The magnificent Congregation Magen Abraham is situated in an area of West Long Branch New Jersey, which formerly was a commercial asparagus farm.
In the beginning…
In 1978 the second major exodus of Syrian Sephardic Jews from the Brooklyn community to the New Jersey shore began. “Go West Young Man”, west of Larchwood Avenue that is! With dreams of our young children playing in lush backyards, clean safe streets, we left the cocoon of our families in Brooklyn. Though apprehensive at first, we immediately recognized the urgency of establishing a Synagogue if our fledgling community was to survive.
Rabbi Isaac Dweck, leader of the Deal Synagogue, visited Joe and Sophie Hafif’s home and proposed the intriguing idea of a floating minyan that would have a Sefer Torah go monthly from home to home. The ladies of our community prepared lavish Shabbat morning brunches each week and strong friendships were forged under the able leadership of our beloved Rabbi, Rabbi Reuben Semah. The men would knock on each other’s doors in mighty blizzards or pouring rain and rouse their buddies up and out of bed to assure an unbroken chain of minyanim.
It soon became apparent that we needed a permanent sanctuary. Our founding President Joe Hafif and Vice President Steve Nasar, along with our dear friend attorney Mr. Jerome Shapiro, saw to the purchase of a residence on Monmouth Road in West Long Branch. It was a small home, but would be perfect for the time being. Mr. Isaac Hafif A”H provided the down payment and the serious fund raising began.
But that is not the whole story. We saw the hand of Hashem clearly helping us. First the seller of the home tried to dramatically raise the selling price, after he found out it would be used as a Synagogue. But Mr. Shapiro’s expertise in contract writing prevented him from doing that. Then when applying for a raffle license at the Boro Hall, we were told that we were not allowed to use that home as a Synagogue, because it was not properly zoned for that use. But after looking at the town’s zoning maps Mr. Shapiro noticed that the property the house was built upon, was already zoned for “church use” about 150 years ago. You see there was a Church on the corner of Monmouth Road and West Palmer Ave., but through an “error” that zone was extended all the way to our new property. So, about 150 years ago Hashem decided that this is where our Synagogue would be. That story happened over 25 years ago, but still inspires us every time it is retold.
Joe Zekaria, Nemo Chalme, and Robert Tobias all joined together to help make the early decisions. After about 1 year in our new home, praying in a tiny living room, having Seuda Shelisheet in a small basement room, it was decided that we must renovate and give our children a Shul that looks like a Shul.
At minimal cost, and in a short time, renovation transformed our little house into a small Synagogue. Our community flourished, more families moved in, and Rabbi Semah also helped us to flourish in Torah and Mitzvot. He made each member feel that they were special.
In wasn’t very long that the hand of Hashem showed itself again to help us. A.J. Gindi moved into the neighborhood. Young and energetic he took the reigns of leadership and guided the Shul with a love for the community that was evident to all. Together with Rabbi Semah, learning classes were added; extra minyanim were offered, as well as many children’s programs.
Then we were blessed to have Charles Gammal move in. Charles together with his father Mr. Albert Gammal provided the financial base for our Community to build a now desperately needed, even larger and more permanent building. Charles honored his father, and showed his love for our shul, by purchasing the name we now are known as, Congregation Magen Abraham.
The year 1996 was not a very good year for the economy. Most people would not think it wise to take on a project like this, but Rabbi Semah saw what was needed, and inspired us all to go forward regardless of our own logic. “Just start, and Hashem will help”, he would say. And we all just got behind him and did our part to get the plans, all the approvals and the money to provide our community with what it deserved. A building that would be able to provide all the resources that we needed.
It wasn’t long before we had our building up, and our Grand Opening was scheduled, but the building, as well as our pockets were empty. No Hechal, no rugs, no chairs. Mr. Ike Hazan, who lives in Israel and a relative of Ralph Hazan, became aware of our situation and took the unusual initiative to donate, as well as see to the construction of the beautiful stained glass windows we now have. But he didn’t stop there; he also purchased the Hechal dedication. And when he saw that we where still short of funds to purchase permanent seating, he dedicated the Main Sanctuary in memory of his father Jacob Hazan A’H. In order to more beautify this Sanctuary he supervised the construction of the main doors to the room. The stained glass windows and the main doors were the work of the Israeli glass artist Jeremy Langford.
Past Presidents include, Ralph Hazan, Gary Gemal, Jerry Harary, Charles Gammal, David Kassin, Joey Rishty and A.J. Gindi.
We are forever grateful to both Danny Safdieh and Eli Cabasso for their great efforts in performing as Hazzanim for us, all these many years.
To the Future
We now Baruch Hashem, have a beautiful building. We have a grand Social Hall, and catering facilities. Rabbi Mordechai Dabbah helps Rabbi Semah teaching our community’s beautiful Minhagim and Halachot, to our adult men and ladies, as well as our young children. Our Synagogue now has five Minyanim each Shabbat morning, catering to every age group. Our Youth Program Minyan is now attended by almost one hundred children every Shabbat.
We have grown by leaps and bounds these last thirty years, and be-ezrat Hashem will continue to grow for the next one hundred and thirty six.