Category Archives: Religious Services

What’s Jewish About Bubbies? Recap

On Sunday, November 18, 2018, grandparents, parents, and children gathered at CEH to learn “What’s Jewish About Bubbies?”

Bubby (plural: bubbies or bubbes) is a Yiddish term for grandmother. The Yiddish term for grandfather is Zayde. We call our grandparents many other terms of endearment (e.g., granny, pop-pop, savta, saba, mimi, grandpa), but bubbe and zayde are very well-known terms among many Jewish families.

Jewish law and tradition emphasize the responsibility to honor our parents and grandparents. From the Ten Commandments (“Honor Your Mother and Father”) to the recitation of our ancestors at every prayer service, we are reminded to show respect and reverence to the generations before us. Grandparents play an especially important role in teaching Jewish traditions to their families.

To celebrate grandparents, we ate cookies and milk, sang songs, read stories about Jewish values, created grandparent awards, and played grandparent bingo. We learned that the group strongly preferred chocolate chip cookies although gingerbread/ginger snaps were a strong runner up. Moreh Will taught us the Hebrew words for family members such as father (Abba) and mother (Ima). We also played several exciting games of dreidel in our new “spinagogue.” We had around 30 people ranging in age from newborn to grandparents.

The most important lesson of the day was how special it is to spend time with our families. Based on the success of this event, we are now planning another grandparent-focused celebration for Spring 2019.

Next Event: What’s Jewish About Libraries?

When: 02/10/2019

–Alexis Joyce, Laura Naide, Will Rivlin

Rabbi Lia Bass Speech from Rosh Hashanah – Day 2

Today in the Torah we read the story of the binding of Isaac. I have spoken about this story many times, since it is a story that tugs at my heart strings. This year, I realized that this is a story that happens among Hinenis.

There are 3 times in Chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis that our ancestor, Abraham, says the word Hineni, which means “Here I am”.  In the first verse of the chapter, we read (Translation by Robert Alter):

“And it happened after these things that God tested Abraham. And God said to him “Abraham!” and he said, “here I am – hineni!”

When God calls Abraham, he responds immediately with Hineni!– Here I am! I can almost hear Abraham saying: God, so good to hear from you! I am excited to hear your voice, and to know what you have in store for me.

Abraham and Isaac travel with attendants for 3 days, and leave the attendants behind, walking up the rest of the way, just the 2 of them alone. In verse 7, we read:

And Isaac said to Avraham his father, “Father!”, and he said, “Here I am, Hineni, my son.” And he said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the offering?”

There is kindness in this Hineni, as Abraham shows tenderness to his child, trying to respond to him, to be present, even though he knows fully well what lies in the future. After the altar is built, and Abraham binds his child to the altar, Abraham takes the knife, ready to do what he believes God commanded him, which is to slaughter his son. In verse 11, we read the word Hineni for the 3rd time:

“And the Eternal’s messenger called out to him from the heavens and said, “Abraham, Abraham”, and he said “Here I am”, Hineni.”

The messenger of God showed up just in time, and before he did the unthinkable, Abraham listened to him.

Abraham had 3 meanings for his Hineni: to be present and excited, to show kindness, and to listen.

What is your Hineni?

The word Hineni, Here I am! is a term that conveys readiness, presence, concentration, attention, and listening. It gives a sense of excitement, an exclamation point following the words. Hineni, Here I am, ready to participate, work, do things, be present! Hineni is about being “All in”. Being all in is to be passionate about life, to grab the opportunities that life presents us, to fully accept the challenge of living an examined life. To be all in is to act with the belief that there is potential in our deeds, openness for wonder, a commitment to participate and perform to the best of our abilities, a willingness to listen, and a desire to show kindness. Every day we pray the Amidah 3 times, and at every Amidah we recall our ancestors, Abraham Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. I take this to mean that just as my ancestors had their unique relationship with God, I must find my own relationship with God, my own Hineni, following in the footsteps of my ancestors. In our tradition, we are supposed to learn from the example of our ancestors – but not follow them blindly. We don’t follow Abraham’s example as a husband or a parent. We follow Abraham’s Hineni moments as a brave, spiritual, loyal, and gifted statesman. A few examples are:

  • Abraham doesn’t hesitate to change as he listened to God’s voice, to leave his place and go to the place that God showed him.
  • Abraham showed kindness as 3 angels (disguised as 3 men) approached his tent in the middle of the day.

