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Sephardic Renaissance

Image Magazine - Cover Story, July 2012

Written by Arlene Hisiger
 
 
Back in 2001, were you to have asked Dr. Ralph and Limor Madeb, two New York City transplants, to describe their initial impression of Rochester, New York, most likely their response would have echoed Dorothy’s famous line from The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Brooklyn anymore!”

Actually, it was just Ralph back then. Pursuit of the titles urologist and urologic surgeon at the University of Rochester Medical School and Strong Memorial Hospital was what brought the young couple to Rochester and was at the root of their émigré status.

These two uprooted “trees” from Brooklyn were left to unravel the mysteries of life out-of-town, as New York City dwellers invariably refer to any place west of the Hudson River and north of the Bronx.
 

In those early days, the Madebs’ life was characterized by the interrogatory phrase mah zeh (what’s this)? As in, mah zeh? No mazzeh (Syrian/Lebanese appetizers), kibbeh, lahamajene, or sambusak?
Much to Ralph’s delight, however, there was no need to exclaim, mah zeh, regarding a Sephardic minyan. That did exist and had for quite some time.

A handful of Sephardic men from Ottoman-ruled Monastir, Yugoslavia (today known as Bitola, Macedonia), were the original Sephardic émigrés who arrived in Rochester in 1906 in search of economic and religious freedom.

Despite the daunting challenges of acculturation, such as mastering a new language and social mores, for these pioneeers, establishing a place of worship was a task of paramount importance; one that superseded all other concerns. And in that first year, 1906, they established Congregation Ohr Yisrael (Light of Israel), believed to be New York State's oldest Sephardic synagogue, outside the New York metropolitan area.

Contact Arlene at 585-442-6108 or wordtailor@aol.com
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