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January 08, 1988 - Image 40

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-01-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I NEWS



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40

I

FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 1988

557 - 6550

M-F 9-8, SAT. 9-6, SUN. 12-5

Geneva's Gaon Leads
Sephardi Federation

ANDREW MUCHIN

erusalem — The 60-
year-old World Se-
phardi Federation is
undergoing a potentially fun-
damental transformation —
carefully crafted by its presi-
dent and organizational DNA
of the last 16 years, Nessim
Gaon of Geneva.
Federation leaders, in-
cluding Gaon, recruited more
than 200 local Sephardi
leaders from throughout the
Jewish Diaspora during the
summer to serve on the
federation's newly created
board of governors.
The effect was to broaden
the financial and power base
of the federation, as the
leaders, from 16 countries,
each pledged $15,000 over the
next three years, or $3.3
million.
Although the federation's
decision-making bodies now
represent a wider geography
of views, whether the federa-
tion will become any more
democratic in its pursuits on
behalf of Jews of Mediterra-
nean origin is still in ques-
tion. So, too, is the speed with
which it can expand its pro-
gramming, an avowed
priority.
The federation did not even
recognize the board of gover-
nors as an official policy-
making body until Dec. 2, the
last of three days of the
federation's World Sephardi
Congress held in Jerusalem.
It was also Gaon, a 64-year-
old Sudanese-born business-
man and international Jew-
ish leader, who revived the
moribund federation in 1971.
He has served as president of
the world body ever since. His
ideas and activity have spur-
red three recent major
accomplishments.
He won approval in 1978,
from then-Premier Mena-
chem Begin, for Project
Renewal, the Diaspora-Israeli
cooperative rebuilding of
Israel's impoverished develop-
ment towns, which mainly
comprise Sephardim.
Under his leadership, the
world federation has in-
troduced, with the Jewish
Agency, a scholarship pro-
gram that has sent 7,000
underprivileged students to
Israeli universities, and a bar
mitzvah program that has
provided the education,
ceremony and gifts to 5,000
underprivileged boys.
The recruitment of the
board of governors, under-
taken in cooperation with
Alberto Nasser of Rio de

j

Janeiro and Stephen and
Liliane Shalom of New York,
transported Gaon throughout
the Americas in August. Both
he and Nasser said the local
leaders told them they had
awaited for years the oppor-
tunity to move from their
local posts into the world
Jewish scene.
Why now? Until a few years
ago, it was impossible to con-
sider such a step or talk of a
Sephardi resurgence, Gaon
explained during a recent
interview.
The Sephardim in Israel
faced major problems even at
the outset of the 1980s — in-
stitutionalized poverty, lack
of educational opportunity, a
dissolving family structure.
"All this needed most of our
time and attention," he said,
leaving few resources for
other efforts.
But. )-,e added, "The situa-
tion greatly improved and is
continually improving?'
In this new atmosphere,
Gaon has urged the federa-
tion to centralize its program-
ming in Israel with the
establishment of Sephardi
House, a combination Sephar-
di world community center
and administrative office.
The vast socioeconomic dif-
ferences among Sephardim
were reflected in the makeup
of this year's congress. Some
of the Diaspora Sephardim
had made fortunes in one or
two generations, while the
poverty of the Israeli Sephar-
dim was a major focus of the
proceedings. Did the Sephar-
dim w ho went to the
Diaspora, Gaon was asked,
make the better decision?
Israel always was the
dream of most Sephardim, he
replied, but many, including
him in 1949, chose other
locales. Israel confiscated
their fortunes at the border,
he explained, leaving them
impoverished, and then left
them to languish in develop-
ment toens. That was all he
would y,

Jewish T,Araphic Agency

Israt-a-Greek
Grotcl Formed

Athe .3 (JTA) — Israel and
Greece have established a
joint Cl-f-ymber of Commerce,
Moshe Gilboa, Israel's
diplomatic representative
here, announced last week.
Gilboa made the announce-
ment at a special gathering of
.50 Greek business leaders.
Among hose attending was
the president of the Greek
tourist organization.

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