Browsing the archives for the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue tag.

Purim and Good Friday Coincide


On March 18, 2008, Purim and Good Friday coincided, something that has not occurred since 1910 and will not happen again for about 75 years. On the happy, boisterous Jewish holiday of Purim, we celebrate how the courage of Queen Esther saved the Jewish people, complete with story-telling, masks, noisemakers and costumes.

On the Upper West West, we had both happy Purim celebrators, and solemn street processions, originating from local churches were in the streets carrying effigies, crucifixes and even a mock coffin.

We spend Purim eve in the wonderful, pleasant, unpretentious, chaos of Congregation Ansche Chesed. The service for young children was packed with families and many young Queen Esthers, Mordachais, kings and others like 5 year old Batman (who loved his costume and paraded back and forth in front of the young Esthers). The adult service had stranger costumes, and the “scotch club”  circulated offering shots. Fun!

The next day, Purim and Good Friday, I went with a friend to the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagoguebut we learned that we had missed the morning service. The cantor, Rabbi Rohde, gave us the most generous Purim gift: he read the entire megillah (story of Esther) for us in a beautiful, historic side chapel. A friend of his and her young daughter joined us there. He did this for the four of us. What a generous and kind man! This congregation is always welcoming but this was extaordinary.

So, on this day, both traditions mixed easily and comfortably. In the difficult history of the past in Europe, Good Friday was often a day for attacks on Jews. My mother who was born in Poland, told us that on Good Friday they were not allowed outdoors by their parents in order to keep them safe. Thankfully, we live in quite a different world.

Queen Esther and Easter, names from an even older religious past of the ancient Earth Goddess of the mid-east, met and got along just fine on today’s the Upper West Side.

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The Flushing Remonstrance


This is the 350 anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, a document written by the residents of Flushing 1654, in protest of the policies of Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam, in response to his harassment and oppression of Quakers in this Dutch colony.

Last night we took part in a fascinating study workshop about the history and meaning of this document lead by Rivka Widerman, who is a retired attorney, law professor and scholar.  Historians feel this is the first document for separation of church and state and freedom of religion from that time period and may have influenced the writers of the US Constitution. Members of a local church took part in the workshop which was held at Congregation Ansche Chesed.

From the beginning, New Amsterdam/New York had a variety of people, religions, and more bars than churches…read Russell Shorto’s book “The Island in the Center of the World “ for an in depth, very readable history of this time period.

The same year as the Remonstrance, 22 Jewish people arrived in New Amsterdam from South America,  and were denied entry to the colony by Stuyvesant, but appealed to his employer, the Dutch West India Company, and won the right to live and pray here. The congregation they formed still exists, and is now called Congregation Shearith Israel also known as The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. They have a small museum in the synagogue and an historical society as well.

There still is a Dutch Reformed Church in Flushing and the local High School is named for John Bowne, the Quaker leader of that time period.

This is all worth noting because New York City is constantly rebuilding and reinventing itself, or as we say, “it’s a great city- if they ever finish it”. Unlike Boston  and Philadelphia, New York doesn’t focus very much on it’s own history even though there is so much history here.

Rivka said that she has presented this workshop in several locations around the city and always asks which issue would you choose to write a remonstrance about today. This is a short list of some the responses she has gotten:

environmental issues, freedom from prejudice about religion,  the immoral status of “illegal aliens”, the use of benign laws (such as zoning regulations) for purposes other than they were intended, reconsideration of the drug laws…an interesting list…

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