Tag Archives: Brazil

Jews of the Week: Safra Family

World’s Richest Banker

Edmond, Joseph, and Moise Safra

Jacob Safra (1891-1963) was born to a religious Sephardic family in the Jewish community of Aleppo, Syria. He was from a long line of Ottoman merchants and bankers. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Safra opened a new banking business in Beirut. His bank soon became the most trusted financial institution for the region’s many Jews. When things became difficult in Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel, Safra moved his family (with four sons and four daughters) to Italy, and then to Brazil. There, Safra and his sons founded a new bank in São Paulo in 1955. While eldest son Elie Safra (1922-1993), and third son Moise Safra (1934-2014) played smaller roles in the family business, the most prominent of the brothers was undoubtedly Edmond Safra (1932-1999). He opened a branch in Geneva, and transformed an initial $1 million into $5 billion in less than three decades. He also founded the Republic National Bank of New York, which grew to 80 locations, making it the third largest bank network in the city (after Chase and Citigroup). Edmond later opened financial institutions in Luxembourg and Russia. The latter would prove unfortunate, as many believe his “accidental” death in a house fire may have been an assassination by Russian mobsters. Today, Banco Safra is run by youngest son Joseph Safra (b. 1939). His net worth is estimated around $25 billion, making him the richest banker in the world. The Safras have always been famous for their incredible generosity. They have funded countless schools, hospitals, universities, and charities. Edmond Safra was particularly interested in building and restoring Jewish sites, and paid for synagogues all over the world, including in Manila, Istanbul, and Kinshasa. He financed the first new synagogue in Madrid in 500 years, and saved an ancient synagogue in France from demolition. He also refurbished and funded the tombs of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochaiin Israel, and prayed at the tomb of the former each year before the holiday of Shavuot. Several medical centres and university faculties around the world bear his name, and the Safra family was one of the founders of São Paulo’s most renowned hospital. He established the International Sephardic Education Foundation to provide scholarships for those in need, and the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation continues to give millions to charity each year. The Safras stay out of the public eye, and hold on to their faith – as well as a strictly kosher diet. Most recently, they paid for the beautiful new Moise Safra Centre in Manhattan.

15 Life Lessons from King David

Words of the Week

If you believe breaking is possible, believe fixing is possible.
– Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

In 2014, Joseph Safra purchased one of London’s most iconic buildings, the Gherkin (left), for a whopping £700 million. The Safras also own the General Motors Building in Manhattan (bottom centre), and fund (clockwise from top) the American University of Beirut, the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital in Israel, the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue of New York, and the tomb of Rabbi Meir – a popular pilgrimage site.

Jews of the Week: Margaret and H.A. Rey

Curious George

Margaret and H.A. Rey

Margaret and H.A. Rey

Margarete Elisabethe Waldstein (1906-1996) was born in Hamburg, Germany, the daughter of a Jewish politician. She studied art and worked in advertising until 1935, when she fled Nazi Germany for Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, she reconnected with an old family friend who had also moved to Brazil. Hans Augusto Reyersbach (1898-1977) was born in Hamburg, too, and now working as a salesman in Rio. The two got married that same year, and resettled in Paris. Reyersbach started drawing a series of animal cartoons and was soon commissioned to write a children’s book by a French publisher. Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, a story about a giraffe and her monkey friends, was published in 1939 under the pen name H.A. Rey. The story became popular very quickly. Particularly beloved was one of the monkey characters in the book, originally named Fifi, and commonly translated to other languages as George. The following year, Rey started working on a new manuscript featuring the curious monkey. By this point, World War II had started, and the Nazis were approaching Paris. Hans and Margaret fled the city on a pair of bicycles. The manuscript was one of the few things they took with them. The couple arrived in Spain, then Portugal, then headed back to Brazil, and finally settled in New York. Curious George was published in 1941, and like its predecessor, was very popular. Hans and Margaret went on to produce seven Curious George books together. Hans wrote and illustrated many more children’s books before passing away in 1977. Two years later, Margaret became a professor of creative writing at Brandeis University. Meanwhile, she worked on a second series of Curious George books, as well as a number of short TV films based on the stories. In 1989, she established the Curious George Foundation with two goals: to promote creative writing among children, and to prevent cruelty to animals. When she passed away in 1996, Margaret left major donations for the Boston Public Library, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and donated the family’s entire literary estate. Curious George continues to be among the most popular children’s books all over the world. A third series of Curious George stories have been produced in recent years, as well as a TV series which airs on PBS. In 2006, an animated film starring Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore was released. Two sequels and a video game have been produced since then. Today, there is an official children’s bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts called The World’s Only Curious George Store. There is also a Curious George Live national tour, and a popular Curious George-themed water park at Universal Studios in Florida.

Words of the Week

One should always see to it that tomorrow should be much better than today.
– Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch