Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Jewish Link touches all our lives in oh so many ways, which is why the publication is always so interesting and relevant to klal Yisrael.

The article “A Visit to Newport’s Touro Synagogue” (August 11, 2022) peaked my interest. As I’ve always known, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island is the oldest Orthodox Synagogue in the United States. It became a national historic landmark in 1946 and is said to be one of the 10 most architecturally significant buildings from 18th century America.

The Touro design was the very replica that my father’s shul in Union City was fashioned after. One of the thriving Orthodox Synagogues in Hudson County in the ’50s was Temple Israel Emanuel on 34th Street on New York Avenue, Union City, where Rabbi Hirschman, z”l served as rabbinical leader for over 40 years. What was particularly poignant and memorable was the layout of the women’s section upstairs while the men’s seating was placed appropriately at the time on the first level. The downstairs/upstairs design was the fashion of the day for prayer.

However, fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries, and due to egalitarian heightened sensitivity, new modern designs for synagogues consist of the women’s section on par laterally with the men’s section. To be “politically incorrect,” I yearn for the old style balconies whereby the women have a full view of what is going on from the Torah reading to hagbah, to the kedusha and all that transpires during intense davening. I truly reminisce as the rabbi’s daughter, along with my sisters and mom, Rebbetzin Hirschman, looking over the balcony spindles with pride and scope, taking in the spirituality of devout prayer and visibility of the downstairs.

I understand we cannot turn back the clock nor would I advocate for that. But it was truly my preference to overlook the whole scenario from above. Dare I be criticized for my personal nostalgic opinion, but the memories overwhelm me when Rebbetzin Hirschman and her three girls (including me) were able to look down upon the men. Now that is an oxymoron since the upper level was banned due to achieving equality within the parameters of a mechitza by being placed side by side … now isn’t that ironic!

The beauty of life is to roll along and be flexible for the zeitgeist of the times and its inherent messages. Yet, that doesn’t stop me from smiling ethereally when I look back on davening in the cloud, upstairs.

And so be it. Let the times roll on.

Ruby Kaplan
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