By LENNOX FARRELL
Ethiopian-born Rabbi Sharon Shalom, who now lives in Israel, will visit Toronto on Sunday April 15. This visit will be unique in several ways. Among other things, he wants to connect with members of our community as follow-up from an earlier visit.
In fact, making connections with others form, and have formed, the sinews and synapses of his life and work.
He is also about making changes with which to assist communities in becoming more inclusive and resilient. Thus, while here, he will also unveil, for the first time anywhere, the first ever Shulkan Aruch: an Ethiopian version of the Code of Jewish Law. The Code reflects the customs, traditions and interpretations of Jewish Law.
This unveiling of the Ethiopian Shulkan Aruch stems from Rabbi Shalom’s doctoral dissertation which addresses the formerly lived traditions of Ethiopian Jewry especially since, as the elders pass on, the younger members too soon forget germane and irrecoverable aspects of their unique culture. His is, in essence, a rescue attempt to stem the possibilities of it becoming one of recovery.
Born 37 years ago in the Tigre region of Ethiopia, he has been front and centre in many ground-breaking actions and activities. Then, he was appointed, “Assistant Shepherd”. He was only 14 when, in Operation Moses, he and others were air-lifted from Ethiopia to Israel.
There, his experiences have been varied. In fact, from personal experiences and observation, these will be a major part of his presentation: his journey to Israel; his experiences; his life as an Ethiopian Jew in Israel; Ethiopian-Jewry, etc.
One of Israel’s Ethiopian-born Orthodox rabbis, he serves to reconcile people. This he has been very successful in doing between Ethiopian and Orthodox traditions of Jewry.
Quoted recently in an article, Ethiopian Rabbi Brings Synagogue Back To Life, published in PANAM, to questions on the issue of his being Sephardic and the rabbi for Hakhel 14, a synagogue primarily Ashkenazi, he responded: “Our synagogue is a kind of microcosm of Israeli society. It used to be inconceivable for a Sephardi Jew to come and pray here. Today, people ask me if I´m Sephardi or Ashkenazi. I answer – guys, don´t you see I´m Ethiopian?”
Quoting the article further, “In addition, his appointment as an Ethiopian rabbi serving a congregation of Holocaust survivors was unprecedented, yet there is only one way to describe what Rabbi Shalom has managed to accomplish in the past two years – a revolution. Under his care, the dying synagogue became the source of a young, modern, thriving community.”
In his quest for reconciliations and connections he has traveled widely speaking to communities and in circumstances where these opportunities either do not exist or where they do and need to be strengthened. He also travels to learn.
It is in this vein that he wishes to meet with members of our community. In speaking with Martha, one of his representatives here whose heritage is Jamaican Jewry, in response to the question: “Given the needs of our community for rites of passage by which to assist more of our youth to mature successfully in their passage from boys and girls to men and women, is this a topic which Rabbi Shalom can address?”
She replied: “I’m sure that is something Rabbi Shalom will be able to address, and in a mode that is mutually consultative.”
That about says it all for ability, insight and prudence for this young man and scholar; this Orthodox Ethiopian Rabbi visiting Toronto from Israel.
Contact details: Martha, 416-927-9633, or the Chair of the Jewish Diversity Committee, Andria, 416-409-3822. The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Darchei Noam, 864 Sheppard Ave. West.