March-April News from Broad Street Synagogue

Stained-glass windows

Stained-glass windows

On the last Friday of March, we were very pleased to welcome Qes Efraim Zion-Lawi on a tour of the synagogue. Qes Efraim, one of the leaders of Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community, is the first qes (Ethiopian Jewish priest or religious leader) to be born in Israel. His visit to 688 Broad Street, part of a weeklong trip to Rhode Island and Connecticut, was an opportunity for Qes Efraim to teach about the traditions and customs of Ethiopian Jews and for him to learn about Rhode Island’s Jewish community. Qes Efraim was accompanied on the tour by a representative of the Israeli consulate. Providence College senior Lizzy Tangney, who has been helping out with the project throughout the semester, joined the tour and writes:

The opportunity to be present during the Qes’ tour was a unique and slightly overwhelming experience. Having just began studying the traditions of the Jewish religion, being in the presence of such an esteemed and respected leader was quite powerful. As we slowly made our way deeper into the heart of the synagogue, and as the impact and evidence of the damage became more and more clear, so too did the concern and emotions of our guests.

I found myself quietly observing the Qes and those with him, a representative of the Israeli consulate, a local Jewish boy whose family hosted the Qes, and a member of Beth Sholom. Although most of their interactions were not in English and I could not understand them, it was incredible to simply witness the exchange that occurred. It was a window into a culture that I know very little about, and it inspired me to continue my studies in this area of concentration, to understand the traditions of which they spoke, and the dynamic that exists in Israel today.

The Qes mentioned that it was his first time ever leaving his country, first time on an airplane! Learning that the Broad Street Synagogue was one of his destinations during his first trip abroad reenforced the idea that the work we are doing is so very important, and may have implications much larger than simply within the Providence community. 

To learn more about Qes Efraim’s visit, read this column by Shai Afsai, a member of Providence’s Congregation Beth Sholom and a valuable contributor to our oral history project.

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Thank you again to everyone who turned out during last month’s Purim celebration! We were delighted to be joined by community members and people from all around Providence, including parents and children in wonderful costumes, students, and storyteller Mark Binder. Stay tuned for more information about our upcoming post-Passover event. Read more about the Purim event in Lizzy’s blog post.

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About a month ago, Lucie Searle and Steve Durkee published a ProJo op-ed highlighting the role of historic preservation as key to Providence’s future growth. While their article focuses primarily on downtown, they stress Providence’s historic architecture as one of its strongest assets. We at Broad Street Synagogue welcome this call to action as we continue to work to find a new use for this 103-year-old structure. Unfortunately, the neglect and subsequent deterioration of this building over the past few years has reinforced the perception that, as multiple neighbors have told us, “this never would have happened on the East Side.” The building’s recent deterioration has contributed to the feeling that buildings on the South Side are simply not on the city’s priority list.

But as Searle and Durkee write, the entire city, from Broad Street to Benefit Street, needs to be included in a development and growth process that celebrates the city’s historic assets:

Historic preservation both sustains and relies on healthy cities. The tremendously rich architecture that we enjoy in Providence exists largely because of the prosperity of the past. Today, that architectural legacy is one of our strongest assets and economic drivers because it distinguishes us and makes us special. But to maintain that legacy, the entire city needs to prosper.

We couldn’t agree more.

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