|Touro’s rabbi departs, another due to arrive soon|
|By Nancy Kirsch|
|Friday, 08 June 2012 02:57|
|Rabbi Eskovitz retained Orthodox nature of synagogue|
PROVIDENCE – Rabbi Mordechai Eskovitz, Orthodox rabbi at Touro Synagogue, gave a phone interview to The Voice & Herald days before his June 5 retirement. After 16 years at the Newport synagogue, Rabbi Eskovitz plans to relocate to Allentown, Pa. There, he said, he intends to finish a book he is writing.
“The book is a parody of Jewish life in religion,” said Rabbi Eskovitz. “It’s a comedic view of the way people approach religion and the way rabbis handle religion.” While the book is mostly written, the rabbi said he needs to revise it to include material about events at Touro, whose membership is approximately 100 families.
Asked if he feared any legal action as a result of the book, he laughed and then quipped, “I’m more worried about protecting the guilty; the innocent don’t sue.”
Before having knee surgery, Rabbi Eskovitz enjoyed playing tennis; now, he finds joy in studying Talmud.
Rabbi Eskovitz, who declined to reveal his age, called his time at Touro “a wonderful experience.” With people coming from all over the world – including, for example, London, Australia and South Africa – for their weddings, he has been able to get to know a wide array of people.
Touro, he said, “is considered [one of the] most famous synagogues. It’s a destination synagogue; we do about half a dozen weddings and half a dozen bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies each year.”
Rabbi Eskovitz also appreciates the opportunities he’s had to engage in adult learning programs. These are, he said, mostly one-on-one sessions with individuals who want to explore and discuss philosophy and the Torah or read prayers.
He calls the Loeb Visitor Center, adjacent to Touro, “a wonderful museum that gives people a much deeper feeling about the synagogue. After people visit the museum and then walk into Touro, they know what to expect. It’s been a blessing.”
Now living in Newport in a home directly across from the synagogue, Rabbi Eskovitz said that he will miss the close friendships he’s developed with congregants and people in the larger community. In Allentown, he will live about 20 minutes away from the Orthodox shul Sons of Israel where he will occasionally fill in for the rabbi there.
He said that Allentown is near both his family’s cemetery, which he wants to visit more often, and Reading, Pa., where he lived before coming to Newport.
Does he have advice for Rabbi Marc Mandel, the rabbi coming to Touro from Beverly Hills, Calif.?
“I would offer the new rabbi the advice of staying in touch with me,” he said. “Many of the things he’ll be challenged with I’ve already faced; I can tell him what works and what doesn’t.”
Visitors who think their knowledge of Judaism exceeds that of the rabbi and congregants who want to make changes to the Orthodox ritual that aren’t permissible, Rabbi Eskovitz said, are among the challenges he faced at Touro.
“I was able to keep the synagogue Orthodox despite pressures to change its position and become more liberal …whatever that means,” he said. Of the congregational push for change, he added, “I think every rabbi has had to deal with that kind of pressure.”
As for Rabbi Mandel – due to come to Touro later this summer – Rabbi Eskovitz said, “I am very fond of him. I have great confidence that he will maintain the Orthodox [nature] of the synagogue.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Jewish Voice & Herald plans to interview Rabbi Marc Mandel later this summer after he’s settled into Newport.