Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jai Anguita of Barcelona

Rabbi Sonsino
For the last few years, every summer, my wife, Ines, and I went to Barcelona, Spain, spending from two weeks to a month, in order to help out a small but slowly growing progressive Jewish congregation called Bet Shalom, led by a hardworking leader named Jai [i] Anguita, who is a Jew-by-choice and a lawyer by profession. There are two liberal congregations in Barcelona: Atid and Bet Shalom. Both are affiliated with the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Jai was a member of Atid but left in order to establish Bet Shalom.
Though I am retired from the congregational rabbinate and worked with a dozen of wonderful synagogue presidents in the past, I have rarely interacted with someone as charismatic as Jai. He leads Bet Shalom with his sometimes unorthodox style. Along with his partner, Adele, he identifies good workers for the temple, trains them, and gives them responsibilities. He is well connected, extremely focused on his goal and works tirelessly, along with a group of dedicated individuals, in order to advance the cause of liberal Judaism in Spain.

In 2008 I discovered online that Bet Shalom was looking for a Rabbi to spend some time in Barcelona to lead services and coordinate the final stages of a conversion process to Judaism. I volunteered to help out. Jai invited me to come in and spend about a month in his beautiful city. The fact that I could speak Spanish was a great advantage to them. [See my blog posting on this synagogue, dated April 29, 2010]. Since then, Bet Shalom has become affiliated with the European Union of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (located in London), moved from a garage-size synagogue to a larger location, set up a new web page (, and continues to offer regular Shabbat and festival services (every Friday night the service is followed by a pot-luck meal) as well as introduction to Judaism classes ably taught by Jai himself.  It is now looking for a full-time Rabbi to lead this 60-70 family congregation, with great potential for further growth.

Jai was not satisfied with setting up a synagogue in Barcelona, but extended his help to other emerging groups in Galicia, Seville, Madrid and other locations. Jai has become the undisputed leader of the progressive Jews in Spain today, and deserves to be supported by Jews all over the world. It has been my pleasure and honor to work with him, and will continue to do so as long as I can.

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.
Boston, Ma
June 12, 2014

[i] Pronounced as “chai” or, better “hai”, in Hebrew meaning, “life.”

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mezuzah Study by the TBS Kindergarten Enrichment Kids

What is a Mezuzah?:
On Monday, Kindergarten Enrichment kicked off a new inquiry: What is a mezuzah? The children shared their initial ideas. Josie explained, "It's something you hang up on your wall and it's made of glass." Evan followed up with, "Is a mezuzah with a little scroll in it? I have two at my house. One's in the front of my mom and dad's room and one's on the side like as we just come in front of my house." They then shouted, "There's one!" as they pointed to a mezuzah hanging right on the doorway of our classroom. This led us into the great Mezuzah hunt through Temple Beth Shalom. The children used their science notebooks to make observational drawings of the different mezuzot we found through out the school and temple. They had lots of ides as they walked around searching and observing:

Evan: They're on every door here (downstairs classrooms)
Noah: The Kohavim room has a mezuzah!
Evan: This one (Room 14) is different then the others.
Josie: I found one! (Mezuzah hanging on Mayim office made of rainbow mosaic glass).
Evan: Someone made it. It's not real.
Talia: There is a slot if you want to put anything in it.
Josie: None in the bathroom.
Evan: None in the elevator.

The children continued walking and found a glass mezuzah they could see inside of:
Evan: This one has a scroll.
Jesse: What do you think is on the scroll?
Evan: Hebrew letters. It must be about a story.
Talia: I think every scroll must be about a different story.

After finding many mezuzot the children were left with many ideas and questions: Why are their mezuzot on some rooms, but not all? What is on the scroll inside the mezuzah? Are some mezuzahs real and some not? Can you make your own mezuzah? Why do some Mezuzahs have the hebrew letter shin on them and some do not? Stay tuned to find out what happens with our Mezuzah investigation over the next few weeks! 

from left to right
Top Row: Mezuzah we observed, Julian's observational drawing, Noah's observational drawing.
Bottom Row: Josie's observational drawing, Talia's drawing, Evan's drawing

Mezuzah Observations:
The kindergartners continued their investigation of mezuzot this week. Today, they made up close observations of a mezuzah Ellen let us borrow. They noticed the mezuzah had a Hebrew letter at the top. Some children realized it was the Hebrew letter, shin. They also noticed some other Hebrew letters. It was the word, Jerusalem in Hebrew. After making detailed drawings, the children noticed their was a scroll inside the mezuzah. They immediately asked if we could take out the scroll to find out what was inside. To read more about what we discovered, check out the blog post, "What's inside a mezuzah?"

What's Inside the Mezuzah?:

The kindergartners were eager to find out what was inside the Mezuzah. We carefully took the scroll out and slowly unrolled the paper. Did you know that the scroll is made of parchment paper, just like what the Torah is made of? We took a close look at some of the writing on the scroll. The children discovered it was Hebrew writing. We examined the first word in the scroll. Josie explained she thought the first word was "Shema." The children were surprised to find they knew the beginning words written in the Mezuzah scroll. Together, we sang the Shema practicing the American Sign Language that Emily had taught us to go along with the prayer. We discovered the answer to our question, "What's inside a mezuzah?" We can't wait to investigate some of our other ideas and questions about Mezuzot.

Writing the Shema:
Do you know what is inside a Mezuzah? Well, your kindergartner does! On Monday, Kindergarten Enrichment practiced writing the Shema in Hebrew. Inside a Mezuzah, the Shema is handwritten in Hebrew by a scribe called a Sofer. The kindergartners became Sofers for the day, writing the Shema in Hebrew. They enjoyed writing in Hebrew so much, they wrote the prayer over and over again!