Friday, August 9, 2019

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

At Jewish Newport
August 3, 2019

also at facebook
Last Shabbat the weather was comfortable. Rabbi Marc Mandel resumed his words of Torah after a one week heat related hiatus. For Rabbi Mandel, Torah is about questions. Answers often are elusive.

“Last Sunday we had a successful congregational trip to Boston to the Edward Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. This museum contains a full scale reproduction of the United States Senate chamber: we had a chance to learn all about how the Senate works. It was a good trip, but these days, there is a great deal of cynicism surrounding Congress, and government in general. We often hear people say that the Senate doesn't accomplish much and they don’t work together etc. etc.

“It made me think about the recent Torah readings. Today we finished reading the book of Bamidbar, the story of the Jews in the desert. There are several themes in Bamidbar, but one of the themes is cynicism. The people in the desert were very cynical, ‘Why do we need to be in the desert? We were better off in Egypt. We had better food there and our leaders are no good; they don't really care about our welfare. They’re only interested in themselves.’ This cynicism covers a lot of ground in Bamidbar.

“Someone once said, ‘When a cynic smells flowers he looks for a funeral.’

Another wit said, ‘a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’

“Cynicism is okay if it leads to an honest search for truth. But, if it becomes all encompassing, then it becomes part of the problem and not part of the solution. 

“Is there any value to cynicism in our society and in our lives? Is there truth to cynicism? A few years ago in the presidential debates, one of the candidates, I think it was Reagan, said, ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’ 

We can ask a similar question. Were the Jews better off wandering in the desert, or were they better off in Egypt? If you say, ‘The Jews were better off in Egypt,’ you can say goodbye to Passover and its celebration. If you say, ‘The Jews were better off in the desert,’ how do you reconcile that with all the complaints in Bamidbar?

“Shabbat Shalom!”

Aaron Ginsburg with Alan Kaul
at the Rock and Roll of Fame Cleveland
At the kiddish, which was sponsored by the Oberhardt Installation Fund and Barbara Epstein, Rabbi Mandel asked me to speak about the Annual Conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS for short) in Cleveland, which I had just attended with 800 other people interested in their family history. On Sunday evening the convention took over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was not sure why. The heavy au d'oeuvres turned out to be celery sticks, and when I arrived with my friend Alan Kaul people were streaming away.

Birds of a Feather table for The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy
meeting Dokshitsy Descendants (Kabachniks) for the first time
I attended to reach out who people who might be Dokshitsy descendants. Dokshitz is a shtetl now in Belarus, that send many immigrants to Newport in the early twentieth century. At the share fair, I had a table, and met several new contacts. Some were members of the Kabatchnik family. In Newport, the family name of this family was Kaber. I also was a speaker and held a meeting for people interested in the shtetl. One of the favorite talks I attended was by Ron Arons, who talked about his grandfather, the bigamist. Ron had no idea until he started his genealogical journey. 
Ron Arons speaking about his grandfather the bigamist

top Marc Bakst, Aaron Ginsburg
bottom Linda (Bakst) Goldstein-Wolf,
Gary Baxt, Barbara Gross photo by
Marcia Bakst

I also met several Kusinitz cousins. I was able to help my Kusinitz Bakst cousins find the ships manifest for their grandfather, Simon Bakst, who was going to Brooklyn to join their great-grandfather, Sam Bakst. They did not know their great-grandfather came to the United States. Simon was born in Ivje, now in Belarus, which is only 17 miles from the town of Bakshty, which must be the origin of the family name. Geographical names don’t make much sense, unless you leave town.

Cleveland, has all the trappings of a major city: skyscrapers, classic downtown buildings, including the courthouse, library, and the Terminal Hotel, new hotels built for the Republican convention two years ago, the Cleveland Orchestra, a major art museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and two stadiums. 

There is just one thing missing, people. It was so quiet it seemed like the day the world had ended. There are surface parking lots and spaces, and one can easily park for $4 a day.  

Although 800 is a typical attendance for an IAJGS conference, in Boston in 2013, 1300 people attended. The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston (JGSGB) is the largest of 70 member associations, larger than New York’s and is still growing. 

Boston has several downtowns, including the seaport district, the financial district, the Prudential-back bay area and Cambridge’s Kendall Square. In addition there are two hospital districts, and many major college campuses. There are always people about. There is a definite vibe.

Someone pointed out to me that part of the reason for Boston’s vibe is the college students who like the area and stay.They keep us on our toes. 

I feel Bston's vibe at Temple Israel in Sharon Massachusetts. The synagogue men’s club usually runs away with the awards at the semi-annual national convention. Many of its members come from far away places like New York, arriving as students and then staying.

Cleveland’s fate is that of many industrial towns in middle America. The industries have left and not been replaced, and many of the people have gone elsewhere. In fact when I tried to have a family reunion in Cleveland, I was informed that most of the family was in Florida. 

Cleveland has good reason to be cynical about the future; Boston is the future.

In Newport, there is definitely a vibe, and we are inspired and uplifted by the many visitors to our city and our synagogue. 

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

@tourosynagoguenewport @iajgs2019