It was warm day in Newport, considering it was winter, both inside and outside of shul.
David Nathanson decided to sit near me on the Touro Street side of Touro Synagogue rather than the Barney Street side, where he usually can be found. He told me it was a seasonal move. David must have felt a little SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). So he came over to the sunny side! In winter, the Touro Street side is the sunny side. In addition to being our spiritual center, Touro Synagogue also serves as our sundial and calendar, even though the clock doesn’t work.
There were a few visitors present. In his words of Torah, Rabbi Marc Mandel connected the parsha, Shemot, to his activities during the week, when he made a quick trip to New Jersey to attend a wedding.
“I went to a wedding where the bride is studying to be a nurse. The parsha made reference to the two nurses, Shifra and Puah, who not only didn't kill the Jews, but kept them alive, because they feared God.
“At the hotel, I saw the movie The Fugitive. The plot of The Fugitive is the exact opposite of the story of the nurses in the parsha. A billion dollar pharmaceutical company was killing people to save their special drug from being exposed as harmful. If the company had the fear of God, it would not have been trying to murder people.
“Moshe was a fugitive, too, for trying to save the lives of innocent people.
“I was at a hotel; Moshe was at a hotel, and he did not circumcise his son. His wife took care of it. Moses didn’t manage his downtime very well!
“What do we do with our down time? My friend from California worked the whole day at the hotel - we need to learn from him.
"In our life’s journey, may we have enough fear of God to inspire us to use our downtime wisely.”
The Fugitive film was based on the eponymous television series. The plot of someone fleeing a murder is often used, and the resemblance to Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, is unmistakable. According to a Wikipedia article, “One who recognized the similarity was Morse [Barry Morse played the policeman chasing the fugitive in the tv series]; he pointed out the connection to Quinn Martin[ the producer], who admitted that The Fugitive was a "sort of modern rendition of the outline of Les Misérables.
“Morse accordingly went back to the Victor Hugo novel and studied the portrayal of Javert, to find ways to make the character more complex than the "conventional 'Hollywood dick'" as whom Gerard had originally been conceived. "I've always thought that we in the arts...are all 'shoplifters,"' Morse said. "Everybody, from Shakespeare onwards and downwards...But once you've acknowledged that...when you set out on a shoplifting expedition, you go always to Cartier's, and never to Woolworth's!"
I don’t live in Hollywood; Woolworth’s quality is fine. Cartier’s may have cachet, but that’s not the same as quality. I don’t shoplift at either place.
I eagerly await the day when a Jewish Newport posting starts with, “Rabbi Mandel stars in a Movie!”
May you make good use of your down time on the sunny side of the street.
This Shabbat I was honored with the 7th aliyah. It was the Hazak aliyah. We finished the book of Bereshit. It is customary to rise when we finish a book in the Torah, (Jim Herstoff gave us the signal by banging his fist on the bimah) and recite, “Hazak hazak venit-hazek” (Strong, Strong, and may you be strengthened).
During the procession to return the Torah to the ark, Rabbi Marc Mandel paused and said, “Your aliyah, the hazak aliyah, was very important. When you write about today for Jewish Newport, I want you to write about Hazak, Hazak.” It is unusual for anyone to suggest what I write about.
I had to think fast, since I didn’t know what might be said by Rabbi Mandel.
This Shabbat was also the day to celebrate Eleanor Meierovitz Davis’s 100th birthday at Touro Synagogue. Eleanor was there, along with her son Bob, and many extended family members. Her son Michael was unable to attend. The Davis family sponsored the Kiddish.
Eleanor is noted for her outspoken manner and distinctive voice. If she is in the room, you know it! I heard her when she walked through the gate, and gladly ran out to assist her on the way to the balcony. This was not difficult. Eleanor was her usual self. “High as a kite” comes to mind.
Prior to Shabbat, Bob Davis wrote to Rabbi Mandel: “I am sorry that the wandering Jews, Saul Woythaler and Susan are once again seeing the world first hand. Saul, Stanley Light( who came from MA, the occasion) and I were the three Jewish amigos through Hebrew school, junior and senior high school, and URI. We were Rabbi Lewis’ designated minyan makers for the Ahavas Achim shul (long story). We made music together for many years.
“I know Jim Herstoff will be there along with Aaron Ginsburg. What you may not know that that each was the pride and joy of Rabbis Lewis and Katz as students in the Hebrew school and both went on to honor the memory of those two great men by being outstanding Jewish men, serving the congregation and in Aaron’s case, Jews who have passed and deserve to be remembered in their hallowed resting place.”
My parents were close to the Meierovitz-Davis families. After attending shul on the evening of a Jewish holiday, before going home my father, Maurice Ginsburg, took my sisters Judy and Beth and me to visit Eleanor’s unmarried sisters, Bertha and Mollie, who lived behind their grocery store and green house on Van Zandt Avenue. The Davis family was always there.
During my time at Thompson Jr. High School, Eleanor worked in the library. Although I don’t see Eleanor often these days, when something is important in my life, I make a point of letting her know.
