Friday, April 25, 2008
Historical Sephardic/Ladino Synagogue in Philadelphia
Not only is this one of the oldest synagogues in America, it is also the only Sephardic house of worship in Philadelphia. It was founded in 1740, and is the sister congregation to New York's own Shearith Israel, established almost 100 years before.
Nathan Levy seems to have been the first Jewish settler who requested a burial ground which would meet the requirements set forth by our religious beliefs. Up until that time, Jews used to congregate in homes for services.In
1780, Hazan Gershom Mendes Seixas came from New York to organize and set up the "sephardic/ladino" format, which apparently is still in use today. For a listing of the people who made Mikveh Israel what it is, click here.
I recently read an article relating to the dwindling of the use of Ladino in sephardic rituals and prayers and this particular instance spoke of a family in the tri-state area as well, who had donated a Torah to the Mikveh Israel Synagogue of Philadelphia. They had gathered (all 80 of them) in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, which is a stone's throw from Philadelphia, to celebrate their Seder. They also spoke of another family with a similar tradition, who originated from Turkey, and who was in the habit of conducting their rituals in Ladino.
Then came the lament about the disappearance of Ladino as the language of the Sephardim, and the inevitable comparison to Yiddish and its prominence amongst the Ashekenazi Jews. My assumption, and I will stand corrected if someone tells me otherwise, is that the majority of Sephardic Jews did not keep Ladino alive unless they were immersed in it completely. Taking my father as an example, who apparently was fluent in Ladino, - he conducted all of the prayers in Egypt and the USA in perfect hebrew. Ladino never came into play or even into discussion. Most of the Sephardim that I knew and know adhere to Hebrew as the language of prayer and other traditional rituals.
Just like I've never heard a Seder in Yiddish or the kaddish in Yiddish. Another factor to take into consideration is that the number of Sephardic Jews in the world is not even half that of the Ashekenazi.