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Currently on display in the Temple Sholom of West Essex museum case, curated by Naomi Patz:museum case Israel Independence Day and Yom Yerushalayim
1 de abril de 2021
Para publicación inmediata
Templo Beth Shalom, Congregación Judía Reformista de Puerto Rico, registra su firme apoyo por el Proyecto de Ley 184 del Senado de Puerto Rico para hacer ilegal la práctica de las llamadas “terapias de conversión”. Nuestra posición refleja:
1) el hecho de que nuestra tradición sostiene que cada ser humano está hecho “b’tzelem Elokim“, en la imagen divina. Como tal, la diversidad de orientaciones sexuales e identidades de género es algo que debe celebrarse y afirmarse, no una condición que deba tratarse1, y
2) el hecho de que durante casi 50 años, las comunidades profesionales de la psicología y la psiquiatría han reconocido oficialmente que la homosexualidad no es un trastorno mental. Los jóvenes LGBTTQ + están particularmente en riesgo de sufrir daños por las llamadas “terapias de conversión”, que incluyen daño a la autoestima y un elevado riesgo de suicidio.2,3 Para nosotros, como judíos, el valor de “p’kuach nefesh“, salvar una vida, lo supera todo.
April 1, 2021
For immediate release
Temple Beth Shalom, Reform Jewish Congregation of Puerto Rico, registers its firm support of Puerto Rico Senate Bill 184 which would make illegal the practice of so-called “conversion therapies.” Our position reflects:
1) the fact that our tradition holds that each human is made “b’tzelem Elohim”, in the divine image. As such, the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities is something to be celebrated and affirmed, not a condition to be treated1, and
2) the fact that for nearly 50 years, the psychological and psychiatric professional communities have officially recognized that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. LGBTTQ+ youth are particularly at risk of harm by so-called “conversion therapies” including damage to self-esteem and elevated suicidal risk.2,3 As Jews, the value of “p’kuach nefesh”, saving a life, supersedes all.
Tu B’Shevat is our next festival!
Our Temple Beth Shalom Tu B’shevat seder will be on Wednesday evening, January 27th (Erev Tu B’Shevat) via Zoom. Watch for the announcement and the link.
Introducing Tu B’Shevat
Tu B’Shevat is the festival that welcomes the beginning of springtime in Israel. The rainy season has ended. Fragrant, beautiful white petals are in blossom on the almond trees. It has grown warm already in the Galilee.
Over the centuries, Jewish communities around the world, and particularly in Europe, observed Tu B’Shevat as a reminder of our people’s ongoing connection with the Land of Israel. Their custom was to eat as many of the fruits of the Holy Land as could be purchased wherever a Jewish community lived. Particularly treasured was the fruit of the carob tree, known in Hebrew as haruv and in Yiddish as bokser, rarely available anywhere in Northern Europe (or even in the US) other than as dry, hard pods. (The carob is also known in English as St. John’s bread.)
In the 16th century in the Land of Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria of Safed and his disciples created a Tu B’Shevat seder, somewhat like a Passover seder, that celebrated the Tree of Life. The seder, still the principal observance of the hag, evokes Kabbalistic themes of restoring cosmic blessing by strengthening and repairing the Tree of Life, generally using the physical metaphor of a tree: roots, trunk, branches and leaves. The traditional Tu B’Shevat seder ended with a prayer which states in part, “May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life.”
The main feature of the seder is a platter of fruit, eaten dried or fresh, divided up from lower or more physical to higher or more spiritual, as follows:
- Fruits and nuts with hard, inedible exteriors and soft edible insides, such as oranges, bananas, walnuts, and pistachios.
- Fruits and nuts with soft exteriors and a hard pit inside, such as dates, apricots, olives and persimmons
- Fruit which can be eaten entirely, such as figs and berries.
Kabbalistic tradition teaches that by eating fruits in that order one travels from the most external or manifest dimension of reality, symbolized by fruits with a shell, to the innermost dimension, symbolized not even by the completely edible fruits but rather by a fourth very esoteric level that may be likened to smell. The Kabbalistic “seder” ritual also involves drinking four glasses (or sips) of wine in an oenologically unsophisticated manner – all from white to a mix of white and red, to red and white, to all red, also corresponding to the external-to-internal levels. It is customary to include the Torah-designated seven species – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates – among the offerings on the seder plate.
Another name for Tu B’Shevat is the New Year of the Trees, Rosh Hashanah la-Ilanot. According to the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1), there are four new years in the Jewish calendar. The other three are the first of Nisan, the new year for kings and festivals; the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals; and the first of Tishri, which we celebrate as Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of a new year (despite the fact that technically it is the seventh, not the first month of the Jewish calendar) and observe with elaborate synagogue ritual featuring the blowing of the shofar and soul-searching prayer.
And now, an aside to share with you a complicated explanation of what is otherwise a simple ecological and agricultural-based festival: the meaning of the first word of the name Tu B’Shevat itself.
More than 2,000 years ago, each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet was given a numerical value. To this day, these values are used as an alternative to arabic numerals. This numerical system is a decimal system, based on the number 10. Thus, aleph equals 1; bet = 2, and so forth. The “T” of Tu = tet is thus the ninth letter of the alphabet, equalling the number 9. The “u” (a stand-in for the letter vav to make a pronouncable word) is the sixth letter of the alphabet, equalling the number 6. Therefore, tet and vav together, 9 + 6 = 15. With us so far?
Then why 9 + 6 = 15 rather than 10 + 5? Glad you asked. The answer finesses an inherent theological problem because yod plus hey together spell one of the names for God: YAH, as in halleluYAH – praise be to God. Our ancestors could not combine the letters yod (10) and hey (5) to equal the number 15 because it spelled out one of the names for God and was therefore sacred. So they substituted the numbers 9 and 6 to get to 15. * (There will not be a quiz on the subject, but see the note below for additional explanation.)
Carob pods are sometimes available to Hebrew schools on the mainland today, but they were prized possessions of congregations in the late 1940s and ‘50s. The fruit was rock-hard and most of us found the flavor unpalatable. In recent decades, carob has not only become more common but for many years was considered a reasonable chocolate substitute. The Patzes have a bottle of carob syrup they purchased in Sicily last year, forgot to bring with them to San Juan for their Tu B’Shevat celebration and are looking forward to checking it out this January 28th. (And if we don’t use it now, we’ll try to remember to bring it next year, Covid-willing. We will keep you posted.)
Interesting carob trivia: Carob seeds have a nearly uniform weight of 0.2 grams. Ancient civilizations used the seeds as a reference weight for precious gemstones: one carob seed equals one carat; one carat equals 0.2 grams. A diamond weighing 100 carats weighs 20 grams, which is about the same as 100 carob seeds. To this day they continue to be the name and unit of weight for diamonds.
Currently In The Museum Case Of Our New Jersey Congregation
And Brought To You Virtually
The technical name for this flower is Lupinus Pilosus. It is more commonly known as a lupine.
