Window Into History: An Urgent Call from Jerusalem to NYC - The Jewish Voice
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Window Into History: An Urgent Call from Jerusalem to NYC

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The cable was sent shortly after the start of Israel War of Independence, requesting aid for the impoverished Jews of Jerusalem from America’s Sephardic community.This urgent cable was sent in May of 1948 by the legendary rabbis Hakham Ezra Attie [Attiyah] (1885–1970), Hakham Yaakob Ades (1898-1963), and Rabeno Yomtov Politi (1894-?) of Jerusalem, requesting help from the American Sephardic community.

The cable was sent shortly after the start of Israel War of Independence. It was during this time that the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, including Porat Yosef, was systematically destroyed by the Arab Legion under the direction of the Jordanians. With the destruction of the Old City was the burning of all the synagogues and the obliteration of hundreds of Torah scrolls from Spain, Turkey and Syria, which had been reverentially preserved for generations.

Hakham Attie and Hakham Ades were definitive teachers of Torah in the Sephardic Jewish world during the 20th century; Rabeno Politi was a pious and wealthy thread merchant who had emigrated from Turkey to Jerusalem after WWII, becoming a leader of the Spanish Jews of Jerusalem, and served as gabbai at Porat Yosef. Hakham Attie was director of Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem for 45 years, nurturing thousands of students. Hakham Ades presided over the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem and was also a director of Porat Yeshiva. Together, the students they educated constituted the bulk of Sephardic Torah leadership for a generation. Among their students were former chief rabbis of Israel, Hakham Ovadia Yossef and Hakham Mordehai Eliyahu, and the venerable rabbis Hakham Ben Zion Abba Shaul, Hakham Yishak Kaduri and Brooklyn’s Hakham Rephael Baruch Ben-Haim.

The cable was dispatched to Isaac Shalom of New York City, who was on the leadership of several American Sephardic organizations among both the Turkish (Spanish) and Syrian Jewish communities. At the time, Dr. David de Sola Pool, rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel (the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) of New York City, was the president, and Isaac Shalom was on the executive committee, of the Central Sephardic Community of America. Mr. Shalom mentioned to Dr. Pool, “It is a sin to keep money in the bank while poor people starve in Jerusalem.” And with that, the New York Sephardic community raised $10,000 in July of 1948 (the equivalent of nearly $100,000 today). With those funds, on a ship from New York City, American Jews forwarded some 20 tons of brown rice, split peas, sugar, powdered milk, powdered chocolate and canned meat to Jerusalem.

From the Archives of the National Sephardic Library at the American Sephardi Federation in New York City. Researched and written by Shelomo Alfassa. (shelomo@alfassa.com)

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