May 20, 2024
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Moche Family Torah Finds New Home at BPY

Over 100 years ago, in 1894 (based on the Hebrew year “taf reish nun daled” included on the case’s dedication), a Sefer Torah sponsored by the Moche family, then living in Baghdad, Iraq, was written and housed in Baghdad’s Beit Knesset Midrash Reuven Yehuda. According to an inscription, it was dedicated to Maatouka, daughter of Moshe and Habiba Ajemi Chitayat. Through genealogical research, it was discovered that Maatouka was an unmarried aunt of Victor C. Moche, and the dedication was made to bring mazal to her life. Today, over a century later, this historical and extraordinary Sefer Torah has found a new home in a local area yeshiva, Ben Porat Yosef.

The Moche Sefer Torah has traveled many miles and several continents over its lifetime, from its original location in Baghdad, to London, Israel, Japan, back to Israel and finally to the United States. After residing in Baghdad for over 35 years, the Sefer Torah traveled with the family when they left Baghdad for Israel. In early 1950, Victor C. Moche and his wife, Fadhila Moche, decided that the family Sefer Torah would best serve the Jewish community in the synagogue they attended in Kobe, Japan, and Saul, Victor’s brother, brought it from Ramat Gan, Israel, to Japan. With this move the Sefer Torah made history, as one of the first Sephardic sifrei torah to be brought to Japan.

There is evidence of Jewish life in Kobe as early as 1869, which started when the city’s shipping port opened for trade in 1868. Victor C. Moche had arrived in Kobe from Baghdad in 1936 to represent a textile trading company, but also became a leader of the Jewish community there. He was active in ensuring the functions of Jewish daily life, including acting as a shochet, baal koreh and shliach tzibbur. Victor and Fadhila not only kept a kosher home, a Herculean feat in Kobe at the time, but also built a mikveh in their home for communal use. The Sefer Torah, brought to the town in 1950, played a vital role in supporting the Jewish community.

When the Moche family left Japan, the Sefer Torah was likely lent to the Ohel Shelomoh Synagogue of Kansai in Kobe, where it remained until early 2008, when S. David Moche, Victor’s son, negotiated for its return to his family in exchange for his donation of a similar replacement Sefer Torah. It was delivered to David in New York City by the congregation’s then rabbi, Rabbi Yerachmiel Strausberg.

After a short time at David’s home, the Sefer Torah was lent to the Sephardic minyan at the Young Israel of Scarsdale, where it was cared for by Dr. Bryan Kagan and his wife Margaritta (Moche) Kagan, Victor’s daughter. In late 2015, after an inspection and evaluation by a restoration firm, the Sefer Torah was taken to Israel to be repaired, and in April 2016, the fully restored Sefer Torah was brought back to America. Victor’s grandson Uri Moche arranged to loan the Sefer Torah to Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, New Jersey, the Jewish day school founded by Rochelle Moche and other members of the Sephardic community of Englewood, New Jersey.

A Hachnasat Sefer Torah  dedication took place at the school on Monday, November 14, with many members of the Moche family in attendance, including Rachie and Charlie Moche, and their children Avi Moche, and Uri and Tamar Moche — whose children Victor, Rosie and Leo attend Ben Porat Yosef; David and Nancy Moche; and Isaac Schweky. A spiritual tefillat shacharit began the ceremony, where Rabbi Ilan Acoca, Rav Mechanech at Ben Porat Yosef and rabbi at the Sephardic Congregation of Fort Lee, was the baal koreh, reading from the Moche Sefer Torah. Rabbi Acoca told the assembled crowd — which included the students and faculty of the middle school as well as several former presidents of the school, and many school parents and friends of the Moche family — that the occasion was special to him personally, as in his prior post as rabbi of a Sephardic congregation in Vancouver, Canada, several of his mentors were former members of the Kobe community.

Following the tefilla, Victor Moche, third-grade student and great-grandson of Victor C. Moche, gave a dvar torah, after which the entire school from toddlers through eighth grade formed a procession for the Sefer Torah outside under a chuppah. The entire school and faculty, joined by the rabbi of Ahavath Torah’s Sephardic congregation, sang and danced in celebration and escorted the historic Sefer Torah back into the school, which will be its new home.

By Uri Moche

 

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