House of Worship, Newport, Rhode Island.At Touro Synagogue, the Jewish story is the American story.
"It's practically a cliché for a tourist site to claim “George Washington slept here” as a way to establish historical street cred. In the case of Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, Washington didn’t actually spend the night, but his connection to the synagogue was more than plaque-worthy. At a crucial moment, Washington lent his support to Newport’s nascent Jewish community, a gesture that feels all the more poignant today, given how few people even know that Jews were among this nation’s earliest settlers.
Before the American Revolution, the synagogue was the hub of Rhode Island’s Jewish community. But the war brought hardship. First, British forces occupied the city and converted the synagogue into a hospital. Later, France used Newport as its base of operations, and Jewish families fled the city. The synagogue was used variously as a state house, courthouse, and city hall. When General Washington came to Newport in 1781 to make battle plans with Generals Lafayette and Rochambeau, he visited the synagogue for a town meeting, not a religious service.
After the war ended, the Jewish community returned to Newport, and the synagogue was again occupied by its congregation. Here’s where Washington reappears. It’s 1790, and the U.S. Constitution has been ratified. But the Bill of Rights—in particular, the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—has yet to become law. Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other politicos hit the road to persuade reluctant states to vote for the first ten amendments.
In Newport, Washington’s entourage is greeted by civic and religious leaders, among them Moses Seixas, warden of the synagogue, who wants to know how the new government will treat Jews. Washington writes a letter to “the Hebrew Congregation in Newport” a few days later, promising that the United States would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” and that any group hoping to enjoy “the exercise of their inherent natural rights" would no longer be at the whim of an individual leader or “the indulgence of one class of people.”
So a full year before the Bill of Rights was ratified, Washington expressed a commitment to religious liberty and civil rights. His letter may have been addressed to American Jews, but it also helped secure freedom of religious expression for groups like Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, and Quakers.
Of course, the Jewish road to tolerance was particularly rough. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were kicked out of Spain in the late 15th century. Those who had settled in the Dutch West Indies were expelled again in the 1650s. Where to wander next? Some went to New Amsterdam. Others learned of a place called Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
“Rhode Island was founded on religious freedom,” says Rabbi Mordechai Eskovitz, who heads the synagogue and occasionally leads the Sunday afternoon tours of the synagogue. “The word got out.”
First to come: a group of 15 Jewish families from Barbados, who arrived in Newport in 1658. The community flourished. A century later, Isaac Touro was sent from Amsterdam to lead the Jewish outpost. A year after that, the congregation began to build its synagogue to house between 20 and 30 families; it would face east, toward Jerusalem.
Although many old synagogues are tucked away on hidden alleyways, Touro chose a hilltop site in the town center. Why? According to Bea Ross, the congregation’s co-president, this proved that the Jewish community felt accepted in Newport. Ross called the structure's design—12 pillars holding up a Georgian “classic Colonial"—the “perfect combination of restraint and exuberance.” Electrical wiring has since been installed; otherwise, the synagogue, its paint scheme, and its furnishings, such as the menorah and candle holders, remain as they were in the late 18th century. Among its oldest treasures is a 500-year-old torah printed on deerskin, smuggled out of Spain and now displayed behind glass.
Nearly 250 years after opening its doors in 1763, Touro Synagogue remains the oldest synagogue in America and a national shrine for prayer. Reform Jews sit next to Hassidic Jews. Even Christian worshippers come. “Any sinners among you?” asked Rabbi Eskovitz, poking fun at a group of latecomers during a Sunday afternoon tour. “Only people who have committed many sins have to come on time.”
The synagogue became a national historic site in 1946. Today it’s operated by the Touro Synagogue Foundation, in partnership with the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Save America’s Treasures. The building attracts some 30,000 visitors per year—from history buffs to architecture students to those seeking spiritual connection. But the synagogue is no dusty museum; Congregation Jeshuat Israel is based here. “It's not faked,” says Ross of the daily services, weddings, and bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs that take place here. “These aren’t re-enactments.” Being a true working house of worship makes Touro Synagogue even more of a historical attraction.
Over Passover weekend, Elaine Wasekanes visited with her husband and two sons from Norwood, Pennsylvania. Her family is Jewish, she said, and she had seen the synagogue years before. “I wanted my sons to see this part of Jewish history.”
Here, the Jewish story is the American story. “We're part of a long chain of American history,” said Rabbi Eskovitz. "People come here. They're looking for a living symbol.”
At Touro Synagogue, they'll find it." By Ethan Gilsdorf
Does Israel Matter?
Author on left, digging on Temple Mount, 1971
"U.S. President Barack Obama recently called on Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders as the basis for a solution to its conflict with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu countered that this is a non-starter. Why is this such a critical point, and does Israel really matter in the Middle East and to the wider world?
