Monday, December 30, 2019

Not By Might

Not By Might
At Jewish Newport
December 28, 2019
Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine

Over 30 people enjoyed Shabbat services at Touro Synagogue yesterday. Mostly they were attentive to the Rabbi’s grandson, who joyfully romped around the synagogue. From a child’s eye view, the cushions on the bimah seats are a lot of fun to jump on and pull off. On the way to the ark to see the Torah, the benches in front of the bimah look like a fantastic playground, and much more fun than  the ark, with the opportunity to climb and hang out.

The rest of us had to follow the rules of decorum, shivering a bit in our seats.

The first reference to the miracle of the oil burning for 8 days is in the Talmud, written 600 years after the event. speculates that it was mentioned to provide a supernatural basis for the holiday. Earlier sources for Hanukkah are the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees which are not in the tanakh  but are part of the apocrypha in the Christian bible, and Josephus.

In his words of Torah, Rabbi Marc Mandel told us that the holiday of Hanukkah snuck up on us, and that in the Talmud, the rabbis asked, “What is hanukkah?” It didn’t have biblical roots and was one of the last holidays added to the Jewish calendar. Purim, also a late addition, had the book of Esther. One of the discussions is about how we light the hanukkah menorah? Should we light all the candles on the first day, and then one less each day, or should we start with one candle, and add a candle each day? And since the miracle was that the candles lasted 7 additional days, why don’t we light 7 rather than 8 candles. In the Talmud, a discussion might extend over hundreds of years, so the differences about the ways of lighting the candles are described early on in the Mishnah, but the reasons are discussed much later.

The school of Shammai believed we should start with 8 candles to reflect the way the offerings in the Temple were made on Sukkot (Hanukkah is a delayed Sukkot).  The school if Hillel took the position that one should always add to a mitzvah, and increasing the number of lights was the logical position. As was usual, we follow Hillel. Rabbi Mandel added that we should always try to accomplish more in life and to constantly aim higher.

During Hanukkah we add al hanisim to the Amidah. The short paragraph carefully avoids describing the Hanukkah miracle. We also add full Hallel each day. The great miracle of hanukkah is that God enabled the Jews, under the leadership of the Maccabees, to throw off the yoke of the Syrian Greeks and to restore the defiled Temple. To emphazize the spiritual victory, the hanukkah haftarah (from Zechariah) ends with, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the LORD of Hosts.לֹ֤א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת” This is a warning against hero worship. In Judaism, we are each individually created in the image of God. We are responsible for our own behavior, and are each capable of being heroes. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

And Sarah Laughed

And Sarah Laughed
At Jewish Newport
November 16, 2019
Thanks to Beth Ginsburg Levine for editing

Thanks to the Temple Israel Sharon MA Minyan and 
The New York Times 
For sharing their joke collections

Abraham Entertaining the Angels
Rembrandt van Rijn 1656
National Gallery of ArtNotice Sarah in the door,
laughing to herself.

What a difference a week makes! After the hullabaloo last week with the visit from Congregation Shearith Israel, an aufruf, and the chance to see three sets of Myer Myers rimonim, we were back to our seasonal routine. A few hardy tourists and congregants braved the cold temperature. 

But the parsha was far from routine. The Avot and Imahot (Patriarchs and Matriarchs) soap opera continued. Sarah laughed at the announcement that she would have a child, Lot’s sons-in-law (to their regret) shrugged off the bad news that the destruction of Sodom was imminent, Abimelach could hardly believe that Abraham passed his wife Sarah off as a sister, Sarah convinced Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, and Abraham was ready to obey the divine command to sacrifice his son Isaac, who willingly cooperated. After reading the parsha, I was eager for some schnapps at Kiddush.

During his words of Torah, Touro Synagogue’s  Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke about laughter,

“Does G-d play favorites? We can see in this week’s Parsha that when she [Sarah] heard that she was going to have a child in a year, she laughed. God said, ‘Why are you laughing? Don't you trust me?’

“But Avraham also laughed in last week’s Parsha, and there was no divine anger. This question is addressed the Talmud on Masechet Megillah page 9A.

“In the year 304 before the common era, the Greek king Ptolemy gathered 70 Jewish scholars in 70 different rooms and asked them to translate the Torah. Miraculously they all gave the same translation with a few changes. One of the changes was that instead of saying that Sarah laughed inside her head they wrote, ‘And Sarah laughed among her relatives.’ Why did they make this change? ‘They made this change to distinguish between Sarah’s laughter, which God criticized, and Abraham’s laughter, to which no reaction is recorded. Based on the change, Sarah’s laughter was offensive because she voiced it to others.’ They thought that the king would say, ‘God plays favorites because he was angry with Sarah not Avraham.’

“Why do people laugh? It's an interesting subject. You don't have to learn how to laugh. We are born with the capacity to laugh. It occurs unconsciously. You don't decide to do it.

“What makes a person laugh? Plato said it was connected to the superiority theory. A person laughs when they feel superior to someone else, and that's why many comedians will put people down and get a lot of laughs. Emanuel Kant noticed that there are many jokes that are not part of the superiority theory.  According to Kant, people laugh because they're surprised when something unexpected happens. This could be the reason why Sarah laughed. She laughed because she was totally surprised by the idea that she was going to have a child at her age. 

‘Let's hope this year will be a year of laughter, not laughter at someone else’s expense but because of good things and good news. 

“Shabbat Shalom!” 

At kiddush, in addition to some schnapps, I got an earful from Mrs. Namel Chadash.

“Listen, mein kindele, ven Rebbe Mandel talks about laughter, it vould be nice if he vas funny. Doesn’t he know that people laugh when they hear other people laugh? Wus good are Plato and Kant if dey don’t know this?

“Our ima Sarah was in shock when the good news came from the ubershter. Fortunately, Avraham had some jokes ready. ‘Ven we tie the holy toira mit a belt, vos do we get?  A safer toira.’ G-d laughed, and so did Sarah!

“And in last week's parsha do you think that Avraham laughed when he got de same good news? No vay. He cried out, ‘G-d, give me a break.’ But his ashas chayel, Sarah, vas ready, ‘Ven you play tic tac toe mit de Almighty, who gets the x’s and who gets the o’s? Hashem oz li’amo yitan, G-d will give strength (oz) to his people.’ G-d, and Avraham, cracked up.

“Vile I’m giving advice, Mr. Aaron, I vant to tell you, ‘You are longvinded. Ven you write for Jewish Newport, you don’t need to include the kitchen sink.’ Which reminds me, ‘Vus is the best day of the week to cook? Vat, you don’t know? Fry-day, so you can get ready for Shabbas Choidosh!’

“A gute Shabbos.”

And Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Pomegranates and People

Pomegranates and People
At Touro Synagogue
Thanks to Beth Ginsburg Levine for editing
On Friday, November 8, 2019, Congregation Shearith Israel CSI traveled from New York to Newport, Rhode Island for a three day Shabbaton with Congregation Jeshuat Israel CJI. The New Yorkers were led by Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik, Parnas Louis Solomon and Sexton Zachariah Edinger and were accompanied by executive director Barbara Reiss. Much work was done behind the scenes in New York and Newport to ensure a successful weekend.
The visitors were greeted by CJI’s Rabbi Marc Mandel and co-presidents Louise Ellen Teitz and Paul Tobak. Newport caterer Paula made sure we were well fed.
On Friday night Rabbi Soloveichik kicked things off with a description of one of his heroes, Adolphus Simeon Solomons. His stationery store in Washington, D.C., supplied paper to the government. Solomons was friendly with Presidents Lincoln, Grant and Arthur. Grant offered him the opportunity to become governor of Washington, D.C. He declined because he thought the responsibility would interfere with his observance of Shabbos.
When Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address he made two copies; he made three additional handwritten copies for people who had requested them. Two copies bear the watermark of Solomons’ stationery store.
The store also had a photography studio. They had not managed to get a good photograph of President Lincoln so Adolphus asked him to visit. It wasn't easy in those days to take a photograph. During his visit Lincoln regaled those present with jokes. The photographer was not happy with the results so Lincoln suggested that Adolphus tell jokes instead. The result was the last picture taken before Lincoln’s assassination. Jews in the United States were among the first to formally mourn Lincoln, who died on Saturday morning, April 15, 1865. Jews learned of it on their way to synagogue, and recited Kaddish for Lincoln that morning.
At Friday night dinner the highlight was Hungarian strudel prepared by Paula, which got rave reviews. I was sitting next to William Bernstein from CSI who said, “That was the best Hungarian strudel I have ever had.” His wife commented, “What about my strudel?” Mr. Bernstein told me his mother was born in Zabludow,Poland, and that he went there in 1995. I visited Zabludow in 2018 with a friend, Alan Kaul, who had a grandparent born there. Only one or two matzevahs remain in its Jewish cemetery. Before WWII, Zabladow had a famous wooden synagogue.