Eleanor and Seymour, z’l’ were both very helpful to my mother, Dorothy Pokross Ginsburg. Bob Davis wrote, “Aaron, Judy and Beth please remember how much I loved Mr. & Mrs. G. They were a wonderful couple and were loved by all especially the Meierovitz family. Dorothy’s passing left a hole in my mother’s heart which has never been filled. Their nightly calls were a tonic to both of them. It was a pleasure being with Aaron this weekend. Your notes to her are in the album that Meagan put together for mom and she treasurers it.”
Eleanor’s granddaughter Meagan Davis put together a memory book for Eleanor that has 110 notes from her family and friends.
Stanley Light recalled, “Mrs. Davis arranged for Salty Brine, a TV personality from WPRO in Providence, to come to Newport. There were two hundred people at the Coggeshall School. It was impossible to get close. My first opportunity to meet a celebrity looked like a bust. Mrs. Davis spotted us and called out in Yiddish to my mother, ‘Go to the side door!’ Soon out came Eleanor, Salty Brine, and his dog Jeff.” Stanley was beaming! Jeff did not make the newspaper article, but we know what is important.
Hazak Hazak marks a transition. We celebrate being strong enough to get this far, and we encourage each other to be strong enough to make it to the next transition. Although 100 is just a number, it is noteworthy, and I hope we will still celebrate even more transitions with Eleanor. By the way, in the parsha, Jacob lived to 110. Eleanor, you are still young!
Rabbi Mandel greeted one and all, and gave short words of Torah, and of Eleanor,
“Parshat Va'yechi is a reunion of Joseph's family in Egypt, and this coincides with the Davis family, and the community of Newport having a reunion in honor of Eleanor's 100th birthday.
“Today we finished the book of Genesis and said Hazak-be strong. Eleanor is the perfect person to teach us how to be strong, since she has shown great strength during her 100 year life journey."
Next Bob Davis spoke from the Bimah, “Rabbi Mandel, you’ve done an A plus job describing something I felt but could not put into words. Your message was spot on. We should all consider ourselves extremely blessed when we are born with two parents. Parents and extended family guide us and provide us with an education and a pathway forward in leading a fulfilling Life. In our case, a life built on the tenants of our faith in doing mitzvah.”
Bob then thank Jim Herstoff and Captain Howard Goldman for the honors that the family received, and then went to his prepared remarks.
He thanked the Rabbi and the Presidents of the congregation for the opportunity to speak and gave a shout out to this writer for “Keeping us expats informed on the teachings of Rabbi Mandel on a weekly basis allowing us to feel connected to our roots.”
“The Last time I addressed the congregation was June 11, 1960, when I said, ‘Today on my Bar Mitzvah.’ Over the years I have been on this platform for some of the happiest days of my life. On this very spot I was married to my wonderful wife Susan, under a Chuppah whose new cover was donated by my family as a memorial to my late aunt Mollie.
“Thirty-one years ago, during a Shabbat service we named my eldest daughter Josepha Havah. Twenty-seven years ago we did the same for my youngest Chaya Tybeleh. Today clearly is one of the happiest moments in our family's history when we have a chance to celebrate with the congregation this august moment when the 7th child of Samuel and Celia Meierovitz reached 100 years of age. So, to begin, please join me in reciting a truly joyous blessing “Baruch …”
“Like most Newport Jewish families, ours was created by my great, great grandparents on the Meierovitz side arriving from what is now the Ukraine and my great grandfather Kosch arriving from Hungary. Adolph Kosch became the sexton of the congregation (I have no idea what that title implied). My Grandparents, Samuel and Celia stood with others to prevent the New York congregation from locking the building up.
“In addition, my Mom, and our entire Davis Family take great pride that my father, the NY interloper, became the President of the congregation and served for a number of years in that capacity. So you see why being here today is so special to my mother.
“I thought I would share with you some reflections that came to me about Birthdays and Time knowing that we would all be together in this truly special place to the world and our beloved country.
“I assume that in August of 1790 our first President, George Washington stood where I am standing, gave one of the most powerful speeches given by a US President on Human rights. As a little kid, I always felt that this moment in US History was very far away from my own reality. As I grew older I realized that the timeline between that day and myself was short indeed. 100 years passed from when he uttered ‘the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.’
“In 1891 my great grandfather Adolph Kosch arrived in the US from Szeged, Hungary. His daughter Celia and John followed afterward as did his first child from his second marriage (my great grandmother died in childbirth in Hungary). My grandmother who was a young woman who landed in Philadelphia but was soon summoned to Newport to bring up her half brothers and sisters. Somewhere along the way she met my grandfather, Samuel Meierovitz and married him. Their 7th out of 8 children was Eleanor Dorothy Davis, who was born on December 21, 1918. As we know she has now lived 100 years.
“So, stop and think about the timeline. In just two of my mother's lifetimes we are back to good old George on our Bimah. I would say That is actually a very short time.
“My second reflection goes to many of my contemporaries who are here in shul today. We were all born after WWII, baby boomers. Most of the folks who fought in that war have past. They fought against HATE and bigotry. My mother has lived through WWII, The Korean War, The Vietnam War and two Gulf Wars. I assume that my father felt that he put his life on the line in the shark infested waters of the South Pacific to put an end to the root causes of war. I am 71 and so in just that amount of time it seem the Western World has forgotten what pushed the buttons of nationalism, hate and genocide.
