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Our History

The Evolvement of a New Community
Following the Yom Kippur war and the Arab oil embargo of 1973, the Sephardic community of South Florida experienced significant growth.  The influx of many young families from Canada, Europe, South America, and other major cities in the U.S., created the need for religious and educational centers.  The initial bonding efforts of the newly forming B'nai Sephardim community began to evolve in weekly-shared picnics held at Halouver Beach.  These informal Sunday gatherings were blended with delicious Sephardic gourmet food samplings, as well as the traditional tunes of the Bouzouki, played by Nathan Matalon.  In the spring of 1974, Dr. Leon Suissa and Mrs. Henrietta Abeckjerr, with the help of several other young families, founded the B'nai Sephardim of Greater Miami Congregation.  Services were initially held in a small meeting room at the Flagler Federal Building, located on 163rd Street and 6th Ave. The joy of children’s participation in the newly formed Temple Choir united a number of young families to re-experience their traditional way of prayer during Friday evening and Shabbat services.

The Establishment of Our First House of Worship 
The first temple of B’nai Sephardim was established during the summer of 1974, in a retrofitted old fire station, located at 150th Street NW and 2nd Avenue, in North Miami.  Serving as the first president, leader and founder, Dr. Leon Suissa, along with subsequent presidents Jack Matalon, Jack Abeckjerr, Joseph Perez, Nessim Benchimol, Prosper Benzrihem, and Morris Bensousan made great strides toward the formation and establishment of the new B’nai Sephardim congregation.  The first Sisterhood was led by Mrs. Mimi Assaban, Henrietta Abeckjerr, with the loyal assistance of Mrs. Oro Benzrihem, Mimi Benchimol, Sonia Azouly and Jacqueline krief.  Mr. Aaron Benchimol accurately managed the temple finances for over a decade.

The Tragic Event on the Eve of Yom Kippur
Prompted by the gradual decline of the Jewish population in North Miami, the relocation of the temple became a matter of priority.  On Yom Kippur evening 1982, the Nehmad family was struck by a drunk driver while walking to services in a nearby hotel.  Mrs. Nehmad was killed and her family members badly injured.  This tragic event made it clear that the relocation of the temple to a safer neighborhood was essential.

The Merger of B’nai Sephardim and Shaare Shalom Congregations
Parallel to the development of B’nai Sephardim in North Miami, the Shaare Shalom, congregation, founded by the Alchek and the Alhadef families, begun to flourish.  The temple facility located along 6th Avenue, in North Miami Beach, was substantially funded by Mrs. Flora Alcheck.  The founder and president of Temple Shaare Shalom, Mr. Fred Alchek, and Yehuda Ben-Horin, the president of B’nai Sephardim at the time, initiated a dialogue for a potential merger of the two congregations.  Following the formal approval by the Board and the ratification by the general membership, the merge of B’nai Sephardim's congregation with Shaare Shalom's was celebrated on the eve of Hanukkah 1985.  By the mid 1980’s, the traditional prayer melodies, as cited in the various Sephardic communities of the Diaspora, became well established with the guidance of Cantors Jacob Malca and Joseph Harrar.  The High Holiday services, led for many years, by visiting volunteer Hazzan Yaacov Ben Horin, attracted an increasing number of congregants.  The rising number of congregants prompted Yom Kippur services to be held within area hotels.  This too, led to greater unification among children and families of the Sephardic community in South Florida.

Rabbi Yehuda Benhamu Joins as Spiritual Leader 
A significant milestone in the development of the B’nai Sephardim's community occurred in 1985, when Rabbi Yehuda Benhamu joined as spiritual leader.  Rabbi Benhamu relocated, with his wife Evelyn and their six beautiful young children, from Bogotá, Colombia.  The community at large enjoyed tremendous benefits and support during happy festivities, as well as those more somber moments.  Rabbi Benhamu also presided over the first Sephardic rabbinical Beit Din with Rabbi Amram Amselem and other rabbis.  His unification with the congregation had a very positive and influential impact.

Relocation to Hollywood, Florida 
As a result of both the migration of Jewish families from North Miami Beach to Broward County and the subsequent demographic changes taking place during the late 1980’s, the need to relocate the congregation was debated at length.  Subsequently during the fall of 1991, an overwhelming majority vote was made to relocate the Temple to Hollywood.  However, the Temple on 6th Avenue remained open to serve congregants residing in the immediate area.  This relocation caused the formation of two synagogues: B'nai Sephardim Shaare Shalom of Hollywood and B’nai Sephardim of North Miami Beach.  The hope was that the two congregations would eventually reunite, which they did.

The Construction of the New Temple in Hollywood 
The newly acquired 2.3-acre site, at 3670 Stirling Road, in Hollywood, offered unique settings for a temple within a beautifully preserved oak forest.  The old house structure on the site was remodeled to become the first Synagogue serving B'nai Sephardim of Hollywood.  The discovery of a very old picture portraying the face of a Rabbi during the initial remodeling of the temple added significant meaning to the new site.  By the mid 1990’s, the new site in Hollywood attracted an ever-growing number of families, prompting the need to construct an even larger prayer hall.  The Board of Directors, and the newly appointed Building Committee, headed by then president Yehuda Ben Horin, Fred Alchek and Leon Levy, commissioned Manny Synalovsky as the architect for the project.  The initial planning process was heavily impacted by a multitude of zoning issues and repeated hearings that lasted well over two years.  With the capable guidance of former president Ezra Cohen and the Building Committee, all the stringent zoning and parking requirements were met.  The construction process, coordinated by Serge Otmezguine, principal of Concept in Development (C.I.D.), was conducted smoothly and efficiently and the quality of the outcome is evident today.  Fundraising efforts, headed by Leon Levy and former president Elias Salama, assured expedient process and timely completion for the inauguration, that took place, on the eve of Shavuot in 1999.  The unique oak forest setting and the beautiful architectural features, blended into the design of the front elevations, will portray a magnificent presentation of traditional Sephardic synagogues for years to come.  As an active member of the building committee, Mr. Fred Alshek invested a great deal of time and efforts to perfect the look of both the exterior façade and the layout of interiors.  The magnificent glass artwork, completed by artist Shalom Yefet, is very unique and have since been featured in professional art magazines.

Over 40 Years and Growing
Celebrating over 40 years in South Florida, we are proud that B'nai Sephardim Shaare Shalom of Hollywood is ranked among the leading Sephardi congregations in the United States.  

We also know it wouldn't have been possible without the help of our community.  In order to continue evolving, it's important that we continue to reach out to other Sephardi congregations and join efforts with other organizations, such as the American Sephardi Federation, the Jewish Federations of Miami-Dade and Broward counties and others, in order to grow and perpetuate our rich heritage. 

Yehuda Ben Horin
Former President

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Sun, July 21 2024 15 Tammuz 5784