Friday, May 17, 2019

Newport and Israel

Newport and Israel

At Jewish Newport

May 11, 2019

also on facebook

Last week, we celebrated Israel’s 71st anniversary. At Newport Rhode Island’s Touro Synagogue, Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke about Israel and Newport.

“This week, as the people of Israel were observing Yom Ha’atzmaut, their Independence Day, they were under fire. Close to 700 missiles were fired on Israel from Gaza. Israel’s Iron Dome was successful in stopping a lot of the missiles, but many people were injured and several lost their lives. These missile attacks have become quite common in Israel.

“But this is really nothing new. Seventy-one years ago, when David Ben Gurion officially declared that the State of Israel was being formed, Israel was immediately under attack. This has been the normal for Israel since day one.

“The Talmud, in Masechet Berakhot 5a, says that G-d gave the Jewish people three wonderful gifts, but they are acquired through great challenges.

“What are the three gifts? They are Torah, Olam Haba (life in the next world) and Israel.

(לישראל וכולן לא נתנן אלא על ידי יסורין אלו הן תורה וארץ ישראל והעולם הבא
Additionally, it was taught in a baraita with regard to affliction: Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai says: The Holy One, Blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, all of which were given only by means of suffering, which purified Israel so that they may merit to receive them. These gifts are: Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and the World-to-Come.)

“Israel is acquired through great challenges. Since Israel was established in 1948, 23,741 soldiers have lost their lives and there have been 3,150 victims of terror. For these families, Israel is indeed acquired through great challenges.

“Last week one of the Israelis who is here at the United States Naval War College gave a lecture at Temple Shalom, and I was planning to go. But I received a call from a Hasidic school in New York, which was planning to visit Newport and wanted to have a chance to daven mincha in the synagogue. So I said, ‘Okay.’

“When we were about to begin services, one of the students asked me if I could remove the Israeli flag from the synagogue.

“I was not shocked; this has happened before. And I noticed that while we were praying a group of students and teachers were praying outside. They told me that the group outside had arrived late, but I have my doubts. I think it was because of the Israeli flag.

“I couldn't help but think of the wrong decision I made that evening. While I should have been with Eli, our Israeli soldier, I was with a group that had zero appreciation for the challenges facing Israel.

“I hope in the future I have more wisdom and better judgment to make wiser decisions.

“Shabbat Shalom.”

At Kiddush I gave a brief presentation about Israel at Rabbi Mandel’s request. When I visited Israel in 2007, I was  beginning a long journey that led to the restoration of a Jewish cemetery in Dokshitz, now Dokshitsy, Belarus, where many Newport families, including mine, trace their roots. The only people I knew were my cousin, Rafi Markman, whose grandmother was a Ginsburg and Eitan Kremer, who is related to the Newport Friedman family. Eitan suggested I meet Edna Eshel. 

Rafi Markman, center
with the Eshels, 2007.
With Rafi, I visited Edna and her husband. The Ginsburgs trace their roots to Parafyanovo, a village near Dokshitz where the local railroad station was located. My grandfather Israel Ginsburg left from Parafyanovo when he immigrated to America in 1913.

Edna Eshel’s parents were also from Parafyanovo, which she had visited in 2005. At the time, I was laid back and not very inquisitive. Rafi and Edna spoke with each other in Hebrew, and decided they were related, but I did not find out how. 

Edna was proud of her son, Amir Eshel, a high ranking officer in the Israeli Air Force. In September 2003, he and two other Israeli Air Force pilots flew over Auschwitz at the exact time some Israeli soldiers were visiting. She handed me a copy of the DVD, which I have yet to watch.

As they flew over the camp, Eshel radioed to the soldiers below, “We pilots of the Air Force, flying in the skies above the camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims and shoulder their silent cries, salute their courage and promise to be the shield of the Jewish people and its nation Israel.” 

Eshel and his team flew over at a very low altitude. He didn’t bother to ask his Polish hosts for permission. This could be described as either Israeli pride, or chutzpah, or both. Eshel said, “We listened to the Polish for 800 years. Today, we don’t have to listen anymore."

At about the same time I learned that a Holocaust Monument was erected in Parafyanovo by the Simon Mark Lazarus Foundation in 2005. I was puzzled because there was no sign that anyone with a connection to the 
Parafyanovo Jewish community was involved. How that could have happened was a mystery that I have often thought about.

Over the years, I kept an eye on Amir Eshel, who became head of the Israeli Air Force from 2012-2017. After retiring, high ranking officers often gravitate to two industries, politics or defense. Eshel chose the defense industry.

In 2018, I visited Parafyanovo. The Holocaust site and monument was behind a wall, and not visible from the street. During my visit, I met Pavel Yurmashev, a successful businessman whose aunt, Maria Balash, lives in Parafyanovo. I had helped reunite the Balash family, part of which had immigrated to New Haven Connecticut before WWI. Pavel offered to help make the monument visible, and a few months later sent me pictures of the site. I had been trying to accomplish since my first visit in 2008. 

