One of my favorite places to spend a Shabbat is at Mikveh Israel, the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, of Philadelphia. I went for Thanksgiving weekend in 2012 and had such a good time that I went back again in March 2013. Though for the second trip I also brought with me 20 others from New York (!), including Shearith Israel Shammash, and personal friend, Zachary Edinger (not that it was his first time there).
Mikveh Israel is one of the original five S&P congregations of colonial America (Savannah, Charleston, Newport and New York are the others), though aside from Shearith Israel, it is the only one still maintaining the ancient rite. And it is one of the most welcoming places to visit! And as it’s located in the heart of Old Philadelphia, just two blocks away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the location can’t be beat!
Rabbi Albert Gabbai is so very kind and welcoming, and their Hazzan, Shalom Garson, not only has a stellar voice, but is one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Mikveh Israel has communal meals for Shabbat dinner and lunch each week, so it is so easy to spend a Shabbat with them, especially with the abundance of hotels within a few block radius.
On both of the occasions that I spent shabbat at Mikve Israel I was honored with being asked to sit upon the tebah as well as to deliver the morning sermon. I noted how the last time a contingent came from Shearith Israel to Mikveh Israel it was on account of their fleeing the British invasion in 1776. I therefore commented how nice it was to come once again, but this time under better circumstances! On Sunday morning I delivered a lectured about the surprisingly heterogeneous nature of Portuguese congregations, even from their inception. It is a feature of diversity that is still a hallmark of Portuguese congregations today. You can watch it below. Thank you to Constantin Raducan for videoing and posting it.
The enjoyment and inspiration that I received from my trips to Mikveh Israel have helped me realize the value in strengthening the ties between the extant S&P communities around the world. I look forward to getting to know them and to visiting them in due time! 🙂