Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adas Israel, Fall River, Massachusetts, 1893-2012 an end of an era


If you Drive by today the magnificent structure of Adas Israel, you will no longer see a Magen David on the door, it is now owned by a church. A long and fascinating history has finally come to its end, the last standing Orthodox Synagogue in Southeastern Mass. has closed its doors. Founded in 1893 in the downtown area of the town, which now has a population of 90,000, this massive building was inaugurated in 1959, in the best part of town.

In the early 1900s, Fall River was a textile industry center, and the majority of the factory owners were Jews who hailed from NY. At one time there were 5 Orthodox synagogues, Kosher bakeries, groceries... anything a Jew might need. Now, the only thing trace you may find of this once vibrant community are its 2 well-maintained cemeteries.

Adas Israel was more than just a place to pray at its prime. It hosted a Hebrew School, a sisterhood, a wedding hall (The last President of the Shul, Jeffrey Weissman got married in the shul, 1963), a large children's library, 2 kosher kitchens, a Rabbis fund and most importantly hundreds of members. The younger generation mostly moved out or assimilated, leaving the average age of the Jews in town in the high 70s of their life. The synagogue has not had a local minyan for many years, even for the high holidays, when young men had to be imported to help fill the quorum.

When I arrived in the town days before the sale was finalized, I found an extremely well kept place, with a library that would not embarrass any Rabbi. The children's library was perfectly organized by sections and in good order, though no child has been in the synagogue for several decades now. Removing the books from the shelves, I felt I was taking 120 years of history with me.

When times were good in town, dissidents from Adas Israel established the American Brothers of Israel in about 1892. It eventually merged with Adas Israel again. At the beginning of the 20th century a third synagogue, Aguda B'nai Jacob, was founded. Abraham Lipshitz began ministering to these three congregations, which made up the Orthodox community, about 1910, serving them for over 30 years. In the decade 1910–20 Congregation Beth David was founded, Hebrew schools were established, and in 1924 a Conservative synagogue, Temple Beth El, was founded. Morton Goldberg served the congregation from 1925 to 1937, when Jacob Freedman replaced him as spiritual leader. Rabbi Freedman helped found the Fall River Jewish Community Council (1938), which in 1970 included about 25 societies and organizations. The other major communal institution is the Fall River United Jewish Appeal.

Jews prominent in Fall River life have included David L. Gourse, clothier and commissioner of public welfare; Albert Rubin, a state legislator for many years; H. William Radovsky, finance commissioner; and Rabbi Samuel Ruderman, long considered the spokesman for the Jewish community. David H. Radovsky and Moses Entin both played important roles in fraternal organizations and in the Zionist movement. Two nationally known businessmen and philanthropists, Jacob Ziskind and Albert A. List, were from Fall River. Another resident, Dr. Irving Fradkin, inaugurated Dollars for Scholars, an educational funding program which has been adopted by communities throughout the United States.

From their arrival in Fall River, Jews were involved in peddling and in operating small retail establishments. Many Jewish-owned businesses suffered as a result of the 1904 textile strike. Later, large furniture and retail clothing stores were established, and Jews engaged in finance and in operating textile mills. Although textile production has decreased, many Jews are involved in garment contracting; others are professionals, small retailers, and landlords.

Many thanks to the last President, Jeffrey Weissman, and the Vice President Clifford Lander for all their help in moving the library and all, we had some great times together. Thus ends another chapter in small town communities, which seem to be folding itself one synagogue at a time throughout America.

In the past few days after buying the synagogue, Word of Life Church leaders and members have erected their religious symbols, while also leaving a prominent one that says in Hebrew, “Know before whom you stand.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A 1943 Sermon of for Thanksgiving in middle of WWII

The Sermon below appeared in the 1943 RCA Sermon Manual. A Brilliant look of how to celebrate Thanksgiving even when the world is busy killing each other

New York, N. Y.
Once again, as the autumn winds signal the approach of another winter, Americans throughout the land are called upon to celebrate the national Thanksgiving holiday. This outstanding day is reminiscent of the many praises and thanks which the Pioneers offered to the Almighty in the early period of our national life. At this moment of world crisis and uncertainty its importance should be emphasized as a day of reflection of the sacrifices that the builders of our great Republic have made in order to create this glorious "land of the free and home of the brave." There will be many, however, who will question the wisdom of such a holiday this year. "Look at the world, they will say, and see. Nation is arrayed against nation . in mortal combat. Our brethren on the other side of the ocean are bleeding to death. Why then observe a Thanksgiving holiday this year?" In a significant statement, the Rabbis of the Talmud declare:  "It is incumbent to offer praise and thanks to the Almighty , >; for four distinct and specific reasons: for crossing the ocean in safety, for completion of a journey through the wilderness, for recovery from serious illness, and for release from servitude." ' As we reflect upon the import of this statement of the Rabbis, we find still greater difficulty in celebrating this day of gratitude now. Well may we ask: "Thanksgiving for what?" As yet, we cannot utter an knowledgement of gratefulness for the Yorde-Hayam for crossing the ocean in safety." At this very moment, thousands upon thousands of our fighting men are being called upon to undertake the most dangerous voyage of their lives-a voyage across submarine infested oceans and seas. At this very moment millions of Americans are exposing themselves to unheard of risks and hazards in order to bring about a world of equality, security and peace. No, my friends. It is still too early to offer thanks for those "who have crossed the ocean in safety." That will have to wait for the successful culmination of the present conflict.

Again we ask: "Thanksgiving for what? Shall we - express our gratitude Al holche midborios-for completing a journey through the wilderness?" Here, too, we do not have sufficient cause for joy. The world of our day and age is one vast wilderness. Nations as well as individuals are confused and are wandering aimlessly about without the spiritual waters to quench their great thirst. And so we are afflicted with the dreaded diseases of selfishness, greed and fratricide. "Every man for himself," is our watchword; "May the strongest survive," is the maxim inscribed upon our coat of arms. As long as humanity continues to journey in such a delirious manner, it will remain lost in the wilderness and would be made to suffer the pangs of hunger and thirst as well as the fierce attacks of the ferocious beasts and the venomous serpents. We have yet to witness the end of such blundering and bestiality before we shall be able to thank Gd "for completing a journey through the wilderness."

If not for these, perhaps we should be thankful - al mi shehoyo cholo v'nisrapo - for recovery from serious illness ? While it is true that the world is now slowly recovering from the dangerous Fascist and Nazi scourges which had almost destroyed all of mankind, I feel that it is still premature to celebrate a service of thanksgiving on that score. The United Nations have a long way to go before the world will recuperate from the malady which afflicts it to this day. We now come to the last of the four causes for thanksgiving as outlined in the Talmud: Chovush b'bis hoasurim v'yotzo - "for release from servitude." Man is subjugated and enslaved today in a world he was destined to rule. He has yet to avail himself of the blessing which God has bestowed upon hm at creation: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." a Instead, civilization has created a mighty and hideous monster which now controls -- every utterance and thought of man. While the machine has satisfied certain needs and wants of man, it has been misused by him whom he employed it as an instrument of exploitation and tyranny. Thus the machine has become a molten Moloch which has devoured a great portion of humanity. At no time has the earth been enthralled in a more bitter bondage, and at no period in its history has the human race experienced greater misery, than in the present era of the machine. As long as the world is yet to be freed from this crush burden of slavery, we cannot offer thanks "for release from servitude."