Forty years ago I traveled to Israel to spend the summer working on an archaeological dig at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. When our group arrived we were put to work at the base of the southern wall in the shadow of the Al Aqsa Mosque.
We spent about two months clearing the dirt and debris and in the process uncovered the topmost level of the monumental steps by which people entered the Temple complex in Jesus Christ’s day. Today you can see those steps and much more when you visit the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.
We also traveled throughout Israel exploring many sites mentioned in the Bible. That summer remains among the highlights of my life. I met people from around the world and saw places I had only read about in books. It was quite an adventure.
Israel garners a lot of attention in the news. Is that warranted? Why should we even care about this place that, for many, is so far away?
Country’s expansion after enemy attackHad Israel not annexed the territory it captured in the Six-Day War of 1967, I probably would not have made the trip I was on. Certainly there would not have been an archaeological excavation at the Temple Mount. Before 1967 the Arab nation of Jordan controlled that area, and Jews were not allowed there. Jerusalem was a divided city, and certain sections were off limits.
But with the 1967 war this all changed. Israel’s borders were expanded, giving Israelis some “breathing room” to defend themselves against their enemies. Israel fought one more all-out war, the near fatal Yom Kippur War of 1973, wherein Egypt nearly defeated the Israeli Defense Force. The Israelis, aided by America, rallied and won that war, and years later they signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.
Since that time a tenuous relationship has existed between the Jewish state and Palestinians who continue to seek the return of lost lands as part of a final settlement.
The lack of a permanent treaty and establishment of a single Palestinian state is at the heart of the ongoing dispute in the region. Many expect a push at the United Nations this autumn to declare the existence of a Palestinian state, which would place Israel in a major dilemma.
Renewed call for pre-1967 bordersSince January the Middle East has been in turmoil, with governments overturned in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. Others may yet fall. The so-called “Arab Spring” has not created new democracies. Rather it has destabilized the region in a manner not seen since the creation of the modern Middle East at the close of World War I.
The Obama administration is carefully watching these events. Its members want to come down on “the right side of history” even if they may not grasp what that “history” might be. President Obama has not made any positive progress with the Arab world since his much- vaunted speech in Cairo two years ago. His recent call for Israel to return to pre-1967 borders with “agreed-upon swaps” of land is ill-defined.
What would a return to those borders mean? In key areas, Israel would be only about 10 miles wide, allowing enemy armored forces to easily cut the country in half in time of war. Israel’s one large airport near Tel Aviv would be just a few miles from enemy territory, exposing departing and arriving flights to missile attacks.
Syria would again control the Golan Heights, a high plateau overlooking northern Israel and an advantageous area from which to fire on or attack exposed cites and towns below. And the Old City of Jerusalem would again be under Muslim control, cutting off access to Jewish and Christian holy sites—or at least making them unsafe for Jews and Christians to visit.
Israel knows it must have defensible borders. Its troops must have room to maneuver and protect its people. The Israelis have no room to make mistakes. Just one could be fatal. They know that they, and they alone, are responsible for their survival.
Israel understands it must negotiate an agreement that provides for a Palestinian state alongside a defensible state of Israel. But the Israelis have also confirmed that Jerusalem must remain their united capital. They will settle for nothing else. They’re in the land to stay and will not be moved.
Some benefits of expanded Israeli ruleWhat have the Israelis done with the land they gained in the 1967 war? They opened the land and made it productive. It has been cultivated to grow crops that not only feed the nation but provides exports to the world. You can drive though these areas and see the progress that stable democratic government has brought to the land and its inhabitants, Israeli and Arab alike. More than 1.5 million Arabs actually live in peace and freedom within Israel—a fact seldom reported.
I have seen the benefits Arabs living in Israel enjoy. Travel through the Jordan Valley, to Jerusalem, to Nazareth and Galilee and you will see the signs of prosperity where mutual cooperation is maintained.
There is another benefit gained in the more than four decades since the 1967 war. It is the rich knowledge of the archaeological finds that have opened up the history of the land. The Bible, along with many of its characters, has been confirmed historically by these finds. The field of Bible archaeology has exploded, and the world is better for that.
I earlier mentioned that the dig I worked on at the Temple Mount would not have been possible were the area still controlled by Arabs. Likewise, to the south of this area, in what is called the City of David, various digs have unearthed the history of the city, confirmed the ancient Jewish presence and affirmed the accuracy of the Bible. We would know little of this rich history were it not for the openness fostered by the State of Israel.
Israel a crucial focal pointWalter Russell Mead spoke to Israel’s role in a recent piece at The American Interest. Israel matters to America like no other nation on earth, he wrote. “The people and the story of Israel stir some of the deepest and most mysterious reaches of the American soul . . . The belief that God favors and protects Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects America.
