Congregants of Congregation Bet-El Sephardic Center of Jamaica Estates held a gala celebration last Sunday to mark the expansion of their synagogue, six years after the work began.
The Orthodox congregation, which was formed in 2007 when the private house was bought by congregant Avi Dishi, has grown from 350 families to 500 families and serves the communities of Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates, Bayside, Hollis Hills and Flushing, according to congregation spokeswoman Lydia Musheyev.
“Avi saw that there was a need for a new shul in the neighborhood to satisfy the needs of the Russian and Hebrew speaking community,” she said.
Renovation of the building, a converted private home at 180-01 Union Turnpike, Fresh Meadows, took so long because of many problems that arose during the process. A spokeswoman for Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens) said the renovation required both city and state permits and that Weprin and City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) helped obtain the necessary zoning variances. In addition, it took time to raise money for an expansion that doubled the size of the building and increased the sanctuary from 100 to 300 seats.
The congregation’s rabbi, Jacob Nasirov, had served since 1980 as the spiritual leader of Anshei Shalom in Jamaica Estates, the only Afghan-Jewish synagogue in the United States. Rabbi Nasirov, whose family has Bukharian roots and immigrated to Afghanistan in 1932, moved with his family to Israel as a child in 1949. He served in the Israel Defense Forces and immigrated to the U.S. in 1980 to assume the pulpit at Anshei Shalom, about two blocks from the Sephardic Center.
“There are five other Bukharian synagogues in this area and people choose their rabbi,” Musheyev said, adding that many congregants at Anshei Shalom followed Rabbi Nasirov when he moved to the Sephardic Center.
“We follow him because he speaks several languages –English, Hebrew, and Persian,” Musheyev said. “He also counsels on shalom bayit [peace in the family]. He’s a real spiritual leader who can talk to the heart of every person. He’s like a father to many members of the congregation. And the synagogue has a lot of activities, taking care of the needs of youths and children, women and events for couples.”
Musheyev said the new building “looks very rich and stately and the people feel proud of their Jewishness and the community.”