Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation

90th Anniversary – History by Decades

  • The Second Decade
    Arrival of Rabbi Abraham Maimon
    Establishment of Ladies Auxiliary
    Religious Staff
    Efforts Towards Amalgamation
    Sephardic Theater
    Sephardic Education
    Building the New Sanctuary
  • The Third Decade
    The First American-Born Generation Grows Up
    Creation of the Sephardic Brotherhood
    Amalgamation Again 1938-1941
    Religious Staff
    Impact of World War II
    SBH Members Who Served in the US Armed Forces
  • The Fourth Decade
    Rabbi Solomon Maimon Becomes the Rabbi of SBH
    Founding of the Seattle Hebrew Day School
    SBH Veterans Return, Attend the U. of Washington
    New Arrivals from Salonika
    Arrival of Rev. Samuel Benaroya as Hazzan
  • The Fifth Decade
    Rabbi Maimon Starts Sephardic Bikur Holim Camp
    Community Growth
    Another Opportunity for Amalgamation
    Building the New Synagogue In Seward Park
  • The Sixth Decade
    The New Synagogue at 52nd Avenue South and So. Morgan Street
    The Syrian Connection
    La Boz, Monthly Newsletter
    Photographic Directory
    Participation in American Sephardi Federation
  • The Seventh Decade
    Transition in Synagogue Leadership
    SBH Testimonials
    Changes in Board Operation
    Additions to the Synagogue Structure
    Filming “Song of the Sephardi”
    Modernization of the SBH Administration
  • The Eighth Decade
    Rabbi Simon Benzaquen Becomes the New Rabbi
    New Hazzan and New Gabbai
    Passages – Rabbi Solomon Maimon
    Seattle Kollel and Va’ad HaRabanim
    Establishment of the Endowment Fund
    American Sephardi Federation Convention in Seattle
    SBH Celebrates and Evolves
    Re-establishment of the Sephardic Religious School
  • The Ninth Decade
    Program Innovations and Physical Changes Within SBH
    SBH Publishes Its Own Religious Books
    Eli Varon Helps Out – Everywhere
    SBH Recognizes Its Leaders and Volunteers
    SBH Role in Seattle Jewry’s Special Year
    SBH Members Assume Leadership Roles in Jewish Education
    Outstanding SBH Athletes
    Conclusion and To the Future

 

The 90th Anniversary video is available on VHS or DVD. If you are interested in ordering the wonderful video that was viewed during the 90th Anniversary Dinner place your order with the SBH office. The cost is $18 for the VHS tape or, $26 for the DVD. Shipping is $3.00.

Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2004. From 13th and Washington in 1914 to 52nd and Morgan in 1965. SBH has grown and prospered to become one of the premier orthodox Sephardic congregations in the country. The seeds sown in the early 1900s by Solomon Calvo, Jacob Policar, and others, have flourished indeed. Whether one’s personal roots are Turkey, Rhodes, Greece, Israel, Morocco, or anywhere else, the walls of SBH bind us together with the customs, melodies, language and foods that our ancestors enjoyed and brought with them from the “old country”.

To mark this milestone anniversary many programs and activities were prepared. A Gala 90th Anniversary Dinner, was held on Sunday, November 21, at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel.

Below is the decade by decade, re-living of how SBH was affected by, and, in turn, influenced, the early years, the Great Depression, World War II, and into modern times. Through the words of Isaac Maimon, Albert Adatto, Eugene Normand, and other community historians, we will relate the SBH story.

This 90th Anniversary milestone also affords us an opportunity to look ahead, to 100 years and beyond. The past is our foundation, and serves as a springboard for the future.

How did our families and members establish and maintain this vibrant synagogue over the last 90 years? By love of Judaism, our Sephardic heritage, and by their dedication and sacrifice. The sacrifice manifested itself by time commitments of the lay and professional leadership and true sacrifice by way of financial commitment. The goal of this year’s dinner is to continue that tradition for the next 90 years. Our goal is to raise $500,000, almost all of which will be for endowment purposes. This means that the monies raised will be added to our current endowment fund balance which will then total nearly one million dollars. A contribution will be permanent, and the principal will never be touched. The proceeds of it will be used to assist the Synagogue into the future and to establish supplemental programs.  There are various fund opportunities that allow our members to contribute to those causes within the Synagogue that most matter to them. These fall into five categories: Membership, Youth, Capital, Religious, and Cultural.

Membership: For the first time, the Synagogue is considering lifetime memberships for individuals or married couples. Details are being finalized, whereby a donation of a lump sum (yet to be determined) to the Endowment Fund will relieve the couple from any further membership obligations during their lifetimes. The earnings from this fund will be used for general fund purposes much in the same way that membership dues do today.

Youth: Donations to this fund will benefit Sephardic Camp, youth programs during the year and part of the budget for a youth director.

Capital: The Endowment Building Fund will be utilized to maintain our beautiful premises, for repairs, and for improvements.

Religious: The earnings from donations to the Religious Endowment Fund will be utilized to maintain and finish development of the Sephardic prayer books for the New Year and Holiday services, for repair and upkeep of our religious articles such as the Torah scrolls, for development and printing of pamphlets for all occasions such as funerals and special events in our calendar.

Cultural: Earnings from funds donated to the Cultural Endowment Fund will be utilized to maintain and upgrade our library which has been sadly neglected of late, for our web site including installation of audio programs that will enable anyone, anywhere, to access all of our rituals, including reading of Torah portions, learning of prayers, the Passover Seder, and other instructional materials. It will also be used to fund the bringing in of top-flight speakers and scholars in residence for adult educational purposes.

This 90th Anniversary dinner is a joint project of the Endowment Fund Committee, the Dinner Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Synagogue. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation about this event and about our goals to establish the Synagogue’s permanent financing to ensure our survival. We have a proud past. Together, let us make it a proud future.

 

The First Ten Years

In 1902 the first two Sephardic Jews, Solomon Calvo and Jacob Policar, arrived in Seattle, having left their homes on the island of Marmara. Later they were joined by Nissim Alhadeff, the first Jews from the Island of Rhodes, and within a few years by Sephardim from Tekirdag (Rodosto) and Constantinople (Istanbul), in addition to others from Marmara and Rhodes. Almost all were young men, and after a few years some went back to their homes in Turkey to marry and bring their new wives to Seattle. Shortly thereafter the first of the American born Sephardim appeared.

By 1910 there were about 40 Sephardic families, more than 100 souls, and growing. For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur up to 1908 religious services had been held by all of the Sephardim together, in a rented hall, with the Ashkenazic rabbi coming over to blow the shofar. In the following years, because of differences in minhagim, the Turkish (Tekirdag and Marmara) and Rhodes groups were determined to conduct their own separate religious services. In 1911, Samuel Morhaime, head of the mutual aid society of the Tekirdag group, decided to purchase a Sefer Torah from Palestine, as the first step towards a synagogue. Two years later, the Tekirdag group took action towards the establishment of a synagogue. The Ashkenazic synagogue, Bikur Cholim, was completing the construction of a new building at 17th and Yesler, so their old synagogue, at 13th and Washington was becoming available. The Tekirdag group called a meeting, and their leaders convinced them to take joint and dramatic action. They raised $800 and agreed to buy the building, along with a section of cemetery, from Bikur Cholim.

The purchase was completed in 1914 with the assistance during the negotiations of an Ashkenazic lawyer, Aubrey Levy, who was a great friend of the Sephardim. The synagogue was established as Bikur Holim, named after the synagogue in Tekirdag, (later it was called Sephardic Bikur Holim, to distinguish it from the Ashkenazic synagogue) and Joseph Caston was elected as its first President. Officially, it was known as the Spanish Hebrew Society and Congregation Bikur Holim. At this time, the Marmara group decided to maintain their own identity.

Religious services at Sephardic Bikur Holim were conducted by Rabbi Shelomo Azose, who had arrived in Seattle 1910 and had served as a haham in both Tekirdag and Marmara previously. He performed essentially all of the religious duties, as hazzan (leading prayers and reading the Torah), rabbi (performing marriages), mohel (performing circumcisions) and shohet (kosher slaughtering of animals). When he passed away in 1919 he was succeeded by his brother, Rabbi Isaac Azose, until 1924.

When the Sephardic Bikur Holim bought its building, it also included a room for a Hebrew school, and classes (primarily reading Hebrew) were taught by the most knowledgeable members. In 1915, wanting to improve the education of their children, all of the Sephardim in the city formed a Sephardic Talmud Torah and they brought out a Mr. Benezra from New York City. He knew Hebrew and English very well, along with Ladino, so that the year that he served as the instructor in Seattle, the education level within the Talmud Torah classes that he taught was at a higher level.

By 1916 the Sephardic community had grown to about 1500 people, which comprised three separate groups, Sephardic Bikur Holim, the Rhodes group which established their own synagogue, Ezra Bessaroth and the Marmara group. In 1917 when America went to war, a number of young men from Sephardic Bikur Holim were conscripted (Nissim Adatto, Jack Babani, Victor Cordova, and Bension Jerusalmi). All of them returned from World War I safely. After the war was over, a number of relatives of the Sephardim living in Seattle, who had suffered through the war in Turkey, made their way to the US to be with their relatives. This influx lead to a sudden increase in the Sephardic population in Seattle, but it was followed by a number of families leaving Seattle for Portland and Los Angeles.

In 1921, Henry Benezra, became the first Sephardic Jew to graduate from the University of Washington and six years later he was elected President of Sephardic Bikur Holim. That same year some Sephardic Bikur Holim members left when the Marmara group announced plans to build their own synagogue, the Ahavath Ahim, which was completed in 1922. In 1921 Rabbi Haim Nahum, former Haham Bashi (Chief Rabbi of Turkey) visited Seattle on behalf of the Alliance Israelite Universalle to raise money. The entire Sephardic community turned out to see and hear Rabbi Nahum who remained in Seattle for three weeks. He raised more money in Seattle than he did in Portland or Los Angeles.

 

The Second Decade

Arrival of Rabbi Abraham Maimon

In 1924 two very significant events occurred within the Sephardic Bikur Holim community: Rabbi Abraham Maimon arrived as the new rabbi and the Ladies Auxiliary was established. Since Rabbi Abraham Maimon had been the rabbi in Tekirdag when many of the members had lived there prior to immigrating to the US, they knew him and greatly respected and admired him. When some of these leaders learned that he might be interested in moving to Seattle, they began contacting him by mail in late 1923, and by mid-1924 the papers and preparations for his appointment as rabbi and his move to the US were completed. This took some time because beginning in 1921 the American Congress passed several laws restricting immigration to the US. Rabbi Maimon and his family (his wife Vida and 6 of his 8 children) arrived in September, 1924, in the evening, a day before the start of Yom Kippur. Due to illness the family had to spend Rosh Hashanah on Ellis Island before proceeding by train to Seattle, where they were warmly greeted by more than 100 members of the community.

Establishment of Ladies Auxiliary

In 1924 the Ladies Auxiliary was founded, becoming one of the three standing committees of the Synagogue Board at that time, while at the same time having its own independent standing with a president and officers. Mrs. Estraya Chiprut served as the first President of the Ladies Auxiliary. The Ladies Auxiliary has remained a vital part of the Synagogue to this day. It has conducted its independent fund-raising events and has generously donated substantial funds to the Synagogue to support specific projects over the years.