I also met Shlomit. When I mentioned that I visited Poltava, Ukraine. She said, “My grandfather, Moshe Nachum Jerusalimski , a rabbi in Kielce, Poland was buried in Churol Poltava.” Churol is now Khorol, Ukraine. I drove through Khorol in 2018 on my way to Poltava from Kyiv. Vitaliy Buryak, who was my guide when I visited Gorodishche, Ukraine, where my grandfather Jacob Pokross was born, wrote about Khorol at He mentioned a son of Rabbi Jerusalimski, David Moiseyevich Yerusalimskiy, who was a leader in a prayer house.  

Rabbi Moshe Jerusalijski was very well respected In Kielce, as told In the Kielce Yizkor book. He worked hard to defend the Jews community from pogroms instigated anti-semitic rumors during the turmoil of World War I in 1914 and 1915. The Yizkor mentions that he moved to Khorol to join his family, and includes the rabbi’s diary from 1914-15. After World War II, forty-two Jews and two non-jews were murdered in a notorious pogrom in Kielce on July 4, 1946. 

Louise Ellen Teitz and Rabbi Mandel warmly welcomed our guests, and Parnas Louis Solomon responded in kind.
On Saturday we davened in Sephardic fashion with siddurim brought by CSI, led by Sexton Zachariah Edinger. Zachariah pointed out that the tunes used were similar to the tunes used in the 18th century at CSI and CJI. Among the differences from an Ashkenazic service were that the Torah was raised at the beginning of the Torah service and the musaf amidah was read by the leader with the congregation following along and not repeated.
During the service, a family from Illinois celebrated an aufruf. Candy rained down on the groom, and friends and congregants celebrated by dancing on the bimah. This family sponsored a congregational kiddush at the Levi Gale House. Because the Levi Gale House was in use, the Shabbaton lunch was at the Newport Historical Society next-door in the Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House (1730) in the rear of the building.
Society director Ruth S. Taylor told us that the chapel was moved from the corner of Touro and Spring Streets in 1884. It's one of at least three buildings around Touro Synagogue that have been relocated. The Levi Gale House and the house across from it at the corner of Division and Touro Streets were also moved. If they had all been moved on the same day that would’ve caused quite a traffic jam! On the wall was a clock made for the church in 1832 by William Claggett. Another Claggett clock is in the Redwood Library, and one of the Claggett family homes is on Bridge St. Rabbi Mandel briefly spoke about the Touro family, America’s first philanthropists.
Saturday afternoon we enjoyed seudah shelishit (third meal) at 4 PM. Many of us had to loosen our belts before we proceeded across the street for the maariv service.
At 7 PM we attended a discussion about three pairs of Myer Myers rimonim on display. (Rimonim means pomegranates.) Two of the pairs are used at CJI and one at CSI. They are rarely used becausethey are too precious and fragile for regular use. Holly Snyder, Curator, American Historical Collections and Lincoln/Hay Collections, Brown University, moderated. The panel included frequent Touro visitor Professor Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis University, Marietta Cambareri, Senior Curator of European Sculpture, Jetskalina H. Phillips Curator of Judaica Art of Europe, and Simona Di Nepi, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Curator of Judaica Art of Europe, both of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
There were many observations and speculations about the rimonim because there is a lack of documentation about them and about their creator Myer Myers.
Professor Sarna told us that Meyr Meyers was probably of Ashkenazic origin. This led to a discussion of the composition of early American congregations. Although they followed the Sephardic ritual their membership was mixed and by no means totally Sephardic. In Philadelphia, Bernard Gratz was the parnas (president) of Mikveh Israel when their first building was built in the 1770s. The decision was made to follow the Sephardic ritual, probably because that was the ritual that was used in America at the time. This continued until the first Ashkenazic congregation was founded in the United States which was not until the late 1780s.