The wild mountain lupines, endemic to Israel cover the sides of the roads and color the hillsides with silver leaves and refreshing deep blue blossoms from February to May – a stunning, seemingly endless display of blossoms.
Botanists are not yet certain about how the plant has spread so widely. Its seed is heavy, unpleasant tasting and rather toxic. How, therefore, has it succeeded in spreading the way it has when animals avoid eating the seeds due to their toxicity and bitterness and therefore don’t take part in the dispersal process? And because the seeds are especially big and heavy, they are not blown by the wind. But the prevailing botanical view today is that the great weight of the seeds themselves is responsible for the pattern of the plants’ distribution. Basically, the secret is that the seeds’ dispersal is limited to its immediate surroundings and that it moves slowly but inexorably toward widespread dispersal. The sources explain that Newton’s theory of gravitation is responsible: this dispersal type, called “stain dispersal” by botanists, move from the center outwards while the stain’s radius grows larger year by year. Obviously, seeds that fall and blossom within the stain’s perimeter would be those that cause its growth. And it grows and spreads and grows and spreads and gives the appearance of a giant carpet along the roadside throughout the spring.
Lupines played an important dietary role in ancient Israel. Even today, lupine beans are offered for sale in the Old City of Jerusalem and other Arab markets. Though bitter to the taste, they are very palatable after prolonged boiling, inexpensive, and a good source of minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, and iron. (Noting, not recommending.)
On the cover of this book, Yerushalayim shel Perahim (Jerusalem of Flowers), by Yaakov Skolnick, is a flower whose Latin name is helichrysum sanguinum. It is known in Hebrew as Dahm HaMaccabeem Ha-Adom – “the red blood of the Maccabees.” This flower (despite appearances, a member of the daisy family), is also known as Red Everlasting.
Like the poppy in our country and in England on Memorial Day, the flower serves as a symbolic reminder on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, of the fallen soldiers and the victims of terrorism. The flower in the picture above is superimposed on a section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, visually uniting prayers for peace and healing with an expression of grief for those lost. The bush which juts out of the wall is a caper plant, many of which grow in the wall’s crevices.
From Ancient To Modern Times:
Jewish Respect For And Love Of Nature
For Jews, Ecology Is Not A New Subject Of Concern
In Sh’mot/Exodus, the Torah calls Israel “a land flowing with milk and honey” (3:8).
In D’varim/Deuteronomy, there is a specific prohibition on cutting down the trees of a city being besieged in wartime: “When in your war against a city you must besiege it for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees…. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you under siege?” (20:19). This prohibition is the legal and moral basis for the outcry in Israel on the rare occasions when Israeli troops destroy trees (particularly fruit trees and especially ancient olive trees) in their pursuit of Arab terrorists.
In Ketuvim/Writings, the third section of the Bible, Psalms and the Song of Songs are replete with imagery from nature expressed in imaginative and poetic ways. To give just a few examples:
Psalm 92 says, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm, grow tall like cedars in Lebanon, rooted in the house of the Eternal they shall be ever fresh and green….”
And Psalm 98, “Let the sea and all within it thunder, the world and its inhabitants; let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains sing joyously together at the presence of the Eternal.”
There are a great many nature images in Song of Songs:
“I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. Like a lily among thorns, so is my darling among the maidens” (2:1-2).
And later in the same chapter, “For lo the winter is passed, the rains are over and gone. The blossoms appear in the land, the time of pruning has come; the song of the turtledove is heard in our land. The green figs form on the fig tree, the vines in blossom give off fragrance” (2:11-13).
Chapter 7:12-13 says: “Come my beloved, let us go into the open; let us lodge among the henna shrubs. Let us go early into the vineyards; let us see if the vine has flowered, if its blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates are in bloom; there I will give my love to you.”
Nevertheless, since the 19th century, there have been consistent and repeated attacks on Jews and Judaism as being insensitive to the natural world. The concept may come from the fact that over the centuries in most countries Jews were not allowed to own or work the land or perhaps from drawings and paintings of bearded Talmud scholars bent nearsightedly over piles of religious texts with no countervailing illustrations of Jews involved in nature. Or perhaps it is just another example of groundless hostility to Jews and Judaism, an aspect of the newly developed 19th century racial antisemitism which led inexorably to the disaster of the Holocaust.
The truth is otherwise. From the Bible on, Jewish texts and practice are suffused with love of nature and respect for it. Tu B’Shevat itself is an example of how Jews over the centuries combined their awareness of the world around them with longing for the Israel they had never known.
FORGOTTEN IMMIGRANTS, the book pictured here, celebrates the creation of a “biblical botanical garden” at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA in honor of the 40th anniversary of the State of Israel. The garden, established in 1987 on a third of an acre, features more than 100 different kinds of temperate and tropical plants, including plants named in the Bible as well as numerous others that have been given biblical names. The pastoral setting has a cascading waterfall, a desert, a bubbling stream known as “the Jordan,” which meanders through the garden from “Lake Kinneret” to the “Dead Sea.” All of the plants are labeled with appropriate biblical verses and are displayed among replicas of ancient farming tools. Among the specimens are wheat, barley, millet and herbs valued by the ancient Israelites. Olives, dates, pomegranates, figs, and cedar trees round out the historic and educational inventory.
FLOWERS OF THE CARMEL: Although Israel is a very small country, no larger than the State of New Jersey, it is blessed with an extraordinary number of microclimates. Their flora and fauna range from forested mountain ranges to deserts and wilderness in the Negev. Pirkhei Ha-Carmel, published by the Haifa Municipality in 1958, is devoted to The Flowers of the Carmel. It contains 32 brilliant illustrations by Brachah Levy of flowers that bloom in the Galilee (of which the cover photo is one). The mountainous Carmel region extends south and east from Haifa into the heartland of the Galilee.
Incidentally, the area – especially the caves in the Carmel mountains – was home to settlement by humans in Neolithic times. Evidence from numerous Natufian burials and early stone architecture represents the transition from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to agriculture and animal husbandry that, years ago, at least, provided a setting for successful foraging for prehistoric arrowheads fashioned from stone (broken but identifiable).
In 2007, the cyclamen – RAKEFET in Hebrew – was named the national flower of Israel. It is a winter flower that usually blooms between December and February. Note that its petals flare upward; the flower has evolved upside down to protect its stamens and pistil from the cold raindrops of early spring.
The pen and ink drawings above, by the noted calligrapher Betsy Platkin Teutsch, appeared in the April 1987 issue of In Process, a publication of the United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Cabinet edited by Naomi Patz, in honor of the Passover season: “… now that the winter is passed and the rains are over and gone.” The flowers are (l to r) rakefet (cyclamen), narkis (narcissus) and eeroos (iris).
