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February 24, 2000

A Mixed Multitude

Parashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

http://www.jewishjournal.com/old_stories/article/a_mixed_multitude_20000225

I am writing this column while sitting in an Internet cafe in San Jose, Costa Rica. This Shabbat I will be officiating at the bar mitzvah of Eduardo Lev, a 13-year-old Costa Rican Jew whose parents are members of Congregacion B'nei Israel, the only liberal synagogue in the country. Eduardo is a bright, eager young man with a quick mind and a ready wit, and, fortunately for me a great grasp of the English language.

His parents are both native-born Costa Ricans, and his father grew up going to the local Jewish day school, spending time on a kibbutz in Israel (as did most of the Jewish kids when they were teenagers), and both his mother and father are proud of being part of a vibrant, Central American Jewish community.

Last Shabbat I led services at the temporary site of the synagogue, since the building they own is torn down and in the midst of being remodeled to accommodate the growing numbers of Jews, converts and non-Jews who are attracted to the synagogue. Yes, even in Costa Rica the synagogue has a building fund (and they are only $80,000 short of their goal to rebuild their synagogue/community center in case anyone is interested in helping).

Who are these Jews? LIke the crowd in this week's Torah portion, they are an erev rav -- a "mixed multitude." Jews-by-birth from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama, Argentina and other Latin-American countries; Jews-by-Choice who have converted with or without marriage, discovering Judaism as a meaningful alternative to the otherwise predominant Catholic religion of the country; and Jews-by-association who are drawn by the music, the strong family bonds, the clear sense of mission and purpose to make a difference in the world that this small Jewish community communicates in its services and programs.

They are a wonderful mixture of Central and South Americans and North Americans who have moved here to live or retire or sometimes merely stay for a few months or a few years. They have the only prayerbook I have ever seen which is tri-lingual -- Hebrew, Spanish and English. And as I stood in front of the congregation with my wife, Didi, singing words from this week's Torah portion, I had that profound realization once again of what it means to be part of this ancient, inspirational Jewish civilization.

We sang with the congregation "ve'shomru b'nai Yisrael et ha Shabbat, la-asot et ha Shabbat l'dorotam b'rit olam..." "The Jewish people must protect the Shabbat throughout their generations as a symbol of our sacred covenant." That was exactly what these Jews were doing - and have been doing for decades in Costa Rica. Keeping the Shabbat in their own ways, whether traditional or progressive -- and for 4,000 years this has been the message of this week's portion.

When I stand with Eduardo and his family tomorrow morning to celebrate the Shabbat he will read the same words from their Torah scroll that Jews have been reading for thousands of years. And whether he speaks in Hebrew, Spanish or English, the voice of the sacred will echo for another generation.


Steven Carr-Reuben is senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel, the Reconstructionist Congregation of Pacific Palisades.

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