Saturday, February 16, 2019

Winning the game

Winning the game At Touro Synagogue February 9, 2019 By  AARON GINSBURG                                                                                                    ALSO ON FACEBOOK

Wedding of Beth Ginsburg and Alan
Levine, January 15, 1978 Newport, RI
l-r Aaron, Judy & Beth Ginsburg, Alan
Levine, Dorothy Pokross Ginsburg
The Patriots did it again. But Rabbi Marc Mandel’s sermon was not about winning a game of football but about winning the game of life.
“Well, the Patriots are the Super Bowl champs again! Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady have created a dynasty, and this year we had a Jewish MVP most valuable player, Julian Edelman. We are living through an amazing time in New England sports, with the Patriots, the Red Sox and the revived Celtics.
“How much of a role do sports play in our lives? Rabbi Menachem Penner, the head rabbi at Yeshiva University, asks an interesting question. Is it ok to pray for your favorite sports team? Rabbi Penner says there are two ways to look at this.
“On the one hand, praying for a sports team could be a wasted prayer. The Midrash says, you only get so many prayers. Let's say a person prays for a fancy sports car. Then, when they get the car, they realize how expensive it is to fix. What should they have prayed for? A fancy sports car that never breaks down. You only get so many prayers.
“On the other hand, says Rabbi Penner, people relate to God in different ways, and perhaps some people relate to God through sports.
“Rabbi Tzvi Sobolofsky says that sports are good way to relax, but if you elevate sports, what is it taking the place of? Rabbi Sobolofsky suggests watching the Super Bowl without the commercials and the halftime show, thus gaining an hour to learn Torah. Rabbi Sobolofsky says that Super Bowl Sunday is like Yom Kippur for him. For several hours, no one calls him or bothers him.
“Let's learn from these rabbis how to manage sports in our lives.”
Our lives are finite. If we fail we may get a second chance, but we can’t depend on it. We need to use our time wisely to accomplish our goals, while leaving room for second chances and new experiences and challenges. And we need to make the most of each experience.
In my family Super Bowl Sunday has a special significance. My sister Beth married Alan Levine on Superbowl Sunday, January 15, 1978. I’m not sure I was aware of the superbowl at the time. We were more worried about the winter weather. The evening before, when the visibility was close to zero, a plane crashed into the water while we were having a get together for the out of towners at the Sheraton Islander. The bartender on the top floor restaurant ran to the window to take a look.
During the last two weeks I have been traveling in Israel. Nature uses time effectively. A little rain and sun and Israel begins to bloom. I saw this when I visited Rosh Hanikra Beach Nature Reserve, which is near the border with Lebanon, adjacent to the Rosh Hanikra Grottoes.
As an Israeli patrol boat watched for trouble, amid the rocks, shore birds such as the anafa אנפה flew, soil clung and flowers poked out, including the persian cyclamen (rakefet, רקפת) and the crown anemone (kalanit metzuya כלנית מצויה). Both flowers became the theme of famous Israeli songs, Kaloniot at and Rakefet at
To use my time effectively, I am in contact with people constantly, by phone, WhatsApp, email and Facebook messenger. Sometime a chat group using WhatsApp is the easiest way to coordinate and share information. If there is not a language barrier it is easy to meet someone who is retired. Many people are overcommitted and have difficulty agreeing to a time or place until the last minute.
It’s helpful to have a base in Israel. Fortunately, Moshe bar Z’ev and his wife Carol Fuchs are providing a base in Jerusalem. They also provided a base in Luxor, Egypt last month. Moshe’s ancestors also came from Dokshitz, where many of Newport’s Jews originated.
Zvia Frankfurt, whose parents were from Dokshitz, helped arrange and accompanied me when I met Shoshana Meltzer Weinbaum and her daughter Yehudit, son Moshe and daughter-in-law Malka. Shoshana was born in Dokshitz and lived in Parafyanovo until she was 9 years old. She remembered some of my relatives. Parafyanovo is six miles from Dokshitz. Shoshana also identified people in pictures taken in the shtetl during the 1920s and 30s. She wrote a short chapter in the Dokshitz-Parafyanovo Yizkor book.
I have also met olim (immigrants to Israel) Linda Ben-Zvi from the United States, Michelle Slone and Aaron Polliack from South Africa, Yosef Malkin from Russia, and Regina Zhuk from Riga, Latvia. Regina is a Friedman and related to Newports’ Friedmans. They all trace their roots to Dokshitz. I had Shabbos dinner with Howard Feldman and family. Howard’s father was born in Glubokie (just to the north of Dokshitz).
Among the children of immigrants who were born in Dokshitz I met Nurit Azoulay, whose father Zvi Gilenson was born in Dokshitz (He wrote a chapter in the Yizkor book), Menachem Markman and his wife Avigail (Menachem’s father Zvi wrote four chapters in the Yizkor book), and Eitan Kremer (a Newport Friedman family relative).
Arie Henkin looking at map he made of
new section in Dokshitz (created about
In Lehavim I revisited Arie Henkin. Each time you visit someone you learn something new. Arie told me that his mother and brother were stranded in Dokshitz after his father left for Palestine in 1936. To get a visa his father said he was the father of an acquaintance already in Palestine. When his father tried to get a visa for his family to follow, a British official noticed a discrepancy and the visa was denied..
Arie and his mother were sent into exile by the Russians. The train left Parafyanovo on the day Germany invaded Russia. This involuntary exile saved their lives. Arie’s brother disappeared. He probably was arrested by the Russians, and killed by them at the time of the invasion. Arie and his mother made it to Palestine in 1946.
Arie’s story is in the recently published English translation of the Yizkor book.
May you manage your time and your blessings effectively!
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem
Thank you to Beth Ginsburg Levine for editing and to Zvia Frankfurt for helping with the names of the bird and flowers, Moshe Bar-Z'ev for musical insights, and Rabbi Marc Mandel of Touro Synagogue Newport, RI for Torah insights.

