Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain
On their visit to STTI  October 1, 1987

Bob Hattem


On February 11th, 2001, Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel inaugurated the Levy Family Library and Exhibit Center. Docent tours are available and groups are invited to call to reserve a tour.
For reservations call STTI at (310) 475-7311 or send an email to:

For a preview of the Levy Family Library and Exhibit Center click here.


Communidad sefardi de Los Angeles, domingo, 1o de febrero de 1920 en Los Angeles, California -Walker Auditorium, 730 S. Grand Avenue a las 2:00 PM. Respondiendo al llamaniento de los presidentes Mandolino Levy y Jose M. Estrugo acudieron en asamblea general a las personas siguenComumdad sefardi de Los Angeles, domingo, 1o de febrero de 1920 tes That is how the beginning lines of the first book of minutes read that fateful day of February 1, 1920, the historic day on which the Sephardic Community of Los Angeles (La Comunidad Sefardi) was founded, with thirty-nine men in attendance. The founders present at the first organizational meeting included Carlos Abolafia, Leon Anticoni, Solomon Beraha, Raphael Behar, Abraham Caraco (the first rabbi of the young community), Isaac L. Caraco, Maurice Carasso, Raphael Caraco, Nissim Cohen, Marcos Cordova, Adolphe de Castro Danziger, Harry Eskenasy, Sam Ezra, Jose Estrugo, Ovadia E. Haim, Jacob Haim, Jim Habif, Robert Hatem, Isidor Hatern (Hatem became Hattem in 1921), Mandolino Levy, Sam Max, J. Mazza, S. Mazza, Salvador Meshulam, Raphael Nahmias, N. Nissim, Jacob (Jack) Notrica, Sam Passy, Alfred (Albert) Rugeti, Isaac Raphael, Jake Sheby, Mordechai Sheby, Maurice Soriano, Saki Souza, Isaac Tovil, Jacob Tovil, Morris Tovil, Alex Tobey and Mordecai Zitoun.

Mandolino Levy was the provisional president for this very first meeting of La Communidad, as it was to be known, and Mr. Adolphe de Castro Danziger was elected the first president of the fledgling organization. Jose Estrugo was elected vice president and secretary. The minutes also note that monthly dues would be $1.00 for each member.

The history of the Sephardim in Los Angeles goes back almost seventy-five years before the February I meeting of the Communidad. The first Sephardic Jews in Los Angeles did not come directly from the former Ottoman Empire, but from eastern and central United States. They arrived in San Francisco in 1849, and in Los Angeles four years later, their forebears having been in America since the landing of twenty-three Sephardic Jews at New Amsterdam from Brazil..

The first organized Jewish community in Los Angeles came into existence on July 2,1854, under the leadership of two Sephardic Jews - Samuel K. Labatt and Salomon Nuñes Carvalho. Carvalho, an artist and photographer accompanied the explorer John C. Fremont on his fifth and last expedition to California in 1855, and Labatt arrived from New Orleans with his brother Joseph in the same year. The organization they founded was known as the Hebrew Benevolent Society It still continues today as the Jewish Family Service.

From the 1860s to the early 1900s, Sephardic Jews came to California from eastern cities such as NewYork, Philadelphia, Charleston, and New Orleans, and also from the West Indies, but most stayed for only a few years before returning to their communities. Then, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Sephardim came from the Ottoman Empire: from Salonika, Rhodes, Istanbul, Smyrna, Damascus, and other Mediterranean areas. These Sephardim had a different culture from their Ashkenazic counterparts. Because of their cultural differences and customs, they did not mix with their Ashkenazic coreligionists, even though they shared the same faith. Sephardic rites of worship differed in many ways from Ashkenazic rites. Their food, customs -and even their language, Ladino (also known as Judezmo) -were totally different from Ashkenazic culture.

The first known Sephardi to arrive in Los Angeles in the twentieth century was an Algerian Jew, Mordecai Zitoun. Because of his age (he had fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871), Zitoun was affectionately called "Papa." He was an entrepreneur at the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. Another early arrival to Los Angeles was Jacob (Jack) Caraco, who arrived in 1905, the eldest of five children of Abraham Caraco, a founder and the first Rabbi of the Sephardic Community of Los Angeles. Caraco's name appears with nine hundred other Jewish leaders and supporters on an honor roll for the 'Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, dated 1912.

