The sounds of Habibi and the aroma of fresh burekas filled the halls of Manhattan Day School/Yeshiva Ohr Torah (MDS) at its Second Annual Sephardic Heritage Day. Excitement was in the air as dozens of parents joined the students in celebration of Sephardic religious, cultural and culinary traditions.

In the morning, the beit midrash was transformed into an authentic Sephardic Synagogue. Tefilla was led by Cantor Marc Hazan  from the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, Kriyat Hatorah was read from a Sephardic Sefer Torah by 7th grader Shlomo Sitt and a drasha (sermon) was given by Rabbi Sion Setton from Congregation Magen David of Manhattan. Siddurim that were used and now permanently housed at MDS were donated by Mouwaffac and Jenny Darwich in honor of Mark Matzliah Darwich’s bar mitzvah. Sephardic style kippot (with the MDS logo) were donated by Sami and Nora Menda in honor of the Darwich grandchildren. Many MDS parents joined the minyan and enhanced the tefilla (prayers).

MDS Principal Rabbi Mordechai Besser announced that MDS is writing a Sephardic Sefer Torah that will be housed in its beit midrash. Mr. David Dweck has organized the commissioning and underwriting of the Torah. A Fall 2013 Hachnasat Sefer Torah event is planned to complete the Torah and to welcome it to its new home.

The students and guests were treated to sumptuous Sephardic breakfast specialties that were prepared by 8th grade students and MDS parents. Then it was off to the gym for an inspiring performance of Sephardic songs by the MDS choir as well as two highly creative videos by 8th graders Max Herskowitz and Danielle Ben-David and by 7th graders Debra Schwartzben and Danna Rebibo.

Activities throughout the day included dance for girls taught by Sarah Cheney and a shesh besh (backgammon) tournament run by Rabbi Ariel Cohen.

Lunch was also a big hit with many hot and cold (and some spicy) dishes prepared by the 4th and 7th graders under the direction of many parent volunteers and the MDS lunchroom staff. The favorite foods included Cheese and Spinach Burekas, kalsonnes with rishta (a kind of ravioli with buttered noodles), and riz ib haleb (rice pudding). Lemon mint drinks kept everyone cool on a very hot day. No one went away hungry!

The day closed with Mincha led by 7th grader Yair Shloush and a very interesting speech about famous Sephardim in world history by Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie of Congregation Edmund J. Safra. Rabbi Besser said, “We were thrilled to take a day to celebrate the heritage of our growing number of Sephardic students in such a meaningful way. Chazak u’baruch (strength and blessing) to all who worked so many hours to put the day together and to the students who contributed their talents to make this a great Sephardic celebration!”

Thank you to event committee chair, David Dweck and committee members: Maurice Ades, Rabbi Ariel Cohen, Eileen Dahan, Miriam Darwich and Atara Neuer.

Thank you to the food committee co-chairs: Rena Ashear, Julie Ebani and Miriam Darwich and committee members: Nava Bettinger, Jenny Darwich, Bruria Rebibo and Karen Tamir and photography: Liana Goldstein (5th grade), Rabbi Jeremy Litton and Yehudit Robinson.

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