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Who Are Sephardim?

SEPHARDI HISTORY 101

The term “Sephardic” is derived from the Hebrew word for Spain, “Sepherad.” It originally referred to the Jews who were expelled from Spain by order of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. Today the term refers to the descendants of these exiles, who settled in countries along the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, the Balkans, Italy, Syria and Palestine. Others from among the Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) Jews made their way to Brazil, Holland, and the Jewish communities of the New World, including New Amsterdam (now New York), Mexico, and the Caribbean island of Curacao.

Magen David Sephardic Congregation (MDSC) was formed by people whose families emigrated to America from such countries as Morocco, Egypt, and Syria. As time passed, the congregation added members from a wider geographical base, including many who were drawn to the beauty of the community's Torah scrolls as well as the readers' decidedly oriental ta'amim

As is the custom in many other Sephardic synagogues, we house our scrolls in Torah cases of carved wood with applications and etchings of gold and silver. Scrolls are crowned with rimonim, many of them crafted of sterling silver and embellished with tiny bells. In contrast, Ashkenazi Jews install their scrolls on Torah rollers called atzie chaim, and cover them with velvet mantles.  At MDSC, as at other synagogues that follow the Sephardic customs of Morocco, the Levant and the areas of the Mediterranean, the Torah case is carried from its place in the hechal and placed on its base. The scroll is read in its vertical position.  

Magen David maintains its devotion to Sephardic customs, but the congregation is a delightful mix of people from at least 18 countries, and includes many members from Ashkenazi backgrounds. It is a dynamic environment in which we come together to enjoy Judaism and the Jewish way of life. We welcome diversity, and consider it one of our most important strengths. All are welcome to learn with us and to pray with us. We also hope you will engage with us in our mission to aid persons in need, both in our congregation and in the Jewish community at large.

Tue, September 27 2022 2 Tishrei 5783