When the Moise Safra Center opens in the fall of 2018, New York City is expected to gain an exciting new destination in its cultural, social, educational, recreational and spiritual landscape. The state-of-the art 14-floor facility on East 82nd Street and Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side will provide an inviting array of offerings, engaging members in a compelling mix of celebration and worship that will create a unique, vibrant Jewish community. At the same time, the Center’s nurturing space will draw people from diverse Jewish backgrounds to share, grow, and learn.
The community center, named in memory of esteemed Jewish philanthropist Moise Safra, a’h, (who passed away in June of 2014) at the age of 79, is a living tribute to man who, along with his entire family, was internationally renowned for his exceptional generosity to charitable causes and his love for the Jewish people and humanity at large.
Moise Safra was deeply involved in Jewish community affairs in Brazil, spending a great deal of his time and fortune funding health, education and charity projects and paying for the construction of synagogues and community centers. The Safras stood out among a number of Brazilian families whose businesses grew transnational but also remained loyal to their local roots.
The Safra family’s involvement in banking began with financing trade by camel caravan in the Ottoman Empire. Jacob E. Safra, Moise’s father, started a bank named for himself in the early 1900s in Beirut. Jacob moved the family to Brazil in 1952 and founded Banco Safra in São Paulo. His sons, Edmond, Moise and Joseph, joined the enterprise, which grew to become the Safra Group, an international network consisting mostly of financial companies.
Edmond, the oldest son, died in a fire in 1999 at his Monte Carlo penthouse. (A nurse working for Mr. Safra confessed to setting the fire.) Moise, the middle son, concentrated on industrial businesses, while Joseph, the youngest, led the enterprise. Moise Safra is survived by his wife Chella and their five children, Jacob, Azuri, Edmundo, Esther and Olga.
According to their web site, the Safra Center’s “programming will foster Jewish values and promote an unremitting love of Israel. Tzedaka and Chesed will be integral parts of our mission.” The site elaborates by saying, “the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, nestled in the heart of the building, will serve as an open tent for both Ashkenazim and Sephardim while simultaneously embracing the Syrian Sephardic tradition. Led by the congregation’s Rabbi and Hazzans, families will pray, share milestones and celebrate the holidays with authentic customs and centuries’ old traditions and melodies. A smaller sanctuary and bet midrash will also offer opportunities for Torah study and growth.”
Moreover, members of the Moise Safra center will “luxuriate in their surroundings, and have at their fingertips the best of yoga and dance studios, a wellness center, pool and gym, a culinary arts area/space, social lounges, recreation rooms and a variety of other spaces dedicated for the arts. Powered by its multi- generational membership, Rabbis, and leaders, both volunteer and professional, the Center will be a joyous place in which a vibrant Jewish community on the Upper East Side will be created.”
McGowan Builders of East Rutherford, New Jersey are the general contractors of the much anticipated project.
Presiding over the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the burgeoning Sephardic community on the Upper East Side is internationally renowned talmid chacham and rabbinic figure Rabbi Haim Shaul, shlita. Rabbi Shaul will be arriving in Manhattan after having successfully built a vibrant Sephardic community in Brooklyn as the rabbi of the Magen David synagogue.
Extending heartfelt plaudits to Rabbi Shaul for his 13 years of dedicated service to the Sephardic community, Magen David synagogue president, David Cattan, told the Jewish Voice, “Through Rabbi Shaul’s leadership and his immense emunah and bitachon, he was able to build this congregation from zero to 500 people in just a matter of years.”
With a strain of sentimentality reverberating in his voice, Mr. Cattan said, “I can tell you that Rabbi Shaul will be sorely missed at Magen David and elsewhere in our community. Over the years, he came to symbolize an iconic beacon of light and hope to all who had the distinct privilege of coming in contact with him. He truly uplifted, inspired, educated, prayed for, nurtured and dearly loved each member of the shul as if they were his own family.”
Having been born in New York City, his family moved to Hong Kong, where Rabbi Shaul grew up and received a top shelf, British style education.
Mr. Cattan recalls that when he was 18 or 19, Rabbi Shaul moved to Israel where he studied in Rabbi Sammy Kassin’s yeshiva and rabbinical training center. “The rabbis that are educated and trained at this Jerusalem yeshiva are very serious Torah learners who want to dedicate themselves to the rabbanut and to serving communities. They come there from around the world as this yeshiva has garnered a stellar reputation for producing exceptionally qualified students who morph in to exceptional rabbis.”
After Rabbi Kassin offered his assistance in finding Rabbi Shaul a position in the Brooklyn Syrian community, he spent time at several prominent synagogues including Sha’are Zion on Ocean Parkway before arriving at Magen David where he courageously took the reins of leadership at its inception.
Mr. Cattan says that what makes Rabbi Shaul so unique, special and cherished by his congregants and community members is that “Rabbi Shaul establishes a rock solid personal relationship with each member of the congregation. He is very approachable, highly respected, he possesses an extraordinary amount of knowledge, and he can relate to all people; all personalities – irrespective of their backgrounds and affiliation. He is truly a people person; and someone who truly cares with all of his soul.”
Speaking of Rabbi Shaul’s inherent aversion to discord, acrimony or the kind of run-of-the-mill synagogue politics that can often be painfully divisive, Mr. Cattan recalls, “Our beloved rabbi is an incredibly unifying force in our synagogue and community, and for that and much more, we are eternally grateful. He personifies someone who steers clear of the prickly world of local synagogue politics and treats each person with the kind of respect and dignity that they should be accorded.”
He adds that Rabbi Shaul’s approach is about creating a synagogue built on halacha within the Syrian-Sephardic tradition. Says Mr. Cattan, “When a congregant or any family member has a question pertaining to halacha, or needs anything answered about Jewish law and tradition, Rabbi Shaul does not procrastinate in delivering a swift and precise response. He gets back to everyone in a very timely fashion as he comprehends that many questions posed to him are of a critical nature to the person who is asking the question and those in his orbit.”
Also offering laudatory praise for Rabbi Shaul was David Ben Hooren, the longtime publisher of the Jewish Voice and an active member of Brooklyn’s Magen David synagogue and the Syrian community at large. “As I sat in Magen David this past Rosh HaShana, my mind inevitably turned to the miracle of Hashem that I saw in front of me. With Hashem’s help, Rabbi Shaul built a congregation of 700 in less than 10 years. To me, that is beyond miraculous.”
Ben Hooren says that his friendship with Rabbi Shaul goes back many years and that he has had the honor of getting to know the rabbi and his family as they have joined him and his family for many family smachot.
“Just listening to Rabbi Shaul speak in his beautiful British accent, in his most eloquent English, makes me so very proud to be a part of this congregation, “ said Ben Hooren. “Looking back at this neighborhood that I have spent the last 40 years in, I must say that I never thought that I would see the day that this side of the neighborhood would be humming with Jewish activity. Schools, nurseries, residences, a massive upswing in community members and a vibrant congregation is what I now see. My appreciation goes to the valiant and tireless efforts of Rabbi Shaul. Thank G-d that we are fortunate enough to have him as our rabbi as we become better people in so many respects by imbibing his sagacious wisdom.”
Other members of Brooklyn’s Syrian community expressed their own personal paean for Rabbi Shaul’s impressive litany of accomplishments and commented on his tenure as the rabbi of the Magen David Yeshiva. “I love Rabbi Shaul and will be very disappointed to see him leave, but I know that our friendship will never end,” said one congregant. Another congregant who wished to remain anonymous said, “To say that Rabbi Shaul will be sorely missed by the congregants of Magen David is a gross understatement. This rabbi was the life, the breath and the pulse of Magen David and he cannot be so easily replaced. We have all come to love him and what he stands for.”