Visit to a Masorti Synagogue in Costa Rica by Stuart Kaplan

In early June My wife Rochelle and I took a vacation in Costa Rica. We left for home on a Tuesday but the day before we had an appointment to visit the Masorti synagogue in the Costa Rican capital San Jose at 3 PM.  Although Costa Rica is a tourist mecca San Jose does not have a single street sign, so directions go something like this: “Take Highway 18 (it does not have a number either) and make a left at the Ice Cream shop …… Since we didn’t have a car and don’t speak Spanish well we asked the desk clerk at our hotel to call the synagogue,  get better directions and get a cab for us. When the cab came we asked the clerk to tell him where to go, but the clerk said that he told the doorman who would tell the cab driver. We got in the cab and the driver drove to the edge of town and told us to get out.  We asked him where we were and he said “at the synagogue”.  Before us to the front right was either a parking lot or used car dealer, and to the front left a tall concrete building with a large iron door and nothing else but a bell button. So we rang the bell and two security guards appeared.  The guards told us that we had to have previously sent in the name of our synagogue, copies of our passports and reason for coming. We had done this and showed them the reply we received from Grace the synagogue secretary.  One guard took it inside and when he returned told us that no one heard of us or Grace.

At his point the cab was long gone but Rochelle asked if there was another one and one of the guards told us to walk up the street three blocks and cross the street and go one more . Since this necessitated crossing a highway exit and the guard didn’t speak English that well we took a stab at it but couldn’t find it. We asked few people where the synagogue was and they gave us directions back to the first one. After searching for it it was well past 3, but finally we saw a Hasidic couple in front of a low building so we went up to them.  In front of that building was fairly large sign that read LUBAVITCH . The building was being sold by the Lubuvitch and was under renovation so we couldn’t go in but the couple was very helpful. They called the “reform” synagogue (apparently it did start out as reform), got directions and another cab and off we went.  We almost shot past it but I noticed a Jewish gift shop on one side of the street and Rochelle saw Magen Davids in the window of a building across from that which turned out to be the Masorti synagogue at last.

The gate in front of Congregation B’nai Israel has vertical see through bars and there is also a sign on the building with the name of the Hebrew school (“Escuela de Educacion Judia Jennifer Sossin “). Inside we met Grace and another lady who guides people around the synagogue. It was the Guides first day on the job so she told us where stuff was and we told her what it was.  As we were walking around we heard what we guessed was the rabbi giving bar mitzvah lessons to a student and then came across Rabbi Daniela Szuster. It turns out that she and her husband Rabbi Rami Pavolotsky are a rabbinic pair at the synagogue. They are from Argentina,  have been at the congregation for eight years and had studied at Machon Schecter in Israel.  They also knew Michael Abadi (the FJMC connection in Latin America) and had met him at a Jewish Latin American conference in Panama.

The congregation has about 80 family members who mostly came from America and the siddur is in Hebrew and English. The congregation produces a quarterly magazine called Kadimah which is in Spanish and English.   The Hebrew school meets once a week on Sunday. This is the synagogue website: http://www.bnei-israel.org/index.php.

After we left we were sorry that we did not also send our information to Shaarei Zion, the Orthodox synagogue. We later heard that in addition to the synagogue (which can hold up to two thousand people) there is also, at least,  a place to eat, a museum, and a library. There is no indication that it is a synagogue for security reasons, so only all of the hotels staffs, cab drivers and half of San Jose know what it is. We also heard that this is the same throughout Central America and Colombia,  and the reason for this is that many of the congregants are holocaust survivors.  So in North America we must be doing something right as we also have holocaust survivors, but no synagogue hides its name.

1 Comment

Filed under Heartfelt Judaism

One response to “Visit to a Masorti Synagogue in Costa Rica by Stuart Kaplan

  1. Gene Sacks

    Stuart,
    Sorry you were not able to get into “The Synagogue.” We faced the same situation a couple of years ago, no reservation but we had passports and a name of a congregant. That was still not enough untill my wife, who hails from Colombia, gave the Israeli security guard a bit of our background, and in Spanish. That was enough to get us in. Shoul is within an amazing compound that houses synagogue, school and community center. Service was in Spanish and there was a mechitza. Ruthi and I were invited to join the congregation for Kiddush and it was most delightful.

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