The Jewish Community of Seine-sur-Mer

Conversation with Rav David Moha

Tell us about the Jewish community of Seine-sur-Mer

It all started in a village near the city of Oran in Algeria. At the end of the war in Algeria in 1962, France withdrew and the Jews had to flee the country to Marseille. Later, for work reasons, we moved to Seine-sur-Mer, near Toulon. My father worked in the French navy, whose main base is in the port of Toulon. Along with his work, he provided kosher food to Jewish sailors. Every Shabbat he went on foot to Toulon, seven kilometers from the Seine-sur-Mer. To form the Jewish community, he simply took the phone book, listing all the Jewish names. The first gathering was held during the Mimouna at the end of the festival of Pessach in 1977. For a few years, we gathered at Yom Kippur, then during Shabbats. At the beginning, there were 150 families who have grown to 350 today.

We took the initiative in the region to organize big parties with speakers from Israel, among others – the commander of the Exodus and IDF generals. At that time we mobilized 5,000,000 francs for the Jewish state, a considerable sum for our community.

Five special features of the Jewish community of Seine-sur-Mer

  • Ahavat Israel – love for all Jews
  • Hospitality
  • We do not speak lashon hara, no gossip. Rather than talking about people, we prefer to deal with other topics.
  • We have always had very special relations with the mayor. “My house is your house,” he told me. This is true with one exception, when the Communist Party took power and hoisted the Palestinian flag on the prefecture.
  • Close links with Israel; Our community is twinned with Mazkeret Batya and the city of Seine-sur-Mer is twinned with Ashkelon

Tell us about one of the keys to the success of your community that you would like to share with other communities around the world.

It’s very simple: first of all, every person who comes to us, to me he/she is more important than me. Secondly, we all try to work for Israel and each of us is like a flag of the Jewish State.

OTS Amiel Bakehila Partner Profile: Rabbi Shraga Nathan Dahan

Rabbi Shraga Nathan Dahan

Rabbi Shraga Nathan Dahan served as the Technology Consultant for the Genesis Project, which sent an Israeli spacecraft to the moon earlier this year. He participated in a recent delegation to Switzerland where he spoke to the Jewish communities of Geneva, Annemasse and Lucerne about technology, Jewish law, and innovation in Israel.

Rabbi Shraga Natan Dahan, a resident of Beit Shemesh, is affiliated with the Rabbinate and holds Masters degrees from a number of academic institutions in Israel and the world in management and technology (Lev Institute, Technion and Polytechnic New York). He is a certified mediator and serves as teaching instructor and halachic consultant in fertility, medicine security and technology.

What did you bring to the communities that you visited as part of the OTS Amiel BaKehila delegation?

My role was to share with them halachic and technological challenges of the Genesis (Bereshit) project – the first Israeli spacecraft to reach the moon, on which I served as the technology consultant. I helped the project find solutions to the dilemmas and challenges which arose between the scientific and technological world and the need to maintain Jewish life without compromise in any field of practice.

How did you take from your trip?

During an intense week, we got to meet the various communities, youth, children, seniors and community leaders. We began our visit at a meeting with the educational administrators, where we learned about the many challenges that they confront. Later in Geneva, we met with Mrs. Nurit Brown, the energetic head of the Geneva Shalva organization who arranged everything for our delegation led by Mr. Bernard Zanzori and Ms. Elisheva Lisha. I found our encounters with the various communities fascinating and empowering.

Please write about an interesting experience or story from the delegation

Sabbath in the French Jewish community of Annemasse was an uplifting experience. We met with the rabbi and his family and had Shabbat dinner with them and other academics. We had meaningful conversations about Torah, science and what was in between – it inspired us for the rest of the week.

One highlight was our participation in the ‘Geneva Action” week, as part of a ‘Women’s Day’ organized by Shalva to strengthen Jewish women. It was a prestigious and distinguished seminar for women which hosted many diverse lecturers from  Switzerland and around the world, including members of the OTS Amiel BaKehila delegation. Mr. Bernard Zanzori, who specializes in parental education, opened round tables on education, and Ms. Elisheva Lisha – an expert in education and therapy, joined with innovative methods and conducted “laughter yoga” workshops for women and children. In addition to activities with children, I spoke about the connection between aesthetics, Judaism and what is in between. The lecture sparked a fascinating discussion and was another layer in connecting with community members.

What did you learn from the experience?

OTS Amiel BaKehila is a fascinating and empowering project that brings people together and is a vital and refreshing breath of fresh air for communities that are often preoccupied with everyday life. We are thankful for the community’s appreciation for volunteers and dedication, wherever we come from.

Do you have a message that you would like to convey to the community?

Blessed is Israel who deals with grace and builds a better and more correct world.

About the Jewish Community of…Helsinki

With Chaya Votking

Tell us about the Jewish community of Helsinki:

The Jewish Community in Helsinki is a dynamic and diverse community with about 1100 members. You can hear many different languages spoken in the community; Finnish, Swedish, English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Norwegian, Yiddish and so on. The community centre houses a kindergarten, a school for grades 1 – 9, a library, a mikvah, a banquet/sports hall and holds a variety of both religious and cultural activities for different age groups. We have two rabbis and an activity coordinator working with people teaching, guiding and organizing various programs. Also, different international and local organizations are active and bring variety to the activities.
The synagogue building was built in 1906 and it is one of the few synagogues in Europe that survived the Second World War untouched and in which prayers continued uninterrupted. The roots of the community are in Eastern Europe and we still use a Lithuanian liturgy in our services, which is rare in these times. Today Helsinki is home for Jews from different countries, traditions and levels of religious observance. All the people join in the same prayers despite these differences and that is something unique.
One of the most popular activities in the community has been the monthly Shabbat dinner, which is arranged by volunteers.  It brings the community together and besides a delicious meal free of charge, people can enjoy the spirit of Shabbat and good company. At the same time, the community members from different backgrounds get to know each other and it gives a feeling of belonging.

OTS Amiel Bakehila Partner Profile – Laura Ben David

Writer, Photographer, Social Media & Marketing Consultant

Moving to Israel changed my life in a most profound way. In fact, Israel and my aliyah experience continues to influence and inspire me. From the moment I arrived in Israel from Boca Raton, Florida seventeen years ago, I’ve been writing about it and never stopped. From my book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, to hundreds of articles, I’ve used the written word as a vehicle to share the beauty, the complexity, the ingenuity and so much more of this special land I am lucky enough to live in.

As my career transitioned from marketing professional to include a photographer and social media consultant, as a vocal Israel advocate it was a natural progression to public speaker and presenter.

I work as director of marketing for an organization called Shavei Israel that works with lost and hidden Jews around the world who wish to reconnect with their roots. One group we work with is Polish Jews, specifically those whose Jewish parents or grandparents hid their Jewishness after the Holocaust and only now their secrets are being revealed, resulting in thousands around Poland newly discovering their Jewish heritage.

Having gone on the very first OTS Amiel BaKehila delegation to Poland in April 2018, I was thrilled to connect with rabbis and community members in person not just as a delegation member, but as someone who’d been in touch with them – and cared deeply about them – through my work at Shavei Israel. This unique experience, including the relationships cultivated there, has stayed with me until today.

As a writer, I naturally wrote about the experience which enabled me to take what was an incredibly meaningful opportunity for me, and what I felt was extremely positive for the Polish communities we visited, and then expand it to become an inspirational narrative for the wider Jewish public. To me, that is an absolute win.