Religious Staff

With Rabbi Maimon as the spiritual leader of the Synagogue, by virtue of his strong and engaging personality, he was able to exert a positive influence on the SBH membership. Attendance at the Shabbat services increased and a number of families returned to strict observance of Shabbat and of kashrut due to the influence that he exerted on them on a personal level. Also serving the Synagogue were Joseph Caston as the unofficial Gabbay and Avram Barlia as the Shamash. Joseph Caston called members to the Torah and sold the mitzvoth every Shabbat and Yom Tov; when these duties were later taken over by Behor Chiprut, Mr. Chiprut was officially designated as Gabbay The role of the Shamash was a unique one which Mr. Barlia filled for more than 50 years. He was the man who opened up the Synagogue in the morning and locked it up at night. He knew where all the members lived, so before the widespread availability of telephones, he was the one who kept members informed. He would go house to house, extending invitations for engagements, weddings, etc., to family members and friends. Unfortunately Rabbi Maimon passed away in January 1931, having served the Sephardic Bikur Holim community for only six years, but having had a major impact on his members during this time. Afterwards the religious duties were taken on mainly by Nessim Azose and Bension Maimon, along with Rabbi Isaac Azose. An innovation to the service was added in about 1931 with the introduction of a choir. Samuel Goldfarb, who had arrived in Seattle in 1930 as the music director at Temple de Hirsh, was responsible for training the young men who were recruited for the choir. He arranged all of the music and even wrote new melodies for the liturgical music sung by the choir.

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Efforts Towards Amalgamation

In early 1925, Sephardic Bikur Holim invited representatives of the other two Sephardic synagogues, Ezra Bessaroth and Ahavath Ahim, to participate in a Fruticas celebration, and they gladly attended. This apparently was the first time since the three synagogues were established that a joint religious celebration was held. This was followed by other efforts to combine the three Sephardic synagogues. The Seattle Progressive Fraternity (SPF), a social welfare group that began in 1921 and comprised members from all three synagogues, held several meetings in 1926 devoted to the topic of a united Sephardic community.

In 1927 Henry Benezra became president of SBH with the central purpose of amalgamating the Sephardic synagogues. He and like-minded members convinced the SBH board to approach Ezra Bessaroth on the issue of amalgamation. For more than half a year discussions led by Mr. Benezra and Jack Caston continued with members of Ezra Bessaroth, but at the end the majority of members of Ezra Bessaroth weren’t willing to merge on an equal basis. Nevertheless, the idea of amalgamation within the Sephardic community was a powerful one, and was championed by people both inside and outside of the Sephardic community. It continued to be discussed in meetings of the SPF for the next few years, and numerous letters on this pivotal topic appeared in the pages of the Seattle Transcript, the Jewish newspaper of Seattle. As late as 1932 an editorial in the Seattle Transcript urged amalgamation.

Until 1929 Shabetai Israel had served as the spiritual leader of Ahavath Ahim congregation; however, upon his departure, there was a void in the religious leadership, and no part-time religious functionary could be found. Over the next two years the members held critical meetings to discuss their future. By the end of 1931 the majority of the members of Ahavath Ahim voted to amalgamate with Bikur Holim, a few joined Ezra Bessaroth and a number decided to maintain themselves as an independent synagogue, hiring Rev. Morris Scharhon as their religious leader. With this merger, the Synagogue became Bikur Holim Ahavath Ahim Congregation. However, after a number of years, the name was changed back to Sephardic Bikur Holim for the sake of brevity.

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Sephardic Theater

During the 1920s one of the unique social past times for the members of SBH was attending the amateur Sephardic theater, performances of plays completely in Ladino. Leon Behar, who grew up in Istanbul before coming to Seattle, was the most accomplished producer of Ladino theatrical productions, but not the only one. In Istanbul as a teenager he had participated as an actor, director and playwright of several plays, and he put that talent to good use in Seattle. He produced and directed a number of plays, beginning with Dreyfus in 1922, using talented Sephardim from all three synagogues as his actors. His plays were performed to raise money for the Sephardic synagogues and related organizations. For example, in 1927, under the sponsorship of SBH, he produced the play Love and Religion, and the following year the SBH Ladies Auxiliary sponsored his production of The Massacre of the Jews of Russia. Once the Depression started at the end of 1929, the era of Ladino dramatic productions in Seattle came to an end.

Sephardic Education

During the 1920s formal Jewish education of Sephardic children was undertaken primarily through the Sephardic Talmud Torah which served the needs of Sephardic families from all three synagogues. Educated laymen from the synagogues served as the teachers, but they were not formally trained. As the Depression set in and it became difficult to pay teachers, the situation worsened. When the Sephardic Talmud Torah could no longer afford to pay Rev. Morris Scharhon as a teacher, he opened up his own Talmud Torah (Heder) in his home and attracted a number of students.

At the same time Seattle Sephardic leaders began searching for a Sephardic educator and intellectual to lead and invigorate their Sephardic Talmud Torah. Albert Levy was one of the potential candidates that they turned to, since he was known to many as the editor of the Ladino newspaper LaVara. He was well educated and had taught in a Sephardic school in New York. In the summer of 1931, Albert Levy, often known as the Professor, his wife and three children moved from New York to Seattle to serve as Principal of the Sephardic Talmud Torah.

Levy utilized his skills to improve the teaching within the Talmud Torah, to promote the school, to bring education to the parents of the students, and to work with the Jewish community at large in Seattle. Thus, within a few months of his arrival in Seattle, he had inspired the ladies auxiliary organizations of the three Sephardic synagogues to organize an Educational Committee. The Committee sponsored a series of bi-weekly lectures on Jewish history, held on Saturday afternoons in one of the synagogues, for the benefit of all Sephardic women. He got to know the other Jewish leaders in the city of Seattle, and impressed them with his intellect and his desire to improve the education in the Sephardic Talmud Torah. The Transcript Took note, writing an editorial entitled “Give Room for Sephardic Talmud Torah” which caused a lot of controversy but also indicated that the school was being recognized. Levy increased the enrollment in the Sephardic Talmud Torah, which reached close to 90 students at its peak. Unfortunately, the financial situation of the school deteriorated, and Levy was forced to leave the Sephardic Talmud Torah in 1934, returning to New York.

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Building the New Sanctuary

By 1928 it became obvious that the synagogue building at 13th Avenue and Washington was not large enough for the expanding number of people within the SBH families. The leaders at the time, including Henry Benezra, Albert Benezra, Joseph Caston, John Calderon, Joseph Cordova (who served as the Synagogue’s treasurer for close to 50 years) and Nessim Azose, recognized the importance of this issue and authorized a strong Building Committee to handle all aspects of buying a new building and selling the old one. Many members had moved further east than 13th Avenue and so when they found property at 20th Avenue and East Fir Street, it was ideally located and they bought it. From the fall of 1928 until late into 1929 after the sanctuary had been completed, the Building Committee met virtually every week, usually on Monday nights, to handle all of the matters associated with the new building. The main issue was money, and the Committee used Sunday mornings to go around to the homes of the members to collect their contributions, essentially all in small cash donations since the average wage of the time was $15 per week. They were tireless in their efforts and the success of the project really depended on the determination of this Committee. At a few meetings Rabbi Maimon was present and he expressed words of encouragement to the Committee.

Several different architects were consulted, each presenting sketches to show the Committee members what the sanctuary might look like. In early 1929 Mr. Brast was finally chosen as the architect for the job. On January 1, 1929 the Committee met in the vacant lot on the site of the future sanctuary. Other synagogue members were invited too, along with members of the Ladies Auxiliary who gave their endorsement to the project and specifically asked to have a plate in their honor placed at the top of the Hechal Hakodesh (ark). The Committee was continually trying to find ways of keeping the costs down and at the same time raising money from the members and others who might be counted upon to contribute. Mr. Brast assured them that the entire project would cost in the range of $20,000 – 25,000, even though the Committee felt that they could only raise $10,000. Nevertheless, changes had to be made to the design because the Committee wanted the sanctuary to be a building that the entire membership would be proud of.

The Committee persevered and the new building was finished in September 1929, in time to be used for Rosh Hashana services. The official inauguration ceremony took place on Sunday, September 29, and many people outside of the SBH membership were invited to attend. A number of reports on the progress of the new sanctuary had been appearing in the newspapers, both in the Seattle Jewish Transcript and the national Ladino newspaper LaVara, since Sam Naon, a member of SBH, was the LaVara correspondent in Seattle. The old building was sold for about $3000, a small fraction of the cost of the new sanctuary. This new sanctuary was to serve the synagogue well for the next 35 years.

By Dr. Eugene Normand

Sources:

a) Albert Adatto, “Sephardim and the Seattle Sephardic Community”, MS Thesis, U. of Washington, 1939
b) Isaac Maimon, “The History of Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, 1914-1989”, 1989
c) Joy Maimon, “Unity and Divisions Among the Early Seattle Sephardic Community” Senior Paper, U. of Washington
d) Marc Angel, “The Sephardic Theater of Seattle Jewry,” Western States Jewish History, October, 1996, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, p. 553
e) Isaac Maimon, English Translation of the Minutes of the Bikur Holim Building Committee, 1928-1930

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The Third Decade

The First American-Born Generation Grows Up

The first American-born generation grew up in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the members of SBH, and Ezra Bessaroth too, lived within the small area, bounded by Jackson Street on the south, Cherry Street on the north and between 14th and 26th Avenues. These American born Sephardim attended grade school (the Washington School, Rainier School, Leschi School or Horace Mann) junior high school (Washington School) and high school (Garfield HS), all within the same area. During the 1930s very few SBH members went on to the University of Washington (UW). After World War II the number attending the UW increased dramatically.

In 1935, the unique Sephardic culture possessed by some of the older members of the SBH community received recognition by a UW professor in the Anthropology Department, Dr. Mel Jacobs. Emma Adatto, a member of SBH along with her parents Anna and Nessim Adatto, was a student in the UW Anthropology Dept. writing a MS thesis on Sephardic folklore. She sought to add an extra dimension to her thesis by including with it recordings of some of the old Sephardic songs, Ladino romanzas and Turkish songs. Thus a group of about 10 Sephardic women, most from SBH, was driven to the UW to record a series of Sephardic songs, and the best technology available at that time for recording music was the old-style large metal cylinders. In 1981, through the intervention of a latter-day Jewish music expert, these recordings were transferred to audiocassettes.

In 1935, too, the Jewish world celebrated the 800th anniversary of the birth of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, known as the RAMBAM, the greatest Jewish thinker in the last 2000 years. Thus the Sephardic community received special attention from Ashkenazic institutions. In addition, because the family of Rabbi Abraham Maimon had the tradition of being descended from the RAMBAM, one of the members of the family was featured in a Seattle Jewish Transcript article about this local connection.

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Creation of the Sephardic Brotherhood

By the early 1930s there were three separate Sephardic social organizations, the Seattle Progressive Fraternity (SPF), the Ahavath Shalom and the Shalom Alehem, each serving a different need. The SPF was the Sephardic community’s cultural organization; it organized meetings and educational lectures on current events (held at the Settlement House on 18th between Washington and Jackson), and encouraged those from the “old country” to become naturalized American citizens. The Ahavath Shalom was an Ezra Bessaroth organization that served the community’s burial needs. They were also called the “Havurah de Huevos” (society of the eggs) because each member (membership was 10¢ per week) received a hard boiled egg every Shabbat. Ahavath Shalom bought the old cemetery at Washelli Memorial Park from Bikur Cholim Congregation in 1927 and later bought 2/3 of the cemetery from the Machzikay Hadath Congregation, which now constitutes the new Sephardic cemetery at 167th Street near Aurora Ave.

The Shalom Alehem organization originally started out as a society for caring for the sick. Afterwards, they added the services of a doctor so that Shalom Alehem served as the Sephardic community’s health care plan. Dr. Jerome Jacobs was the physician (he volunteered his services as a way of increasing his practice), and for annual dues of $12, medical services were provided to an entire family. Shalom Alehem had an official monthly newsletter called the Progress, edited by Jacob D. Almeleh, which was the only periodical in Seattle to have been published for all of the Sephardim in the city. It began publication in September, 1934, printing 400 copies that were distributed free of charge, and about a year later, it issued its last, which was number 13.

