Like many people, I’m easily distracted. I once spent the entire duration of a service at the Spanish Synagogue in Prague counting the number of interlaced Stars of David painted on the walls and ceiling. (There were over 900.)
So it wasn’t very unusual that, while attending a recent concert at Temple Beth El in San Antonio, Texas, my eyes wandered around the sanctuary, examining the beautiful stained glass windows all around me. One name, inscribed in black at the bottom of a tall window, caught my attention: Rabbi Ephraim Frisch.
I know that name, I said to myself. He was the rabbi at Temple Beth El for two decades, from the early 1920s through the early 1940s, and I wrote about him in my senior thesis!
My thesis was an examination of the development of Jewish student life at Princeton University over the period 1915-1972. So, Frisch was the rabbi in San Antonio, but my thesis was about Princeton… where’s the connection?
In the mid-1930s, a man and his son visited the Princeton to investigate rumors of anti-Semitism in the admission policy; from the early 1920s through the end of World War II, Princeton maintained under-the-table quotas on Jewish students. The man who came to visit was Rabbi Ephraim Frisch, who sternly admonished the admissions office secretary regarding the rumors. His son was David, who recalled nearly four decades later in an interview with his classmate Henry Morgenthau III: “I’m sure [the secretary] told Dean [of Admission] Heermance, oh you better let him in or he’ll burn the place down, his father Rabbi Frisch will burn the place down.”
His father didn’t burn the place down, and David did attend Princeton University. David graduated with Princeton’s class of 1940, and led Friday evening services for the Jewish community on campus while he was a student at Princeton.
This small-world-realization was striking enough — but just a few days earlier, I’d gotten to see David Frisch’s classmate and interviewer, Henry Morgenthau III! Our paths crossed when I journeyed from a community visit in Williamsburg, Virginia, and stopped over in Washington, DC. I was very excited to see my thesis come up twice in one week in the context of my new role as an ISJL Education Fellow.
And then, when I got back to Jackson and started thinking about this blog post, I realized that the connection between my thesis and where I am now ran even deeper than I could possibly have imagined.
David Frisch’s mother—Rabbi Ephraim Frisch’s wife—was born Ruth Cohen. She was the daughter of Rabbi Henry Cohen, who served as the rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel in Galveston, Texas, (a town I visited with some of my new coworkers a few weeks ago) for over half a century. Rabbi Cohen founded the Galveston Project, which brought thousands of Jewish immigrants to the United States through the port at Galveston between 1907 and 1914, deflecting them from the overcrowded cities of the Northeast, and helping to build up the Jewish presence everywhere outside of New York.
And how did Rabbi Henry Cohen (David Frisch’s maternal grandfather) end up in Galveston? At the recommendation of none other than ISJL founder and president Macy B. Hart’s great-grandfather, Isaac T. Hart, who was the president of Congregation Beth Israel in Woodville, Mississippi, where Henry Cohen was the rabbi in the 1880s.
Long story short, if it weren’t for Macy’s great-grandfather, Henry Cohen might not have moved to Galveston, there might not have been a Galveston Project, Ruth Cohen and Ephraim Frisch might not have gotten married, there would have been no David Frisch, and thus no one to lead Shabbat services at Princeton in the late 1930s.
I should probably just get the ISJL logo emblazoned on my thesis now…
Right now, Rabbi Matt Dreffin and Rabbi Marshal Klaven are in the midst of the Passover Pilgrimage, journeying to communities throughout the South to lead seders and Passover programming.
Here is one of Rabbi Klaven’s first updates from the road: “Question: What do you get when 10 Jews and 50 non-Jews get together? Answer: An unforgettable 1st Seder on the ISJL Passover Pilgrimage. This evening in Natchez reminded us all: to go great distances, we cannot go at it alone; but –as the Bible says– we must go as “a mix multitude!” Thank you, Congregation B’nai Israel and all our wonderful friends there!”
The Passover Pilgrimage continues through April 20, with stops in more than half a dozen Southern states:
Seders along the way take place at congregations (including churches), and additional pastoral visits and events are planned. As ambassadors for this festival of freedom, the rabbis are excited to share their thoughts along the way and post-pilgrimage. In the meantime, we wish them safe travels and will continue sharing periodic updates on the ISJL Facebook page, as well.
Golf. A sport usually reserved for the hoighty toighty, and/or generally older crowd. A sport where people ride in little carts and get out of them to whack a tiny plastic ball into a tiny plastic cup.
Of course, if you’re someone like me, a native of Florida who grew up surrounded by the sport, you just might fall in love with it at a young age. (I received my first new set of golf clubs when I became Bar Mitzvah!)
When I go golfing, I usually pull up to the parking lot, lace up my spikes, and immediately feel insignificant. Why? My little Jetta was several years older, and thousands of dollars cheaper, than the BMWs and Maseratis that occupied the spaces around me in my former locales (South Florida when I was growing up, then Southern California when I was in rabbinical school).
But then I moved to the South. The vehicles in the parking lot changed. And…
I STILL felt insignificant.
Not because of my car’s value, but now, due to its stature. The sheer size of the vehicles surrounding me was intimidating. Liberties and Tundras and Blazers, oh my!
As a rabbi who spends many weekends on the road, I try and sneak in a round of golf on a local Southern course wherever I find myself. (Full disclosure, I cannot consistently break 90.) Most recently, after a great weekend at a synagogue in Jackson, Tennessee, I had the realization that I was surrounded by trucks! It felt like every vehicle parked nearby was a Ford F-150, a Jeep Wrangler, or something even bigger.
Awestruck by this, I literally began counting cars, discovering that 13 out of 21 vehicles (a whopping 62%!!!) were trucks or SUVs. My initial reaction was “Is this the status symbol in this area? It’s not how quickly your Porsche can accelerate to 60 miles per hour, but how what pound-feet of torque your Chevy has?”
Then it occurred to me that these golfers might live a different lifestyle – the kind that requires a different vehicle. After all, my father, a plant facilities manager at a North Georgia summer camp, has not one but TWO trucks. He uses them to carry two-by-fours, potted plants, and all manner of large items returning from one of his daily (sometimes hourly) trips to the hardware store. His vehicle isn’t about status, it’s about function.
Maybe some of my ideas about golf, and golfers, need some adjusting. Plenty of people down here love the game that I enjoy so much, no matter what any of us drive. Maybe our region dictates our driving choice more than our hobbies do.
But whatever the reason, there sure are a lot of trucks around these parts, and not just at the golf course. I counted 21 trucks/SUVs out of 29 vehicles in an airport lot the other day. It’s a phenomenon – but what the phenomenon indicates is still something to wonder about…
Maybe I’ll chat about this with my fellow golfers out on the course at the Delta Jewish Golf Open this weekend.
Do you notice the vehicles around you in different settings? Ever had any revelations while “counting cars”?