Tag Archives: Mizrahi Jews

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: Bracha Qafih

Rabbanit Qafih

Rabbanit Qafih

Bracha Qafih (1922-2013) was born in Yemen to a traditional Jewish family. To save a young orphan boy from being taken away by the Muslim authorities, she was married to him at the age of just 11. The boy grew up to be Rabbi Yosef Qafih, better known as Rabbi Kapach, one of the greatest Yeminite Jewish religious leaders, and a judge on Israel’s Rabbinical Supreme Court. Rabbanit Qafih had three kids by the time she was 18, and immigrated to Israel soon after with her family. Settling in Jerusalem, she opened up her own embroidery business, which grew quickly to employ over 50 women. Qafih then devoted her time to charity work. Each holiday, she would organize food packages for the impoverished of the city, distributing them from her own home with the help of student volunteers. Eventually, she ran a food bank that provided regular sustenance to over 5000 people, an endeavour she oversaw for over 50 years, often putting herself in personal debt. She also ran a gmach for wedding gowns, where poor families could borrow wedding dresses for free, and organized a summer camp for disadvantaged children. She made sure that orphans could have proper bar mitzvahs, and advised countless people in need, including prostitutes and drug addicts, many of which credit her with helping them overcome their challenges. Her inspiration was her grandfather, who took her with him to distribute food to the poor in Yemen from the time that she was just 6 years old. Rabbanit Qafih continued her charity work into her old age, despite her poor health. She was known to already be preparing meals by four in the morning. Among many other decorations, in 1999, Rabbanit Qafih was awarded the Israel Prize for her immeasurable contributions to charity and Israeli society at large, where many affectionately referred to her as their grandmother.

Yom Kippur Begins Tonight! Gmar Chatima Tova to Everyone

Words of the Week

It’s not charity. It’s my responsibility.
– Rabbanit Bracha Qafih