He made sure to feed them and make them comfortable.

  • Abraham fought for his family, showing loyalty during the war between the Kings.
  • Abraham did not shy away from bargaining with God for the fate of the two doomed towns, Sodomah and Gomorrah.
  • And he trusted in God and God’s promise, again and again, even as he aged, and the promise of offspring seemed to be more and more difficult to come true.

We learn many lessons from Abraham’s journey.

As Abraham trusted in God’s promise, we can together trust in God’s message of love and understanding between all, and usher a time of peace, creativity, and joint abundance, even when that promise seems to be so elusive and far-fetched.

As Abraham bargained with God for the fate of the cities, we can speak truth to people in power and stand for the rights of all people.

We can also continue our long tradition of speaking to God and being in relationship with God as we pray together in our Sanctuary.

As Abraham fought for his family, so we together can fight for our human family, for ensuring that we do not demean, dehumanize, and humiliate others, instead propping the downtrodden, raising the fallen, providing a helping hand to the oppressed.

In the same way that Abraham opened his tent for the visitors, as a community of faith, we can remain loyal to his example and open our community to other people of faith. We can open our community to the poor, the needy, and the immigrant.

Most of all, as Abraham had the courage to change, we have to be able to change, too.

Rosh Hashanah, in the Jewish tradition, is a time where we examine our actions in the year that passed, take a hard look at the parts of ourselves that need to change, ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt, and when faced with a similar situation, don’t fall prey to the same bad choices. Our traditions praises our ability to grow and change.

These are a few of the ways we can be inspired by Abraham’s Hineni moments to create our own Hineni moments.

Let me share a Hineni moment with you.

I have been here for 17 years. I came here on August, 2001. A few weeks after I arrived, September 11 happened. Today, September 11, we remember the devastating blow to our sense of security, and all the people who lost friends and family members in that cowardly attack. Yet, this Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of my 18th year with our congregation. My Hay year!

As most of you know, the Hebrew letters of the word Hay, which means being alive, have the numerical value of 18. The 18th year is a time to take stock, and also the beginning of a new cycle of life. We all have had plenty of Hineni moments together in the last 17 years, and I believe that as we go forth and move into this new hay, this new life, we can have plenty of new Hineni moments together.

The Talmud, in Massechet Bava Metziah (28b), tells us that in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, there was a stone, called Even To’an, the Lost and Found Stone. Whoever found an object went there. Whoever lost an object did the same. The finder stood and proclaimed that s/he found something, and the other would call out the identifying marks of the object, and then receive it back.

In our lives, we all experience losses, from the banal –our keys – to the loss of our loved ones.

Sometimes we lose our hope in the future, and sometimes we lose our innocence when historical events of the proportion of 9/11 happen. A lot of times we have reserves of happiness and optimism that can be shared. Having a Lost and Found Stone– a place of meeting, a place of sharing what we find and what we lose – is an amazing gift. Our congregation can be our modern Lost and Found Stone, a cornerstone of gathering, of restoring relationships and our faith in each other, in the power of community, a place of being all in, in a world so unpredictable.

A solid rock that is a place for giving and receiving, for saying Hineni to each other.

As we starts our 18th year together, our hay year together, what is our Hineni, our all in? Can we be that Lost and Found  Stone, in this complicated world? Can we believe in a culture of possibilities for our congregation? Can we dream up a culture of love, creativity, growth? Can we create a true place of meeting, full of motivation, of beautiful tefillah, belief in the future, openness to change and growth?

I believe in us, and I believe that we are that Even To’an, that wonderful place of meeting where we share our best, worship together,where we prop each other up, where we follow in Abraham’s footsteps and say Hineni to creating a better world.

May we learn from all the positive examples of our ancestor, stressing all that we share.

May we create our own Even To’an, dreaming about the possibilities of all the things we can do together, committing to each other, being all in, opening our hearts, ears and capabilities to each other.  May this be a time of Hineni, of being all in, for our community, our people, our country, and our world.

Rabbi Lia Bass Speech from Rosh Hashanah – Day 1

Take another look to the beautiful words she said during our Rosh Hashanah Celebration!

The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered a TED talk titled “The Danger of a Single Story”, about how stereotypes limit and shape our thinking. At the age of 9, she had read only classic British books, about princesses and castles, long flowing blond hair and valiant princes. As she started writing her own stories, they all involved white, blonde, blue eyed people that talked about the weather – a very far stretch from her middle class, Nigerian reality, where you never needed to talk about the weather, since it was always the same.

