Friday, October 25, 2019

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah Morning, 2019
At Jewish Newport
Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine

On Shemini Atzeret we had many visitors. Many were from Israel. In Israel many Jewish holidays are a day shorter than in the diaspora. I think this has something to do with Google Calendar.  When traveling, he custom is that the rules at home prevail; for our Israeli visitors Shemini Atzeret was the last day of Sukkot, and the following day was a regular day. For the rest of us, including a couple of medical students visiting from Westchester County, the next day was Simchat Torah. 

Rabbi Marc Mandel of Newport’s Touro Synagogue introduced Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret with a short Torah message. He observed that, “In the diaspora, dukhanen (the priestly blessing given by the cohenim from a platform) only takes place during holidays, while in Israel it is done daily, sometimes more than once a day. Rabbi Moses Isserles said that the Cohanim must be happy when they give the blessing, and they can only be truly happy on a holiday. Sukkot is called z’man simchateinu, the season of our joy. All festivals have nicknames; Passover is the season of our freedom, and Shavuot is the season of the giving of our Torah.” 

Dukhanen comes from the Hebrew word dukhan, which means platform.

In Israel, said Rabbi Doron Perez, there is something special that increases our joy. That, of course, is not to say that Israelis are happy. They have many reasons not to be. But there is still some special sauce in Israel. 

Rabbi Mandel introduced Yizkor by saying that, “Our ancestors looked to a future where we would be happy.”

I’ve recently been reading “On Communism” by historian Richard Pipes. Ancient Greece was “the first country to recognize private property.” It did not take long for Greek thinkers to blame the desire for property for the destruction of a mythical Golden Age where everyone shared their possessions, things were peaceful and people were happy. Plato envisioned what a perfect society looked like, which not only included sharing possessions, but wives and children. Karl Marx added that not only was a perfect society possible, but that we know how to do it. Putting this into effect has caused a lot of unhappiness.

On Simchat Torah morning, we happily had a minyan with the help of the visitors from Westchester County (Many of the Israelis flew home.) At a breakneck pace we joyously made the hakafot with the Torahs and proceeded to transition from the end to the beginning of the five Books of Moses.  We were out of breath at the end, but happy.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

At Jewish Newport Yom Kippur, 2019

At Jewish Newport
Yom Kippur, 2019
Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine

Where will we be tomorrow?

At Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, we arrived to candlelight supplemented by electric sconces, giving an orange aura. We seemed transported to a different place and time. Rabbi Marc Mandel introduced Kol Nidre with a few words about tomorrow, 

“There is a story that you might have heard about a pilot who makes an announcement during a flight, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have good news and bad news. The good news is we are making good time. The bad news is we were lost.’ 

‘This can be a metaphor for our lives today in the 21st-century. We are making great time. Everything is moving so quickly. Today, when you wake up in the morning, you can purchase anything you want on Amazon and have it in your hands by noon. Our connections to the internet and the world are speeding up. We’re going from 3G to 4G to 5G. But do we know where we are going or are we lost?

“Someone once said, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.’ We’re going on all these different roads but we’re not sure in which direction we are headed.

‘One day a year, on Yom Kippur, we come to our senses and we slow down. Recently I’ve been reading the biography of Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple who reinvented the computer, the cell phone and music, by Walter Isaacson, who also wrote biographies of Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger.

‘In Job’s biography, Isaacson has a chapter called Think Different. This, as you might recall, was the advertising slogan that Steve Jobs approved for Apple. This advertising campaign didn’t show computers and didn’t talk about processor speed or memory. It wasn’t about computers.It was about the creative things people can do by doing things in a different way.  That is really what Yom Kippur is about, one day a year we think differently. No lunch meetings, no running around, no business meetings, but we think about how we can do things differently for the new year.

‘It’s a powerful day. That’s why the Talmud says that Yom Kippur is really a happy day not a mournful day, because it celebrates the potential of human creativity.

‘Someone said, “You don’t have to know where you are to be there, but it is helpful  to know where you are if you wish to be someplace else.” On Yom Kippur we declare that we want to be someplace else. We want to think different and be creative with our lives. This year let us strive to enhance Yom Kippur, to think different, and to rejoice in our new life’s direction. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.”

After Kol Nidre, the overhead lights came on and the auro was no more. Were we still in the same place?

After Ko Nidre, I visited the synagogue wing where Jackie Mandel was leading junior congregation. She sat with the children in a circle. She told the children that they were here to learn as much as possible about Judaism so they could teach their children. This resonated with the children who glimpsed the future and imagined being parents. The children had been present when the Torahs were removed from the ark, and she reminded them that Rabbi Mandel said they were welcome in shul anytime. Then an important question popped out, “When are the snacks?”

