The nine members of Rabbi Haim Ovadia’s family play a total of seven different instruments, including piano, guitar, recorder and qanun, a traditional Chinese string instrument.
As the new rabbi at Magen David Sephardic Congregation, Ovadia brings his family’s love of music along with his passion for guiding congregants through their life cycles and his knowledge of Sephardic arts and culture to the Rockville synagogue.
Ovadia continues his family’s long tradition of becoming a rabbi, which dates back “probably 10 generations,” he says, noting that his great-grandfather was Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya, the chief rabbi of Baghdad in the late 1800s.
His siblings are involved in Sephardic life in some form or another, from being a scribe to teaching, he says. Ovadia also is a prolific writer and has had many articles and translations published. He currently is working on two books on Jewish law and Rashi’s commentary.
He wants “to make Jewish life livable and enjoyable.” He envisions concerts “showcasing the Sephardic tradition” to be a regular part of life at Magen David. He also intends to engage young people, hoping they will become the next generation of leaders at the synagogue.
Magen David is Ovadia’s third congregation as head rabbi. Both he and his wife, Edna, were born in Israel. A few years after they were married, they moved to South America, where he served as assistant rabbi and cantor in Bogota, Colombia, from 1991 to 1996.
He next became assistant rabbi at Magen David in West Deal, N.J., and then served for six years as the rabbi at Congregation Kahal Joseph in Los Angeles. While there, Ovadia earned his master’s degree in Hebrew literature from the University of California Los Angeles.
Most recently, Ovadia led Mikdash Eliahu in Brooklyn, N.Y.
At Magen David, Ovadia, 49, intends to start a Sunday school and generally revive a synagogue that hasn’t had its own rabbi for a year, since Rabbi Joshua Maroof’s contract was not renewed.
Ovadia understands that “it takes time. It takes time to heal. It’s like a break up, some people are hurt in the process.” He took over as rabbi on July 1.
He has reached out to some of Maroof’s “supporters who left,” and he is optimistic that “the bulk of the community” will
His wife also is reaching out. She hopes to attract families with young children to teach them Sephardic tunes and traditions.
“That’s the goal,” said the woman who has been teaching Hebrew, Judaism and b’nai mitzvah classes for more than 20 years.
Robert Katz, a member of Magen David for many years and who was married there 28 years ago, was disappointed when Maroof left and has attended other area synagogues prior to Ovadia’s appointment.
But he returned to the synagogue where he is comfortable and is pleased to welcome the new rabbi, his wife and his four boys and three girls, who range in age from age from 8 to 28.
“I am excited, and looking forward to welcoming him to the community,” Katz says. He describes Edna Ovadia as “very talented. She’s a wonderful teacher. She’s very spiritual. She’s one of the people who build a community.”