proust, 1928).”

The novel, which began to be published in 1913, took the world by storm, with it’s 3200 pages and 2000 characters. It was the first work to use stream of consciousness.

Ralph's grandparents,
Johanna & Louis
Steinhauer ca 1914
Louis  & Johanna

One of the memories we hold dear is that we were present at Sinai. This is so ingrained in our consciousness that it has become an involuntary memory, one that we can recall when we need to, for example, at a Passover seder. Rather than Proust's pastry, we stimulate our memories with matzah, moror and karpas.

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport
The Steinhauer Family