Throughout the visit to Sephardi Synagogue as well as during the interviews, it was very interesting to see the different language ecology within the speech community. One would think that within such a distinct and specific part of a small community the language variety would be relatively small, but this showed not to be the case.

The community and site itself showed an overwhelming amount of acceptance and welcome to people from all walks of life. This was seen through the warmth shown towards me, and the way in which the linguistic landscape showcases only Hebrew when it comes to prayers but all ‘instructional’ signs were in English, a language assumed to be understood by all congregants, rather than in Hebrew even though most congregants feel most comfortable in that language. I understand this is due to the variance in backgrounds of the congregants and the understanding that the good people who add so much to their community have come from the smallest and most far-away parts of the world.

The locality of the language is only seen through the code-switching in their speaking during services and socialisation. Although I suspect this has happened in some other Synagogues in the Sydney Jewish community as well. Even though the congregation was so accepting and welcoming, it was clear to see that although it was unintended, some people were left out of conversations or left in the dark as to what was going on during services due to the belief that everyone in the room/conversation understood Hebrew and therefore the words did not need to be translated or explained. This was a shame and can often cause some difficulty to create a sense of identity for that person.

During the interview with MM, it was interesting to note that even though he came from India, he found a group of people he could speak to in his mother tongue of Hindi in the small but growing congregation of Sephardi Synagogue. This also goes for SL, who also found a group of people who she could not only speak Hebrew with, but could practice her Spanish as well. This shows a great variety in languages, as well as a cohesive and social way in which people integrate language into their social interactions and ways of making people feel welcome. From my understanding, when a new person joins the congregation they are often introduced to people from their background to assist them in the integration process comfortably.


Tamar Hoffman