These earliest Government of Israel postage stamps depicted ancient coins from the First Jewish–Roman War and the later Bar Kokhba revolt, establishing thereby the connection between the new State of Israel and its ancient Jewish predecessor.
The first stamp above, a map of Israel, carries the date November 30, 1947 and was issued immediately after the United Nations Partition decision of the day before. Bearing the name Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (which we know as the Jewish National Fund), the large Hebrew letters across the top and down the left say “the State of the Jews” rather than the name of the new country, which was not decided until six months later. In fact, the name was still being debated barely minutes before David Ben Gurion proclaimed statehood!
The stamps we have assembled here (some of our earliest) all celebrate one way or another the return of warm weather. The first stamp in the second row and the first four stamps in the bottom row combine flowers with iconic images of modern Israeli military history: Yehi-am, Yad Mordecai, Kibbutz Degania, a tribute to fallen soldier in Tzefat, and the aqueduct at Gesher Haziv. (Look them up online; each is associated with a significant battle in Israel’s War of Independence.)
Israeli stamps are trilingual, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, following the practice of the British Mandate of Palestine (as required by the League of Nations). In its earliest years, Israel issued stamps picturing the Jewish holidays, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, the Negev, the Maccabiah Games and Independence bonds. Every year, Israel issues a festival series to commemorate the regalim, the pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. In 1952, Israel issued its first stamp honoring a named person, Chaim Weizmann. Other honorees of the 1950s included Theodor Herzl, Edmond de Rothschild, Albert Einstein, Sholem Aleichem, Hayim Nahman Bialik and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. The first woman honored was Henrietta Szold (1960), the first rabbi was the Baal Shem Tov (1961), and the first non-Jew was Eleanor Roosevelt (1964).
A first day of issue cover or first day cover, like the ones below, is a postage stamp on a cover, post card or stamped envelope franked on the first day of its issue. Its purpose is a combination of expressing pride in individuals and events and earning revenue for the postal service.
Two Flower-shaped Havdalah Spiceboxes And One In The Shape Of An Apple
The Fruits of the Holy Land, by Asaph Goor and Max Nurock, traces the history of the fruits of the Bible, the Mishnah and the Talmud, drawing freely on many sources. It is illustrated by reproductions from manuscripts, woodcuts, paintings, sculptures and mosaics throughout the centuries. The cover art shows a basket of pomegranates, a fragment of a magnificent mosaic floor from the sixth century C.E. Maon synagogue and archaeological site in the Negev, near Kibbutz Nirim and Kibbutz Nir Oz. The Maon Synagogue is one of many synagogues built in the 6th and 7th centuries C.E. in both the north and south of Israel. Their existence testifies to the fact that Jews continued to live openly and flourishing throughout Israel in the centuries following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
This certificate, most likely from the 1920s, is a rare example of a document acknowledging the gift of one dunam of land purchased from Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, the Jewish National Fund. A dunam equals one-quarter of an acre; the wedding present was in effect, therefore, a symbolic investment in the land of Israel by (and perhaps for) people for whom the rebuilding of Israel was of central concern. The large title in the rectangle above translates as “The Contribution of a ‘Portion’ (or ‘Inheritance’) of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael.” The Hebrew phrase on the left says “This is the land which will be yours as an inheritance” (B’midbar/Numbers 34:2). The name of the donor(s) does not appear and no date is given, but the bride and groom are Barnett and Esther Bernstein. Their dunam of land is identified by its registration number.
The photograph above was taken sometime during the early 1920s at a moshav in the central part of British Mandate Palestine. The second man from the left in the front row, wearing a cap, is Naomi’s great uncle Alex Golden. One of the sons of a very Zionistic family, Alex went from Lakewood, New Jersey to join the Thirty-Ninth Royal Fusiliers, a battalion of the British Army known as the G’dud – the Jewish Legion. The Jewish Legion (1917–1921) consisted of five battalions of Jewish volunteers, the 38th to 42nd Royal Fusiliers in the British Army, formed to fight against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The G’dud was the brainchild of Zeev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor: a military unit of Jews that would take part in the British effort to capture Palestine from the Ottoman Empire. The British Army accepted 650 Jewish volunteers into the group, which they named the Zion Mule Corps. Five hundred and sixty two of its members served in the Gallipoli Campaign. Later, they saw action in the Jordan Valley under General Allenby. Former members of the Legion took part in the defense of Jewish communities during the riots in Palestine of 1920, which resulted in Jabotinsky’s arrest and the final disbanding of the Legion.
Naomi’s uncle Alex had planned to stay on in Palestine and make aliyah. In fact, Naomi’s mother, who was then 10 years old, and her brothers, grandmother and great grandmother, moved there to join Alex, who was living on the moshav in the photograph. But the new arrivals found life on the moshav too difficult and moved instead to Tel Aviv, still a very raw young town where boardwalks instead of sidewalks crossed the as-yet not built up sandy areas leading to the sea. When that too failed because there was trachoma (a devastating eye disease) in the public schools and there was no money to send my mother and her brothers to private school, they very reluctantly returned to the States, and Alex returned with them.
At Moshav Avihayil, near Netanya, where a number of veterans of the Jewish Legion settled, there is a museum devoted to the history of the G’dud,; in the book of the 39th Royal Fusiliers we found the pages honoring Alex Golden.
Covers And Interior
This book, by Hannah Zeller, was published in German, French and English in 1875, making it one of the earliest books to illustrate the flowers of the Land of Israel. The flower on the left in the drawing, Alcea Lavateraeflora, is a member of the hollyhock family; the one on the right is easily identifiable as a variety of tulip.
This photograph of HA-HORESH – THE PLOWMAN dates to the same period as that of the sower above. It may be by the same photographer although, while the Hebrew handwriting is the same, we aren’t sure that the signatures match. We also can’t decide if what we see in the background are low-hanging clouds or if the field he is preparing sits above Lake Kinneret (also known as the Sea of Galilee), with the mountains of the Golan Heights visible in the far distance.
The ubiquitous blue box that sat in many of our kitchens and on the counters in Jewish bakeries, butcher shops and delicatessens in the 1940s and ‘50s was the brainchild of a Viennese Zionist named Johann Kremenezski between 1902 and 1907. His “invention” popularized an initiative by Hermann Schapira, a Russian mathematician, Hebraist and Zionist, a visionary thinker who was the first to advocate the idea of a Jewish national fund to purchase land in perpetuity in Palestine in the name of the Jewish people. As early as the first Zionist Congress, in 1897, Schapira, who died very young and long before any of his initiatives were realized, proposed the foundation of a Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Coincidentally, a Polish bank clerk named Haim Kleinman also proposed that a collection box bearing the words NATIONAL FUND be placed in every Jewish home to raise money for land purchases in the homeland.
Per the drawing of the map, the box pictured here is from the period from 1948 to 1967 (before the Six Day War).
