Tag Archives: Canadian Jews

Jews of the Week: Isaiah Kenan & Larry Weinberg

Portland Trail Blazers and AIPAC

Larry Weinberg

Lawrence Jay Weinberg (1926-2019) was born in New York City. He fought valiantly with the US Army in World War II, earning a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Bronze Star. He was horribly injured in a battle in France, and spent a year in recovery. After university studies, Weinberg founded the Larwin Company, a housing developer. Two decades later, having merged with another company, it had become the top housing developer in the country, building over 8000 residential units a year. Meanwhile, Weinberg was also the founder of Com-Air Products, a manufacturer of jet engine parts. In 1970, Weinberg teamed up with two other prominent Jewish businessmen to bring an NBA team to Portland. They succeeded, and five years later, Weinberg became president of the Portland Trail Blazers. The team won its first NBA Championship in 1977. Weinberg continued as president until selling the team to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 1988. By that point, Weinberg had also become a major force within AIPAC, the “pro-Israel Lobby” in Washington, and had served as its president for several years.

Isaiah “Si” Kenen

AIPAC was founded by Isaiah Leo Kenen (1905-1988). Kenen was born to a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Canada. He studied philosophy at the University of Toronto, and went on to become a journalist for the Toronto Star. In 1926, he moved to Cleveland, where he took up the study of law and was admitted to the bar in 1933. Some years later, he became president of the Cleveland Zionist District, and during this time worked for the Jewish Agency. After 1948, he served in Israel’s delegation to the United Nations. In 1951, he was asked to lobby Congress for some financial aid for Israel to deal with the huge influx of Jewish refugees it was receiving, especially the nearly 1 million Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews expelled from Arab countries. (While the world focuses on Palestinian refugees, the plight of Jewish refugees continues to be ignored.) Kenen’s lobbying team would transform into AIPAC in 1959, and has worked hard to draw American support for Israel ever since. AIPAC has become a powerful lobbying group (once ranked as the second most powerful), which has unfortunately brought with it a great deal of negative publicity, not to mention being implicated in wild conspiracy theories. Today, AIPAC has more than 100,000 members, and has been called “the single most important organization in promoting the US-Israel alliance.” Their yearly conference draws some 18,000 supporters, along with a host of renowned speakers. This year’s conference will take place in Washington DC starting March 24th.

The Mizrahi Project: Remembering the Jewish Refugees

Words of the Week

I am convinced that it is true that God created this earth but it is also a fact that only an Israel can keep this earth from dying.

– Tashbih Sayyed, Pakistani-American scholar

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.

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.