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A Place Sephardim Call Home


The first Sephardic Jews appeared in the Washington DC area around 1924. Most of these early arrivals 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. The congregation’s Greek and Turkish founders were soon joined by Syrian and Egyptian Jews. 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.

When the growing Yom Tov congregation needed more space, it found a home at a well-established Ashkenazi synagogue, Washington Hebrew Congregation; later they moved to the Hebrew Home. Their devotion to the customs of their Sephardic forebearers was well known; the group was a beacon to newly arrived Sephardic immigrants who cherished the same traditions.

In 1966, a board of directors for what would become Magen David Sephardic Congregation was formed, and a charter was enacted. For many years, this congregation lacked a permanent home. As before, Ashkenazi synagogues generously offered spaces for prayer and activities. During these 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 was taking on a broader Middle Eastern and North African character. Ashkenazi Jews appeared first as casual visitors, but captivated by the warmth of the people and the vibrancy of the prayer service, many became steadfast members. MDSC warmly welcomed European-style influences, while at the same time maintaining and preserving its Sephardic essence.

In 1984, 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.

Once again a larger space was needed; the dream was to acquire a permanent - and lasting - home. When a convenient location was found, land was purchased, and an architectural style that celebrates our 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.

After Rabbi Kassorla's departure, the congregation was served from 2005 to 2014 by Rabbi Joshua Maroof, and from 2015 to 2018 by Rabbi Haim Ovadia. In recent years, prayer services and learning experiences have been enriched by the leadership of visiting rabbis. 

MDSC is defined by a unique sense of kinship. We feel a responsibility for every member of our diverse congregation. Those who encounter difficult times can count on aid and support from their leaders and their fellow members. MDSC has always welcomed not only Sephardim and Mizrahim, but Jews from all backgrounds. We love to share the 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.

We invite you to explore our Magen David Sephardic Congregation Museum located on the 3rd floor of our synagogue. Contact us [link to contact us] to book your tour today!

Wed, November 30 2022 6 Kislev 5783