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Bringing Legends to Life

Barbara Bensoussan

He’s young, energetic, and determined to put Sephardic history and Torah scholarship back on the map. It’s Yehuda Azoulay’s one-man campaign to honor Sephardic history.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

As a teenager in Toronto, Yehuda Azoulay loved reading biographies of gedolim. The Noble Lives, Noble Deeds series (ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications) was his favorite. But as the son of a mother born in Tangiers and a father born in Casablanca, it bothered him that there were no biographies for gedolim with origins closer to his own. He knew they existed; he grew up attending hillulot regularly within his own community, and his father’s family claimed to be related to the Chida, the 18th-century Torah giant.

At age 17, after he moved on from Toronto’s Yeshiva Darchei Torah and Mikdash Melech Yerushalayim to further his studies in Lakewood, he expressed his disappointment to Rav Haim Benoliel, the rosh yeshivah of Mikdash Melech inBrooklyn. Rav Benoliel responded, “So you take the initiative.”

“The yeshivah in Lakewoodhad a computer, and I started writing up short biographies about Sephardic gedolim, just for myself,” Azoulay relates. Now 27, he’s a tall, well-mannered young man with youthful enthusiasm and ambitious dreams. “At the time, people were still using disks — I remember I had one disk for each biography.”

As time permitted, he’d add to the work; when he got married in 2007, he compiled a booklet containing about 20 short sketches to distribute at his sheva brachos. The following year, he self-published it in book form as A Legacy of Leaders, with approbations from, among others, Rav Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l, Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, and Rabbi Benoliel (Israel Book Shop distributes all his work). It included brief biographical sketches of 25 well-known Sephardic chachamim along with short anecdotes of their accomplishments. “I tried to choose figures who would be recognizable to both Sephardim and Ashkenazim,” he says. The following year, a second Legacy of Leaders appeared, featuring yet another 26 gedolim.

Having set the biography machinery in motion, Azoulay kept the presses rolling. In 2005, he produced yet another book, a full-length, English-language biography of the Ben Ish Chai. This past March, he released a biography of the Chida entitled A Legend of Greatness. To unify his work and create a base for further projects and research, Azoulay founded his own Sephardic studies organization, which he calls The Sephardic Legacy Series — Institute for Preserving Sephardic Heritage. He now has four books to his credit, and the Sephardic Legacy continues to grow and draw attention to the contributions of Sephardim.

On November 20, the Sephardic Legacy foundation will begin realizing these goals, as the organization launches its most ambitious event to date: an “Inaugural Tribute Luncheon Honoring the Contributions of Sephardic Jewry” in the Kennedy Room of the USCapitol. The object of the congressional event, he says, is to “honor American Sephardic Jewry, and commemorate Chacham Ovadiah ztz”l.”

 

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