Tag Archives: Bukharian Jews

Jew of the Week: Avi Issacharoff

Creator of Hit TV Show Fauda

Avi Issacharoff (b. 1973) was born in Jerusalem to a 7th generation Bukharian-Israeli family. His ancestors were among the first settlers of the famed Bukharian Quarter of Jerusalem. Although his family had built the Issacharoff-Babayev Synagogue of Jerusalem, Issacharoff himself was raised in Givat Shaul and attended its Kurdi synagogue. There, he picked up Arabic and would go on to become fluent in the language. This allowed Issacharoff to serve in the prestigious IDF Unit 217, also known as Duvdevan (“Cherry”), the elite special forces of the Commando Brigade, famous for their undercover work in Arab territories. Following his service, Issacharoff studied at Ben-Gurion University, then got an MA from Tel Aviv University. His first big role was as a Middle East Affairs Correspondent for Israel Radio. In 2002, he won a Best Reporter Award for his coverage of the Second Intifada. Shortly after, he began writing his first book (together with Amos Harel), called The Seventh War: How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians. The award-winning book was translated into French and Arabic, and became a Middle Eastern bestseller. The two later wrote another award-winning and bestselling book about the 2006 Lebanon War. Meanwhile, Issacharoff moved over to work at Ha’aretz as its Palestinian and Arab Affairs Correspondent. In 2014, he and a cameraman were beaten by Palestinian rioters. After producing, writing, and directing a number of short documentaries, Issacharoff teamed up with actor Lior Raz (a fellow Duvdevan veteran) to create Fauda, a new television show about Israeli secret agents in Palestinian communities. The show – based on their own experiences – became a huge hit, and won six Ophir Awards (the Israeli Oscars). It was eventually picked up by Netflix and streamed in 190 countries. Last month, The New York Times called it the best international show of 2017. Its long-awaited second season is now on air, and a third is coming next year. Meanwhile, Issacharoff still writes regularly, now as the Middle East Analyst for The Times of Israel and Walla!, Israel’s largest news portal. He is also a lecturer at Tel Aviv University. In a recent interview, he said how he fondly remembers Pesach seders at his grandfather’s house, where everyone wore joma, the traditional Bukharian robes, and that one of his favourite pastimes to this day is cooking Bukharian food.

Words of the Week

They don’t speak enough about the Kurds, because we have never taken hostages, never hijacked a plane. But I am proud of this. We have only three advantages: our willingness to sacrifice our bodies, our high morale, and if those fail us, we always have the mountains. Because they are our only friends.
– Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, on why there is so much support for Palestinians, but none for Kurds

Jews of the Week: Rabbi Shlomo & Shlomo Moussaieff

Shlomo ben Yakov Moussaieff (1852-1922) was born in the emirate of Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan). Both a renowned rabbi and a wealthy businessman, he made aliyah to the Holy Land in 1888 – bringing with him forty cases of gold – and was one of the founders of Jerusalem’s famous Bukharian Quarter. Moussaieff built four synagogues, and homes for 25 poor families. Meanwhile, he published a prayer book and disseminated it widely, making it his mission to inspire more Jews to pray regularly. He also continued his business ventures, particularly in real estate, tea, silk, and gemstones. Moussaieff was an avid collector of rare manuscripts, and amassed an impressive library with 225 ancient texts, including prized manuscripts of Maimonides and the mystical teachings of the Arizal. Until his last days, Moussaieff was committed to the development of Israel, and stated in his will that only those of his seven children that remain in Israel would receive any inheritance.

His grandson, also Shlomo Moussaieff (1923-2015), though better known as Sam, would become even more famous. One of twelve children raised in Jerusalem, Sam Moussaieff ran away from home as a teen to avoid his strict father. Living in a synagogue, he worked for a carpenter and sold ancient coins he would find in Jerusalem’s caves and tombs. Once arrested by Arab policemen, he ended up in a Muslim school for nearly a year, becoming proficient in Arabic and the Koran. At 17, Moussaieff enlisted in the British Army to fight the Nazis. After World War II, he fought for Israel’s independence and was captured by the Jordanians, who imprisoned him for a year. Moussaieff returned to Jerusalem and joined the family jewellery business. He soon opened his own antiquities shop in Jaffa, at times getting in trouble for smuggling goods. In 1963, Moussaieff was offered to have his record cleared of legal issues, as well as the rights to an exclusive shop in London’s Hilton Hotel, in exchange for handwritten letters from Maimonides which he owned. Moussaieff accepted and moved to London. His shop soon specialized in jewellery, and he became the dealer of choice for wealthy barons from Arab oil states thanks to his pristine Arabic. Moussaieff became world-renowned for his extremely rare and special gems. He owned the most precious stone in the world: a red diamond valued at $20 million. In 2011, he was ranked among the richest Londoners, with an estimated worth of some $350 million. Moussaieff amassed a personal collection of over 60,000 ancient artifacts, including millennia-old seals from Jerusalem’s First Temple, and reportedly even items associated with the forefather Abraham! His stated goal was to collect indisputable evidence proving the accuracy of the Torah. Moussaieff was given an honourary degree by Bar Ilan University (to whom he donated many artifacts, including his grandfather’s ancient manuscripts) which established the Dr. Shlomo Moussaieff Center for Kabbala Research. Interestingly, Moussaieff once purchased an ancient Torah scroll for $1 million from the Allenby family – who had the Torah because the elder Shlomo Moussaieff gave it as a gift to General Allenby during World War I!

Words of the Week

My spirit moved me to leave the land of my birth, in which I grew up, and to ascend to the Holy Land, the land in which our ancestors dwelled in happiness, the land whose memory passes before us ten times each day in our prayers…
Rabbi Shlomo Moussaieff, in the introduction to his prayer book, Hukat Olam


Make your Shavuot night-learning meaningful with the Arizal’s ‘Tikkun Leil Shavuot’, a mystical Torah-study guide, now in English and Hebrew, with commentary.