Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yom Kippur in Santiago

It's interesting to see how they spell hebrew words differently with the spanish sounding letters. For example, in spanish the "h" is silent so Ruah is spelled Ruaj (since "j" has that throaty sound).
This post is all about Yom Kippur - I'll do my best to explain important terms, but some of this stuff will be dependent on your familiarity with typical conservative Jewish traditions in the US.

Tuesday evening was Erev Yom Kippur, and I needed to find somewhere to go. I had seen a poster for services (see the top of the post), but also had a particular congregation, Kahal Yakar, recommended to me by a British half-jewish guy who had been around Santiago for 4 years and had tried it out. So I decided to go to Yakar.

It turned out to be very different than I expected.

I had emailed the Rabbi, and he helped me get tickets beforehand, so I figured it was going to be pretty crowded. Well, I arrived to Kol Nidre (the evening service) about 45 min late, and I would say there were less than 100 people there, and seating for only 150. My ticket was labeled #91. Not exactly a huge crowd.

I sneaked in the back and went to find a seat. Next, I looked for a machzor (the prayer book for the high holy days), but couldn't find one. A few people seemed to have machzors, but most did not. On each seat was a booklet, photocopied and spiral-bound, with spanish transliterations of the most well-known prayers and songs from the service, but the booklet was only about 15 pages.

At this point, I was feeling a bit lost, but did my best to follow along. The community was sort judaism, and they had a keyboardist playing along throughout the service. The rabbi himself occasionally played a guitar while leading the prayers, along with two women as back-up singers - I mean, cantors. Still, the tunes were different, I couldn't understand anything spoken (in spanish), and I didn't have a book to follow along.

After a while like this, I decided to get brave and I slid over to stand next to a middle-aged woman who had a machzor. She shared with me, and we spoke together a bit in English and a bit in Hebrew. Then a young man behind me offered to let me use his machzor, while he shared with his wife. I was very grateful.

After the service, I talked to them all a bit more. It turns out that the young couple lives very close to us in Providencia, and even gave me a ride home! They both spoke English quite well, and Hebrew even better! They had lived in Israel for 2 years. He is an engineer, and she works in cultural and art museums (she actually did an internship at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem - not too shabby!). I hope that Caroline and I will see them again soon and maybe become friends. They also drove me to and from services again on Wednesday morning.

OK, that's the main story, now I just want to point out a few interesting things from the service, because this was so different from what I was used to:

  • A funny thing - the rule against using instruments on shabbat and holidays is because if the instrument breaks, you will want to fix it, and fixing things is forbidden labor on shabbat. Well, sure enough, the guitar broke a string during the service and the Rabbi fixed it.
  • The service was much less participatory - it wasn't the whole congregation singing. Mostly people just stood and watched the rabbi and cantors. Often the rabbi would do the leader's part, and the cantors would act as the congregation response. And everyone else just stood and watched.
  • The Torah reading on Wed. was totally surprising to me. Right before the torah reading, the rabbi gave a speech in spanish that included the english phrase "Back to basics." Then the first aliyah (reading) came up, and he started right from "b'reisheet barah elokim" (in the beginning, god created...), and using the regular shabbat trope.
  • It was sort of disappointing for me that the tunes were so different. One of the things I actually like about Yom Kippur is hearing these very majestic, serious-sounding tunes that you only use once a year. But they had different tunes here - not bad, just different.
  • The keyboard was really a bizarre addition to the service! It was electronic, and the keyboardist used it to make many different sounds. Sometimes like an organ, sometimes heavenly choral voices (he'd use this behind the rabbi's speech, so it sounded like an epic scene in a movie), and even the synthesized drums for percussion on some chanted prayers.
Anyway, it was an interesting experience overall. I don't think I'll go back to that congregation, but the couple that I met goes to a more typical orthodox congregation just around the corner from our apartment, so I might try that for a shabbat soon.

For all you jewish readers - how was your yom kippur? And for everyone - how is life? Leave comments or email us, we love to hear from you!

1 comment:

  1. The most homesick I ever got at Wellesley is when I went to High Holy Days services for the first time away from my congregation. The melodies vary so much by region, and feeling out of place can be hard. I am glad to see that you met some kind people!