Sunday, July 21, 2019

How Goodly Are Thy Tents

How Goodly Are Thy Tents
At Jewish Newport
July 20, 2019

It was nice to be back in Newport after a long hiatus, visiting Rovinj, Croatia. Rovinj was ruled by Venice for over 300 years, ending in 1799, and looks the part. I was with a friend. We went to the beach for 17 out of 21 days. The shore was rocky, and water shoes are a must to avoid spiny sea urchins, but the water’s temperature was ideal, the Adriatic was calm, and if you did not like one beach, in 100 feet, you would come to a different beach. Usually the nude beaches were the furthest walk, and the least crowded! Just offshore, dolphins leapt above the water.

Speaking about clothing or the lack of it, I felt somewhat overdressed in shul, as I had opted to wear a jacket to shul in the stifling heat. I got some chuckles about this from the women's gallery. Upstairs there was a breeze.

I was grateful for an aliyah and a chance to lead the first part of musaf (returning the torah to the ark). 

The parsha was largely about Balaam, Balak, and the talking ass! I tried out for the third role, but was rejected as not being funny enough. The almighty, it seems, has a great sense of humor. Balaam took a page from George Washington, saying, “I cannot tell a lie,” after Balak complained about his praising rather than cursing Israel, which he had been hired to do at a considerable expense. 

Balaam’s words of praise began with,מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל.  “Ma tovu ohalecha Ya'akov, mishk'notekha Yisra'el.” [How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel]. By the time we heard this, we felt and appeared a bit frazzled from the heat, and Rabbi Marc Mandel said the sermon would be at the kiddush. 

If you look closely, you will
see a bottle of Youth-Dew.
Speaking of appearance makes me think of Jews and their involvement in the fashion and cosmetics industries. Estée Lauder was born in Queens in 1906, and was exposed to business in the family hardware store. She helped her uncle, who made cosmetics, and this led to her success in the cosmetics business. In 1953 she introduced Youth-Dew, a bath oil/fragrance, which sold 50,000 bottles in its first year. She explained later, “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard." 

In 1930, Estée married Joseph Lauder. Their son Leonard became a postcard collector and art aficionado, with a particular interest in New York’s Whitney Museum. Their son Ronald is also an art collector. He founded the Neue Galerie of early twentieth century German and Austrian art, which is across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Ronald has dabbled in politics, is strong opponent of anti-semitism, and is very involved in Jewish affairs. 

Stefan Pryor
At the end of the service, Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce, arrived with his friends Elizabeth and Laura Lauder. Secretary Pryor spoke at the George Washington letter reading last year when he stole the show. We are slightly acquainted, having exchanged messages when I asked for a copy of his speech.

Rabbi Mandel greeted the arrivals, apologizing for finishing services early. He never has to apologize for finishing services late! I wish he was more widely emulated.

After briefly seeing Touro Synagogue, our guests joined us at Kiddish. Rabbi Mandel never misses a chance to have a kiddish speaker, and after the shock wore off, Laura Lauder obliged. 

Laura Lauder
Laura began by thanking Rabbi Mandel, who was holding his grandson’s hand. She described herself as a venture capitalist and philanthropist who also chairs the $2.1 billion Jewish Community Endowment Fund of San Francisco. She said the greater San Francisco Jewish community, one of the largest Jewish communities in the US, has an 80% intermarriage rate. The good news, she reported, is that 60% of the children of those marriages are being raised as Jews. 

She spoke of her Uncle Ronald’s involvement in Jewish life, including restoring synagogues in Europe, particularly the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is also known as the Great Synagogue of Budapest. The Great Synagogue seats 3000 and is the third largest synagogue in the world. Built in 1859, it is a Neolog synagogue, and includes an organ. Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns both played the original 5,000-pipe organ. The synagogue was badly damaged during WWII. The Lauder family donated at least $5 million to its restoration. The Central Synagogue in New York is a copy of Budapest’s Great Synagogue.
portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
by Gustav Klimt

— at Neue Galerie New York.

Ronald, she said, was also involved in restoring art that was looted during the Holocaust to its rightful owners or their heirs. Most famously, he knew the heirs to a Gustav Klimt painting, and when, after a long battle they retrieved the painting, he purchased it for $135 million and donated it to the Neue Galerie

As our guests left, I told Stephen Pryor to take his friends to Purgatory. He thought I was making a statement about life, rather than about Newport. I replied that I would be happy to show him around.

Come to think of it, we never did hear Rabbi Mandel’s words of torah, but we did learn about making visitors feel welcome, and gladly joined the rabbi in doing so.

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport and from Purgatory!

Thank you to Beth Levine for editing.