By Chayim Mahgerefteh
On September 4, 2018, the Sephardic Club held its annual “Mega Selichot” event in the Rubin Shul, bringing over 200 students from both the Wilf and Beren campuses. This gathering is one of the Sephardic Club’s biggest highlights of the year, with people looking forward to being part of. Although this event was targeted more towards YU’s Sephardic community, it still attracted some Ashkenazim that came to hear words of inspiration before Rosh Hashana, and to say selichot in Sephardi tunes.
An inspiring speech was given at midnight by one of YU’s newly appointed Roshei Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Benhaim, which was then followed by selichot. At the start of his speech, Rabbi Benhaim shared his thoughts on what it means to him to be part of YU: “I will tell you the truth, I feel honored and privileged, I really mean that… it is a zechut to be in such a Makom Torah where everyone has a true desire to grow. Each one in his level, each one in his way, and it is a place that breeds talmidei chachamim, Yirei Shamayim, people who strive to live based on the way of Hashem in a very special way, and it is admirable.” Rabbi Benhaim’s speech was stirring and heartfelt, with many positive and uplifting reviews. All the students who attended were highly impressed and gained tremendously from his words.
Although some people might view all Sephardim as “the same,” there are several cultural differences amongst them. Sephardic Club co-president Meir Cohen described how the Mega Selichot is a unification of all Sephardim, despite their differences: “No matter what your religious background is, or if you are Moroccan, Persian, Syrian, Bukharian, everyone is together as ‘Am Echad ve Lev Echad’ praying for Am Yisrael.” Indeed, that is how it felt singing together with true passion and love for one another. Simon Afriat, the other co-president of the Sephardic Club, also reflected on the power of Mega Selichot and how it makes Sephardim one, saying, “The Sephardic community of YU is tremendously diverse and filled with students literally [from] throughout the world. The Mega Selichot is an example of a way that unifies all Sephardim alike, despite each one’s upbringings and customs, singing and praying to Hashem in unison, ‘Hashem give us life, grant us grace, and in Your name we will call out.’” The Sephardic Club also has co-presidents at Beren, Raquel Sofer and Leeron Chalamish.
The Sephardi programs and minyanim of YU are led by Rabbi Dan Cohen, the Edmond J. Safra Sgan Mashgiach for the Sephardic Community. Upon reflection of the selichot event he says, “This was my fourth year being part of Mega Selichot and every year it just keeps getting better and better.” On a personal level, this was only my second year at Mega Selichot, and both years were a true pleasure being part of. Selichot is about becoming closer with fellow Jews, Sephardim and Ashkenazim alike, and becoming closer to God. May we all be blessed with a sweet new year, with everything that will help us become the best people we can be. Shana Tova!
Chayim Mahgerefteh is a board member of the Sephardic Club.