"Open up your cashicas": Philanthropy and Fundraising
in Sephardic LA
by Max Modiano Daniel
Organized fundraising and charitable giving - whether for their own community in LA or Jews in need abroad - occupied the energies and efforts of many Sephardic leaders in Los Angeles and continually served as a clarion call to specifically Sephardic, communal action.
Fundraising has been one of the few areas where American Jews have tended to cooperate with extraordinary success. The foundations and expansion of the ubiquitous Federation systems in American cities is only one of the more visible examples of this. The Sephardic Jews of LA were no exception to this general rule, and though included in the general philanthropic network of Jewish Los Angeles, also sought to build a separate reputation as generous, Sephardic Jews. Internal fundraising, for synagogue building or Jewish education, also drew on the language of Sephardic pride and identity, tying members’ financial support to securing an endangered heritage.
L.A.’s Sephardim were invited to open their ‘cashicas,’ Ladino for coinpurse or charity box, on many occasions and for a wide variety of causes. Locally, the Sephardic Community and Brotherhood, the Sephardic Hebrew Center, and their Sisterhoods continually sought to solicit donations to support their building committees, Talmud Torah Hebrew schools, newsletter publications, among many other causes. Ticket sales for Sisterhood-planned picnics, lunches, and dances were some of the ways funds were raised, alongside individuals’ donations of food, equipment, time, and labor.
These activities trace their origins to the very founding of both organizations, as both
The Sephardic Division of the United Jewish Welfare Fund ca. 1940s. STTI Archives.
the Comunidad and the Sephardic Hebrew Center (formerly Paz y progresa Society) began as mutual aid organizations. Each functioned as a secular analog to a chevra kadisha (burial society), providing proper Jewish burials in keeping with halakhic (Jewish law) for those who could not afford to do so, and provided financial aid to members and/or families in times of need. That legacy of mutual-aid continued in STTI’s “Secret Fund,” which was set up to anonymously help member families who were in financial need or distress.
Community fundraising also gave the opportunity for members to honor their living and deceased relatives and friends by purchasing named plaques that would adorn the synagogue lobby, or by endowing a social hall (like SHC’s Hazan Hall or STTI’s Amado Hall), sanctuary, or library. Named funds, like the Rabbi Tovi Flower Fund, or the Victor Abrevaya Memorial Fund, existed alongside specific endowments, especially for students and youth, like the scholarship funds given by Irving and Jeanette Benveniste at SHC or by Dora and Isaac Candiotty at STTI. Appeals in temple newsletters - both for funds and for volunteers - stressed that such support could ensure the continuity and survival of Sephardic life. And, for intermittent periods, members from SHC, TTI, and other, smaller Sephardic organizations and groups also worked to consolidate their efforts and streamline fundraising through the Council of Sephardic Organizations of Los Angeles, founded in 1937 as the United Sephardic Organizations of Los Angeles. Though the United Sephardic Organizations of LA eventually became defunct by the early 60s, it reflects a desire among LA Sephardim to use fundraising to promote Sephardic city-wide unity and cooperation.
Specific fundraising campaigns were frequently organized to provide aid to needy Jews, often Sephardic, in other lands. Through the minute book of the 1930s meetings of the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Sephardic Hebrew Center, we learn that money was often raised for the “menesterozos,” or needy, of Rhodes - perhaps those members’ families left behind on the island. During the Second World War, local LA Sephardim were part of a national, Sephardic, New York-led, effort to help Jews in Nazi-occupied Salonica, Greece. Salonica, a city with upwards of 40,000 Jews, was to be one of the hardest-hit Jewish communities of World War II, having a survival rate of less than 10%. LA would later become home to those fleeing war-torn Europe, like Rebecca Amato Levy, who left Rhodes in 1939 and came to LA via a stop in Tangiers. After the war, others - like Holocaust survivors Joseph and Lucy Modiano Confortes - arrived in the mid-50’s from Salonica.
In later years, different efforts were initiated to help new Sephardic immigrants, including the Max Nordau Jewish Association of New Americans from Greece (later shortened to Max Nordau Sephardic Association) in the 1950s and the
This 1943 telegram celebrates the formation of a L.A. branch of the Salonica Jewish War Sufferers Committee. STTI Archives.
Sephardic Cuban Refugee Committee of the mid-1960s. In the 70s, local leaders also worked on securing the rights for Syrian Jews to migrate out of Syria, and toward the end of the decade called upon community members to assist Jewish emigrants from Iran.
From left to right: Victor Tabah, Maurice Amado, Rabbi Jacob Ott, and Dr. Irving Benveniste at a United Jewish Welfare Fund gathering in the early 1960s. STTI Archives.
The Maurice Amado Foundation
Perhaps the most impactful and memorable act of philanthropy within the Sephardic community of LA came from someone whose primary residence was in New York. Maurice Amado, born in Izmir in 1888, made his wealth in the tobacco and real estate industries, and devoted much of his time to charitable giving with a special focus on Sephardic issues. Amado remained appraised of the situation in LA through his nephews Richard J Amado and Milton S Amado, both active leaders in multiple Sephardic organizations in the city.
Founded in 1961, the Maurice Amado Foundation began its over half-century of giving by bequesting significant funds to the Sephardic Community and Brotherhood (later known as STTI), to the extent that on the occasion of his death in 1968, it was announced that he bequeathed one million dollars to the community. The Maurice Amado Foundation, its board carried on by family members - including his nieces and nephews resident in Los Angeles and, in time, their children - would go on to fund various causes, most notably supporting Sephardic studies in the
academy. The Maurice Amado Foundation has extended their giving to scholarship, as well, supporting projects in Sephardic studies nationally and internationally, including an endowed chair at UCLA.
Program from a Luncheon hosted by the Sephardic Women's Division of the United Jewish Welfare Fund in 1975. STTI Archives.
The United Jewish Welfare Fund
Not all fundraising among Sephardim was on such a grand scale, however, but was no less committed. The United Jewish Welfare Fund had both a Men’s and Women’s Sephardic Division, the latter organizing annual fundraising luncheons replete with homemade Sephardic delicacies.
The UJWF also brought together different Sephardic organizations, later including the Syrian, Iraqi, Moroccan, and Iranian communities, under a local Jewish philanthropic umbrella. Other specifically Sephardic branches of local philanthropies included the Sephardic Chapter of City of Hope, the California branch of the American Friends of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, and the Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aged (LASHA). Support for the state of Israel was also a major destination of community dollars, primarily through Israel Bonds, for which local leaders like Irving Benveniste and Max Candiotty were major organizers. Often solicited on High Holidays, Israel Bonds went through synagogues and gave Sephardic organizations local communal clout and pride, giving an additional reason to donate aside from Zionist sympathies.
In an open letter detailing aspects of his large donation, Maurice Amado hoped that his gift would spur more financial and other kinds of support for the Sephardic community, hoping to counter a supposedly widespread notion that “Sephardim do not know how to
give.” (Sephardic Messenger Vol 3, no 7 (March-April 1962)). These critical appeals for donations were often accompanied by comparisons to previous generations, who, it was claimed, managed to build new temples (both TTI and SHC) in the midst of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. But from the numerous groups, associations, luncheons, picnics, and other fundraising campaigns, it is clear that Sephardim in LA had the will and desire to give, despite such claims to the contrary. They gave to specifically “Sephardic” causes, whether in Rhodes, Greece, Syria, or Israel, to Jewish or Zionist causes, or to nonsectarian ones like City of Hope or Mt. Sinai Hospital. Whatever the cause, individuals and groups saw the Sephardic community as one primed to be a giving and generous community.