Since its founding in 1901, one of the principal projects of the Jewish National Fund beyond the purchase of land in Palestine has been the reforestation of a land that had been stripped of its trees by neglect and abuse, most particularly by the construction in the late Ottoman period of railroads whose building required huge amounts of lumber. Over the years, tree certificates were sold – in religious schools by students purchasing individual “stamps” to paste onto their symbolic tree outlines, and as honoring gifts for b’nei mitzvah, anniversasries and other special occasions as well as in memory of loved ones. In the 1940s, the cost of a tree was $2.50, roughly the equivalent of today’s $18.00 (chai). Larger purchases, for orchards (as above), gardens, groves and forests have helped the regreening of Israel, the greatest ecological reforestation in history – over 250 million trees have been planted so far!
How do the trees we “plant” actually get into the soil? On Tu B’Shevat, Israeli school children participate in mass tree plantings in JNF forests around the country. In earlier years, such tree planting took place right in the cities. Bilha Barkai, the woman who coordinated our teen trips to Israel over the years, remembered going with her classmates to plant trees on the median divider of Rothschild Boulevard, a broad avenue in the center of Tel Aviv! Tour groups and students on year courses and individual visitors go to the JNF forests to plant. We have taken virtually every one of our teen and adult groups to Israel to plant trees, including in the year when we dedicated a garden of 100 trees contributed by the members of Temple Sholom of West Essex in the name of the congregation. The Jewish National Fund has truly transformed the swamps and deserts of 19th century Israel into the land of milk and honey of which our biblical ancestors wrote.
This curiosity is a Keren Kayemet Israel school project of the 1970s designed to involve Israeli students with a constructive awareness of the natural beauty of their country and, through their effort, to share a feeling of love for and association with the land with students in Jewish Hebrew schools and day schools throughout the Diaspora. This flower, a PEREG – the Hebrew name for poppy –, was picked and carefully dried by a 13-year-old school girl in Tel Aviv named Dalia Botbol (whose name and age are on the back of the presentation folder).
Breathtakingly beautiful poppy flowers grow in abundance all over Israel. Nine separate pereg species can be found, most beginning their bloom season in March, and none lasting past June. The only area of the country whose climate does not support a pereg population is the Negev.
This booklet of pressed flowers (sample interior pages above, cover below) was published in Ottoman Palestine by Smuan Petrus Bordnikoff in 1900. These photographs show two of the steps in the preparation of dried flowers for export to the United States and other countries.
More Pressed Flowers from the Holy Land
This book – with descriptions in German, English, French and Russian – is a souvenir volume of Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem. It features 12 chromolithographs depicting various places in the Holy Land, with pressed flowers from that area mounted on each facing plate. It was certainly published prior to World War I since Russian would not have been included post-war owing to the fall of the Czar and the creation of the anti-religious Communist regime that came to be called the USSR. Several different versions of the title survive in both university and private libraries, not all showing identical varieties of flower. Produced by various publishers and apparently very popular with pilgrims and other tourists, the books were almost all uniformly bound in covers of polished olive wood from the “Holy Land” and decorated with an inlaid geometric border surrounding the word Yerushalayim in Hebrew and Jerusalem in Latin letters. At least one such book was made during the First World War for the British troops in Jerusalem as a “souvenir” of their occupation.
The illustration on the left shows people praying at the Wall in Jerusalem. The text beneath it reads Kotel Ha-ma-a-ravi – the Western Wall – in Hebrew (center, which is what the Wall was always called in Hebrew), and Klagemauer – the Wailing Wall – in German and presumably the same in Russian (Russian readers: please correct us if we are wrong!). The text above the pressed flowers on the right reads, in Hebrew, “Flowers of the Western Wall,” and below, in German followed by the same in English, French and Russian: “Flowers from the Jews Wailing Place.”
Last, but certainly not least, is another first day cover. This one celebrates a most unusual environmental journey. Back in the 1950s, Lake Huleh – a shallow, swampy breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitos – was drained in a huge ecological project overseen by Keren Kayemet and the Israeli government. There was great celebration and the fertile land began to be reclaimed for agricultural productivity. Forty years later, by the late 1980s, it became clear that draining the swamp had been a huge mistake. The effects on the ecosystem, which had not been perceived in the first half of the twentieth century, turned out to be a mixed blessing. Malaria had been eradicated but water polluted with chemical fertilizers began flowing into Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), lowering the quality of its water. The soil, stripped of natural foliage, was blown away by strong winds in the valley, and the peat of the drained swamp ignited spontaneously, causing underground fires that were difficult to extinguish.
In 1963, a small (3.50 km) area of recreated papyrus swampland in the southwest of the valley was set aside as the country’s first nature reserve. Concern over the draining of the Huleh was the impetus for the creation of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which has had a huge positive impact nationwide. By the late 1980s, a full restoration was in the planning and was completed by 1996.
Israel is uniquely situated in the Great Rift Valley that extends from Turkey down into Africa. One of the remarkable features of the location is that it is a major north/south path for migratory birds. The drained Huleh deprived the birds of food and water resources and they diverted their flight patterns, to their own detriment. During the first three years after reflooding, at least 120 species of birds were recorded again in and around the lake, and more have returned since. Migratory pelicans, storks, cormorants, cranes and other birds en route between Europe and Africa spend days to weeks in the vicinity of the Huleh, drawing thousands of bird watchers from around the world. Grazing mammals such as water buffalos are also being returned to the area. The stamps below, on the first day cover issued in 2007, show some of the wildlife that populates the Huleh Valley since the completion of the restoration project.
When are YOU going to Israel?
Now is the time to begin thinking about life post-pandemic.
HAPPY TU B’SHEVAT!
Naomi Patz, Curator
*In order to reach numbers beyond ten, the next eight letters are given number values that increase by a factor of ten from 20 to 90. The final four letters are given number values that increase by a factor of one hundred from 100 to 400. In Hebrew, gematria is often used as an alternative to arabic numerals when recording numbers. Hebrew dates are generally written using gematria. Click here to return.
Text and display by Naomi Patz – Hanukkah 5781
Another name for Hanukkah is JAG URIM, the festival of lights. In the darkest season of the year, virtually every religious tradition includes symbols and ceremonies to offset fears and counter the unnerving absence of light. Obviously, this has been a much less significant feature of the season since the advent of electricity. Yet this year, the gloom and fear associated with the Covid-19 pandemic bring us back again to an atavistic sense of insecurity.
So, being cautious, wearing masks and keeping our distance, let us
The following are photographs of the menorot (aka hanukkiyot) and associated objects for the festival of HANUKKAH now on display in the museum case of Temple Sholom of West Essex, Rabbi Patz’s congregation in New Jersey, which Naomi curates.
The opening picture is an overview of the entire case. Each element (more or less) will follow.
The story of the little cruse of oil, just enough for a single night, which last “miraculously” for eight nights, is the traditional reason given for the celebration of Hanukkah.