 From all that has been said heretofe, it is evident, that none of the four causes for thanksgiving is ground for genuine gratitude today. My friends, Israel has always been a peculiar people. In moments of distress he offered praises and sang Psalms unto the Lord; in his hour of strife, of torment and adversity, the Jew looked upon his sorrow as a blessing in disguise. The Talmud relates the following significant tale abut the great sage Rabbi Akiba. Driven out of his native land through violent persecution, he journeyed to a strange country, his sole possessions were a lamp for study, a rooster to announce the break of dawn, and a donkey on whrch he travelled. One night Rabbi Akiba arrived tired and hungry at a small village, and asked for a night's lodging, but no one would offer the exhausted wanderer any shelter. He was thus obliged to spend the night in a nearby forest. He sat down beneath a tree to study by the light of his lamp. A fierce storm soon extinguished his light, and not long afterwards a wolf killed his rooster and a lion devoured his donkey. In face of all these calamities, the spirit of the Rabbi remained unshaken. Streching out upon the ground to rest his weary body, he said: "Whatever the Lord doeth is for the best!" In the morning he returned to the village to see whether he could procure for himself a donkey to continue his journey. To his amazement he could not find a single soul alive in the .town. During the night a band of robbers entered the village, killed the inhabitants and plundered their homes. Rabbi Akiba then understood, that what at first had seemed to be a tragic experience was in reality his great fortune. As a token of thanksgiving, Rabbi Akiba lifted his eyes towards the heavens and offered the following words of Thanksgiving: "Great G*d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now I understand that mortal man is shortsighted and blind. Thou alone art just and Kind and merciful. Had not the hard. hearted people driven me from the village, I, too, would have shared their fate. Had not the storm extinguished the light, it would have been seen by the robbers and they would have murdered me too. Had not the rooster and donkey been lulled, their noises might have attracted the robbers to my retreat in the forest. Praised then, be Thy name forever and ever!" '

This self-sarne spirit of hope and faith has ever been the guiding light of Israel in his darkest hour of plight and misfortune. Despite the fact that he has always had to live in an unfriendly world, he believed that suffering was in reality a blessing in disguise. It is, therefore, not unusual for the Jew to sing psalms and to offer thanks. giving even at a time when there is no apparent cause for gratitude. From his earliest history he was imbued with this remarkable attitude towards suffering. He abided by the faith of the Talmudic Sages as expounded in the follow.  "It is incumbent upon man to be thankful for misfortune, just as he expresses thanks for affluence and goodness." This sanguine expression of trust and confidence in God, the Jewish people derived from the patriarch Jacob of whom we read in the Sedrah of this week. Weary and disillusioned, tired in body and soul, Jacob treads the long road leading to his uncle Laban. With nothing save the staff in his hand, he finds himself alone in a vast and an unfriendly desert. As the bleak darkness of night sure rounds him, he gathers a few stones about his head and prepares himself for sleep. Suddenly he beholds a glorious vision of a great ladder stretching from the earth unto the heavens, and angels of God are ascending and descending it. Then a divine voice calls out to him:"behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goes."

 Upon awaking at dawn, Jacob understands the vision, and so he vows: "If God will be with me and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, this stone which I have set up -for a pillar shall be Gd's house and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee." Herein, do we find the basis of our beautiful and eternal religion. It is a faith which teaches its adherents to acknowledge thanks and to offer praises to the Lord even in moments of extreme stress and sorrow. It is a faith which remains firm and unshaken even in the black* est hour of defeat. It is because of such a Jacob Like  faith, that the Jew is blessed with a vision-with an ideal so glorious that it fills him with confidence in the future. In spite of the ominous present the Jew never gives way to despair.
The true Israelite regards his unfavorable state with optimistic courage; with undaunted spirit he declares:  "One is obliged to praise Gd, and to offer thanks unto Him even in me moments of sorrow." At this precarious moment in the history of the world let us exhibit our adherence to this unique Jewish pattern of unflinching faith as exemplified by Jacob. We, too, are endowed with a vision, an ideal which seeks ful* h e n t . It is a task whose fruition is of greatest importance in a period of world crisis. Yea, even at the instance of Israel's greatest calamity and torment, must he realize the urgent necessity of alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate than himself, of his bludgeoned and bleeding brethren dying in the lands of tyranny and **'d barbarism. At crucial moments such as these, when the future looks dark and dreary let us fortify ourselves with our glorious faith and with cheerful countenance strive to fulfill the Divine Law, which we have envisioned, and which we have taught to the entire world. Yes, my friends, we may offer hymns of gratitude and thanksgiving at the present moment, even though our hearts are heavy and our spirits are low.

