Tag Archives: Iran

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.

Jews of the Week: Shushandukht and Bahram V

Gold Coins Depicting Iranian Shah Bahram V, often referred to as Bahramgur – “Bahram the Hunter”

Shushandukht (c. 380-430 CE) was born in Persia, the daughter of the Resh Galuta (Exilarch), a title reserved for the chief rabbi and official leader of the Jews in the diaspora during this time period. Little is known of her early life. She went on to marry the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I, and gave him two sons, Shapur IV and Bahram V (c. 406-438 CE). Yazdegerd and Shapur were assassinated, triggering a brief civil war that ended with Bahram successfully taking the throne. Bahram V went on to reign for nearly two decades as Iran’s Shah. In that time, he held off the advancing Eastern Roman Empire and conquered Armenia. Later, a massive invasion by the feared Huns nearly destroyed his empire. However, he caught the Huns unaware in a surprise night attack, decimating their force, and bringing peace to the entire region. Bahram presided over a period of great Persian wealth. Coins with Bahram’s portrait have been found across Asia. Not surprisingly, Bahram V became one of the most legendary kings in Asian history, and is an important figure not just in Iran, but in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, and even in Islamic literature (despite the fact that the Muslims tried pretty hard to erase pre-Islamic Iranian history). Bahram V is the hero of many ancient Persian legends. One of these was translated into English under the title The Three Princes of Serendip – giving rise to the word “serendipity”. In the famous Persian epic Shahnameh, he is the king that slays two lions with his bare hands. Meanwhile, his mother Shushandukht used her position to assist the Jews of Iran (where the vast majority of the world’s Jews lived at the time). She established large and prosperous Jewish neighbourhoods in Esfahan, Susa, Hamadan, and Shushtar. During this period, the Jewish Exilarch sat on the Shah’s court. Many scholars believe that the ‘Tomb of Esther and Mordechai’ in modern-day Iran is actually the tomb of Shushandukht.

Words of the Week

It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.
– Hippocrates

Tomb of Esther and Mordechai (or Shushandukht) in present-day Hamadan, Iran (Credit: Philippe Chavin)

Jew of the Week: Meir Dagan

Meir Dagan (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Meir Dagan (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Meir Huberman (1945-2016) was born on a train while his parents, Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, were fleeing to the Soviet Union. Five years later, they made aliyah to Israel and ultimately settled in Bat Yam, where Meir’s parents opened up a laundromat, and changed the family name to Dagan. Meir went on to study art at Tel Aviv University, and when conscripted to the IDF, joined the elite Paratroopers Brigade (which accepts just 1 in 5 applicants). A year following the completion of his mandatory service, he was called up to serve in the Six-Day War. As an officer, he commanded a paratrooper unit in the Sinai. Following the war, he stayed in the military and was soon tasked with leading a commando unit, Sayeret Rimon, operating undercover in the Palestinian territories. During one daring mission, Dagan tackled and disarmed a terrorist holding a live grenade, a feat that earned him a Medal of Courage. He was called to command a unit once more during the Yom Kippur War, successfully pushing across the Suez Canal. In 1982, the armored unit under his command was among the first to reach Beirut during the Lebanon War. Dagan retired from the military in 1995 with the top rank of Major General. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed him as National Security Adviser, and then Director-General of the Mossad. Unlike former Mossad heads who were weary of doing so, Dagan was praised for his aggressive tactics in assassinating terrorist leaders (most famously Imad Mughniyeh, the terror chief of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad). Dagan essentially tripled Mossad’s activities, and a Knesset member has said that under his watch, the Mossad “has undergone a revolution in terms of organization, intelligence, and operations”. Dagan continued to head Mossad until the end of 2010, when he crossed paths with Netanyahu over plans to strike Iran, which Dagan opposed, saying “Israel should not hasten to attack Iran, doing so only when the sword is upon its neck.” (Instead, Dagan had sent countless cyberattacks to cripple Iran’s nuclear program, together with car bombs to assassinate its engineers.) After stepping down, Dagan became director of Israel’s Port Authority, as well as chairman of Gulliver Energy, an Israeli mining company. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. After chemotherapy failed, he received a liver transplant, but this, too, didn’t remove the cancer completely. Sadly, Dagan passed away last week. He was eulogized by President Rivlin as “one of the greatest of the brave, creative and devout warriors that the Jewish people ever had. His devotion to the State of Israel was absolute.”

Words of the Week

The issue of Iran armed with a nuclear capability is not an Israeli problem; it’s an international problem.
– Meir Dagan

This is a photograph of Meir Dagan’s grandfather right before being murdered by Nazis. The photo hung in Dagan’s office as a constant reminder of his important work.