Posted on | December 14, 2005 | By Shirah Shuraqui | 10 Comments
As a Sephardi baal teshuva I am continually faced with this question. When I began my path of teshuva I couldn’t even find a Sephardi siddur or a book about Sephardi halacha. There was nothing to guide me on my quest. I approached the rabbis I knew, who of course were all Ashkenazi, and they suggested I daven Ashkenazi and adopt Ashkenazi minhagim since that would make things easier and simpler and since the majority of Jews in North America are Ashkenazi the likelihood is I’ll end up marrying an Ashkenazi boy. I took their advice and bought my first siddur, an artscroll. I davened from it for years.
It wasn’t until I went to Eretz Yisrael and became bas bayit by a Sephardi family that I would have the chance to daven from a Sephardi siddur. I instantly felt a connection that I had never felt before and when I would go to Sephardi shuls the tefillahs came alive. I began to learn about my own traditions, halachot and minhagim. It was an amazing experience. I went to a Sephardi seminary and ended up marrying a Sephardi boy.
My husband is a very proud Sephardi and now that we are back in chutz l’aretz where the Ashkenazim dominate and we are a part of a ‘’yeshivish’’ community we are constantly faced with issues of whether or not to conform. Do we pronounce things the Ashkenazi way or stay true to our own culture? A heartfelt ‘’Shabbat Shalom’’ is bound to spark some odd looks, whereas ‘’Gut Shabbes’’ goes unnoticed. Eating kitniyot on Pesach, I can just imagine the stares I’d get buying rice in the grocery store during Pesach! Then there is the issue of sheitels, it is not a Sephardi custom to wear them and of course most Sephardim my husband included are against them. In order to conform to our community (not to mention I work in the secular world) I do wear a sheitel.
Overall what I have found is that it’s important to conform to some degree if you want to fit in, and be a part of a community. However conforming doesn’t mean you must lose your identity. We have to pick and choose our battles and there are some areas of frum life in which it may be better to conform and in other areas you can stand out and be a little different.