 Our thanksgiving, however, is combined with a prayer. Confident in the knowledge that Truth and Justice must eventually triumph, we pray for a future that will be brightly illuminated by the gleaming rays of a new dawn. With unshakable faith in the ultimate reaction of our vision we gather into our Houses of Worship and we pray to Gd. We hope that soon we will be able to thank God Al yorde hayam, for the speedy victorious return in safety of our armed forces from their perilous journeys. We hope that soon we may praise God al holche midbarot for the speedy renunciation by all men of selfishness greed and hate. We pray that civilization may emerge safely from the present wilderness, and that we will be forever free from fear. We pray to God, that the next Thanksgiving will be one of gratitude for Mi shehoyo chole v'nintrape - that the world will be cured from the dread disease of war and that Fascism and inhumanity will be completely destroyed, so that we may soon witness the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophetic vision of eternal peace. . . And finally we look forward with confidence, for the freedom of chovush bevet ha'asurim, release of all who are held both physically and morally in servitude. We pray for the liberation of all minorities from cruel oppression and subjugation, and for the emancipation of mankind from moral, political and economic bondage. In the words and in the spirit of the Psalms we truly pray: "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High. And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me:"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Louis Brandeis & Jacob Frank, Frankists Today

Eva Frank
Jacob Frank is long dead and his followers and practices long forgotten, but is his effect still being felt?
Louis Brandeis was a descendant of one of the prominent Shabbatean/Frankist families of Prague. They did not follow Frank’s example of conversion to Islam or Catholicism, but maintained a Jewish identity, though very detached from Jewish ritual and practice. His mother Frederika Dembitz Goldmark Brandeis “disdained formal religious ceremonies and encouraged her children to value ethical teachings of religion, including Judaism, while eschewing the age-old rituals.” Brandeis grew up in the family environment, where, though born a Jew, he was not raised as a Jew. In fact, he celebrated Christmas, but not the Jewish holidays; neither did he keep the kosher laws, or the sabbath. He was very disengaged from Jewish practice.
Brandeis’s maternal uncle, Gottlieb Wehle, wrote an ethical will in which he exhorts members of his family to “respect their ancestors’ tradition of antinomian disdain for the normative Judaism of traditional rabbis.” This was perhaps a reaction to the family’s waning allegiance to the Frank sect. It was Justice Brandeis’s relatives, who revealed a copy of a portion of this will to Gershom scholem, who published it. In fact, Brandeis manifested a great interest in his mother’s background as evidenced by his insistence that she write down the history of the family, which she did. Although she never clearly expressed her Frankist background, she did allude to it. In her letters she gives some insight into why Louis Brandeis was so divorced from traditional Judaism. The environment as presented in her letters in which she detailed her family background evinces an anti-traditional atmosphere. It harkened back to a time in Prague when it was normative to be Jewish ethnically, German culturally, and Austrian politically. Yet, the Brandeis family, obviously influenced by the Frankist sect, had shunned their Jewishness and failed to expose their son Louis to anything more than the vagaries of Jewish identity.
Brandeis’s mother gave him a copy of a picture of Eva Frank (who was Jacob Frank’s daughter and his spiritual successor upon his death), which was handed down and reserved for those who were privileged descendants of Frankists. This generation of Frankists had thrown off and/or forgotten the deviant ways of the founder; previous generations had actually destroyed the written remnants of their affiliation with the sect, even going door to door to collect any memoirs or written traces of the sect, so that they could discard the embarrassing “evidence.” They continued, however, to maintain a certain elitist pride about being connected to the sect’s past. This pride was reflected in Brandeis’s mother’s letters to her son; her descriptions of the close-knit community bespeak the Frankist sect in clandestine terms. Hence, we know that Louis Brandeis knew of this “ghost in the closet,” that would not be wise to profess openly. This may have made him particularly sensitive about the importance of the right to privacy (which he defined in his co-authored Right to Privacy article as the right to an “inviolate personality”) and the right to speak one’s conscience.
Louis Brandeis took his second cousin, Alice, as his bride, a practice not uncommon for Jewish people and Frankists during this era. she too was a descendant of the circle of Crypto-Frankist Jews, and was undoubtedly aware of the secret of the family’s past.
Brandeis' Frankist roots might explain his distance from anything Jewish until relatively late in his life. Only at age 56, in the year 1912 did he become active in the Zionist arena, probably as a conscious response to the Pogroms in Eastern Europe. He was very active for the next few years only to back off in 1919 after breaking off with Chaim Weizmann.
How many other Frankists are still among us, we may never know, and how much Frank had an effect on the abandonment of Jewish Traditions by the vast majority of today's Jews will probably remain a Mystery. On the other extreme of Judaism, Prof. Immanuel Etkes of Hebrew University says, "No doubt the Vilna Gaon suspected that the Hassidim were a sect like the Frankists".
If you are in to conspiracies, there is much more. It seems there are all-conspiracy-believing anti-Semites who believe that Frankists are still around today under a different name. Here is a quote from one of their sites "The Frankists today no longer call themselves by that name. The Organization has grown into an international group labeled by outsiders as the Cult of the All-Seeing Eye". While we are at it, Barry Chamish, an Israeli author, whom some might know from his work trying to prove that Yitzchak Rabin was not killed by Yigal Amir states "The initial financiers of Labor Zionism and Theodore Herzl were barons of the Rothschild clan. Their goal was the creation of a state in the image of their Sabbatean/Frankist beliefs: that is, anti-Torah, anti-Talmudic, anti-religious and anti-Jewish". Pretty much any Jew in a power of authority in the last few hundred years has been or is accused by one nut or another of being a Frankist, who knows, perhaps in a few instances they are right.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New York, the capital of America?


