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Standing in their new sanctuary are Keter Torah Synagogue members Avie Benaderet, Susan Benaderet, Kim Ben-Ezra, Isaac Ben-Ezra, Rabbi Michael Cohen, Jacob
David, Devora Cohen, Pam David, Mary David and Sam Papo.
tion 60 percent Sephardic until an influx of Russian
immigrants in the mid- to late-1980s; other
Sephardim came to the United States.
"My family was one of the last Jewish families to
leave Cairo — a once-thriving Jewish community —
because of oppression and persecution," says Daniel
Aghion, a 21-year-old University of Michigan stu-
dent from Boston. "Their land and belongings were
taken away during the 1967 and 1973 wars. Simply
because they were Jewish, they were thrown out of
the country — allowed to take only one bag each.
"My dad's dad worked in the government as a
lawyer. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
brought my dad to Boston and he went to MIT to
study engineering," Aghion says.
Traditions And Customs
Among Sephardic Jews, distinctions in traditions
and customs passed down through the generations
may be specific to the various countries from which
According to Rabbi Cohen, "The main thing that
makes us Sephardic is our halachic [Jewish law]
observance. The rest is peripheral."
In their religious observance, he says Sephardim
follow the opinions of Rav Yosef (Joseph) Karo, who
agreed with the views of the Spanish scholar
Maimonides. By contrast, Ashkenazi Jews follow the
writings of Rabbi Moses Isserles of Krakow, who was
guided by the House of Rashi.
The differences in their opinions exist in seemingly
small variations in acts and beliefs. Sephardic men sit
while putting on tefillin, while Ashkenazim stand;
the string that wraps the fringes of a tallit are config-
ured differently and some different kashrut (kosher)
laws apply, such as those involving the smoothness of
the lungs of an animal slaughtered for food.
In a Sephardic synagogue or home, the mezuzah
hangs straight up and down, rather than at an angle.
"The traditions follow a discussion in the Gemarah
on whether it should be hung vertically or horizon-
tally," Rabbi Cohen says: "The Ashkenazim compro-
mised and hang it on an angle, while the Sephardim
decided just to hang it straight up and down."
A major distinction between Ashkenazic and
Sephardic culture is in the pronunciation of some
Hebrew words. There are differences in a few vowels
sounds and most noticeably the substitution of the
"t" sound for the "s" — as in "bat mitzvah" rather
than "bas mitzvah" — which once was the typical
Ashkenazic pronunciation. However, most
Ashkenazim have adopted the Sephardic pronuncia-
tion because of its use in Israel.
In some towns, but not in Detroit, these tradi-
tions have warranted the founding and support of
"There is a lack of Sephardic rabbis and cantors,"
says Jacob David of Farmington Hills, an active
Keter Torah member. "In the schools, students can
learn the nusach (order and wording of prayers) and
they can learn from Sephardic scholars."
The international language of Sephardic Jews is
Ladino, created from Spanish and Hebrew, while the
traditional language of the Ashkenazim is Yiddish; a
"Music may be Spanish or Arabic or Greek —
depending on where the person is from," Belinfante
says. "So can dress." Sephardic groups from different
countries have their own traditional foods.
"We may eat lamb, spinach pie and baklava," says
the Greek-born David. Moroccan Jews may eat
couscous and Spanish Jews choose chicken paella or
rice instead of potatoes.
Perhaps the most distinctive food difference can
be seen on Passover, when many Sephardim eat food
that Ashkenazim do not. These include rice, corn,
string beans, peas and a variety of dried beans, such
as lentils, split peas, soybeans and chick peas.
A custom common to many Sephardic Jews deals
with the naming of children. While Ashkenazic Jews
may name their babies in memory of deceased rela-
tives, that is not typically the case for Sephardim.
"We name for the living," Aghion says.
"Therefore, my older brother, Joey, is named for my
dad's dad, Joseph. My name and my brother's mid-
dle names are all Maurice, my dad's name. [Aghion
uses his middle name of Daniel.] Following this
[custom], my brother's first son would be named
Maurice — my dad's name — and his middle name
would be Joseph."
While many Ashkenazic Jews had new surnames
given to them at Ellis Island in New York Harbor
upon arrival in the United States, Detroit's Sephardic
families have carried last names like Chicorel and
Behar, Aboulafia and Ben-Ezra for centuries.
"Perhaps because their names have stayed the same
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