Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments
At Jewish Newport
May 2020
Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel
Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine
also at

During this time, there is an opportunity to take advantage of many online learning opportunities.

On Tuesday, I listened to Brown University Professor Adam Teller speak about his book, Rescue the Surviving Souls: The Great Jewish Refugee Crisis of the Seventeenth Century

The crisis was caused by the Cossack uprising from 1648 to 1657 against their Polish rulers. The Cossacks were a military caste who helped defend the borders of The Polish Lithanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was a large country that included parts of many countries that today include Poland itself, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. 

The Cossacks rebelled because they were not treated equally with the other groups in the Commonwealth, Poles, LIthanians, and Jews  It might have been a matter of the Cossack nationality, Ukranian, or their Orthodox religion, or just a matter of snobbism by the Polish Catholic rulers.

Jews helped the nobles manage their land, and were targets of the uprising. Many were killed, many fled west into Poland or Germany, and others became slaves to be sold on the slave market in Istanbul as servants. Women were a particular target as household servants. In many cases, people were abducted so ransom could be demanded to free them.

The influx of refugees reinvigorated the German Jewish community, which had been decimated by the crusades and subsequent pogroms and banishments. 

In the Turkish Empire,  Jewish communities, although relatively small by Polish Jewish standards, rose to the occasion and did their best to redeem the captives.

How did Polish Jewry cope? A typical Jewish response is that we are punished for our sins. This didn’t sit too well with the victims, who insisted that Polish Jews recite memorial prayers. There was a precedent for this. After the crusades, German Jews introduced memorial prayers. The memorial prayers in Poland continued until the Holocuast. 

Rabbi Marc Mandel of Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island shared some thoughts with us,

“Shavuot is the celebration of the giving of the Torah.
What exactly happened at Mount Sinai?”
Rabbi Mandel turned to  Rabbi Philip Moskowitz for an answer,
“According to one Talmudic source, the revelation was a moment of national coercion. God suspended Mount Sinai above the Jewish people and gave them an ultimatum – accept the Torah or die, leaving us with very little choice in the matter.
“According to another Rabbinic source, God went on a world tour,  and approached each nation to offer its people the Torah. Only after each one declined did He finally approach the Jews who excitedly proclaimed “Naaseh v’nishma – we will do and we will understand.”
“So which one is it? Did God force the Torah upon us or did we voluntarily choose to accept it? Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm suggests there is no contradiction between these two stories:
‘Both chronologically and logically, God first chooses us, but then we must choose Him. He chose us only once, at Sinai. This choice, thereafter, devolved upon each and every Jew, in any place and at any time, no matter what his wish, his commitment, or his conduct. We must choose God anew in every generation. Indeed, every individual must choose God all over again… At Sinai it was true that “Asher Bachar Banu,” God chose us. But, when we study Torah and recite the blessings, and preface our remarks with Baruch Ata Hashem, Blessed are You, God, then we have chosen Him as well.’” 
Rabbi Mandel concluded, “For us, accepting the Torah is not just an obligation, but a great honor and privilege.” 
Chag Sameach from Jewish Newport!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Stand up and be counted!

Stand up and be counted!
At Jewish Newport
May 23, 2020
Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel and Beth Ginsburg Levine

In Parshat Bamidbar, God told Moses to take a census of men able to fight. The total was 603,550. And that didn’t include the Levites! So were a million Israelites really traipsing around the wilderness? This bothers modern biblical scholars, who don’t think this is an historical fact. Professor Shaye Cohen, Harvard University Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy, points out that asking if the bible is historical is not the right question. Instead we should ask, “What does it mean?”

This year the decennial United States Census is taking place.  At our pre-Shabbat meeting, Irene Glasser told us that the census may undercount the number of residents in the United States. She said the consequence of an  undercount would be less federal aid, which is apportioned based on census results,  and, possibly, less representation in the United States House of Representatives.  

While the United States Census is underway, we are engaged in another count. How many people have had Covid-19 and how many people have died from Covid-19? Once again there is a possibility of undercounting. Decisions about what to do may be affected by inadequate statistics, with lethal consequences.

Rabbi Marc Mandel, Touro Synagogue, Newport, R.I., gives meaning to each one of the 600,000,

“Parshat Bamidbar begins with a census of the Jewish people. We might think this "reduces everyone to a number." But actually the census teaches that every Jew is important. The Kabbalists point out that just as 600,000 Jewish souls stood at Mount Sinai, so too there are 600,000 letters in the Torah (including the white spaces between letters). And just as a Torah scroll is invalid if even a single letter is missing, so, too, the Jewish people need everyone working together.”

The idea that every Jew is important has broadened. Nahmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, 1194-1270) believed that the life of every human is important and that we have a duty to save a life,  pikuach nefesh, because each human is made in the image of God. As it says in Vayikra Leviticus 24:22,
 מִשְׁפַּ֤ט אֶחָד֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם כַּגֵּ֥ר כָּאֶזְרָ֖ח יִהְיֶ֑ה כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ 
“You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I the LORD am your God.”
May you be counted in the Census!
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport

Friday, May 15, 2020

It’s about the Journey

It’s about the Journey
At Jewish Newport
By  Aaron Ginsburg 
May 16, 2020
Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel 