“It means more. The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race . . . The restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and their creation of a successful, democratic state after two thousand years of oppression and exile is a clear sign that the religion of the Bible can be trusted” (“The Dreamer Goes Down for the Count,” May 25, 2011, emphasis added)
The existence of Israel does matter in today’s world. It is larger than a Palestinian refugee problem. It is even more than the survival of one ethnic group over another. The ancient land occupied today by the remnant of mainly one tribe of the biblical nation of Israel is the site of God’s story of eternal salvation for all the tribes of mankind. It is the culminating spot where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will show Himself once more for the good of all people and bring all nations before Him in judgment.
Today Jerusalem may be a “heavy stone for all peoples” (Zechariah:12:3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.), but one day it will become a place where people dwell in peace and “Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited” (Zechariah:14:11 And men shall dwell in it, and there shall be no more utter destruction; but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited.).
Over the years I have made several visits to Jerusalem. In spite of its current troubles I have always felt safe. I’ve been able to place my hand on the Western Wall and walk around the Dome of the Rock. I’ve been able to see all its fabled streets and buildings, taking in all its history. I’ve been able to do this because it has been a free and united city. That is the way it should always be."
Submitted by Darris McNeely on Mon, 2011-06-13. From: http://www.ucg.org/blog/does-israel-matter/
Jay went thrift shopping with his neighbor, and Ray was helping Shay with a job in another town, so that gave me time to get ready for Adoption Day at Petco in Conroe. After writing, and printing out details of Paco, his needs, traits, food, habits, fears, and disposition, I also a packed a little of his food, just in case the lady who was coming to meet him took him. Three pet carriers had to be readied, and an early lunch for the kittens and me.
But I was a getting nervous, as that meant I had to load the carriers by myself, and drive in holiday traffic in a van that doesn't like hot weather. The gauge doesn't have degrees marked on it, just N O R M A L, but it starts to go over to the hot side of the 'M' when we are in traffic, with the AC on.
Jim, the mechanic down the street, came and looked at it for me, then he drove it down to his place, and he came back with a 'point and shoot' temperature gauge. He ascertained that when it was at 'M' it was at 195°. So now I know. Later, he is going to test the fan clutch as he thinks it is sluggish.
Jay called, he was back from thrift shopping, but wanted to go back into Conroe with me. So he loaded the carriers. There was an ulterior motive, he had seen a bicycle he wanted to buy, and couldn't put in his neighbor's new car.
Everything went like clockwork.
The southbound I-45 freeway to Conroe was packed, and we knew that the locals would probably have gone east to go south on SH 75, so we beat all the traffic by going southwest on Old Montgomery Road out of Willis, and cutting south on the country part of Longmire Road, and then past the fancy Longmire Road subdivisions, straight down to the North Loop 336. Less than a mile east on the North Loop, and there is Petco. We made good time, and only had to stop at a couple of traffic lights. There is hardly ever anyone on that country route, but there were a few today!
Once my foster animals were settled in their display cages, Jay and I went straight to the thrift shop, and he bought the bicycle for $10 less than the price tag. As they were going to throw away a nice sectional because the back was ripped, I took the cushions for the dinette in the cargo trailer. (I will sanitize them, and make new covers to match the drapes.)
As we hardly ever go to Conroe without going to Kroger's, Jay's mother gave him a short shopping list, so with her eggs and milk in the 12v fridge in the van, we went back to Petco to be in the cool. We had parked a long way from Kroger's entrance just to find a tiny bit of shade for the van, whew, it was hot and humid out there.
The lady, and her sweet dog who were coming to meet Paco, had arrived early, and were already in the back room with my SPCA boss and Paco. The lady, June, held Paco on her knee, and he and her dog just ignored each other, no growling, snarling or glaring, but I knew Paco would behave, he gets along with other animals. June made up her mind to take him, and as she had already been approved by the SPCA, I said goodbye to Paco, and left them to do the paperwork. Paco will have a better life with June as she has more time to spend with him, so I feel good about it. She has 7 days to return him if it doesn't work out, but I think she will keep him.
Even though it wasn't time for Adoption Day to close, I put Precious, Pebbles, and Prime back in their carriers, and we came home early. Fortunately the northbound freeway traffic was light by then.
Misty kept on looking for Paco to come out of the van, and even barked "Where is he?", but then settled down. She will enjoy being the only dog. Bobcat even walked around the house looking, as if to say, "Oh, there's someone missing!" Prime, foster cat, will miss him, as she used to jump out at him from behind something, to try to make him play with her.
A little while after I got home, and had everybody fed and settled, it started to RAIN. Then a thunderbolt knocked out the power, internet and TV cable AGAIN. The power came back on, so I am finishing this in Live Writer, as I don't have to be online for that, but I won't be able to publish it, until the internet comes back on.
As hard as it rained, now I know why it felt so hot and oppressive yesterday.