Tag Archives: Syrian Jews

Jew of the Week: Judy Feld Carr

Saving Syria’s Jews

Judy Feld Carr

Judy Feld Carr

Judith Feld Carr (b. 1938) was born in Montreal and grew up in Sudbury. She earned a Master’s in musicology from the University of Toronto, and taught music in both high schools and universities, including Yeshiva University in New York and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the early 70s, inspired by a neighbour who was a Holocaust survivor, and by an article in the Jerusalem Post about 12 young Syrian Jews who were badly hurt when attempting to flee the country, Carr undertook a mission, together with her then-husband Dr. Ronald Feld, to help disadvantaged Jews living in Arab lands. Following the establishment of Israel in 1948, the living conditions for over a million Jews living in Arab lands became intolerable. In the following years, around 900,000 Jews were forcibly expelled from their homes across the Arab world. While the global community focuses on the Palestinian refugee crisis, few have ever paid much attention to the plight of these Jews. In Syria, Jews were barred from leaving the country (in fact, they were forbidden from traveling more than three kilometres without a permit!) and were forced to remain under terrible circumstances. Carr made contact with Syrian Jews in Canada who could help her, and then with Rabbi Ibrahim Hamra in Damascus, with whom she worked to smuggle Jews out of Syria, as well as to ransom Jews trapped in Syrian prisons. They communicated in secret by highlighting phrases in Torah texts that would be sent back and forth. Carr soon received death threats for her efforts, but persevered, even after her husband passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. In 1973, a charity fund was established at Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto to assist Carr in her work. All in all, over three thousand Jews were rescued from Syria – three quarters of the whole community. Carr was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, the Order of Canada, as well as Israel’s Presidential Award of Distinction, among many others. A book about her story has been adapted to film.

Words of the Week

The three loves – love of God, love of Torah and love of one’s fellow – are all one. One cannot differentiate between them, for they are of a single essence… And since they are of a single essence, each one embodies all three.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

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