We were delighted to have the Websters as our Torah readers during the High Holidays at the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Suriname. Moriyah and Yehudah, a father and son team, conducted one of the most memorable Rosh Hashanah services I have ever attended. This year we had a “full house”: more than 70 members and some international guests attended the services.
The afternoon Tashlich along the Suriname river was also attended by more than 20 participants.
Tashlich is the ritual performed at a large, natural body of flowing water such as river, lake, sea, or ocean, on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. The ritual is performed with small pieces of bread which are thrown into the water to symbolically cast off our sins. The ceremony includes reading the source passage for the practice, the last verses from the prophet Micah (7:19), “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
On April 2, Kulanu Canada, in partnership with the Lodzer Centre and Darchei Noam’s Jewish Diversity Committee, presented the film The Mystery of San Nicandro. More than 100 people attended the event, and besides the screening, there was lively discussion about Kulanu Canada’s projects and about the content of the film.
The film, by producer/director Vanessa Dylyn, is based on a book by Professor John Davis, about a group of Italian Roman Catholics in a small village who underwent a mass conversion to Judaism in Fascist Italy. Over a period of 20 years of observing Jewish practices, they left Italy and emigrated to the new state of Israel in 1949.
In the making of the film, the producer discovered a bigger story: that of the powerful revival of Judaism in Southern Italy. About 10 years ago, Rabbi Barbara Aiello, Italy’s first female rabbi, opened the first synagogue in Serrastreta, Italy, in 500 years. She serves the new communities of Jewish presence in Calabria and Sicily, and more recently Pugalia and Sardinia, all areas with an ancient Jewish population before The Spanish Inquisition forced Jews to flee.
The spirit that called the converts of San Nicandro back to Judaism has also been stirring in North America, where many people of Italian origin are discovering links to a Jewish past.
My journey into a world of whispers and shadows started 30 years ago in San Antonio. I had just visited the iconic Alamo where the Texan forces were slaughtered by the armies of Mexico’s Santa Ana. I felt their ghosts.
To say the least, it was an intense experience, so my friend and I took a head-clearing walk along the Paseo del Rio. We came across a tiny structure that was billed as The Spanish Governor’s Mansion. Curious, we went inside, where almost immediately, an ornately carved Baroque secretary desk caught my eye. I went over to it to examine it in more detail.
When I pushed back the panel covering a collection of tiny drawers, my heart skipped a beat. There, in the centre of the bank of drawers was a mogen dovid!