The next day, Rabbi Mandel introduced Yizkor with three thoughts about people to remember, the early founders of Touro who have no one to say Yizkor for them, the Yom Kippur War’s fallen soldiers and Holocaust victims who have no one to say Yizkor for them and they have no burial place to visit them. He complimented Saul Woythaler for reading the names of the Touro founders, and told us that it was appropriate for our historic community to take a broad approach during Yizkor. At his request, I then read about Dolhinev, Belarus,

Remembering the Jewish Community of  Dolhinev

“Dolhinev, Belarus was in the Vilna District, Poland, between the first and second World Wars.

“By 1667 there was an organized Jewish community of 485. In 1792, it became part of Russia. During the nineteenth century Jews had concessions and also went into trade, exporting grain flax and fruit through Danzig. There were anti-Jewish riots in the 1880s.

“During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jews left.  After World War I Dolhinov was near the border with the Soviet Union. This prevented trade, making economic conditions difficult. The thirties brought the depression and an increasingly anti-Jewish Polish government. 

“Nachum Lankin recalled in the Dolhinev Yizkor book, ‘A Yiddische Folkbank was established. A volunteer Bikkur Cholim committee visited the sick. A volunteer, Linat Hatzedek, arranged places to stay for poor visitors to the town. Achnasat Kala accepted donations for poor brides' dowries. A Hesed Shel Emet was established by Hevreh Kadisha to take care of the burials and to support the family members.

‘A few days before Passover, there was a committee that contained young women and men who would go to all the homes to collect money for Passover. They called it The Flower of Passover. For this they also received money from the town's residents who now lived in the US. Many families were helped by this organization. Many times, the mara d'atra [rabbi] distributed the money, and it would be done secretly, so that the families wouldn't be embarrassed about receiving donations. These missions were all done voluntarily without the backing of any of the other town's institutions.’

“The town was occupied by the Russians in Sept 1939 and organized Jewish life ended.The Germans arrived at the end of June 1941. In September the Rabbi and 18 other men were murdered. A ghetto was set up on March 3, 1942. The Jewish community was destroyed in three incidents. On March 28, 1942, 1500 Jews were shot in the market square. According to Zelig Dimmishtein, who was just a child and had not been present,

‘When [I] got to Dolhinov [after the first shechita] the snow on the ground was not white - it was red from Yiddishe blood from when they killed out everyone the day before. The streets were empty. That evening was Pesach. They locked up the windows and they recited the Haggadah. The next morning they went out and dug mass graves to bury the dead.

‘Every year since then I sit on Pesach and read the Haggadah - Ilu lo yotzianu miMitzraim - had You not taken us out of Egypt... what was that??!!  Absolutely nothing. When I compare Yitziat Mitzrayim to what we went through in Europe - Mitzrayim was nothing!!’

‘On May 5th, 1200 more were murdered and finally on May 22 the third shechita- the remaining three hundred perished. 

‘Among the few who escaped was Moshe Furman.  Moshe could not save his 25 year old wife Henia and their daughter Rakhel, who was not even one year old, and his wife’s parents, Shimon Kusinitz and his wife Sara, maiden name Berkovitz.  Before the first Shekhita, he found them a hiding place with a Polish noblewoman, but during the second shechita, their hiding place in the ghetto was discovered. Moshe’s father-in-law Shimon Kusinitz, was a brother of CJI members Rita Slom’s grandmother, Dora Kusinitz Adelson, and of Aaron Ginsburg’s grandmother, Dvorshe Kusinitz Ginsburg. 

‘Moshe Furman later met a woman in Minsk with a child. They married and later made their way to Palestine on the ship Exodus.”

After services, Rabbi Lowell Weiss mentioned a woman who had moved from the North Shore of Boston to Dartmouth and who was arranging for the translation of a Yizkor book for a town in Poland, where his wife Pattys’ family was from. A light lit up, “Do you mean Carol Marlin?”  He did! The town was Kurov, Poland. Carol has moved around a lot. Her father owned Simon Plumbing in Fall River. She knows more about my Fall River families than I, both on the Pokross side and on Kusinitz (Maury) side. 