In 1935, the Responsa of Rabbi Yosef Berdugo was published in Casablanca, Morocco. In the Introduction to the book, the publisher, gives thanks to the Jews who helped finance the publishing, among them, to the Jews of the cities of America and it's capital New York...
After 10 pages of the history and genealogy of the Berdugo family, appears a full page proclamation by Moshe Pardo, testifying that he saw a handwritten manuscript filled in, generation after generation from King David to modern times son after son to the Berdugo family of today and signed by local rabbis as certification .

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Some ideas for a Wedding Invitation

Want your wedding invitation to stand out? Perhaps you can get some inspiration from this Israeli one

What prayer do you give a returning Apostate?

Here is a Reverends Handbook printed in 1929. On page 227 appears a "Mi Sheberach" a blessing made for an apostate that returns to Judaism. It is impressive to me, that the occasion was common enough to warrant inserting it into the handbook.

1923 Receipt for purchase of Jewish Books Brooklyn, NY

I found within a book I just acquired the original receipt from Beigeleisen's Bookstore, dated June 10, 1923, in Boro Park, Brooklyn, NY. The Buyer was Rabbi Eliyahu Mordechai Finkelstein, Rabbi in Boro Park at the time. The grand total for the entire purchase of 4 books was $3.25

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Customer's Dying Wish, The fate of a Modern day Marrano

Bad luck brings more bad luck. That is the way I would describe the unfortunate state of Marranos today. The Portuguese Inquisition has been disbanded in 1821, but it's effects are still being felt to this day. A few years ago I started sending books and corresponding with a Marrano living deep in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. The lifestory of his, is a fascinating one indeed. His family were Brazilians for close to 500 years, leaving Portugal when it was no longer safe for them to live as Jews only to have the Inquisition follow them with the Portuguese conquest of Brazil. They married within their families only and lived on the outside as Catholics but as Jews at heart. They managed to keep the spirit within them for 500 years, due in no small part to the Catholics dislike of the conversos and their not wanting to marry in to them. He had relatives who died at the stake in the New World as well.

