Local Sephardic groups unite to celebrate their heritage

Local Sephardic groups unite to celebrate their heritage

Rabbi Ely Allen, religious leader of Cong. Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, says the Sephardic community in Bergen County is growing.

"People are moving in and we’re becoming more established," notes the Teaneck rabbi, who helps coordinate the Sephardic Council of northern New Jersey, established in ‘005. The council is composed of representatives from the four established Sephardic congregations in Bergen County, says Allen, who also serves as director of Hillel and Teen Connections for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

In addition to the Teaneck shul, there are Sephardic minyans in Englewood, Fair Lawn, and Fort Lee, with a new group taking root in Paramus. Also part of the local Sephardic mix is Ben Porat Yosef in Leonia, the Sephardic yeshiva of Bergen County.

According to Allen, the council — created to forge a "broader connection" among the various Sephardic groups in the county — decided at its March meeting to plan fewer joint events in the near future to allow individual communities to focus on their own needs.

"We decided to take a low-key approach but continue to sponsor one large-scale event every year," he told The Jewish Standard — and so, on April ‘9, the group will offer a free screening of "Rambam: The Story of Maimonides," an animated film produced by the Destiny Foundation.

The event — co-hosted by Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, where the presentation will take place; Shaarei Orah; the Sephardic minyan at Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah; and the Sephardic Center of Fair Lawn — "paints a picture of what life was like in Spain and Egypt at the time," said Allen, noting that while the Sephardim like to "claim ownership" of the medieval physician, "Maimonides was a great hero to all the Jewish people."

"We felt it would be both a wonderful educational and entertainment experience" for the community, he said, adding that the film might not be appropriate for small children, since it depicts violent scenes and chronicles the often-brutal treatment of the Jewish community. "It’s a serious film," he said, pointing out that Maimonides, who lived from 1’35 to 1305, led a very difficult life.

"The quality of the animation and narration is excellent," said Allen, explaining that the film, produced by Rabbi Berel Wein, noted Jewish historian and founder of the Destiny Foundation, "is based on serious scholarship and is narrated by actor Leonard Nimoy." According to its Website, the foundation is in the process of translating Wein’s historical writings into a series of films on Jewish personalities.

According to Allen, the success of local Sephardic synagogues is drawing new Sephardic families to the area. Shaarei Orah, which has, until now, met in the basement of a private home, recently received permission from the township to begin construction of a new facility, he said, adding that it hopes to begin its building campaign over the next few months.

"We’ve been meeting in the Aviner family basement for seven or eight years," he said. "Now we’re in the building mode and we need to raise money."

With a membership of 40 families from all over Teaneck and participation by about ‘0 others, the congregation hosts Sephardic Jews from diverse countries of origin, many with Egyptian, Persian, and Turkish backgrounds.

Only the Sephardic Center of Fort Lee, with a specifically Moroccan congregation, does not enjoy a similar mix of cultures, said Allen, noting that many members of the congregation regularly travel between New Jersey and Morocco.

The fastest-growing Sephardic minyan in the county is at Ahavath Torah in Englewood, said the Teaneck rabbi, who pointed out that the group will have an expanded presence in the synagogue’s new building, due to be completed later this year. That minyan, which has no rabbi, serves at least 60 families, said Allen, explaining that the group will become part of a new Sephardic Center at Ahavath Torah, thanks to the efforts of congregant Raphael Benaroya.

According to Allen, the Sephardic Center in Fair Lawn, led by Rabbi Avidan Elkin, has at least 50 families and "specializes in outreach to unaffiliated Israelis." He noted that while there are seven Sephardic rabbis in the area, only he and Elkin lead congregations. "The others are mostly involved in education," he said.

Allen also noted that Cong. Beth Tefillah in Paramus, which serves a large Persian population, has begun offering Sephardic minyans once a month.

For further information on the April ‘9 screening of "Rambam," e-mail Allen at elyallen@aol.com


read more: