Rabbis from 25 countries on five continents attended the Annual Shehebar Sephardic Center (SSC) Rabbinical Conference, which focused on the life and teachings of the late Hakham Ovadia Yosef zt”l. Held in the SSC’s new building in the Old City, the current and past chief rabbis of Israel came to pay respect to the memory of Rabbi Yosef.
Sponsors for the annual conference included Salomon Bendayan, the Gindi Family and Century 21 Foundation, Ricky Cohen, the Benun Family and Bentex, Hymie Mamiye, the Missrys (in honor of Eileen and Alfonse Missry from their children and grandchildren), Gerard Mizrahi, David Gilinski and Ronny Hersh.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (Rabbi Ovadia’s son) spoke about the impact that his father had on his own family. With his sincere dedication to Israel, his personal studies and his dedication to helping people from all walks of life, Rabbi Ovadia influenced each of his sons to become outstandingrabbis. Hakham Yitzhak Yosef unveiled a painting of Hakham Ovadia which will glorify our Beit Hamidrash. This one of a kind painting was donated by Eric Kassin in memory of his father and grandparents.
Hakham Ovadia always had an open door to guide and encourage community rabbis during their rabbinical service. Chief Askenazic Rabbi David Lau spoke about how Hakham Ovadia encouraged all rabbis of communities, towns and cities in Israel to teach Torah and to always be available to the people of their communities.
Israel’s Chief Army Chaplain spoke about how Hakham Ovadia guided the rabbis of the army by addressing difficult questions that the Army rabbis brought to him, involving the wives of missing soldiers and conversions. Rabbi Yahel Vasserman, Chair of the Diaspora Religious Department of the Jewish Agency, spoke about Hakham Ovadia’s understanding of Diaspora issues, encouraging Torah education and visits to Israel among Diaspora Jews, because he knew they would fall in love with the land and Judaism.
Rabbi Bakshi Doron, past Chief Rabbi of Israel, spoke about Hakham Ovadia’s help in his formative years, helping him through the maze of religious and non-religious Israelis. Hakham Ovadia was always there for Rabbi Doron.
Speakers included Rabbi Baruch Mazel, dayanim, as well as Rabbi Ovadia’s two daughters Adina Bar Shalom and Aviva Dekutchai, who spoke about growing up in the house of Rabbi Ovadia and Margalit Yosef. Emille Crispen, his personal secretary, shared amazing stories about Rabbi Yosef.
Rabbi Eli Yishai, Knesset member, former Interior Minister and the Head of Shas, spoke of the political side of Hakham Ovadia, whose advice increased Shas from two seats to 17 and now 13 seats. He was able to walk through a maze of political adversaries and receive their respect, even if they did not like him.
The culminating event, a gala dinner with SSC alumni, students and their wives, as well as invited guests, included over 200 people. The former Chief Askenazic Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger attended and met with a group of Syrian Jews, including Chuck Mamiye, Alan Shamah, Joe Shamah, Vivian Hidary, Ely Harari and Mr. and Mrs. David Oved.
Rabbi Metzger spoke of the greatness of Hakham Ovadia and his willingness to go anywhere that there was a Jewish gathering such as brit milah, weddings, Torah dedications, and selihot. He loved the people and was always available and open, in a way not seen in chief rabbis of the past.
Rabbi Sam Kassin spoke about how Hakham Ovadia guided him in sending rabbis to Diaspora communities. He was a resource for unsolvable problems, which he resolved with humility, openness, understanding and his love for the Jewish people. The loss to the world is unimaginable but the legacy that he left—we hope—will guide us for the better in the coming years. May the memory of Hakham Ovadia zt”l always be close to our hearts. May we do good and be faithful to his ways.
By Sarina Roffe, the executive director of the Shehebar Sephardic Center.