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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Temple Emanu-El’

Rhode Island Synagogues to Host Nigerian Guests on Sukkot

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

By Shai Afsai

Representatives of Nigeria’s Gihon Synagogue will celebrate Sukkot in Rhode Island

Elder Peter Agbai, the leader of Abuja’s Gihon Synagogue, and Pinchas Ogbukaa, Gihon’s spokesman, will be traveling to Rhode Island in September to celebrate Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah, following an invitation from Providence’s Congregation Beth Sholom (a modern Orthodox synagogue) and Temple Emanu-El (a Conservative synagogue).

Gihon’s members are Nigerians who have embraced Judaism, but have not gone through a formal conversion process. Many believe themselves to be descendants of a lost tribe of ancient Israelites. Gihon has had an active congregation in Abuja since the early 1990s, and built its current synagogue structure in 2005. Elder Agbai assumed the leadership of Gihon Synagogue after retiring as Assistant Director of Geology for Nigeria’s Federal Capital Development Authority in 2006.

I was welcomed at Gihon Synagogue when I journeyed to Abuja this past February. In going there I had followed in the footsteps of Northeastern University professor William (Bill) Miles, a member of Temple Emanu-El and the author of the recently-published Jews of Nigeria: An Afro-Judaic Odyssey, who spent time at Gihon in 2009 and 2011. His book includes ten pages of interviews with Elders Agbai and Ogbukaa.

Congregation Beth Sholom’s Rabbi Barry Dolinger, and Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Wayne Franklin and Rabbi Elan Babchuck have been eager to reciprocate the hospitality shown in Abuja to their members. The three rabbis hope the September visit from Nigeria will strengthen the ties between the Abuja and Providence congregations, while affording Elder Agbai and Ogbukaa the opportunity to learn more about Rhode Island’s Jewish community and its institutions.

At the same time, the rabbis also believe that Rhode Island Jewry can learn from those now practicing Judaism in Abuja. “These people are serious,” said Rabbi Franklin. “We should be as dedicated and enthusiastic to learn as they are.”

One of the main difficulties confronting the members of Gihon and Tikvat Israel (another Nigerian synagogue in Abuja) is their distance from world Jewry. “We are adherents of the Jewish faith in Nigeria. We are neither Christian nor Muslim,” said Ogbukaa concerning the purpose of traveling to Rhode Island. “The greatest of all the challenges we are facing is that of isolation.”

Ogbukaa hopes the holiday visit will help break the community’s isolation and raise more awareness that there are people practicing Judaism in Nigeria. “Bridges of Jewish education and worship have to be built, connecting us with other communities in the United States and Israel,” he said.

Although Gihon’s members try to follow the practices of Orthodox Judaism, as it is understood in Nigeria, Elder Agbai and Ogbukaa are pleased to soon have the chance to meet Temple Emanu-El’s rabbis and congregants as well. “We believe that the acceptance of the Torah binds all Jews together as one, irrespective of being Orthodox, Conservative, etc. The type of congregation is a matter of choice. Each has something positive to contribute to the growth of world Jewry,” said Ogbukaa.

In addition to spending time at Congregation Beth Sholom and Temple Emanu-El and studying with its rabbis, Elder Agbai and Ogbukaa will be attending services at Providence’s Sha’arei Tefilla (an Orthodox synagogue on the East Side); meeting with students at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island (JCDSRI); and going to see Rabbi Marc Mandel, the spiritual leader of Touro Synagogue.

The Newport synagogue is of special interest to the two men, as it is not only the oldest in the United States, but was also built according to Sephardi custom, and Gihon’s members try to follow Edot Hamizrach traditions.

Steinhardt Judaica Collection at Sotheby’s Monday

Monday, April 29th, 2013

The Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting in the world. Visitors to the Louvre looking for a grand painting surrounded by nothing but light and space, are inevitably disappointed. In reality, the portrait is small and a little hard to find.

Before visiting The Michael and Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection that is to be auctioned at Sotheby’s this Monday, April 29, I read a lot about it. I read about past Sotheby’s Judaica auctions, about the Steinhardts, and about their collection. Praise was effusive. In the press release, Sotheby’s calls the sale “the most significant collection of Judaica to be offered at auction in half a century.” Forbes Life quotes Elka Deitsch, senior curator of the Bernard Museum at Temple Emanu-El, as saying: “We haven’t seen something like this in breadth and depth and scale and scope for 50 years.” Hearty praise, indeed.

With all that hype and build up, I was expecting to be a little let down. But I was not disappointed in the least.

I will go as far as to say that I think Cissy Grossman is genius. Grossman is the curator of the Steinhardt’s Judaica collection who made extremely strategic choices that come across as effortless. The piece de resistance is unquestioningly the Frankfurt Mishneh Torah, circa 1457-1465, and fittingly, it ends the exhibit. But it is visible from the minute you enter.

The atmosphere is as cozy and as intimate as this sort of exhibit can be. The low lighting and spare setting is cohesive and sophisticated, allowing the pieces to shine (no pun intended, because a lot of them are quite shiny).

The first object on display is the much buzzed about North German Bronze Lion-Form Aquamanile from the late 12th Century. It is one of only four with a Hebrew inscription from the medieval era and is also significant because of how very little material culture exists before the Baroque era. Jews were not accepted into guilds at the time; so, like other objects on display, the object exemplifies collaboration between Jews and Christian artists.

The Franfurt Mishneh Torah – the standardized code of Jewish Law by the brilliant legal, philosophical, and medical mind of the Rambam – from the mid 15th century is exquisite. There is no tradition from which the illustrations are drawn and they are all text-related which highlights the great collaboration between the scribe Nechemiah and the Christian artist (name unknown). It is one of two volumes, the first part, books I-V (the sixth presumably lost), is in the Vatican and books VII-XIV are in the present volume.

For the record, when I asked why it was open to Shoftim, expecting a philosophical or visual explanation (i.e. it was the most beautifully illustrated page), Sharon Liberman Mintz, senior consultant for Judaica at Sotheby’s told me it was “comfortable.” It is in the interest of preservation that it was opened to whichever page opened most easily and this was it. Lucky for us, it’s gorgeous.

The collectors do not disappoint either. Michael Steinhardt is surprisingly candid. A self-proclaimed atheist, he is a leading philanthropist in the Jewish world, perhaps most recognized as the co-founder of Taglit-Birthright Israel. Though he doesn’t believe in G-d, he believes in Jewish culture and history. He believes in it so much that the auction has an extraordinary range of prices, from tzedakah boxes that are expected to go from $100 to the Mishneh Torah that is estimated to fetch $4.5/6 million. He has said the scope of the auction is to encourage the spread of the objects to a new generation.

Jennifer Roth, head of Sotheby’s Judaica and Israeli Art Department, put it this way: “Instead of giving to a museum, he wants them to go out in the world.” He is “not trying to educate anyone,” but wants to “touch their Jewish hearts.” He believes that this makes it more personal and therefore creates a stronger connection to Jewish history and culture. I agree.

If the collection were in a museum, you might see the objects a handful of time and might even forge a small connection, as I felt with some of the pieces in the exhibition. To have one of these pieces in your home is so much more personal. It connects the owner to every previous owner and every owner to come.

Ed Koch: Fiercely Jewish But Buried in a Churchyard

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

It was spookily ironic that former New York City mayor Ed Koch died on the anniversary of the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, when Koch had long ago chosen to have etched on his headstone the final words of Daniel Pearl, spoken just before Muslim terrorists beheaded him.

On Koch’s headstone, beneath a Mogen David, are the words:

“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

No one could doubt the pride in his religion, but following his funeral at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El, Koch’s remains were buried in a plot outside the Episcopalian Trinity Church in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

As Mayor Bloomberg noted, “Just think about it, a Polish Jew, in an Episcopalian Churchyard, in a largely Dominican neighborhood.”

Koch bought his burial plot in 2008, when the Trinity Churchyard was the only cemetery in Manhattan that still had plots available.  He explained at the time that he could not bear the idea that his body would have to leave New York City.  “This is my home, the idea of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”

In addition to quoting Daniel Pearl’s last words, Ed Koch chose the words for the rest of the inscription on the support stone of his tombstone.  It reads:

He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.

Above that, on the tombstone itself, is the first line of the Shema.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

It is highly unorthodox for a Jew to be buried in a churchyard, but the greatest concern is the sanctity of the individual graves, not the cemetery. Some rabbis believe it to be permissible if, surrounding the plot containing the Jewish remains, there is an enclosure or physical barrier about 40 inches high, thereby effectively creating a separate cemetery.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/ed-koch-fiercely-jewish-but-buried-in-a-churchyard/2013/02/05/

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