Archive for the 'Rabbi Raphael Benchimol' Category

19
May
14

Manhattan Sephardic Congregation’s Celebration


Yesterday, Sunday the 18th, the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation celebrated its 24th anniversary at Manhattan 101 Club on Park Avenue. The congregation held its annual dinner which coincided with the end of LaG ba’Omer and the beginning LaD ba’Omer. Dinner was at 7:30, but the smorgasbord started at 6:00…

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A partial view of the crowd and one of the serving tables.

A partial view of the crowd and one of the serving tables

There was song and music even during the smorgasbord…

Hazan Marc Hazan entertaining the crowd with traditional Moroccan tunes.

Hazan Marc Hazan entertaining the crowd with traditional Moroccan tunes.

After ma’ariv, the dinner got under way…

Rabbi Raphael opens the dinner and the tzaddikim candles auction.

Rabbi Raphael opens the dinner and the tzaddikim candles auction.

A partial view of items auctioned…

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness, various members of the Abuhatzera family and more...

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness, various members of the Abuhatzera family and more…

Items were auctioned off ranging in price from a high of $25,000 to as low as $5,000.

After buying a Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness candle, Regina Schild adresses the congregation as Irving Schild looks on.

After buying a Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness candle, Regina Schild addresses the dinner participants as Irving Schild looks on.

The evening was catered by Foremost Caterers. Years ago, while I was still leaving in Monsey I used to be a mashgiach for this caterer, usually at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. It presented its clients with superb food then, and yet only managed to get better with the passage of time. Great food, great company, a beautiful venue, a superb evening! Who can ask for more?

CS

31
Aug
12

Hilula d’Ben Ish Hai at the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation


Last evening, the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation held a dinner for the Hilula of Rabbenu Hakham Ribbi Yoseph Chaim ‘a”h, also known as Ben Ish Chai (the title of his best known sefer).

Who was the Ben Ish Chai? He was born in 1834 and was niftar in 1909. In 1859, at the age of 25 he became Chief Rabbi of Baghdad when succeeding his late father the Hakham Rav Elyahu. Rav Yoseph Chayim became one of the greatest of the modern-day Sephardic poskim. With his encyclopedic knowledge of all facets of Judaism (from the hidden and from the revealed),  his approach was all encompassing; he considered the opinion of Ashkenazic scholars as well as Sephardic ones, and insisted that the opinions of “Acharonim” (Torah scholars from the 16th century onward) be considered along with the Talmud, of course, and the “Rishonim” (Torah scholars from North Africa, Egypt, Europe and Palestine between ca. 1000 C.E. and ca. 1500 C.E.) These included such great authorities as the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the “Chayei Adam,” and many others.

On the 8th of Elul 5669, he went on a pilgrimage to he tomb of Yechezkel Hanavi. He became sick and on the 13th of Elul he passed away. The number present at his levaya was huge, and consisted of Jews and non-Jews alike who came to give honor to this great man.

During a festive repast of authentic Iraqi dishes, Rabbi Raphael Benchimol (Rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation), spoke and made a siyum Mishnayiot, culminating the study of the whole Seder Mo’ed. He ended with the last Mishnah in Chagigah, “Keitzad ma’avirin al taharat azarah? – How did they remove [the utensils] for the purpose of cleansing the Forecourt?” He explained it by bringing down some of the Ben Ish Chai‘s commentaries. The siyum was done during the year of passing of Rabbi Benchimol‘s father – Aharon ben Avraham, as well as in memory of the other sponsors’ parents: Eliyahu ben Reuven, Victor Gourji ben Lulu vChoua and David ben Avraham alehem hashalom. As part of his explanations on the Mishna, the Rabbi connected it with the theme and importance of the mitzvah of kibud av va’em – honoring one’s father and mother.

Rabbi Matatia Chetrit spoke next about the lasting relevance of the Ben Ish Chai teachings, 103 years after his petirah.

Rabbi Shalom Sibony, head of MSC‘s Kollel teaching staff, spoke next.

There were almost a 100 people in attendance though the shot above gives only a partial view of the crowd. The food was prepared at Sidney and Tammy Cohen‘s 18 Restaurant. The sponsors of the Hilula were the Benchimol, Iny, Moche and Mukamal families.

It was an inspiring, informative, delicious evening. What more can one ask?

