From ‘Sholom’ to ‘Shalom’: Temple changes its name
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO — Temple Beth Sholom in neighboring Chula Vista is changing its name to Temple Beth Shalom. What’s the difference between spelling the Hebrew word for peace with two o’s, or with an a and an o?
Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, spiritual leader of the Conservative congregation, said the double ‘o’ spelling and pronunciation of sholom, “belongs to the same approach to Hebrew grammar that reads the letter ‘tof’ like a ‘sof.’ It represents, in my opinion, a very old Eastern European pronunciation.”
Pronouncing the word with an ‘a’ and an ‘o,’ rather than with two ‘o’s,’ is the Sephardic way of saying “shalom,” the same pronunciation that is used in Israel today.
“Given the importance of Israel in our society today, it is important for us to speak the language as closely as possible to the way it is spoken in Israel,” said the rabbi.
The congregation, founded in 1958, was organized by people of Eastern European background who since have died or have moved to other congregations. Only a few years ago, before Rabbi Samuel arrived, the congregation had dwindled to less than 20 families, the rabbi said.
Recently, he said, there have been a “large number of Spanish-speaking families that have come back to Judaism through our synagogue and we want to make sure that the synagogue is more inclusive, which is why shalom is more correct. I think it sends a more welcoming message as a whole to other people in the community.”
Identifying Ashkenazic pronunciation of Hebrew with the shtetls of Eastern Europe, he said “my feeling is that we left the shtetl a long time ago and we shouldn’t be going back there liturgically or linguistically. We need to embrace the world we are living in right now, which is personified by the modern spirit of Israel.”
Not all his congregants agreed with the switch, Samuel said. “I had a lot of opposition from one leader of my congregation who felt that the old-timers were all Europeans and we should keep the traditions because that is the way it has always been. My attitude was that the synagogue is made up of an entirely new cadre of people, and some of our old-timers have gone on to other synagogues. As far as I’m concerned their contributions in the past are not as important as the people who are contributing to rebuilding the synagogue in the here and now.
“We are getting between 50 and 70 people on both Friday and Saturday, and we use the Sephardic pronunciation and try to make it more contemporary and people like that!”
While the new name, ‘Beth Shalom,’ is being used on the congregation’s website and in promotional materials, the congregation’s legally incorporated name remains Beth Sholom. Changing the name legally is a hassle, Samuel said. “It’s not on our priority list of things to do right now.”
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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