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)

Jews of the Week: Houda & Ebrahim Nonoo

Jews Prospering in an Arab Kingdom

Houda Nonoo with former president George W. Bush

Houda Nonoo with former president George W. Bush

Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo (b. 1964) was born in the small Arabian kingdom of Bahrain, to Jewish parents of Iraqi ancestry. She spent a major part of her formative years in Britain, where she went to Jewish school. Nonoo earned her BA and MBA in England, and also married there. After her father died, she returned to Bahrain and took over the family business, growing it ever larger. She was soon a well-noted businesswoman, and the secretary-general of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society. From there, she was able to get a seat in Bahrain’s parliament, appointed by the King of Bahrain himself. For over three years, she sat on the Shura Council, which is the upper house of the Bahraini legislature. In 2008, Nonoo was appointed Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S. This made her the first Jewish ambassador from any modern Arab country. She served in that post for the next five years.

Her cousin and fellow businessman, Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo, also served in Bahrain’s parliament. He is the CEO of the Basma Company, which offers an array of services from security and IT solutions to travel, and custodial services. Meanwhile, he continues to direct the family’s foreign exchange and investment business, together with his siblings. Their Bahrain Stock Company now has 19 branches across the kingdom, and is the country’s main Western Union agent. In 2006, Ebrahim financed the reconstruction of Bahrain’s only remaining synagogue. Today, there are less than 50 Jews left in Bahrain.

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Words of the Week

Better a sinful person who knows that he has sinned, than a righteous person who knows that he is righteous.
– Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, The “Seer of Lublin”