In early 1935 the three social organizations merged into the Seattle Sephardic Brotherhood, which became the largest Sephardic organization in Seattle, and still plays an important role today. Unity had been a theme of each of these organizations, especially in some of Jacob Almeleh’s editorials in the Progress. The presidents of the merged groups, Jacob DeLeon of the Ahavath Shalom, Gordon DeLeon of the Shalom Alehem and John Calderon of the Shalom Alehem Society, each were very active in the leadership of the Brotherhood, and it was Gordon DeLeon who became the Brotherhood’s first president. When the last few issues of the newsletter Progress were printed, it was as the organ of the Seattle Sephardic Brotherhood.

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Amalgamation Again 1938-1941

John Calderon, who was a strong advocate for a united Sephardic community, was serving as the President of the Brotherhood in 1937. The following year he called a meeting of representatives of the three synagogues to discuss amalgamation once again. It is reported that the only people who were fully enthusiastic in their support were some of the representatives of SBH, Mr. Calderon, Jack Caston and Sam Baruch. The representatives of Ezra Bessaroth were lukewarm; they didn’t speak against it, but rather offered to consider it. One of the Ahavath Ahim representatives took the position that if the two larger organizations, SBH and Ezra Bessaroth join together, they would follow.

However, even though this initial second attempt did not get too far, it laid the groundwork for intervention from outside a short time later. In 1938 Rabbi David de Sola Pool, the leading Sephardic rabbi in the United States and rabbi of Shearith Israel in New York City, contacted the two Sephardic synagogues about a rabbi who was available in Europe to lead a congregation. This was Rabbi Isidore Kahan, who was the rabbi of a synagogue in Rome, but previously had been a Rosh Yeshiva in the yeshiva in Rhodes. Based on the encouragement of Rabbi de Sola Pool, the two synagogues, SBH and Ezra Bessaroth agreed to jointly sponsor Rabbi Kahan, bringing him to Seattle to serve as the rabbi of both synagogues.

Rabbi Kahan arrived in Seattle in March 1939 with his wife and two daughters. The initial arrangement was for the rabbi to speak one Shabbat in one synagogue, with the other one closed, and alternate the next Shabbat in terms of which synagogue hosted the two congregations and which was closed. On Yom Kippur, he spent part of the day in one synagogue, and part in the other, so he could deliver his sermon to both congregations.

After a number of months, this arrangement, which required a careful balancing, began to be a source of discontent. There may have been a Shabbat when one synagogue was opened which was supposed to have been closed. In addition, when he first arrived, Rabbi Kahan was not fluent in either of the two languages that were needed in the two synagogues, English and Ladino. He spoke other languages, Italian, German, Hebrew and Hungarian, and with time he learned English too. Because he had been a teacher at the yeshiva in Rhodes it was assumed that he spoke Ladino, but after WWI, Rhodes had been taken over by Italy, so Italian had become the official language on the island. Based on all of these factors, by 1941, the members of SBH felt that the arrangement wasn’t working out, so they paid off Rabbi Kahan’s five-year contract, and he remained with Cong. Ezra Bessaroth for many years thereafter.

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Religious Staff

During the early part of this decade the religious staff consisted primarily of Nessim Azose and Sam Bension Maimon as Hazzanim, Behor Chiprut as Gabbai and Avram Barlia as Shamash. By 1940 the Ahavath Ahim synagogue closed down, continuing to function only as a social club, and their Hazzan, Rev. Morris Scharhon was hired to be the official SBH Hazzan Prof. Albert Levy, who had led the Sephardic Talmud Torah until 1934 when he left for New York, returned to Seattle in 1937 to improve the health of his daughter. He was hired by SBH as the director of the SBH Talmud Torah, and he brought his energy and enthusiasm to this job. The number of students increased significantly, reaching as many as 40 within a few months. In addition, he organized classes and lectures for the parents of his students, and also assisted with other functions of the synagogue.

Impact of World War II

With the declaration of war by President Roosevelt on December 7, 1941 the United States entered the Second World War, fighting against Japan in the Pacific and Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in Europe. This required an enormous mobilization of manpower, and men from 18 to their early 30s were called up, drafted into the military. In addition, many enlisted on their own. This affected every organization in the country and Sephardic Bikur Holim was no exception. SBH men, and women too, in the right age bracket were called up or signed up on their own. After a few months the synagogue looked different. In the sanctuary older men could be seen, and young boys too, but by and large the young men were gone. They were in the Army, the Navy, the Marines and the Coast Guard; they were all serving their country. By the end of the war more than 100 SBH members had put on the uniform of their country (For more information).

Not to be outdone, the women participated too. Two of the younger women enlisted and one became an officer. In addition, some of the older women with families formed the Do Our Bit unit to help the war effort. Since they had “bendichas manos” (trained hands, in this case with respect to knitting), one of their tasks was to knit socks and caps for the servicemen. In addition, they performed other duties such as cutting gun wipes, sending cookies to the USO and donating gifts for wounded service men. They produced so much material that the Red Cross in Seattle recognized them as a separate unit for their significant contributions. Regina Maimon was the Do Our Bit chairwoman.

Further, many of the older men of SBH served in other capacities as part of the Civil Defense Administration. During World War II the city was divided into sectors and each one had a warden-in-charge, assisted by deputy wardens (men and women) on every block of each street. In addition there was another division of volunteers who served as plane spotters, who were to locate, identify and report any and all aircraft approaching the area. The duties of the wardens and their deputies were to clear the streets of people and traffic, direct civilians to designated shelters, oversee the darkening of all lights during night “raids” and be observant for saboteurs. The SBH members who served as wardens and deputy wardens trained diligently for their duties.

By Dr. Eugene Normand

Sources:

a) Albert Adatto, “Sephardim and the Seattle Sephardic Community”, MS Thesis, U. of Washington, 1939
b) Isaac Maimon, “The History of Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, 1914-1989”, 1989
c) Joy Maimon, “Unity and Divisions Among the Early Seattle Sephardic Community” Senior Paper, U. of Washington
d) d) “The 1935 Recordings,” in The Beauty of Sephardic Life, Sam Bension Maimon, Maimon Ideas Publications, 1992
e) “How the Brotherhood Started,” G. DeLeon, Seattle Sephardic Brotherhood Progress Report, No. 2 March, 1988

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The Fourth Decade

Rabbi Solomon Maimon Becomes the Rabbi of SBH

Rabbi Solomon Maimon returned home to Seattle in 1944 after eight years of study at Yeshiva University (YU) in New York, having earned his bachelor’s degree and then his semiha, (rabbinic ordination). He was invited to speak from the pulpit at SBH and dazzled the congregants. A committee immediately agreed to offer him the job as rabbi and negotiated a contract with him, and a general membership meeting fully endorsed his hiring. He was the first full-time rabbi that the congregation had for almost 15 years, since the untimely passing of his father, Rabbi Abraham Maimon. Rabbi Solomon Maimon brought enthusiasm, an understanding of his congregants and the knowledge of what was needed to make his synagogue flourish based on his experience in New York City.

He was the first Sephardi to receive semiha at YU and in the country. Rabbi Maimon spoke perfect English and was fluent in Ladino as well as Hebrew and Yiddish, which he had to learn at YU in order to be able to study Talmud. He remained the rabbi of SBH for 40 years. Early in his career SBH issued its first newsletter, the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation Bulletin. It served many purposes, including a way for the SBH members in the military, who were spread around the world, to keep up with the happenings at home, since all servicemen were mailed a copy.

He was a trend setter and an innovator, introducing new ideas as necessary to keep his kahal, his congregation, firmly rooted in their Sephardic tradition and yet taking advantage of the opportunities that the modern, post WWII American society had to offer. After him more than 30 SBH members followed in his footsteps, going to New York to further their Jewish education by attending YU, either its Yeshiva College (for men) or Stern College (for women).

Some furthered their Jewish education by leaving Seattle to attend more traditional Jewish institutions of higher learning, yeshivot for boys or girls’ seminaries. Rabbi Maimon made sure that all religious ceremonies in SBH that required official municipal sanction, such as marriage certificates, were properly filed with the authorities. He assisted his congregants with the federal government too. Those who wanted to register themselves or their parents for Social Security needed a document attesting to their date of birth; without it, a person couldn’t be registered. For those born in Turkey this wasn’t so easy, the only official record often being a notation in the family tefila book or chumash (Bible) of when each child was born. Rabbi Maimon translated the notations in these books (Hebrew dates) into American dates and then wrote official letters to the Social Security office with the birth dates of his members.

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Founding of the Seattle Hebrew Day School

A few years later Rabbi Maimon went back to New York to study to be a mohel (one who performs the ritual circumcision). When he returned he became the official mohel of the city, performing his first circumcision in 1947 and hundreds more followed. That was the same year that he joined with Rabbi S. P. Wohlgelernter and a few Ashkenazic lay leaders to form the Seattle Hebrew Day School. Jewish education for the children of SBH members was on the decline. Rabbi Maimon first convinced the SBH parents to take their children out of the Sephardic schools and attend the Seattle Talmud Torah afternoon school, located at 25th and Columbia Street, because it had trained teachers.

However, he knew that was not enough and the only real answer was to create an all-day Jewish school, part of the national Day School movement. With the help of Rabbi Wohlgelernter, a few lay leaders, the religious staff of Rabbi and Mrs. Porush and the secular teachers, it succeeded. However, it wasn’t easy, there was strong opposition, those in the wider community who called it a separationist movement, yet after a few years these same people sent their own children to the school. The school persevered and it succeeded; by the middle of the second year half of the ten students were from SBH (Alan Benoliel, Al. S. Maimon, Michael Azose, Janet Maimon and Esther Lee Scharhon). Since that time, all of the young men who have participated in conducting services in SBH at one time have been students of the Day School (now called the Seattle Hebrew Academy).

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SBH Veterans Return, Attend the U. of Washington

Last month we saw that during the third decade of SBH more than a hundred SBH members had served in the US armed forces during World War II. From 1945-47 these veterans returned home to resume their lives. Rabbi Maimon was kept busy performing weddings and many veterans were traveling north to attend the University of Washington (UW). One of the benefits that they received was the GI Bill of Rights that President Roosevelt had signed into law in June, 1944. The key benefit was for education and training. All veterans with at least 90 days of service were entitled to one year of full-time training plus a period equal to their time in service. The Veterans Administration (VA) paid educational institutions up to a maximum of $500 a year for tuition, books and other costs, and also paid single veterans an allowance of $50 a month. In the peak year of 1947, veterans accounted for half of the college enrollment nationwide. This afforded the SBH veterans the opportunity to attend the UW, something never envisioned by their parents.

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New Arrivals from Salonika

In 1952 the synagogue celebrated the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the two Sephardic pioneers to Seattle, Solomon Calvo and Jacob Policar. At about that same time, SBH warmly welcomed to Seattle the arrival of six new families with a drastically different kind of history. They were Holocaust survivors, having gone through horrific experiences in Europe, but who shared with SBH members a common Turkish Sephardic background. They all came from Salonika or towns nearby, and they survived the concentration camps, although almost all of their families had been murdered by the Nazis. They were looking to resume their lives and fit them into a normal routine.

Seattle provided them a good opportunity for this, while SBH members made the people feel welcome and wanted, and reminded them of their Sephardic heritage. These families included: Mr. and Mrs. Jack Almo and son, Mr. and Mrs. Salvatore Altchech, Mr. Victor Ezraty, Mr. and Mrs. Charlo Hanoch Mr. and Mrs. Leon Matalon, and Mr. and Mrs. Izaak Schaloum and son. The adults all spoke Greek as their everyday language, since Salonika had been incorporated into Greece after World War I, but they all spoke Ladino in the home, the daily language of the Sephardim of Salonika. A few brought children who had been born in the refugee camps of Europe, but over the next decade most would have other children, American-born, who would grow up in Seattle far removed from their ancestral home of Salonika. It worked out well for the families and for SBH, the families gaining friends and renewing their lives, and the synagogue gaining new members who actively participated in its programs. In private the parents passed on a legacy of horror and survival to their children, and in public, they will remember their murdered family members on special occasions such as Yom Kippur, meldados and Yom Hashoa.

