This summer, I spent 10 days in Nicaragua on a BBYO Passport program. BBYO is an international Jewish youth movement, and Temple B’nai Abraham hosts the local chapter. BBYO, among its many programs, BBYO sponsors trips to Israel and to other parts of the Jewish world.
Much of the trip focused on social action, but we had a wonderful chance to spend time with the small Jewish community in Managua, the capital. I don’t know how many Jews live in Managua, but Wikipedia says there are only fifty in the whole country!
The service in Nicaragua was very different from any service I’ve ever been to. First, there was no rabbi to lead services. Instead, two of the leaders of the community led the service. Also, they do not have a proper synagogue or Torah scroll, as they cannot afford either. One of the community’s leaders has turned a extension of his modest house into a place of worship, and that is where the Jews living in and around Managua gather to pray.
The community has a book from which they read Torah as opposed to a scroll. However, none of the Nicaraguan Jews can read Hebrew, so their Torah reading is completely in Spanish, as is most of the service. The service mostly consists of long passages of Spanish, with a few traditional prayers mixed in. The traditional prayers are the only parts of the service in Hebrew.
During the service we attended, among the prayers we recognized and participated in , were the shema, v’shamru, oseh shalom, and . We also knew what that week’s Torah portion was and could at least follow the reading in Spanish. The service, and it lasted about 45 minutes.
Between fifteen and twenty Nicaraguan Jews attended at the service. The community leaders said that there are about ninety Jews in the whole country, with about forty living in Managua, where we had the service. Whether they were right, or Wikipedia is right, it’s not very many people!
Afterwards, we were given the chance to ask the leaders of the community questions about the Jewish community in Nicaragua. Among other things, we were told that they do not face much anti-Semitism, and that the other people who live around the synagogue respect the space and the Jews.
It was fascinating learning about this community. These people are Jews like we are…but their lives as Jews are very, very different!