CS

14
Mar
12

The Knighting of a Rabbi


This past Sunday, March 11th, a most extraordinary singular ceremony was held at the auditorium of the Center for Jewish History, in Manhattan, to a standing room only crowd. Rabbi Raphael Benchimol, chief rabbi of Manhattan Sephardic Congregation became a Knight of the Order of the Throne by order of His Majesty the King, Mohammed VI (Ṣāḥib al-Jalālah al-Malik Muḥammad al-Sādis) of Morocco.

The evening opened with Mistress of Ceremonies, Founder and Honorary President of the American Sephardic Federation, Liliane Shalom introducing the event, and dignitaries present (members of the diplomatic corps, activists and more).

Liliane Shalom, Founder and former President of the American Sephardic Federation, was the evening’s emcee. She was knighted in 1987 by His Majesty the King Mohammed VI’s father, King Hassan II, in 1987.

Marc Hazan, Cantor at Manhattan Sephardic Congregation sang beautiful renditions of the American and Moroccan national anthems.

Marc Hazan, singing with feeling!

Mr. David Dangoor, President of the American Sephardi Federation, followed with the opening remarks. Rabbi Marc SchneierPresident of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and Rabbi of the star-studded Hampton Synagogue, spoke next. He opened his speech with an amusing and well known anecdote concerning Pablo Picasso.

An art dealer once came to Pablo Picasso with a painting, purportedly signed by the artist, to have its authenticity verified. Picasso quickly looked at it and pronounced it a fake. Three years later, the same dealer came back with another painting and an impoverished artist in tow, and once again Picasso pronounced it a fake.

Enraged, the impecunious painter cried out: “But Pablo, I saw you paint it and you yourself gave it to me!” to which Picasso responded, “Pablo Picasso also paints fake Picassos sometimes.”

The point of the anecdote was that we all “paint fakes,” all except the evening’s honoree,whose indefatigable work on behalf of his people radiates his true luminosity constituting Rabbi Raphael Benchimol’s  core badge of honor… Rabbi Raphael Benchimol, whose genuineness, has repeatedly shown he does not “paint fakes;” his work as a rabbi, his travails on behalf of his congregation, his espousal of causes that benefit Moroccan Jewry, his heartfelt speeches and deep wonderful insights on Torah prove he only is capable of “painting” what’s truly real…

Royal Ambassador Serge Berdugo – who flew in from Morocco followed. He spoke of the Moroccan Jewish Community then and now, the love of His Majesty for the tradition and rich history of Jews in in the kingdom and the peaceful coexistence between the kingdom’s various faiths.

Royal Ambassador and President of the Jewish community of Casablanca, Serge Berdugo.

He mentioned the Preamble of the New Constitution adopted by Referendum on the 1st of July 2011, establishing that the National Unity, forged by the convergence of its Arab-Islamist, Berber [amazighe] and Saharan-Hassanic, [saharo-hassanie] components, is nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences [affluents]“.

Ambassador Berdugo presented Rabbi Benchimol, a medal bestowed on him by King Mohammed VI and a proclamation naming him a Knight of the Order of the Throne.

Wearing the medal making him a Knight of the Order of the Throne, Rabbi Raphael Benchimol accepts the honor, humbly but eloquently.

Rabbi Benchimol concluded his remarks with a blessing in Hebrew for the King of Morocco and the Royal Household in and then translated it to English for the enthralled attendees. He then unveiled a gift to His Majesty, a magnificent silver crown encased in a glass case and wood case.

Rabbi Benchimol, Ambassador Rachad Bouhlal (Morrocco’s Ambassador to the US), Royal Ambassador Serge Berdugo Kink Mohammed VI’s representative to this event), Consul General of Morocco, Mohamed Karmoune standing beside the silver crown given to His Majesty the King Mohammed VI.

Rabbi Benchimol explained that the silver crown is traditionally used to adorn the holy Torah scroll.  He elaborated that this gift was specifically chosen in gratitude to His Majesty and to his predecessors, who as Commanders of the Faithful have for generations protected and preserved Judaism in Morocco.

The inscription on the display case reads:

To His Majesty, Mohammed VI King of Morocco
With our Deepest Gratitude
Manhattan Sephardic Congregation
“May G-d Always watch over you and protect you”

A partial view of the crowded auditorium.

