23 August 2008

Chicago 2008: More programs

I'm back in New York now and readying my notes on many different Chicago conference sessions.

Still to be reported on: Sephardic programs, South America, Eastern Europe, the excellent society management program with Adam Shames (a whole-day seminar would be a great idea!), Lisa Lipkin's take on storytelling and genealogy, and a host of other topics.

All in all, it was a very good conference, so stay tuned for more reports.

Some fascinating stories of discoveries by attendees are also on the agenda - such discoveries can only happen at these annual conferences, where networking is key.

In addition to those discoveries, there's the story of my meeting with Russian cousins who live in Chicago. Did you ever meet someone for the first time and think you've known them forever? This was exactly how I felt when I met Zhanna Talalay Burman, her daughter Eugenia and her niece Yelena. It was a great reunion - although we met for the first time.

There was our Shabbat morning visit to Rabbi Capers Funnye's Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation on Chicago's southside. Thank you to Mitch Lieber for making it possible for us to attend.

If you are ever in that city over a weekend, try to attend these spirited services, but don't make additional plans until late in the afternoon. Services start at 10:30am, but may well go on until 2pm or even later as various sermons and great music are part of the rituals, followed by kiddush.

The Torah reading is different from what most of us have ever experienced. A line is read first in Hebrew from the sefer torah, immediately followed by the extemporaneous translation; the complete portion is read.

The sisters and brothers of the congregation were warm and welcoming, and our faces hurt from smiling all day! There's a very talented woman in the congregation who makes the most magnificent tallits for men and for women, in linen, hand-embroidered.

Dinah Levi, who sat in front of us, brought two beautiful ones made of white linen. The shorter was embroidered in white with her Hebrew name. Her background includes Native American heritage, and she brought along another larger tallit. It was embroidered in the corners with feathers and beads, two colorful Southwestern pots on the back and a magnificent atarah (collar) piece in a vibrant tourqoise. One congregant wore a black tallit with the atarah worked in a beautiful red border, while younger women in the congregation wore other very unique pieces.

While men and women (all cover their heads) sit separately (but no divider), women are called for aliyah and also read from the Torah; the ArtScroll siddur is used. First-time worshippers are asked to stand, give their names and where they are from; each is welcomed warmly and personally by the rabbi. He also mentioned the Chicago conference and made us feel at home.

Also attending were three converso men from a Mexico City community. I was only able to speak with them for a few minutes, although I would have liked to spend hours in conversation.

For more information, here's a JTA story on the rabbi and the synagogue, and Tracing the Tribe had a previous post here.

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