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“We want to celebrate our father’s life,
we have been blessed with
102 beautiful golden years.”

– His daughters

On February 1, 2018, we lost a true legendary community leader, Moe Tawil, zt”l, at the age of 102. Moe Tawil lived his life to the fullest, devoting himself completely and lovingly to Hashem through prayer, song, hesed, and community contributions.

How does one pay tribute to a man who many call a spiritual icon, a man such as Moe Tawil who left a rich and abundant legacy and imprint on the Jewish landscape?

Moe Tawil’s Roots

Moe Tawil was born into a very special and distinguished family that was giftedwith the knowledge, passion, and talent for both Torah studyand hazzanut. His father, Abraham E. Tawil, was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1877 and moved to Jerusalem in his early 20s. Abraham married Yael, the daughter of Rabbi Yoseph Haim Shrem, a rabbi and scholar who also had a beautiful voice and composed many renowned pizmonim(Yachid El Dagul Mervava which he created for Ben Ish Chai). Four of their children were born in Palestine (Ezra, Nathan, Sarah, and Isaac). The family emigrated to the U.S., settling in the Lower East Side in 1913 where Harry (1914) and Moses (1915) were born.

In 1921, Abraham relocated to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn where the Magen David Congregation Synagogue, the mother congregation of the Syrian community, was inaugurated under his presidency. David, the youngest Tawil, was born then.

The family lived in Mexico City for six years but returned to Bensonhurst in 1931 where Abraham served on Magen David’s Boardof Directors until his untimely passing in 1934. His children and grandchildren have carried on his legacy.

Moe’s communal activities began at a very young age. Moe and his brothers organized the junior prayer services of The Young Magen David – Bnai Magen David, of which his brother Isaac, A”H, was the first president.

It was from his father Abraham that Moe learned his love, commitment, and dedication to Hashem, Jewish knowledge and tradition, community, family, and hazzanut. Moe began his morning withTorah study just as his father had. Not only was Abraham a talmid hacham, he also had a beautiful voice, and was an expert in Arabic makam,pizmon, hazzanut, and voice training. His son Moe continued in his footsteps and was referred to as a musical childprodigy. He possessed a “clear sweet tenor voice that touched the hearts of the congregants when he hazzaned.” It was said that when Moe Tawil prayed, the doors of heaven would open up. Through the years, he trained the majority of all the hazzanimin thecommunity.

The home of Yael and Abraham was a haven for the noble culture they inherited from their parents and their passion for Jewish knowledge. Torah and traditions were always in the fabric of their daily living. Their joy of the Shabbats and holidays blossomed with their love of their ethnic Middle Eastern music.

Moe’s passion for Sephardic liturgical music led to the formation of a school in Israel for hazzanimcalled Tiferet Hamizrach.

Marriage, Family, and Career

Moe Tawil was a very warm and outgoing person with a big heart, who alwayshad a smile on his face and always treated everyone with derech eretz. Moe’s daughters described their father as intelligent, pious, honest, gentle, and dapper. These qualities and values are very apparent in the details of Mr. Tawil’s life story below.

Moe was a mere teenager when he met his wife Alice Massry. It was love at first sight, and many friends and relatives were in awe of the special love and bond they had for each other. Mr. Tawil put his wife on a pedestal and treated her with the utmost respect and adoration. When asked what his secret to a happy marriage, he replied, “having breakfast with my wife every morning before going to work.” At all of his grandchildren’s weddings, he advised that the key to a happy marriage is to ask oneself, “What can I do to make my spouse happy today?” Alice passed away 19 years before Moe, yet he always felt married to her.

Alice gave birth to four children, Abraham Tawil, A”H, Sheila Schweky, Joyce Kassin, and Judy NasarHaim. Moe was very forward thinking about Jewish education and sought the best Jewish and secular education for his children. He met with Mr. Braverman, the founder of the Yeshivah of Flatbush (YOF) and was one of the first to send his son Abraham to thatYeshivah, and all of the Tawil children and cousins followed. Moe and his brother Isaac served on their board and were among the leaders involved in building the main edifice on East 10th Street.

How Did Moe Tawil Impact His Family?

Moe was a role model to his son and daughters, their go-to person for everything (family matters, halacha, and business), and was a constant source of inspiration and mentoring for them. Moe’s daughter Sheila chose three words, Torah, Community, and Family, when I asked her what she learned from her father. Following their father’s example, his children took an active part in community projects. Moe was also a peacemaker for his family and community, following in Aaron HaCohen’s footsteps, “Ohev Shalom vi Rodef Shalom.”

