Grapevine: Preserving Sephardi heritage

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

SEPHARDI CHIEF Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
Although their names are similar, they both live in Jerusalem, and they head organizations with overlapping membership and aims, there is a difference between Moroccan-born Prof. Shimon Shetreet and Sam Ben Chetrit, though it is easy to confuse them.
Sam Ben Chetrit is the long-time president of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, and it was he who was instrumental in making the Moroccan Jewish Mimouna festival, which takes place immediately after Passover, a national Israeli holiday.
Shimon Shetreet, an eminent, world-renowned Hebrew University law professor, former cabinet minister and former member of the Jerusalem City Council, who in September this year announced his candidacy to serve as Israel’s 11th president, is currently founding president of the World Union of Sephardi Jews, which incorporates Jews who can trace their origins to Spain and Jews with roots in Arab lands.
The WUSJ was founded some five years ago with two primary aims: 1) to remove the stigma from those Jews from Arab lands who came to the country between 1946 and 1964 and helped to build it up and fortify it from the peripheral development towns to which they had been sent; and 2) to build a museum in Jerusalem dedicated to the preservation of the history and heritage of Sephardi Jews from the time of the Spanish Inquisition, to their settling in other countries and their ultimate return to the ancient Jewish homeland.
In removing the “Sallah Shabati” stigma from Jews who came from Arab lands, the WUSJ awards citations to pioneers or their descendants who came to what Shetreet refers to as “the new Israel.” Bearing in mind that the pioneers who initially lived in transit camps shared space with Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, some such people will also receive special citations from the WUSJ, although the overwhelming majority of recipients are Sephardi or from Arab lands. They include artists, writers, academics, athletes, bankers, business people, scientists, doctors, lawyers, public servants, entertainers, politicians, media personalities, military officers and more who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields.
Although they are not listed among the current recipients of the Pioneer Citation, it is interesting that Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Rafi Peretz, Shas leader Arye Deri and Jerusalem-born Mossad chief Yossi Cohen all qualify for the citation in that all four are Sephardim. And of course there are Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, and Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Shlomo Amar, among many other prominent personalities.
Shetreet says that if he does get elected as president, he will be happy to continue awarding citations from the President’s Residence. Incidentally, if it does become his new abode, he will not be the first Sephardi president of Israel. That honor belongs to the late Yitzhak Navon who was Israel’s fifth president, and whose family were the real pioneers, settling in Jerusalem almost 400 years ago.
■ APROPOS MAYOR Moshe Lion, he was seen last week in the Mamilla Mall, walking with the mall’s developer and owner Alfred Akirov, talking to store owners and managers on the day that shops were permitted to re-open. Unlike most other malls in the capital, the Mamilla mall is an open-air mall, though people had to stand in line in front of the shops, just as they did elsewhere in the capital. In fact, in some places downtown the lines are so long that they pose obstacles for pedestrians. Some places, such as the Max stores, don’t care how many people come inside, but other stores are very careful to observe the rules, and some have even hired bouncers to prevent shoppers from pushing into the premises.
■ EVEN THOUGH it has been closed for several months now, the Great Synagogue continues to publish weekly notices with candle lighting times and the weekly Torah portion as well as congratulations or condolences to members of the congregation who are either celebrating a joyous event or have experienced a family bereavement. Last Friday, in addition to the regular notice there was a YouTube link to a 2013 Great Synagogue choir rehearsal conducted by Elli Jaffe, with Cantor Chaim Adler and Raymond Goldstein on the keyboard. Naturally there is no keyboard accompaniment on the Sabbath or on religious festivals. While the singing was superb, the general environment was casual, as no one was dressed in their Sabbath finery. What was particularly interesting was that Jaffe gave many members of the inter-generational choir the opportunity to sing solo, and there were some truly beautiful voices, including that of Jaffe’s son Zeev Natan, who has been a member of the choir since he was a boy, and is now married with children.
The other bonus was that the rehearsal was part of a YouTube grid that included celebrated Chabad singer Avraham Fried singing a wedding song. When he comes to Israel, where he attracts huge audiences and fills the Sultan’s Pool to capacity, Fried usually sings hassidic pop, but this time, he sang a wedding song, where the quality of his voice came across much better than it does with hassidic pop, where it is often overwhelmed by the electronic band. He was also accompanied by a band on this occasion, but it was more in the background than in the foreground.