From generation to generation, in the fogs of London, the streets of Holland, and the trains of Manhattan, knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese was piously handed down among Jews. Ladino, as it was known, a mixture of several languages, Hebrew and old Spanish, spoken by the descendants of the exiles of 1492 was regarded as something more of a sacred tongue. It was the mother-language of the fugitives, tended to be used to a greater extent in private life and for less formal purposes.
Until the beginning of the nineteenth century by which time Ladino had become fully as unfamiliar as Hebrew itself, all communal business was conducted in Ladino. It was only in 1735 that English began to figure on the curriculum of the London Jewish community; while at least in Amsterdam, Portuguese remained a principal item on the syllabus until the nineteenth century advanced.
Even down to the present day, in the Sephardic synagogues of London and New York, Amsterdam, Curacao and Bordeaux, rifle snatches of Spanish and Portuguese remain embedded in the service to remind the congregation of the land from which the founders of the congregation originated and the vicissitudes through which they underwent. This is something no other congregation in the Ashkenazic world with long history has managed to preserve.
I have unforgettable memories of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in New York City and its “Grace after Meals” sung in Ladino by a large sophisticated midtown congregation. Mikve Israel-Emmanuel in Curacao uses Portuguese to call up the Aliyot and one can hear a mixture of Dutch, Papiamento and English throughout the service. I noticed that in my visit to the island during the summer of 1996.
As we can see, language is the soul of the synagogue and in each case, beyond the Jewish dialect; because it brings memories of the past.
The traditions of the Shul are sacred. Clergy and members are entrusted with them and it gives the synagogue its uniqueness for us and for the generations to come.
In our beautiful sanctuary and chapel, we strive to preserve inspiring and significant practices and rituals that characterize our way to pray in Conservative Judaism and we want you to be a part of it. We wish you would come and share in the atmosphere created around every Shabbat and festivities. There is so much to enjoy and learn at services. We commit ourselves to teach, to sing and make services meaningful and time sensitive. We have improved our youth services; in the cases of High Holy Days integrating youth and adults in our Torah reading, our Davening and our Kiddush lunch. Come, there is so much to be grateful for in Judaism. Do not wait until you really need your synagogue, come because you are Jewish, because we need you, because our synagogue and its unique style and language are yours and needs your input. Come and help us preserve our heritage. Be a partner in shaping and preserving the uniqueness of our synagogue. Help us make our synagogue that special place. Summer and winter, we will be here for you.
Rabbi Leonardo Bitran