Jonathan Sarna speculated that in colonial America this pragmatic solution was possible because there were no rabbis in America. The rabbis present remained silent!
Sarna also mentioned that Isaac Touro, CJI’s spiritual leader when the synagogue was built, was a loyalist during the American Revolution. America was very divided about independence, and many people were neutral. Loyalists were persecuted and many left the country including Isaac Touro, who returned to Jamaica, where he died. After America gained its independence, loyalists who remained did their best to distance themselves from that part of their past. CJI member Naftali Hart was also a loyalist. He was killed during an American raid on British-occupied Long Island.
The speakers agreed that Touro Synagogue was a unique building which broke new ground in both American and Jewish American history.
Philadelphia, Newport and New York all had rimonim made by Myer Myers. This reflects how closely the congregations kept in touch. Myer Myers also had family relations both in Newport and Philadelphia.
After morning services on Sunday many of the CSIers visited the Breakers before heading home.
Bringing together the rimonim was a remarkable and symbolic feat. The important part of the Shabbaton was bringing together two congregations.
We look forward to continued exchange visits as CSI and CJI work together in harmony to preserve our mutual history and to assure our future.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah Morning, 2019
At Jewish Newport
Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine

On Shemini Atzeret we had many visitors. Many were from Israel. In Israel many Jewish holidays are a day shorter than in the diaspora. I think this has something to do with Google Calendar.  When traveling, he custom is that the rules at home prevail; for our Israeli visitors Shemini Atzeret was the last day of Sukkot, and the following day was a regular day. For the rest of us, including a couple of medical students visiting from Westchester County, the next day was Simchat Torah. 

Rabbi Marc Mandel of Newport’s Touro Synagogue introduced Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret with a short Torah message. He observed that, “In the diaspora, dukhanen (the priestly blessing given by the cohenim from a platform) only takes place during holidays, while in Israel it is done daily, sometimes more than once a day. Rabbi Moses Isserles said that the Cohanim must be happy when they give the blessing, and they can only be truly happy on a holiday. Sukkot is called z’man simchateinu, the season of our joy. All festivals have nicknames; Passover is the season of our freedom, and Shavuot is the season of the giving of our Torah.” 

Dukhanen comes from the Hebrew word dukhan, which means platform.

In Israel, said Rabbi Doron Perez, there is something special that increases our joy. That, of course, is not to say that Israelis are happy. They have many reasons not to be. But there is still some special sauce in Israel. 

Rabbi Mandel introduced Yizkor by saying that, “Our ancestors looked to a future where we would be happy.”

I’ve recently been reading “On Communism” by historian Richard Pipes. Ancient Greece was “the first country to recognize private property.” It did not take long for Greek thinkers to blame the desire for property for the destruction of a mythical Golden Age where everyone shared their possessions, things were peaceful and people were happy. Plato envisioned what a perfect society looked like, which not only included sharing possessions, but wives and children. Karl Marx added that not only was a perfect society possible, but that we know how to do it. Putting this into effect has caused a lot of unhappiness.