She tells a story of speaking at a US University where, during the question and answer session, a student said that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers, like the father character in one of her novels. With a hint of irritation, she responded that she had just read a novel called American Psycho – and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial killers.

The student had a single story about Nigeria – in his mind, based on his reading of a book, Nigeria was a whole country of people who abused and were abused. Ms. Adichie wanted him to see that her reality was as varied as his, and that one cannot create an image of a whole country based on a single story.

Our tradition is quite conscious of the dangers of a single story.

Let me give you an example. For Benjamin’s Bar Mitzvah, I made his tallit. In the Atarah, the neck piece, I quoted a verse from the Book of Deuteronomy: “And to Benjamin (Moses) said, you are a friend of God.”

In the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses blesses all the tribes, and since Jerusalem, and therefore the Temple, was in the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin, the tribe is depicted as a friend of God, and guardian of the Temple, our people’s main source of relationship with God during many centuries.

Yet, the Torah doesn’t want us to see a single-sided story. No one is one-dimensional.

In Chapter 49 of the Book of Genesis, Jacob calls his sons together before dying and gives each of them a “blessing.” I put quotation marks around the word blessing because while the Torah text defines it as both prophecy and a blessing, it is really more a curse. Here are the words to the Tribe of Benjamin: 27. “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the booty.”

What happened to the Tribe of Benjamin being God’s friend?

This description only makes sense when we know the gruesome story found about the tribe of Benjamin in the end of the Book of Judges, Chapters 19-21. In that part of the narrative, men from one city in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin are responsible for a savage attack on a young woman from the Tribe of Judah. That attack motivates a counter act from the other Israelites, escalating into a civil war. In the end, the tribe of Benjamin is almost wiped out from the people of Israel. Even in the Torah, there is no single story. The tribe of Benjamin has elements of both; a friend of God and a ravenous wolf. Had we only the Deuteronomy description, we would have a peaceful image of the Tribe of Benjamin. It wouldn’t be a full image. It would be a stereotype.

If we had only the story that uses the image of a ravenous wolf, we would be stereotyping, also, and we would be opening the possibility for a dangerous situation. The act was committed by some men, in one city, in the territory of one tribe. By depicting the whole tribe as animals that can be hunted, the Torah ends up creating fertile ground for a bloodbath. In the book Less than Human, Dr. David Livingstone Smith explains that when we equate people with animals, we limit our vision, and shape our perception in a way that has difficult consequences.

We dehumanize them, believing that while people may look like humans, where it really counts, they are animals, either vermin or beasts of prey that must be eliminated, one way or another. While we might be tempted to see comparisons of people to animals as mere talk, as nothing more than degrading metaphor, we must understand that dehumanization is not a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization acts as a psychological lubricant, empowering us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.

We lose the perspective of what other people are: a collective of individuals that have an identity and community, people who can make choices, entitled to live according to their own goals. The danger of a single story, the danger of seeing people as less than human, is that it allows us the moral justification to commit atrocities and destruction. The psychologist and Harvard professor Herbert Kerman knew from bitter experience what happens when inhibitions against violence are lifted, since he survived the Nazi Holocaust. He concluded that there are psychological and social mechanisms that caused this to happen. The first is authorization: When people in positions of authority use demeaning language, and then verbally endorse acts of violence, the individual that carries out the savage act is less inclined to feel personally responsible, and therefore, less guilty in performing them. What follows is routinization. Following a rigid routine eliminates any need for making decisions, and with that no need to ask awkward moral questions. In other words, what we hear conditions our thinking, creates the single story that allows us to see others as non-humans, which then gives us the moral justification for their elimination. Before we say to ourselves that we don’t demean, dehumanize, and exterminate other people, we have to acknowledge the role of violence in our culture.

Professors Alan Page Fiske, from the University of California, LA, and Tage Shakti Rai, from Northwestern University, in their book entitled Virtuous Violence, explain that most violence is motivated by moral sentiments.

They write:

“Most people do not simply justify or excuse their violent actions after the fact; at the moment they act, people intend to cause harm or death to someone they feel should suffer or die.”

Most violence is intended to regulate relationships, and the one that does the violence, as well as the community around the perpetrator and the victim, perceive the action as correct, consistent with their cultural rules.

