Ovadia Mussaffi lived for Shabbat.
Maybe that was because, six days a week, the hardworking businessman operated his midtown Manhattan clothing store well into the night.
Or maybe it was because the Israeli native didn’t discover Orthodox Judaism until adulthood, when he grew passionate about Jewish observance.
Or perhaps the father of four simply treasured every moment spent with his wife and children. And Shabbat – with its freedom from electronic devices, and all forms of work – offered hours of quality time.
|Ovadia Mussaffi felt joy in Judaism. Courtesy Mussaffi Family|
Friday nights, as Mussaffi returned home from the synagogue near his Teaneck home, he would burst through the front door singing “Shabbat Shalom” in a rich baritone voice that elicited smiles from every corner.
“He’d walk in so happy,” recalled his wife Susan with a faint smile. “Shabbat with Ovadia was always filled with a lot of love and joy.”
March 13 will mark the one-year anniversary since the 52-year-old celebrated his final Shabbat. His brief but full life was cut short during a violent nor’easter when a 50-foot oak tree fell, striking him and a neighbor, Larry Krause, as they returned home from Saturday evening services.
In the months since, much has changed in the Mussaffi household. Most of all, Shabbat seemed to have lost its joy.
Some Friday nights, Susan Mussaffi and her four young children sat at the dinner table fighting tears as they stared at the empty chair where their husband and father had sung Shabbat z’mirot (songs) weeks earlier. Other weeks, she was so lost in her grief, her children had to remind her to light the Shabbat candles.
|Yavneh basketball tournament to launch memorial scholarship|
|Among the programs scheduled to commemorate the yahrzeit of Ovadia Mussaffi, Yavneh Academy in Paramus, together with the Mussaffi family, is organizing a three-on-three basketball tournament at the school on April 10 to raise money for a scholarship fund in his memory. Also, said Rabbi Steven Penn, assistant principal for Jewish studies, “each year we will bring a speaker to talk about Sephardic customs to the students around his yahrzeit. Teaching about the richness of the Sephardic culture was very important to him. I remember when Ovadia spoke to the fourth grade at our Siyum Sefer Beresheet. We borrowed a Sephardic sefer Torah from a family and he showed all the children the beauty of many Sephardic religious items and customs. Ovadia took off from work in the middle of the day for this program. When I asked him what time would work best for him he said, ‘I will work around your schedule. Teaching children about the beauty of their heritage is the most important job I can do.'”
For more information, or to become a sponsor and/or a volunteer to help out the day of the games, call Penn at (201) 262-8494.
“He was the most amazing husband [and] father to our children; he was my best friend and the love of my life,” Mussaffi said.
As she floundered in sadness, she wondered how she could preserve the memory of her soulmate, father to her children, and friend of countless souls around the globe.
Mussaffi, who left her Wall Street career years ago to care for her young children, also pondered how she would support her family.
She found an answer to the questions in a single concept, as she transformed her love of cooking into a business venture. Her creation, Motzi Challah, arrived last month on shop shelves throughout the New York/New Jersey area. Motzi Challahs are handmade gourmet breads that come in an array of Sephardic infused flavors, including Israeli Olives and Za’atar, Pumpkin and Spices, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Pepper and Basil Challah.
“Motzi” on the label is a play on words: It was taken from the blessing recited over bread (“Motzi” means “bring forth” in Hebrew) but “Motzi” was also her husband’s nickname – Mutzi, short for Mussaffi.
Sold at local kosher groceries around Bergen County, Motzi has just rolled out at Shoprite, Supersol, Brachs, and West Side Kosher, and there are plans to expand the line, said Susan Mussaffi.
Motzi Challahs are flying off the shelves at Glatt Express in Teaneck, said owner Tammy Secemski. “It’s a delicious gourmet challah that dresses up any Shabbos table,” she said.