On Simchat Torah morning, we happily had a minyan with the help of the visitors from Westchester County (Many of the Israelis flew home.) At a breakneck pace we joyously made the hakafot with the Torahs and proceeded to transition from the end to the beginning of the five Books of Moses.  We were out of breath at the end, but happy.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

At Jewish Newport Yom Kippur, 2019

At Jewish Newport
Yom Kippur, 2019
Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine

Where will we be tomorrow?

At Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, we arrived to candlelight supplemented by electric sconces, giving an orange aura. We seemed transported to a different place and time. Rabbi Marc Mandel introduced Kol Nidre with a few words about tomorrow, 

“There is a story that you might have heard about a pilot who makes an announcement during a flight, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have good news and bad news. The good news is we are making good time. The bad news is we were lost.’ 

‘This can be a metaphor for our lives today in the 21st-century. We are making great time. Everything is moving so quickly. Today, when you wake up in the morning, you can purchase anything you want on Amazon and have it in your hands by noon. Our connections to the internet and the world are speeding up. We’re going from 3G to 4G to 5G. But do we know where we are going or are we lost?

“Someone once said, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.’ We’re going on all these different roads but we’re not sure in which direction we are headed.

‘One day a year, on Yom Kippur, we come to our senses and we slow down. Recently I’ve been reading the biography of Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple who reinvented the computer, the cell phone and music, by Walter Isaacson, who also wrote biographies of Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger.

‘In Job’s biography, Isaacson has a chapter called Think Different. This, as you might recall, was the advertising slogan that Steve Jobs approved for Apple. This advertising campaign didn’t show computers and didn’t talk about processor speed or memory. It wasn’t about computers.It was about the creative things people can do by doing things in a different way.  That is really what Yom Kippur is about, one day a year we think differently. No lunch meetings, no running around, no business meetings, but we think about how we can do things differently for the new year.

‘It’s a powerful day. That’s why the Talmud says that Yom Kippur is really a happy day not a mournful day, because it celebrates the potential of human creativity.

‘Someone said, “You don’t have to know where you are to be there, but it is helpful  to know where you are if you wish to be someplace else.” On Yom Kippur we declare that we want to be someplace else. We want to think different and be creative with our lives. This year let us strive to enhance Yom Kippur, to think different, and to rejoice in our new life’s direction. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.”

After Kol Nidre, the overhead lights came on and the auro was no more. Were we still in the same place?

After Ko Nidre, I visited the synagogue wing where Jackie Mandel was leading junior congregation. She sat with the children in a circle. She told the children that they were here to learn as much as possible about Judaism so they could teach their children. This resonated with the children who glimpsed the future and imagined being parents. The children had been present when the Torahs were removed from the ark, and she reminded them that Rabbi Mandel said they were welcome in shul anytime. Then an important question popped out, “When are the snacks?”

The next day, Rabbi Mandel introduced Yizkor with three thoughts about people to remember, the early founders of Touro who have no one to say Yizkor for them, the Yom Kippur War’s fallen soldiers and Holocaust victims who have no one to say Yizkor for them and they have no burial place to visit them. He complimented Saul Woythaler for reading the names of the Touro founders, and told us that it was appropriate for our historic community to take a broad approach during Yizkor. At his request, I then read about Dolhinev, Belarus,

Remembering the Jewish Community of  Dolhinev

“Dolhinev, Belarus was in the Vilna District, Poland, between the first and second World Wars.

“By 1667 there was an organized Jewish community of 485. In 1792, it became part of Russia. During the nineteenth century Jews had concessions and also went into trade, exporting grain flax and fruit through Danzig. There were anti-Jewish riots in the 1880s.

“During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jews left.  After World War I Dolhinov was near the border with the Soviet Union. This prevented trade, making economic conditions difficult. The thirties brought the depression and an increasingly anti-Jewish Polish government. 

“Nachum Lankin recalled in the Dolhinev Yizkor book, ‘A Yiddische Folkbank was established. A volunteer Bikkur Cholim committee visited the sick. A volunteer, Linat Hatzedek, arranged places to stay for poor visitors to the town. Achnasat Kala accepted donations for poor brides' dowries. A Hesed Shel Emet was established by Hevreh Kadisha to take care of the burials and to support the family members.

