By Maxine Dovere
Mabruck – Mazel tov – best wishes to Manhattan’s newest congregation, Shaare Mizrah – Gates of the East – and its rabbi, Dr. Elie Abadie. M.D.
Rabbi Abadie, Head of School at the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan, formally led the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue for a decade and a half, building that congregation from forty to close to four hundred.
NYJL spoke with Rabbi Abadie about the founding of this 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. As 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 the services he would lead. A central, Upper East Side space was provided by a generous congregant and, under the sponsorship of the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan, services were announced via email, with reservations requested.
“I was hoping around 100 people would attend.” said Rabbi Abadie.
“As we approached the holidays, the number kept growing. We had to close reservations at 275! The rabbi told NYJL the response “was completely unexpected. We ended up with standing room only.” Ambassador Danny Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York, “brought greetings and blessings from Israel.
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, for a “full service” congregation, with daily prayers, classes, events, lectures, guest speakers, Hebrew School, youth services, etc. Life cycle celebrations – a Berit Milah – ritual circumcision – and community events were planned.
Manhattan East Synagogue – Congregation Shaare Mizah took form. “It’s a play on words,” said Abadie. “Manhattan East,” because we are in the East Side of Manhattan, and Shaare Mizrah – the Gates of the East.
“Shaare Mizrah.” the rabbi told NYJL, has much meaning. It’s the name of the Chicago synagogue I founded at 31 years ago. The name translates as “Gates of the East – kind of a play of words; Manhattan East Synagogue / the Gates of the East Synagogue.” East, also hints at the Sephardic Middle Eastern minhag – tradition – the synagogue will follow.
A rabbi offers spiritual references as well geographic ones.
“The Gate of the East of the Bet HaMikdash – the Temple in Jerusalem – is believed to be the gate through which the Mashiah -Messiah – will enter, reference is also to the Gates of the Garden of Eden. Allegorically the Gates of the East are the Gates of Heaven where prayers enter. ”
“This new synagogue will be open as a place for everyone’s prayers. The minhag – prayer tradition – is Sephardic/Middle Eastern, however, as in my previous congregations, everyone is welcomed and will feel welcomed. As long as I am the Spiritual Leader, all Jews are invited to attend and I will make sure they will feel at home. We look forward to being part of the wider Jewish community.
Shaare Mizrah meets at Third Avenue and East 71st Street until a permanent home is found!