The odd visitor to the Kdoshei Israel ("Israel's Sacred") Temple in the southern city of Kiryat Gat may be in for a little surprise: The rabbi presiding over the temple's ceremonies – which are largely attended by Holocaust survivors – is of Ethiopian descent.
Rabbi Sharon Shalom, 35, moved to Kiryat Gat about three years ago and took up praying at Kdoshei Israel Temple, which was nearest to his home. The synagogue was founded 50 years ago in memory of the Holocaust victims, whose families frequently attend the services.
With time, the number or parishioners attending the services dwindled, and the temple's administrative committee decided it was time to try and "liven things up."
"It's been a long time since we've heard the sound of young people here," said one of the committee members.
As part of the spiritual sprucing up, the committee decided to offer Shalom the position of the temple's rabbi. He was more than happy to oblige, and has been taking his first steps as a spiritual leader over the past few weeks. Rabbi Shalom will preside over his first "official" ceremony during Rosh Hashana service, in a fortnight.
"I'm thrilled to have been offered this position. This, more than anything else, is indicative of a new trend in synagogues, which now have divers crowds attending the services," said Rabbi Shalom. "Even today, our synagogue has a mixed crowd of Sephardi and Ethiopian Jews praying in it.
"We still use the Ashkenazi verse of the prayers, but I intend on introducing some Sephardi verses as well. This is a true ingathering of the exiles."