SBH Members Called Up During Korean War In late June of 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea and began the Korean War. Within a few days American forces were involved, and within a few weeks there was a call-up of young Americans into the armed forces. More than a dozen men from SBH were called up and served in the military in the Korean War.

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Arrival of Rev. Samuel Benaroya as Hazzan

Rev. Morris Scharhon, the Hazzan, passed away in 1950, and the synagogue began looking for a new Hazzan Rev. Samuel Benaroya, originally from Edirne, Turkey was at the time the Hazzan of the Sephardic kehilla in Geneva, Switzerland. He was interested in leaving and used Rabbi de Sola Pool in New York and his friend, Joseph Benbassat of Mexico City to connect him with Sephardic congregations looking for a Hazzan He was told about the opening in Seattle and sent the congregation a phonographic record with a sampling of Sephardic tefilot (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) to demonstrate his voice and knowledge of hazanut. An SBH committee listened to it and they were very impressed. They voted to bring him to Seattle as the Hazzan

The Synagogue began the process of trying to bring Rev. Benaroya to Seattle, but they encountered a major difficulty. The American consulate in Geneva ruled that he had to wait for the quota of Turkish-born people to enter the US; they would not allow him to enter on the special provision around the quota open to rabbis, because he was a cantor, not a rabbi. When SBH was informed of this in 1951, Leo Azose was the president and he would not let the matter rest. Mr. Azose knew Senator Warren Magnuson and decided to write him a letter, explaining the situation and asking for his help. He explained that a Hazzan in a Sephardic congregation fulfills the role of a reverend, a man of the pulpit, like an assistant rabbi, who reads the Torah, takes care of memorial services, and performs weddings and other religious ceremonies not done by the rabbi. Within three days he received a response back from the Senator that he would do everything in his power to assist.

It worked; the consulate reviewed the case and allowed Rev. Benaroya, his wife and daughter to enter the United States without the quota. Rev. Benaroya arrived in Seattle in 1952 and fittingly, his first official act as Hazzan was officiating at the wedding of Jack and Sally Varon, the parents of our current Hazzan, Rabbi Frank Varon. Rev. Benaroya became an indispensable fixture within SBH. He first served as the synagogue’s bookkeeper, organizing the office and the record keeping of the finances.

However, his major achievement was in teaching Sephardic musical traditions to the youth of the synagogue, in the early years to a boys-girls chorus for Jewish holidays, and later hazanut to the young men within SBH. For more than 15 years he taught boys the ta’amim (Torah notes), makamot (Oriental tunes) and other specialized melodies for the various prayers chanted in the synagogue throughout the year. He instilled in them a sense of high standards that had to be met before receiving his approval, but once they were met, the boys were given the opportunity to participate in leading various portions of the synagogue service. In the 21st century, these disciples of the Reverend are teaching the next generation of boys to lead services, part of the unending chain from generation to generation needed to sustain the Sephardic religious tradition.

By Dr. Eugene Normand

Sources:

a) Isaac Maimon, “The History of Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, 1914-1989”, 1989
b) Rev. Samuel Benaroya, transcript of interview, 1988, MSCUA/UWL (Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives/University of Washington Libraries), Acc. 3911
c) Rabbi Solomon Maimon, transcript of interview, 1978-79, MSCUA/UWL Acc. 3024, 3024-2
d) Leo Azose, transcript of interview, 1982, MSCUA/UWL Acc. 3282

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The Fifth Decade

Rabbi Maimon Starts Sephardic Bikur Holim Camp

In 1954 Rabbi Solomon Maimon added a major new element to the activities of SBH, a sleep-away camp, and it has been an important part of the synagogue ever since. Rabbi Maimon worked with all parts of the SBH community to make Sephardic Bikur Holim Camp a success and he achieved it. A nearby campsite was sought and found in terms of the Baptist Assembly Camp at Burton, Washington on Vashon Island. Counselors were to be the high school students in the community. Comida, food, was to be prepared by a group of SBH ladies who were specifically recruited to do all of the work in the kitchen, including making it kosher for use, bringing the very large size calderas (pots and pans) from the synagogue kitchen and washing the dishes. These ladies were very dedicated, working many hours to ensure that the children had the best food, and sleeping in the same kind of cabins as the campers. Schedules were arranged for rotation of this kitchen duty; women spent a day or two at camp and then returned home. Donations of food were sought from various members who were involved in related businesses.

Camp was an idea that the entire community got behind with great enthusiasm; it didn’t matter how many days a year a child attended synagogue, everyone wanted to attend camp.

The first camp lasted for 3-4 days, but it was a rousing success and future camps went for longer, 5 and then later, 10 days. In preparing for camp the counselors had made a camp song to inspire the campers, based on a synagogue tune, and it caught on immediately. In 1954 there was only one paid employee of the camp, the lifeguard, who was hired \Thumbnails from a nearby town. All other workers were volunteers to keep costs low. Every day members would make trips by car and the 20-minute ferry ride every day except Shabbat, bringing rotating staff and needed supplies as communicated by Rabbi Maimon at the campsite by phone to coordinators in the city.

Camp was a great success, especially in the early years when it was a novel idea; members were enthusiastic and children of the eligible age wanted to go because it was the “in” thing to do. Many legends grew up around camp. One of the meals that campers and counselors looked forward to was the couscous and avicas of Auntie Beya Morhaime. Every year Vic Condiotty, a photographer for the Seattle Times, would come up and somehow get almost 100 children and adults to crowd together for a camp photograph. Camp was fun, and not only for the kids. One of the famous SBH jokesters (shakagis), Salti Eskenazi, once submitted a camp registration form for his mother to attend as a camper, arguing that seniors should have fun too.

As conditions changed, camp changed too. By the 1970s and 80s, it had been combined with Ezra Bessaroth, gone off independently, and then went back to combined operation for the two Sephardic synagogues. Some years the campsites chosen were much further away, from the Portland JCC Camp at Lincoln City, Oregon to Sun Lakes State Park near Grand Coulee Dam, to the Canadian Gabriola Island in the Strait of Georgia. Today, SBH and Ezra Bessaroth jointly sponsor Sephardic Adventure Camp, which was established as an independent organization to run the camp, and they have chosen closer camp sites.

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Community Growth

Even in the middle 1950s almost everyone lived in the neighborhood, so socializing was easy. To provide even more opportunity the community had been organizing the Seattle Sephardic Community Picnic once a year. SBH, Ezra Bessaroth and the Sephardic Brotherhood were the sponsors, and this picnic was usually an all-day affair on a Sunday in June or July. Many of the community picnics took place at Vasa Park on Lake Sammamish. There was plenty of food, and games and contests galore for the children (tug-of-war, hot dog eating and boxing for those under 10), as well as swimming and dancing. However, at the end of the 1950s, some members began looking elsewhere to live, away from the Central Area. Some looked to the east side and Mercer Island, but more looked southward towards the Seward Park area. Enough members of Ezra Bessaroth had moved to Seward Park that in 1957 construction began on a new Ezra Bessaroth building on Wilson Avenue. SBH members were seeing their friends moving to a nicer section of the city and some wanted to follow suit.

After all, life in the 1950s in Seattle was getting comfortable. The opportunities that opened up after World War II were available to all Americans. Many SBH members now expected their children to attend college and many thought of going to the University of Washington. During the 1950s the first SBH members graduated as a lawyer (Ed Bensussen and Audrey Benezra) and as a doctor (Dr. Joseph Mezistrano), but many more followed in their footsteps SBH members’ professional careers However, the children of SBH members were attending universities to pursue a wide variety of professional careers, such as accountants, architects, business admin people, dentists, engineers, nurses, psychologists, teachers and university professors. Others were pursuing and succeeding in major business ventures their parents could never have dreamed of a decade or two earlier.

Another Opportunity for Amalgamation

As SBH members began moving to Seward Park, it became difficult to meet the religious needs of these members. With the movement of people to a new neighborhood, the question of amalgamation was raised again, meaning combining with Congregation Ezra Bessaroth into a single Sephardic synagogue. Since many of those who were moving to Seward Park were having houses built, necessitating temporarily living at the Lakeshore Apartments, this made the idea seem very appealing. Ezra Bessaroth already had its own new building in the neighborhood.

Thus, by about 1960, the question of amalgamation was again being discussed by members of both synagogues, just as it had been in 1927 and then in 1938-39. Fact-finding committees were established in both synagogues to explore the issue. The question was brought up formally at a general membership meeting of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth in October, 1961, with the result that “the membership voted that they were not in favor of an amalgamation with SBH at [that] time.” Thus, the fact-finding committees for the two synagogues were discontinued. However, two years later, after SBH had begun its plans for moving to Seward Park, the same subject was again brought up at the 1963 general membership meeting of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth. The Ezra Bessaroth members were interested in the attitude of SBH members with regard to the question of amalgamation, and so sent a formal letter of inquiry to the SBH President in December, 1963. The new incoming SBH executive committee considered the question. Their decision was that “before any serious negotiation is again started, there should be a reversal on the part of your congregation in its last decision whereby the majority of your members were against amalgamation.” The SBH leadership indicated they were ready to go back to their members to reconfirm their willingness to negotiate further, once they received a favorable expression from the Ezra Bessaroth membership. No further discussions took place.

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Building the New Synagogue In Seward Park

As families were growing and began moving away, the subject of whether the synagogue should build a larger facility at a new location became the most important topic amongst the members. In response, in 1959, several membership meetings were held to discuss the issue. Some members objected to the thought of moving the sanctuary, but with a number of families already living in the Seward Park area, the possibility of renovating the existing building on Fir was also rejected. It took a bold move to break the deadlock and this was provided by Sam Baruch who, during the Yom Kippur services of 1962, donated the sum of $5000 towards the construction of a new synagogue. That donation served as the spark that forced the members to make the decision to move. After the High Holidays Mr. Baruch approached key members to determine how much they could afford to donate to the building of a new structure. Unfortunately, he passed away just prior to Passover in 1963 so others had to take up the job of launching the building campaign.

Mike Varon was appointed to find a buyer for the existing building, assisted by John Calderon and initially Sam Baruch. A Baptist church purchased the property for $85,000 on contract and today they still use it, now called the Tolliver Temple. The synagogue then bought two lots at 52nd Avenue South and South Morgan Street in the Seward Park area on which to build the new sanctuary. Tom M. Bensussen was appointed Chairman of the Construction Committee and the committee worked diligently with Ben Priteca, the selected architect, nationally known for designing theaters. A fund raising committee was formed, headed by Sol Funes and John Calderon, assisted by Leon Levy and many others, in order to plan and carry out the campaign of raising $200,000 over five years, beginning January, 1963.

The original goal was to be ready to dedicate the new sanctuary at Rosh Hashanah of 1963. It was too ambitious, and in addition, bad weather and other problems intervened so that the opening of the new sanctuary was delayed for two years. However, on June 7, 1964, the ground breaking ceremony was held at the property. Twenty-four individuals/families each donated $1000 and received a “golden” shovel. A total of 26 golden shovels were purchased, one generous donor bought two and the SBH Ladies Auxiliary bought one (a list of which is on the wall in the SBH sanctuary foyer), and in addition, others purchased “silver” shovels for a lesser contribution. It wasn’t going to be very long now.

Sources:

a) Isaac Maimon, “The History of Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, 1914-1989”, 1989
b) Leo Azose, transcript of interview, 1982, MSCUA/UWL Acc. 3282
c) Interview with Isaac Morhaime, June 1, 2004
d) Interview with Judith Amiel, May 30, 2004

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The Sixth Decade

The New Synagogue at 52nd Avenue South and
So. Morgan Street

1964 had been a landmark year, ground had been broken for the building of the new synagogue, and it marked the 50th anniversary of the synagogue.

