IN THE BEGINNING
In 1904, Nessim Alhadeff made the journey from Rhodes to Seattle. Within three years, all of his brothers and many others followed him. By 1909, the first steps at formal organization were taken. Moved by the leadership of Haim DeLeon, the original group of Rhodeslis formed the Koupa Ozer Dalim Anshe Rhodes (the fund for the aid of the poor, people of Rhodes) in 1909 with Solomon Alhadeff as president, Nessim AIhadeff as treasurer, and Harry Franco as secretary. Funds were raised from within the group and were sent to the needy Jewish community of Rhodes. Despite some factious disputes in the early years, the organization — with the help of a mediator, Rabbi Samuel Koch of Temple De Hirsch — came together the name Koupa Ezra Bessaroth of Rhodes. Articles of incorporation were filed in June 19,1914, and dues were set at 25 cents a month.
OUR FIRST BUILDING
In 1915, two lots were purchased on the corner of 15th and East Fir Street for about $7,000. For the High Holidays of 1916, Washington Hall was rented. Late in the afternoon of Yom Kippur, before the services ended, worshippers were forced to vacate the hall to make room for another group that had reserved the hall for a dance. This disruption determined the group in its resolve to be in its own home by the next Yom Kippur.
It was estimated that it would cost between $15,000 and $17,000 to build the synagogue. The members made their pledges, but it wasn't enough. A bazaar was planned, with the help of one David Lipman, who enlisted the aid and experience of many members of Temple De-Hirsch, particularly the women, who collected merchandise and organized themselves into shifts to guard it. The net result of the bazaar, dance, and sale of baked goods was $5,000. This additional sum made it possible to proceed with actual construction. At last, the dedication of the new synagogue took place, with Rabbi Koch doing the honors.
THE LADIES AUXILIARY
In the early days, the women also organized them selves into an auxiliary. The first president was Leah Mossafer, followed by her daughter Bolissa Rose Franco. Among the early presidents were: Sarah Mossafer, Bulissa Esther Angel, Rose Alhadeff, Serena Cohen and others. The Ladies Auxiliary officially launched in 1916, and its members still bake Sephardic delicacies and hold annual bazaars that are well attended and much loved.
At that time, social life centered around the synagogue, and the group lived close together Seattle's Central District. In addition to the religious and life cycle events that are the center of communal life, the congregants also turned to one another for social and cultural events. Many plays were performed by and for the community (usually in Ladino) up until World War II. As early as 1914, Morris Hanan translated a Molier comedy into Ladino, and it was staged with members of the community as the cast. Leon Behar also wrote and directed a number of plays, among them The Dreyfus Affair in March of 1922, Joseph and His Brothers in July 1922, and Love and Religion in March 1927.
REVEREND BEHAR RETAINED AS HAZZAN
In 1918, The Reverend David J. Behar consented to serve "only temporarily" as Hazzan. However, this match found favor in the eyes of all parties and lasted for over a half a century. At a time when much of the Jewish community was straying from its roots, Reverend Behar strove to insure that Ezra Bessaroth remained faithful to its time-honored traditions. Behar assumed the burden of spiritual and communal leadership alone until the arrival of Rabbi Isidore Kahan in 1939.
RABBI ISADORE KAHAN
On April 25, 1939, Rabbi Isidore Kahan arrived in Seattle with his wife and two daughters to serve as Rabbi for both Ezra Bessaroth and Sephardic Bikur Holim. Rabbi Kahan would alternate between the two synagogues — one Shabbat at Sephardic Bikur Holim and the next at Ezra Bessaroth. The stated goal of this venture was to be the prelude to the merging of the two sister congregations. Within a very short period, the cooperative nature of the venture between the two Sephardic congregations dissolved, and Rabbi Kahan continued to serve as the Rabbi of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth. Rabbi Kahan had excellent rabbinic training in Europe and was a man of great education, holding a doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of Zurich. Rabbi Kahan served the congregation until his retirement in 1959; he passed away during Succot 1961.
In the early 1930s, the Sephardic congregations consolidated their schools into the Sephardic Religious School, and Albert Levy of New Yerk was brought in to head the school. In the late 1940s, the school was dissolved, and Reverend Behar continued to provide instruction for our children in his own private school.
The first Rhodesli burials were in the Herzl Cemetery. When Sephardic Bikur Holim purchased burial ground near Washelli, an arrangement was made whereby gravesites were sold to Ezra Bessaroth members as the need arose. In 1920 a subsidiary group of the Ezra Bessaroth was formed called Ahavath Shalom, also known as Sociedad De Huevos. In 1933, this group, under the leadership of Zadik Angel, Jacob DeLeon, Behor Solam, Mike AIkana, and Reverend Behar purchased cemetery ground — presently the Sephardic Brotherhood Cemetery.
SEPHARDIC BROTHERHOOD FORMED
The Sephardic Brotherhood was formed through an amalgamation (1935) of the Sephardic Progressive Fraternity, the Shalom Aleichem, and the Ahavath Shalom — three social groups of the Sephardic community of Seattle.
