Davening in Sicily

July 20, 2018 in Hazzan Asa Fradkin

Naso, Italy

You know those postcards with impossibly beautiful scenery, meant to inspire awe and jealousy in your friends and family?

Well, living in Sicily for two weeks is like waking up every morning inside that mail sized marketing campaign. No picture, video, spoken or written word can prepare you for the beauty that awaits you each morning, the sweeping views of the mountainside, valleys, and blue-green Mediterranean sea.

By the way, did you know there’s a Bracha for seeing the mediterranean? It’s Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam SheAsah Et HaYam HaGadol.

Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the great sea.

There’s actually a debate over whether the blessing should end with “the great sea” because that is normally reserved for oceans. Some say it should be “Oseh Maaseh Breishit” Creator of the works/wonders of creation.

As you might have guessed, there isn’t a terrifically large Jewish population in Sicily any longer, although before the expulsion in 1492 there was a community in Palermo dating to the beginning of the modern era.

In our tiny town of Naso, there was even a small synagogue before WW II, as some of the residents recounted to me. But in 2018, there isn’t even a minyan left, so I took up davening next to my bed, looking over the mountains of Sicily. We were only 20 miles from Mt Aetna.

Let me tell you what a moving experience that was for me. First of all, if you want to know how old world Naso is, there’s a reliable way of waking every morning. Two to be exact. One would be the church clock tower and the other the rooster.

We rise each morning to say “Blessed are you God, who gives the rooster, the ability to distinguish between day and night.”

How inspiring to think of that rooster as I spoke those brachot each morning.

How inspiring to bring my Judaism to a place that hadn’t seen it in 80 years.

How inspiring to wrap tfillin and chant the words of my ancestors, even being the only Jew in Naso ( besides Sarah), knowing I was connected to other Jews, davening around the world.

How inspiring to know that Israel was a short flight away to the southeast, calling me as a got up each morning to recognize our covenant and our peoplehood.

Sometimes it helps. Traveling to a foreign place, holding your Jewishness like a precious gem and feeling it’s words continue to inspire and comfort you, even 2000 miles from home.

Maybe that’s how the Jews of Sicily felt, living in such a beautiful place, using their brachot to express the awe they felt at seeing the mediterranean, the mountains, and valleys dotted with homes.

We don’t simply “make due” in a foreign world, we bring it to life with our deep sense of awe that was forged long ago during our liberation.

Let our travels always inspire us to think about our ancestors, our past, and the wandering that makes us wholly appreciative of what it means to be a Jew.


Shabbat Shalom


Hazzan Fradkin