“One has only to look at the paper daily to see the rise of anti-Semitism around the world. What seemed like a long time ago has turned out to be just a brief moment in time before old ignorance raised its ugly head again. George Santayana as we are often reminded said, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.
“Two years ago, Susan and I stood looking in horror at the mass graves located next to the great synagogue and at the sculpted bronze shoes lined by the Danube River in Budapest where what was left of the Hungarian Jewish population was disposed before the allies arrived. It gives our entire family much pain knowing that both Hungary and Russia have condemned themselves once again to relive History.
“I have learned that in life happiness many times is bracketed by sadness. As Jews we have learned to enjoy the good times like today but also accept sadness as an essential part of life. It is ironic that today our family says Kaddish for Samuel and Celia's second child, a daughter and my mother's sister Bertha Meierovitz, Shayna bat Yisrael, may her memory be a blessing.”
Shabbat last week was a three torah affair. The day was a confluence of Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh for the new month of Tevet and Hanukkah. The first Torah was for the parsha, the second for the Rosh Hodesh reading and the third for the Hanukkah reading. Things got so crowded at the ark that we danced a minuet so we could proceed to the bimah in the correct order. We needed a traffic choreographer to keep things in order. In Rabbi Marc Mandel’s absence, Sam Spencer stepped up to the plate. With aplomb, he directed our minuet, layned, and gave us words of Torah. Sam thanked me for sitting with one of the torahs on the bimah, which we don’t usually do at Touro. It was a mitzvah. Giving people an opportunity to perform a mitzvah seems like a good idea. Mitzvot are equal opportunity employers! The challenge for someone giving a sermon, and the challenge in life, is to come up with a message that helps us to harmonize disparate elements and experiences, hopefully ending on a positive note. It does not always work out that way, either in life or in shul. Sam Spencer was up to the challenge. Sam said that the unifying theme for the day was self-sacrifice. In the parsha, Judah was willing to sacrifice his life to guarantee Benjamin’s safety in Egypt. The Maccabees, he said, were sacrificing themselves for an idea, that the Almighty is above us. This really bothered the Greeks. The Greeks, if we look at what they did, glorified the individual, and they just could not understand the approach of the Jews. Is this an accurate portrayal of the Greeks and the Jews at that time? Does it matter? Sometimes the lesson we learn is more important that what actually happened. In the previous examples, self-sacrifice was a matter of life and death. If we insist on that, it would be impossible for most of us to be self-sacrificing. Sam told us that our rabbis believed that going out of our way, or beyond what was expected, is also a form of self-sacrifice. Tevet is the darkest month of the year. In the Temple, Sam said, the menorahs had to burn through the night. Extra care had to be taken to keep the flame going. Some people go out of their way at considerable sacrifice to care for an ill child or an elderly parent. Sam encouraged us to approach what seems burdensome with joy, enthusiasm and optimism. May you have the opportunity to perform many mitzvot with joy, enthusiasm and optimism! Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!
On Shabbat, Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke about Hanukkah. He said that in the Talmud, in the middle of the Hanukkah discussion, the sages started to talk about Joseph being thrown into the pit, which was in today’s parsha. Sounds like a case of Talmudus Interruptus! What could Hanukkah have in common with the story of Joseph?
Reuben threw Joseph into pit to prevent their brothers from killing Joseph. The torah not only says that the pit was empty, but also that it had no water in it. Why did the torah add the line about water? Our rabbi’s believed that every word in the torah is important. The challenge is to explain why.
In this case the rabbis said that the pit had snakes and scorpions. That leads to a problem. Why did Reuben throw Joseph in to save his life if the pit was dangerous? The answer, and one member of the congregation guessed it, was that Reuben did not know about the snakes and scorpions. The pit was deep, not everything was visible.
Hanukkah, the festival of light, is about removing the darkness in our world. To share the light, we display the menorah, candles ablaze, so it can be seen from the street! In Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood, the stone houses have niches in the outside walls for the chanukyiot. If Reuben had the right menorah, he might not have used the pit!
Rabbi Mandel said that we, like Reuben, don’t always see the big picture; often our emotions get in the way. He urged us to step back and make sure we see the big picture!
Visitor Joel Plaut, from the five town area of Long Island, had his own version of the big picture. He was attending a bar mitzvah at Young Israel of Woodmere. The shul has expanded over the years, and encompassed several buildings. When he got to the door there was a shul-led security.
He said, “I want to go to services.” and was told, “We have seven services, which one?”
“I want to go the 8:30 service.” “We have two at 8:30. Which one?”
“I want to go to the service with a bar mitzvah.” “They both have bar mitzvahs. Which one?”
Joel was getting a little impatient,“Just show me where they are!” When he got to the services, he realized that he had missed the big picture. He was at the wrong shul. The bar mitzvah was at Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst!
Here’s hoping you see the big picture..in five towns, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, and Newport!