Honoring a rabbi who always put the children first

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Rabbi Solomon Maimon has been a pillar of Seattle’s Sephardic community since he moved here as a young child in the 1920s. Though he initially accompanied his father, Rabbi Abraham Maimon, who moved to Seattle from Tekirdag, Turkey in 1924 to serve as the rabbi at Sephardic Bikur Holim (SBH), Solomon Maimon quickly made a name for himself as a religious leader in his own right. At the age of 17, he left Seattle to attend Yeshiva University in New York, and upon his graduation, became the first Sephardic rabbi ordained in the United States.

Rabbi Maimon returned to Seattle after his ordination to serve as SBH’s full-time rabbi. His true passion, however, was working with children, and that was reflected in his work helping to found several children’s programs in the greater Seattle area — namely, the Seattle Hebrew Day School (which later merged with the Seattle Talmud Torah to become the Seattle Hebrew Academy), and the Sephardic Adventure Camp (SAC). On January 12, Rabbi Maimon, now 93,  will be honored for his work with the camp at a special dinner event at Sephardic Bikur Holim in Seward Park.

Rabbi Maimon founded the Sephardic Adventure Camp in 1948 as a way to help make Judaism fun and educational for kids, in addition to the experiences they were already getting from their Jewish day schools and congregations.

“We practice and we pray and we play,” Rabbi Maimon said of the SAC experience, adding that the experience of camp steeped in Jewish tradition needs to be truly fun for the children to want to attend. “You have to be with them day and night, and feed them, and love them, and make it fun — real fun. It’s not an easy job.”

The camp is a two-week program that generally runs from late June to early July, and includes all the typical markers of a sleep-away summer camp — from swimming to hiking to arts and crafts. But it also includes the hallmarks of an immersive religious experience, like Sephardic culture sessions, morning and evening Orthodox prayer sessions, and a Shabbat observance at the end of each of the two weeks. SAC is staffed by religious leaders, yeshiva students, and former campers, and it attracts campers from all over the United States, Canada, and Israel.

“The camp is a success,” said Rabbi Maimon of his flagship program. “Everybody who ever came had a great time, and they learned a lot.”

Rabbi Maimon believes it will be those former and current campers who will join him and his family at the event. SAC expects between 200 and 250 people at the dinner, which will include a celebration of Rabbi Maimon and his founding of the Sephardic Adventure Camp, as well as an opportunity for the whole SAC family to learn about how to carry on what Rabbi Maimon started and continue to serve the campers of the greater Sephardic community.

“I’m almost 94, so it’s not easy to get out and do music with the kids,” joked Rabbi Maimon, who said he hopes the dinner will include some favorite camp sing-alongs and lots of ruach, the Hebrew word for spirit.

The dinner to honor Rabbi Maimon will take place on Sun., Jan. 12, 2014 at 5 p.m. at Sephardic Bikur Holim, 6500 52nd Ave. S in Seattle, and is open to anyone who would like to join SAC to honor Rabbi Maimon for his years of service. For more information, contact Sephardic Adventure Camp at office@sephardicadventurecamp.org or at 206-257-2225.

This piece originally appeared in JT News.

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