Monday, December 24, 2012

Syrian Jews move in to New York

 The sit  (left) of the proposed Safra community centre (right) on Manhattan's East Side

Syrian Jews are moving into Manhattan from Brooklyn to be near the Safra synagogue and its burgeoning community, the Tablet reports. (With thanks: Michelle)

The standard iconography of Jewish Manhattan has always been Ashkenazic: pastrami at Katz’s, smoked salmon at Russ & Daughters, tenements and Judaica stores on the Lower East Side, Hasidic diamond dealers in Midtown. Even with the growing popularity of Sephardic dishes on Upper West Side holiday tables, almost no one remembers that a Little Syria full of Ottoman Jews once thrived on Washington Street in Lower Manhattan—mainly because the entire community packed up and left for the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend before the Second World War.

Now the Syrian Sephardic Jewish community is once again establishing itself in Manhattan. It’s been nearly a decade since Congregation Edmond J. Safra—whose namesake built a banking fortune in Brazil—opened just off Central Park on East 63rd Street, to serve people like him: Jews from Middle Eastern countries who grew wealthy, largely outside the United States, and settled on the Upper East Side along with other members of the moneyed global elite. (Safra was found dead in his Monaco home in 1999.) But the synagogue’s list has grown to 1,500 families, and much of its recent growth has been fueled by Brooklyn transplants. “It used to be only singles, and then it became newlyweds, but for only one or two years,” said Elie Abadie, the entrepreneurial Mexico City-raised rabbi of the Safra synagogue. “Now we have young families, and we have empty-nesters moving in, once their children have all married.”

In 2011, Abadie launched a preschool, the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan, in an effort to anchor young parents torn between remaining and returning to Brooklyn, where the dominant Syrian community has invested heavily in schools and social services. Next month, demolition is scheduled to begin on three adjoining townhouses along Manhattan’s East 82nd Street to make way for Abadie’s most ambitious project to date: a 12-story, $50 million community center on East 82nd Street at Lexington Avenue. When it opens in 2014, the glass-fronted building will feature a kosher café, a swimming pool, exercise and recreation rooms, a kitchen for cooking classes, and a two-level banquet hall with an outdoor terrace graced by skyline views and a “glamour pool.” The Moise Safra Community Center—named for Edmond’s brother, who underwrote the building—will also include a second Sephardic synagogue for families living in the East 80s and 90s, once a hub of German Jewish life in Manhattan.

“We’re trying to create a neighborhood within a neighborhood,” the center’s director, Rebecca Harary, told me. The facility will operate on a membership structure and be open to all the Jewish residents, organizations, and schools in the area, Harary explained, but the focus will be on providing a place where people who identify with the Sephardic community can gather. “We want to celebrate our own traditions in a place where it’s valued as important and doesn’t take a back seat to American life,” Harary said.

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