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Monday, October 28, 2013

Experiencing NYC's Sephardic Community

Mrs. Wielgus's Sephardic Jewish History elective class took a trip to experience two different types of Sephardic communities in New York City. Senior Sarah Cohen wrote the following about the trip.

Congregation Edmond J. Safra:
Walking into the synagogue was like walking into what I imagined the Bet Hamikdash to look like. Rabbi Dr. Abadie showed us around and shared with us how the architecture was thought out very carefully. For example, the trees outside, by the entrance of the congregation, represent the Tree of Life and also represent Edmond Safra himself. Just like the tree of life helps people and is always alive, Edmond Safra helped his community and his name is still living today. Walking up the stairs to the second floor was like walking into the Kotel; it actually was the western wall of the congregation. After our tour, Rabbi Abadie explained that the reason why there was so much money put into the congregation was because they believed it will come to Israel with them when Mashiach comes. No need to fear leaving it behind. Right when he said that, I closed my eyes and imagined myself sitting there in Jerusalem in the times of Mashiach.

Congregation Shearith Israel: Spanish Portuguese Synagogue:
Walking into this synagogue was like entering a time machine and getting sent back to the western European life in the mid 1600's. Sounds crazy, but that's really what it felt like. This synagogue was built in 1897; however, it is the 4th location of the congregation. It's actually the oldest congregation in North America; it started in 1654 when Jews ran away from Brazil. Rabbi Ricky Hidary showed us around the synagogue and explained the set up. What interested me most was that there were gas lamps because electricity was first invented in the 1800's. This was part of the reason why I felt like I was in a time machine. Gas lamps? Who uses those these days? Another thing that caught my eye was the Havdalah candle and cup that were hidden under one of the gas lamps. The reason they are there is to remember the lives of the Marranos and how they had to practice Judaism secretly. Rabbi Hidary in the traditional garb, sang us some tunes, which some believe are the same tunes as the ones sung in the Bet Hamikdash. These tunes sounded very similar to the ones Sephardic Jews sing today! I was amazed by how similar today's Jewish life is to Jewish life back in the 1600's.