Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, who left Sephardic Temple in February after a 17-year tenure at the Westwood congregation, was hired into a leadership position at the Sephardic Education Center (SEC), an international educational and cultural group headquartered in Los Angeles with a campus in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Bouskila became SEC’s director of special projects April 1. He is charged with creating a five-year educational plan for the organization, and he will also generate local programming for Los Angeles as well as branches around the United States, South America and Europe.
One of his first major projects will be a summer think tank and year-round institutes to engage rabbis of all backgrounds in studying a Sephardic approach to the major issues that confront Judaism.
“Sephardim are not just an exotic group that has great food and music and culture,” Bouskila said. Rather, Sephardic Jewry has a long rabbinic legacy, both medieval and modern, that combines traditional intellectual rigor with a sense of moderation.
The SEC was founded in 1979, and in the 1980s and 1990s ran Israel trips, classes and Shabbatons for teens and young adults. Around 25,000 people went on SEC Israel trips, and 500 married couples met through the organization, according to Larry Azose, executive director.
But the organization lost its footing in the late 1990s. While it kept up Israel trips and founded the biannual Sephardic Film Festival, SEC classes, trips and local programming diminished. In the last three years, the board engaged in strategic planning and hired Azose. This month SEC is moving from offices in Westwood to the Jewish Federation building on Wilshire Boulevard.
“We feel that there is a Sephardic approach to life that incorporates being rooted in tradition and at the same time being rooted in the larger world, without being extreme,” Azose said. “Having Rabbi Bouskila join us is a tremendous step forward, because the pieces that were missing from the SEC for the past several years are the programming pieces. He shares our vision and our passion.”
Last winter the group restarted its popular “Classes for the Masses” series, aiming at a wider age range and the entire Jewish community, regardless of cultural background. SEC will continue to run Birthright trips, and hopes to reconstitute its signature Sephardic Heritage Trips, three- to five-week immersive experiences based at SEC’s Old City campus.
Bouskila, a long-time SEC rabbinic advisor, board member and teacher, was involved in the revitalization, and is now eager to help implement that vision. He even has his eye on SEC eventually opening a rabbinic school.
“This is about trying to create a modern rabbinate steeped in text and tradition, but also in the issues of the day,” Bouskila said.