In July, Rabbi Sion Setton and his wife of two years, Mijal Bitton, plan to fly to Istanbul to offer four Torah classes to the city’s Jewish community. This will be Setton’s fifth visit since 2008 to Istanbul, where he offers the city’s 18,000 Jews classes about their Sephardic heritage.
Those trips are just one of Rabbi Setton’s efforts to teach Sephardic Jews about their customs, traditions and history. Shortly after his ordination in 2012 by Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Setton became the spiritual leader of Congregation Magen David, a Sephardic congregation in Manhattan.
In addition, since 2010 he has served as both director of educational technology and a middle school teacher at Barkai Yeshivah, a Sephardic K-8 school in Borough Park.
Rabbi Setton’s passion for his Sephardic heritage comes from the strong Sephardic-Syrian Jewish community in which his Egyptian-born parents raised him. His father’s parents are from Syria and his mother’s are from Iraq.
“I view my role as that of a bridge builder, helping proud Sephardi Jews integrate their heritage and tradition with modern living, especially in downtown Manhattan,” he said.
While still a teenager in 2006, Rabbi Setton helped establish and direct daily Sephardic services for 60 students at Ramaz Middle School and coordinated extracurricular activities and clubs focusing on Sephardic traditions.
At the same time, Rabbi Setton established and maintained a weekly youth minyan for more than 60 attendees at Edmond J. Safra Synagogue, a Sephardic congregation in Manhattan, where he also served as youth director and a rabbinic intern.
In addition, in 2009 Rabbi Setton founded a website on which Sephardic rabbis post digital audio recordings of their lectures about Sephardic history, traditions and stories of Sephardic sages.
“I created it because I felt there was a lack of communication and connection to Sephardic rabbis, leaders and educators worldwide,” he said.
Nearly 700 lectures and articles are now on the site, which has more than 700 visitors each month.
Globe trotter: In addition to Turkey, Rabbi Setton has traveled on humanitarian missions to Thailand, Senegal, San Jose, England and Israel. He speaks both Hebrew and Arabic.