I enjoyed a wonderful Shabbat at the Laurderdale Rd Synagogue of Congregation Shaar Hashamayim – the Spanish Portuguese Jews of London. There are several synagogues and minyanim that are part of S&P network of London, and of all of them this is the most vibrant. Built in the 19th century, the synagogue building is part of an impressive complex of buildings which contains the synagogue’s library, small sanctuary, social hall, succah, and administrative offices.
I was warmly received by the synagogue’s rabbi, Israel Elia, who I thank for his hospitality! He welcomed me to his home for Shabbat dinner, and also invited me to speak at Seudah Shelishit. The third meal takes place in the congregation’s social hall. Its walls are adorned with paintings of the kahal’s previous rabbis (the same is done at Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel), such as Raphael Meldola and Moses Gaster. It was a real treat to teach Torah in their ‘presence!’
I also enjoyed spending several hours on shabbat afternoon with the community’s previous rabbi, the prominent and energetic Rabbi Dr. Abraham Levy of the Montefiore Endowment, Neima Jewish Preparatory School and Montefiore College. We spoke about the broader S&P world, his projects and my studies. He also showed me his wonderful collection of historic S&P sefarim and prints.
Of all of the Portuguese congregations that I visited during my trip through Europe, I found that the nusah of London’s is the most similar of them all to that of Shearith Israel in NY. That speaks to the strong historic connection between these two congregations, as New York was a British colony for over one hundred years. Furthering that connection, Rabbi Joseph Dweck of Brooklyn, NY, will soon join the community, and please G-d help propel it to ever greater heights!