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Sephardic Institute and Sephardic Synagogue: 50 Years Young



Last Thursday, the end of celebrating Israel’s 70th year of independence, marked the beginning of celebrating Sephardic’s 50 years of operation. Shaare Zion’s Social Hall was filled with over 750 participants, including over 20 rabbis, who came to honor, celebrate and reflect upon a milestone for this accomplished community institution. The room, regularly used for celebrating a newlywed couple’s prospective long years of marriage, was tonight decorated for a retrospective of achievement.

The plan for the next 50 years was already stated at the beginning of the evening by President Abe Mamiye and Rabbi Dr. Richard Hidary. They announced several exciting new programs; The early childhood program will be expanded to include a nursery age program. Along with the current Youth Minyan will be named in memory of a great community leader, Mickey Kairey and his wife Pat. There will also be a new fellowship learning program, gathering together young community leaders for learning during the week. Sephardic at 50 is still going strong with innovative and exciting programs. Sephardic is 50 years young.

In the keynote address, Rabbi Ricky quoted Rabbi Salman Sassoon’s articulation of Israel’s mission:

the immediate task in our generation is to redeem the State of Israel spiritually by bringing the laws of our country more and more into accordance with the laws of the Torah and its spirit.

Such growth…must not be stopped now. Now that we have our Holy Land back, how can such a vital concern of our religion be handed over in its entirety to the secular powers, and to short-term interests? A truncated Judaism that has abandoned the Torah’s great social ideas will result in a mere caricature of what Judaism really stands for and a mere shadow of its authentic essence.

Rabbi Ricky emphasized the unique Sepharadi approach to Torah, which appreciates and incorporates advances in science and the humanities in a Torah approach steeped in the tradition from the Tanakh and Talmud until today.

The Hakhamim of Sefarad have always taught that there are essential truths and great benefits in our appreciating the ever-growing fields of science, technology, and the humanities. Haqadosh Barukh Hu reveals Himself both through creation and through revelation. However, it takes great wisdom and insight to be able to bring these sources of knowledge together, so they mutually enhance our moral, religious, communal and family values.

The evening honored Sephardic’s achievements that affected the Syrian community and the people who brought these dreams to successful fruition, despite opposition at every step. Most notable being Sephardic Synagogue, Sephardic High School, The Community Mikveh and Erub. The range of honorees extended from founding members such as Mickey Abraham, Joe Bijou, Murray Dweck and David Hidary to younger very actively involved members such as Isaac and Carol Chera, who spearheaded the Community Mikveh renovation.

Particularly moving was the award that was given to the “Benun Clan,” Jack, Joe, Ronnie Benun and Lillie Dweck. The presence of Mrs. Sarah Benun, ob”m, herself a pillar of Hessed, was palpable through her many descendants in attendance.

There were many speeches by both the honorees and those who presented them. The speeches were riveting with all these personal perspectives of 50 years of accomplishment. The evening was also not without humor (Ronny Hersh celebrating his 50th anniversary of becoming a Syrian, Rabbi Shamah who noted that the jubilee dinner is actually the second annual gala dinner, the first one occurring in 1969.)

Rabbi Ronnie Barry and Rabbi Moshe Shamah capped off the evening with their awards and speeches. Rabbi Barry describing the circumstances that were the impetus for the great community projects such as the Community Mikveh and the Erub, and the milestones of his and his wife Miriam’s community work over the decades. Rabbi Shamah, reading from a 49-year-old original invitation enumerated the values which underscored Sephardic’s mission at its inception and until today with the added value of the importance of the Jewish State.

The Sephardic Institute was established to:

Instill religious, ethical and moral values in Sephardic Youth

Develop them as upright, participating citizens with a deep appreciation of democratic values

Foster in them sensitivity to the state of their fellowman joined with a determination to help improve that state

Imbue them with spirit of Ahavat Yisrael

Prepare them for leadership in the Jewish community

For me, one question lingered in my mind for hours after the event. It was Morris Bailey’s question upon introducing Rabbi Moshe Shamah.

Morris asked: What caused Rabbi Shamah, then Mosie Shamah from Bay Parkway, to go on to achieve such greatness as a community leader. Morris answered, it is Rabbi Shamah’s compassion—when you speak with Rabbi Shamah he is totally there with you, listening deeply and analytically. His passion, although he is soft spoken, he is a gallant warrior for the truth and what is right to be done for the community. I would like to add a third trait that perhaps underlies the first two.

Each situation and new project that Sephardic took on, through Rabbi Shamah’s direction, was in response to the circumstances which presented themselves as a community need, the original learning program of Sephardic Institute. Sephardic High School was in response to a stark need after the closing, mid-year of another community school. The Community Mikveh was founded by realizing that a more pleasant Mikveh experience, utilizing Sephardi halakha to its fullest would attract women to maintain the laws of Family Purity.

The community Erub was constructed after realizing what a difficulty the lack of Erub posed to young mothers. This was another kind of listening, a listening to the voice of Hashem, as it was revealed through these circumstances. As Rabbi Sassoon taught us, Hashem reveals himself through direct revelation and through history. History is a series of circumstances so that responding with passion and unswerving action to the needs of the time, is in effect responding to the Living God’s newly revealed will.

50 is young in community years. I look forward with anticipation to what the next decades will bring to our community through the response to Hashem’s ongoing revelation through Sephardic Institute and Synagogue, נ”י. Scottish Comedian Who Shared Clips of Nazi Saluting Dog Fined for Hate Crime

By: Hellen Zaboulani

On Monday April 23rd, a Scottish comedian and video blogger was fined for a conviction of a hate crime for footage he posted on YouTube in 2016. Mark Meechan, 30, posted footage of his girlfriend’s dog raising his paw in a salute to anti-Semitic phrases such as “sieg heil”. As reported by the Associated Press, a judge at Scotland’s Airdrie Sheriff Court imposed a fine of 800-pounds, equivalent to about $1200, for posting the “grossly offensive” material. Meechan was spared from any jail sentence.

Sheriff Derek O’Carroll said the video “contained menacing, anti-Semitic and racist material.” The pug was filmed responding to “Gas the Jews,” an extremely offensive and violent phrase which was repeated 23 times in the video, said O’Carroll. The video was viewed more than 3 million times after being posted.

Meechan, of Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, said he would appeal the decision of the court arguing that his conviction set a “really dangerous precedent” in limiting freedom of speech. “I think it is a very dark day in regards to freedom of speech and freedom of expression”, he said outside the court. After his sentence, he was cheered on by about 100 supporters outside the courthouse. “I’m not going to pay the fine because we are going to appeal,” he told the crowd. Meechan says the whole thing was clearly a joke, based on the description of his channel “offensive social commentary in an accent you won’t understand.” Some far-right commentators are siding with Meechan and his right to post the video. Comedian Ricky Gervais and activist Tommy Robinson also defended him.

“This court has taken the freedom of expression into consideration, but the right to freedom of expression also comes with responsibility,” said O’Carroll, while reading his sentence. “You deliberately chose the Holocaust as the theme of the video. You purposely used the command “Gas the Jews” as the centerpiece of what you called the entire joke, surrounding the “Gas the Jews” centerpiece with Nazi imagery and the Seig Heil command so there could be no doubt what historical events you were referring to,” He continued. “I also found it proved that the video contained anti-Semitic, and racist material, in that it explicitly and exclusively referred to Jews, the Holocaust and the role of the Nazis in the death of six million Jews in a grossly offensive manner. You knew or must have known that.”

By: Ralph Tawil

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