Weekly Quiz

Touro Synagogue

Tim Kaine, Democratic nominee for vice-president, recently visited the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. Jeshuat Israel, the congregation that is housed in the Touro Synagogue building, was recently in the news as a result of its winning a lawsuit against Congregation Shearith Israel of New York City. What was the dispute about?

Touro Synagogue by Matt Cloutier is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AShearith Israel was founded in 1654 and is the oldest congregation in the United States. The Touro Synagogue building was built in 1763, and is the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America. Shearith Israel sued Jeshuat Israel for marketing itself as the “Oldest Synagogue in America” based on the status of its building. Shearith Israel claimed that this infringed on its claim to be the oldest synagogue, based on the founding date of the congregation. A judge ruled in Jeshuat Israel’s favor, confirming that “synagogue” refers to the building, not the congregation, and therefore Jeshuat Israel can continue to say they are the “Oldest Synagogue in America.”

BTouro Synagogue was established in 1763, but by 1776, most Jews had fled Newport as the Revolutionary War erupted.  Some of the Jeshuat Israel members moved to New York and joined Shearith Israel, in the process taking with them the keys, Torahs, and Torah scroll rimonim (finials) from the Touro building. Shearith Israel eventually returned these items to Newport, but continued to claim ownership of them, preventing Jeshuat Israel from selling the valuable finials to raise funds to support the congregation. After a 4-year legal battle, a federal judge ruled Shearith Israel no longer had any legal trusteeship over the Newport congregation or building, and that Jeshuat Israel has the right to sell the finials.

C. Touro Synagogue was established in 1763, but by 1776, most Jews had fled Newport as the Revolutionary War erupted. At that time, Congregation Shearith Israel of New York took stewardship of the Newport synagogue’s Torah scrolls and other possessions, and continued to serve as trustee for the then-empty building in Newport. After the war, Jews returned to Touro Synagogue, though the New York congregation continued to act as trustees of Touro. In August of 1790, President George Washington visited Touro Synagogue as part of his effort to bring about passage of the Bill of Rights (including the First Amendment clause guaranteeing freedom of religion). Washington followed up with a letter, “To the Hebrew Congregation at Newport,” which is one of America’s most historic documents in support of religious freedom in America. The letter, which is still housed at Touro Synagogue, includes the statement, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” Shearith Israel sued Jeshuat Israel, the congregation that now operates in the Touro Synagogue building, claiming that they owned the letter and it belonged in their building in New York, as they were trustees of the synagogue at the time of Washington’s visit. A federal judge ruled in favor of the Newport congregation, however, stating that the document is part and parcel of the historic congregation in Newport, and that the New York congregation’s previous support of Touro did not confer ownership to them of this historic letter.

D. Rabbi Ezra Stein, the former rabbi at Shearith Israel, moved to Newport upon being hired as the rabbi of Jeshuat Israel. Shearith Israel sued, claiming that Rabbi Stein’s contract included a noncompete clause which prohibiting him from taking a pulpit within 200 miles of the Shearith Israel building. Lawyers for Jeshuat Israel successfully argued that the noncompete clause was not valid as the New York congregation is modern orthodox, while the Newport congregation is conservadox. Noncompete clauses cannot be enforced when the two jobs are sufficiently different. A federal judge ruled that because of the variations in practice and beliefs of the two congregations, the rabbi’s job would be sufficiently different to negate the noncompete clause.

EThe Board of Trustees of Jeshuat Israel needed to raise funds to support its operation, and as part of that effort, they sold a horse to Shearith Israel. After the delivery of the horse to the New York congregation, the president of Shearith Israel called the president of Jeshuat Israel and stated they had received a mule. “It was a horse,” responded the Jeshuat Israel president. “It was a mule,” countered the Shearith Israel president. “Horse,” the Jeshuat Israel president retorted. “Mule,” averred the Shearith Israel president. “Horse.” “Mule.” “HORSE!” “MULE!” Seeing no resolution, the case went to court, where a District Court Judge ruled that it was a horse, and that we should all live in simple peace and harmony.

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Olympic Special Delivery

The Israeli startup company Senecio is very busy making deliveries during the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. What are they delivering?

Parque Olímpico Rio 2016 by Jorge Andrade

AKosher meals. Senecio is a food delivery service which delivers meals from restaurants throughout Israel (similar to Seamless in the United States). Senecio applied for and was granted a license in Rio de Janeiro to deliver kosher meals to visitors at the Olympic games. The company is working with all the local kosher restaurants in Rio, including Kosher Planet and Bar-Ilan Restaurant, and will deliver meals to hotels, bed and breakfasts, and even to the various Olympic venues.

BSecurity video. Senecio is a high tech security startup in Israel, whose area of expertise is security monitoring via drone aircraft. They have been hired by the Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016 to provide drone aircraft which are taking aerial photography and videography from above the various Olympic venues. The pictures are then delivered to the Brazilian Intelligence Agency that has overall responsibility for security at the Olympic Games.

CMosquitos. The company is involved in the fight against the Zika virus. A major effort in this regard is to release millions of sterile male Aedes aegypti mosquitos that will mate with the female Zika mosquitos, thus preventing the females from becoming pregnant and laying eggs. However, there was no good way to deliver these sterile mosquitos into the environment until Senecio developed a system of mass storage and safe release of millions of the sterile mosquitos from airplanes.

DKosher meals. Because of the nature of athletic training for the games, it is critical that the athletes are able to eat meals that are a part of their training regimen. In the case of the Israeli athletes, the special meals that each prefers must also be kosher, and these items are not available in Brazil. Senecio is the company which was contracted by the Olympic Committee of Israel to purchase, store, and ship the food from Israel to Brazil on a daily basis throughout the Olympic games, assuring that the athletes have the meals they need on a timely basis.

EMezuzahs. Senecio is an online supplier of religious articles, including tefillin, Shabbat candlesticks and challah covers, all sold online with overnight, and sometimes same-day delivery. The company has set up a program in Rio de Janeiro called Rent-A-Zuz, which enables Jewish visitors to the Olympic Games to order mezuzahs for use at their hotels, bed and breakfasts, and AirBnB’s. The mezuzahs are designed to temporarily adhere to doorposts without damaging the structures, and they can be returned when the travelers go home.

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Brazil’s First Jews

The Summer Olympic Games have begun in Brazil, which is the site of the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere, founded in Recife, Brazil in 1636. The synagogue, Kahal Tzur Yisrael (Sinagoga Zur Israel in Portuguese), was founded by Spanish and Portuguese Jews who came to Brazil from the Netherlands, where their descendants had previously migrated to escape the forced conversions of the Inquisition. They were joined by New Christians already living in Brazil, a community which comprised descendants of Sephardic Jews who had converted to Catholicism. The synagogue served a community of more than 1400 Jews, and was led by a rabbi, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, and a cantor, Josue Velosino, but only existed for about twenty years. The building, which included a mikvah, was torn down in the early 20th century, but a Jewish museum now stands on the site. The street where the synagogue was located was known at one time as Rua dos Judeus, Street of the Jews, but now carries what name?

Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima lights cauldron by U.S. Armyis licensed under CC BY 2.0.

ARua do Povo de Israel, Street of the People of Israel.

B. Rua do Cruz, Street of the Cross.

C. Rua do Sinagoga, Street of the Synagogue.

D. Rua do Bom Jesus, Street of Good Jesus.

E. Rua do Bossa Nova Lox, Street of the Dancing Salmon.

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Hillary & HIPPY

In her acceptance speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton made reference to HIPPY. What is HIPPY?

Hillary Clinton - Caricature by Donkey Hotey is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AHIPPY stands for Health Insurance Program for Parents and Youth, an Israeli program designed to provide health insurance coverage for low income families, and it was the basis for the CHIP program (Children’s Health Insurance Program) which Hillary spearheaded in the United States following the defeat of her broader universal health care program proposal in 1993.

B. Clinton referred to the Ha’aretz Initiative to Promote Peace through Yiddish, a program developed by the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz to bring together various communities within Israel around the common interest in Yiddish language, music, food and culture. She copied this model in promoting State Department initiatives to promote peace and healing in countries which were recovering from civil wars or ethnic strife, such as Afghanistan and Burma. The State Department program funded classes, festivals, films and other events which emphasized the shared history and culture of the politically divided populations of these countries.

CHIPPY stands for Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, an Israeli program designed to teach low-income parents how they could help their young children begin to learn and prepare for school. This was the basis for a program Hillary spearheaded in Arkansas in 1985 when she was the first lady.

D. HIPPY stands for Hope for Israelis and Palestinians for a Peaceful Year, an initiative of the Obama administration led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010. The program brought together Israeli and Palestinian children in a summer camp setting, enabling them to recognize the humanity of each community and develop friendships. Sadly, the program was discontinued following the 2014 Gaza conflict.

EClinton described HIPPY as the Homeland Initiative to Protect the People of Yisrael, a program she initiated as Secretary of State, which included arms sales and intelligence sharing between the United States and Israel. However, according to internal documents released by Wikileaks, within the Clinton campaign organization this program was actually known as the Hillary Initiative to Pander to the People of Yisrael, a program designed by the campaign to attract Jewish voters by trying to convince them that she actually cares for Israel and really didn't enjoy it when she kissed Suha Arafat.

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