I am “Ashke-Sefardic”

The heat is 38 degrees celsius. I am sitting at the computer, air-conditioner on, iced coffee in front of me, one hand on the telephone wishing my family in Ramat HaSharon a Shabbat shalom, the other hand typing on the computer. The ice in the coffee is beginning to melt.

The chicken soup is heating on the stove, an Ashkenazi chicken soup with choice of lokshen (noodles) or knaidlach (dumplings). Carrots and celery… of course. Just like mama used to make, minus her green pepper.

The Family Tree on my wall, listing hundreds of my family’s names, is dated from 1727 to 1927, in Polish cities and towns where all of my grandfathers for generations served as Orthodox chassidic rabbis of followers of the Belzer rebbe.

While his followers have numbered in the millions you will have to excuse this member of the family for opting out. Modern liberal traditional Judaism…yes. Chassidism… no. (Well…. Chabad is OK).

In describing themselves as not being anti-Semitic, many non-Jews preface their comments with “some of my best friends are Jews”.

To paraphrase, let me explain. I cannot say that “SOME of my best friends are Sephardim”. That would be an un-truth. Why? Because quite truthfully, ALL of my best friends are Sephardim. They are warm, loving, devoted, caring, compassionate friends for more than sixty-five of the eighty-six years of my life! Therefore I declare myself as being “Ashke-sefardic” a lover of Sephardic Jews with Ashkenazi blood in my veins.

My son broke the family tradition by marrying a Moroccan born and educated Sephardic Jew. I won’t describe her but I can assure you that her very wonderful father, still living in Casablanca and Paris, is one of the finest men I have ever known. We feel as close to one another as brothers.

We share a common love of Judaism, of Israel and of our common three grandchildren. What more could one hope for? His love is contagious but sadly is rationed out in measure by one of his children.

When my wife and I were about to be married in Tel-Aviv in 1960, her Polish-born Ashkenazi religious family sat to prepare invitations to be sent out for the wedding. “Inviting Sephardic guests? Yes. By all means they are welcome guests. Inviting Arab Christian friends? Definitely not. They are out of the picture”.

Not that it really mattered. I had only one Arab Christian friend at that time. And none since.

Our home was that of an Ashkenazi family keeping traditions and customs from the Europe in which they were first born. Cooking was Ashkenazic. My Israeli-born wife had never tasted falafel before we were married. Hummus and techina on salads…yes. But falafel in pita… no.

“How can a sabra exist without enjoying falafel?” I asked. “It was never the custom in my family,” she would reply with a P.S. added… “but if you like to eat it, enjoy as much as you want. Maybe I’ll just take a small bite of yours”.

The “small bite” grew in size over the years. My Sephardic friends became her loving friends and our home was always enriched by their company when they came visiting. But I must say that their food hospitality was much greater than ours!

In describing to a rabbi friend some problems that I was having within one side of my family, after listening he suggested that I go to speak with a Tunisian-born kabbalist rabbi whom he knew. That rabbi had a special ancient power to pronounce a blessing or a curse for a payment upon someone.

I avoided meeting him like the plague. I can pronounce my own blessings and my own curses without outside help. Only God can listen. Only God can respond. And I favor blessings far above curses.

I do not have a favorite color. Many Sephardim prefer blue just as Arab Muslims do. I have never succeeded in finding the reason. Does God have a favorite color?

In the early years of our State, the founders were mainly Ashkenazic Jews, European born. When an Ashkenazi was married to a Sephardi, it was considered a family tragedy by many Ashkenazi Jews.

Over the years, thank God, almost all such feelings have disappeared. Ashkenazim and Sefardim are one people, worshipping one and the same God, praying in the same language, observing the same festivals.

Maybe Sephardic chicken soup differs from my Ashkenazic chicken soup. But who cares? I don’t hear anyone complaining…. not even the chicken.

And now I must go to the stove and lower the heat. I don’t want my Shabbat chicken soup to overflow.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach to all. A Sabbath of peace and of blessings. And yes… a Sabbath of love.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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