Newport and Israel
At Jewish Newport
May 11, 2019
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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.) https://www.sefaria.org/Berakhot.5a.20?lang=bi
“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.
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.
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 Abramovich
|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.|
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!
Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel for sharing his words of Torah and to Beth Ginsbburg Levine for editing.