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Proper Pronoun to Use is We

 I grew up in America in synagogues using the Ashkenazic siddur as standard for Jewish liturgy in text and rite.

To my surprise, upon making aliyah to Haifa as an older adult, a life-long daily davener, I learned that the neighborhood Ashkenazic synagogue utilized a siddur whose text and rite was something called "nusach Sefarad shel ha- Ashkenazim," or, simply, "Sfard".

I, of course, had heard of "Sfard" in America but had no first-hand experience with it. Now, in Haifa, my synagogue life was subjected to "the same but different" – slightly different wording in the text of the familiar liturgy, different sequence of the opening of morning Psalms, with more additions on Sabbaths and holidays.

As one who was used to leading services in America, I was petrified at first to accept the invitation to lead. I knew that my ingrained Ashkenazic cadence of the text would stumble over the slight differences in words and phrases.

My Sabbath tunes for the liturgy were in danger of withering on the vine as the melody finished with another phrase yet to go. But after perseverance and exposure, I ultimately became fluent in "nusach Sfard"; "Nusach Sfard" then became a gateway for me to the siddurim of the North Africans and the "Edot HaMizrach".

I know that I could never have made the leap from straight Ashkenazic liturgy to "Edot HaMizrach" without first mastering "nusach Sefarad shel ha-Ashkenazim". It was while I was still new to the "Edot HaMizrach" text that I was attending a Sefardi synagogue.

I was excited about all of the new "compare and contrast" discoveries I was making in my new-found knowledge of the variations on a common theme among Jews of different lands of origin. I turned to the man sitting next to me and remarked in Hebrew, "Ah, I see that you…" He cut me off immediately. He said, "Don't say 'you'. Say 'we.'"

He was right. As time went on and I participated somewhat regularly in the Sefardi synagogue as well as the Ashkenazi synagogue, what was exotic and disorienting at first became normal and familiar. In these different synagogues, to me, my fellow worshippers became just "the guys".

And I learned a valuable lesson from the man in the Sefardi synagogue. That is, Jews and their liturgies and customs come in many flavors from all corners of the Diaspora. In any gathering of Jews, it is forbidden to say "you". The proper pronoun for all Jews to use is "We".



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Thursday, 25 July 2024

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