old Observations of Sepharic life in Turkey

Monday 13.9.2004

My hostess (in Istanbul, Sfardi) lit Shabat candles and invited me to do so; floating candles in water; the mezuzot have cuttings from the lulav from last Sukkot taped next to them, and after lighting, the women of the house each go to a mezuzah to make personal prayers. I found that my Spanish helped tremendously, as the oldest woman of the house only speaks Ladino, and a bit of Turkish, and my hostess speaks both, and some English.

I was very glad that I could follow services well enough to figure out where we were, despite the different liturgy. I was very surprised to see that the vast majority of women did not attempt to follow the liturgy, and my hostess (an older woman) does not read Hebrew. Of course they had much of the liturgical music memorized, but I would feel blind if I couldn't read and follow in the siddur and Chumash.

I very much like the way the Haftorah reading alternated between various men in the congregation, and the reader reading a verse. Very nice sounding, as well as more egalitarian (for the men, anyway). That particular melody was quite beautiful, but I found myself missing the melodies of the Nusach Sefard (Ashkenazi -Chasidic) songs and Torah reading. I also found myself chafing at the women's side receiving shushes, but no other attention from the men's side, even during the Dvar Torah (which I was again glad to be able to understand the biblical Hebrew quotes, and a word or two of the Turkish explanation).

Services here strike me as much more kinesthetic, with many more hand motions in use at various times than Ashkenazi, but less singing than many Chasidic services.
I was surprised to see that the son of my hosting family works on Sat. morning, and that they watch TV on Shabat, despite being very devout. They also had no problem with my being a Geress, saying that it is very difficult to become Jewish. Very nice. :-)
(2016 comment : until I criticized certain gov. policies, and got kicked out on Shabbat!!)

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