On a visit to Israel in February 2019. I met Shoshanah Meltzer, who was born in Dokshitz, but lived the first nine years of her life in nearby Parafyanovo. There can be no doubt that she knew my relatives, who were 20-25% of the Jewish population! Shoshana is related to Edna Eshel.

Together with Zvia Frankfurt, [continued below]

pictures from Eshels' visit
to Parafyanovo, Belarus, 2005.

Dedication of Parafyanovo, Belarus
Holocaust Memorial in 2005 with
Rabbi Grisha 

Holocaust Memorial in Parafyanovo, 
Belarus after wall that 
blocked view was moved, 2018. 

l-r Pavel Yurmashev, Carl Tulevech, Gelya Frank,
Aaron Ginsburg,Oleg Pinchuk,
Valentina Randaravich, ? Dokshitsy Belarus 2018

Shoshana Meltzer and children 2019.
Shoshana Meltzer and Edna Eshel 2019.

Zvia Franfkurt and Edna Eshel 2019.
 whose were parents born in Dokshitz, I visted Edna, with whom I hadn’t communicated with since my 2007 visit. When I showed a picture of the Parafyanovo Holocaust monument and explained that it was now visible from the street, Edna told me that when she visited in 2005, there was no monument, so she arranged for one through a local rabbi, and raised the money to make it happen. Mystery from 2007 solved! Patience is a virtue.

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel for sharing his words of Torah and to Beth Ginsbburg Levine for editing.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Answers and Questions

Answers and Questions
At Jewish Newport
May 4 2019

also on facebook
Last Saturday, at Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, spring was in the air. It was almost warm, inside and out, and tourists turned out en masse. We had visitors from Sharon, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Asheville, North Carolina. 
We also had a visitor from Salve Regina University, a student named Zachary, who had a very definite twinkle in his eyes. Zachary said, “I haven’t been to temple in three years. A few days ago I found a kippah in my pocket, then I found a clip to hold it in place. (I explained to him that the latest advance in Kipology is for the clip to be built in. I assume you are all checking to see if you are up-to-date.) I also heard Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Poway, California speak about the shooting at his synagogue a week ago, on the 8th day of Passover.” Zachary reached out to Rabbi Marc Mandel, and joined us for services. We look forward to seeing him in the future.
Rabbi Mandel spoke about the Poway shooting to the congregation. Rabbi Mandel mixed comfort with questions. Rabbi Mandel quotes from Maimonides’ “Thirteen Principles of Faith.” A quick look at an article in shows that Maimonides got a little ahead of himself when he declared that the thirteen principles were dogmas that should be accepted without questioning. 
“As everyone is aware,” Rabbi Mandel began, “last Saturday, on the final day of Pesach, six months to the day since the tree of life shooting in Pittsburgh, there was another synagogue attack, at the Chabad of Poway, not far from San Diego.
“I want to thank Delia Klingbeil for sharing an article with me  written by Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the rabbi of the synagogue in Poway, who was shot during the attack and lost part of his hands. This article was in the New York Times. 
‘Today should have been my funeral,’ Rabbi Goldstein said. ‘I don’t know why G-d spared my life in my Poway synagogue. I do not know God’s plan. All I can do is make this borrowed time matter.’
“It is a powerful message that Rabbi Goldstein wrote in the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times had an article with the title, ‘Rabbi sounded in synagogue attack becomes messenger of faith.’ In the Los Angeles Times article, Rabbi Goldstein said, ‘Recently astronomers revealed a photo of a black hole, a place in the cosmos so dark it sucks in light. But around it was a ring of light. Our job is to find that light.’
“There was tragedy in this week’s parsha too. Two of Aharon’s children also died in a synagogue, sucked in by something that sounds like a black hole. Yet despite the tragedy Aharon continued to serve in the Temple, just as Rabbi Goldstein continued to lead his congregation, even though he was shot and was bleeding. He continued to pray and sing, ‘Am Yisrael chai the people of Israel live.’ 
“The Parsha connects with the current events. Just like Aharon hakohen continued to work in the Temple after the tragic loss of 2 of his sons, Rabbi Goldstein continued to lead the Shabbat service even though he had been shot. Where do people find their faith in God in difficult situations? Maimonides, in one of his "Thirteen Principles of Faith," writes, ‘I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the messiah. And even if he tarries I will wait every day for him.’ 
“Some people have this intrinsic faith that no matter how bad things are, God will redeem His people. How did people keep their faith during the Holocaust? Surrounded by so much darkness and horror, some people maintained their faith. Let us strive to learn from these people and may we merit to see better days for the Jewish people.” 
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

Thank you to Rabbi Mandel for sharing his 
d'var and to Beth Ginsburg Levine for editing.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Last Channel

The Last Channel
At Jewish Newport
April 26-27, 2019
also on facebook

I stayed close to home for the last two days of Pesach. Rabbi Charles Savenor, who was visiting from New York, gave a sermon at Temple Israel, Sharon, MA on Friday, the seventh day of Pesach. Rabbi Savenor is the Director of Congregational Education at the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan. “Rabbi,” I said, “your talk would be nice for Jewish Newport.” He handed me his notes, which I have edited.

