Happy Sukkot from Shavei Israel: is the biggest etrog in El Salvador?

Eliyahu Franco and his etrog

Eliyahu Franco and his etrog

It’s customary during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot to buy what are known as “the four species” – lulav (a palm frond), hadass (leaves from a myrtle tree), aravah (leaves from a willow tree) and etrog (a large yellow citron). The four species are gathered together and “waved” symbolically in the synagogue or inside a sukka – the temporary dwelling built by Jews to commemorate the years G-d provided for the Israelites in the wilderness following their freedom from slavery in Egypt.

In order to “beautify the mitzvah,” Jews will often search far and wide for the most impressive components of the four species – especially the etrog. The small Bnei Anousim community in El Salvador may have found the largest etrog of the year.

In the picture above, Eliyahu Franco, president of the Beit Israel synagogue in San Salvador and head of El Salvador’s national association of Bnei Anousim communities, displays an etrog of massive proportions. (See our story on Eliyahu and El Salvador here and our article on Shavei Israel’s new emissary to El Salvador here.)

While there’s no prize for biggest etrog, let’s all extend a hearty chag sameach (happy holidays)  to Franco and the 300 Bnei Anousim in the country!

Here are a few more pictures from Beit Israel’s sukka – and it’s a big one too, just like the etrog.

Inside the sukka

Inside the sukka

Sukka in El Salvador

Sukka in El Salvador

Outside of the sukka

Outside of the sukka

Shavei Israel publishes Shabbat guide in Italian

Cover of new Shavei Birkon in Italian

Cover of new Shavei Birkon in Italian

Shavei Israel has published its first comprehensive guide in Italian to the prayers, songs and customs of the Shabbat table for use primarily by the Bnei Anousim in Sicily and southern Italy. The birkon (the title is from the Hebrew for “blessing”) was created by Shavei Israel’s emissary to the Bnei Anousim in southern Italy, Rabbi Pinchas Punturello, along with the head of Shavei Israel’s Bnei Anousim department in Israel, Tzivia Kusminsky.

The guide is centered around the full birkat hamazon (Grace after Meals), which is included in Hebrew, Italian and an Italian transliteration. The Sabbath Kiddush and Havdalah prayers appear as well.

In addition, there are traditional zemirot (songs) for the Sabbath (with commentaries on each song’s meaning and its country of origin); popular modern Israeli religious songs used on Shabbat; and songs in Italian and the Spanish-Hebrew language of Ladino. There are stories about Jewish communities from all round the world – Bnei Anousim in Italy, Spain, Portugal and South America, of course; but also the history of Jews in more far-flung places like China and India.

The new birkon is intended first for the Bnei Anousim with whom Rabbi Punturello works but, he says, “You don’t have to be a southern Italian Jew to pray with our birkon. It will also be available for any Italian Jew who is getting closer to our tradition!”

An initial run of 250 copies of the birkon have been printed. Rabbi Punturello will be bringing them to Calabria, Puglia and Sicily on his next visit to Italy. “And I will personally offer it to some important Italian rabbis as a gift from Shavei Israel,” he adds.

Why is Shavei Israel publishing an Italian birkon now? “We have other simple birkonim in Italian, but this is the first that serves as a full guide for Shabbat, with a complete collection of songs, explanations and history in addition to the prayers. Before this, when we would hold our Shabbotonim [weekend seminars] for Bnei Anousim in Italy, we would use the birkon that Shavei Israel produced previously…in Spanish!”

In addition to Spanish, Shavei Israel has published a similar guide to Shabbat in Polish. We wrote about that here.

Shavei Israel opens its first Internet radio station – in Portuguese

Tune in to

Tune in to

Shavei Israel has opened its first Internet radio station. If you’re a Portuguese-speaker, then “tune in” to, the home of Shavei Israel emissary Rabbi Elisha Salas’s latest project, a website that streams Jewish music and classes 24 hours a day (but not Shabbat) to anyone with a data connection, be that computer, phone or tablet.

Rabbi Salas has two aims for the station: first, to reach out to Bnei Anousim in Portugal and Brazil in an innovative way. And second, to help tourists who are planning a visit to Belmonte, where Rabbi Salas is based, to find lodgings and plan their itinerary.

To that end, there is information on the site about Beit Anousim, a Jewish house in the town where visitors can stay for a night or get a hot kosher meal. Rabbi Salas also holds his in-person classes at Beit Anousim, and the Belmonte Bnei Anousim community gathers there for Shabbat. The Radioshabel website offers information about Beit Anousim activities, its synagogue, the Belmonte Jewish community, Shabbat times, and which local products are certified kosher (Rabbi Salas provides the supervision).

A quick look at the Radioshabel program guide will show a mix of rotating shows: specific music shows featuring Jewish, Portuguese, Brazilian and Chilean tunes; the weekly “Coffee with the Rabbi” program where Rabbi Salas answers questions; another weekly Torah study class with the rabbi; and a show to prepare listeners for Shabbat with music and teachings.

The Radioshabel website also features an online chat section; links to videos and pictures from Portugal as well as other communities where Shavei Israel is active; the latest news of interest to Portuguese-speaking Bnei Anousim; and a link to a nearby hotel that offers kosher meals.

And this is just the beginning. There will be more classes, news and videos (including from Shavei Israel’s Machon Miriam Spanish and Portuguese-language Conversion and Return Institute in Israel) coming soon.

If you’re planning a visit to Portugal, or you just want to hear what the local community is listening to these days, click on over to

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