To help celebrate the 50 year jubilee event, the Haham, Rabbi Dr. Solomon Gaon, Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, was brought in as the featured speaker at the dinner that marked the occasion, which was held at the Norway Center.

1964 certainly was an eventful year, as the new sanctuary was being built and funds were being collected by many very dedicated members through a variety of fundraising methods. Included in these were the Reno Roundup evenings, held at the Ezra Bessaroth social hall and at other locations near the Seward Park area, which were quite successful in bringing in much-needed funds for the new sanctuary project.

In addition, the Ladies Auxiliary contributed significantly through their own fundraising events. After the sanctuary building was completed, the Ladies organization continued to raise money for the synagogue through various events, including the annual Bazaar, which became an important fundraiser and good time for the entire family. It was an all day affair that was held at the Norway Center for many years, and included Sephardic food delicacies available for purchase (bulemas, borecas, baklava, etc.), household and clothing items, games for the children and a complete dinner with a kid’s menu.

Within a year, despite some delays, the new synagogue in the Seward Park area, at 52nd Avenue South and Morgan Street, was finished by Rosh Hashanah of 1965 and was ready for the official dedication (Hanukat Habayit). The Building Committee, headed by Tom M. Bensussen, worked diligently with the architect, the renowned designer of theaters, Benjamin Priteca, and his assistant, Ben Stertzer, to make sure all the details were correct.

Previously there had been a small house on the property, which served as the first Seward Park “Branch” of SBH. Since this building was going to be torn down, a larger house was purchased on S. Morgan Street, across from the property where the synagogue was being built, and it functioned as the second and final “Branch” building.

However, for that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of 1964, the “Branch” building was much too small and there was no functioning building to hold the High Holiday services. Thus the Graham Hill School, near the site of the new sanctuary that was being built, was rented for that year for High Holiday services.

Services at the “Branch” were generally led by SBH members living in the Seward Park area who could lead the prayers and read the Sefer Torah, but for some weeks they were assisted in conducting services by members from the Central area who were more experienced in hazzanut. These guest Hazzanim and their families were hosted by SBH members already living in the neighborhood.

As the dedication of the new sanctuary approached, the Haham, Rabbi Dr. Solomon Gaon was again brought in to celebrate this notable event with our local community, adding to the importance of the inauguration ceremony. The dedication took place in September, 1965. The young men, who during the previous year had become Bar Mitzvah, carried the Sefer Torahs from the branch to the new sanctuary in an outdoor procession that was filled with much fanfare, singing and joy. The procession included all of the Orthodox rabbis in the city as well as Haham Gaon. As the result of a major donation by the Funes family, a “key to the synagogue” was presented to Jack and Julia Funes. The honor of the first reading of a Sefer Torah in the new sanctuary was purchased by Ben Mezistrano. The day’s celebrations ended with a full dinner at the Norway Center where Haham Gaon gave his major address.

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The Syrian Connection

While Seattle has a sizable Sephardic community, New York City has the largest population of Sephardim in the country, and within it, the community of Syrian Jews in Brooklyn is the biggest and most cohesive of all of the Sephardim. The earliest interaction between the two Sephardic communities dates back to the 1930s when Joe Maslaton, a traveling salesman involved with textiles, came through Seattle and was quickly befriended by Bension Sam Maimon, who operated the 24th Avenue Market grocery, a hub within Seattle’s Sephardic community. There were quite a few similarities between these two men; both were born in the “old country,” had fathers who were Sephardic rabbis (Rabbi Abraham Maimon and Rabbi Mordechai Maslaton) in their communities, and had younger brothers who would later become the community’s rabbi (Rabbi Solomon Maimon and Rabbi Sion Maslaton).

Based on that first Seattle-Syrian connection, as young people from SBH went to New York to further their Jewish education, they would spend Shabbats and Jewish holidays with the Syrian Jews in Brooklyn and later, Deal, New Jersey. Eventually this led to the children of SBH members marrying the children of families within the Syrian community. The first such marriage was between Linda Scharhon (daughter of Victor and Estraya Scharhon) of Seattle and Eddie Arking of Brooklyn in 1969, and many more such marriages followed.

LaBoz, Monthly Newsletter

In March, 1971, the newly elected SBH President, David S. Azose, decided that it was time for the congregation to have a monthly newsletter. The synagogue’s first newsletter came out for a number of months in 1944-45 when more than a hundred members were serving in the US armed forces all over the world. It was called the SBH Congregation Bulletin and served as a way for the soldiers and sailors to keep up with developments at home. In early 1970 a newsletter called LaBoz was issued on a periodic basis, approximately quarterly. In 1971 the name LaBoz was kept, but the commitment was made that the bulletin would be issued each and every month. Jerry Adatto was asked to serve as the editor. He recruited Sam (Bension) Maimon to write a column on subjects of interest (Sephardic culture, Ladino expressions, Jewish religious matters, etc.) every month which were later collected in a published book, The Beauty of Sephardic Life. During the first year Mr. Adatto also obtained articles from other sources, such as Prof. Dave Romey who wrote on various Jewish communities in Spain. The look and content of LaBoz has evolved over the more than 33 years that it has been published. The size has increased from about 6-8 pages to 16 pages, pictures have been incorporated, the monthly list of meldados has been included, but the name has remained unchanged, as has the commitment to be mailed to the members every single month.

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Photographic Directory

In June, 1972, the synagogue arranged for photographs to be taken of each family in SBH which were included in a synagogue directory that was issued at Rosh Hashanah time. Families scheduled sitting times at SBH for the pictures to be taken, and each family was able to purchase color prints for their personal use.

Participation in American Sephardi Federation

In October, 1972, a meeting of about 40 Sephardic delegates from throughout the US and Canada was held in conjunction with the 2nd Annual American Zionist Convention in Chicago. Rev. Samuel Benaroya was the SBH delegate. The meeting was presided over by Prof. Daniel Elazar and also included Yitzhak Navon (Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset). This group passed a motion re-establishing the American Branch of the World Sephardi Federation. Five months later, in February, 1973, a much larger follow-up meeting was held at Shearith Congregation in New York City, attended by more than 250 people representing Sephardic communities across the country. SBH had four official delegates (Rabbi Solomon Maimon, Sam Maimon, Lucy Maimon and Dr. Rene Levy) out of the seven for Seattle, but a number of young Seattle Sephardim studying in New York, like Rabbi Frank Varon, also attended some of the sessions. This meeting led to the establishment of the American Sephardi Federation.

SBH delegate Dr. Rene Levy returned highly motivated, and he channeled his energy into working with Sephardic youth. He and the SBH youth leaders (Larry Azose and Eli Almo) helped to organize the American Sephardi Federation Youth Convention which was held in Atlanta, Georgia, hosted by Congregation Or V’Shalom, in November, 1973. Seattle sent a delegation of 120 young people, more than half of them from SBH, the largest delegation. In preparation for this Convention, Dr. Levy and the SBH youth leaders decided that they wanted to make a useful contribution by means of a tune to the Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals). The Ashkenazim have their traditional Birkat Hamazon tune which helps those reciting the blessings to remember them, so a uniquely Sephardic tune would be valuable for young people. Rev. Benaroya was asked to assist and he came up with the Birkat Hamazon tune that has been used ever since in Seattle and in almost all other Sephardic synagogues across the country.

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The Seventh Decade

Transition in Synagogue Leadership

Reverend Samuel Benaroya had served the synagogue faithfully for 26 years as Hazzan, since his arrival in 1952 from Geneva, Switzerland. He was highly regarded in the community for his abilities as Hazzan, his knowledge and interpretation of the Turkish traditional melodies and for his friendliness and helpfulness in the community. By the end of 1977 the Reverend informed the synagogue board of his intention of retiring as Hazzan by the middle of 1978.

President Lazar Scharhon appointed a committee to recruit a replacement Hazzan Two candidates were found in 1978, and each was invited to lead services on Friday night and Shabbat morning, including the reading of the Sefer. Michael ben Sheloush came first followed a few months later by Yitzhak Bahar.

Hazzan Bahar, who was living in Kfar Saba, Israel, favorably impressed the committee but negotiations continued a number of additional months until February 1979 when Mr. Bahar was voted to be the new Hazzan at a general membership meeting. However, it took until September 1979, immediately before Yom Kippur, before all of the immigration laws were worked through and approval was obtained for the arrival of Hazzan Bahar and his family. He came with his wife Korin and his sons Hayim and David.

In collaboration with Hazzan Emeritus Benaroya, Hazzan Bahar introduced a change in the High Holiday services for 1981.

He trained eight young men, six of them students at the Northwest Yeshiva High School and Seattle Hebrew Academy, to participate in the services. They learned to chant the piyutim for the High Holidays, and to blow the shofar. They did an excellent job, and it was such an effective method of broadening the participation in these most meaningful services, that ever since SBH members have taken it for granted that young men will be assisting by blowing the shofar and singing the piyutim. Unfortunately, within less than two years Hazzan Bahar became seriously ill in 1983, underwent cancer treatment, but finally succumbed to the illness in November, 1983. He left a warm legacy of friendship and devotion to the SBH members. The Bahar family returned to Israel along with the Hazzan’s body for burial, accompanied by Rev. Benaroya. Rev. Benaroya took over again as Hazzan, this time in an unpaid capacity; a new Hazzan would be chosen about two years later.

Leo Azose had served as Gabbai of the synagogue since the early 1960s. In 1981 he retired, being given the title of Gabbai Emeritus, and was succeeded as Gabbai by Victor Scharhon.

By early 1983 Rabbi Solomon Maimon was about to enter his 39th year as Rabbi of the synagogue, and indicated his desire to retire after completing 40 years. The SBH President at the time, Jerry Adatto appointed a search committee headed by co-chairs Vic Amira and David Balint. This committee continued its work through the new SBH administration, eventually identifying three potential candidates, but that wasn’t to happen until the following decade.

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SBH Testimonials

During this decade the synagogue honored three of its stalwart members at Testimonial dinners, men who had been part of the Tevah, leading services for decades, Leo Azose, Sam Bension Maimon, and Rev. Samuel Benaroya. SBH honored Leo Azose on January 18, 1976 for his more than 50 years of active participation in the synagogue, including more than 25 years as Gabbai. In addition, Mr. Azose served as SBH President from 1944-46, when Rabbi Solomon Maimon was first hired, and also in 1951. Sam Maimon had been Assistant Hazzansince the 1930s, always in an unpaid role, but always providing a clear singing voice and great knowledge of hazzanut and the minhagim. SBH honored him on March 13, 1977. As part of the dinner, Mr. Maimon was presented with his official high school diploma, issued by the Seattle Public Schools, since he had failed to graduate from Garfield High School in the 1920s due to his not having completed one outstanding class.

Upon his retirement, Rev. Samuel Benaroya was honored on August 8, 1982 for his more than 26 years of service to the congregation (as Hazzan and book keeper). His brother-in-law, Jean Benozillo, called him a “conqueror of the future,” a man striven to perpetuate his people’s religious traditions, and so therefore a truly rare and invaluable person. In addition, the Ahavath Ahim Congregation of Portland, OR, honored Mr. Jack Maimon at a Testimonial in March 1975 for his more than 40 years of service as their part-time Hazzan on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. His father, Rabbi Abraham Maimon, the SBH rabbi in 1930, committed to assist the Portland Congregation for the High Holidays, and his son Jack fulfilled this through five decades.

