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Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Sephardic minyan at The Moriah School

Seth Gribetz, president of the board of trustees (Credit: Seth Gribetz)

The Moriah School, Englewood, has announced plans to create the Moriah Sephardic Beit Midrash—Midrash Doresh Tov—a dedicated space for Sephardic tefillah and teaching. The beit midrash will enable a Sephardic minyan to be held each morning school is in session, and function as a classroom where Rabbi Mordy Kuessous, Rabbi of the Benaroya Sephardic Center at Congregation Ahavath Torah and Moriah’s Sephardic Cultural Director, will teach. The community will be able to use the Sephardic beit midrash, which has room for over 1,000 seforim, after school hours.

“Building out this really beautiful space will not only allow us to have a daily Sephardic minyan, it will also become a cultural center in Moriah,” said Seth Gribetz, President of the Board of Trustees. “Our expectation and hope is that in building a library stocked with seforim, the community will come in to enjoy and learn. It will be a source of pride for our Sephardic families and a place for everyone who wants to learn more Sephardic culture and practices.”

Rabbi Daniel Alter, Head of School, said the school began a concerted effort over a year ago to address the needs of the school’s Sephardic students. “We have a large Sephardic population, and we started thinking about what we could do to give them a sense of understanding and pride in their heritage. We also felt it was important for all of our students to understand the richness of Judaism and diversity in the Jewish world.”

A weekly Sephardic minyan introduced last year is now held twice a week. Rabbi Alter said parents were initially invited to ensure that there was a minyan and now come to enjoy the warm davening. Students can choose to attend either the Sephardic or Ashkenazi minyan. The students sign in, so they are always accounted for. Both minyanim end at the same time.

Daniel Setton of Englewood, a Moriah parent who davens in the Sephardic minyan, approached the Moriah leadership and suggested creating a beit midrash to further strengthen Sephardic culture in the school for children of Sephardic background and for all children to learn about diverse Jewish practices. The Setton family provided the lead gift to propel the idea into a plan. The space is now being designed and construction is expected to take place over the summer.

Setton said he began thinking about the possibility of a permanent space for the Sephardic minyan after it had to move one day to make room for an event. “When you come into a room that is all set up, you feel the warmth and it inspires davening. We are very proud of the Benaroya Sephardic Center. When you put that type of love into the place you pray, it is very inspiring. We hope to instill that respect and admiration in the next generation at Moriah.” He credits Rabbi Kuessous, Rabbi Alter and Seth Gribetz for their initiative in developing Sephardic tefillah and education at Moriah, and their vision of what the Sephardic beit midrash will be.

Rabbi Keussous said the minyan is very inclusive and Ashkenazi students are encouraged to come and learn about the different traditions. One in particular is of special interest. “Ashkenazi kohanim only do Birkat Kohanim on holidays while the Sephardim do it every day,” said Rabbi Kuessous. “Now the Ashkenazi students who are kohanim don’t want to miss this unique and proud moment.”

Rabbi Kuessous enjoys the synergy of teaching at Moriah and being the Rabbi of the Benaroya Sephardic Center. “It’s great to see the same kids in school and shul and it’s also nice exposure for them. The Sephardic community has grown tremendously and I’m glad Moriah is a good fit for the children. It’s important that their needs are met at every level and they don’t have to sacrifice a Sephardic environment. The Sephardic beit midrash will be an opportunity to offer so much more.

By Bracha Schwartz