|Hechal Ezra - Kehilat Zion Sephardic Community of Hong Kong|
Kehilat Zion synagogue, also known as Hechal Ezra synagogue was established in 1995 by Syrian businessmen from New York and the Sephardic Shecheber Center of Jerusalem, to serve the Jewish Community of Kowloon, Hong Kong.
While there were already existing synagogues for the permanent community of Hong Kong, the business district of Kowloon continued to house throngs of Jewish travelers in need of a place to pray on the Kowloon side.
The synagogue is located in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui East, a popular business and shopping district on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour. The synagogue is also just a short walk from many 5-star hotels.
The synagogue is now considered â€˜a home away from homeâ€™ by the many businessmen from around the world that visit Hong Kong. In addition to the businessmen, the congregation also hosts large numbers of backpackers and tourists.
Initially, the Shehebar Sephardic Center (SSC) sent Rabbi Zion Cohen, of blessed memory, to help start a synagogue in Kowloon. An office space, provided by Eddie Sitt and Jack Mamiye, was converted into a modest synagogue.
After the passing of Rabbi Cohen, about two months after the project began, in OctoberÂ 1995, Rabbi Netanel Meoded was sent by the Sephardic Educational Centre in Jerusalem to serve the Jewish community in Hong Kong and he took the leadership role into his hands.
He came to Hong Kong from Israel where he studied at Hevron Yeshiva under Rabbi Simcha Zissel Broide and Rabbi Avrohom Farbstein, and under Rabbi Hillel Zaks from 1983-1994.
Rabbi Meoded served the Rishon le Zion, Posek of the generation, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who is the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic communities. Today Rabbi Meoded is the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Community in Hong Kong.
A large part of the mission of the SSC, started in 1980 by Rabbi Sam Kassin and Rabbi Eliahu Shamoula, is to reach out to smaller or neglected Sephardic communities throughout the Diaspora by sending them dedicated rabbis and teachers well versed in all aspects of Torah and community relations so that they may help revive the community.
Over the last twenty years, they created more than one hundred and forty synagogues in locations worldwide. In the near future, Kehilat Zion is planning on opening additional Sephardic synagogues in the East.
Under Rabbi Meoded attendance has grown. They currently have 1000 registered members, 200 of them from the local community. There are regular minyanim for Shacharit, Mincha and Arvit prayers during the week. On Friday nights the synagogue often hosts up to one hundred and thirty worshippers. During exhibition times, the synagogue hosts up to 270 people, as proven during the recent Canton Fair in April 2007.Â Â Â
The community members at first were a largely Sephardic group, but over the years they have diversified attracting Ashkenazi, Hasidim and Lithuanians have been drawn to worship there regularly as well.
The unique character personifies the teaching of Aharon the Cohen, â€œwho loves peace and pursues peace, loves people and brings them closer to Torah.â€ Â
The Synagogue has been sustained through the generosity of its members, both local and from afar from the Syrian community in New York and the Shevet Achim community of Panama.
Kehilat Zion synagogue is especially thankful for the contributions from Joey Habert and his wife Laya and Max Abadi in memory of his late father, Ezra Abadi.
Two months ago, Hechal Ezra moved across the hall to a new location in order to better serve the increasing number of worshippers it attracts. The new area is more than double the size of the old space. The newly expanded â€œFar East Torah Centerâ€ was established in memory of the late Gabriel Shecheber, by his children.
They offer weekday and Shabbat services and meals free of charge for weekday morning worshipers as well as for Shabbos guests. Rabbi Meoded and his wife, Yael, regularly host Shabbat guests in their own home, where they experience a Syrian meal, spirited song and pleasant conversation with Jews from around the world.
Mul Hayam is Kehilat Zionâ€™s restaurant, established three years ago. It caters to tourists, business people, and the local community looking for a savory, Glatt Kosher meal in Kowloon.
The restaurant cuisine features a combination of traditional Jewish, Middle Eastern, European and Asian food, prepared daily with the freshest ingredients by Chef Ricky Chui.
They are also able to provide take-away meals and packed food for business trips. Arrangements can be made to have frozen meals for the convenience of continued travel in the East.
Two years ago, Rabbi Meoded started a Kosher certification and supervision service, Beit Din Zedek Kehilat Zion Hong Kong.
The Beit Din will also be expanding its services and will open a Beit Horaâ€™ah that will deal in matters of Jewish marriages and divorces, conversions, prohibitions and monetary matters.
In keeping with the philosophy of the SSC of instilling Jewish values and practices by educating Jews as to their history, practices and beliefs in order to prevent assimilation and assure continuity, the Synagogue places a great emphais on learning.
They maintain a large library collection of Jewish books. Rabbi Meoded also delivers weekly lectures on Torah and Jewish law, Talmud and Parshat Hashavua. These popular lectures are geared for all levels, in Hebrew and in English. Kehilat Zionâ€™s six yeshiva students are also assisting by delivering Torah lectures and classes.
Rabbi Meoded admitted that he faced his greatest challenges in his first couple of years in Kowloon. He found that he needed to teach the Torah sometimes from the most basic levels whereas his training at the yeshiva prepared him for teaching at a much higher level of Torah teaching.
Today, he is pleased to say that the Torah level he delivers to his students is now higher than it previously had been. They have grown together as a community.
Rabbi Meoded has grown to appreciate that â€œthe uniqueness is the unity of all Jews from the broad spectrum of all streams of Judaism who find their home here.â€
Rabbi Meoded wishes to even further increase the number of student who study the Torah with him. He credits the spiritual content and educational commentary he provides, in the synagogue, for bringing members to the Kehilat Zion community. Many will also creditÂ his warmth as a person and his spiritual strength as a leader for helping the community to grow.
(Issue June 2007)