Ashkenazim in a Sephardi Shul

Etz Ahaim logoLast week I was discussing the term Sephardi, and Little Frumhouse on the Prairie, who just posted a delicious carnival of delightful bites, suggested I blog about how we Ashkenazim came to a Sephardi shul (or should I say beit knesset…shul is yiddish).

There are a lot of Ashkenazim at Congregation Etz Ahaim. A while back, I wrote a post about Voices of Etz Ahaim, a marvelous oral history book put together by two Ashkenazi members. Many of the Ashkenazim are women married to Sephardi men, but sometimes it’s the reverse. I decided to make a list of “key ingredients” of why Ashkenazim are attracted to Etz Ahaim. Then I add my own personal note at the end.

1) food: Sephardim (the women–the men can’t locate the kitchen…so maybe I should say Sephardot?) know how to cook. Elaborate kiddushes might include dishes such as meat patties on pastry, borekas with a variety of fillings, bulghur & chickpea salad with grated carrots and parsley, and fancy cookies. A simpler kiddush has chickpeas and olives. And there’s usually a jar of herring for the Ashkenazim who need their fix.

2) International flavor: Countries represented include Turkey, Greece, Italy, Israel, Iran, Iraq, France, Morocco, Brazil, Russia. French is spoken in pockets; it’s fun to listen in on the conversations.

Ladino is part of the service. Bendicho su nombre is sung when the Torah is taken out. Ain Kelokeinu is also half Hebrew, half Ladino: non come estro Dio (there is none like our God).

3) Community: It is the only synagogue in Highland Park that isn’t over-crowded and bursting at the seams. We remember “losing” our boys as toddlers in the the large kiddushes of the our previous synagogue. And at Etz Ahaim friendliness comes with the territory.

4) Rabbi Bassous: Our rabbi is both learned and kind, a natural teacher. One can learn from him no matter what your level of Jewish education.

Did I mention the food?

On a more personal note, I like the way the misheberachs (prayer for the sick) are done at Etz Ahaim. When my mother z”l (may her memory be a blessing) was very sick with cancer, the misheberach was very important to me. I didn’t care to say it “quietly to oneself” as was done in the Ashkenazi shul we attended. At Etz Ahaim the women can stand at the mechitza (the separation between men and women) with their requests, and the Rabbi says each name loudly and clearly. I started attending Etz Ahaim on my own, in part so I could hear my mother’s name said out loud. My oldest son soon joined me, as his best friend was at Etz Ahaim. His younger brother soon followed (at that age they went to the groups).

We eventually pulled in my husband (my daughter was born later). Now my husband is on the Executive Board, he’s the treasurer, he keeps track of the aliyot donations, he finds someone to do the haftorah each week, he finds lainers (men who recite Torah) and speech givers when the Rabbi goes away in the summer; they caught him!

But really, it’s the food.