An example:

Many years ago, when my son, Benjamin, was 3 years old, I was in line at a children’s store to buy something for him. In the line right next to me, there was a mother, speaking to her children in a language I did not recognize. She had a sleeping baby in a carriage, a boy that seemed to be the same age as Benjamin, and 3 other older children. She was obviously not paying much attention to the 3-year-old, so he did what children his age do – jumped on the baby carriage, and woke up the baby, who started wailing. The mother immediately screamed at the boy, and slapped him hard across the face, sending him flying a few feet away. I was horrified. My first instinct was to scream at her, in moral outrage. After all, her hurt and broken child will be sharing this world with my child! Yet, not too long ago, parents and teachers had no hesitation to spank a child. Spare the rod and spoil the child, was the saying. After some reflection, I understood that I did not know the cultural norms for this other mother. I believe we were both acting according to our definitions of what is moral and what is not.

Today, all around the world, we are locked in a battle of moral claims, in points of view that accommodate only a single story.

And that is dangerous.

A single story is dangerous because it allows us to use language that dehumanizes the other, seeing them as not fully human. A single story does not give us the room to question the moral ground that regulates social relationships according to cultural norms. We forget that every group is created by human beings, that every human being is created in the image of God, and that we are not defined by one single story. We don’t celebrate the world for what it is – a mishmash of people, who live, learn, love, and breathe the same air we breathe, drink the same water we drink, eat the produce of the same earth we eat.

It is dangerous when people in positions of authority revert to a single story to define other people. It is dangerous to generalize and assign blame to whole groups, and not see people as individuals who are part of a group. It is dangerous to incite morally righteous violence. Today, in the world we live in, we must truly listen, and decide if we are listening to a single story, or a story that represents the full gamut of reality. Do we have a balanced point of view, or are we just listening to one version of reality? In our version, do we see others as just one monolithic group, defined in ways that can lead to their extermination, or are we seeing them as people like us? We can get stuck in the single story of hatred, name calling, and anger. We can get stuck in the single story of us versus them. In the vast majority of cases, no human being is purely good, and no human being is purely evil. No human being has the monopoly on acting perfectly, correctly, at all times. We are all motivated by our culturally-determined morals. We all have multiple stories.

In the Talmud, (Massechet Sanhedrin 37a) we read that witnesses in Capital offense cases were lectured sternly before they would give their testimony. The speech of the Judges centered around the idea that every human being was important. One of the examples they would give was that when people create coins from a mold, they are all the same. But when God created us, even though modern science tells us that 99.9% of our DNA is the same, we are still individuals, with different tastes, likes and dislikes, opinions, abilities, and dispositions.

Even though we are all created from the same mold, none of us has a single story. May we, in this coming year, use our mental capacities to listen to multiple stories. May we reject the stories that limit our understanding of the variety and potential of people, that incite violence, that generalize and erase the humanity of others.

May we take an active role in pointing out when and where the story restrains our capacity to love and understand our fellow human beings. And may we rejoice in the multiplicity of stories that makes our world more interesting, richer, and peaceful.

Torah Dedication Remarks from Shavuot 5778 by Jerry Jacobs

The following remarks were presented by Jerry Jacobs at the Shavuot Torah Dedication on Sunday, May 20, 2018. 

Dear Friends:  On behalf of the entire Jacobs family, greetings on this first day of Shavuot. We are thankful to all of you for sharing this very special occasion with us. This year, Laura and I are celebrating 50 years of membership in this congregation. In that time, there have been only two Torah dedications at our shul, and the last one occurred some 40 years ago. We felt it was “chai” time to fulfill one of the shul’s longstanding needs by commissioning a newly scribed Torah to add to the Aron.

We honor today my mother’s father, Mayer Quain, Meir ben Simantov HaCohen, who died in 1944 when I was one year old. I never really knew my grandfather, but my mother told me many stories about him, and I will relate some of them today. He was “true” Sephardic—that is, of Spanish/Portuguese ancestry (my mother called that “true” Sephardic)—and was born in Bulgaria in 1883, when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Mayer’s father was a Ko-hen, pronounced Quain in Ladino, hence his English name, Quain.

Mayer sailed to New York as an unaccompanied teenager around 1900 and became a successful business entrepreneur, culminating in his 1935 purchase of an exclusive boutique hotel in midtown Manhattan called the Hotel Elysee. The Hotel, still in business today, also had a well-known nightclub called The Monkey Bar, and remained in our family for 80 years.