The real story is much more complex and involves the political realities that followed the victory of the Maccabees. It’s a fascinating story you should check out, if you don’t know it already. Apart from everything else, it demonstrates powerfully why this is an observance for adults, not just a fairytale with presents for the kids.
Oil lamps are what people used for light. The first slide shows five oil lamps (and a photograph of four others) from ancient Israel. All but one are replicas.
Although candles were first invented some 500 years before the Common Era, as late as the Middle Ages candles were mostly reserved for church ceremonies because they were very expensive. Only the wealthy could afford to burn them in their homes. Almost everyone used oil for lighting; the size, style and efficiency of the lamps determined the amount of light they cast. For most of the history of the observance of Hanukkah, our people used oil to mark the nights of the holiday.
The beautifully designed hanukkiyot in the next two slides (different views of the same objects, some reflected in the mirrored glass back of the case) are replicas of bronze menorot from medieval France and Italy. Their styles are reminiscent of Gothic and Muslim architecture. See the rose window in the triangular menorah in the lower left and the arches on the two replicas behind it.
The little cups at the front were filled with oil, and a small wick then laid on top to be lit from the pointed tip.
There are an incredible number of modern hanukkiyot, ranging from elegant and evocative to whimsical and totally kitschy.
Here is a small sample of the range:
A wooden menorah, painted on both sides with scenes from the story of Noah, the flood and the ark, by the contemporary Israeli artist, Yair Emanuel, a gift from our dear friends Sue and Jimmy Klau (z”l). As we discovered to our horror with the first version of this hanukkiyah we lit, the candles cannot be allowed to burn down by themselves. We have replaced it. Enough said.
This hanukkiyah is a replica of 18th century Dutch menorah featuring hearts and flowering vines, traditional motifs of Dutch Jewish art. Holders for wax candles have been placed into the traditional oil cups (which, on close observation, you will see are just for show).It is amazing how bright the illumination when all of the candles are lit!
This hanukkiyah is Waterford Marquis crystal, the name unfortunately visible on the bottom of each of its nine pieces – one for each night’s candle and the tallest for the shamash, the “helper candle” that is used to light them all. It is designed to be displayed in a triangular shape, as here, or even random, so long as the shamash retains its function.
Please note that in traditional hanukkiyot, all eight candles or oil cups are always at the same height although the height of the shamash may differ. Note too that the candles are placed in the menorah from right (on the first night) to left (when all eight are burning) and lit starting with the newest light (in other words, from left to right).
This heavy glass modern hanukkiyah displays the eight candles at roughly the traditional level with the shamash set to the side. It is an oddly evocative piece designed to look like a block of water in motion.
Called the Wave Menorah by its creators, Joel and Candace Bless, it is made in a unique method the artists have dubbed “drip casting” to describe the hand cast hot glass in this menorah.
Dreidl (or dreidel) is the Yiddish name for the spinning “tops” designed hundreds of years ago in Yiddish-speaking communities in Europe to entertain children (and adults) during the eight nights of Hanukkah. The Hebrew word for dreidl is sevivon.
Gambling traditions associated with dreidls use hanukkah gelt (the coins that were the original gifts given on the festival) or walnuts as the “pot.” Every dreidl has a Hebrew letter on each surface: nun – standing for the word nes, miracle; gimel, for gadol, great; hey, for the word hayah, happened, or was; shin, for sham – there: A Great Miracle Happened There. (In modern Israel, the shin is replaced with the letter pey – for po = here.) Monetary (or walnut) values are assigned to each letter. Every player spins in turn. If the dreidl lands on nun, you get nothing (nichts). Gimel = ganz, winner take all! Hey gives the spinner halb, half of the pot, and poor you, if your dreidl stops on shin because it means you have to schenk your holdings into the pot.
The dreidls here are a wide variety ranging from a Waterford crystal to enameled tops to the Yaakov Greenvurcel six-sided metal in the lower right of the picture – and on to the wind-up little dreidl man behind it.
And now, another hanukkiyah.
This is a modern Israel ceramic piece depicting the stylized side of a Moorish building with an archway, peaked roof and lavish floral motifs. Although it can theoretically be lit with wicks in oil (we’ve tried), it works best – and looks terrific – with (ideally color-coordinated) candles creating a third dimension for the design.
Be sure to note the bird on the branch.
The artist is Shulamit.
Next is a modern interpretation of the medieval European bronze menorot, rather different examples of which are in the first photographs above (and are displayed in the bottom left of the lowest shelf of the museum case). This menorah is definitely designed for wicks in oil.
The final three (top shelf) are contemporary plates for latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) or other “delicacies” of the festival, all of which rely on copious amounts of cooking oil in acknowledgement and celebration of Hanukkah.
The nursery school plate below was made many years ago when our New Jersey congregation had a gan yeladim, a 5-day a week nursery school. We recognize a menorah in the center, dreidls on either side, perhaps a match in turquoise (?), two Jewish stars (one much more recognizable than the other), and an unidentifiable purple object at the bottom. The artist (our younger daughter, Aviva) has no idea what that was meant to be.
The last plate, in the shape of a dreidl, shows the letter shin and part of the letter nun. Provenance: Probably made in China, it was purchased it at Marshalls.
The Talmud instructs us to “publicize the miracle” by displaying the Hanukkah lights in a window where it can be seen by passersby. Electric menorot enable moderns to observe this command safely – and to leave the lights burning, adding a new one each night, for the full week+ of Hanukkah.
JAG URIM SAMEAJ!!
Cómo COVID-19 empujó a una pequeña congregación judía en Puerto Rico mucho más allá de sus fronteras.
Por Judy Maltz
Traducido por Marc Schnitzer de un artículo publicado en la edición inglesa de Haaretz.
Publicado a las 13:48
En una típica mañana de Shabat en estos tiempos no tan típicos, el rabino Roberto Graetz abre su servicio semanal de oración por Zoom a las 8 a.m. Son las 8 a.m. Hora del Pacífico, ya que Graetz no se encuentra en Puerto Rico, donde normalmente estaría en esta época del año, sino en el estudio de su hogar permanente en Lafayette, California.
En San Juan, donde se encuentra físicamente su congregación, el reloj acaba de dar las 11 a.m. Y en Argentina, Brasil y Chile, donde residen los rabinos en formación que lo ayudan a dirigir los servicios, ya es mediodía, es decir, dos horas antes que Guatemala, donde su cantora, su guitarra ya posada en su regazo, ansiosa, espera su señal para empezar.
Encontrar el momento óptimo para celebrar los servicios matutinos de Shabat, dice el rabino reformista nacido en Argentina, puede ser un desafío cuando su congregación está a casi 4,000 millas (casi 6,500 kilómetros) y varias zonas horarias de distancia. No facilita las cosas que algunos de los que comparten las responsabilidades semanales con él estén aún más lejos.