Copper engraving entitled "Die Inquisition in Portugall", by Jean David Zunner from the work "Description de L'Univers, Contenant les Differents Systemes de Monde, Les Cartes Generales & Particulieres de la Geographie Ancienne & Moderne" by Alain Manesson Mallet, Frankfurt, 1685.

The Jewish customs that prevailed in the family, seem to be an odd mix. A Jewish burial was very important to them, he buried his father and grandfather with his own hands in the family plot to ensure this. Their way of slaughtering animals vaguely resembles the Shehita, and most importantly, even though they attended church regularly, they were taught as children to have in their heart just one God and not the trinity.
Unfortunately, he was never able to fulfill his wish and convert and get a full Jew's status. The bureaucracy that surrounds conversion today blocked off all the viable options. To be recognized as a valid conversion by Israel, a convert must live as a Jew with the local community for a year, come with references and then attend courses in Israel for another year. His family and financial obligations prevented him from the ability to do this and the nearest Jewish Communities in Brazil were not of much help.
He was called up to heaven recently and left in his will, that I, his sole connection to the established Jewish world, say Kaddish for him, may he rest in peace.
The saddest part of the story is that his son as with the bulk of his generation, with the advance of the modern world, brought a lack of interest in religion one way or another and show now interest in preserving what their ancestors gave their lives for. He sees himself as a catholic, and frankly could not understand what his father's passion was all about. Thus ends the story of the latest victim of the Portuguese Inquisition.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How much would you pay for a Semicha from the Chofetz Chaim

A customer tells me his family is in the possession of several letterheads of the Chofetz Chaim with his signatures on bottom. It seems that when the Chafetz Chaim aged, he trusted family members to put his signature only to good use and left them many signed blanks.
For the right price, you can today get yourself an authentic Semicha from the Chofetz Chaim, signed in his holy land. Interested parties can contact their local psychologist for help.


In 1870 Sefer Hamidot of Rabbi Yaakov of  Duvna, the Dubner Maggid was published with commentaries by his disciple Avraham Berush Flahm. On the last page of book, he placed an announcement, offering a reward for the return of a manuscript of the Dubner Maggid's writings that was stolen from him. He writes, "I have heard that it is now in the hands of a Maggid in the vicinity of Vilna, but I do not know his name, city or place. Therefore, I beg .... to please notify me and I'll repay the man the price he needed to pay for it..... The merit of our Rabbi should protect the man that helps me...

In a related note, in the not so distant past, even the biggest Chasidic Rebbes went to the Mikvah with the masses. The story goes, that the Bobover Rebbe in his first years in New York, used to go to the Mikvah with his Hasidim. At times, if the Gabay was not watchful enough, Hasidim would steal his undergarments, convinced that they held special powers.
Today, no respectable Rebbe can be found in a public Mikvah, rather they use private ones built for their personal use.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A rare book might float your way, keep an eye out!

Rumor has it, that a very valuable Jewish library has been swallowed whole by the Atlantic Ocean, during Sandy, in the Seagate neighborhood of Brooklyn. Chances are some of the books will come ashore somewhere on the East Coast in the next few weeks, double check your fishing nets before you find yourself flinging a Bomberg Talmud in to the sea.

Superstorm Sandy: We survived!

After much preparation for the forecasted storm, we thankfully weathered the storm well. Lots of strong winds came our way, but thankfully not too much rain. Other than lost power for a day we are more or less back to normal in our neighborhood. Not so in some neighboring communities, which might be waiting another 2 weeks to get electricity back. Our prayers are with all that were impacted by Sandy and it's aftermath.