Over the years, many celebrities stayed at or lived in the Hotel, including Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Tallulah Bankhead, Ava Gardner, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Harold Robbins, and perhaps most famously, Tennessee Williams, only because he lived and died there.

My grandfather took the Kahuna priesthood seriously, and he was also a 32nd degree Mason and a Shriner, as were his two sons. Indeed, Mayer was a kind of Sephardic “godfather,” dispensing advice, loans, gifts, and even some jobs to his Sephardic friends, acquaintances, and relatives Monday mornings when they visited him at home — which he believed to be part of his priestly and Masonic responsibilities. Please do not stop by my house tomorrow: I am not a Cohen or a Mason, and it’s yom tov.  🙂

Mayer did not live to see his six grandchildren grow up or his great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren attend Jewish day schools.  But I know that he would be very proud to see the way they are continuing their Jewish heritage, as we have seen this morning. The donation of a Sefer Torah in his memory is part of our pay-back to him and pay-forward to future generations. The tribute to Mayer Quain, our patriarch, is richly deserved. When one passes, we traditionally say, “May his or her memory be for a blessing.” With this new Torah, we pass this blessing on to the shul.

After services, you are invited to a Kiddush lunch in our downstairs Social Hall. It will feature several Sephardic food delicacies in honor of my grandfather. A very special thank-you to my dear wife Laura and to Sonya Okin who were the chief caterers for this event, and to all those who helped in the kitchen. Also, much appreciation to Edgar Rendon, Marni Corsaro, and Marcy Burka who worked so hard on the arrangements for this larger than usual gathering. Very special thanks too to Laura Naide and Alexis Joyce and their staffs for preparing the children who added so much to this event. Last, and most, we thank Rabbi Bass for helping to organize all that occurred today, for the beautiful Torah mantle and yad which adorn our new addition, and for her unending friendship and spiritual leadership.

I close with my grandfather’s farewell blessing:  “Saludozo y hechos buenos” — “May you have good health, good business, and successful good deeds.”

Introducing the Student Torah Reader Incentive Program!

We at CEH are introducing the Student Torah Reader Incentive Program! We are striving to support a number of critical goals. These include: increasing the ranks of available Torah Readers, encouraging the participation of young people in our services, and connecting young people with Jewish activities outside the synagogue.

The program works as follows: for every Torah portion or Haftarah a student in our Congregation reads, $18 will be added to a special account. This money will then be applied to the cost of Jewish activities, such as a Jewish Camp or a Youth Group Event. Eligible programs include trips to Israel, Jewish summer camps, Jewish youth group activities and any activity approved by the Rabbi. Students are eligible to participate in the program after they have completed their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, until they have graduated High School. There is no limit to the number of portions a student can read.

Please contact Rabbi Bass if you are willing to read Torah or Haftarah!

Religious Committee – March Meeting Recap

At the meeting on March 8, 2018, the Religious Committee discussed a new Torah Reading Incentive program for our students. While we are still finalizing the details, we think it will be an exciting way to encourage them to read Torah on Shabbat morning.

We also discussed the upcoming Torah Dedication Ceremony to be held on the first day of Shavuot.  Shavuot Services with Sefer Torah Dedication, Donated by Jerry & Laura Jacobs, will take place at 10:00am on Sunday, May 20, 2018. This event is going to be exciting and unique. We discussed ways to make it a truly joyous simcha, and applaud the planning committee for the hard works that’s been done. This is going to be a fun one!

Questions? Contact the Religious Committee at

Ask the Rabbi: Why don’t we always cover our eyes during the Shemah?

Why do we cover our eyes when saying the Shemah at certain times, but not at others?

Jews have a custom of covering our eyes while saying the Shemah (Deuteronomy Chapter 6, verses 4-9). We say the Shemah twice daily because it is written in the text itself (verse 7): “And you shall rehearse them with your children and speak of them, when sitting in your house and when walking on the way, when you lie down and when you rise.” The rabbis of the Talmud interpreted this verse to mean that we should recite the Shemah in the evening and in the morning. They called this part of the service “Kri’at Shemah,” the reading of the Shemah, and they believed we needed to focus deeply to truly grasp the meaning of calling the Eternal “One.” Also, the word Shemah means “hear” or “listen,” and when we cover our eyes it is easier to concentrate on the words we are saying.

