Tag Archives: Syrian Jews

Jews of the Week: Joe, Ralph, and Avi Nakash

The Jordache Brothers

Avi, Joe, and Ralph Nakash

Joseph Nakash (b. 1942) was born in Israel to poor Syrian-Jewish immigrant parents. At 20, having never finished high school, Joseph moved to New York with just $25. He initially worked as a stock boy making $40 a week before taking over as store manager, saving money to bring over his brothers, Raphael and Avraham, from Israel. Soon after they arrived, the trio combined their savings to purchase an appliance store in Brooklyn, which they converted to a retailer selling designer jeans. The store was an instant hit, and in just a few years, they opened three more locations. They soon started producing their own brand of jeans: Jordache (a contraction of their names: Joe, Ralph, his son David, and Avi Nakash). Taking a loan to start a massive ad campaign, the brothers were able to turn Jordache into a household name in jeans. By the mid-80s, their revenues neared half a billion dollars, and the brothers began to expand their business into other areas. They started their own global cargo shipping business, and also acquired 50% of Guess (a deal which ended in 1990 with Jordache keeping the “Gasoline” brand and Guess keeping the “Diesel” brand). By 1995, Jordache began to lose its “high-end” status so the brothers made an agreement with Wal-Mart to sell the jeans as a discount label. This actually turned out to be a blessing, further propelling their sales. At the same time, they began to manufacture jeans for other brands like Tommy Hilfiger, American Eagle, and even Levi’s! Since then, the Nakash brothers have also expanded into airlines, hotels, agriculture, banking, and real estate. Their Israeli olive oil factory produces award-winning oils, and their Tel-Aviv tomato plant supplies Heinz with tomato paste. Most recently, they purchased Miami’s Versace Mansion (outbidding Donald Trump), and the Setai Miami Beach Hotel, among the city’s most expensive and prestigious. Their shipping company also won exclusive rights to operate Israel’s Red Sea port in Eilat. Despite the fact that the Nakash empire is worth over $2 billion, many of the company’s decisions are still hammered out at the family’s Shabbat dinner table.

Words of the Week

One who does not see God everywhere does not see Him anywhere.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, The Kotzker Rebbe

Jews of the Week: Jerry Seinfeld & Larry David

Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld

Voted one of the greatest comedians of all time, Jerome Allen “Jerry” Seinfeld started his career at an open-mic night after graduating from college. He found his way to a Rodney Dangerfield HBO special, then appearances on late night talk shows, and small roles in little-known sitcoms. Finally, in 1989 he created The Seinfeld Chronicles along with fellow New York Jew Larry David. By its fourth season (then known simply as Seinfeld) it had become the most successful sitcom ever, and made Seinfeld the highest-paid celebrity of the time (he earned $267 million in 1998 alone!) Seinfeld is also a bestselling author and winner of multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards. Interestingly, his father was Austrian Jewish, and his mother’s family is Syrian Jewish, having immigrated to the US from Turkey. Seinfeld also worked in an Israeli Kibbutz when he was 16.

Larry David

Larry David

Meanwhile, Lawrence Gene “Larry” David co-created and wrote 62 episodes for Seinfeld, including “The Contest” which won the distinction of being the best TV show episode of all time. Previously, he was a writer for Saturday Night Live, and many other comedy shows. Larry David is most famous for starring in Curb Your Enthusiasm, a unique show where the script is improvised by the actors as they are being filmed. It has been both criticized and praised for its heavy emphasis on Judaism and Jewish themes, and the show is thought to be based on the Yiddish archetype of a “schlemiel”. Like Seinfeld, Larry David is an author and winner of multiple Emmy awards.

Words of the Week

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.”
– Jerry Seinfeld

Jew of the Week: Eli Cohen

The Impossible Spy

Eli Cohen: Possibly the greatest spy of all time

Eliyahu Cohen (1924-1965) was born in Egypt to an immigrant family of Syrian Jews. In the 1950s, he became involved in Israeli espionage activities, including Operation Goshen, which smuggled over 10,000 Jews out of Egypt, saving them from violence and persecution. Shortly after arriving in Israel he was recruited by the Mossad to be an Israeli intelligence agent in Syria. A new identity was created for him: Kamel Amin Thaabet, a wealthy Syrian returning from Argentina. To create a convincing spy, Cohen actually lived in Argentina before being deployed to Syria In 1962. He quickly gained the trust of powerful people, making friends with generals and rising through the ranks of the ruling Baath party. Cohen toured Syria’s most sensitive military sites, secretly sending the information to Israel (which many believe was absolutely critical in Israel’s 1967 victory). Amazingly, Eli Cohen was nearly appointed Syria’s Deputy Minister of Defence, and at one point, was third in the line of succession to Syria’s presidency!┬áSoviet agents uncovered Cohen’s identity in 1965. Without proper trial, he was publicly hanged to death, and the Syrians reburied him at least three times, fearing an Israeli operation to recover his body. To this day, the Syrians refuse to return his remains. Eli Cohen is considered one of the greatest intelligence agents of all time. His incredible story was captured in the film The Impossible Spy.

Purim Starts Wednesday!

 

Words of the Week

When God desired to create man, Truth said: “He should not be created, for he is full of lies.” Kindness said: “He should be created, for he is full of kindness.”
– Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 8:5