with Aaron Polliack
with Michelle Slone
with Regina Zhuk
with Nurit Azoulay
with Eitan Kremer
with Yosef Malkin

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Rabbi Mandel goes to the super bowl

Rabbi Mandel goes to the super bowl
at Touro Synagogue
February 2, 2019

Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine


It’s that time again. Super Bowl Sunday is approaching,  if you like to shop, it’s a good day. Many people will be preoccupied .

Is there a lesson that the New England Patriots can teach us?

On Shabbat, Rabbi Marc Mandel of Newport’s Touro Synagogue expounded,

“Tomorrow is the big game. Once again, the Patriots are in the Super Bowl. How do the Patriots make the Super Bowl so many times? Coach Belichick says that the reason is because every person on the team plays a role. They have great teamwork.

“If you look at the Torah, in the book of Genesis there was no teamwork. It was each person for himself. It was Adam vs Eve, Cain vs Abel, Sarah vs Hagar, Jacob vs Esau and Joseph against his brothers. But as soon as Exodus began, so did the teamwork. Miriam watches her brother Moses in the water and Aaron helps his younger brother lead the nation.

“Let us learn from the Torah and the Patriots that the secret to success is teamwork.”

When I was in Egypt admiring the pyramids, which were already a tourist attraction when the Children of Israel were there, I wondered how they were built. Some of my acquaintances can’t believe that the “primitive” ancient Egyptians could manage it, and infer that a visitor from outer space was involved. They may be under the impression that our technology means that we are smarter.

I stumbled on a video by Bettany Hughes with the answer.

Although the Egyptians didn’t have high tech there was plenty of labor at hand. The flooding of the Nile meant farm workers had almost six months a year available. It was a win win. They could make a little money and help ensure Pharaoh’s and Egypt’s second life.

The workers lived in a city built for them.  The work was very organized. The largest pyramid consisted of one million blocks. The blocks were quarried near the site of the pyramid. They were hauled on sleds by gangs of 20 workers, up a ramp as the pyramid got higher.  Each stone was finished after it was placed in its position.

In the drawings from ancient Egypt, as the blocks are being pulled, a man is shown pouring water on the sandy surface. Recent studies have shown that if the right amount of water is in the sand, about 5%, the amount of friction is reduced by almost half, meaning that fewer people can do the same work.

The work was dangerous. If a block slipped ahead of you, death or severe injury would result. The foremen got everyone to work a little harder by offering extra beer to the group that was the most productive. Ancient Egyptians and football fans will go the extra mile for a six pack.

Go Patriots!

May your sand and beer each have the optimum percentage of the appropriate liquid. And may each of you have the right amount of ruach (spirit) to be at the top of your game.

Shabbat Shalom from Shlomi, Israel

Friday, February 1, 2019

Is anybody listening?

Is anybody listening?
at Touro Synagogue
January 26, 2019

Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine

We have a natural tendency to tune out. It helps us move on, but might make us less likely to listen to other people’s problems. And if we don’t listen, we don’t do. On Shabbat, Rabbi Marc Mandel of Touro Synagogue, Newport, spoke about listening.

“This week, many people heard about the National Grid crisis in Newport, and this reminded me about the Parsha. In this week's parsha, Yitro, Moshe’s father in law, joined the Jewish people when he heard about the miracles that happened to the Jewish people.

“What exactly did Yitro hear that made him leave his home and join the Jewish nation? Was it the exodus from Egypt? Was it the 10 plagues? Or the splitting of the Red Sea? Or the manna from heaven? When Yitro heard one of these things, he was inspired to join the Jewish people.

