Tag Archives: Synagogue

Jews of the Week: Houda & Ebrahim Nonoo

Houda Nonoo with former president George W. Bush

Houda Nonoo with former president George W. Bush

Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo (b. 1964) was born in the small Arabian kingdom of Bahrain, to Jewish parents of Iraqi ancestry. She spent a major part of her formative years in Britain, where she went to Jewish school. Nonoo earned her BA and MBA in England, and also married there. After her father died, she returned to Bahrain and took over the family business, growing it ever larger. She was soon a well-noted businesswoman, and the secretary-general of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society. From there, she was able to get a seat in Bahrain’s parliament, appointed by the King of Bahrain himself. For over three years, she sat on the Shura Council, which is the upper house of the Bahraini legislature. In 2008, Nonoo was appointed Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S. This made her the first Jewish ambassador from any modern Arab country. She served in that post for the next five years.

Her cousin and fellow businessman, Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo, also served in Bahrain’s parliament. He is the CEO of the Basma Company, which offers an array of services from security and IT solutions to travel, and custodial services. Meanwhile, he continues to direct the family’s foreign exchange and investment business, together with his siblings. Their Bahrain Stock Company now has 19 branches across the kingdom, and is the country’s main Western Union agent. In 2006, Ebrahim financed the reconstruction of Bahrain’s only remaining synagogue. Today, there are less than 50 Jews left in Bahrain.

Words of the Week

Better a sinful person who knows that he has sinned, than a righteous person who knows that he is righteous.
– Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, The “Seer of Lublin”

Jew of the Week: Paul Reichmann

Paul Reichmann

Paul Reichmann

Moshe Yosef “Paul” Reichmann (1930-2013) was born in Vienna to Hungarian Orthodox Jewish parents. By a miracle, the family escaped Austria right before the Nazi takeover of the country, then fled from Hungary to Paris to Morocco. At the end of World War II, Reichmann studied in yeshivas in England and Israel before returning to Morocco and working as a shirt salesman. Shortly after, he moved to Toronto to open a new branch of his brother’s tile company, Olympia. By 1964, he built a separate property development company called Olympia & York. In 1976, the company built First Canada Place – what was then Canada’s tallest building (and the tallest bank office tower in the world). The company would expand to New York and Tokyo, London and Israel, becoming the world’s largest property developer. Reichmann’s vision of magnificent buildings adorning the skyline prompted Prince Charles to comment: “Do they have to be so tall?” Despite the tremendous success, Reichmann never abandoned his Orthodox roots, maintaining his prayer and study regimen, and having his company cease all operations on Shabbat and holidays. He used a great part of his fortune to finance synagogues, yeshivas, and charitable institutions around the world. In 1992 he lost the bulk of his wealth when Olympia & York went bankrupt in the midst of a large economic recession (and a failed project for London’s Canary Wharf – considered one of the largest development projects in history). He managed to rebuild a sizable portion of his wealth over the next two decades, and continued donating millions of dollars every year to good causes. Very private and shunning luxury, Reichmann was famous for his business integrity. He would seal multi-million dollar deals with a handshake, and never failed to keep his word. Sadly, the man who touched so many lives passed away earlier this week. Click here to read more about one of the greatest philanthropists of the century, and watch a video here.

Words of the Week

Abraham was told that his descendants will be like the dust of the earth [Genesis 13:17], and as the stars of heaven [Genesis 15:5]. So it is with Israel: When they fall, they will fall as low as the dust; when they rise, they will rise as high as the stars.
– Midrash Pesikta Zutrati

Jew of the Week: Dona Gracia Mendes

Commemorative Coin of Dona Gracia Mendes

Commemorative Medal of Dona Gracia Mendes

Hanna ‘Gracia’ Nasi (1510-1569) was born in Lisbon, Portugal to a family of conversos – aka Marranos, Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity – and named Beatriz de Luna Miquez. She married Francisco Mendes Benveniste, a wealthy spice trader and banker. When she was only 28, Gracia’s husband passed away, leaving the business to her and his brother. Gracia thus joined her brother-in-law in Antwerp (then part of the Spanish Netherlands). From there, she organized an escape network for Jews to flee Spain and Portugal from the Inquisition, smuggling them in spice ships, providing them with money and documents to make their way to the Ottoman Empire where Jews were still welcome. This saved the lives of countless Jews, who nicknamed her ‘Our Angel’. Shortly after, her brother-in-law died as well, leaving Gracia alone at the helm of the massive Mendes financial empire, dealing with the likes of European kings, the Sultan of Turkey, and several Popes. At the time, she was possibly the most powerful woman in the world. After a series of political intrigues, which included an unjust imprisonment and several attempts to seize her wealth, Gracia settled in Istanbul, where she was now free to return to her religion. She built and financed dozens of synagogues and yeshivas across the Ottoman Empire. In 1558, the Sultan granted her a lease for the desolate town of Tiberias in Israel. Gracia began rebuilding the town, allowing Jewish refugees to settle there, with the vision of reestablishing a Jewish homeland in Israel. Many historians consider this the earliest modern Zionist attempt. Today, Donna Gracia has become a feminist icon, and is celebrated as a hero around the world. Both Philadelphia and New York City host a ‘Dona Gracia Day’, and the Turkish government has sponsored exhibits in her honour. There is a museum exploring her life in Tiberias, and the ‘La Senora’ synagogue of Istanbul, named after her, still stands to this day. Dona Gracia is the aunt of past Jew of the Week Joseph Nasi

 

 

Words of the Week

One of the greatest tragedies of intellectual human experience is that we study Bible stories when we are 55 in the same manner as we studied them when we were 5.
– Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky