Friday, November 30, 2018

It’s all about giving thanks

It’s all about giving thanks
At Touro Synagogue

November 24, 2018


I hope you enjoyed a full plate on Thanksgiving. I was grateful to be with my sister, Beth Levine, and with friends and family. The plates were my mother’s. Does anyone recognize the dish’s pattern?

A long weekend is always big deal. During Shabbat at Touro Synagogue we were joined by several regular Thanksgiving visitors and itinerant members including David Jolley, who took a break from his musical duties. Was our davening a little more tuneful because of David’s presence?

A group of young women came from the NY area for the weekend (their rental was a long walk from the shul). Professor Ronald Birke, who teaches Chemistry and Biochemistry at CUNY (The City University of New York) joined us with his family. His sons stood during his aliyah.

We were also joined by a former dean at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dr. Michael Hecht. Rabbi Marc Mandel is one of Rabbi Hecht’s students. I told Marc Ladin that at the end of the service I was going to ask Rabbi Hecht if Rabbi Mandel was a good student. Marc is not one to beat around the bush. He walked over to the Rabbi and asked! Rabbi Hecht was joined by his family, including his son-in-law, Aaron J. Koller who teaches Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University.

Rabbi Mandel introduced the visitors, and incorporated them into his sermon. He held up a book by Rabbi Hecht,  Have You Ever Asked Yourself These Questions? A Guide to Traditional Jewish Thought, which he had studied carefully, “It is a book that deals with important questions about the interplay of Judaism with science and faith.”  

Torah Umadda תּוֹרָה וּמַדָּע, Torah and Science, is the motto of Yeshiva University. According to Rabbi Norman Lamm, "Torah, faith, religious learning on one side and Madda, science, worldly knowledge on the other, together offer us a more over-arching and truer vision than either one set alone. Each set gives one view of the Creator as well as of His creation, and the other a different perspective that may not agree at all with the first ... Each alone is true, but only partially true; both together present the possibility of a larger truth.” That sounds good, but the devil is in the details!

Rabbi Mandel attended Rabbi Hecht’s Talmud class, which covered  the third perek of Bava Batra, and in the following year the second perek of Kiddushin.

Rabbi Mandel noted that in the parsha, Jacob thanked the Holy One for blessings that he was not expecting, and that Jacob was severely wounded when he fought with the angel, but carried on. The Rabbi concluded by saying, “In our life journey, we need to be thankful to our mentors.” 

We also need to be thankful to our cooks!

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

Friday, November 16, 2018


Father Knows Best
November 10, 2018

Shabbat last week was chilly. The temperature was 45 degrees both inside and outside the shul. Outside it was natural difficulties and inside it was technical difficulties. The congregation is experienced, and dressed appropriately for both the inside and outside climate. I noticed that our service, which is known for its fast pace, ended earlier than normal.

The Parsha, Toledot, is about family matters, especially about Jacob and Esau. Esau is a described as a a hunter and a man of the fields, a hunter-gatherer, while Jacob is not. Not only is a clash of two individuals, but two life styles. When they were blessed by their father Isaac, Jacob received land, while Esau was told he would live by the sword.

Rabbi Marc Mandel compared our ancestors to a TV show, Father Knows Best.

“Do you remember the popular TV show Father Knows Best? It starred Robert Young and Jane Wyatt. Robert Young was the father who always knew what was best. Well, this week’s parsha could be called Mother Knows Best

“In this week’s parsha it is not the father who is the star of the show; it is the mother. The story is well known-Rivka wants her son Yaakov to receive the blessings of Yitzhak-so she orchestrates a whole plan for Yaakov to dress as Esau and bring Yitzhak a delicious meal before Esau does it to receive the bracha. The question is, does Rivka really know best? Was this a good idea?

“Didn’t she put Yaakov’s life in danger? Is this really a case of mother knows best? Or is it really father knows best and Yaakov should have realized the danger of this plan.

“The Torah teaches in Proverbs 1:18, שְׁמַ֣ע בְּ֭נִי מוּסַ֣ר אָבִ֑יךָ וְאַל־תִּ֝טֹּ֗שׁ תּוֹרַ֥ת אִמֶּֽךָ׃. 'Listen my child to the advice of your father and do not abandon the torah of your mother.' In this case Yaakov does listen to the Torah of his mother and it changes the course of his life.  Yes, he does receive the blessing, but he’s also turned into a fugitive-worrying his whole life that his brother will kill him.

“Yaakov doesn't seem to harbor any anger towards his mother for changing his life so radically: He is willing to follow all her advice and take the consequences. He believed sincerely that mother knows best.

“We pray that as we go on our life’s journey that we will make the right decisions and that Hashem will bless us with an abundance of berachot.”

The Anderson Family source Wikimedia
Father Knows Best, a show about the Anderson family, was created by its star, Robert Young. In the TV series, sometimes father did know best, but often it was mother or one of the children. 

The Anderson house pictured in the credits was used in Dennis the Menace, I Dream of Jeannie. It was built in 1941 for Blondie movies, and also was used in Hazel, Bewitched, The Monkees, and The Partridge Family.

The Hollywood set required a lot of remodeling to make it work for decades. Fortunately, Touro Synagogue only had one remodel, of its eastern wall, in the early 1800s. 

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

Friday, November 9, 2018


The Stages of Grief

Dear Friends,

A week ago we were in shock after the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.  This one struck close to home. I could not help but think that it could have happened to me at my synagogue.

At Touro Synagogue on Shabbat, Rabbi Marc Mandel observed how people reacted. Some are shocked, horrified, and can’t believe it.

Some think politically about the government and gun control, for example.

Others focus on what could have been done differently. Was there enough security, armed guards, an active shooter protocol?

Some of us are overwhelmed with sadness.

And then there are those who don’t have much to say.

“These are all natural reactions,” Rabbi Mandel said. “Elizabeth Kübler-Ross gives us a framework to helps us process this event, the five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.”

“Each one of those stages is normal. Sometimes we need to slow down and take a deep breath.”

There is an interesting article on Wikipedia atübler-Ross_model about the Kübler-Ross model.  The five stages were meant to describe the reaction of dying people to their situation, and were subsequently expanded to almost any loss. Criticisms involve the lack of evidence that these stages exist, and that a principal response to grief is resilience. 

So if you didn’t go through the Kübler-Ross stages, that’s normal too! 

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!