Tag Archives: Canada

Jews of the Week: The Ghermezians

Jacob Ghermezian

Jacob Ghermezian (1902-2000) was born to a religious Jewish family in Azerbaijan, and grew up in Iran. He started a business selling Persian rugs when he was just 17 years old. Within two decades, Ghermezian became one of Iran’s wealthiest businessmen. In 1943, he hosted Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin in his apartment during the critical “Tehran Conference” where the three world leaders discussed the final stages of World War II and planned their path to victory. Unfortunately, the religious, and political situation in Iran worsened in the 1950s, so the Ghermezian family emigrated to America. After a short stay in New York, they settled in Montreal. Soon after, Ghermezian and his four sons (Eskandar, Nader, Raphael, and Bahman) discovered the inexpensive, pre-oil boom Edmonton real estate market, and heavily invested in it. The family fortune soared, and the Ghermezians soon took on their biggest project: the $1.1 billion West Edmonton Mall, which remains North America’s largest to this day (and was the world’s largest from 1985 to 2004). The 5 million square foot complex boasts a theme park (with roller coaster), indoor shooting range, an NHL-sized hockey rink (where Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers used to practice), the world’s largest indoor lake, over 800 stores, a hotel, theatre, bungee jump, and the world’s largest parking lot. The Mall was once called the “eighth wonder of the world”, and draws 32 million visitors a year. The Ghermezians also built the Mall of America in Minnesota, the largest in the United States, and are currently building the extravagant American Dream Mall in New Jersey, which will have America’s only indoor ski hill. Despite the fame and fortune, Jacob Ghermezian never abandoned his Jewish faith, nor did he ever conduct business on the Sabbath. He instilled the same values in his sons, all of whom, like their father, were tremendous philanthropists, funding schools and scholarships, synagogues, charity organizations, and other institutions in Alberta and around the world.

The Incredible Story of the Jewish Prince of Persia

An Arab Muslim in the Israeli Army

75-Year Harvard Study: Love is the Key to Health and Happiness

How to Change the World

The Faces of the Jews Left Behind

2700-Year Old Jerusalem Seal Confirms Existence of Biblical Governor

The Kabbalah of Moses’ Miracle-Working Staff

Words of the Week

To the Jews we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.
– Paul Johnson

Jacob and Miriam Ghermezian with their four sons in the 1990s.

Jew of the Week: Morris Cohen

China’s “Uncrowned Jewish King”

Morris Cohen sitting next to Chinese President Chiang Kai-Shek (Credit: Joe King)

(Credit: Joe King)

Moshe Morris Abraham Cohen (1887-1970) was born in Poland to a poor Orthodox Jewish family. While he was still an infant, his family fled the pogroms and settled in London, England. Growing up, Cohen often got in trouble so his parents sent him to work on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, hoping to mend his ways. There, he learned the value of hard work, in addition to playing cards and shooting guns. He became good friends with Chinese railroad workers, and even defended a Chinese man who was being robbed – a big deal at a time when white people rarely stood up for the Chinese in those days. Cohen’s friends invited him to join the revolutionary party of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who would become modern China’s founding father and first president. Cohen agreed to train Chinese-Canadians in military combat and helped secure weapons for China’s revolutionary army. Meanwhile, he settled in Edmonton and became a successful real estate broker. Cohen was soon appointed as the province of Alberta’s Commissioner of Oaths. With the outbreak of World War I, he fought valiantly with the Canadian Railway Troops. Finding it hard to make a living in Canada after the war, he moved to China. Cohen was hired by Sun Yat-sen to train his forces, procure arms, and serve as his personal bodyguard. After once taking a bullet while protecting Sun Yat-sen in an assassination attempt, he started carrying two guns, and henceforth was known as “Two-Gun Cohen”, though the Chinese called him Ma Kun, “Clenched Fist”. Following Sun Yat-sen’s death, Cohen continued working for China as a military commander and head of their secret service. During World War II, it was Cohen that proved the Japanese were using poison gas against Chinese civilians. Cohen was captured in battle by Japanese soldiers. He was nearly beaten to death before being freed in a prisoner exchange. Cohen then returned to Canada, settled in Montreal, and finally married. He spent the rest of his life in relative quiet, working as a consultant in various capacities, and often traveling to China. (He had the distinction of being the only person allowed to travel freely between China and Taiwan – as he was friendly with leaders of both nations, despite their antagonism towards each other.) Perhaps his last great act was convincing the Taiwanese not to oppose the UN Partition Plan that gave birth to the State of Israel. Taiwan’s position on the UN Security Council made their vote critical, and they intended to oppose the plan until Cohen stepped in. He also helped to arm the nascent State of Israel in its War of Independence. Cohen’s life inspired two books, as well as the 1936 film The General Died at Dawn, and the 1984 film The Gunrunner, starring Kevin Costner. As a major general in China’s revolutionary army (to this day, the only Westerner to hold such a high rank in the Chinese military), one-time head of China’s secret service, and Sun Yat-sen’s personal aide, Cohen played an instrumental role in the founding of modern China. He was once described as China’s “uncrowned Jewish king”.

Yom Kippur Begins Tonight! Gmar Chatima Tova!

Words of the Week

All lovers of democracy cannot help but support… the movement to restore your wonderful and historic nation which has contributed so much to the civilization of the world and which rightly deserves an honourable place in the family of nations.
Dr. Sun Yat-sen, on his support for the Zionist movement