Rabbi Savenor described “The Last Channel,”  a short story by an Italian
Italo Calvino
writer, Italo Calvino, 1923-1985. Calvino was born in Cuba. His parents returned to Italy in 1925. Calvino was brought up without religion in Mussolini’s Italy. Encouraged by his parents, especially his mother, he joined the resistance in 1943, after Germany invaded Italy. His parents were held hostage as a result. He became a communist, but broke with the Communist Party in 1957, after the Russians invaded Hungary and Stalin’s crimes were revealed. He never joined another political party.

“Calvino tells the story of a patient in a mental hospital.” Rabbi Savenor began. “This patient walks around all day long with a TV remote control, pointing it and pressing the change button over and over.

“...He keeps changing the channels because  he doesn't like what he sees. He points it at family and friends and hopes they will act differently. He points it out the window and hopes that the next channel will be a better version of the world as we know it.”
The protagonist goes into the street, and tries to click his way to a better reality. Detained by the police, he explains that he, “only wanted to see what they were showing on the other channel, for curiosity's sake, just for a few seconds.”

Rabbi Savenor continued,

“...How many of us yearn for something better? Wouldn't it be easier if we could just press a button and change the reality around us?”

“...During the seder this past Saturday night, halfway across the world over 290 Christians were slaughtered during their Easter celebrations. As we remembered the plague of blood, blood was spilled on the holiest of days in the holiest of days in the holiest of places.

“Like the Jews in Pittsburgh, like the Muslims in New Zealand, the Christians in Sri Lanka were killed in their sanctuaries. The word sanctuary actually where they sought and expected to find peace. In essence, these innocent souls were all killed in the place where they sought and expected to find peace.

“...How can something like this happen? What motivates such heinous actions? One word: hate.”

“We can look no further than this morning's Torah portion [Shirat Hayam - the Jews are headed towards freedom] to better understand this sickness that seems to be contagious around the globe, namely sinat hinam...

“As much as this biblical poem details the miracle of salvation, it also sheds light on the nature of irrational hatred... Pharaoh's chariot goes in when the water has already started to go back into place.

“But love does the same thing. [We are] willing to do strange things for love. Even pick someone up from the airport.

“But I am not sure that love and hope are enough anymore.

“Three times we stand up when we read Torah: Shirat Hayam [a Song of Freedom], Matan Torah [Acceptance of responsibility], and closing of a sefer [An acknowledgement that pursuing this path will be hard. We are going to need to fight for our values, every step of the way.].

“...This fight is hard. It's a game of inches. Just when we think we have succeeded another Haman will appear.

“We need to be willing to stand up for what we believe in. After 4000 years we have an obligation to stay the course because what Judaism stands for can transform the world. Only by working together with clarity and unity of purpose can we create a better picture, a better channel for ourselves, for our children and for all generations to come.”

On Shabbat, Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke at Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI about Yizkor,

“On the last day of Pesach we say Yizkor. This last day of Pesach is a day for remembering.  But, really, all of Pesach is a time to remember, and in fact, we are supposed to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day of our lives.

לֹא־תֹאכַ֤ל עָלָיו֙ חָמֵ֔ץ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֛ים תֹּֽאכַל־עָלָ֥יו מַצּ֖וֹת לֶ֣חֶם עֹ֑נִי כִּ֣י בְחִפָּז֗וֹן יָצָ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכֹּר֔ אֶת־י֤וֹם צֵֽאתְךָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ׃
“You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of distress, for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly, so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.
“What exactly are we supposed to remember about the Exodus from Egypt? We are supposed to remember all the miracles that we read about in the Haggadah. We are supposed to be grateful to God for all the Passover miracles. But, it is more than that. Five times the Torah tells us to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. Why would we want to remember that? That is depressing.  The answer is, we need to be sensitive to those who are in need because we were once in need, and we know how it feels. As Jews, we have to help those in need.
“And so, today we will say Yizkor for those who are no longer with us. Take a moment and think about your Passover seders when you were younger. What do you remember? We must remember those who gave so much to us. We must remember those who did so much for us. We must remember our Touro members who are no longer with us.”
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!
Thank you to both rabbis for sharing their words and to Beth Ginsburg Levine for editing.