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Thursday, April 29, 2010


For the last two years I have been helping out a small Reform congregation in Barcelona, Spain with its religious services and educational programs. They have been in existence only four years, but have made tremendous progress in the face of great difficulties.

Splitting from a fifteen-year old liberal congregation called Atid, the leaders of the new group, called Bet Shalom, set up a house of worship in what can best be described as a large garage in Gracia, a lovely Barcelona neighborhood. They number about 40-60 people but are highly enthusiastic. They do not have a full-time Rabbi, nor can they afford one.

I found them on line when I read a blurb about their existence. The fact that I speak Spanish was of great advantage to them. Not only did they welcome my help but also invited me to visit them. So, in 2008, Ines and I spent the month of June in Barcelona leading services, offering adult education classes and participating in a religious dialogue with the city’s non-Jewish clergy. Also, I was able to bring them a Torah Scroll (generously donated by Temple Beth Israel of Sharon, PA). I even did a wedding and converted six of their members to Judaism, using the nudist beach as the Mikvah.

Their dedication and hard work are note-worthy. They attract young people in search of a liberal understanding of Judaism. In their crammed little space, they meet regularly every Shabbat evening, and, following lay led-services, serve an elaborate Shabbat meal for everyone in attendance. They also offer adult education programs and Introduction to Judaism classes for prospective converts. Impressed by their enthusiasm, I decided to help them out even further. So, last summer, during the month of June 2009, Ines and I returned to Barcelona for fifteen days to lead services, teach classes and broaden their scope of contacts with many liberal Jewish institutions around the world.

So far, 2010 has been a year of great accomplishments for Bet Shalom. Through the efforts of my colleague, Rabbi James Glazier (who spend a few months with them last year), my personal contacts, and their own list of accomplishments, the congregation has been formally admitted into membership by the European Region of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). Furthermore, a number of their prospective converts underwent a formal Giyyur (conversion) under the auspices of the European Bet Din of the WUPJ. One of the congregants, Dr. Felipe Ojeda, a prominent surgeon trained by me in Jewish law and customs, was recently certified as the first Reform Mohel in Spain by the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism -the first ever in Spain!

This coming June (2010), Ines and I plan to make our third trip to Barcelona. I expect to do all the rabbinic work as previously, plus I am looking forward to officiating at the wedding of two of their leaders. Now the congregation is at a point where they could use the services of a rabbi, perhaps on a part-time basis, who will come in periodically to lead them in their mission. I cannot continue to do this work far away from the States.

Who will it be?

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.


  1. I take it that it's is not a congregation of Catalans?

  2. They speak both Spanish and Catalan. I speak to them only in Spanish. No problem.