‘A few days before Passover, there was a committee that contained young women and men who would go to all the homes to collect money for Passover. They called it The Flower of Passover. For this they also received money from the town's residents who now lived in the US. Many families were helped by this organization. Many times, the mara d'atra [rabbi] distributed the money, and it would be done secretly, so that the families wouldn't be embarrassed about receiving donations. These missions were all done voluntarily without the backing of any of the other town's institutions.’

“The town was occupied by the Russians in Sept 1939 and organized Jewish life ended.The Germans arrived at the end of June 1941. In September the Rabbi and 18 other men were murdered. A ghetto was set up on March 3, 1942. The Jewish community was destroyed in three incidents. On March 28, 1942, 1500 Jews were shot in the market square. According to Zelig Dimmishtein, who was just a child and had not been present,

‘When [I] got to Dolhinov [after the first shechita] the snow on the ground was not white - it was red from Yiddishe blood from when they killed out everyone the day before. The streets were empty. That evening was Pesach. They locked up the windows and they recited the Haggadah. The next morning they went out and dug mass graves to bury the dead.

‘Every year since then I sit on Pesach and read the Haggadah - Ilu lo yotzianu miMitzraim - had You not taken us out of Egypt... what was that??!!  Absolutely nothing. When I compare Yitziat Mitzrayim to what we went through in Europe - Mitzrayim was nothing!!’

‘On May 5th, 1200 more were murdered and finally on May 22 the third shechita- the remaining three hundred perished. 

‘Among the few who escaped was Moshe Furman.  Moshe could not save his 25 year old wife Henia and their daughter Rakhel, who was not even one year old, and his wife’s parents, Shimon Kusinitz and his wife Sara, maiden name Berkovitz.  Before the first Shekhita, he found them a hiding place with a Polish noblewoman, but during the second shechita, their hiding place in the ghetto was discovered. Moshe’s father-in-law Shimon Kusinitz, was a brother of CJI members Rita Slom’s grandmother, Dora Kusinitz Adelson, and of Aaron Ginsburg’s grandmother, Dvorshe Kusinitz Ginsburg. 

‘Moshe Furman later met a woman in Minsk with a child. They married and later made their way to Palestine on the ship Exodus.”

After services, Rabbi Lowell Weiss mentioned a woman who had moved from the North Shore of Boston to Dartmouth and who was arranging for the translation of a Yizkor book for a town in Poland, where his wife Pattys’ family was from. A light lit up, “Do you mean Carol Marlin?”  He did! The town was Kurov, Poland. Carol has moved around a lot. Her father owned Simon Plumbing in Fall River. She knows more about my Fall River families than I, both on the Pokross side and on Kusinitz (Maury) side. 

Jewish Newport looks forward to being with you in the coming year and sharing with you as you think, think different and remember.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Rosh Hashanah 2019

