Guatemala: Adat Israel Ushers in 5778 with Altitude

By Rabbi Eliot J. Baskin

Photos by Rabbi Eliot J. Baskin and Alvaro Orantes

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Eliot J. Baskin, D.Min., DD., serves as Denver’s Jewish Community Chaplain and the Rabbinic Director of Rafael Spiritual Healing Center at Jewish Family Service of Colorado. He enjoys teaching spirituality for Kevod Senior Living, volunteering for the Denver Police Chaplains’ Unit, teaching philosophy for Argosy University, and leading holiday services for cruise lines and congregations the world over. He has traveled to all fifty American states, all ten Canadian provinces, and almost one hundred countries connecting Jews to Jewish life. Recently he has volunteered to lead holiday services in Guatemala, Myanmar, and Bali.

Congregants participating in a Bibliodrama Book of Jonah about living in a wicked society
Congregants participating in a Bibliodrama Book of Jonah about living in a wicked society

After a year of hiatus, I returned with my wife, Dr. Hilary Nieberg Baskin, to volunteer to lead Shabbat Shuvah and Yom Kippur 5778 Days of Awe is one of the highest WUPJ (World Union for Progressive Judaism) congregations, Adat Israel ( The Reform congregation in a 1.5 km high Guatemala City, the same altitude and time zone as we live in the mile “chai” city of Denver, Colorado, USA.

Rabbi Debby Hachen participated in leading

Rosh Hashanah services while on a cruise shore excursion, while I was attending Rosh Hashanah services as a “Jew in the pew” for the first time in 36 years. I admired the gorgeous new beautiful jade inlaid ark built by a community member and the new Torah graciously donated by Anshe Emet of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

We began with a spirited Shabbat Shuvah service and had Hilary, an orthodontist by day and a baker by night, lead an interactive challah-baking workshop. As the dough rose, I led a study session on teshuvah entitled “Lift the Sparks—Illuminate the Cracks” according to the late “Rabbi” Leonard Cohen. We played Cohen’s music and talked about the Ten Days of Atonement as a vehicle for healing our brokenness to let the light get in.

After “Holy Hevruta” (sharing in pairs about why we were there, forgiveness, and teshuvah), we sung nigunnim and swayed together to increase our Kavanot (our hearts’ intentions) for the Days of Awe. We sang Ein Keloheinu in Ladino, and Sanctuary Song, translated into Spanish by our enthusiastic soloist Rivka Orantes, from the Shir Chadash CD donated by the Hebrew Educational Alliance (HEA) synagogue ( where we daven in Denver.

The trilingual Machzor, courtesy of Kulanu’s generosity with gracious licensing from the WUPJ-affiliated B’nei Israel congregation of Costa Rica, made services easier to comprehend and meaningful for all, regardless of language.

I loved introducing the Amidah by singing the Adonai Sefatai Tiftach in Hebrew, Spanish, and English!

For our Yom Kippur haftarah discussion, I asked what would the prophet Isaiah say if he came to Guatemala City? Congregants weighed in with their answers, including that Isaiah would advocate for electoral reform, human rights, and protection for minors in government care. In the afternoon we did a Bibliodrama about living in a wicked society.

We ended Yom Kippur by burning our sins (which we had written out) with our havdalah candle before enjoying our breakfast of traditional Guatemalan soup and treats. While the greater Jewish community is continuing to dwindle from about 800 families, there is potential for the Reform community to grow among Jews by Choice and Conversos, expats, and spiritual-seekers from Antigua and Lake Atatlan who joined us. The traditional community, Centro Hebraica, is closed to the public at large because of security concerns, although we managed a tour and introduced ourselves to Rabino Garmon and gave regards from Adat Israel’s hard-working president, Jeannette Orantes.

I was impressed to see how the Progressive community has grown both in numbers and learning! My family and I appreciated the warmth of Adat Israel and look forward to building on our Guatemalan friendships and serving other WUPJ congregations in the upcoming new year!

Muchas gracias to all who lead, support, and participate in this very sweet community. Thank you to Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, Adat Israel’s regular visiting rabbi, for her gracious and insightful advice and guidance as a spiritual leader. Thank you also to Adrienne Rosen, who generously donated airline miles for my flight. Shana Tova 5778—un dulce y hermoso año (a sweet and beautiful year)!