“Ahora que cambiaron los relojes aquí en la costa oeste, mis feligreses me pidieron que comenzara a las 7 a.m. mi tiempo ”, dice en una llamada telefónica desde su casa en California. “Les dije que hay límites en cuanto a qué tan temprano estoy dispuesto a despertarme, y que tendrían que continuar sin mí en los próximos meses hasta que volvamos a la hora normal”.
Nueva oportunidad de vida
La pandemia de coronavirus ha obligado a las sinagogas de todo el mundo a adaptarse e improvisar para mantener a sus feligreses comprometidos y mantenerse pertinentes mientras se cumplen los requisitos de distanciamiento social. Para las congregaciones reformistas, que no están sujetas a restricciones halájicas sobre el uso de la electricidad, plataformas como Zoom han hecho posible que se sigan celebrando los servicios de Shabat y festivos de forma remota.
Sin embargo, el Temple Beth Shalom en San Juan es el caso poco común de una congregación que no solo ha mantenido una apariencia de normalidad durante esta crisis, sino que incluso ha encontrado la oportunidad de extenderse más allá de sus fronteras.
“Lo que hemos estado experimentando aquí en las mañanas de Shabat durante los últimos meses es simplemente asombroso”, dice Shula Feldkran, nacida en Israel, quien se mudó a Puerto Rico hace más de 50 años y ha sido durante mucho tiempo miembro activo de Beth Shalom.
“Dada la opción, la mayoría de la gente obviamente preferiría estar en una sinagoga real. Pero para mí, debido a que tengo un poco de sordera, los servicios de Zoom son aún mejores ”, dice la señora de 75 años, bromeando a medias.
Beth Shalom, la única congregación reformista en Puerto Rico, fue fundada en el 1967 por judíos norteamericanos que habían comenzado a mudarse a la isla en busca de oportunidades comerciales. Debido a las disparidades lingüísticas y culturales, no se sentían cómodos ni bienvenidos en la congregación conservadora ya establecida, fundada por judíos que habían huido de Cuba después de que Fidel Castro subiera al poder, por lo que comenzaron su propio lugar de culto.
La mayoría de los hijos de estos judíos de América del Norte finalmente abandonaron Puerto Rico, y solo quedan unos pocos miembros de la generación fundadora de Beth Shalom, la mayoría habiendo muerto o regresado al continente por motivos de salud.
La congregación recibió una nueva y bastante inesperada oportunidad de vida en los últimos años gracias al creciente número de puertorriqueños que han descubierto el judaísmo, algunos de ellos con ascendencia judía, y se están convirtiendo. Hoy en día, los judíos por elección representan más del 90 por ciento de la membresía paga en Beth Shalom.
La congregación ha dependido durante mucho tiempo de rabinos “voluntarios”, por lo general, rabinos jubilados de América del Norte, que pasan algunos meses en la isla. Los servicios de los viernes por la noche se llevan a cabo en inglés, para beneficio de los fundadores restantes y los “pájaros de nieve” [norteamericanos que pasan el invierno en Puerto Rico] , y en la mañana de Shabat en español. Según Graetz, en tiempos previos al coronavirus, los servicios de los viernes por la noche atraían a un promedio de 15 a 20 participantes, mientras que los servicios matutinos de Shabat atraían entre 40 y 50.
Desde que los servicios se pusieron en línea a mediados de marzo después de que el coronavirus azotara a Puerto Rico, las cifras han aumentado constantemente, dice Graetz. Señala que en las últimas semanas, entre 80 y 90 fieles han estado asistiendo al Zoom del sábado por la mañana.
Cuando la pandemia de coronavirus golpeó a Puerto Rico, el rabino que normalmente se ofrece como voluntario durante los meses de invierno acababa de regresar al continente, y los miembros de Beth Shalom se quedaron sin un rabino y sin un lugar para rezar, ya que su sinagoga, como todos los lugares de culto, habían sido ordenados cerrados. “Me ofrecí a ejecutar los servicios matutinos de Shabat de forma remota, y otro colega mío se hizo responsable de los servicios del viernes por la noche”, relata Graetz, de 74 años. “En algún momento me cansé un poco, así que me acerqué a tres de los estudiantes del nuevo centro de formación rabínica en Argentina donde enseño, y les pregunté si les gustaría hacerse cargo, ya que había poco trabajo congregacional real que pudieran hacer en estos días. Les dije que yo los capacitaría y los guiaría, y dijeron que estarían encantados.”
Esta es una segunda carrera para los tres estudiantes rabínicos, dice. Edy Huberman, de Buenos Aires, es director ejecutivo de la Fundación Judaica de Argentina (una asociación de sinagogas progresistas); Martín Hirsch, de Concepción, Chile, es profesor de ingeniería; y Pablo Schejtman, un argentino radicado en Fortaleza, Brasil, es ejecutivo de seguros.
Por lo general, Graetz se habría ido para su período anual en Puerto Rico justo antes de los Iamim Noraim, así que cuando llegó septiembre y todavía estaba atrapado en casa, llamó a sus estudiantes y les hizo una oferta. “Dije: hagamos esto juntos”.
Durante Rosh Hashaná, se les unió en sus servicios en línea Adat Israel, una comunidad judía reformista en Guatemala cuyos miembros son todos conversos. Rebecca Orantes, una aspirante a rabina con una hermosa voz, fue inmediatamente reclutada como solista cantorial. *
‘Como presenciar una disputa talmúdica’
Una vez que se abrieron los servicios para los participantes fuera de Puerto Rico, los estudiantes rabínicos de Graetz preguntaron si también podían invitar a miembros de varias pequeñas comunidades judías que conocían en rincones remotos de Argentina y Chile. Graetz estuvo más que feliz de complacerlo. Mientras tanto, algunos de los “pájaros de nieve” regulares, atrapados en casa en el continente, habían comenzado a unirse.
Salatiel Corcos, un contratista de obras de 32 años que es el actual presidente de Beth Shalom, ve una tendencia con un gran potencial. “Ahora estamos empezando a pensar en cómo podemos atraer a otras pequeñas comunidades de habla hispana, comunidades que no tienen sus propios rabinos y no tienen su propio lugar para orar”.
Beth Shalom ya se ha acercado a una pequeña comunidad reformista en México, dice, y espera incorporarla pronto.
Para prepararse para el servicio de una hora y media, Graetz y sus tres estudiantes se reúnen en línea los jueves y dividen las lecturas. Graetz entrega el d’var Torá que se refiere a la lectura de la Torá de la semana, y sus alumnos se turnan para comentarlo. “A veces, es casi como presenciar una disputa talmúdica”, dice Marc Schnitzer, nacido en Estados Unidos, ex presidente de la congregación y profesor retirado de lingüística que lleva viviendo en la isla casi 45 años.
Después de la lectura de la Torá, los rabinos en formación recitan textos judíos, prosa y poesía pertinentes a la lectura semanal. “Esta es mi parte favorita de estos servicios”, dice Feldkran. “Aprendo mucho de eso”.
