On Shabbat, June 24, there was a healthy crowd at Newport’s Touro Synagogue. It was the last full day in Newport for Rabbi Marc and Jackie Mandel. Rabbi Mandel gave a short sermon quoting three Mishnah from Pirkei Avot. He chose:
Chapter 2 Mishnah 5, “Don't separate from the community.”
Rabbi Mandel praised the people for supporting the community by participating.
Chapter 4 Mishnah 1, “Who is wise? He who learns from all people.”
Rabbi Mandel thanked people for making him a better rabbi.
Chapter 1 Mishnah 2, “The world stands on three pillars, Torah, Prayer and acts of kindness.”
Rabbi Mandel said, “We just read the Torah. We just prayed. And I want to thank the social justice committee for all the kindness they did in the community.”
Rabbi Mandel’s first Shabbat at Touro Synagogue was June 29, 2012. Around one year later, I decided to go to services at Touro Synagogue. Rabbi Mandel was very welcoming and the services were short. Rabbi Mandel told me, “People don’t like sitting through long services.” I decided to continue coming to Saturday mornings at Touro.
Rabbi Mandel was renowned for his short sermons, which usually were less than 500 words. That left him time to greet members and visitors by name. Sometimes after introducing a visitor, he ended with, “We would be very happy to hear you speak at Kiddush.”
Rabbi Mandel worked closely with and inspired many people in the community. A few of them shared their thoughts:
Former co-president Paul Tobak wrote,
“Rabbi Mandel and his family were an asset to our community. His skill as a baal korei (reader of Torah) elevated our services. Rabbi Mandel was always gracious and respectful of the officers and members of Congregation Jeshuat Israel and was a good match for our congregation.
“We were fortunate to have had him as our rabbi and his new community and congregation in Montreal will be enriched by his knowledge and personality. I wish Rabbi Mandel and his family good health and many pleasures in their new home.”
Jim Herstoff added,
“I certainly agree with the comments that Paul so eloquently offered. It was my privilege and enjoyment to have Rabbi Mandel as our rabbi. I enjoyed working with him very much in my position as chair of the ritual committee and gabbai of the synagogue. He understood the needs of the congregation. We worked easily during COVID to adjust the services to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone.
“Rabbi Mandel is a gentleman. He always put his congregation first...he often declined accepting aliyot that traditionally are given to the rabbi to instead honor congregants. May he and Jackie have much peace and happiness as they assume their places in Montreal.”
Delia Klingbeil recounts how the Mandels taught her and inspired her to keep learning,
“About 10 years ago I met with Rabbi Mandel because my mother had just entered Saint Clare’s [in Newport]. She was 95, and she had just fallen. We thought this was the end. My mother, a daughter of Polish immigrants, had already decided that she wanted to be cremated. She was not observant or religious, but she definitely was a NYC Jew!
“Rabbi Mandel told me, ‘We can work around this. Can I visit her?’ And every Friday morning for the next 5 years he walked down the street and spent 10 or 15 minutes with my mother. They mostly discussed the books that she was listening to.
“My mother Frances Weiss Zelenko died in October 2017, a week before her 100th birthday. Rabbi Mandel held a service for her at the chapel on Fowler Avenue. We then went,
including the Rabbi, to our house in Jamestown where he conducted a shiva service with me and my sister.
“I became involved in Touro, helped with the Hebrew School, and attended services.
“During COVID, I learned about Sefaria, and spoke about several weekly parshas, including Korach (on zoom) which the rabbi ended with last week. I’m a NYC Queens girl who never attended services until I married and had 2 daughters. I never was Bat Mitzvah-ed and I can read a bit of Hebrew because sometime ago Jackie ran a Hebrew Class in their dining room and I attended, most of the time.
“Ralph and I were honored to have Friday night dinners at the Rabbi’s and Jackie's house after services. Wonderful meals and memories…
“I will miss the rabbi. He was always non-judgmental and I have great memories of being upstairs during inspirational evenings and mornings at Touro.”
The rabbi's new position is at Congregation Beth Tikvah Ahavat Shalom Nusach Hoari near Montreal. During the summer Rabbi Stephen Belsky will officiate at Touro.
AARON GINSBURG lives in Stoughton, Massachusetts and blogs at jewishnewport.blogspot.com.