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A HISTORY OF MAGEN DAVID SEPHARDIC CONGREGATION

The first Sephardic Jews appeared in the Washington DC area around 1924. Most were from Turkey and Greece. Moroccan Jews began to arrive in the early 40's, followed by others from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya. Gradually they came together to build the foundation of what would become Magen David Sephardic Congregation.

A precursor to MDSC was the Yom Tov Congregation, founded in 1914. It was the Washington area’s first Sephardic prayer group, and it had its own burial society. Rabbi Solomon Ezra was the group’s leader. Rabbi Ezra may be seen in this banquet photo. He is in the upper right corner, seated second from the right at the head table.

The growing Yom Tov congregation soon needed more space. It found a home at Washington Hebrew Congregation, a well-established Ashkenazi synagogue. Later they moved to a dedicated space at the Hebrew Home. The devotion of the group to the customs of their Sephardic forebears was well known; the group was a beacon to newly arrived Sephardic immigrants who cherished the same traditions.

In 1966, the time had come to form a board of directors, and an MDSC charter was enacted. During the early years, services and social activities had a decidedly Moroccan flavor, but by 1982 the congregation included members from a variety of backgrounds, and the synagogue widened its Middle Eastern and North African identity. Ashkenazi Jews appeared first as casual visitors, but many became steadfast members. MDSC has always warmly welcomed European-style influences, but carefully maintains its Sephardic essence.

The congregation began to look for a home it could call its own. A building on the corner of Tilden Lane and Old Georgetown Road in Rockville, Maryland was purchased in 1984, and the first Shabbat service in the new location took place in May 1986. In 1987, the congregation welcomed its first full-time rabbi, Hayyim Kassorla, whose Torah knowledge and youthful enthusiasm attracted many new members. By 1992, the congregation numbered 250 families.

Members continued to dream of acquiring a permanent home. A convenient location was found, and thanks to the hard work and generosity of Sami and Annie Totah, land was purchased; an architectural style that celebrates Sephardic roots was selected. The result was an elegant Moorish exterior and a stately, evocative sanctuary. The cornerstone was laid in April 1997. The first prayers were said in the new sanctuary in June 1998.

Since 2022, our prayer services and learning experiences have been greatly enriched by our Hazan, Liran Kohn, as well as by learned members of the congregation, and by local and visiting rabbis and scholars. 

MDSC is defined by a unique sense of kinship. We feel a responsibility for every member of our diverse congregation. We love to share the unique beauty and sanctity of our building, as well as the richness of our melodies and minhagim. Inclusiveness and warmth are hallmarks of our religious services, as we celebrate daily the joy and vibrancy of Sephardic Jewish life.

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784