Tag Archives: Sephardic Jews

Jew of the Week: Moshe Safdie

Visionary Architect

Moshe Safdie (b. 1938) was born in Haifa to a Mizrachi Jewish family originally from Syria. He grew up on a kibbutz where he was a beekeeper and goatherd. When he was 15, the family moved to Montreal, Canada. Safdie went on to study architecture at McGill University. For his thesis, he came up with the idea of 3D, prefabricated modular units. Safdie quickly made a name for himself as a young architect and, at just 23, was invited to design Habitat 67 during Montreal’s World Expo. In 1970, Safdie opened a branch of his firm in Jerusalem to focus on restoring the Old City and building up the new city post-reunification. He designed the famous Porat Yosef Yeshiva (originally the vision of the great Ben Ish Chai), the beautiful Mamilla Center, as well as Yad Vashem, and Ben Gurion International Airport. Safdie achieved international renown, and went on to design some of the most iconic buildings in the world (see below). This includes the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the National Gallery of Canada, and the world’s longest “horizontal skyscraper” in China. Meanwhile, Safdie has taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and directed it for a number of years. He has also published a dozen books, and has been featured in six films. Today, Safdie Architects has offices in Boston, Jerusalem, Toronto, Shanghai, and Singapore. Safdie is still deeply involved, and maintains a research fellowship at his firm to develop new architectural ideas and futuristic projects. He has won countless awards, including the Order of Canada, the Wolf Prize in Architecture, and multiple honorary doctorates. The Moshe Safdie Archive at McGill University is among the largest architectural collections in the world, with over 140,000 drawings, 100,000 photos, and over 2000 sketches.

*November is Mizrachi Heritage Month.*

Moshe Safdie at TED: How to Reinvent the Apartment Building

Words of the Week

Woe to mankind! For they see, but do not know what they see; they stand, but do not know upon what they stand.
Rabbi Yose (Talmud, Chagigah 12b)

Some of Moshe Safdie’s best-known projects, clockwise from top left: Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City, Kauffman Center in Kansas City, National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Habitat 67 in Montreal, Jewel Changqi Airport in Singapore, and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Jew of the Week: Sir Sassoon Eskell

Father of Iraq

Sassoon Eskell (1860-1932) was born in Baghdad to a wealthy and illustrious Mizrachi Jewish family. At the time, some 40% of Baghdad’s population was Jewish. Eskell’s father was a rabbi, and at one point served as the chief rabbi of India’s large Baghdadi community. Eskell studied law and economics in Istanbul, London, and Vienna. He spoke nine languages fluently, and became the official translator (dragoman) for the Ottoman government in Baghdad. When the Ottomans drafted a constitution and established a new Turkish Parliament in 1908, Eskell was elected as Baghdad’s deputy representative. He also served as the under-secretary of state for trade and agriculture, and represented the Ottomans on multiple international delegations. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Eskell was among the key figures that pushed for Iraqi independence. He was one of two Iraqi representatives that negotiated with Winston Churchill in creating the new state and choosing its first king. Eskell went on to be Iraq’s first finance minister, and continued in this role through the next five governments. He was the primary advisor to the Iraqi king and prime minister, and was described as “by far the ablest man” on Iraq’s governing council. Eskell was elected to the first Iraqi parliament in 1925, and continued to serve on it until his death. He is often referred to as the “Father of Iraqi Parliament”. Among his many significant achievements was making sure that Iraq’s oil was sold to the British for gold, not pounds sterling. While this was unusual at the time, the British pound soon lost most of its value and was no longer backed by gold. Sassoon thus ensured Iraq’s wealth was not diminished, and that it would continue to profit from its oil sales. These funds were critical in ensuring the success and viability of the nascent state. Eskell was also a major philanthropist and gave countless sums to charity. Much of his wealth went to the Jewish National Fund to support the re-establishment of Israel. The village of Kfar Yehezkel in Israel is named after him. Among his many other awards and honours, Eskell was knighted by King George V. Several years ago, the Iraqi government demolished his historic 100-year old home in a controversial move that made way for a new development.

Words of the Week

Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.
– Alexander Hamilton

Jew of the Week: Manuel Pimental

King Henry’s Best Friend

Don Manuel Pimental (d. 1615) was born to a family of Sephardic Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity in the decades prior. Pimental became a wealthy merchant, trading with the Muslims under the name Isaac ibn Jakar. He soon converted back to Judaism, and did a lot of work on behalf of the many struggling Jewish communities at the time. Despite the ban on Jews living in France, he settled there anyway and became best friends with King Henry IV. The two played cards together regularly, and it is reported that after one 1608 game in the palace, King Henry said: “I am the king of France, but you are the king of gamblers!” Many didn’t like the fact that the king was so close to a Jew, but Henry defended his friend with the following words: “Those who honestly follow their conscience are of my religion, and mine is that of all brave and good men.” A couple of years later, a Catholic fanatic assassinated King Henry IV for being too friendly with Protestants and Jews. Pimental had to flee, and spent three years in Venice. He then joined his friend Samuel Pallache, the famed “pirate-rabbi”, in Amsterdam, and became one of the Jewish community’s leaders there. In 1614, Pimental purchased a plot of land to serve as the first official Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands. Ironically, when he passed away a year later, he was the first person to be buried there! (Pallache was the second.) Pimental played a large role in advancing the rights of Europe’s Jews, and helped transform Amsterdam into a Jewish haven that eventually became known as the “Jerusalem of Europe”.

Yom Kippur Begins Tonight – Gmar Chatima Tova!

9 Yom Kippur Myths and Misconceptions

Understanding the 5 Afflictions of Yom Kippur

Words of the Week

Neither security nor the development of the country is the true mission of the state. Those are only necessary conditions for the true mission… the ingathering of the exiles is the task and the destiny and the mission of the state of Israel. Without this endeavor it is emptied of its historical content and of no significance to the Jewish people in our day, in the generations that preceded us, and in the generations to come.
David Ben-Gurion

*The biography above is adapted from Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, by Ed Kritzler.