Tuesday, June 28, 2022

One of the reasons that David Tawil has earned the nickname of “director of special projects” at his shul is because he has a knack for connecting with all sorts of people and identifying unique opportunities to do chesed.

Tawil, vice president of Congregation Etz Ahaim, the Sephardic shul in Highland Park, is a family and matrimonial law attorney and partner with Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook and Cooper in Westfield. He and his wife, Yehudit, the social work manager at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, have four children and live in Highland Park.

Tawil had gotten to know Jacob Oslick, a member of Etz Ahaim and a board member of Congregation Mikveh Israel, a historic shul in downtown Philadelphia. Oslick put Tawil in touch with Yaakov Baruch, the parnas (leader) of Kahal Kadosh Shaar HaShamayim—the small Jewish community in Indonesia.

According to a report in the Times of Israel (March 5, 2019) Baruch leads a community of a few dozen Jews in the small town of Tondano City on the Sulawesi island. A description on the ANU: Museum of the Jewish People website states that the Jewish community of Indonesia once numbered in the thousands in the 1940s, the result of waves of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi dominated Europe before and during WWII. Persecution by the Japanese occupation government and later, by forces favoring independence, led many Jews to immigrate to the U.S., Israel and Europe.

The now independent Muslim majority country officially recognizes only six faiths—Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism—forcing Jews to lie and list Catholicism or Protestantism on their government documents. While Indonesia was considered for many years as the location of a moderate form of Islam, in recent years conservative elements in the country have grown.

Through email and Facebook Messenger discussions with Baruch, Tawil heard about the challenges facing the small Jewish community of Indonesia, which uses the Western Sephardic liturgy. He also learned about one problem they had that he thought he could readily address—a severe shortage of machzorim for the holidays. They had only one machzor for each chag.

Tawil had previously led the drive to update the holiday machzorim at Etz Ahaim and the “old” machzorim, which were still in fine shape, were boxed and awaiting disposal. Tawil enlisted his 13-year-old daughter, Emily, and together they sorted and prepared machzorim for shipment to Indonesia. He spoke with a few members of the shul, who contributed to help cover the $1,500 in shipping costs. And he worked with Edison Pack & Ship store owners Azriela and Steve Jaffe, who graciously offered to ship them at cost.

Shortly before Purim, five boxes of siddurim and machzorim, nearly 200 books in total, were shipped to Indonesia and arrived the week after the holiday.

On receiving the machzorim, Baruch wrote a warm email to Tawil: “Thank you very very much for this project, now we feel complete since we never have machzor for Shalosh Regalim, but now we have it and more machzor for High Holidays as well. Can you imagine for many years we only have one set of S&P Machzor for High Holidays?! Our kahal members send their warm regards and they appreciation for this project, may God bless you, your family and your kahal kadosh Etz Ahaim as well.”

Others involved in the chesed project were similarly pleased with the results.

“The Jewish community in Indonesia was in need of prayer books and since Etz Ahaim had recently updated its books, we had many of the DeSola Poole books in good condition available to donate to their community,” said Rose Reiss of Highland Park, one of the supporters of this project. “We gladly raised the money for postage and sent them on to their new home, where we expect they will be well used and appreciated.”

“It was our pleasure to participate in this meaningful chesed for fellow Yidden, shipping 186 siddurim and machzorim (256 pounds) to Indonesia in time for the congregation to enjoy them for the Pesach Yomim Tovim,” said Azriela and Steve Jaffe, proprietors of the Edison Pack & Ship store on Route 27. “We were really impressed with the generosity of the members of Congregation Etz Ahaim, and the leadership that David Tawil demonstrated to make sure that the project completed successfully.”

“It was a genuine pleasure and an honor to make the shidduch between Etz Ahaim, the Sephardic Congregation of Highland Park, and Shaar HaShamayim, the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue of Indonesia,” said Oslick. “However, all I did was make the connection. David and Yaakov did the heavy lifting. David raised the funds and physically packed the siddurim into boxes, while Yaakov has gone above and beyond to build a small but thriving Jewish community in Tondano. I’m thrilled that Yaakov and his congregation will again put the siddurim to good use.”

Harry Glazer welcomes comments on this news story and suggestions of other developments in the community to cover. He can be reached at [email protected]

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