Ambassador Serge Berdugo gave a video presentation on the extensive and elaborate Jewish cemetery project under way in Morocco.

The ceremony ended with the Moroccan Ambassador to the US, His Excellency Rachad Bouhlal reminiscences of his childhood and the respect Moroccan children were taught to have for their elders regardless of religious creed.

The evening ended with light dips, salads, cakes and a superb Moroccan coffee in a room transformed to look like a Moroccan lounge. A truly memorable evening for a most exceptional man. May his many merits, both hidden and known, inspire us all to meritorious action on behalf of our people and fellow citizens of the world.

CS

08
Feb
12

Tu Bishvat – New Year of the Trees – at the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation


Today, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat, we celebrate a resplendent prelude to spring, the holiday of Tu Bishvat (Rosh Hashana le’Ilanot – New Year for the Trees). This Yom Tov is one of the four New Years mentioned in the Mishna. Since the ShkediaAlmond tree - is the first tree to blossom during the season and the last one to wither, it has come to symbolize Tu Bishvat.

An almond tree, shkedia, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem...

Its flowers symbolize the cups crowning the seven branched Temple candelabra.

On Rosh Hashana we use fruits or vegetables as symbols for various brachot and good wishes. On Tu Bishvat, Sephardim use fruits whose names hint at their symbolization. For example,the almond tree appears in Yermiyahu – Jeremiah 1:11-12: The word of Hashem was addressed to me, saying: “What do you see Yermiyahu?” And I said: “The branch of a watchful [shaked-almond] tree I see.” And Hashem said: “You’ve seen well, for I am watchful [shoked - watchful] over my word that it be accomplished.

Last evening, I attended a Tu Bishvat Seder at the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation (325 East 75th Street; Manhattan, NY) and this minhag (new to me and to many as well as to many a litvish or chassidish yid) was deeply meaningful and enlightened my appreciation of our richest traditions. As an Ashkenazi I had never heard of a Tu Bishvat Seder such as Rabbi Raphael Benchimol conducted this past evening. He relayed that on Tu Bishvat we get to repair the sin committed by Adam and Eve when they ate of the fruit of the Etz Hada’at in direct violation of Hakadosh Baruch Hu‘s explicit command against it. Just as mankind’s very first sin came through a fruit, here – as we rejoice in the Almighty’s handiwork – we have the chance to rectify, purify and be metaken our souls through fruits and their blessings.

Rabbi Benchimol explaining each item, its blessing and meaning

We started the Seder, by sipping an Israeli Ben Ami Chardonnay 2011. This was a light wine dominated by aromas of pineapple and guava, light and balanced on the palate with a rich, clean finish.

A partial view of the crowd

On each table there was a lovely array of fruits signifying various human and divine attributes as expounded by Rabbi Benchimol…

Close to thirty different types

The custom of this Seder had its beginning in the 16th century, at the table of the AR”I Hakadosh in Tzfat, the center of mystical studies since the days of the academy of Shem va’Ever – which goes back to the days before Avraham Avinu went out from Ur Kasdim to follow the Bore Holam‘s command to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s dwelling.

This seder‘s ritual is spiritually enriched with hidden and obvious Kabbalistic meanings making for a most engaging memorable evening.

CS

24
May
11

21st Annual Hiloula Dinner


Last evening, the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation held its 21st Annua Lag Ba’Omerl Dinner. The venue was the Museum of Jewish Heritage next to Manhattan’s Battery Park. It started with a very nice smorgasboard, befitting the occasion and the venue, combined with a superb selection of top wines and other potables. The main speaker at the dinner was Harav Joseph Sitruk SHLIT”A - Chief Rabbi of France – who flew in specifically for this weekend’s events at the Congregation.

Rabbi Raphael Benchimol translating Rabbi Joseph Sitruk's words from French

Also in attendance were Morocco’s Consul Général M. Mohamed Karmoune

Mr. Mohamed Karmoune

and the President of the Jewish Community of Marrakesh, Jackie Kadosh

Rabbi Jackie Kadosh

Immediately after Rabbi Sitruk’s speech, Rabbi Benchimol presented Irving Schild (who was not expecting it), with a plaque for his being one of the founders of Manhattan Sephardic Congretation and for his years’ long dedication to it.

