15 June 2009

Minnesota: Sephardic Jews connect in Twin Cities

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The American Jewish World is the Jewish community paper in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In an April article I learned that Sephardic Jews were connecting there. Minnesota is not considered a hotbed of Sephardic life, so I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to read this story.

In an effort to connect with his heritage, local engineer Joseph Israel joined the Sephardi Minyan when he moved to Minnesota in 2002. The minyan, which was started by Lebanese immigrant David Khabie and former Minnesotan Abe Sclar more than 30 years ago, is a welcoming group for local Sephardic Jews who want to retain the worship melodies and traditions with which they grew up.

“Being Sephardic is a state of mind in the broader sense,” said Israel, who is now a co-leader of the minyan. “We come from so many different countries with so many different influences, but there is a commonality among the way we do things, the food we eat, our histories.”

Of the 14 million Jews in the world, about 3 million of them are of Sephardic origin, meaning that they trace their roots to Spain, Portugal and countries of the Middle East (also known as Mizrachi origin).

This minyan (group of at least 10 Jewish males) conducts monthly services in the basement of Kenesseth Israel Congregation in St. Louis Park, and approximately 40 people have attended services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The space for the Orthodox minyan is donated by Kenesseth Israel, and the group has been accepted by Kenesseth’s leadership, including Rabbi Chaim Goldberger.

“Many local Sephardic Jews already belong to synagogues here,” Israel said. “We are not trying to create our own synagogue. Rather, we just want to get together periodically and do things the way we remember doing them with our parents and our grandparents.”

The minyan provides an opportunity for Sephardic Jews to join together, socialize and pray using their traditional melodies and customs.

“We have beautiful traditions, and it feels so soothing to hear the melodies that we use for prayer and Torah reading,” Israel said. “I am reminded of how I felt sitting with my father in our synagogue in Egypt when I was a boy.”
Israel’s father was the hazzan in his Cairo, Egype synagogue and at Ahi Ezer Congregation in Brooklyn, New York. Yom Tov Israel, his great-great-great-grandfather, was Egypt's chief rabbi 1866-1891.

No one knows how many Sephardim live in the Twin Cities area, but he hopes to find all of them. So far, the minyan's presence has only been spread via word of mouth, but perhaps the newspaper story found more of them. He wants to reach more local Sephardim, those who are Sephardim at heart or who simply want to experience a Sephardic service - all are welcome.

In reference to the story, Israel said,“I hope that this article will create more awareness about the local Sephardic community, bring the diverse Sephardi community together for Shabbat and holidays, help the Sephardi Minyan to grow, and expose the broader Jewish community to the beauties of Sephardic culture.”

A Lebanese woman, her husband and brother are believed to be the only local Jews raised in that country. Lili Khabie hopes to bring women together to celebrate Sephardic culture.

“I love the Jewish community here and I feel very much a part of it,” Khabie said. “But you don’t forget who you are and where you come from, and you don’t ever stop longing for those traditions that are most familiar to you… I believe that all Jews should know where they came from, and one way to do that is for the women to keep our Sephardic traditions alive and share them with the whole
Those who may want more information, may email the group.

Read the complete story at the link above. The story was published around Passover and includes some information on different Passover food customs for Sephardim.

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