He demonstrated to his children that religion is not a chore but an honored way of life. The Tawils lived their religion and practiced their traditions as a natural sequence. Moe always praised Hashem and explained that everything comes from Hashem. Everything hedid was l’shem Shamayim.

When Moe saw a sight of natural beauty, Hashem’s creation, he would exclaim, “Yishtabach Shemo”– may your name be praised! He also believed in the powers of tefilahand saw how important it was to pray meaningfully and not out of habit. For example, he wrote that “prayer is for the soul, like food is for the body, and it is what bonds us to Hashem.” Moe encouraged the formation of classes to teach people how to pray with deep meaning.

Since Moe’s birthday was always on Pesach, his family celebrated his last three birthdays with special Matzah Kippot (pictured on next page).

Moe also spent a lot of time teaching his grandchildren their Bar Mitzvah parashas, divrei Torah, tefilah, derech eretz, cleanliness, and more.

He also performed the Pidyon Haben for the first-born sons of many family members, as well as other community members.

Moe was what we call a self-made
man, a brilliant one, and well-rounded.
He was an entrepreneur by day, a manufacturer of men’s handkerchiefs and accessories. He started Dumont Handkerchiefswith his brothers. It is therefore not surprising that those who knew Moe described him as impeccably dressed, elegant, and dignified. At the arayotfor Moe at Shaare Zion, the rabbis and grandchildren who eulogized him remarked about his attire. Moe would explain that one must look their best when standing before the King, Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Moe was honorable and honest in business and very conscientious about his work ethic. He enjoyed his career but always came home for dinner and took his wife and children on vacations – putting his family first. Moe lived a balanced life following the Rambam’s teachings when it came to health and fitness (precise eating habits, dressing, exercising, and more).
The Rambam believed that, "The health and wellbeing of the body is part of one's service of Gd." Moe enjoyed his rituals, doing twenty minutes of calisthenics and walking two miles a day until he was 100 years old.

The secrets to Moe’s success, drive, and positive energy
(he always kept moving) were his faith in Hashem and the loving support of his wife. His inspiring and uplifting spirit, essence, and influence touched his family, his community, his colleagues, his students and peers, and almost everyone who came into contact with him. For a physically short and slim man, the term “giant” was used often regarding his spirituality, voice, generosity, Jewish knowledge, leadership, talent, and soul.

Prayer, Music, Community, and Hesed

Mr. Tawil’s daughters shared that their father was a man who always had a cause, and was always making a difference in people’s lives.

He was a founding leader and/or actively involved in many community organizations including: Sephardic Community Center, Shaare Zion, Deal Synagogue, and Magen David Yeshivah (see sidebar below for a complete listing). His contributions to the community spanned over 85 years as a key leader in all phases of community life, from education to prayers to preserving the Sephardic way of life.

Moe Tawil’s hazzanutand musical accomplishments were laudable. He was the founder and director of the Moe Tawil Cantorial Seminary.As previously described, he helped establish Tiferet Hamizrachto preserve the Sephardic liturgical musical tradition for hazzanim. Moe also instructed and lectured on Sephardic Liturgical music at New York University, Hofstra, and Yeshiva University. His expertise included the type ofmusic and prayers that were enacted in the Beit Hamikdash. Moe could describe the choir, the musicians, and the different types of instruments (including how many there were) that existed during the Beit Hamikdash era.

Mr. Tawil studied Syrian hazzanutunder Hacham Moshe Ashear, a brilliant hazzan, composer, poet, and scholar.

Always active in the Jewish community, at the young age of 90, Moe became a huge supporter and fundraiser for Ateret Cohanim, the Jewish organization that establishes and rebuilds our Jewish roots in East Jerusalem. This became his passion for the past 12 years.

Shani Hikind, the Executive Vice President of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, remarked, “Moe’s heart and soul reverberated with love of Zion, not just manifested in the way he prayed, but in his passionate appeal for support from community members.”

I would like to conclude with the words of Daniel Luria, Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim.

“Not many people can look back at 102 years. But we can all look at Moe, zt”l, and his 102 years and simply marvel at his wonderful life of achievements and giving. . . May we all be comforted with the fact – that in the same way that Jerusalem is, and will continue to be rebuilt and be redeemed, so too, will there one day be ‘Techiat HaMeitim’ – the return to this world, of the neshamot (souls) who have returned to their Source.”

May Moe Tawil’s memory continue to be a blessing and an inspiration to our community, amen.