I recently visited one of the world’s newest S&P congregations, and it couldn’t be located in a better place! The congregation’s home is the Istanbuli Synagogue in the historic ‘Four Sephardi Synagogues’ in Jerusalem’s Old City (read more about historic Sephardic Jerusalem here). Sha’are Ratzon was established in 1980 to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of an Israel based S&P family, and it has been meeting nearly every month ever since.
Many of the founders hailed from England’s S&P communities – each which contain the word ‘Sha’ar,’ ‘Gate,’ in their names. They invoked this relationship in their chosen name ‘Sha’are Ratzon,’ ‘Gates of Favour,’ also the name of the beautiful medieval poem sung in S&P congregations before the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hoshanah. The poem retells the story of the ‘Binding of Isaac,’ which according to tradition took place on the Temple Mount – just feet away from the Istanbuli Synagogue.
I had the pleasure to spend shabbat with the congregation when I visited Israel in June. I was warmly welcomed and invited to take the Musaf service and to deliver a sermon. It was Parashat Shelah and so I spoke about tzitzit. I noted the unique S&P custom to wear the talet with all four corners forward, and to then gather them before reciting the Shema at the words ‘Maher Vehabe – Speedily bring…us together from the four corners of the earth.’ (Read more about the S&P talet here)
It felt as if I was seeing the fulfilment of this prayer as I spoke before the assembled congregation of about forty souls. Before me sat Jews from different S&P synagogues from around the world – England, Holland, Suriname and America. Whilst they came from different countries, what brought them together was their shared heritage and love of the Western Sephardic tradition. I felt inspired praying there with them with an enlarged image of the Amsterdam Esnoga hanging on the wall opposite.
In many of my posts I reflect on the past, but as I saw this congregation before me, I felt myself drawn to consider the future, and the important role that Sha’are Ratzon might play. Nearly every affiliated Jew visits Israel once, if not more, during their lifetime. Each year thousands of young Jews from around the world come to Jerusalem to study. A visit to Sha’are Ratzon would expose them to the rich history, traditions and ethos of the S&P. When they return home they might be inspired to seek out their local S&P synagogue (if they should be so fortunate to live in a place with one – see a list here), or to at least incorporate the message of the S&P into their congregations. I’ll be increasingly writing about these values, such as synthesis, dignity, and tradition in future posts.
Sha’are Ratzon has the capacity to expose and connect a new generation of Jews, in Israel and ultimately around the globe, to the Western Sephardic world. Through Shabbatonim, inviting friends and visitors, and increasing awareness, they have the potential to attract an ever increasing number of attendees, and ultimately adherents, to their venerable kahal.
Indeed, as I prayed with them just steps away from the Temple Mount, I couldn’t help but dream that through their holy work we might all merit one day to hear the redemptive call of the shofar and pray together in Jerusalem as one. In the meantime, you can visit Sha’are Ratzon at the Istanbuli Synagogue in the Old City the next time you’re in Jerusalem! For more information see their website or follow them on facebook.