At Jewish Newport
Rosh Hashanah, 2019
By Aaron Ginsburg
edited by Beth Levine
Smoke gets in your eyes
(a video of is at
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Marc Mandel of Newport’s Touro Synagogue spoke about blindness,
“In olden days, we used to receive many magazines; Time, Business Week, Parents. Today in the digital age, not so much. Jackie still receives People Magazine
“She recently shared an article about a graduate from Harvard Law School named Haben Girma.
“You might wonder, ‘Why an article about a graduate from Harvard Law School?’ Each year there are many graduates from Harvard Law School. Haben Girma is special and unique because she is blind and deaf, the first blind and deaf person to graduate from Harvard Law School.
“Why talk about blindness on Rosh Hashanah? Is there a connection between blindness and Rosh Hashanah? We read this morning about the binding of Yitzhak, Isaac who became blind. What caused his blindness? The simple explanation is old age.
“But the Midrash digs deeper. One explanation is that Isaac became blind from the second-hand smoke of his brother’s idol worship offerings. Another Midrash says he was blinded by the tears of the angels when he was on the mountain with his father.
“Sometimes we don’t see what’s right in front of us. In tomorrow’s Torah reading: וַתֵּ֨רֶא שָׂרָ֜ה Sarah saw the bad behavior of Hager’s son, Yishmael. Why didn’t Abraham see what was going on? Why wasn’t he aware? Maybe he didn’t want to see. After all, Yishmael was his son.
“Later, when Yishmael is dying, Hagar doesn’t see the well. וַיִּפְקַ֤ח עֵינֶ֔יהָ. And God opened her eyes - she couldn’t see by herself. The whole reading today is about seeing and not seeing.
“But the opposite of not seeing is seeing too much. The Misha tells us in Avot to cultivate an ayin tova, a good eye, like Avraham and not a bad eye like Balam, not bad in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense - always looking to see what other people have, that’s a bad eye. Can we learn to be satisfied with what we have - or are we looking for more?
“Every day we praise God פּוֹקֵחַ עִוְרִים who opens [the eyes] of the blind. A recent National Geographic article about blindness gave hope that some day the blind will see.”
God opens our eyes, but will we use them to see?
When Rabbi Mandel said ”second-hand smoke,” many of us opened our eyes, perhaps in search of a fire. If we were not listening and seeing up until then, we gave the rabbi our full attention.
Second-hand smoking or passive smoking refers to the effects of tobacco on people who are present when someone is smoking. One of the ways to study it is to study the spouses of smokers. At team from Dana–Farber/Harvard Cancer Center coined “third-hand smoke” to describe the effect of the residue left after the smoke is gone. I suspect that at this very moment someone is trying to define, “fourth-hand smoke.”
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Mandel discussed how we see Israel.
No one said it would be easy
“‘Trial’ has more than one meaing
  • A formal examination of evidence by a judge and a jury, in order to decide guilt in a case of criminal or civil proceedings.
  • A test of the performance, qualities or suitability of someone or something.
‘Today we will use the second definition. We look at Abraham’s trial [The Binding of Isaac] as a test of his ability to follow the will of God.
‘But that was not his only trial. The Mishnah tells us that Abraham had 10 trials from God. We know some of them: Lech Lecha (leave your home), circumcision when old, the war against the kings. Most commentaries say that Avraham’s final test was from today’s torah reading, the Akeda, the binding of Isaac.
‘But I heard a class from Rabbi J. J. Schacter from Yeshiva University, who said that wasn’t Avraham’s final test.
‘You know your Tanakh! What happens after the Akeda? Sarah dies and Avraham has to bury her, and that was his last trial, trying to get a burial place for his wife in the land of Israel.
‘It was difficult for him because the local people (Hebrew) didn’t want to give Avraham any land, and it was a trial for him to see if he would stick with it.
“Rabbi Schacter taught us, מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים ‘Whatever happens to our fathers happens to us.’ Anything dealing with the Land of Israel is difficult and not easy.
“That’s our test today in the diaspora. What is our relationship with Israel? Here in the diaspora, we can say, “That's not our problem.” Or we could say, “I don’t like the image of Israel these days. It’s not what it used to be.” And we could also say, “I don’t think we should support Israel under today’s conditions.” And there are Jews saying all these things.
“That’s why it’s a test. It’s not supposed to be easy.
“Sure, it was easy in the days after the Holocaust to support Israel, but today the survivors are barely alive and Israel’s demographics have changed.”

Among the most difficult trials is the loss of a child. Among those at shul during Rosh Hashanah was Sima Menora, who lost two teenage daughters, Rikki and Rachelli, in a plane crash. In their memory, she founded DROR. “DROR – the Hebrew acronym for Derech Rikki and Racheli (in English, Rikki and Racheli’s Way) - was...inspired by many of the traits that defined Rikki and Racheli in their all-too-short lives, DROR is an organization that embraces the spirit of activity and empowerment to benefit the lives of other adolescent girls.” @jewishnewport @newportri