On Becoming Sefaradi — Part II

The other day, I posted the first part of my odyssey from Ashkenazi Jew to Sefaradi. In this post, I continue where I left off with the rest of the story.

I brought this Responsum to my Posek (decisor of Halacha) to discuss this move to saying my Tefillot from an Adot Mizrach siddur rather than from an Ashkenazi siddur. In addition, I explained my motivation behind the move. After much consideration, he sent me an email telling me that the motive for my change along with the Responsum that I showed him was grounds to allow me to change. The basic premise of that Responsum (from the Maharam Shik) is that when one is faced with two opposing forces (on the one hand not being allowed to veer from tradition and on the other hand that new path leading you closer to G-d, you MAY make that change.)

That day, I began saying all of my Tefillot in Nusach Adot Mizrach, and believed that that would be the extent of any change I was to make. As I began to daven in this new Nusach (and loving it more and more each day), I decided I should also explore davening at a shul that was the same Nusach I was saying–a Sefaradi Bet Knesset.

It was at this point, that I had another “awakening,” one that frankly surprised me. Over the years, I have had many discussions with converts to Judaism. One of the recurring themes was the way they felt the first time they entered a synagogue/temple/shul. They almost always said the same thing to me: “I walked in and I had a sense that I was home; I was comfortable there.” While I heard this dozens of times over the years, I never fully understood the sentiment…until I began to daven in a Sefaradi Bet Knesset. Upon entering, indeed I  felt “at home.” I felt a sense of “comfort and familiarity.”  I am convinced that somewhere in my family tree, I have ancestors of Sefardic origin, which is what made these feelings well up inside of me.

I also found myself tripping over Tefillot which I had been saying for 50 years but now had new words mixed in or had different words mixed in. I slowed down. I paid attention. I connected in a whole new way to prayer and to G-d.

And it was good….

After a few months of davening in my new Nusach, I began to encounter various milestones of the Jewish year. With each one, the question arose as to how I would relate to each. For example, while Ashkenazim recite the special penitential prayers of Selichot for approximately a week and a half prior to Yom Kippur, Sefaradim say them for 40 days. It meant being up even earlier in the morning and learning a whole new liturgy, tunes, etc. I decided that if I was doing this, then I needed to do it all the way. This meant doing the 40 days of Selichot (which I literally fell in love with!). It meant different Kinnot on Tisha B’av (which almost all end on a high note!). It meant that the Yamim Noraim, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur would be experienced in a Sefardi environment. My Kiddush and my Havdalla would change, as well!

Every single one of the above experiences was a positive one for me. I began to ask myself: If we are defined in large measure in how we connect with G-d via prayer, and if my prayer is exclusively Sefaradi, then, perhaps I need to take this to a different level. What about my Tefillin; my minhagim (customs); my day-to-day life as  Jew?

Once again, I spoke with my Posek at this juncture. I was well aware of the rabbinic literature that SEEMED to frown upon “switching” from being an Ashkenazi with Ashkenazic customs to become Sefaradi with Sefaradi customs. As I was asking him the question about changing my Tefillin, I interjected with “It is not like I have brown eyes and want to change them to blue. I assume one can not just make a change from Ashkenazi to a Sefaradi.” He shot back with a comment saying,” What are you talking about? You have already become Sefaradi and should carry on based on the customs of a Sefardic Jew.

Many of you reading this may not understand this, but that statement from him made me feel elated! It is as if my feelings, inclinations and spirit of the past many months had just been validated. Where my SOUL had brought me, my mind and body arrived…I had become a Sefaradi.

It is now two and a half years on, and I do not regret this change for even a minute. I feel spiritually more connected than ever before and make every effort to continue to learn more on a daily basis of my new-found (re-awakened??) heritage.

Reactions from people has been quite interesting, to say the least. In the beginning were the jokes (“Did you need a new Brit Milah?” or “Did you have to go to the mikve?” or “Did you do this so you can eat Kitnyot?” and on and on). I did find some Ashkenazim have felt “offended,” as if what I did was a slam against them personally (of course it is not!). Others expressed their desire to do so but were unsure of what to do and how to address the subject. But no matter what, it has been an amazing journey thus far; a journey that is still in its initial stages. Where this will take me is still not yet determined, but I am truly loving this ride.

(If you are interested in any follow up information for yourself or are interested in learning more about working on spiritual growth, feel free to be in touch.)

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.