Congregation Beth Aharon, Riverdale’s Sephardic Orthodox Congregation, celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this month with a gala dinner honoring its founders. Beth Aharon is located at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale’s Bayit, in the Riverdale section of The Bronx, and the dinner featured members dressed in ethnic attire, a henna artist, live music from Mizrahi Entertainment with Avi Peretz, speeches recalling members’ dedication to creating and maintaining a Sephardic synagogue with Sephardic customs, joyous dancing and many of the same excellent foods featured at the weekly kiddush.
The honorees included founders Rav Selim Dweck, z”l and the Dweck family, Ziva and Aharon Shalomof and family, Nancy and Rav Dov Lerea, Tzipora and Maurice Elmalem, Myriam and Sebbah, Yehudit and Kobi Zalicha, with special thanks going to Toby and Rabbi Avi Weiss.
Rabbi Selim Dweck, z”l was a talented and inspiring Torah educator. In 1998, Rabbi Dweck, whose family hails from Aleppo, Syria, volunteered to enrich Riverdale’s Sephardic community’s Shabbat services with chazanut, Torah reading, divrei Torah and seuda shelishit gatherings. About two years later, Rabbi Dweck married Rochelle Cattan and they moved to Brooklyn, where he taught at Yeshiva of Flatbush and she served as the school psychologist. About four years after that, the family made aliyah and settled in Jerusalem.
Tragically, Rabbi Dweck soon became gravely ill and passed away at the age of 34. His memory continues to be cherished, etched in the hearts and minds of the Beth Aharon community to this very day.
Aharon Shalomoff moved to Riverdale in June of 1987 from Israel. Aharon’s wife Ziva Makover is from Bnei Brak.
Though a fourth generation Jerusalemite whose traditions originated from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, Shalomoff initially prayed at RJC. There, he befriended the Dweck family and together they helped found the synagogue. Even when he moved back to Israel, Aharon continued to extend his assistance to Beth Aharon with books and guidance, ensuring that the community maintained the vibrant observance of its rich heritage.
Nancy and Rav Dov Lerea are deeply committed to the Sephardic-Turkish heritage of their family. Rav Dov provides divrei Torah, Halacha, chizuk and mussar regularly. Nancy is often at the center of helping Beth Aharon with special functions. They moved to Riverdale in 1979.
Rav Dov has been a professional educator for the past 35 years. He is currently the head of Judaic studies at The Shefa School in Manhattan. Nancy is an associate principal at SAR High School.
Tzipora and Maurice Elmalem are founding members of Beth Aharon. In 1998, when Maurice and Rabbi Dweck asked Rabbi Avi Weiss about praying Sephardic-style, they were offered a room in the old HIR house for their minyan. From those beginnings, the congregation has grown and thrived.
Born in Morocco, Maurice made aliyah when he was 9 and settled with his family in Akko, Israel. Zipora, also of Moroccan heritage, grew up in Hulon and Bat Yam in Israel. After Maurice moved stateside for university, they met when he visited Israel in his 20s, eventually marrying and settling in Riverdale.
Myriam and Dan Sebbah have been members of Beth Aharon for almost 20 years. They are committed to their Algerian heritage and regularly make the 30 minute trek from North Riverdale to be part of the community.
Originally from Paris, Dan made aliyah at the age of 18 and served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the first Lebanon war.
Born in Algeria and raised in Marseille, France, at 18, Myriam moved to Jerusalem to study education at the David Yellin Institute, where she met Dan on campus. Myriam also worked at the Israeli embassies in Mexico and Portugal.
Judy and Kobi have been members of Beth Aharon since its founding in 1998. With a “mixed” marriage, Iraqi Kobi and Yemenite Judy perfectly represent a key characteristic of Beth Aharon: harmony within diversity.
Born and raised in Netanya, Kobi served in the IDF as an aeronautical technician, eventually moving to Riverdale in 1986.
Judy was born and raised in Gedera, left Israel at 18 and moved to Brooklyn. She teaches preschool at Stein Yeshiva in Yonkers.
Toby and Rav Avi Weiss received a special recognition, and were thanked by Beth Aharon Congregation for making the space available 20 years ago for the Sephardic synagogue to hold services at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
Beth Aharon welcomes all prayers regardless of eda (knowledge) or level of observance.
By Robert Kalfus