In response to Rabbi Jeffrey Frances’ letter (“Rabbi Maroof is needed,” WJW, Oct. 30), the board of directors of Magen David Sephardic Congregation (MDSC) would like to clarify misinformation that Rabbi Frances purports to present as fact.
The board of MDSC and Rabbi Maroof ended their formal relationship after nine years; however, as reported by WJW earlier this year, the parting of ways, while emotional, was amicable. Any suggestion that MDSC faces an “uncertain future” because of Rabbi Maroof’s departure ignores reality.
MDSC is the only Sephardic synagogue in the nation’s capital. For almost 50 years, it has engaged the Jewish community on Sephardic religious practices, learning and cultural activities.
Contrary to Rabbi Frances’ assertions, Sephardic life and prayer continue to be alive and well at MDSC.
Membership numbers remain unchanged since Rabbi Maroof’s departure. In the past few months, we’ve enjoyed a surge in the level of communal participation. Our daily minyanim continue to take place; we experienced record-breaking attendance and support during the High Holidays; more than 125 people attended our Simchat Torah celebration and dinner; we have established guest programs for Shabbat prayer and learning with seven rabbis participating to date; we have launched a new “member teaching member” program series that has attracted more than 500 attendees thus far; and our revitalized sisterhood is focused on the creation of additional women’s and children’s programming.
As with the Jewish community as a whole, changes are occurring in the greater Sephardic community. The growth of several Sephardic minyanim are actually a testament to MDSC’s nurturing of observant Sephardic families who have spread throughout the D.C. area.
The inaccurate snapshot of the Sephardic community, which Rabbi Frances has tried to present, disregards the day-to-day realities that our members and visitors have personally experienced, and what we as a board are striving to perpetuate. MDSC is dedicated to providing Sephardim a warm and welcoming environment with religious services, Torah study, Jewish education, cultural and social action, and charitable activities.
We welcome Rabbi Frances and the entire community to come and experience first-hand the warmth, beauty and inspiration of our services and programs.
MAGEN DAVID SEPHARDIC
This letter is truly bewildering! Rabbi Frances was responding to an earlier article in the Washington Jewish Week where the President of MDSC was interviewed and said that the future of the Sephardic community was uncertain and it was in decline. Rabbi Frances was trying to shed light on a factor that contributed to this decline was wasn’t mentioned – the departure of the rabbi. Why is the board of directors blaming Frances for the statement that their future is uncertain, when it was their own president who said that, not Frances?
To the Editor:
Magen David Sephardic Congregation President Fred Richardson on behalf of the synagogue board of directors (“The Truth about MDSC” WJW, Nov 26)seeks to clarify the misinformation which I “purport to present as fact” regarding MDSC. To remind the readers, and perhaps Mr. Richardson and the Board of some actual facts and to place my letter into context, I submit the following:
The WJW article “Rich tradition, uncertain future” appeared in the September 17, 2014 edition and. I submitted my Letter to the Editor on the very same day. Some six weeks later on October 30 the WJW chose to print it. Certainly any context in terms of this being a response to the original article was well gone .
In the article, which featured a lengthy interview with Mr. Richardson, it was Mr. Richardson himself who pointed out that “assimilation is making the Sephardi future uncertain”. To the contrary, I pointed out that while indeed the numbers are smaller in comparison to our Ashkenazic brethren ( I being of paternal Sephardic descent, the great grandchild of Hakham Eliahu Frances who prior to the Shoah was a distinguished rabbinical leader in Salonika, Greece and then in Amsterdam) there is indeed a vibrant presence of Sephardim in at least three other community institutions in the Washington DC area.
My submission offered my opinion as to what I perceived as a reason for the decline of the synagogue;the choice not to retain the services of a rabbi who enjoyed an apparently healthy and robust following in the community. This leader was building a truly holy and vibrant bastion of Sephardic heritage from this half century old institution.
Mr. Richardson chose to discount this entirely in his article but did an excellent job pointing out the problems that face the MDSC community. He also articulated the apparent failings of the synagogue. Not onlu did he acknowledge the overall dilemma of assimilation but he also acknowledged that
-The majority of the children of the “Old Guard” have married Ashkenazic spouses and tradition has been lost.
-While the congregation remains steadfastly Orthodox (to its credit!), this does not seem to meet the needs of the “new guard”, or the children who would be expected to continue in the synagogue.
-The absence of intensive religious study in the synagogue (During Rabbi Maroof’s tenure, this was far from the case) and the need for those who seek it to turn to other community Ashkenazic institutions.
– The absence of unity in the prayer services caused by the eclectic blend of Sephardim from numerous communities including the Persian Jews (who in reality are not Sephardim but who proudly identify themselves as “Edut HaMizrach”) who have differences in both liturgy and in the way in which the prayers are lead.
I applaud his honesty but I chose to voice my opinion regarding the separation of MDSC from Rabbi Maroof. Mr. Richardson found the opinions of one person to be a convenient scapegoat to deflect from the very truths he articulated so well in his WJW interview.
I have no ill wishes for MDSC or for that matter anyone. In fact I truly wish I had the answers to address every single valid issue that Mr. Richardson presented.
Perhaps the greatest asset of the Sephardic community has been the unwavering loyalty to tradition and halacha within the synagogue itself even if there is a wide variance of observance among the membership.
Mr. Richardson echoes these same ideas in his interview, stating that while the membership varies in terms of personal observance, “in the synagogue everyone is Orthodox”. Most Sephardim would not want to have it any other way.
But let Mr. Richardson and his Board not discount the need for strong, inspirational rabbinic leadership within the synagogue. I hope that the synagogue realizes that it is possible to unite the “Old Guard” and the “New Guard” on common ground if the proper scholar, orator, and most importantly TEACHER is found to once again lead MDSC.
But after such glaring honesty the synagogue should not lower themselves with the indignity of deflecting. They have admitted the issues and problems and failings. I would hope that in the relatively long span of time sin the initial publication of the letter MDSC has begun to experience greater success. So to Mr. Richardson, the board and the congregation I offer the traditional Sephardic wish of “Hazak U’Barukh!” May you be strong and may you be blessed!!”
Additionally, I did not title the letter “Rabbi Maroof needed”. That was a WJW editorial decision.