Detroit Jews celebrate their distinct culture.
SHELLI LIEBMAN DORFMAN
— with their own Sephardic spirit. Sephardic pride
seems to be a new thing, but it's not. Perhaps we're
just at a place right now that allows us to exercise
our pride," Belinfante says.
heir ancestry often shows distinctly in their
faces — and they may have roots that can
be traced back to the Spanish Inquisition.
Who Are The Sephardim?
Today, close to 2,000 Jews who descend
from Spanish, Mediterranean, Eastern and North
Although many American Sephardic Jews trace their
African countries call Detroit their home.
ancestry to Spain, others come from other
Staff photo by Krista Husa
Detroit-area Sephardim not only are perpet-
areas, including those in the Mediterranean,
uating the long-ago customs and traditions of
if) Middle East, East and North Africa.
their ancestors, but they are doing it with cen-
"There was a time when Sephardic Jews
turies of pride — always present -- and now
made up 90 percent of world Jewry," says
Last August, they dedicated Keter Torah
While today most American Jews are
Synagogue on the northwest corner of Walnut
Ashkenazic — Jews descending from areas
Lake and Orchard Lake roads in West
that include Eastern Europe, Russia and
Bloomfield, the first Sephardic synagogue in
Germany — at one point, all Jews in this
Michigan. With 50 member families and its
country were Sephardic Jews.
first rabbi, the congregation joins the swelling
"Sephardim were the first Jews here," says
ranks of more than 100 in this country and
Belinfante, who explains that the first American
Jewish community arrived by accident.
"The building of a synagogue is definitely a
"A shipload of Jews traveling from South
dream realized for our Sephardic community,"
America was on its way to Holland in 1654
says Rabbi Michael Cohen of Keter Torah.
— since Holland was a country that was most
Rabbi Michael Cohen talks to the crowd at Keter Torah on Sept. 5
"Jumping on the bandwagon of a resurgence
lenient to Jews — when they were captured
before Torah scrolls were brought inside the new synagogue.
in religious awareness across the board over the
by pirates and brought to New York," he says:
last 20 years in the United States, are the
These Jews founded Congregation Shearith
Sephardim, in full force."
body for all Sephardic communities worldwide.
Israel, which was the first synagogue in North
The Sephardic revitalization is worldwide. In
"Eighty years ago," he says, "there were Sephardic America. Belinfante is a member of the still-active
New York, a Sephardic theater group, the Ladino
communities in the United States that barely kept
Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in New York City.
Players, have re-emerged. The Seventh International
their synagogues going because [people] had to
Other Sephardic Jews came to America from Arab
Sephardic Festival began Dec. 10, with a week of
work so hard`to make a living.
lands. After Israel was formed in 1948, 700,000
films celebrating Sephardic life and culture around
"If you look at communities in the next five
Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries.
the world. Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel Eliyahu
years, many more will be identifying as Sephardim
Many went to Israel, making the country's popula-
Bakshi Doron will participate. And beginning
Saturday, an Israeli program, "Sephardic Women
Speak Out," will feature films inspired by and
linked to Jewish Sephardic heritage.
"There is a real trend toward revitalization," says
Randall Belinfante, librarian-archivist at the New York-
based American Sephardi Federation. It is the umbrella
organization serving as a coordinating and resource