By Maxine Dovere
Surrounded by his congregation at Manhattan’s newest synagogue, Shaare Mizrah-the Manhattan East Synagogue, Rabbi Elie Abadie intoned the first prayers of the inaugural Shabbat services as the sun set Nov. 10. Feelings of friendship and admiration for the rabbi were clear; many congregants had followed him from his former congregation.
Abadie, who is head of school of the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan, led the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue for a decade and a half, building that congregation from 40 to close to 400.
NYJL asked the rabbi about the whys and wherefores of founding a new congregation.
“Over the summer,” he recalled, “I deliberated about where I would pray during the High Holy Days. I was looking for a comfortable, spiritually uplifting setting to be able to enjoy traditional prayers and melodies. I decided to form a small minyan [prayer group] with my family and a few friends. More people—friends, former congregants—asked to join me at High Holiday services, suggesting, ‘Why don’t you open it to other people who will enjoy the services with you?’”
Starting with a nucleus of family and friends, the rabbi decided to open the services to anyone who wished to participate in them. A central Upper East Side space was provided by a generous congregant—Joseph Sitt, principal of Thor Equities—and under the sponsorship of the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan. Services were announced via email. Reservations soon outnumbered spaces available.
“I was hoping around 100 people would attend,” said Abadie. “As we approached the holidays, the number kept growing. We had to close reservations at 275! The response was completely unexpected. We ended up with standing room only.”
Ambassador Dani Dayan, consul general of Israel in New York, brought greetings and blessings from Israel.
A whirlwind of daily services, classes and services, classes—and deluxe breakfasts—continued throughout the holiday period. Participants described the services as uplifting and meaningful, and asked that the “temporary” situation be continued for Sukkot celebrations. A mobile sukkah (temporary dwelling) was parked on Third Avenue (yes, on a truck!), and the holiday was celebrated with great success, meaningful prayers and meals in the sukkah.
Calls asking for daily and Shabbat services continued, and for the establishment of a “full service” congregation, with daily prayers, classes, events, lectures, guest speakers, Hebrew School, youth services, etc. Life-cycle celebrations—including a brit milah (ritual circumcision)—and community events began to be scheduled.
Shaare Mizrah-the Manhattan East Synagogue took form.
“It’s a play on words,” said Abadie: “‘Manhattan East’ because we are on the East Side of Manhattan, and ‘Shaare Mizrah’—the ‘Gates of the East.’”
The rabbi told NYJL that Shaare Mizrah has special meaning for him.
“It’s the name of the Chicago synagogue I founded 31 years ago. “‘East’ also hints at the Sephardic/Middle Eastern minhag [tradition] that the synagogue will follow.
A rabbi, of course, often offers a midrash (traditional story) as well as a geographic reference.
“The Gate of the East of the Beit HaMikdash—the temple in Jerusalem—is believed to be the gate through which the Mashiach [Messiah] will enter,” said Abadie. “The reference is also to the gates of the Garden of Eden. Allegorically, the Gates of the East are the Gates of Heaven through which prayers enter.
“This new synagogue is a place for everyone’s prayers. While the minhag is Sephardic/Middle Eastern, as in my previous congregations, everyone is welcome and will feel welcomed. As long as I am the spiritual leader, all Jews are invited to attend and I will make sure they feel at home. We look forward to being an active part of the wider Jewish community.”
As the postservice kiddish (collation) concluded, rebbetzin Esti Abadie told NYJL, “It’s wonderful—a new beginning.”
New York Jewish Life wishes mabrouck, mazel tov and best wishes to Manhattan’s newest congregation, Shaare Mizrah—Gates of the East—and its rabbi, Elie Abadie, M.D. Shaare Mizrah will meet at Third Avenue and East 71st Street until a permanent “home” is found.