Tag Archives: Iraqi Jews

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.

Jews of the Week: Sulochana & Pramila

India’s Superstars

Sulochana and Pramila

Esther Victoria Abraham (1916-2006) was born in Calcutta, India to a wealthy Iraqi-Jewish family. Although she studied at the University of Cambridge to become a teacher, her passion was acting. Her first gig was dancing for a Persian theatre company. From there, she made the jump to Bollywood, and went on to star in 30 films under her stage name Pramila. Following India’s independence in 1947, she won the country’s first Miss India beauty pageant. Pramila was also one of India’s first female film producers, making 16 movies under her own Silver Productions company. Interestingly, her daughter won the Miss India contest in 1967, making them the only mother-daughter duo to win the pageant. Her son continues to be a popular Indian TV and film star today.

Pramila’s fellow Iraqi-Jewish actress was Ruby Myers (1907-1983), born in the city of Pune. Myers was working as a telephone operator with no interest in film when she was discovered by a director. She initially turned down his offers but ultimately relented when he kept pursuing her. Despite having no formal training in acting, Myers soon became India’s biggest and highest paid actress, going under the stage name Sulochana. Incredibly talented and versatile, in one 1927 film she played eight different roles! She was so popular that when Gandhi was struggling for India’s independence, he used an image of Sulochana in his campaign poster. She went on to start her own production company, too, called Rubi Pics. Becoming very wealthy, Sulochana drove the first Rolls Royce in India. In 1973, she won the country’s most prestigious cinema honour, the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, and in 1983 was featured on an Indian stamp.

Words of the Week

Be mild in speech, suppress your anger, and always strive to be on the best terms with your relatives and all people, even with the stranger in the street, so that you may be beloved Above and well-liked below and be acceptable to all of your fellows.
– Rabbi Abbaye (Talmud, Berakhot 17a)