Beit Sasson, the Sephardic Congregation of Newton, maintains the traditions of Middle Eastern and Spanish Jewry. We are an inclusive synagogue guided by open and welcoming orthodox practices and values. Our members hail from around the world, speak an array of languages, and represent ancient, rich cultures. We worship and celebrate together with the spirit of an extended family, proudly celebrating our heritage and identity. Because Sephardic Jews are a minority within the Boston Jewish community, we have unique values, knowledge, and flavors to share with both fellow Jews and our non-Jewish neighbors.
Beit Sasson is led by an elected Executive Committee of six members:
Joseph Yashar, President
Ruthy Philosophe, Vice-President
Simon Levy, Treasurer
Nathaniel Orenstein, Recording Secretary
Established in 1987, the congregation first met in the basement chapel of Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel before moving across Ward Street in 2006 to our own sanctuary. The synagogue is named in memory of Sasson Shamsi, whose son Edmund and daughter-in-law Helene have been generous benefactors to our congregation – including sponsoring the new Miriam Shamsi Social Hall (under construction), named in memory of Sasson’s wife.
Driving forces behind the congregation’s founding were Harvard professor James Kugel, Boston University professor Simon Levy, and Houchangue Toubian. They were joined quickly by Elias Cohen, Suleiman Mizrahi, and Michel Maman. All came from Middle Eastern and North African countries. Robert Soll and Simon Laskey, Newtonites, also joined at an early time. When the congregation reached the power of 10 it began meeting for weekly Shabbat services. Observance of the holidays followed, and then the purchase of Sephardic prayer books and Torah scrolls. Next milestones included the celebration of our first Bat Mitzvah and wedding.
In 1992, the congregation memorialized the 500 years since expulsion from Spain with lecture series. Throughout its history the congregation has organized Sephardic events (e.g., the Moroccan post-Passover celebration of Mimouna), welcoming the blend of cultural traditions in Boston. Beit Sasson has also undertaken a youth-led oral history project, to capture the life stories of older members, and hosted presentations on Sephardic heritage. We have also participated in advocacy efforts for the “Forgotten Refugees” – the thousands upon thousands of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa forced to flee their homes in the 20th Century.
Every member’s story is unique, yet all share the common desire to carry on heritages in danger of being lost in America. Considering Sephardic history as a trail of tears – happy and sad -cupped by the bowl of the Mediterranean Sea, members of the congregation have flowed from all sides of the bowl. We have roots in Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Israel, France, Egypt, Yemen, Israel, Greece, Turkey, and beyond.
Beit Sasson members include individuals who left Casablanca 60 years ago, as well as families that fled Alexandria as recently as 2010. Some escaped persecution (several members were jailed in Egypt in 1967 simply for being Jewish). Others came to America simply seeking a better life. Others are Israelis, the children of Jews from Tunisia, Yemen, and beyond. Inside the synagogue you can regularly hear members bantering with each other in French, Farsi, Spanish, and Hebrew – or debating which Judeo-Arabic dialect is superior.
Several members are not Sephardic by birth. They come to join their spouses or simply to enjoy the warmth, melodies, and flavors of the congregation. Jews of all backgrounds are welcome to worship and celebrate with us. Beit Sasson is your home.