Life Cycle Events

Our dedicated staff is here to support congregants through times of joy and sorrow.

Berit Milah

The mitzvah of circumcision dates back to our biblical forefather Abraham. It is a sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel, and has been observed by Jewish communities throughout the world since antiquity.

The berit milah (covenant of circumcision) takes place on the eighth day of the baby boy’s life, unless the baby’s medical condition requires that the circumcision be postponed. This should be decided in consultation with the baby’s doctor, the mohel (the person who performs the circumcision), and our Rabbi.  

The ceremony is preceded by the singing of a beautiful hymn, praying for the health and well being of the baby, with the wish that he grow up to a life of Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds. Various honors are given, e.g. to carry the baby into the synagogue, to hold the baby during the circumcision, to hold the baby during the naming ceremony. The baby’s father recites the appropriate blessings prior to the circumcision. Following the circumcision, the Rabbi recites the blessings for the occasion and announces the baby’s Hebrew name, as chosen by the parents. After the ceremony, the baby’s mother recites the “HaGomel” blessing, as an expression of gratitude to the Almighty.

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Zeved Habat

Since the medieval period, Sephardic Jews have held ceremonies in honor of the birth of baby daughters. At Shearith Israel, the ceremony for naming a baby girl is known as Zeved Habat—the gift of a daughter.

For many years, the Zeved Habat has been observed as a simple baby naming. The baby’s father is called to the Torah on a Shabbat morning following the baby’s birth. At the conclusion of the Aliyah, the Hazzan recites a special blessing, beginning with verses from the Song of Songs, and then announces the baby’s Hebrew name chosen by the parents. It is customary for the family to sponsor a kiddush after services in honor of the new baby, and to share their happiness with the community.

In recent years, the Zeved Habat has been observed in more elaborate ways, depending on the wishes of the family. These ceremonies have taken place at home or in the synagogue, and have involved the recitation of Psalms and blessings, short talks by the parents, and words of congratulations by the Rabbi.

Parents of baby daughters should feel free to consult with the Rabbi to discuss the ceremony that would be most meaningful and joyous to them.

Bar Mitzvah

Upon reaching the age of 13 years and 1 day, Jewish boys become Bar Mitzvah i.e. responsible for observing the mitzvot. It is customary to mark this happy occasion at the synagogue.

On the weekday morning coinciding with when the boy has reached Bar Mitzvah age, he and his family attend morning services at which he dons Tefillin, reciting the blessing on Tefillin for the first time. Families often sponsor a celebratory breakfast following services.

On Shabbat morning, the Bar Mitzvah boy generally chants a portion of the Torah reading, as well as the Haftarah. Training in preparation of these readings begins about a year in advance of the Bar Mitzvah Shabbat. Parents should contact the Rabbi when their son reaches the age of eleven and a half, to start discussing the Bar Mitzvah process. During the year before the Bar Mitzvah, the boy will study his Torah portion and Haftarah with our Hazan. Often, the Bar Mitzvah boy will also prepare a short talk on his Torah portion that he will deliver during the Shabbat of his Bar Mitzvah.  Many families choose to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah by sponsoring a Kiddush luncheon in honor of the Bar Mitzvah boy, immediately following synagogue services.

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Bat Mitzvah

Upon reaching the age of 12 years and 1 day, Jewish girls become Bat Mitzvah i.e. responsible for observing the mitzvot. It is customary to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah ceremony on a date between the girl’s 12th and 13th birthdays.

Shearith Israel offers a wide variety of frameworks for the Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Some girls choose to participate in a women’s service at the synagogue on a Shabbat morning, at which they read Torah, Haftarah and/or parts of the synagogue service. Others choose to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony on Shabbat morning, following regular synagogue services, at which the Bat Mitzvah girl reads biblical passages and delivers a talk. Yet others choose to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah at a special ceremony held on Sunday morning. Parents should contact the Rabbi when their daughter reaches the age of eleven, to start discussing the Bat Mitzvah process and the various available options that would be most meaningful to the Bat Mitzvah girl.

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Our stunning, historic main sanctuary offers a memorable and special place for your wedding day.  All weddings held at Shearith Israel are officiated by a member of our clergy or ritual staff and conducted in accordance with our beautiful Spanish and Portuguese ritual tradition.  We only host ritual events for members of our congregation, but we welcome couples to join our congregation in advance of their wedding.

Weddings may be held in our Little Synagogue (maximum capacity 75) or in the Main Sanctuary (maximum capacity 750). Prospective brides and grooms should contact the Executive Director of Shearith Israel to visit the synagogue, reserve a date, and determine whether they will be having their wedding reception in the synagogue facilities. Once these details are tentatively set, the couple should make an appointment to meet with the Rabbi. No wedding date is confirmed at Shearith Israel until the couple has met with the Rabbi and has his approval.  Shearith Israel has a distinctive custom for weddings, and couples are encouraged to discuss the wedding ceremony with the Rabbi when they meet with him.

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Special Occasions and Private Events

Many congregants sanctify the special occasions of life in the synagogue. Whether you are celebrating a birthday, honoring a beloved family member who has passed away, or hosting a private event of any kind, we hope you will consider hosting your event with us.  Men may wish to receive an Aliyah to the Torah to commemorate a birthday or anniversary, or to recite the HaGomel prayer of thanksgiving for recovery from illness or safe return from a long journey. Women may wish to participate in a women’s service and/or to recite the HaGomel blessing of Thanksgiving following services on a weekday or on Shabbat. Special times of life are frequently celebrated by sponsoring the Kiddush following Shabbat morning services.

Times of Mourning – Funeral Arrangements

The synagogue is here to help families in times of sadness, as well as in times of joy. The Hebra Hased Va-Amet is one of the oldest organizations within Shearith Israel, and is comprised of devoted congregants who volunteer their services at the time of the death of a fellow congregant. The Hebra helps indigent families pay for burial costs, sees to the traditional preparation of the body for burial, arranges for the mourner’s meal to be given following the burial and helps provide for the needs of families in mourning. If the services of the Hebra are needed, day or night, please call the Sexton, Zachary Edinger at 917-584-3787.

Burials of congregants generally take place at Shearith Israel’s cemetery in Queens, unless the family has made other arrangements.

During the week of Shibah, families receive visitors at home. If prayer services are recited at the mourners’ home, they are chanted to the same mournful melody that is used in the synagogue on Tisha B’Av.  Often, families choose to attend morning and evening services at the synagogue during the week of Shibah.

The anniversary of the death of a loved one is known in Shearith Israel as “Nahala.” The Nahala is observed on the 30th day from date of burial and on the 11th month from date of burial. The annual Nahala is observed on the anniversary of the date of the death of a loved one. In observance of a Nahala, family members attend synagogue services, and recite Kaddish as designated in the prayer book. At the conclusion of services, a “Hashcaba” (memorial prayer) is chanted.  Men may receive an Aliyah to the Torah on the Shabbat morning following the Nahala of a loved one, at which time a hashcaba is recited. It is customary to make contributions to the synagogue and to other charitable institutions in memory of a loved one.

Shearith Israel maintains a “Book of Perpetual Hashcabot,” dating back to 1718. This book includes the names of congregants who have left bequests for the future maintenance of the synagogue.  A hashcaba in memory of those listed in this Book of Perpetual Hashcabot is recited before services on the mornings of Rosh Hodesh, and on the Shabbat afternoon following the anniversary of the date of the passing of each person listed in the Book. Those listed in the Book of Perpetual Hashcabot are also memorialized on Yom Kippur. Families of the Congregation may arrange for the names of loved ones to be added to this historic book, by speaking with our Executive Director.

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