Have you ever been to Providence?
I hadn’t until last weekend.
My good friend, Rabbi Raphie Schochet, has been running the Providence Kollel for many years, and invited me to speak over Shabbos in the community.
That got me thinking. Where did Providence get its name from? I’d heard the name many times and wondered if it had anything to do with Divine Providence, a fundamental idea in Judaism, and the theme of the Rugby Rabbi Story, which I was going to be telling.
Lo and behold! Wikipedia says: Providence was founded by Roger Williams, a religious exile from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He named the area in honor of “God’s merciful Providence”, which he believed was responsible for revealing such a haven for him and his followers to settle. The city is situated at the mouth of the Providence River at the head of Narragansett Bay.
Wow! What Providence. or Hashgacha as we say in Hebrew.
Now, although I was only speaking over Shabbos, I decided to fly Thursday night so I could spend a day touring the area. I heard it was pretty – and near the coast, always a draw for me. Plus, flying close to Shabbos is discouraged, even more so if it involves a Chicago airport.
Rabbi Schochet graciously lent me his car and after shacharis and breakfast, I headed east to Newport, where Touro synagogue, the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America, and the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era, is situated. I took the tour, which was fascinating. I learned about the first Jewish settlers in the area; the commission of the building of the synagogue completed in 1763; George Washington’s famous letter to the congregation where he wrote: “… the Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. … 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 figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.” (you can read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touro_Synagogue)
The spectacular interior of Touro synagogue
From there I headed to the Cliff walk, a public walkway along the ocean, past many magnificent mansions. However, I was far more interested in gazing out to sea and listening to the water breaking on the rocks below.
The view from the Cliff Walk
One of the mansions
I was glancing at my watch to see how much time I had before needing to head back to Providence. I still had time to swing past Jamestown and on the Beavertail State Park, at the southern end of Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay. Its main attraction is the active Beavertail Lighthouse, which dates to 1856.
The weather was overcast and I was almost the only one there. I breathed in the fresh, sea air and looked out as a tug boat dragged a ship to sea.
I could have stayed for hours, but I needed to head back. Waze told me I would be back with at least 2 hours before early Shabbos came in.
Shabbos itself was a delight. There is something special when most of the community belongs to the same shul. I met a family who have been in Providence since 1908! At the community dinner Friday night, there were a couple of South Africans, one even wearing his Springbok sweatshirt. (I’ve noticed that, just like the Jews, there are South Africans spread all over the globe).
With Rabbi Schochet and the Karp brothers at shul.
As I mentioned, the theme of my Rugby Rabbi Story is the incredible Hashgacha (Divine Providence) I have witnessed throughout my life, and how we can all see it in our own lives every day if we pay attention. I said: “I’m jealous of all of you. As I was heading back from my visit to the ocean, all the signs told me I was heading to Providence. Imagine living in a place where G-d is reminding you constantly that there is Providence in this world!