There are other parts of the service during which we say the Shemah, but those are not moments that require the complete concentration of reciting the three paragraphs of the Shemah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41). For example, during the Musaf service, we simply acknowledge that the Jewish people say the Shemah twice a day. And during the Torah service, as we are about to carry the Torah to be paraded through the people, we use the Shemah to affirm God’s unity, in a ritual of call and response that ensures that we, as a community, declare our conviction in the oneness of God. In both situations, and in others like that, we do not require the concentration needed to read, speak, teach, and mull over the words of the Shemah. Therefore, when we need to focus on this prayer, we cover our eyes, and when we need to affirm our convictions, we do it proudly, eyes open, with courage and commitment.

Religious Committee – January Meeting Recap

At the meeting on January 11, 2018, the Religious Committee was excited to learn that the Jacobs family we be donating a Sefer Torah to our congregation. We began the discussions of how we’re going to mark this wonderful event.

We also talked about what steps we can take to have more members participate as service leaders and Torah readers. If you, or anyone you know is interested in this, contact Jonathan Arden at and we’ll work with you to get you more involved. If this is something that’s outside your comfort zone, have no fear. We have smaller opportunities to get you started.

New Torah will debut at Shavuot: Join us for services on the first day of Shavuot — Sunday, May 20, 2018 at 10:00am — to celebrate the addition of the new Sefer Torah to our congregation. This is a truly a unique and joyous occasion, and if that wasn’t enough, there will be great food, too!

Congregational Chanukah Party was a Rousing Success!

In case you missed it, the Congregational Chanukah Party on December 13 was a blast! We had about 150 people of all ages who ate 400 latkes and 10 dozen donuts, sang songs, played games, and built a 15-foot-tall Lego Hanukkiah in the back of the sanctuary. It was quite a sight to see!

Building the Hanukkiah

We also made Maccabee badges of courage for ometz lev, our Jewish value for December, and candy dreidels. Attendees donated a mountain of socks and underwear to Bridges to Independence, which provides services to homeless women/families and those at risk of homelessness.

The Lego Hanukkiah completed – it nearly touches the ceiling!

Everyone got to take home an Etz Hayim t-shirt as a Hanukkah gift. If you didn’t get one, contact the office and ask for one. (T-shirts are available in Kids’ or Adults’ sizes Small, Medium, and Large.)

Todah rabah to Morah Laura, Elisa Rosman, Jill Shenk, Harold Dorfman, Carey Averbook, Alan Schwaber and Naomi Harris for such a fun and unforgettable event!

Candy dreidels
Pretzel + marshmallow + Hershey kiss = DREIDEL YUM!

SAVE THE DATE: Don’t miss Etz Hayim’s Party of the Decades, coming up on Saturday evening, February 17, 2018!

Yom Kippur Speech 5778 by Alan Savada

This speech was delivered at Yom Kippur services on Saturday, September 30, 2017.

“Martyrology” by Alan Savada

Those of you who were here for the Rabbi’s sermon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah will be getting a small encore, as today I will be speaking a little about the Sephardi communities affected by the infamous inquisitions. Often referred to as the Spanish Inquisition, it may have commenced in that nation, but sadly spread to other countries and reach as far away as Mexico and South America, then under Spanish and Portuguese domination. Interestingly enough, while the formal Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition technically ended in the 19th century, the institution still survives today as the Catholic Church’s Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, renamed in 1965 to defend the church from heresy, headed today, oddly enough, by a Spanish archbishop!

Anti-Judaic violence began in Spain as early as 1391, when pogroms there resulted in mass conversions of thousands of Jews fearing for their lives. The Spanish Inquisition formally began almost 100 years later in 1478, and extended to the entire Spanish empire then including the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Naples and of course, the possessions in the New World. The original goal was to target those who had converted, but were still adhering to their old religions. It was not until 1492 that all Jews were forcibly expelled from Spain and its colonies.

This expulsion caused a migration of over 90,000 souls into nearby Portugal, whose first king incidentally had a Jewish minister in his court some years earlier. King Manuel at first welcomed the Jewish exiles, but in subsequently choosing to marry the Infanta of Spain, the so-called enlightened Dom Manuel, agreed in his marriage contract to commence persecutions of those he had invited to cross the border.

In December 1496, all Jews had a choice of conversion or exile; they could not, however, take their children or belongings if they chose the latter.

The fate of the Portuguese Jews became the same as their Spanish brethren with forced conversion in 1497, although the inquisition was not formally installed there until 1536 – and was only abolished in 1821.