“What do we hear in our lives? We hear so many things in our lives, on our computers, our phones, our TV's, but what do we really listen to?

“I heard on the news this week that the current crisis with National Grid is the longest since Hurricane Sandy. I was thinking to myself, I don't remember being displaced by Hurricane Sandy like I was this week? The reason is, during Hurricane Sandy, my home still had oil heat, so I wasn't displaced. But I never paid attention to that crisis because it didn't affect me.

“Do we only hear things that affect us? Are we able to hear things that don't affect us? Let us learn from Yitro to hear about the lives of other people, and how we might help them. Shabbat Shalom”

During the parsha we learned that Gershom, son of Moshe and Tziporah, got his name because he was “a stranger in a strange land  (גֵּ֣ר הָיִ֔יתִי בְּאֶ֖רֶץ נָכְרִיָּֽה).”   ‘Ger’ means stranger, ‘shom’ means there. Tziporah means bird.

When Yitro brought his daughter and two sons to join their father, he heard how Moshe was running the ‘Children of Israel Show’. Yitro realized that Moshe was burning the candle at both ends, and advised him to share the responsibility. Moshe did so.

Stranger in a Strange Land is the title of a science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, first published in 1961. Like much science fiction, it was a critique of current mores. When Heinlein was bed-bound with a bad back, he conceived of a waterbed, which he described in Stranger. It was actually an old idea…

Charles P. Hall came up with the key innovation that made the modern waterbed possible. In 1968, he was an industrial design student at San Francisco State University working on his graduate thesis, designing a comfortable piece of furniture. He consulted physicians so he could understand what made something comfortable.

After discarding a chair with a Jello-filled cushion, he started working on a bed. Hall had a eureka moment.  He placed the water in a vinyl bladder, with a heater to control the water temperature. The heater solved a problem; water is a good conductor, and pulls heat out of the body.  

When Hall couldn’t find a manufacturer he made the waterbeds himself. “We had a little shop in Sausalito, and we would deliver them on top of a Rambler station wagon,” he recalled. You know the song, "I lost my heart in Sausalito."

Hall considered the beds high quality furniture that solved a problem, but the beds attracted attention because customers thought the rolling motion enhanced sex. The sales pitch ran, “Two things are better on a waterbed, and one of them is sleeping.”

Hugh Hefner was an early purchaser. The waterbed was featured in a Playboy magazine article entitled “Bedsprings Eternal” about beds in May, 1970. Hall is still peddling the beds, at $2000 each. In Playboy fashion, the article was on topic, but the pictures were about the women who were posing on the beds.

Hall is smiling  because his invations have made him a
millionaire. photo: Seattle Times
Hall holds 40 patents, including one on the Sun Shower, an insulated solar heating bag used by campers to take a shower

Being in Egypt, I am a stranger in a strange land. I have listened to several guides. Often the guides are called Egyptologists. To me, that means an academic professional. But in the guide business, it is not clear what it means.

As I walk through the streets I listen as shop owners, taxi drivers, felucca captains, and caleche drivers look for business, often insistently.

Several people have unburdened their political opinions. Is it because they feel safer speaking to a foreigner? I nod and avoid reciprocating. When someone says, “Come in for tea,” are they looking for money?  When someone says, “Take my picture,” will they ask for baksheesh (a tip)? When they say, ”America is good,” I think, “Are we? How do they know?”

When I went for a walk the other day, I reached the Colossi of Memnon. These 3200 year old sixty foot high sculptures are from the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, which was destroyed by an earthquake around 1200 BCE, shortly after it was built. The name refers to Memnon, a Trojan War hero, who was slain by Achilles.

The Colossi were a tourist attraction two thousand years ago because one of the statues whistled from 27 BCE-196 CE after an earthquake resulted in a crack. Several Roman emperors visited. Roman Emperor Septimius Severus may have repaired the crack in 199. Severus didn’t hear the whistle. Ninety reports by ancient visitors are inscribed on the statue, noting whether they heard the whistle.

Among the modern visitors was Peer Gynt from Norway, described in act IV of Peer Gynt, a play in verse by Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen asked Edvard Grieg to write incidental music. A reviewer didn’t like the poem. It was the last play that Ibsen wrote in verse. In 1968, with classmates from Rogers High School, I saw Providence’s Trinity Repertory Company’s production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. I’ve been dazzled by the theater ever since. I learned that the majority is not always right, and have been slightly rebellious as a result. At the time, Trinity Rep and I were both young.

As I admired the sculptures from every possible angle, I met a Frenchman. When a motorcade approached, he informed me that the French consul had told him that former French President Valery Giscard D'estaing was visiting. I hurriedly waved and sang La Marseillaise. D'estaing waved back! He may not have heard me, but I know he was listening.

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport! @trinityrep