When Rav David Yosef accepted an invitation from the Benaroya Sephardic Center to be the honored guest at a melave malka, he didn’t know much about the area. By the time he left New Jersey a few days later, he said Israel should come here to learn how Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities can get along so well. Rav David Yosef is the son of Chacham Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. He was accompanied by his son and chief of staff Rav Ovadia Yosef, named for his grandfather.
“He was pleasantly surprised,” said Rabbi Mordechai Kuessous, assistant rabbi for the Benaroya Sephardic Center at Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah. “He was impressed by our concept of a synagogue with three different minyanim and a Sephardic center under one roof that all get along and respect each other.”
Rav Yosef was equally impressed with the relationship of the Sephardic and Ashkenazic cultures at two area day schools. The visits were arranged by shul members Michael Abittan, whose son goes to Ben Porat Yosef (BPY), and Daniel Setton, who has a son at The Moriah School.
At BPY, the student choir greeted Rav Yosef with Sephardic nigunim and chazzanut. Rav Yosef gave a shiur in Ivrit on the theme of achdut and the importance of midot in the Torah. After a student panel discussion on Halacha, Rav Yosef answered questions about the differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic customs and emphasized the need to respect the customs of others. He shared that he has an Ashkenazic son-in-law who feels comfortable in his home because the family values unity.
Following the visit to BPY, Rav Yosef and his son visited The Moriah School, which built a Sephardic center earlier this year. Rav Yosef talked to the middle school about appreciating the gift of Torah and mitzvot and told the students to be proud of their heritage and not take it for granted. Rav Yosef encouraged the early-childhood students to enhance their love of Eretz Yisrael. He finished his visit with a bracha for the lower school, and gave personal brachot to the faculty. Rabbi Kuessous, who also teaches at Moriah, said all the students were in awe and respectful. “They knew they were in the presence of a great man.” He recalled that one teacher said she had been there for 25 years and couldn’t think of a more meaningful day.
Rav Yosef is the chief rabbi of Har Nof in Israel and heads the Yecheveh Da’at Kollel. He sits on the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah and is a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages. He has authored over 20 sefarim.