En las últimas semanas, se han aliviado las restricciones relacionadas con el coronavirus en Guatemala y se ha permitido que los miembros de la congregación local regresen a su sinagoga en cantidades limitadas. Graetz cuenta que era la primera vez en meses que los participantes en el servicio semanal de Zoom había visto un rollo de la Torá. “Todos vimos en línea mientras se sacaba la Torá del arca en la sinagoga de Guatemala, y debo decir que fue una escena muy conmovedora”, recuerda.
Las desventajas de asistir a los servicios en línea superan con creces las ventajas, dice Schnitzer. Pero eso no significa que el nuevo formato no tenga sus ventajas. “Por un lado, nuestros pájaros de nieve pueden sintonizar dondequiera que estén, así que ha sido muy agradable”, dice. “Para mí, personalmente, ha habido otro beneficio. Por lo general, mi esposa y yo íbamos a los servicios del viernes por la noche o del sábado por la mañana. Desde que comenzó la pandemia y los servicios se han movido en línea, asistimos a ambos. Así que se podría decir que ahora somos más activos en la congregación de lo que solíamos ser”.
Cuando la vida vuelva a la normalidad, Graetz confía en que sus feligreses en Puerto Rico elegirán lo real en lugar de Zoom. “Pero lo que hemos descubierto es que hay personas en comunidades aisladas de América del Sur que están hambrientas por este tipo de conexión, y no van a querer renunciar a ella “, dice. “Así que creo que habrá una comunidad virtual que seguirá existiendo incluso cuando esto termine”.
*Corrección: Adat Israel y el Templo Beth Shalom han tenido servicios de Shabat por Zoom en conjunto desde comienzos del verano, durante los cuales la tarea cantorial se ha alternado entre la soprano Evelyn Vazquez Díaz, del Templo Beth Shalom, acompañada de su esposo Angel Rojas, y Rebecca Orantes de Adat Israel. Sin embargo, tuvieron servicios independientes para los Iamim Noraim, incluyendo el servicio de Rosh Hashaná mencionado, durante los cuales la tarea cantorial para el Templo Beth Shalom fue provista por Evelyn y Angel, tal como han hecho por varios años. El Templo Beth Shalom agradece enormemente su dedicación y compromiso con la congregación. Regresar
What started out as an emergency Zoom Shabbat service in San Juan is now bringing together worshippers across the Americas
On a typical Shabbat morning in these not-so-typical times, Rabbi Roberto Graetz opens his weekly Zoom prayer service at 8 A.M. That’s 8 A.M. Pacific Time, since Graetz is not in Puerto Rico – where he would normally be at this time of year – but in the study of his permanent home in Lafayette, California.
In San Juan, where his congregation is physically located, the clock has just struck 11 A.M. And in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, where the rabbis-in-training who help him lead the services reside, it’s already noon – that’s to say, two hours ahead of Guatemala, where his cantor, her guitar already perched on her lap, eagerly awaits her cue to start.
Finding the optimal time to hold Shabbat morning services, says the Argentinian-born Reform rabbi, can be a challenge when your congregation is nearly 4,000 miles (almost 6,500 kilometers) and several time zones away. It doesn’t make things easier that some of those sharing the weekly responsibilities with him are even further away.
“Now that they’ve changed the clocks back here on the West Coast, my congregants asked me to start at what would be 7 A.M. my time,” he says in a phone call from his California home. “I told them there are limits to how early I’m willing to wake up, and that they’d have to carry on without me in the coming months until we’re back to a normal hour.”
New lease on life
The coronavirus pandemic has forced synagogues around the world to adjust and improvise to keep their congregants engaged and to stay relevant while fulfilling social distancing requirements. For Reform congregations, not bound by halakhic restrictions on electricity use, platforms like Zoom have made it possible to continue holding Shabbat and holiday services remotely.
Temple Beth Shalom in San Juan is the rare case, however, of a congregation that has not only maintained some semblance of normalcy during this crisis, but even found opportunity in it to span out way beyond its borders.
“What we have been experiencing here on Shabbat mornings over the past few months is simply amazing,” says Israeli-born Shula Feldkran, who moved to Puerto Rico more than 50 years ago and has long been an active member of Beth Shalom.
“Given the choice, most people would obviously prefer being in a real synagogue. But for me, because I’m a bit hard of hearing, the Zoom services are even better,” says the 75-year-old, only half-joking.
Beth Shalom, the only Reform congregation in Puerto Rico, was founded in 1967 by North American Jews who had begun moving to the island in search of business opportunities. Because of language and cultural disparities, they didn’t feel comfortable or welcome at the already established Conservative congregation – founded by Jews who had fled Cuba after Fidel Castro rose to power – and so they started their own place of worship.
Most of the children of these North America Jews eventually left Puerto Rico, and only a few members of the founding generation of Beth Shalom are still around – most having died or moved back to the mainland for health reasons.
The congregation received a new, and rather unexpected, lease on life in recent years thanks to growing numbers of Puerto Ricans who have discovered Judaism – some claiming Jewish ancestry – and are converting. Today, Jews by choice account for more than 90 percent of the paid membership at Beth Shalom.
The congregation has long relied on “volunteer” rabbis – typically, retired rabbis from North America – who spend a few months at a stretch on the island. Friday night services are conducted in English, for the benefit of the remaining founders and the snowbirds, and on Shabbat morning in Spanish. According to Graetz, in pre-coronavirus times, Friday night services would draw on average 15 to 20 participants, while Shabbat morning services attracted somewhere between 40 and 50.
Since services went online in mid-March after the coronavirus hit Puerto Rico, the numbers have been growing consistently, Graetz says. He notes that in recent weeks, between 80 and 90 worshippers have been attending the Saturday morning Zoom.
This is a second career for all three of the rabbinical students, he says. Edy Huberman, from Buenos Aires, is executive director of Argentina’s Fundación Judaica (an association of progressive synagogues); Martin Hirsch, from Concepción, Chile, is an engineering professor; and Pablo Schejtman, an Argentinian based in Fortaleza, Brazil, is an insurance executive.
Graetz would usually have been taking off for his annual stint in Puerto Rico just before the High Holy Days, so when September rolled around and he was still stuck at home, he called his students and made them an offer. “I said: let’s all do this together.”
Over Rosh Hashanah, they were joined in their online services by Adat Israel, a Reform Jewish community in Guatemala whose members are all converts. Rebecca Orantes, an aspiring rabbi with a beautiful voice, was immediately recruited as a cantorial soloist.
‘Like watching a talmudic dispute’
Once services were opening to participants outside of Puerto Rico, Graetz’s rabbinical students asked if they could also invite members of several tiny Jewish communities they knew in remote corners of Argentina and Chile. Graetz was more than happy to oblige. In the meantime, some of the regular snowbirds, stuck at home on the mainland, had started to join.