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Changes in Board Operation

In 1975 the SBH constitution had been changed allowing women members to serve as members of the Board of Directors. Thus, at the December 1976 General Membership Meeting history was made when two women, Becky Varon and Judy Balint, were nominated and elected as Board members. Over the next decades many more women would be elected to the Board, some also serving in officer roles

Additions to the Synagogue Structure

Within five years of the building of the new synagogue some members already began advocating for a second building, a social hall. Under President David S. Azose, and in coordination with the Executive Committee and the Ladies Auxiliary, a special general membership meeting had been held in June, 1972, to discuss just this topic. The members were presented with a general idea of the costs and the size of such a building, but the decision made was to defer this project. Five years later, in June 1977, a similar meeting was held, this time spearheaded by President Lazar Scharhon, and aided by Tom M. Bensussen whose exploratory committee had been working for several months on initial sketches for a Social Hall and plans to finance it. This time the membership approved the idea, authorizing a building committee to oversee the design and construction of an activity center, along the lines presented by Tom Bensussen, based on only voluntary donations, and with expenditure not to exceed $300,000 (±10%).

An architectural firm had been selected which worked diligently with the SBH Building Committee that included representatives of the Ladies Auxiliary. By December, 1977 the plans for the building were sent out for bids. The general contractor for the construction project was selected and by July 12, 1978 ground was broken for the new social hall.

With construction having begun, the Building Committee focused on obtaining pledges from SBH members. A schedule of memorials had been established early on, including the largest ones, for the banquet hall and the kitchen. By January, 1979, when David J. Balint had been installed as President, approximately $280,000 had been raised in cash and pledges.

On March 25, 1979, when the Social Hall was dedicated, $310,000 had been donated and pledged, about 70% of the overall goal, by more than 120 people, whose names were enshrined on the donors plaque in the Hall’s entranceway. Based on donations from the family, the building was named the Sam H. Baruch Social Hall.

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Filming “Song of the Sephardi”

Dr. David Raphael and his Israeli-born wife of Turkish descent, Esther, came to Seattle in the late 1960s and quickly affiliated with SBH. David would eventually receive his MD and PhD degrees from the University of Washington, but he had other interests, very strong cultural interests. By 1992 he had written three books, historical novels and chronicles about the Sephardim of Spain following the Expulsion. However, his favorite project was the making of the film “Song of the Sephardi”. For many years he had dreamed and planned this project of a movie that would tell the story of Sephardic Jews. It was fulfilled in 1977.

He wrote the entire script himself, directed, produced and cast it using many members from the Seattle Sephardic community, and even performed several roles himself. David put out a casting call by means of an open letter in the July 1977 issue of La Boz. The shooting of the film with professional cinematographers took place during the week of August 23-31. Members of SBH were invited to participate in the staging of various religious ceremonies in the synagogue on Sunday, August 28, including a circumcision, selling of the mitzvoth, singing of “Ein K’Eloheinu”, etc.

Finally, David arranged for a concert by the Israeli singer Rivka Raz at the University of Washington since part of the concert was incorporated into his film, and Miss Raz would be singing background songs for other portions of the movie. A year later the film was completed. Its inaugural showing was on Sunday, September 10, 1978 at the Seattle Center Playhouse, which was filled with many members of the Seattle Sephardic community. Everyone wanted to see how many SBH friends and family members they could recognize in the film. The film was a rousing success and has been shown at numerous community functions and movie theaters, and is also available for purchase as a video.

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Modernization of the SBH Administration

As the needs of the office and of the membership expanded, it became necessary to hire professionals to carry out these roles. Two particular jobs were created, the office secretary, which was broadened to encompass more diverse responsibilities as the office manager, and the youth or youth/program director. During this decade a number of different people fulfilled these roles. Judy Amiel, daughter of Rev. Benaroya served as secretary, followed by Mildred Peha and Marie Scharhon, three women from the community, who worked in the office on a part-time basis. Barbara Jolly who was hired as the full-time office manager followed them.

Over the decade several different people served as youth director, Bob Kaufman and Avi Rostov, being the two main directors, each holding that position for several years. However, the focus of the position often shifted between only youth work and youth combined with adult programming. At times, lay members of the congregation fulfilled part of this role, but this reliance also has shifted over the years as the perceived needs of the membership have changed.

During this decade one of the main functions of the youth director was to organize and run Sephardic Camp, however the relationship with camp also changed. During some years a camp director was hired who handled only matters related to camp, and so this position was active for only a few months of the year. From the late 1960s Sephardic Camp had been a joint venture, involving a partnership between SBH and Congregation Ezra Bessaroth. However, this too changed, so that for a year or two during this decade Camp was solely run by SBH, but afterwards it reverted back to a joint SBH-Ezra Bessaroth operation. By the next decade, Camp was being run as a separate activity, called Sephardic Adventure Camp, supported by the two synagogues, but having its own independent identity. In contrast, the two synagogues developed a joint summer day camp years later, and it has remained as part of the overall SBH youth program.

Sources:

a) Isaac Maimon, “The History of Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, 1914-1989”, 1989
b) Issues of LaBoz, 1974-1983

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The Eighth Decade

Rabbi Simon Benzaquen Becomes the New Rabbi

The eighth decade was a decade of transition in the leadership of the synagogue. By the time the decade had ended, three younger men had all assumed the responsibilities for the positions of Rabbi, Hazzan and Gabbai.

In 1984 the Rabbi search committee, composed of almost a dozen dedicated members, contacted many potential candidates around the world for their interest in taking over the rabbinic leadership of SBH. Three rabbis were identified for personal interviews. One of these declined to come to Seattle, but the other two, Rabbi Simon Benzaquen of Maracaibo, Venezuela and Rabbi Hayim Kassorla of San Francisco flew to Seattle and gave sermons and classes to demonstrate their proficiency. Rabbi Simon Benzaquen was unanimously chosen to be offered the job as the new rabbi of SBH.

Rabbi Simon Benzaquen was born in Mellila, a Spanish enclave in the Spanish Morocco territory of North Africa. At age fourteen he went to study at Yeshivat Netzah Israel in Sunderland in northern England, which he attended for ten years. He then moved to London to continue his studies at Etz Hayim Yeshiva. Upon the completion of his education, including Hazanut training for both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic traditions, he accepted the position of assistant minister to the Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregations in Essex, England where he served for ten years. During his tenure in London he met and married his wife, Cecilia Margulies and they had their first three children in London, Jonathan, Tanya and Anna-Aliza. Afterwards Rabbi Benzaquen moved to Maracaibo, Venezuela, where he held the position of rabbi and spiritual leader of the amalgamated Sephardic and Ashkenazi community for five years.

Rabbi Benzaquen and his family came to Seattle at the end of 1984, and shortly after their arrival Rabbi and Mrs. Benzaquen welcomed the birth of their daughter Natasha and shortly thereafter celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of their son Jonathan.

Rabbi Benzaquen has added to his religious skills to benefit the members of his synagogue and the greater Seattle community, such as his receiving certification as a mohel in Israel in 1987 in order to practice ritual circumcision. In late 2003 Rabbi Benzaquen took a year’s sabbatical to study intensely in Israel where he became certified by the Jerusalem rabbinate as a dayan (judge) for arranging gittin (divorces). He is also a Sofer (scribe) for Sifrai Torah, Tefilin and Mezuzot and is a noted artist for his unique style of calligraphy of painted and decorated Ketuboth (marriage contracts).

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New Hazzan – Frank Varon

For about two years after the untimely passing of Hazzan Itzhak Bahar, Rev. Benaroya had been serving as the interim Hazzan, assisted by several others from within the synagogue who could fulfill the duties of Hazzan

In 1985, the synagogue hired Frank Varon to serve as its official Hazzan Born to parents from the SBH community, Jack and the late, Sally Varon, of blessed memory, Frank is also the grandson of four departed SBH pioneers, Bechor and Regina Varon and Morris and Fortuna Funes. Although a native of the local community, Frank’s appointment as Hazzan at SBH was preceded by his appointment as Hazzan at two other Sephardic congregations, both in the New York area. He was immediately hired and served as Hazzan for the Sephardic Congregation of Adath Yeshurun in Kew Gardens, as well as for the Sephardic Jewish Center of Canarsie in Brooklyn, New York. At the age 21, Frank Varon was the youngest American born Hazzan to be retained by a major congregation in the United States. Afterwards he returned home to Seattle where he married his wife, Rena (Azose), and they raised their children, Sally, Marie, Gina, and Jack.

As a youngster, Frank was taught by Rabbi Solomon Maimon to read the Torah utilizing the traditional notes, the te’amim. He studied makamim, the traditional leitmotifs of Oriental music, under the tutelage of the late Rev. Samuel Benaroya. Even during his youth his abilities were recognized and he was often invited to the Tevah to officiate at services. Hazzan Varon later studied voice to perfect the skillful execution of his high tenor range.

In 1997, Hazzan Varon produced a recording of popular Ladino music that has been sold and distributed around the world. In October of 1999, he took a brief leave of absence from SBH to complete his studies for S’micha (Rabbinical ordination) which he received from the Yeshiva Midrash Sepharadi in Jerusalem, and the late Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shalom Messas. Rabbi Varon prepares students in reading proficiently both the Torah and tefilot, the prayers, thus perpetuating the melodious traditions of our Kahal. His dual knowledge of Hazzanut and Rabbinics often finds him performing life cycle events both inside and outside the Seattle Jewish community.

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New Gabbai – Larry Almo

Victor Scharhon, who had served as Gabbai since 1981, suddenly passed away in May 1990 and was succeeded in this important position within the synagogue by Larry Almo. Victor had been training Larry for this position for some time, so the transition was a very smooth one.

Passages – Rabbi Solomon Maimon

Rabbi Maimon went through numerous passages during this decade. He retired in 1984, being replaced by Rabbi Simon Benzaquen and assuming the title of Rabbi Emeritus.

The synagogue honored his 40 years of service with a testimonial dinner informally called “Thanks for the Memories” on August 17, 1986. The testimonial committee had arranged for Mayor Royer to declare August 16, 1986 as Rabbi Solomon Maimon Day in Seattle. Unfortunately, his Rubisa, Sarah Maimon, was not in good health and in June of 1988 she passed away. In May of 1989 Rabbi Maimon and his children Cheryl and Mordechai left for Israel, living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill. In 1990 Rabbi Maimon returned to Seattle and married the widow Esther Kubie; they have lived in Seattle ever since.

Even in his retirement Rabbi Maimon has been very active, using Seattle as his base, and supporting Sephardic communities across the country. He has been called to be interim rabbi for the High Holidays and other Jewish holidays by the small Sephardic synagogues in Houston and Detroit, and has also been an invited speaker in Chicago, Los Angeles and Vancouver. He has been honored at dinners by JNF (over 600 people), Torah Umesorah, the Seattle Hebrew Academy and the Seattle Kollel.

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Seattle Kollel and Va’ad HaRabanim

A project that engaged Rabbi Maimon on his return to Seattle was the establishment of a Kollel. It had been a dream of his for some time, and beginning in 1990 he gathered a number of volunteers and acquired initial funding from outside of Seattle to make it into a reality. Albert S. Maimon became the first President of the lay committee that founded the Seattle Kollel and Rabbi Jack Maimon was selected to serve as the Rosh Kollel, the day-to-day, head of the Kollel. It began operation in 1992, with Rabbi Jack Maimon bringing in three other rabbis to form its nucleus. The main purpose of the Seattle Kollel was to strengthen Judaism within the Seattle community by offering learning opportunities for every level. Outreach, bringing Judaism to Jews who had never learned much about it or who had forgotten what they learned, was an important component, but so too was the expansion of opportunities for Jewish learning within the existing community. The Seattle Kollel has brought many new members into the Orthodox synagogues of Seattle, including new members into SBH.

In 1993 the Va’ad HaRabanim (Committee of Rabbis) was organized by the seven Orthodox rabbis in Seattle to replace the former Seattle Kashrut Board. The Kashrut Board had been formed in the early 1900s to provide kosher meat for the community. The purpose of the Va’ad was to oversee, through a formal structure, Kashrut in the city as well as other religious functions requiring a Bet Din (Jewish court) of three rabbis. Rabbi Simon Benzaquen and Rabbi Emeritus Solomon Maimon of SBH were two of the seven founding members, and Albert S. Maimon of SBH has been the main coordinator between the Va’ad and the lay community.