Irving and Regina Schild

The dinner was a fund raiser for both the building fund and the yearly operating expenses. Mr. Schild donated 5 photos which he had taken during the Congregation’s trip to Morocco a couple of year’s back. They were auctioned off fetching a total of $36,000, one of them selling at the princely sum of $26,000. All in all the expected goals were more than met.

The food, the presentation was very nice, especially that roast beef. I wish I knew who the caterer was.

At the end of the evening, Irving Schild was presented with yet another surprise. They brought him a cake commemorating his 80th birthday, it had a little camera and a tiny little man sitting atop of it…

Delicious chocolate cake!

Though I am not a member of the Congregation, nor am I of Sephardic extraction myself, I found the people I’d met last week – at Sidney and Tammy Cohen’s – very warm and friendly and I even made some new friends at this dinner. This is a true tribute to the Congregation’s members and to the values Rabbi Benchimol teaches and manages to instill in his congregants.

CS

18
May
11

Hillula d’Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness


Last evening, SYR and I had the privilege to be at Sidney and Tammy Cohen‘s (partners at 18 Restaurant) apartment in Manhattan. We were there to commemorate the Hilula (yohrtzeit, as we ashkenazim call it) of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness. I had never heard of this custom until I got Tammy’s email last week… How I wish I had known of it earlier in my life!

Among walls covered with portraits of a very young Baba Sali (whose haunting eyes seemed to pierce right through me) and Chagall like paintings, the crowd, the tfilot, the candles, the food, made it all very special…

Dips galore, mashed potatoes, fish, couscous, chicken, beef and more...

Who was Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness? The Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Gittin 56a relates:

As he [Nero] came close, he shot an arrow towards the east and it fell in Jerusalem. He then shot an arrow to the west and it fell in Jerusalem. [He shot] towards the four points of the compass and it fell in Jerusalem. He then asked a [passing] boy, “Tell me the verse [from Scripture] you learned [today].” He [the boy] said, “I will place my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel [Ezekiel 25:14].” He [Nero] said, “The Holy One, blessed be He, wishes to destroy His House and lay the blame on me.” He [Nero] ran away and became a proselyte. From him came Rabbi Meir.”

Rabbi Meir, the descendant of a former Roman emperor, eventually became a staunch supporter of Bar Kochba‘s rebellion against the Romans. Why was he called Meir, when tradition says that his name was either Nahori or Misha? “Meir” means “Illuminator,” as someone who illuminated the mind’s eye of students and scholars alike to give them an understanding of both the Written and the Oral Laws, he came to be known as Meir.

“Ba’al Haness” means “Master of Miracles,” why was that name added to him? It is related that on a certain occasion when a pack of wild dogs ran over to tear him apart, Rabbi Meir cried out: “Eloka d’Meir aneini – God of Meir answer me,” the dogs retreated. The Roman guard of a brothel was about to be hanged for having taken a bribe. He was bribed so as to allow Rabbi Meir‘s wife (Bruriah‘s) sister to escape (while still untouched) from the brothel where the Romans had condemned her to live her life in shame (after they killed her parents, the saintly R. Chananya ben Teradyon - one of the 10 martyrs we mention in the kinot of Tisha B’Av – and his wife). As the noose was tightened around the guard’s neck he cried out, “God of Meir answer me,” the rope tore – to everyone’s amazement – and the guard was saved!

Harav Raphael Benchimol, rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, very eloquently told the evening’s participants that the specific date 14th of Nissan (Pessach Sheini). was a very propitious time for asking Rabbi Meir Baal Haness to intercede in one’s behalf. As I walked around the room, I heard touching, gripping stories of people’s prayers being answered. Even over this last weekend in Providence, RI, I heard one such story…

Rabbi Benchimol: "If you need anything, or if you have lost your way, Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness will help you find it..."

After Ma’ariv, people lit candles – on a specially set up table – while saying twice, “Eloka d’Meir aneini,” as each silently concentrated on his/her requests…

The emotions, the fervor, were contagious...

Meeting friends and friendly strangers, praying with them mincha and later ma’ariv, listening to the Rabbi’s divrey Torah, pouring out my heart as I concentrated on my personal requests – while lighting my candle – the delicious food, the drinks, made this a very inspiring and enchanted evening. Thank you Sidney, thank you Tammy.

Eloka d’Meir aneinU! God of Meir, answer US all!

CS




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