Following last week’s events, much has been written about the Sefardic community in general and the Syrian community in particular. It behooves us to take a healthy look at this wonderful kehillah and all the good it has done for the wider Jewish community.
The Sephardic community has a well deserved reputation for its outstanding levels of tzedaka and chesed. It serves as a model of generosity, dedication, and caring. Sephardic fundraising events are always filled with community members who are eager to help anyone in need in any way they can. The Sephardic Bikur Cholim, one of the flagship chesed organizations in the United States, has long been considered the envy of similar groups, known for its exceptional success in reaching out to those in need.
What is not so well known is this community’s steadfast commitment to the rest of klal yisroel. Leaders of many nationally recognized community help organizations, from Chai Lifeline to Ohel to Yad Eliezer, know that they can count on the Sephardic community for its assistance.
According to Sam Sutton, a leading community askan and the former President of Sephardic Bikur Cholim, “Over the years, the Sephardic community has raised millions of dollars for many different and diverse tzedaka causes. Time and time again, our people have opened their homes and their hearts in order to help the destitute and the needy. This is a kehilla that understands its responsibility to acheinu bnei yisroel.”
Among the organizations that the Sephardic community supports on a regular basis are Ohel, Bonei Olam, A Time, the Aleh Foundation, the Israel Cancer Research Fund, and many others. The community has been assisting the Pesach Tikvah school for Special Children in Williamsburg for over fifteen years. It has been at the forefront of facilitating the outstanding efforts of Yad Eliezer for more than twenty five years. The community also supports local Yeshivas, most notably the Mirrer Yeshiva in the United States and the Mirrer Yeshiva and Ponevitch Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel and the Chinuch Atzmai & Lev Lachim school systems in Eretz Yisroel, as well.
Recently, the Sephardic community opened two schools for autistic children that serve as a lifeline to those struggling with autism and are open to all segments of the Jewish community. What’s more, the community founded a yeshiva for learning-challenged children – Gesher Yehuda – a highly-regarded school for frum children from every segment of the Jewish community.
Mr. Sutton explains that, “This is a community that is ingrained with a firm commitment to chesed. That is what we are made of.” He points out that this is not just about writing out a check. Volunteering and coordinating events are part and parcel of the Sephardic culture. “We understand the importance of volunteering,” he says. “We understand that it’s an ongoing commitment. Those of us who serve on the board of tzedakah organizations often work twenty to thirty hours a week on behalf of a cause.” Mr. Sutton himself has had the zechus of hosting an Ohel foster child in his home for eighteen months, no doubt one of the greatest mitzvos that a family can undertake. Even the famous Satmar Bikur Cholim soup thermoses, used for years to bring sustenance and comfort to hospitalized patients all over New York, were imported at a discount to the United States by wholesalers in the Sephardic community.
Klal Yisroel is made up of many diverse communities and cultures. Yet while our backgrounds may be different and our accents may vary, the truth is that we are all one people. It is heartening to see that there are those among us who look beyond the surface and the ethnic differences in their efforts to help Yidden all across the spectrum. That is, after all, what achdus is all about.