Seattle Kollel and Va’ad HaRabanim

Based on the suggestion of previous president of SBH, Albert S. Maimon, a few synagogue leaders including David Balint and Isaac Baruch, worked to establish an Endowment Fund for the synagogue. Beginning in 1984, progress towards this goal began slowly, first with the sale of donated property in Toldeo, WA ($7000). Over the next year the Balint family donated $20,000, the Ladies Auxiliary $10,000 and Ike Baruch $5000 and the synagogue included the proceeds ($17,000) from the sale of the house that had been provided to Hazzan Yitzhak Bahar. Thus by 1987 the Endowment Fund had approximately $70,000. The purpose of the Fund was to provide donated untouchable funds as the principal, with the interest that it earns serving as money that would be available to the synagogue to assist in paying for future SBH projects such as the building projects and cultural activities.

In conjunction with the testimonial dinner for Rabbi Maimon, significant funds had been collected for purposes of furthering Jewish education, spurred on by the “challenge grant” presented by Morris Polack. This money was used to set up the Rabbi Solomon Maimon Scholarship and Education Fund. After the untimely passing of Sarah Maimon, A”H, in 1988, the funds were transformed into the Sarah Maimon Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was then incorporated into the Endowment Fund. The $42,000 of the Scholarship Fund was added to the other funds within the Endowment Fund so that by 1989, the proceeds of the Endowment Fund stood at about $115,000, about half of which (the $42,000 and the $20,000 from the Balint family) was in the Sarah Maimon Memorial Fund.

The idea behind the Sarah Maimon Fund was to present young men and women, the sons and daughters of paid up synagogue members, with a $2000 scholarship upon their becoming bar or bat mitzvah. The scholarship could be used to pay towards their tuition, furthering their Jewish education up through their graduation from high school. The first official recipient of a Sarah Maimon Scholarship certificate was Brian Calvo, who received it in February, 1989. Since that time the Sarah Maimon Scholarship Fund has grown to comprise a principal of $240,000. Over that time the total amount of tuition paid by the Fund to such recipients as the Seattle Hebrew Academy, the Seattle Jewish Day School, the Northwest Yeshiva High School and the Alexander Muss High School in Israel is approximately $90,000 by 2004. During this same period the corpus of the entire endowment fund has grown to about $550,000 at the present time – 2004. One of the purposes of the 90th Anniversary Dinner in November 20, 2004 is to increase the Endowment Fund to the lofty goal of $1Million. A number of involved SBH members are on the committee that oversees the Endowment Fund and Sol Halfon is the Chair.

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American Sephardi Federation Convention in Seattle

The American Sephardi Federation (ASF) had been established in 1973 to unite various Sephardic communities and synagogues around the country. It had grown over the years, establishing chapters in American cities with large Sephardic communities and becoming the “umbrella organization for Sephardim in the US”. The Seattle chapter was established in the 1980s and was headed by Rae Behar. The Seattle chapter agreed to host the national meeting in Seattle over the Memorial Day Weekend of 1989, harnessing the energies of members from both SBH and Ezra Bessaroth. SBH member Janice Halfon served as the Chair of the National Convention, with Albert Franco as the Honorary Chair. The National Convention was held on May 28-30, 1989 at the Westin Hotel. About 600 Sephardim, one of Seattle’s largest gatherings of Sephardic Jews, attended. Israeli ambassador to Spain, Shlomo Ben Ami, was the keynote speaker, while working sessions featured well-known personalities such as correspondent Wolf Blitzer and authority on international legal issues Carlos Rizowy.

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SBH Celebrates and Evolves

During this decade (1984-93) the synagogue marked two memorable birthdays, the 70th and 75th anniversaries since its establishment. Each was marked by an impressive dinner and featured slide presentations that encapsulated the history of the synagogue and highlighted the many outstanding personalities who were part of the SBH family. At the 70th the dinner the synagogue also ceremonially celebrated the “mortgage burning” for the Social Hall. The anniversaries were also noteworthy for the written histories of the synagogue that were given out at those dinners that had been composed by Isaac Maimon.

In 1987, Ralph Maimon, president of SBH, proposed a unique fund raising activity that he modeled after the Pike Street Market. The brick tiles on the arcade of the walkway between the sanctuary building and the Sam Baruch Social Hall were available to have names etched in them. For $36, double chai, a name would be engraved on the brick tiles. Over a period of about a year this project raised about $20,000 and raised the interest level regarding the synagogue.

As the synagogue grew, its needs within the office also grew. SBH was fortunate to have a number of very capable office administrators, ably assisted by member volunteers. Barbara Jolley had served as the administrator for some number of years until her untimely passing due to illness in 1987. Penny Lockwood succeeded her from 1987-1990. In December 1990 Diana Black was hired as the office manager and she has been with us ever since. Diana has become an indispensable element in the functioning of the synagogue and is essentially the editor of La Boz. Many SBH members have donated their time to helping out in the office, but the person with the longest continuous service in the office, close to 15 years, is Beverly Mezistrano. Many other members served very key roles through their donated activities in the office and competence in getting things done, such as Katherine Scharhon, the late Jacky Varon, A”H, and the late Sarah Benezra, A”H.

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Re-establishment of the Sephardic Religious School

In 1982, Terry Azose, a member of SBH and Dana Behar, a member of Ezra Bessaroth joined forces to re-establish the Sephardic Religious School. The school had been created in 1963 as an after-school educational institution for the children of members of both SBH and Ezra Bessaroth, a successor to the afternoon school that had been run by Ezra Bessaroth in the late 1950s. Rabbi Maimon teamed up with Rabbi William Greenberg, the new rabbi of Cong. Ezra Bessaroth, to lead the Sephardic Religious School and teach some of the first classes. Rabbi Greenberg was enrolled in a graduate education program at the UW so he took over as the principal of the school. The classes were held in Ezra Bessaroth in classrooms on the lower level and they were held three times a week (Sunday morning and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons). Some SBH members who were attending college served as some of the first teachers, in addition to knowledgeable members of the synagogues. During the 1970s the enrollment in the religious school began to decline, which eventually led to the school closing up in about 1977.

In re-establishing the Sephardic religious school, Terry and Dana made a number of changes. Classes were held at the Stroum JCC on Mercer Island, and they met twice a week, Sunday morning and Tuesday afternoon. In 1984 Terry Azose became the educational director of the school. In addition, the school was set up as an independent organization, receiving direct support from the two Sephardic synagogues, but also charging tuition, which was lower for members of the two synagogues than for non-members. The education program was set up to cover grades pre-school up to the 6th grade, with some grades combined. At its peak the school enrollment was 85 students, which attests to the good job that Terry Azose had done in setting up the educational policy and in recruiting qualified teachers.

Sources:

a) Interview with Esther Morhaime, September, 2004
b) Interview with Terry Azose, September, 2004
c) La Boz issues, 1984-1993

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The Ninth Decade

Program Innovations and Physical Changes Within SBH

During the last decade a number of communal religious programs were either introduced or expanded upon to afford SBH members the opportunity to celebrate religious holidays or socialize together with their friends. One such popular program that Rabbi and Mrs. Benzaquen helped to initiate and which became successful through the work of such members as the late Sarah Benezra, was the Second Night Seder. At its peak close to 100 members celebrated the second night of Passover together, led by Rabbi Benzaquen. The Purim Seudah was a similar program that often brought more than 100 members to eat the special meal and make merry on Purim. In the same vein was the Fruticas holiday (Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees), celebrating the fruits of Israel and all fruits in general. In addition, a group of ladies led by Beloria Levy has been hosting a post-Yom Kippur reception in the Social Hall for nearly a decade, providing members the chance to break the 25-hour fast right away. On a smaller scale, Rabbi Yehoshua Pinkus of the Seattle Kollel, who has been assigned as the Kollel’s rabbi for serving the needs of SBH, organized several Shabbatons for SBH members in a hotel in Bellevue, thus bringing authentic SBH Shabbat services to members who live on the Eastside.

In the year 2002 a number of improvements were made to the synagogue. Beginning late in 2001, Ralph Adatto and a small committee undertook a private and specifically focused fund-raising campaign to replace and expand the carpeting throughout the synagogue, which was more than 30 years old. In this way the synagogue’s annual budget was not impacted. With generous support from Mordo Israel and many others, the funds were raised and the new carpeting installed over a period of a few months in 2002. That same year the synagogue experienced a fire in the Midrash, which fortunately spread no further. Thus, the Midrash had to be completely replaced, using the money obtained from the insurance payment. This too was accomplished in about a 6-month time frame.

Over this last decade the country began an ever increasing reliance upon the computer as a means of efficiently communicating with large numbers of people through various electronic channels, and SBH followed in those steps. Thus, an electronic version of LaBoz, eLaBoz, was begun by Jack Haleva in March 2000. It is sent out via email to all SBH members. To subscribe send an e-mail to sephbikurholim@comcast.net.

In mid 2003 SBH launched its web site. Evelyn Rubinstein-Benzikry and Jack Haleva planned and designed the web site. The site provides information about the synagogue, its scheduled Services, Programs, SBH history and visual history, biographies of the religious staff Biographies Youth information, Ladies Auxiliary, Sephardic recipes, Social Club, Kashrut and more. The site is being maintained by Evelyn Rubinstein-Benzikry who is the webmaster.

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SBH Publishes Its Own Religious Books

During this ninth decade the computer age, and specifically the availability of word processing programs in both Hebrew and English, allowed dedicated members to essentially print new religious books for use in the synagogue for almost all Jewish holidays and occasions. The first such new book to appear was the Passover Haggadah that was put together by Isaac Maimon and Hazzan Isaac Azose, under the sponsorship of Morris and Marlene Piha. It was printed locally in a soft binding, containing the order of the Passover Seder in Hebrew, Ladino and English. It became available in April, 1995 in time for the Passover holiday. Later in 1995 the Selichot booklet appeared in its initial edition to be used throughout the month of Elul (month before Rosh Hashanah) through the 9th day of Tishri (day before Yom Kippur). The effort to produce this book was undertaken by Larry Adatto, and he had begun work on it in 1988. This Selichot booklet, which resulted in two further editions, did not rely on computers in Seattle but rather was printed in New York.

In 2002 two brand new books appeared that have greatly improved services at SBH because they contain all of the prayers in the exact order as they are recited in the kahal. They thus replaced the traditional Hebrew-English prayer books from Rabbi David de Sola Pool that had been used but never fully met the needs of SBH members. First, the Siddur Zehut Yosef, the Seattle Sephardic Community Daily and Shabbat Siddur, came out at the beginning of the year. It was a monumental work by Hazzan Isaac Azose, that he had begun in 1994 and depended on his keying in tens of thousands of English and Hebrew words into his computer, which required many thousands of hours. This Siddur project was undertaken by the Sephardic Traditions Foundation, a new organization established through the generosity of Joel Benoliel, with active guidance of Hazzan Azose. The Siddur incorporates the minhagim (customs) and the order of services in both Congregation Ezra Bessaroth (designated as R for Rhodes) and SBH (designated as T for Turkish) in a seamless manner. It contains the prayers in both Hebrew and English on facing pages, as well as some in Ladino, such as for Meldados. Each of the two Sephardic synagogues bought 1000 copies. Bar and Bat Mitzvah boys and girls now receive a copy of this Siddur as a gift from our synagogue to celebrate their reaching Jewish maturity. That same year a very abridged form of the Siddur was abstracted for purposes of a thin, soft-covered Minha and >Arvith Siddur designed for use at Meldados. It replaced the old Seattle-published Meldado booklet that had been in use at SBH for many decades. In 2004, a much thinner all Hebrew version became available, its smaller size making it easier for most members to handle, and other variations are being planned.

