Between family events, Shavuos and then Shabbat I was away all week in another state. I couldn’t wait, however, to share my experience of a very special Shabbat.
On the Shabbat prior to Shavuot (Parshat Nasso) I stayed by some good friends who are members of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation (325 East 75th Street, New York, NY 10021). Having grown up in Uruguay with a lot of Sephardi cronies, attending a shul – here in Brooklyn – where we have quite a few Persian members, I was somewhat familiar with non-Ashkenazi rites, or so I thought…
On Friday eve – erev Shabbat, as everyone was reciting the Shir Hashirim together, there was a certain electricity in the air. The recitation wasn’t just a word mouthing exercise, the fervor was palpable! Each chapter was led by a different member of the kehilla, each picking up where the other left off, without skipping a beat. The tfilllot and their haunting, lilting melodies transported me to another era, to another place. Shabbat eve’s meal consisted of Moroccan and Latin American dishes, a delight for the eyes, the nose, the palate. For the first time in many a decade, a major part of the conversation was in Spanish, I loved it. All that, however, was just the appetizer for what was about to come. The tfillot on Shabbat day introduced me to even greater depths of feeling. Never since I returned to the US in 1977 – after 10 years in Eretz Yisroel – did I get to join other kohanim on a Shabbat for the birkat kohanim on a regular Shabbat, not once but twice! Though the melodies were far different from any I was used to, there was something indescribably beautiful in the voices, the words, the emotions. Many time I was left full of awe after the blessings, but never before, here in chutz la’aretz, have I felt so much like a true descendant of Aharon HaKohen.
Rabbi Benchimol, the Congregation’s Rav, gave an inspiring drasha (but even this was only a forerunner of things to come) weaving golden threads, from Sephardi and Ashkenazi sfarim, into a stunningly rich tapestry.
After Mussaf was over we had kiddush. The previous evening I’d been warned that this particular kiddush was rather a meager one… Meager? By what standards?!?!? Like most of the members, I had challah at the kiddush, there was no need for further lunch. They dare call this meager?!?
Before mincha Rabbi Benchimol gave a shiur, again the wealth and breadth of his lamdut reminded me of a large treasure chest bursting with precious stones, with gold, with silver. Not only does he know his mekorot but his way of meshing them together, his insights, had us all enthralled as we listened and eagerly picked up every pearl pouring forth..
The seudah shlishit, was a veritable feast again, but by this time I expected it to be… and it didn’t disappoint. The warmth of the predominantly Moroccan congregation, the depth of the feelings evoked, tfillot that left me feeling feeling humbled but inspired, made this a Shabbat I will long treasure. One Ashkenazi member of MSC told me – in response to my question as to what brought him to a Sephardic bet knesset - “I find myself emotionally drawn to this minyan!” Frankly, I’m starting to feel the same way…