There are different ways of traveling.
One can focus on the main sites. This is the bucket list approach. If you have never traveled this is a valid approach. In New York City that might mean Central Park, a few museums, a Broadway play, Times Square, and Fifth Avenue. For New York, the list is very long. 
But there is another part of New York that takes more time and effort. New York is full of neighborhoods with people from all over the world. These are not major sites, but have you seen New York if you have not seen it’s neighborhoods?
I remember when my cousins from Israel came to the United States, they attempted to squeeze as much as possible in three weeks. Including major cities and the National Parks. 
For many years I was satisfied with the bucket list approach. In 1976, in one month, I visited Montreal, Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta Canada, Vancouver and Victoria British Columbia, Ketchikan Alaska, Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks, the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, and stopped in St. Louis on the way back to see the Arch. I was satisfied but very frazzled when I got back.
A neighborhood in Rome Italy photo:aaron ginsburg
Nowadays I have more time and a different approach. In 2017 I spent a month in Rome. Not only is there a museum on almost every corner, but many of the neighborhoods are a pleasure to walk through.
Rabbi Marc Mandel, of Touro Synagogue, tells us about life’s journey,
“This week's Torah portion begins, ‘If you will walk with My statutes.’ 
                          אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְוֺתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם׃
 This is a strange phrase - walk with my statutes. We could understand God instructing us to "do" the statutes, or "observe" the statutes. But to walk with them?
“The Torah is a big fan of walking. Moving forward at a slow and steady pace - not sitting still, but equally not running. Walking is what gets you to God. If you stand still and wait for Him to come to you, He might not. But equally, if you expect to be able to get where you want overnight, you will also fail. Slow and sure wins the race. Bit by bit, steady, daily growth leads us to Godliness. 
“PS. Now that the weather is warming up, go outside and take a walk!”
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!
May your journeys, fast or slow, bring you higher!

Friday, May 8, 2020

And This Ain’t No Bull!

And This Ain’t No Bull!
At Jewish Newport
May 2, 2020
Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel and Rebecca Beit-Aharon

Dear Friends,

Until this week, I have been glued to the news, most of it bad. I have been zooming into two daily services, morning and evening, on most days for comfort and companionship—and to get away from the news. 

Finally, in the last couple of days, I have found some projects to occupy my time.

Shabbat is the Jewish answer to getting away from it all. Our ancestors were very aware that people need a break.

I hope you will be able to create some Shabbat space every day.

Best wishes from Jewish Newport.

Rabbi Marc Mandel shared the following message, 

“In this week's Parsha, Parshat Emor, we learn about the laws of the Kohanim, the priests. Our sages point out that although the Kohanim were the ones who performed the service, the Holy Temple was designated to be a source of connection to the Almighty and blessing for all the nations of the world. In fact, on the holiday of Sukkot, the Kohanim offer 70 bulls, representing the 70 nations of the world. 

“The service in the Temple strives to bring all of humanity together. As the whole world is currently experiencing Covid-19, let us all unite and work together to find a cure for this dreadful virus. 

“Shabbat Shalom.”

Friday, May 1, 2020

Changing the World

Changing the World
At Jewish Newport
May 2, 2020
Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel and Rebecca Beit-Aharon

This week the Jewish calendar was very busy. On Tuesday we observed Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and on Wednesday we observed Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Israel’s memorial day extends to the victims of terrorism. Members of Zahal, Israel’s armed forces, die not only on the battlefield, but from many other causes including accidents.

On January 4, 1979, I arrived in Israel for the first time. Conditioned by Exodus, the book by Leon Uris and the movie with Lee J. Cobb and Paul Newman, and by my time at Camp Yavneh, I remember thinking that I should kiss the ground when I arrived at the smallish airport. Perhaps I did, but I didn’t note it in my diary. 

I used two guide books, Vilnay’s Guide to Israel for the sites and Frommer’s Israel on $15 a Day, for practical information. Early in my trip, I took a bus on a Saturday afternoon from Jerusalem to Be’er Sheva, where I stayed in a youth hostel. Modern Be’er Sheva was founded at the beginning of the 20th century by the Ott0man Turks. Unusually, the old section of town was laid out in a grid. A wonderful street in the center was full of small shops and restaurants. 

Frommer’s guide recommended a restaurant which served American style steak. While enjoying my dinner, I heard the sound of English at the next table. It was Glen and Lucille Eliastam (now Eilon). They were celebrating an anniversary or birthday. They had immigrated from Johannesburg, South Africa with their two sons; they later had another son. 

The Eilons lived in Talmei Yosef in occupied Sinai. Two weeks later I visited them. Fortunately they were home. At the time, the idea of calling ahead was foreign to me. Glen grew tomatoes in a large plastic-covered greenhouse. The plants were at least 7 feet high, and sat in the sand. I devoted a few hours to volunteer work,  picking tomatoes and fixing a greenhouse. After Israel pulled out of Sinai in 1982, the Eilons moved to a Netiv HaAsara, a moshav next to Gaza.

On November 6, 1989, Glen and Lucille’s older son Marc and another Israeli soldier, Nachum Golan, were killed in an accident while testing a tank at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Marc was the first person to be buried in the Netiv HaAsara cemetery. In an article about the liberators, the Israeli Defense Forces and the Proving Ground, Glen wrote, "We both visit (Mark's) grave every week without fail and commune silently with him. He still features in our everyday lives, part and parcel of every simcha, joy and sadness."

Rabbi Marc Mandel of Newport’s Touro Synagogue shares some thoughts with us during which he urges us to change ourselves, and then the world,

“Rabbi Label Lam points out that there is a custom to study Pirkei Avot  (Ethics of the Fathers) in between Pesach and Shavuot. In Pirkei Avot, Hillel famously stated, ‘If I am not for myself who will be for me, and if I am only for myself then what am I, and if not now then when!?’ The point of fixing myself is to become a resource to help others who want to develop themselves and help others. The reason I work on myself is because the world, and the people around me, need a better and more resourceful version of me!

“Reb Yisrael Salanter, the father of the Mussar Movement, declared that when he was young he wanted to change the world. Then he realized there was enough work to do in his community. Later he realized that he needed to cure himself. He ended up changing the world.”

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!