Congregation Ahavat Shalom, organized in 1912, contained sixty Sephardic Jews from all over the Levant: Turkey, Rhodes, and Greece. They engaged the services of Rabbi Alexander Carasso. This group lasted for about two years, breaking up when the Turkirios and the Rhodeslis had differences that could not be ameliorated. In 1917 the group from Rhodes formed the Peace and Progress Society, later to be known as the Sephardic Hebrew Center, and then Sephardic Beth Shalom. The Sephardic Community of Los Angeles was born in 1920, and in 1926 a third group emerged, the Sephardic Brotherhood, or HaimVahessed. In 1959 the Sephardic Brotherhood and the Sephardic Community of Los Angeles merged and became the Sephardic Jewish Community and Brotherhood, known today as Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

In 1924 the Comunidad purchased property for a synagogue at Fifty-second Street and Second Avenue in southwest Los Angeles. It was impossible to build on the property at the time because temple funds were practically exhausted. By 1928 the membership had increased sufficiently to preclude using the Fifty-second Street property as a home for the growing community. The property was sold, and plans were made to build a temple on the corner of Santa Barbara and La Salle avenues. The site was purchased for $12,000, and ground-breaking ceremonies took place on September 1, 1931. Much hard work followed and by 1932, in the depths of the greatest depression this country has ever known, the synagogue was completed and dedicated right on schedule.

The Santa Barbara Avenue temple was the first Sephardic synagogue built in Los Angeles. It was a lovely California-style building, in cream color stucco, with an interior that followed the classic Sephardic layout. The reader's desk (the tebah), in the center of the sanctuary, faced the ark, and the worshipers sat alongside. Women and men sat together so as not to separate families, As Rabbi Ott would later describe, "the congregants face each other instead of seeing the back of the necks of the people sitting in front .... The Rabbi isn't the center of the service, the Torah is, and the community sees itself around it." A beautiful Magen David of stained glass overlooked the sanctuary, and the ceiling was supported by two large, artistically hand-painted beams.

Invited guests for the February 21,1932, dedication included Los Angeles Mayor John C. Portor, Councilman J. G. MacAllister, Rabbi Edgar Magnin, Rabbi Adolphe Lupo, Rabbi Maxwell Dubin, Judge Harry Holzer, Union Bank president Ben B. Mayer, and the Honorable Isaac Pacht. The Reverend Rabbi Dr. de Sola Pool, president of the Union of Sephardic Congregations, sent a message of congratulations from New York. He concluded with the following words:

May your present members continue to give themselves to the cause of the community in the same devotion that has brought them to this happy day of dedication, and may the younger generation that is growing up be trained in our finest Jewish traditions so they, in their turn, carry on the immemorial memory of our fathers.

The leaders of the Santa Barbara Avenue temple saw the need to preserve the unique culture, heritage, and religious rites (minhag) of the Sephardim in an overwhelmingly large Ashkenazic community, as well as to help new families in the area and educate the children in the Sephardic culture. The following leaders guided Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel from its founding and during the time the synagogue was located on Santa Barbara Avenue:

1920 Mandolino 0. Levy (provisional)                 1948 I.L. Caraco
Adolphe de Castro Danziger
1921-26 Harry Eskenazy                                    1949 Ralph Caraco
1927-28 Raphael S. Amado                               1950 Morris Passy
1929 Isadore M. Hattern                                    1951-52 J J. Nahama
1930 Richard J. Amado                                      1953-55 Milton Amado
1931 Salvador Meshularn                                   1956 J.J. Nahama
1932-33 Raphael S. Amado                               1957-58 Aron Cohen
1934 Alex Tobey                                               1959 Richard J. Amado
1935 Morris Passy                                             1959 Merger mth Sephardic Brotherhood
1936-37 Richard J. Amado                                1960 Richard J. Amado
1938-39 Jack Mok                                            1961-62 Sam Dana
1940 Milton S. Amado                                       1963-64 Joseph Levy
1941-43 Ralph Caraco                                       1965 Max Cdndiotty
1944 Jack Kiok                                                  1966-67 Aron Cohen
1945-46 Salvo Lavis                                           1968-69 Max Candiotty
1947 Aron Cohen                                               1970 Milton S. Amado

Presidents of the Sephardic Brotherhood:

1932-33 Victor Behar                         1954-55 Victor Abrevaya
1949 Leon Tatvy                                 1956-57 Jack Cohen
1950 Joseph Amira                              1958 Victor Cohen
1952 Albert Arditty                              1959 Merger with Sephardic Community of Los Angeles
1953 Joseph Amira

 The Santa Barbara Avenue years were highlighted by many "firsts": Gabriel Nissim Cohen's Bar Mitzvah in February 1932, the wedding of Victor Behar and Alice Cohen in October 1932, and the establishment of the Talmud Torah in May 1953, with Jesse Caraco as chairman. In 1935 the Juniors of Temple Tifereth Israel were established with Jack Cohen as their first president.

As the community grew through the years, the Santa Barbara temple became too small, and as most of the members of the congregation had moved west, there was a strong urge to move to West Los Angeles. A large plot of land was purchased on Wilshire Boulevard, one of the most magnificent avenues of Los Angeles, at the corner of Warner Avenue.