Salatiel Corcos, a 32-year-old building contractor who is Beth Shalom’s current president, sees a trend with great potential. “We’re now starting to think about how we can bring in other small Spanish-speaking communities – communities that don’t have their own rabbis and don’t have their own place to pray.”
Beth Shalom has already reached out to a small Reform community in Mexico, he says, and hopes to bring it on board soon.
To prepare for the hour-and-a-half-long service, Graetz and his three students convene online on Thursdays and divide up the readings. Graetz delivers the d’var Torah that addresses the portion of the week, and his students then take turns commenting on it. “Sometimes, it’s almost like watching a talmudic dispute,” says American-born Marc Schnitzer, a past president of the congregation and retired professor of linguistics who’s been living on the island nearly 45 years.
After the Torah reading, the rabbis-in-training recite Jewish texts, prose and poetry of relevance to the weekly portion. “This is my favorite part of these services,” Feldkran says. “I learn so much from it.”
In recent weeks, coronavirus-related restrictions in Guatemala have been eased, and members of the local congregation have been allowed back into their synagogue in limited numbers. It was the first time in months, Graetz recounts, that any of the participants in the weekly Zoom service had come close to seeing a Torah scroll. “We all watched online as they took the Torah out of the ark in the synagogue in Guatemala – and I have to say, it was a very moving scene,” he recalls.
The cons of attending services online far outweigh the pros, Schnitzer says. But that doesn’t mean the new format doesn’t have its advantages. “For one, our snowbirds can tune in wherever they are, so that’s been really nice,” he says. “For me personally, there’s been another benefit. Usually, my wife and I would go either to Friday night or to Saturday morning services. Ever since the pandemic hit and the services have moved online, we go to both. So you could say we’re more active in the congregation now than we used to be.”
When life returns to normal, Graetz is confident his congregants in Puerto Rico will choose the real thing over Zoom. “But what we’ve discovered is that there are people out there in isolated communities around South America who are hungry for this sort of connection, and they’re not going to want to give it up,” he says. “So I believe there will be a virtual community that continues to exist even when this is over.”
This article was originally published in Haaretz.
Eulogy by Rabbi Norman Patz
October 9, 2020 – Tishri 21, 5781
Delivered by Salatiel Corcos, President of Temple Beth Shalom of Puerto Rico
I am Salatiel Corcos, President of Temple Beth Shalom. I have come today to honor the memory of Norma Topp, who was president of Temple Beth Shalom many years ago. I am grateful to Diego Mendelbaum, religious leader of Congregacion Shaare Zedeck, the JCC, for inviting me to present Rabbi Patz’s eulogy, written in Norma’s memory. Rabbi Patz extends condolences to the family and to both congregations, indeed to the entire Jewish community of the island and beyond. He expresses his strong sense of privilege for having been Norma and Bill’s rabbi.
This is a sad day for the Topp family and for the Jewish community or Puerto Rico as well. Norma Topp was one of the last of a generation whose long experience on this island began eight decades ago, just three years after World War II ended. Puerto Rico was very different then. So too was the San Juan to which Norma, a 19 years old Toronto girl, came, with her distant relative Bill, now her new husband.
The trolley from Old San Juan came only to the edge of Condado and turned around on Del Parque. Nearly all of Isla Verde was a forest of palm trees. Adult women, in Norma’s telling, wouldn’t leave their homes unless they wore hat, gloves and stockings. What a shock it was for her – weather and culture both. Fortunately, Norma was up to the challenge.
She was a class act in every aspect of her life. Norma Topp exuded quality. “She was the kindest person and the most caring,” in Debbie’s words, “above and beyond and unmatched” all through the years. When Debbie told her brother Robert that their mother had died, he cried bitterly. His tears reflect the grief of Norma’s survivors: Norma’s daughter Debbie and her husband Gary, Norma’s daughter Carol and Norma’s son Robert; Norma’s grandchildren Sarah and Daniel, Anna and Dov, Alejandro, Enrique, and Annibal; and her great grandchildren Oliver, Sadie, Charlie and the newborn, Harry, just three months old. Robert’s tears reflect the grief we all feel at Norma’s death.
She was 91 years old, well beyond the age that Pirke Avot, the post biblical book called Sayings of the Fathers, Dichos de los Padres, describes as the age of gevurah, strong old age. Throughout all of her 91 years, some of which were not easy, she had been a tower of strength for everyone whose lives she touched.
Among the many wonderful things that happened to Naomi and me in coming to Temple Beth Shalom nearly 14 years ago, was meeting Norma and Bill and becoming friends with them. We immediately saw in Norma what everyone who knew her saw: a woman of grace, warmth, dignity, openness and intelligence. Our admiration and respect for her only deepened over the years. Norma and Bill were founding members of the congregation. Both were presidents of the congregation, and their presence was so vivid that after Bill’s death the second floor of Temple Beth Shalom, where the office, the library and the classrooms are located, was named “the Topp Floor.”
After Norma moved to Naples, Florida, I was able to speak with her by telephone from time to time. I treasured those conversations. Norma was still eager to be part of life. Just recently, she renewed her membership in our congregation, and she proudly cast her vote in the U.S. national election.
Throughout her life, Norma displayed her love of life, for her husband of 66 joyous years, for her children and for her community. She was what is called in Yiddish, a gute neshoma, a good soul, a real personality.
The traditional words of praise for a Jewish woman come from chapter 31 of the biblical Book of Proverbs, Mishlei in Hebrew, El Libro de Proverbios in Spanish. In that chapter are 21 verses of praise, arranged in alphabetical order. The verses start with the assertion “What a rare find is a capable wife” and go on to describe the amazing range of qualities and activities of such a woman. The world of the 1940s was an age when it was usual for most women of her station to be defined by their role as homemakers. But Norma was much more.
Yes, she was Bill’s loving partner for 66 years, and a wise counselor to him as well.
And yes, she was a caring and devoted mother to Carol and Debbie and Robert, and grandmother and great grandmother.
And most definitely, she was very much a person in her own right. She was a strongly motivated teacher of developmentally disabled children. She was an active member of the temple board and the temple’s first woman president. She was a voracious reader, an alert citizen, a caring and loyal friend.
She was also a collector of beautiful teapots – teteras. Norma insisted that Naomi and I choose one during the shivah for Bill. We display it in our home, where we see it every day. It reminds us of this remarkable woman whom we loved.
Norma’s was a lifetime of distinguished service worthy of the highest praise. The verses in Proverbs honoring the ayshet hayyil, the woman of valor, conclude with this commendation: “T’nu la mi-pri yadeha ve-y’hallelu-ha ba-shearim ma-a-seh-ha. Extol her for the results of her efforts, and let her achievements praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:31)
Zekher tzadikkah l’v’rakhah. May her memory be a blessing for us all.
Que su memoria sea una bendicion para todos nosotros.
Sua alma goze da gloria!