Jewish Newport looks forward to being with you in the coming year and sharing with you as you think, think different and remember.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Rosh Hashanah 2019

At Jewish Newport
Rosh Hashanah, 2019
By Aaron Ginsburg
edited by Beth Levine
Smoke gets in your eyes
(a video of is at
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Marc Mandel of Newport’s Touro Synagogue spoke about blindness,
“In olden days, we used to receive many magazines; Time, Business Week, Parents. Today in the digital age, not so much. Jackie still receives People Magazine
“She recently shared an article about a graduate from Harvard Law School named Haben Girma.
“You might wonder, ‘Why an article about a graduate from Harvard Law School?’ Each year there are many graduates from Harvard Law School. Haben Girma is special and unique because she is blind and deaf, the first blind and deaf person to graduate from Harvard Law School.
“Why talk about blindness on Rosh Hashanah? Is there a connection between blindness and Rosh Hashanah? We read this morning about the binding of Yitzhak, Isaac who became blind. What caused his blindness? The simple explanation is old age.
“But the Midrash digs deeper. One explanation is that Isaac became blind from the second-hand smoke of his brother’s idol worship offerings. Another Midrash says he was blinded by the tears of the angels when he was on the mountain with his father.
“Sometimes we don’t see what’s right in front of us. In tomorrow’s Torah reading: וַתֵּ֨רֶא שָׂרָ֜ה Sarah saw the bad behavior of Hager’s son, Yishmael. Why didn’t Abraham see what was going on? Why wasn’t he aware? Maybe he didn’t want to see. After all, Yishmael was his son.
“Later, when Yishmael is dying, Hagar doesn’t see the well. וַיִּפְקַ֤ח עֵינֶ֔יהָ. And God opened her eyes - she couldn’t see by herself. The whole reading today is about seeing and not seeing.
“But the opposite of not seeing is seeing too much. The Misha tells us in Avot to cultivate an ayin tova, a good eye, like Avraham and not a bad eye like Balam, not bad in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense - always looking to see what other people have, that’s a bad eye. Can we learn to be satisfied with what we have - or are we looking for more?
“Every day we praise God פּוֹקֵחַ עִוְרִים who opens [the eyes] of the blind. A recent National Geographic article about blindness gave hope that some day the blind will see.”
God opens our eyes, but will we use them to see?
When Rabbi Mandel said ”second-hand smoke,” many of us opened our eyes, perhaps in search of a fire. If we were not listening and seeing up until then, we gave the rabbi our full attention.
Second-hand smoking or passive smoking refers to the effects of tobacco on people who are present when someone is smoking. One of the ways to study it is to study the spouses of smokers. At team from Dana–Farber/Harvard Cancer Center coined “third-hand smoke” to describe the effect of the residue left after the smoke is gone. I suspect that at this very moment someone is trying to define, “fourth-hand smoke.”
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Mandel discussed how we see Israel.
No one said it would be easy
“‘Trial’ has more than one meaing
  • A formal examination of evidence by a judge and a jury, in order to decide guilt in a case of criminal or civil proceedings.
  • A test of the performance, qualities or suitability of someone or something.
‘Today we will use the second definition. We look at Abraham’s trial [The Binding of Isaac] as a test of his ability to follow the will of God.
‘But that was not his only trial. The Mishnah tells us that Abraham had 10 trials from God. We know some of them: Lech Lecha (leave your home), circumcision when old, the war against the kings. Most commentaries say that Avraham’s final test was from today’s torah reading, the Akeda, the binding of Isaac.
‘But I heard a class from Rabbi J. J. Schacter from Yeshiva University, who said that wasn’t Avraham’s final test.
‘You know your Tanakh! What happens after the Akeda? Sarah dies and Avraham has to bury her, and that was his last trial, trying to get a burial place for his wife in the land of Israel.
‘It was difficult for him because the local people (Hebrew) didn’t want to give Avraham any land, and it was a trial for him to see if he would stick with it.
“Rabbi Schacter taught us, מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים ‘Whatever happens to our fathers happens to us.’ Anything dealing with the Land of Israel is difficult and not easy.
“That’s our test today in the diaspora. What is our relationship with Israel? Here in the diaspora, we can say, “That's not our problem.” Or we could say, “I don’t like the image of Israel these days. It’s not what it used to be.” And we could also say, “I don’t think we should support Israel under today’s conditions.” And there are Jews saying all these things.
“That’s why it’s a test. It’s not supposed to be easy.
“Sure, it was easy in the days after the Holocaust to support Israel, but today the survivors are barely alive and Israel’s demographics have changed.”

Among the most difficult trials is the loss of a child. Among those at shul during Rosh Hashanah was Sima Menora, who lost two teenage daughters, Rikki and Rachelli, in a plane crash. In their memory, she founded DROR. “DROR – the Hebrew acronym for Derech Rikki and Racheli (in English, Rikki and Racheli’s Way) - was...inspired by many of the traits that defined Rikki and Racheli in their all-too-short lives, DROR is an organization that embraces the spirit of activity and empowerment to benefit the lives of other adolescent girls.” @jewishnewport @newportri