By Deb Silverthorn
Sean Rothberg did not let suspension of in-person gatherings keep him and others from connecting with the Freemason international community. Last year, Rothberg, a member of the Richardson Masonic Lodge, started The Masonic Kippah, a Facebook group for Jewish Freemasons.
“The interconnection of the fraternal organization and fellow Jews from so many countries has proved a harmony of the two and it’s really fantastic,” said Rothberg, whose Facebook group is now 248 members strong.
Requirements of being a Freemason (or Mason, the titles interchangeable) include believing in a supreme being, believing in the immortality of the soul and living an ethical life. “All of that,” said Rothberg, “falls right in line with my life as a Jew.”
Rothberg started The Masonic Kippah and connected with New York City resident Shlomo Bar-Ayal, who started the Orthodox Jewish Freemasons Facebook page. Together, they brought in brothers from every continent to meet online most Sunday evenings. For details and connection information, email email@example.com.
“Sean is a good guy and put his heart into this and it’s been a great success. Jews have been involved in Masonry since the early 1700s,” said Bar-Ayal, who was installed Master of his James W. Husted-Fiat Lux Lodge in 2019. “We thought we might have a few people show up but almost every Sunday, now for more than a year-and-a-half, we’ve had people show up. Sometimes it’s just eight, sometimes 15 or 20 and more.”
The group, meeting at 6:30 p.m. Central time, has some joining in early morning and others late in the evening. Participants have shared Jewish-themed conversations on performing mitzvot, on studying Gemara and on God. The Masons are well known for their commitment to charity and volunteerism, providing to children’s hospitals, food kitchens and in other ways delivering to homeless communities.
“We have had speakers, discussions and we just enjoy each other’s company,” said Rothberg. “Outside of the pandemic, I generally connect with locals from my lodge and maybe a couple of others but now I’ve made friends in many countries. I look forward to being able to travel to meet some of them face to face.”
In Australia, Chabad of Downtown Sydney Rabbi Danny Yaffe is a member of the Lodge of Tranquillity in New South Wales. A Mason since 2016, Yaffe, who at one meeting led a discussion about King Solomon and the esoteric aspects of the Mason’s apron, also appreciates the connection between the Masons and Jews.
“It’s incredibly powerful to connect with others,” said Yaffe, “and it has been a privilege to forge friendships with many I’d most likely never have met if not for the pandemic. Every lodge, in any city, any state, any country, has always been open to visiting Masons, no different than our Shabbos tables, also always welcoming.”
A Dallas native, Rothberg is the son of Marcy and Larry, he of blessed memory. A graduate of Fairhill School, he is now studying at the University of Texas at Dallas and hopes to someday teach high school English and Holocaust studies.
Rothberg has followed in the footsteps of his father, also a Freemason.
“What Sean’s done is pretty incredible and his father would be very proud,” said Marcy Rothberg, who since her husband’s passing has run his The Billiard Den pool hall and sports bar in Richardson, with her son working alongside her. “I learned the good the Masons do firsthand through my husband, whether we were buying and delivering toys or spending hours visiting with the children at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. Sean has that same good heart and I’m thrilled for his success.”
Bar-Ayal, a guide of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York who has continued during the pandemic to give tours virtually, is optimistic of the popularity of the Masons even in a time when coming together has meant doing that online. “The Masons are about recognizing that there is more to the world than just ‘me,’ and acting to better the world however we can,” he said, that tenet echoing the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. “Brother to brother, we have deep relationships despite the miles between us.”
Rothberg said he expects the online group will continue even when in-person meetings resume. “We’ve really expanded the brotherhood of the Masons, building a brotherhood within our brotherhood,” he said.