Washington’s Sephardic Community

Jews from Morocco, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, and Latin America strengthen Washington’s Sephardic community. They celebrate holidays like Mimouna, sing prayers using Sephardic melodies, and prepare special foods like dafina, chouchouka, and almond cigars.

In 1914, a small group of Greek and Turkish Jews founded Yom Tov Congregation, the city’s first Sephardic prayer and burial group. They were soon joined by newly arrived Syrian Jews. Rabbi Solomon Ereza, an early community leader, secured permission for the group to meet at Washington Hebrew Congregation and later at the Hebrew Home on Spring Road.

A second wave of Sephardic immigrants, mainly Moroccans, arrived in Washington following World War II. Marcel Cadeaux and Albert Emsellem trained many of them in the beauty business.

By the mid-1960s the Sephardic community formed Magen David Sephardic Congregation. They held services at Tifereth Israel and later at Ohr Kodesh Congregation until moving to Bethesda in the 1980s.

Our home was like the Sephardic JSSA [Jewish Social Service Agency]…My mother and father counseled and helped get people started…our door was always open.

Irene Kaplan, daughter of Albert Emsellem

Yom Tov banquet

Yom Tov Congregation, 1936. Rabbi Sol Ereza is in the upper right corner, seated second from the right at the head table facing the camera.

JHSGW Collections.

Emsellem in beauty shop

Albert Emsellem, son of the Chief Rabbi of Fez, became the patriarch of the post-war Sephardic community in the 1950s. Emsellem helped many Moroccan Jews by sponsoring them as students in his beauty school – The Capitol Beauty Institute – at 1012 H Street, NW. Emsellem and his wife, Stella, are shown here at their first shop in Washington, Louey Venn of London, Inc., at 1224 Connecticut Avenue, NW.

Courtesy of Irene Kaplan.

Magen David exterior
Magen David interior

1998: Member Annie Totah designed the new 450-seat Magen David Sephardic Congregation Beit Eliahu Synagogue in Rockville, Maryland.

Courtesy of Magen David Sephardic Congregation.

Yom Tov banquet
Emsellem in beauty shop
Magen David exterior
Magen David interior