Friday, November 23, 2012

A Rosh Hashanah to remember

I would have liked to put this blog post up after Rosh Hashanah, when it was much more relevant. But I wasn't in the blogging mood then.

Now that I'm on the blogging wagon again, I will continue to blog about my adventures in chronological order.

I was staying at an urban permaculture site in the city of Sao Carlos during Rosh Hashanah. I had been there for a week and was planning on staying there for another week. I didn't want to leave town for a couple of days to go to services. Plus, I was certain that I would be able to find a Jewish community in the metropolis of 500,000 people that boasts two large universities and some large industry.

I googled a bit and found several references to a small Jewish community in Sao Carlos. After some more in-depth searching, I found the contact info for the "Comunidad Israelita de Sao Carlos."

Everywhere I had gone in South America until that point, "Comunidad Israelita" is another way of saying "Jewish." Jackpot.

I called the phone number and asked about Rosh Hashanah services. They said that they were going to convene on the first night of the holiday and that I was more than welcome to join.

After spending a half hour searching for the synagogue (the address, Google Maps, and everybody who we asked for directions disagreed on where the place was actually located), my host dropped me off in what looked like a squatter settlement on the outskirts of town. The guy at the door greeted me with a "shanah tovah" and a giant kippah.

As I stepped into the sanctuary, there was a CD playing some prayers on repeat. The walls were covered in posters with pictures of Jerusalem and Israel. It looked more like a Hebrew school classroom than a sanctuary. 

And as soon as the prayer leader made the first reference to Jesus, I realized what kind of congregation I was visiting.

I stayed for the rest of the service, which didn't really follow the structure of any service I had ever been to. It was a fascinating experience, nonetheless. The ambience sounded much more like the evangelical churches I have seen in South America than a synagogue. The prayer leader had the highest Hebrew level of anyone of the members, but even he was struggling through basic blessings.

They frequently chose to play a CD of the prayers, instead of singing them. At the end of the service, they went with the special Rosh Hashanah mix, which included shofar sounds. 

Once the abbreviated service ended, there was a festive meal that included apples and honey, fish, lots of fruit, and shmoozing.

From what I understand of the holiday, the mitzvot of rosh hashanah are to hear the shofar and eat apples and honey, which is exactly what I did. I also got a great story out of it. 

The next day I made some of my favorite Rosh Hashanah foods for my hosts. They loved the kugel, apple cake, challah, carrots, etc.

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