Later in 2002 the Mahzor Sha’are Beracha, containing all of the prayers for the Yom Kippur service, appeared. It was sponsored by Isaac and Rae Baruch and Selma Amira in loving memory of their parents, Sam H. and Donna Baruch. It was based on an earlier Yom Kippur Mahzor that had been published by Rabbi Moshe Benzaquen of Los Angeles, a brother of our Rabbi Simon Benzaquen. A committee of dedicated SBH members, led by the main subcommittee of Larry Adatto, Dave S. Azose and Albert S. Maimon, but assisted by many others, was responsible for customizing the Los Angeles Mahzor for use in SBH. This project began in 1998 and required several thousand man-hours to bring it to completion.

Sam Mezistrano undertook the job of compiling a booklet with all of the prayers in direct order that are recited on the four fasts (Ta’anit) days besides Tisha B’Av. He began this about 1998 with a photo-copied, cut and paste version, which was superseded by an initial electronically produced version in 2003. Complementing this effort, Hazzan Isaac Azose is in the process of compiling a new electronically produced book of all of the Hebrew and Ladino prayers said on Tisha B’Av.

Two additional siddurim (prayer books) are nearing completion; when finished they will replace the last two remaining de Sola Pool books in use at SBH. A Mahzor for the Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrimage holidays of Passover, Shavuoth and Succoth) by Hazzan Isaac Azose is in its last pre-production version and is expected to be available by about 2005. A Rosh Hashanah Mahzor has been pursued by the Adatto-Azose-Maimon team for the last few years. It is expected to be completed in another 2-4 years.

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Eli Varon Helps Out – Everywhere

In the spring of 1998 Eli Varon, son of Isaac and Luci Varon, became Bar Mitzvah. That summer he helped out with food preparation for the SBH Ladies Auxiliary Bazaar, and later that year he was responsible for preparing the meals at the SBH-sponsored Shabbaton featuring Rabbi Hayim Tawil of Yeshiva University, which had close to 100 attendees. Ever since then, Eli Varon, despite his youth, has been involved in food-making for all kinds of events sponsored by the synagogue. His most recent event was the delicious meal served at the Simhat Torah celebration in October, 2004. He also does private catering, via his EV Catering company, but most of his cooking and food preparation is associated with SBH events. In addition, Eli helps out with all of the diverse activities that are on-going within the synagogue. During previous eras, it had been retired men, like Isaac Adatto, who had fulfilled this role, assuring that all of the religious objects were available and in place for each service and function. That role has now been taken over by Eli. In addition, he coordinates his other types of assistance through office manager Diana Black and Gabbai Larry Almo. Thus, Eli Varon helps out in almost all facets of SBH life.

Over the last two decades, food preparation for on-going events, particularly the Shabbat kiddush and Seuda’t Shlisheet (third Shabbat meal), have been handled by other members as well. The Rubbisa, Cecilia Benzaquen, has been involved with the weekly kiddush preparation for many years. Over the years different individuals have taken on the responsibility of preparing the weekly Seuda’t Shlisheet meals, including Bob Berry, Jack Eskenazi, Victor Ezraty, Mike Marshall, Eli Varon and, most recently, Chaim Rosenbaum, and his crew of young fathers and their children.

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SBH Recognizes Its Leaders and Volunteers

During this last decade SBH honored a number of its important members for their past dedication to the synagogue. This was done through testimonial dinners which honored Rabbi and Mrs. Simon Benzaquen (April 2000), Isaac Maimon (Oct. 2000), Past Presidents of SBH and of the Ladies Auxiliary (Nov. 2002), and Morris and Marlene Piha (2003). In a similar vein, SBH established the prestigious Sarah Maimon Humanitarian Award in 1989 to honor those SBH members whose volunteerism exemplifies the life of dedication of the late Rubissa, Sarah Maimon. Recipients are chosen by a committee on biannual basis. Magda Schaloum was the most recent recipient (2003).

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SBH Role in Seattle Jewry’s Special Year

The year 1996 was significant for two unique events for the Seattle Jewish community, one large and one small, and SBH and some of its members played important roles. All during the year, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle prepared to host the General Assembly, the annual meeting of Jewish Federations from across the US and Canada. It took place in November, and during that year, Albert S. Maimon of SBH was the loaned executive from The Boeing Company who was assigned to assist the Seattle Federation in organizing this event. More than 3000 Jews from across the country and Israel came to Seattle for this meeting, which was held in the Washington State Convention Center. About 40 members of SBH participated in various portions of this special 4-day event. For major events such as the in-person talk by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and the remarks via closed-circuit TV by the then Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, close to 4000 Jews were assembled in one auditorium. That was the largest gathering of Jews for one event in the history of the city, a record that will probably never be exceeded, since more than 80% of these Jews were from outside of the state of Washington.

In February of 1996, Torah U’Mesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, held its mid-year meeting in the Seward Park area of Seattle. It was the Mid-Winter Conference of the National Conference of Yeshiva Principals of Torah U’Mesorah, and some of the Shabbat services were held in SBH. During these times of tefilah, there were more than 50 rabbis in the SBH sanctuary, the largest gathering of rabbis ever in the kahal.

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SBH Members Assume Leadership Roles in Jewish Education

SBH members have been involved with Jewish education from all different aspects. Some have been lay leaders of community-wide schools, some have been teachers or other members of the professional staffs and all have been parents. The ninth decade was unique for the tremendous dedication and great leadership shown by one SBH member, Rebecca Almo, in serving as the president of two different educational institutions, first the Northwest Yeshiva High School (NYHS), and then a few years later, the Seattle Hebrew Academy (SHA). Major rebuilding programs, in excess of $1Million and $10 Million respectively, were required at the two schools. They were undertaken under her leadership and were completed successfully due to her efforts and the efforts and dedication of many other members of the Seattle Jewish community, including a number from within SBH. Other SBH members have served as the president of one of these institutions, NYHS and SHA.

During Mrs. Almo’s tenure, partnerships were fostered with many other Jewish organizations, which was so movingly typified by the response of the entire Jewish community to the damage done to the Seattle Hebrew Academy building following the Nisqually Earthquake on February 28, 2001. The main SHA building in the Capitol Hill neighborhood could not be re-occupied without full seismic retrofitting and renovation, so temporary facilities had to be obtained. First Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation on Mercer Island helped out by providing their classrooms for the remainder of the school year. Then temporary trailer buildings were located in the parking lot of Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath synagogue for the next three years to house about 60% of the school classrooms. When these facilities were still not adequate, SBH contributed by making the Fellowship Room available as a classroom for two years.

In parallel, the SHA community voted to rebuild the old building, requiring a major fundraising campaign followed by the long-term reconstruction program. The entire project would not have succeeded without the crucial support provided by the Samis Foundation, which has several SBH members on its board. Samis made available a large grant and the assistance of one of its key professionals, William Justen, to chair the renovation project’s Design and Construction Committee. The work was scheduled to be completed by the opening of school for September, 2004 and it met the date. Earlier in the process, in order to obtain funds from the federal government, President Bush had to sign an executive order allowing religious groups to qualify for federal disaster aid. Thus, based on a ruling by the general counsel of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), FEMA was able to provide a disaster assistance grant to the Seattle Hebrew Academy.

After the arrival of Rabbi Shmuel Kay as SHA Head of School in 1999, the SHA curriculum was reorganized to allow prayers to be taught to Sephardic students according to traditional Sephardic minhagim (customs). To accomplish this, members of the SBH staff, Rabbi Simon Benzaquen, Rabbi Frank Varon, and Hazzan Isaac Azose have been added to the SHA teaching staff on a part-time basis. They teach students tefila, Hebrew prayers following the traditional Sephardic pronunciation and order, and as practiced in SBH and Cong. Ezra Bessaroth.

The Sephardic Religious School resumed its operation in 1982. It was located at the Stroum JCC on Mercer Island and met twice a week, on Sunday morning and Tuesday afternoon. For about a decade it had been directed by SBH member Terry Azose. In 1994 she handed over the role of educational director to master teacher Esther Morhaime, another SBH member, who had been a teacher in the Religious School in the 1960s and then later in the 1990s after she returned to Seattle. One of her important additions was to include an upper level class, for 7th-8th grade students, which occurred in 2001. This allowed graduates of the Sephardic Religious School, Bar Mitzvah boys and Bat Mitzvah girls, to continue their Jewish education uninterrupted up through high school. Graduates are accepted directly into the Community High School of Jewish Studies, which also meets at the JCC, but on Wednesday evenings. In addition, she established the Seattle Association of Sephardic Youth (SASY), the Sephardic Religious School High School Program, providing a structured social outlet for the Sephardic teenager, especially those who had completed the Sephardic Religious School.

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Outstanding SBH Athletes

In the early 1990s, the athletic program of the Northwest Yeshiva High School (NYHS) began participating in regular high school sports leagues. This was an advantage to the many teenagers of SBH embers who were attending NYHS, but they gained infinitely more when Dr. Jed Davis took over as the athletic director at NYHS. He established the athletic program as a serious component of the overall high school program, which became apparent with the winning seasons that the basketball teams began to enjoy. This was epitomized by the NYHS girls’ varsity basketball team, which went to the Hillel Invitational Girls’ Basketball Tournament in 2000, the national tournament for the best girls’ basketball teams at Jewish high schools across the country. In 2000 the NYHS team came in second place and in 2001 they won the Hillel championship with a team that included four high school girls from SBH, Lillian and Janna Almo, Tamar Benzikry and Chana Adatto.

Seventy years earlier, three SBH members had also formed the nucleus of a very successful basketball team that also won a championship. In that case it was Victor Calderon, Israel Halfon and Ezra Rose who were part of the 1930-31 Garfield High School team that was crowned the Seattle champions. Between the successes of these two basketball teams there were many other members of the SBH community who throughout the decades exhibited great athletic prowess at the high school and college level. Beginning in the 1920s when the first young SBH members began attending Garfield High School, giving those members with athletic ability an opportunity to excel on the ball field, many went on to establish names for themselves as varsity athletes. In the early decades, up through the 1970s, this was mainly for the boys, but as girls’ athletics became an integral part of the American school system, the young women of SBH also began to take advantage of these wider opportunities and establish themselves as athletes. Click this link for an initial list of the SBH members who played varsity athletics at the high school and college level.

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Conclusion and To the Future

This installment concludes the series of nine chapters on the history of Sephardic Bikur Holim. I thank the many SBH members who shared their knowledge and experiences, some of which have been included in these chapters. This series will have value if its review of the SBH past helps to inspire and motivate members and their families to learn about and practice our rich and unique traditions and customs, in our individual and communal lives, at home and in the synagogue. Only with the active encouragement of the younger generations of SBH members to build on the roots where their families grew up, and to continue in the traditions begun here in 1914 with the founding of SBH, can we project many more decades of future SBH history.

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Conclusion and To the Future

This installment concludes the series of nine chapters on the history of Sephardic Bikur Holim. Many SBH members shared their knowledge and experiences, some of which have been included in these chapters. This historic review of SBH will have value if its helps to inspire and motivate members and their families to learn about and practice our rich and unique traditions and customs, in our individual and communal lives, at home and in the synagogue. Only with the active encouragement of the younger generations of SBH members to build on the roots where their families grew up, and to continue in the traditions begun here in 1914 with the founding of SBH, can we project many more decades of future SBH history.

Sources:
a) Interviews with Larry Adatto, Albert Angel, Hazan Isaac Azose, Sol H. Halfon, Albert S. Maimon, Sam Mezistrano and Eli Varon October 2004
b) La Boz issues, 1994-2004

 

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We are located in Seward Park on the corner of Morgan St. and 52nd Avenue South.

6500 52nd Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98118
(206) 723-3028

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