Reuben Dahan lives just down the block from his nearest synagogue. Yet every Shabbat, for the past seven years, Dahan, an Israeli immigrant who grew up in Petach Tikvah, has gone the extra mile, literally, to worship at a place he calls his spiritual home.
"I live near Chabad," he says, "but I walk 20 minutes."
Dahan is a member of Yad Avraham.
A small Sephardic congregation that has been meeting for the past 10 years in a converted storefront on Burbank Boulevard, Yad Avraham has built a loyal following among its members and a reputation for its warmth. Yad Avraham has attracted foreign-born Jews who have turned to the synagogue as a way of retaining their native culture.
The congregation is predominantly Israeli, and many believe their sabra roots form the unifying bond within the synagogue.
"This synagogue helps us keep our culture," says Shmuel Nouriel.
"We like to have an Israeli place," adds Avi Edry.
Others say it is the very welcoming and family-like atmosphere of the synagogue that keeps them coming back.
"This synagogue is unique. It is a big family," says Nouriel, who has attended Yad Avraham since its inception in 1987.
"It is very warm," says Ramah Palmari. "If you come from the outside, they make you feel at home." According to Palmari, who joined the synagogue two years ago, recent immigrants "are thirsty for like-minded people. Here, you are never alone."
The synagogue has a Shabbat hosting program that helps new attendees meet other members of the congregation.
Although predominantly Israeli, many of the members' parents immigrated to Israel from various countries including Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Morocco and Syria.
Unlike many Sephardic congregations in the neighborhood that pray according to Moroccan tradition, or nusach, Yad Avraham uses a more generic Sephardic style, according to Rabbi David Adatto. "The point was to make everyone feel comfortable," he says.
However, at communal Shabbat lunches, various culinary heritages meet.
"We share cultures," says Edry, the synagogue producer. "We mix all the foods. One week we all eat couscous, the next week we'll eat kubeh."
Most members of Yad Avraham were secular and became ba'al tshuvah (returned to Judaism) after joining the congregation.
According to Adatto, many were first drawn to the synagogue solely for cultural reasons. "Secular Israelis in America want something Israeli," he says. "Before you knew it, they were part of the community." Joshua Assis believes his commitment to Orthodoxy is an outgrowth of his work with the synagogue. "I was here from the beginning," says Assis, the synagogue treasurer. "It is like raising a baby. It becomes part of you, your blood."
Besides weekly services, the synagogue holds weekly classes for men and women on Jewish studies or issues relating to upcoming holidays. Rabbis from nearby synagogues, including Ashkenazic ones, lecture at Yad Avraham.
Sun., Sept. 24, after spending the past decade renting space, Yad Avraham finally broke ground on a permanent home.
The new building, scheduled to be completed in time for next Rosh Hashanah, will be located on Chandler Boulevard near Whitsett Avenue.
"It will be a place that we can truly call our own," Adatto says. "It will enable us to increase our base. From there we will be able to expand, grow and reach out to the community"
Along with a synagogue, Yad Avraham also plans on opening the Jerusalem Israeli Community Cultural Center within the new facility.
"We want to build an Israeli culture center to teach the children," says Edry.
Members of Yad Avraham say the center will also cater to the social needs of immigrants, especially to the thousands of Israelis who have moved to the Valley during the 1990s.
Along with social programs, members of Yad Avraham believe that the center will be a window on the their little slice of Israel in North Hollywood.
"We want to show the outside the love and joy we get from our community," says Edry.