NEW YORK (Nov. 18)
A prominent Sephardic rabbi said here today that he was confident about the future of the Jewish community in Spain which numbers between 10,000-12,000 living in Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga. The Haham, Dr. Solomon Gaon, chief rabbi of the Sephardic Congregations of the British Commonwealth and director of the Sephardic Studies program at Yeshiva University, spoke at the fourth annual Sephardic community leadership conference held at the university.
He told more than 200 rabbinic and lay leaders of the Sephardic communities in North America that he had just taken part in laying the cornerstone of the first synagogue to be built in Madrid since the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. He reported the opening of the first kosher restaurant in Madrid and a kosher hotel in Malaga, a resort city. Dr. Gaon said further that “there is on the part of the Spanish Government an attempt to aid Jews in immigrating to Spain from Morocco and from Egypt and other Arab lands. Provided the educational and spiritual facilities are made available, a Jewish cultural life can be rebuilt.”
Rabbi Gaon said Spanish Jews were mostly Sephardic and were generally professionals or business people. The rabbi of the new Madrid synagogue, to be consecrated Dec. 16, will be Benito Garson who was born In Tetuan, Spanish Morocco, and was ordained in London. Rabbi Gaon said that Max Mazin, president of the Madrid Jewish community, was trying to unite all the Jewish communities of Spain into one association. “The Jewish community in Spain is trying to take its place with those others of the diaspora in fulfilling its cultural and traditional responsibilities,” he said.
The restoration and reunification of Jerusalem, including the rebuilding of the world’s oldest synagogue, were given as goals of Israel’s Sephardic community by Eliahou Eliachar, president of the Sephardi Community of Jerusalem, at the conference. Mr. Eliachar, vice-president of the World Sephardi Federation, said Zalman Shazar, President of Israel, had become honorary president of a special committee formed by the Sephardic community for restoration of the Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai Synagogue, oldest in the world.
Abandonment of the central content of religious Sephardic life in the face of the challenges of modern society threatens the existence of synagogue life in North America, Dr. Gaon said. “The greatest crisis,” said Dr. Gaon, “is the need for well-trained men and women who can serve the Sephardic tradition as educators.” At present some 40 Sephardic students attend Yeshiva University, They are given special courses to perpetuate their “unique and rich heritage which has contributed so much to the totality of Jewish scholarship and tradition.” he said.