EB MOVES TO SEWARD PARK
As the inner city location of the Ezra Bessaroth community began to deteriorate in the mid-1950s, many congregants began to move elsewhere. Seeing the possible dispersion of this tight-knit community, all of the Central District congregational leaders acted early and acted fast. A spirited meeting of the membership was held at the Leschi-based Corinthian Yacht club in 1956. The meeting was to discuss the merits and drawbacks of relocating the community. Many of our more mature members can still recall Reverend Behar's impassioned plea at that meeting of the necessity of moving to Seward Park.
Several years ahead of its two sister congregations, Ezra Bessaroth purchased land for a new building in the lakeside neighborhood of Seward Park. Most of the congregation had relocated to Seward Park by the dedication of the new building on August 17th, 1958. First, an all-purpose social hall and religious school was to be built in 1957, and only later, in 1969, a separate sanctuary was constructed.
After the retirement of Rabbi Kahan in May of 1959, Rabbi Abraham Shalem was appointed as the congregation's new rabbi. Rabbi Shalem served the congregation for three and a half years before heeding the call to go to Mexico City to serve as a rabbi and on the beit din.
In September of 1962, Rabbi William Greenberg assumed the pulpit of Ezra Bessaroth, where he served until his retirement in 1990. Rabbi Greenberg dazzled the congregation with his remarkable and inspiring sermons. He was a pioneer teacher at the Northwest Yeshiva High School and established several adult learning programs in Seattle. The congregation delighted in watching his four children, Sara, Donny, Dena, and Aryeh grow up before their eyes. A highlight of Rabbi Greenberg's tenure were the many Pesah and Succot Kiddushim hosted by the rabbi and his wife Rosa over the years. Rabbi Greenberg continued to serve the congregation as rabbi emeritus and was an honored community leader after his retirement in 1990. Rabbi Greenberg passed away on May 31, 2007 (14 Sivan, 5767). In a remarkable display of the respect and love he so deservedly earned from the community, his memorial service in the Ezra Bessaroth sanctuary was standing room only, with all of the major Seattle Rabbis and community leaders in attendance.
ISAAC AZOSE RETAINED AS HAZZAN
In the early 1960s, Rev. Behar expressed a desire to retire as primary hazzan. In June of 1965, Robert J. Franco contacted a young Seattle talent by the name of Isaac Azose. It took much urging and persuasion to convince young Isaac to try out as hazzan during the upcoming high holiday services of 1965. Hazzan Azose was subsequently hired on a full-time basis by the congregation in March 1966. Azose has been an invaluable presence at Ezra Bessaroth and remained active — even publishing several Sephardic siddurim and CDs — after his retirement in 2000.
Understanding that our future is in the hands of our youth, in the early 1970s the congregation hired its first salaried youth director, Rabbi David Angel. With the advent of The Reverend David J. Behar Youth Program in the late 1970s, our youth program has thrived. Other youth directors of note were Norman Goldwasser, Richard Okrent, Lea Behar Hanan, Erin Rabinowitz, Naomi Behar Solam, Rabbi Benjamin Owen, Rabbi Yossi Azose, Elana Okrent, Natalie Sakavi, and Rochelle Romano.
RABBI YAMIN LEVY
Rabbi Yamin Levy was retained as the spiritual leader from 1990 through 2000. With his youthful energy and inspiring leadership, the congregation grew in size and spirit. It was under Rabbi Levy's direction that the congregation adopted a family from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in the former Soviet Union. Little did we know that this noble gesture would be the beginnings of a significant Bukharian community in our congregation. A new excitement and vibrancy was the mark of Ezra Bessaroth in the 1990s.
RABBI SALOMON COHEN-SCALI
Our kehila retained Rabbi Salomon Cohen-Scali (from Barcelona, Spain) in the fall of 2001. The Rabbi brought with him his wife, Raquel along with children Esther, Mercedes, Samuel, Moshe Chayim, and Miriam. Rabbi Cohen-Scali refocused the congregation on its spiritual roots while building ever stronger ties with the State of Israel. Rabbi Cohen-Scali completed his service to our congregation in December of 2009 before moving to the East Coast.
CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION – A TIME OF TRANSITION
A series of milestone events marked the celebration of our congregation's centennial year in 2010. Most notably was the dedication of the Franco Family Courtyard. A mosaic platform inspired by the unique tiling on the floor of the Kahal Shalom synagogue in Rhodes was installed in the remodeled courtyard as was a stunning replica of the Rhodes Holocaust monument. Lectures by Rabbi Marc Angel and Dr. Aron Rodrigue culminated in a historic gala celebration at the Meydenbauer Center on August 22nd, 2010. By now, the kehilah had been lay-led by dedicated volunteers for almost a decade. It was time for a new spiritual leader.
RABBI RON-AMI MEYERS
Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers joined Ezra Bessaroth in August of 2011. He and his wife, Miriam, and their children were deeply loved by the community and brought much energy to the congregation. In 2018, Rabbi Meyers and his family followed their hearts back to Israel.