By Ariella Levy
Shaare Torah Congregation, an Orthodox congregation in Squirrel Hill, is also home to the Kehilat Sfarad Congregation, the only Sephardic Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh. Sephardic Jews are a minority within a minority in Pittsburgh, and their presence exemplifies the diversity within the Jewish community. Despite their size, the Sephardic Jews in Pittsburgh try their best to practice their customs and maintain their identity in a sea of Ashkenazi Jews.
The Kehilat Sfarad Congregation began as a group of 10 men of Egyptian, Moroccan, Israeli, Greek, and Iranian heritage. Some of the congregants are also Mizrahi Jews, or Jews of Middle Eastern descent. As opposed to Ashkenazi Jews whose ancestors hail from Europe, Sephardic Jews’ ancestors were expelled from Spain and moved to places such as what once was the Ottoman Empire and countries in North Africa. Their practices are distinct from other groups of Jews, especially from the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. The Jewish population in Pittsburgh is predominantly Ashkenazi. Therefore, the first Sephardic Shabbat, hosted by the Kehilat Sfarad Congregation, that was open to the public in 2003 showcased Sephardic culture to a community largely unfamiliar with the customs. The culture and customs were demonstrated by using Sephardic prayer books, catering traditional Sephardic foods, and laying loaned Persian rugs in the sanctuary.
Many of the Sephardic Jews residing in Pittsburgh are congregants of Ashkenazi synagogues. However, once a year for the High Holidays, Sephardic Jews come together to host their own services. The Sephardic Minyan in Pittsburgh, Kehilat Sfarad Congregation, held services for themselves in various homes for a few decades before becoming the first official Sephardic Minyan in Pittsburgh in 2003. They held a few services at Young Peoples Synagogue, where Sephardic Minyan leader and community organizer Avraham Anouchi was a congregant. Eventually, Shaare Torah Congregation on Murray Avenue became the host of the Sephardic High Holiday services and continues to be to this day.
In addition to not having their own building, the minyan does not have a rabbi or cantor, so either Anouchi, or a hired rabbi leads services. However, one special item the congregation has is a Torah, donated to them by the synagogue Beth Israel in Latrobe, Pennsylvania after it shut down. Sephardic services at Shaare Torah Congregation were originally held once a month, but interest was low, and they now only hold services on the High Holidays. Although the monthly Shabbat services had a low turnout, the congregation hosts around 6 people on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, 50 the second day, and 80 on Yom Kippur. In the past, their High Holiday services have been open to the public for anyone interested in learning about Sephardic Judaism, as Anouchi wants everyone to learn about the Sephardic experience. Despite the challenges of keeping Sephardic traditions alive with few resources in the overwhelming Ashkenazi area, Kehilat Sfarad Congregation is continuing the Sephardic tradition while making themselves heard.
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How to Cite
MLA: Levy, Ariella. “Kehilat Sfarad Congregation.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, 15 Apr 2021, religyinz.pitt.edu/kehilat-sfarad-congregation/.
APA: Levy, A. (2021, April). Kehilat sfarad congregation. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/kehilat-sfarad-congregation/.
Chicago: Levy, Ariella. 2021. “Kehilat Sfarad Congregation,” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, religyinz.pitt.edu/kehilat-sfarad-congregation/.