Sheryl Krantz of Teaneck, who along with her husband and children was a frequent guest at the Mussaffi home, called Motzi an apt tribute to a Jew who filled every Shabbat with an infectious joy and hospitality. “If you were walking by his house on a Friday night, Ovadia would run out and say ‘Come in for dinner, we’d be honored to have you,'” recalled Krantz. “He was very inviting and welcoming – he relished having a lot of family and guests in his home.”
Susan Mussaffi said she feels blessed to have created a business that is both meaningful and successful. “I feel like all of this is happening because I have guardian angels guiding me,” she said.
Among those angels, she said, were the proprietors of Bagels-N-More, who offered to help her in any way. Motzi is made in conjunction with Bagels-N-More as a result of their generosity, Mussaffi said.
While her family is of Eastern European descent, she was inspired to create the original flavors because her husband, who came from a Sephardic background, loved Sephardic food. “When we got married, he taught me how to cook Sephardic dishes, and I became interested in Sephardic cooking because I wanted to help preserve his heritage,” she said.
She is grateful to have found a way to make something beautiful come out her anguish.
“I was worried that my family would never again be happy on Shabbat, so I created something to make everyone’s Shabbat more joyous,” she said. “Every challah has a blessing for Ovadia and, with every blessing we make over the challah, his neshama gets higher and higher.”
Ovadia Mussaffi grew up in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan with parents who emigrated from Baghdad. He served in the Israeli air force for 10 years and then decided to try his hand in business. He arrived in America 20 years ago with a small wad of cash and boundless optimism.
He opened a fur and leather store in Manhattan, and Susan – then Susan Lazar – who worked nearby, repeatedly found excuses to stroll into the store to chat with the handsome storeowner. Finally, she summoned the courage to ask him out. She fell in love with him on their first date, she said. They married about a year later.
After his parents died, Mussaffi recited the Kaddish for them faithfully, although he was not particularly observant at the time. He never missed a minyan, and continued attending synagogue services after the year of mourning was over. He felt drawn to synagogue services, said his wife, and to greater observance of mitzvot.
When he decided to take on Shabbat, his wife, who was not Sabbath-observant at the time, embraced it wholeheartedly. “I was thrilled because it meant an entire day that I could have him all to myself,” she said.
They opted to settle in Teaneck after spending a weekend with friends there. “We walked down the street on Shabbat and so many people were saying ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ Ovadia loved it. He felt like he was in Israel,” she recalled.
When he returned home from a long day of work, Mussaffi rarely sat down to relax or watch television. Instead, he helped the children with their homework and then ran to Shaarei Orah, Teaneck’s Sephardic synagogue, where he served as president for six years.
“It was HaShem and family first,” Susan Mussaffi said, adding that he would never leave in the morning until he had kissed the children goodbye. “Those were the things that were of priority to him, so that was how he lived his entire life. It was who he was.”
Leaders and members of the tightly knit synagogue say they still feel the pain of losing the man whom many called their “best friend.”
Rabbi Ely Allen, Shaarei Orah’s rabbi emeritus, described Ovadia Mussaffi as a warm soul who helped make the synagogue the kind of place where people wanted to go. “There wasn’t anybody that walked in without a personal greeting from Ovadia,” Allen said. “There wasn’t ever an opportunity to do something nice for someone that he missed. He was one of the warmest people I knew.”
Rabbi Howard Jachter, the religious leader of the congregation, added that Mussaffi used to take it upon himself to bring other people to the daily minyan to ensure it had the necessary quorum of ten men, not an easy feat for a small congregation. “Now it takes three people to do the work that Ovadia did all by himself,” he said. “It’s a testimony to him…. He brought such a positive vibe to the congregation,” Jachter said. “Losing him was an enormous blow, and we still feel it.”
But it is on Shabbat when Mussaffi’s absence is felt most acutely, because that was clearly his day.
“Ovadia had a very special shine on his face on Shabbat,” said Jachter. “He had an extra-wide smile and wore very beautiful clothing for Shabbat. His honor and joy for Shabbat was evident to everyone.”
|Susan Mussaffi displays her challah creations. Courtesy Susan Mussaffi|