What was the Relationship between Turkish and Rhodesli Sephardim on the West Coast?

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This is my third blog
post in a series of three posts in which I discuss the theme of Sephardim in
the West Coast in the 19th-20th century. In this post, I compare and contrast
the relationship between Turkish and Rhodesli Sephardim in two cities: Seattle
and Los Angeles. In previous posts, I examined different aspects of Sephardim
in San Francisco. However, the issue faced in this blog post was not relevant
to San Francisco Sephardim during this time period. Most of them had been
living in America for generations, so they had stronger ties to the US than to
any country that their families originated in.

 

Seattle:

Intermarriage between
the Turkish and Rhodesli Sephardim was frowned upon by many people because of a
division between the two cultures that started soon after the Rhodesli
Sephardim arrived in Seattle (Angel, 567). The first Sephardi man from Rhodes
came to Seattle in 1904 (FitzMorris, 29). Calvo and Policar befriended him, and
when other Sephardim came over from both Turkey and Rhodes, the two growing
groups decided to combine to form a synagogue. In 1907, all of the Sephardim
held high holiday services together (Adatto, 64). Unfortunately, the Turkish
and Rhodesli Sephardim realized that their traditions were different, and they
couldn’t be grouped together. By 1908, they split (Adatto, 65) and two
synagogues were created: Bikur Holim, which served Turkish Sephardim, and Ezra
Bessaroth, which served Rhodesli Sephardim. These synagogues are still in use
today. A rift within the Turkish Sephardi community between Jews from Rodosto
and Jews from Marmara happened after Bikur Holim was bought from the Ashkenazim
(Adatto, 72) (See my second blog post for more information). The Marmara Jews
built a synagogue called Ahavat Ahim in 1922 (Adatto, 89). This synagogue
closed in 1940 (Maimon, 614) and ended up merging back with Bikur Holim
(FitzMorris, 30).

Sephardim from different
countries didn’t completely stop trying to unify, although their attempts were
often thwarted.  Sephardim of all
backgrounds wanted a chief rabbi. Rabbi Aharon Benezra was appointed in
the fall of 1915, and some of the Sephardim hoped that he would unify Turkish
and Rhodesli Jews. However, disagreement between the communities reduced  Rabbi Aharon Benezra’s role to mostly working
as a rabbi and a teacher.  Still
unimpressed by his performance, some Sephardim argued for his removal. Rabbi
Aharon Benezra left Seattle towards the end of 1916 (Angel, 569). The second
chief rabbi that was hired, Rabbi Abraham Maimon, also failed at the mission of
unifying the Sephardim. He ended up as the rabbi of Bikur Holim (Angel, 570).

 

Los Angeles:

The first Sephardi
society in Los Angeles was called Sociedad Ahavat Shalom. This society served
all sects of Sephardim in the area. It met for services, and had charity
programs to help the ill (Hasson, 384). Unfortunately, like in Seattle, the
Turks and Rhodeslis were not able to get along because their cultures were
perceived as being so different. The Rhodeslis left Ahavat Shalom in 1917 to
form their own society, Sociedad Pas y Progreso (Hasson, 384). Their synagogue
building finally opened in 1934. The synagogue was called the Sephardic Hebrew
Center. This congregation went to great lengths to try to protect the Sephardi
culture that people were trying to hide so they could assimilate. The synagogue
even published a newspaper called El Mezazero, which was written in Ladino
(Stern, 81).

As
time went on, the Turks and Rhodeslis made efforts to get along. In 1937, the
United Sephardic Organization was created for all types of Sephardim living in
Los Angeles to come together to help Sephardim in need around the world
(Samuels and Kramer, 427). In 1978, the American Sephardi Federation formed a
chapter in Los Angeles that served a similar function to the United Sephardic
Organization. In 1993, the Sephardic Hebrew Center merged with Temple Tifereth
Israel, which had originally been the Turkish synagogue (Hasson, 391). Turkish
and Rhodesli Sephardim living in Los Angeles were united in prayer once again.

Tifereth Israel is now
one of the largest Sephardic synagogues in America (Samuels and Kramer, 417).
It works to maintain the unity that took the Sephardim so long to achieve by
not classifying itself as Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox (Samuels and
Kramer, 432).

Bibliography

Adatto, Albert. Sephardim
and the Seattle Sephardic Community.
Seattle: U of Washington, 1939. Print.

Angel, Marc D., Hasson,
Aron, Kramer, William M., Maimon, Isaac, Samuels, Beth, Sidell, Loraine, Stern,
Norton B. Sephardic Jews in the West Coast States : An Anthology. 1st
ed. Los Angeles: Published for the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles by the
Western States Jewish History Association, 1996. Print. Western States Jewish
History ; v. 28, No. 1-3.

FitzMorris,
Mary K., and University of Washington. Spanish Portuguese Studies. Degree
Granting Institution. The Last Generation of Native Ladino Speakers?
Judeo-Spanish and the Sephardic Community in Seattle
(2014): Masters
Abstracts International 53-04(E). Print

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