Plans for the architecture were carefully considered, and finally it was agreed that the temple should be made of stones, to took like the stones of Jerusalem. It was to be built in the historic style of the buildings of the Old City of Jerusalem. The resulting building, the only one of its style, stands impressively on the city's major boulevard. It is a fitting tribute to the vision of the late Maurice Amado, whose philanthropies were largely responsible for the construction of the building.

A historic ground breaking took place in 1970. In September 1981 the temple sanctuary was dedicated. It was a "dream come true" in the words of the B'Nai Brith Messenger, which described the ceremony as follows.

In a tradition as old as the Exodus itself, they marched with their "youth and their elders together" in a procession with canopy and song taking the Sifrei Torah to the new main sanctuary of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel which was dedicated Sunday, September 13.

The impressive ceremony was the culmination of two decades of effort to bring about the complete relocation of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel from its Santa Barbara Avenue location, dedicated some 50 years ago, to the new Wilshire Boulevard location, at Warner Avenue. Witness to this full cycle of development was Rabbi Edgar F Magnin, of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who spoke at the dedication of the old temple on Santa Barbara Avenue, and also delivered the inspirational message for the new sanctuary's dedication.

There was hardlya dry eye among the more than 1,000 guests when the blasts of the shofar (ram's horn) greeted the procession of Torahs being brought into the new sanctuary. It was with joy and gladness that the congregants reached out to kiss the Torahs as they were paraded seven times around the temple.

It was in the same emotional spirit that Aron Cohen, the temple's gabbai for half a century, pronounced the prayer of thanksgiving before the Torahs placed in the new heichal (ark) with song and prayer led by Cantor Isaac Behar. Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, at 10500 Wilshire Boulevard, has more than six hundred member families and is the largest Sephardic congregation west of New York City

His Excelency Itzhak Navon, Israel's first president of Sephardic origin, in a message to Rabbi Jacob M. Ott, the congregation's spiritual leader for the past thirty-one years, expressed the hope that "along with physical development there will be corresponding growth in the temple's spiritual and cultural influence among young and old in the community."

The main sanctuary is the gift of the Maurice Amado Foundation to the temple. The foundation was established before his death by the late Maurice Amado, a leading Sephardic philanthropist. Richard J. Arnado, the foundation president, made the presentation, which was accepted by Hyman Jebb Levy, the temple's president. Ralph A. Amado, chairman of the Building Committee, is the grandson of Raphael Amado, a leader in the building of the first temple on Santa Barbara Avenue.

Max Candiotty, chairman of the temple's Religion Committee, was master of ceremonies. A highlight of the event was the appearance of and address by California's Governor Jerry Brown. In his dedicatory address, Rabbi Jacob Ott highlighted the concept of the spirit of the new temple, saying that it was " in substance but old in spirit and tradition."

The colorful ceremonies concluded on a note of solemnity and inspiration when Aron Cohen led the congregation in a memorial prayer for the repose of the souls of the builders who departed, and when Cantor Behar led the congregation in the afternoon service.

The presidents of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel since it has been in Westwood have been:

1971-77 Milton Amado                     1982-83 Max Candiotty
1978 Hyman Jebb Levy                     1983-85 Nat Barocas
1979-80 Joseph Arditti                      1985-87 Louis Alcalay
1980-81 Jerome Varon                     1987-89 Dr. Seymour Eiseman
1981-82 Hyman Jebb Levy               1990-92 Sam Tobey

The highest honor bestowed by the temple, its Sephardic Heritage Award, serves to honor meritorious Jews who have made meaningful contributions toward the preservation and perpetuation of the Sephardic heritage. The following individuals have been honored as recipients of this award:

1962 Leon Ligier                         1976 Victor Abrevaya
1963 Joseph V. Amira                 1978 Jerome Varon and Dan Rugeti
1964 Max Candiotty                    1980 Louis Alcalay
1966 Richard J. Amado               1981 Al Azus
1967 Aron Cohen                        1986 Raquel Bensimon
1968 Milton S. Amado                1988 Hyman Jebb Levy
1970 Rabbi Jacob Ott                 1990 Nat Barocas

The temple also recognizes outstanding service to the congregation with its Los Merecidos Award. Recipients of this honor have been:

1980 Raquel Bensimon                   1987 Theodore Cohen
1981 Victor S. Cohen                     1987 Bob Hattern
1982 Diana Passy                           1988 Hattie and Ben Cherney
1984 Alice and Victor Behar           1988 Esther and Robert Karmona
1985 Isaac Caston                          1989 Hy Arnesty
1985 Regina Levy                           1990 Theodore Negrin
1986 Morris Angel                          1991 Yarnin and Lucy Lugassy
1986 Katie' and Jack Seror             1991 Dr, Seymour Eisman