Tag Archives: China

Jews of the Week: Renée and Sir Naim Dangoor

The “Exilarch” and the First “Miss Iraq”

Sir Naim Dangoor in 2015

Naim Eliahou Dangoor (1914-2015) was born in Baghdad to a wealthy and religious family, at a time when a full third of the city’s population was Jewish. His grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad, while his father operated the largest Arabic printing press in the world. At 17, Dangoor journeyed to England to study engineering at the University of London. Upon his return to Iraq, he hoped to work as a railway engineer but was barred from the position because he was Jewish. Instead, Dangoor was conscripted into the army. There, he met Ahmed Safwat, and the two decided to start a business together. The first major contract secured by their company (Eastern Industries Ltd.) was to replace the windows of Iraq’s government buildings. They soon diverged into property development and manufacturing. They made matches, furniture, and opened Iraq’s very first Coca-Cola bottling plant.

Renée Dangoor

Meanwhile, Naim married his cousin, Renée Dangoor(1925-2008). She was born in Shanghai, where her family temporarily lived for business. The family moved back to Baghdad when she was still a child. In 1947, she participated in the country’s first beauty pageant, and was crowned the first ever “Miss Iraq”. She married Naim the following year. Unfortunately, things got really bad for Iraq’s Jews after the founding of the State of Israel. By 1959, the Dangoors had no choice but to flee. Naim continued to operate his businesses for a few more years until the government stripped him of his citizenship and took over his company. The family settled in England and started from scratch, opening a new property development business, and establishing a community centre for Iraqi Jewish immigrants. To preserve their culture, Naim founded The Scribe – Journal of Babylonian Jewry, which would go on to publish magazine issues for 35 years, distributed in 25 countries. By 1980, Dangoor had rebuilt his wealth. He wanted to give back to his new home, and established the Exilarch Foundation to provide charitable funds to organizations across the UK. Among other things, the Foundation has provided full scholarships to over 5000 needy students. The Dangoors made the largest ever private donation to both the Royal Society of Medicine and the Francis Crick Institute (Europe’s largest biomedical research facility). After Renée succumbed to cancer, Naim became one of the biggest contributors to Cancer Research UK. He also donated a massive sum to the University of Nanjing in China, in honour of his wife who was born nearby. Among the many other beneficiaries of the Dangoors is Bar-Ilan University, which now runs the Dangoor Centre for Personalised Medicine. Shortly before his passing, at age 100, Dangoor was knighted by the Queen, making him the second-oldest person ever to receive the honour.

50 Things a Jew Should Always Do

Words of the Week

The idea is that you’re supposed to be a light to the nations. If you only have your light on at home, nobody else sees it.
– Rabbi David Wolpe

Clockwise from left: Hakham Ezra Reuben Dangoor, Chief Rabbi of Baghdad from 1923-1926; Naim and Renée at a Baghdad party; an Arabic newspaper announces “Miss Iraq” in 1947; the first Coca-Cola ad in Iraq, circa 1950; Naim with his business partner Ahmed Safwat.

Jew of the Week: Morris Cohen

China’s “Uncrowned Jewish King”

Morris Cohen sitting next to Chinese President Chiang Kai-Shek (Credit: Joe King)

(Credit: Joe King)

Moshe Morris Abraham Cohen (1887-1970) was born in Poland to a poor Orthodox Jewish family. While he was still an infant, his family fled the pogroms and settled in London, England. Growing up, Cohen often got in trouble so his parents sent him to work on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, hoping to mend his ways. There, he learned the value of hard work, in addition to playing cards and shooting guns. He became good friends with Chinese railroad workers, and even defended a Chinese man who was being robbed – a big deal at a time when white people rarely stood up for the Chinese in those days. Cohen’s friends invited him to join the revolutionary party of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who would become modern China’s founding father and first president. Cohen agreed to train Chinese-Canadians in military combat and helped secure weapons for China’s revolutionary army. Meanwhile, he settled in Edmonton and became a successful real estate broker. Cohen was soon appointed as the province of Alberta’s Commissioner of Oaths. With the outbreak of World War I, he fought valiantly with the Canadian Railway Troops. Finding it hard to make a living in Canada after the war, he moved to China. Cohen was hired by Sun Yat-sen to train his forces, procure arms, and serve as his personal bodyguard. After once taking a bullet while protecting Sun Yat-sen in an assassination attempt, he started carrying two guns, and henceforth was known as “Two-Gun Cohen”, though the Chinese called him Ma Kun, “Clenched Fist”. Following Sun Yat-sen’s death, Cohen continued working for China as a military commander and head of their secret service. During World War II, it was Cohen that proved the Japanese were using poison gas against Chinese civilians. Cohen was captured in battle by Japanese soldiers. He was nearly beaten to death before being freed in a prisoner exchange. Cohen then returned to Canada, settled in Montreal, and finally married. He spent the rest of his life in relative quiet, working as a consultant in various capacities, and often traveling to China. (He had the distinction of being the only person allowed to travel freely between China and Taiwan – as he was friendly with leaders of both nations, despite their antagonism towards each other.) Perhaps his last great act was convincing the Taiwanese not to oppose the UN Partition Plan that gave birth to the State of Israel. Taiwan’s position on the UN Security Council made their vote critical, and they intended to oppose the plan until Cohen stepped in. He also helped to arm the nascent State of Israel in its War of Independence. Cohen’s life inspired two books, as well as the 1936 film The General Died at Dawn, and the 1984 film The Gunrunner, starring Kevin Costner. As a major general in China’s revolutionary army (to this day, the only Westerner to hold such a high rank in the Chinese military), one-time head of China’s secret service, and Sun Yat-sen’s personal aide, Cohen played an instrumental role in the founding of modern China. He was once described as China’s “uncrowned Jewish king”.

Yom Kippur Begins Tonight! Gmar Chatima Tova!

Words of the Week

All lovers of democracy cannot help but support… the movement to restore your wonderful and historic nation which has contributed so much to the civilization of the world and which rightly deserves an honourable place in the family of nations.
Dr. Sun Yat-sen, on his support for the Zionist movement