Twenty-eight years ago, there were only a few Sephardic families in Englewood. Albert Allen, a member of Cong. Ahavath Torah who had emigrated from Egypt, was concerned that the community’s children would grow up losing sight of unique Sephardic traditions.
Along with several other members of the synagogue, Allen organized a Sephardic minyan of about 10 families that met on the High Holy Days and, eventually, for other services.
Over the years, as the Sephardic community grew, the minyan did, too. Today it includes 75 families out of the 700 in the synagogue.
On Sunday, Ahavath Torah will dedicate an addition for its Sephardic branch, with a large and small sanctuary, a social hall, and a library. The celebration will start with a service at 8:30 a.m., followed by speakers and brunch.
|New sanctuary at Cong. Ahavath Torah|
The new wing, called the Jacob Benaroya Sephardic Center, will be dedicated by Raphael Benaroya, a congregant who is the former CEO of Avenue stores, a plus-size women’s clothing company. The new wing is named after his father, who emigrated from Bulgaria.
“Jacob Benaroya was an excellent man and Raphael is the best,” said Allen, who is president of the Sephardic minyan at the synagogue and former treasurer of Ahavath Torah.
On Wednesday Raphael Benaroya called The Jewish Standard from Israel, where he was attending a security briefing with members of Israel’s government.
His visit to Israel has brought home the need for unity, he said, adding that this is something Englewood’s Jewish community understands.
“Jewish people … absolutely must focus on unity,” he said. “What is happening in Englewood is nothing short of a visionary community – one Sephardi and three Ashkenazi shuls under one roof. Each one could have gone its own way. The distinction – Sephardi, Ashkenazi – we put aside in the face of the need for togetherness given the challenges we face as Jews.”
He also praised Denise Setton, a congregant and manager of the building project.
Five years ago, members of the Sephardic minyan came together to decide whether to form an independent synagogue or remain part of Ahavath Torah. Overwhelmingly, they decided to stay, according to Shlomo Tsadok, a founding member of the minyan.
“We stayed with them because we feel we are part of the community and there is no animosity between the groups,” he told the Standard. “Within the Sephardic minyan we have the same tolerance too: We allow people to pray in their own style. We try to make everybody feel at home.”
Tsadok explained that Sephardic prayers use melodies distinct from Ashkenazic ones.
Within the minyan, families hail from many countries, including Turkey, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, Persia, Yemen, Syria, Bulgaria, and Egypt.
The congregation is hoping the new wing will attract even more young families, according to Solomon Bitton, a member of the minyan and Raphael Benaroya’s son-in-law.
“We are looking for this new space to be a blaring advertisement of the great things going on in our community,” he said “We’ve had massive growth, and we are looking to bring more families in. We’ve got lots of room.”