Last week you heard about the Lisbon Pogrom, or Massacre of Easter 1506, when on April 19, a New Christian, who had converted from Judaism, simply disagreed with a supposed vision by a Dominican friar, which the latter insisted was a presage to the end of the plague and drought. The soul who disagreed was immediately beaten to death by the crowd as a heretic and burnt in the large public Rossio square outside.

The Dominican friars absolved those present of any sins they might choose to commit, and the mob, also joined by Dutch and German sailors, proceeded to murder over 500 New Christians.

King Manuel had taken leave of the plague-ridden capital and ultimately sent magistrates to hopefully ameliorate the situation, but the mobs had grown and violence spread so fast, nothing could be done.

The next day, all the converted Jews hid in their homes to avoid the conflict, but were pulled from their houses, many being burnt alive. Firsthand accounts tell us of infants having their limbs torn off and the day ending with over 1000 murders, not to mention the massive looting.

Tuesday brought members of the King’s court to the capital after the news reached him that his squire, a converted Jew, had also been killed. The Royal Guards were called to quell the rioters and murderers, but it was too later for the 1900 that had been killed.

Is it a comfort to know that many of the antagonists were arrested and hanged, and the Dominican friars that instigated the crowd were stripped of their religious orders and burnt at the stake?

I now divert to another part of the Spanish realm at that time, where we visited this summer. As early as the 1st Century of the Common Era, it is known that Jews lived on the island of Sicily. We were able to visit a mikveh in Siracusa (or Syracuse) where the largest Jewish ritual bath in Europe has been discovered under a hotel and dates back over 1600 years! At the time of the inquisition in 1492, there were 51 Jewish communities on the island with numbers exceeding 35,000.

Even as late as the 17th and 18th century, in the remains of a palazzo turned jail, we find Hebrew scrawling of prisoners. Somehow those who had converted were still subject to the inquisition for hundreds of years after it commenced. Incidentally, the palazzo/jail is now part of the university in Palermo.

Fast forward to today, after more than 5 countries, practicing Jews have returned to Palermo, where some of the street signs now exhibit Hebrew names and letters, although the neighborhoods are largely made up of Arab exiles and refugees from North Africa. Recently, the Archbishop granted a new fledgling Jewish community in Italy’s 5th largest city, the use of an unused Baroque oratorio which we passed by while there, but is still closed for renovations.

Its name: Santa Maria del Sabato, which is oddly being retained for now. Who knows when Jews will again worship in this site, near where the Great Synagogue of Palermo once stood.

Meanwhile, back in Portugal it was almost 100 years after the end of the inquisition that Jews returned to the country. In 1910, the Constitution finally allowed Jews to live within the borders without persecution…well, not completely.

Artur Carlos de Barros-Basto was born in Portugal’s second city, Porto, in 1887 and knowing of his Marrano ancestry, converted to Judaism to encourage others to assert their faith as allowed. In 1910, he raised the Republican flag in his hometown, and as a lieutenant in the army in WWI, was awarded for his bravery and honor on the battlefield. Small communities began to emerge in the late 1920s and in 1929, he laid the cornerstone for a new synagogue in Porto using his newly adopted name Avraham Israel Ben Rosh.

The face of Nazism and fascism sadly came to the fore in Portugal, and while the synagogue was opened in 1938, in the year prior, under a new regime, Barros-Basto had been removed further from his home post and ultimately court-martialed and dismissed from military service for participating in the “immoral” practice of circumcisions. He became known as the Alfred Dreyfus of Portugal, although later came to the fore to assist hundreds of Jews to escape the Holocaust during WWII. While he died in 1961, his descendants are still involved in the flourishing Kadoorie or Porto synagogue, a truly magnificent and grand structure which we first visited just over 4 years ago, and our Rabbi just returned from this summer.

Martyrology – well certainly today I have brought up the stories of many who suffered and perished for just being Jews, thousands of whom even converted and were tortured for that.

As time goes one, we witness the changes in so many communities that have been decimated and reborn, some of them the largest and most flourishing Jewish bastions of their ages. Today we are that flourishing bastion and it is indeed so important for us to remember the past, but also to continue to help to restore these communities. It is also imbued on us to stand against hatred, violence and the bigotry that sadly is becoming so prevalent in our modern world, resulting in the destruction of whole peoples. Maybe we can’t all be Avraham Israel Ben Rosh, but as we have indeed figuratively laid the cornerstone here at Etz Hayim, we can surely speak out and raise our voices when the time comes.