Tag Archives: Canadian Jews

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.

Jew of the Week: Rosalie Abella

Rosalie Silberman Abella (b. 1946) was born to Jewish-Polish Holocaust survivors in a displaced persons camp in Germany. When she was a child, the family moved to Halifax, and then settled in Toronto. Abella followed in her father’s footsteps and became a lawyer, graduating from the University of Toronto. She was a civil and family lawyer for five years before being appointed to the Ontario Family Court, aged just 29. This made her the youngest judge in Canada’s history – and the first pregnant one! Sixteen years later, she moved up to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Abella also sat on Ontario’s Human Rights Commission, and became a renowned expert on human rights law. Abella coined the term “employment equity” while overseeing the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment in 1983. She pioneered a number of strategies to improve employment for women, minorities, and aboriginals, which have been implemented in countries around the world. In 2004, she was appointed to Canada’s Supreme Court, making her the first Jewish woman to sit on the nation’s highest judiciary. Recently, Abella was named the Global Jurist of the Year for her work with human rights and international criminal law. Among her many other awards, she has received 37 honourary degrees, including one from Yale University – the first Canadian woman to do so. One politician said of her: “I’ve never met any judge in my life, and I know a lot of them – I used to be a lawyer – who understands people better than Rosie, and the importance of people in the judicial process. I think the human quality she brings to the bench is unsurpassed in my experience.”

Words of the Week

My life started in a country where there had been no democracy, no rights, no justice and all because we were Jewish. No one with this history does not feel lucky to be alive and free. No one with this history takes anything for granted, and no one with this history does not feel that we have a particular duty to wear our identities with pride and to promise our children that we will do everything humanly possible to keep the world safer for them than it was for their grandparents, a world where all children – regardless of race, colour, religion, or gender – can wear their identities with dignity, with pride and in peace.
– Rosalie Abella

Jew of the Week: Joe Mimran

The Brand Master

Joe Mimran (Credit: The Globe and Mail)

Joe Mimran (Credit: The Globe and Mail)

Joseph Mimran (b. 1952) was born in Casablanca, Morocco to an observant Jewish family, and grew up in Toronto, Canada. As a young man, he worked a number of odd jobs before opening his own art gallery while a student at York University. He finished his studies at the University of Windsor and became an accountant. After a couple of years, Mimran’s fashion designer mother inspired him to enter her field. He joined his mother and brother to set up a family fashion business called Ms. Originals. In 1979, the brothers hired a young Chinese-Canadian, Alfred Sung, to design their clothes, and the line was an instant hit. (Alfred Sung would later be hailed as “The New King of Fashion”). In the mid-80s, Mimran was once shopping for a simple white shirt but could not find one. He resolved to make his own, and started a new brand, Club Monaco, focused on simple, minimalist designs. By 1999, Club Monaco had 125 stores around the world, including one on Fifth Avenue in New York, and was bought out by Ralph Lauren. In 2004, Mimran started working on a new line to be sold exclusively at Loblaw’s supermarkets, giving rise to the Joe Fresh brand. The brand became so popular that in 2010, independent Joe Fresh stores began popping up. Mimran also founded the “Pink Tartan” label with his wife, and designed lines for President’s Choice and Holt Renfrew. He is currently the chair of the Fashion Design Council of Canada. Aside from fashion, Mimran is a noted philanthropist, supporting the Reena Foundation (which assists people with autism and disabilities), and Toronto’s East General Hospital, among others. Recently, Mimran joined the panel of Canada’s version of Dragon’s Den, the popular TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to venture capitalists. Mimran is recognized as a pioneer in modern fashion, and has been called a “human calculator”, and a “brand master”.

Words of the Week

Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.
– Sigmund Freud