Tag: Obituaries

Farewell to US philanthropist who helped rescue 400 Syrian Jewish brides

Stephen Shalom, a leading Sephardi philanthropist, has died aged 93, JTA reports. His greatest achievement was to rescue 400 unmarried Jewish girls from Syria in 1977. Born in Brooklyn of parents from Aleppo, he fought to dispel the myth that Mizrahi Jews were intolerant of Arabs. (With thanks: Nancy)

(JTA) — Stephen Shalom, a leader of the U.S. Sephardic Jewish community who promoted Middle East peace and religious tolerance, died at 93.

Stephen Shalom z”l (Photo: Sephardic Heritage Foundation)

Shalom died Sunday, his family said in a statement.

The heir to a handkerchief manufacture fortune, I. Shalom, now known as New York Accessory Group, Shalom was at different times in his life a leader of major Jewish and pro-Israel philanthropies. They included the United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York (now the UJA Federation of New York), the World Sephardi Federation and Israel Bonds. He was also involved with the American Jewish Committee; HIAS, the Jewish immigration advocacy group; the Jewish Agency, and the Joint Distribution Committee.

Shalom said the accomplishment of which he was most proud was working with Rep. Stephen Solarz, D-N.Y., with the blessing of President Jimmy Carter, to bring 400 Jewish women who wanted to marry within their faith to the United States from Syria in 1977.

Read article in full

Iran’s loss of entrepreneurial Jews is America’s gain

The death of Iranian-Jewish entrepreneur Younes Nazarian prompts Karmel Melamed to ponder what Iran would have become had it not suffered a massive post-revolution brain drain. He blogs in the Times of Israel:

Younes Nazarian z’l (Photo: USC)

The U.S. Jewish community and Israel lost a great friend with the death of successful Iranian Jewish businessman and philanthropist Younes Nazarian who passed away on March 18th. Nazarian not only gave millions of dollars to countless Jewish and Israel related causes through his family’s foundation, but many Southern California universities and non-Jewish organizations also received donations from his family foundation. His early investment in what later became the telecommunications giant Qualcomm, not only hired thousands of individuals but the company’s new technology forever improved communications worldwide.

And yet Nazarian was the not the only Iranian Jew to achieve remarkable success in his business and career after fleeing Iran following the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. There were indeed thousands more Iranian Jews who immigrated to the U.S. and Israel, and eventually making both nations blossom with their contributions.

Today many Iranian American Jews look back on the life of Nazarian and the remaining older Iranian Jews from his generation and often wonder how they or their families could have potentially helped transform Iran and the Middle East for the better had there never been an Islamic revolution and a totalitarian antisemitic Khomeini regime that forced thousands of them to flee Iran?

Read article in full

Amnon Shamosh changed the image of the Levantine Jew

The death has been announced of  leading Israeli author Amnon Shamosh, aged 93.

Amnon Shamosh was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1929, and came to pre-state Israel as a child. He fought in the 1948 War of Independence in the elite Palmach unit and later became one of the founding members of Kibbutz Ma`ayan Baruch. A graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Hebrew and English literature, Shamosh  taught at a regional high school and served as its principal. He was also been UNESCO`s special envoy to French-speaking countries in Africa.

Shamosh began his literary career at age 40, and writes poetry and prose for both children and adults. His novel, Michel Ezra Safra and Sons was adapted for TV. Shamosh received several literary prizes, including the Agnon Prize (1979), the Shalom Aleichem Award (1986), the ACUM Prize (1998) the President’s Prize (2001) and the Arik Einstein Prize (2014).

Michel Ezra Safra and sons was included on the Israeli high school curriculum.  For the first time the TV adaptation, made in 1983,  reflected the heritage of  middle class, prosperous, cosmopolitan, Middle Eastern Jewry, educated in French culture, and not the poverty-stricken Jews of the desert or the bled. From Syria the family was dispersed across the globe: its paterfamilias Safra was an observant Jew but an unscrupulous  businessman.

Mordechai Ben Porat dies, aged 98

Iraqi Jews are mourning the passing of Mordechai Ben Porat –  ‘a giant among men’.

Mordechai Ben Porat has passed away aged 98 at his home in Ramat Gan. Baghdad-born Ben Porat was a minister in the Shamir government, a Knesset member and mayor of Or Yehuda for 14 years. He was awarded the Israel prize in 2001 and a medal for services to the state of Israel.

But Ben Porat, who walked to Israel on foot in 1945,  will be best remembered for his part, as the Mossad operative in Baghdad,  in organising the clandestine emigration of Jews from Iraq, at first through Iran in 1949,  and subsequently the airlift of almost the entire 120,000-member  Jewish community of Iraq , known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah  or Operation Babylon.

However he was dogged by the rumour that the Zionists set off bombs to cause the Jewish exodus. In the 1960s he won a lawsuit against the magazine Haolam Hazeh.

His time in Iraq was filled with hair-raising escapades, including a stint in prison. On his return to Israel he studied at Tel Aviv and the Hebrew university. In 1975, he established the World Organisation Jews from Arab Countries. Mindful of the need to preserve Iraqi-Jewish heritage, he set up Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center at Or Yehuda –  once the site of two ma’abarot or tent camps . As chairman of the Center, he insisted on visiting the centre once a week, even when his health was failing.

Jerusalem Post 





Alexandria ‘community’ president Ben Gaon dies

The President of the Alexandria Jewish Community, Youssef Ben Gaon, has died after a long illness. A question mark hangs over the fate of the Jewish property which Mr Gaon administered.

Youssef Ben Gaon z”l

Ben Youssef Gaon, who died earlier this month, was the last Jewish man in Alexandria (There are several widows or women married to Muslims, but they do not consider themselves part of the community).

As the president of the Jewish community in the city, he was said to control  swathes of property, including synagogues, cemeteries and commercial and residential properties, all administered by a large team of Egyptians. A question mark hangs over the future of this property, much of it donated by Jews fleeing after the Suez crisis. Will it go to the Egyptian state?

Even during Ben Gaon’s  lifetime, real control was said to have passed to an agent of the Egyptian state, the doorman of the Nebi Daniel synagogue, Abdel Nabi.

In his latter years Ben Gaon argued for urgent repairs to be carried out to Alexandria’s Nebi Daniel synagogue, the largest in the Middle East. The Egyptian government undertook the synagogue’s restoration at a cost of $4 million. The synagogue was re-inaugurated with great fanfare in December 2019. Egyptian Jews held their own inauguration in February 2020.

Ben Gaon was alleged to have converted to Islam, something required on marriage to a Muslim woman in Egypt. However, he divorced her and produced documentation affirming his Jewish faith. He was the nephew of Nessim Gaon,  the Sudanese businessman and philanthropist who now lives in Switzerland.



This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.