SEPHARDIC PRIDE from page 63
through generations, many Sephardic Jews can trace
their roots farther back than Ashkenazic Jews," says
Belinfante. He can document his family back to
1492, when Jews were expelled from Spain.
"Also, Ashkenazic Jews didn't start looking into
genealogy in full force until the last 100 years, while
Sephardic Jews have typically kept more complete
records," he says.
Some Sephardim can trace farther back than oth
ers. "We can go back six generations on my dad's
side," Aghion says of his mostly Egyptian ancestors.
Rabbi Cohen can trace his roots from his London
birthplace to Calcutta, India, where both his parents
grew up, to his grandparents in Iraq, then back to
"We have records that my family joined an entire
community that moved en masse from Iraq to
Calcutta," he says.
The Orthodox service is held for the congregation
of men and women who sit separately, and is fol-
lowed by a Kiddush. Rabbi Jacobovitz says he enjoys
being able to donate the room for the service.
"I fell in love with the Sephardic davening (pray-
ing)," he says. 'As a child, I used to sit outside a
Sephardic synagogue in Jerusalem and listen to the
very beautiful chanting.
"I love the purity and faith in HaShem (God) and
the tremendous respect for the Torah and the rabbis
of the Sephardic tradition," says Rabbi Jacobovitz,
who plans to teach a class at Keter Torah.
While Ashkenazic Jews are subdivided into streams
based on religious observance, including
Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform,
Renewal, Secular Humanistic and Traditional,
Sephardic Jews do not differentiate themselves.
"Through time, we have stayed basically the
same," says Rabbi Cohen, adding that "we have
taken on the minhagim (customs) of Syria, Turkey,
Torah but concerned that the service may seem
unfamiliar, Rabbi Cohen says, "The structure of the
siddur is not unlike the Ashkenazi Orthodox siddur,
with a very few additions. The main thing one may
find different is our melodies, but anyone can follow
along in our service."
One unexpected sight in a Sephardic synagogue may
be that of young boys wearing tallitot (prayer shawls).
For Ashkenazic Jews, the tradition may be
reserved for married men; in Sephardic synagogues,
often boys and unmarried men wear a tallit. In
Aghion's synagogue in Boston, frequented mostly by
Egyptian and Iranian Jews, the tradition is for boys
to begin wearing a tallit at age 9.
Who's At Keter Torah?
"You can hear lots and lots of French in our shul,"
says Jacob David.
"You can also hear Hebrew, Farzi and Arabic. We've
Where To Pray
been a haven for those whose culture is different to be
Attending Shabbat services at Keter Torah
able to come and feel comfortable," he says.
Synagogue could give one the feeling of being in a
With the inclusion in recent years of members of
place long ago and far away.
non-Spanish backgrounds, the nature of the
Modeled after a synagogue in Nice, France,
synagogue has changed and new customs --
the synagogue's Old World ambience includes.
many from Israeli and Iraqi members —
ark doors of inlaid wood, mahogany pillars and
have been incorporated.
glowing, golden chandeliers.
"Members who want to retain some of the
Traditional Sephardic melodies are sung with
Spanish that was once prominent have plans
Hebrew words accented by congreg-ants origi-
to record old prayers in Spanish and others
nating from countries including Algeria, France,
will' learn them to include in the service,"
Egypt, Persia, Syria and Holland. There are also
Ashkenazic Jews among the members.
The congregation recently was joined by an
With the influx of Ashkenazic Jews to
unexpected group of worshippers. A few
America in the mid-1800s, Belinfante says,
weeks after the opening of Keter Torah, Rabbi
"many married Sephardic Jews and joined the
Leonardo Bitran of Congregation Shaarey
only synagogues there were — Sephardic ones."
Zedek B'nai Israel, at the suggestion of mem-
So, he says, many Americans who follow the
ber Rabbi Amy Bolton, brought his congrega-
Sephardic traditions of their spouse, maybe even
tion on Walnut Lake Road to the neighboring
carrying a Sephardic name, are actually Ashkenazim.
Designed by Michael Wolk and Associates of
"During the last hakafah (circuit with the
Birmingham, the synagogue was built by long-
Torah) on Simchat Torah, we walked over
time members Avie Benaderet and Eli Rashty,
with our Torahs," says Rabbi Bitran, who is
both of West Bloomfield.
Meir Banooni and Eli Shalom, both of West Bloomfield, carry a
from Chile and Sephardic. "They didn't
"Eli, who is a past president of the synagogue,
Torah into the new Keter Torah Synagogue on Sept 5.
know we were coming. We carried our
oversaw the construction and was there every
Torahs. The men went to the men's section
day of the building process," Rabbi Cohen says.
and the women to women's section, and we
The rabbi sees the construction of Keter Torah as
Spain, Gibraltar and more, but under the umbrella
all celebrated Simchat Torah together."
a byproduct of the Sephardic pride felt by the con-
gregation's leaders, specifically current president
"One significant difference in the Sephardic serv-
Isaac Ben-Ezra of West Bloomfield, Rashty, David,
Amazing Sifrei Torah
ice," says Belinfante, "is that in the Ashkenazi syna-
Benadaret and Eli Shalom of West Bloomfield.
gogue the Torah is raised after it is read. But we have While the outward appearance of the Sifrei Torah at
"They took the dream of a Sephardic community
the tradition of showing the Torah before it is read.
Keter Torah look very different from those seen in
— with its catalyst Shirley Behar — and pushed it
In Syrian synagogues, the Torah is taken out of the
an Ashkenazic synagogue, "inside the text is exactly
on," Rabbi Cohen says.
ark and carried around one side of the room —
the same," says Machon Rabbi Jacobovitz, whose
In addition to the services at Keter Torah, a Sephardic
opened — for everyone to see. Then it is read and
Ashkenazic father was rabbi of a Sephardic syna-
minyan held for the last two years at Machon L'Torah in
carried again on the other side of the synagogue."
gogue in Tel Aviv.
Oak Park continues to convene.
When the Torah is carried, it remains in its casing.
The casings of Keter Torah's Sifrei Torah are so
"One of my students, Jeff Mifsud [of Oak Park]
"While the Ashkenazic synagogue is usually
unlike the velvet-covered Sifrei Torah of an
came to me and asked if he could hold a service,"
arranged with the bimah in the front, in a Sephardic Ashkenazic synagogue that they look more like for-
says Rabbi Jacobovitz of Machon. "So once a
shul it is typically in the center or toward the back,"
eign works of art than casings for Torah scrolls.
month, in the winter and every Shabbat in the sum-
"Some Sephardic Torahs have a silver outside coat-
mer, members of the Sephardic community who live
Men and women are separated for the Orthodox
ing or hard covers, quite often of wood or carpet
near our Oak Park shul hold services."
service in Keter Torah's 168-seat synagogue. Women
surface on metal," Belinfante says.
Machon gave them a Sefer Torah, albeit an
sit in the balcony or are separated by a mechitzah on
"Middle Eastern Sifrei Torah use a `tik' holder," he
Ashkenazic one, to use, and the 20-25 regular congre-
the main level of the sanctuary.
says of the Hebrew word for "case."
gants bring their own Sephardic siddurim (prayer books).
For Ashkenazic Jews considering a visit to Keter
"The Torahs are unrolled and read in a standing