Tag Archives: Mizrahi Jews

Jews of the Week: Sybil, David Solomon, and James Meyer Sassoon

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 9th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the Sassoon family, the “Rothschilds of the East”. This is the final Part 4. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

David Solomon Sassoon

David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942), the grandson of patriarch David Sassoon, was born in Bombay, India. He was deeply religious, and spent much of his life travelling in search of ancient and rare Jewish manuscripts. By 1932, he had amassed an incredible collection of over 1200 unique texts. He described them in his two-volume tome, Ohel David. Today, these works are an indispensable tool for scholars of Judaism. Unfortunately, many of the manuscripts were auctioned off in recent decades to pay off the Sassoon estate’s tax debts to the British government. Many others are stored at the University of Toronto, and some at the British Library.

Sybil Rachel Sassoon, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley

Sybil Rachel Betty Cecile Sassoon, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley (1894-1989), daughter of Edward Sassoon, she wished to assist the war effort during World War II, and joined the Women’s Royal Navy Service. She went on to serve as Superintendent of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, and a Chief Staff Officer. In 1946, she was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for her valiant service. Her great-grandson is actor Jack Huston.

Rachel Sassoon Beer (1858-1927), daughter of Sasson David Sassoon, married a wealthy German-English banker and converted to Christianity, for which her family disowned her. She started writing for The Observer, and eventually became its editor. (She later became editor of the Sunday Times, too.) It was Rachel who managed to secure a confession from Count Ferdinand Esterhazy that the “evidence” against Alfred Dreyfus was forged, and that Dreyfus was innocent. This led to Dreyfus’ release from prison. (And it was the Dreyfus Affair that was one of the key elements in inspiring Theodor Herzl.) Rachel left much of her wealth to her nephew, Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), a war hero and one of the most celebrated poets of World War I.

The Right Honourable James Mayer Sassoon, The Lord Sassoon

The son of another of Rachel’s nephews is James Meyer Sassoon (b. 1955), who was born in London and studied at Eton College, followed by Oxford University. After heading a number of investment firms, he joined the British Treasury in 2002. Five years later, he was appointed as president of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering. Among his duties was combat financing for terrorists. He was knighted in 2008, and entered the House of Lords in 2010, taking on the title of Baron Sassoon. He also served as the first Commercial Secretary to the Treasury.

Words of the Week

I prefer a wicked person who knows they are wicked, to a righteous person who knows they are righteous.
Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin (c. 1745-1815)

Jews of the Week: Edward and Philip Sassoon

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 9th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the Sassoon family, the “Rothschilds of the East”. This is Part 3. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Sir Edward Sassoon (1856-1912), the son of Albert Sassoon, was born in Bombay, India. He studied at the University of London, and served in the British Army, rising to the rank of major. Edward diligently continued the communal and philanthropic work of his father. In 1899 he was elected to the British House of Commons. One of the most famous bills he proposed was a law to make wireless telegraphs mandatory on all passenger ships. However, the bill was struck down over budget issues—until 1912, when the Titanic sank. By 1914, an international treaty made it mandatory for all passenger ships to have telegraphs. Sir Edward was a close friend of Arthur Balfour, famous for his 1917 Balfour Declaration that paved the way for establishing the State of Israel. Edward married Aline Caroline de Rothschild, granddaughter of (former Jew of the Week) Jacob “James” Rothschild.

Their first child was Sir Philip Albert Gustave David Sassoon (1888-1939). He studied at the prestigious Eton College, and then at Oxford—one of just 25 Jewish students at the time. Following this, he joined the British Army and had the rank of second lieutenant. He followed his father into Parliament in 1912. When World War I broke out, Sir Philip was sent to mainland Europe and was the private secretary of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force. He was later awarded the Croix de Guerre for “distinguished service” in the war. Returning to Parliament after the war, Sir Philip made it his personal mission to bring civilian air travel to England and the world. Airplanes were still little-known by the public, and considered far too dangerous. Sir Philip bought his own airplane in 1919 to promote air travel to the masses. In 1931, he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Air. He also served as England’s First Commissioner of Works, and chaired London’s famous National Gallery. Philip owned Trent Park in the north of London, and built a mansion there where he liked to host his many friends. Interestingly, during World War II the British used Trent Park as a luxury prison for high-ranking German POWs, on whom they carefully spied and extracted critical information, which was instrumental for winning the war.

Words of the Week

The main superiority of man over animals is in his power of speech. But if we speak vanity and folly, we are no better than animals.
Rabbi Moshe Leib Erblich of Sassov (1745-1807), the Sassover Rebbe

Jews of the Week: Albert, Eliyahu, and Sasson David Sassoon

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 9th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the Sassoon family, the “Rothschilds of the East”. This is Part 2. Click here to read Part 1, and here to read Part 3. 

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons (left to right) Elias, Albert, and Sasson David.

Abdullah David Sassoon (1818-1896), the eldest son of David Sassoon, was born in Baghdad and raised in Bombay, India. He took over as head of the family business when his father passed away. At the same time, he served on Bombay’s Legislative Council, helping to run the bustling city. In 1873, Abdullah took a trip to England and decided to settle there. He formally changed his name to “Albert”, and moved the headquarters of the business to London, leaving the Bombay branch to his younger brother Solomon. In 1874, Albert opened a new subsidiary, Sassoon Spinning and Weaving Company, and the following year built the Sassoon Docks, the first wet docks in Western India, which still operate today in Mumbai. He paid for the reconstruction of the prestigious Elphinstone High School, and turned one of the family homes into India’s first and oldest museum. In 1866 he was awarded the Order of the Star of India, and in 1872 was made a British Knight Companion of the Order of Bath. The Shah of Persia awarded him the Order of Lion and Sun for his work in Persia’s development, and Queen Victoria knighted him and made him a baronet in 1890. He founded the David Sassoon Benevolent Institution, which provided thousands of scholarships to support the education of both Indians and Jews.

The second son of David Sassoon, Eliyahu David Sassoon (1820-1880), was also born in Baghdad and raised in Bombay. At the age of 24, he moved to Guangzhou to start a branch of the family business in China. He later oversaw further expansion across China and into much of Japan. In 1867, Eliyahu (now known more commonly as Elias) decided to break off from the family business and start his own company, E.D. Sassoon & Co. He abandoned the opium trade—which was now showing its unfortunate side-effects—and instead traded in fruits, spices, and teas, as well as silks and metals. He built what is probably the first synagogue in Hong Kong, as well as Maternity Hospital and the Sassoon Infirm Asylum in Pune, India.

The third son, Sasson David Sassoon (1832-1867) was born in Bombay, but sent to study in Baghdad’s illustrious Jewish schools. Despite being born with a heart defect and being chronically ill, Sasson worked hard for the family business and travelled widely. He first ran the Shanghai branch, then in 1858 moved to London to open his own bank. Sasson was renowned for his wisdom and ability to speak multiple languages at ease. In fact, he was the head Hebrew examiner at the London Jews’ Free School, then the world’s largest Jewish school with over 4000 students. He was also on the council of Jews’ College and was the gabbai (warden) of London’s Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Sasson financially supported all of these institutions, too, among many others in London. He presided over a committee that sent an expedition to the Jews of “China, Abyssinia, and the East”. Sadly, Sasson succumbed to his ill health at the young age of 35.

Left to right: Albert Museum, India’s first and oldest museum, converted from an old Sassoon family home; the Elphinstone High School; Sassoon Docks, the first wet docks in Mumbai.

Words of the Week

Money doesn’t excite me, my ideas excite me.
– Walt Disney 

Click here for Part 3