Category Archives: Religious Leaders

Spiritual and Religious Greats of the Jewish People

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Zecharia Barashi

World’s Oldest Jew

Rabbi Barashi (Credit: Lazar Berman)

Zecharia Barashi (1900-2017) was born in Kurdistan, the last of ten children in an observant Jewish family. His father was a rabbi who traveled from village to village, serving the needs of small Jewish communities in Iraq. Unfortunately, this job did not come with a salary, and the poor family made a meager living by sowing clothes and selling nuts and dates. Several years of harsh poverty, disease, and the difficulties of the First World War left six of the ten children dead. Barashi himself nearly died when he was 11 years old. He would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi as well. Inspired by Zionism, Barashi struggled to move the family to Israel. In 1936, he finally got a chance by working as a Hebrew interpreter for the Jewish Agency. After a long and arduous journey, the family settled in Jerusalem. Throughout World War II and Israel’s ensuing War of Independence, Barashi supported the war effort by digging trenches, and paving roads and runways. In 1950, the Jews of Iraq and Kurdistan made a mass aliyah to Israel, and Barashi soon became their spiritual leader. He would go on to earn the esteemed title of Chacham, “Sage”. He also published four important books on Judaism. He was in the midst of writing his fifth book when, at the age of 111, his eyesight became too poor. Deeply respected as one of Israel’s greatest rabbis, Barashi was known for his incredible memory, humility, and great sense of humour. Sadly, he passed away earlier this week. Until that moment, he was the world’s oldest living Jew. He was also Israel’s oldest living resident, having spent over 80 years in Jerusalem. Although he outlived two of his own children and his beloved wife, he is survived by five more children, 29 grandchildren, 72 great-grandchildren, and 24 great-great-grandchildren. His advice for a long life: “Always be happy, never jealous. Stay active. And never overeat, always leave the table a little hungry.”

Chag Purim Sameach!

Words of the Week

“My brain is the key that sets my mind free.”
Harry Houdini

Rabbi Barashi with Shimon Peres (Credit: Mark Neyman/Flash90)

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Marvin Hier

The Rabbi at Trump’s Inauguration

Rabbi Hier at Trump’s Inauguration

Moshe Chaim Hier (b. 1939) was born in New York to Polish-Jewish immigrants. At the age of 23, he was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi and moved to Vancouver where he soon took charge of its Congregation Schara Tzedeck. In 1977, Hier moved to Los Angeles and established the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a non-profit dedicated to “confronting antisemitism, hate and terrorism, promoting human rights and dignity, standing with Israel, defending the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center is now one of the most well-known Jewish organizations in the world, with offices in Toronto, Jerusalem, Paris, Buenos Aires, and across the US. Its Museum of Tolerance welcomes 350,000 visitors a year, and its library holds over 50,000 important volumes. Hier also established the Moriah Films company, which has produced over a dozen films focusing on Jewish history and the Holocaust. Two of these won Academy Awards for Best Documentary. This makes Hier the only rabbi to ever win an Oscar. He is also the only rabbi to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Meanwhile, Hier established Los Angeles’ Yeshiva University High Schools and was its dean for many years. He is currently working on a $200 million project to build a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, to open next year, and producing his 16th film, about the life of Shimon Peres. Most recently, Rabbi Hier gave a blessing at President Donald Trump’s inauguration. This made him only the second Jewish religious leader in history to speak at a presidential inauguration, and the first Orthodox rabbi to ever do so. He has been ranked as the most influential rabbi in America, and was once described as being “one phone call away from almost every world leader, journalist, and Hollywood studio head.”

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Words of the Week

The bond that has united the Jews for thousands of years and that unites them today is, above all, the democratic ideal of social justice coupled with the ideal of mutual aid and tolerance among all men.
– Albert Einstein