Tag Archives: Tunisian Jews

Jews of the Week: Oren Smadja & Sagi Muki

Judo World Champion

Oren Smadja

Shay Oren Smadja (b. 1970) was born to a Tunisian-Jewish family in Ofakim, Israel. He was the son of Israel’s first judo coach, Morris Smadja, who played a key role in introducing the sport to Israel. Trained by his father, Oren Smadja won his first gold medal in judo at the age of 12. Seven years later, he was Israel’s judo champion. Smadja went on to represent Israel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he won a bronze medal. Three years later, he won the silver medal at the 1995 World Judo Championships. In 2008 he was a participant in the Israeli TV version of “Dancing With the Stars”. Altogether, Smadja won a medal or championship in 14 professional tournaments. He retired after competing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and turned to coaching judo full time.

Sagi Muki

One of Smadja’s first students was a four-year old Sagi Aharon Muki (b. 1992) from Netanya, Israel. At the young age of 8 he had to choose to pursue either soccer or judo, and went with the latter. Under Smadja’s tutelage, Muki went on to win the under-20 European Cup in Berlin in 2011. The following year, he was Israel’s judo champion in his weight class, a feat that he repeated in 2013. He continued to win in multiple international competitions, and was ranked second in the world by 2015. That year, he took gold at the European Games and the European Judo Championship. Muki represented Israel at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, he failed to win a medal after severely injuring his spine. Bedridden for months, it seemed that Muki’s career was over. Undeterred, he refused surgeries and instituted an intense healing and training regime. Muki got back into shape and returned to judo at the Grand Prix Tashkent in October 2017. Silencing all of his critics, Muki won gold. Half a year later, he took another gold in the European Championships. Earlier this year, Muki climbed back to the world number 2 spot. Last week he won gold at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo, making him the first Israeli world champion. Muki also served in the IDF and carries the rank of sergeant. He takes great pride in representing Israel around the world, and is expected to bring home another gold at next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

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Words of the Week

Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.
– Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, Ottoman politician and Muslim scholar (1899)

Jew of the Week: Max Azria

BCBG Max Azria 

Max Azria (Credit: David Shankbone)

Max Azria (b. 1949) was born in Tunisia to a traditional Jewish family, the youngest of six children. He grew up in France, where he was first drawn to the fashion industry. He spent eleven years working in French fashion before moving to Los Angeles and opening his first boutique, called Jess. After eight very successful years, Azria launched BCBG Max Azria in 1989. (The name comes from the French slang bon chic bon genre, “good style, good attitude”.) Known for its affordable designer fashion, the brand became extremely popular. It made headlines at New York Fashion Week in 1996, and put Azria on the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1998. That same year, he bought a French company, Hervé Léger, making history by being the first American designer to buy out a French one. Azira launched an exclusive celebrity line called Max Azria Atelier in 2004, and a youth store called BCBGeneration in 2008. Celebrities are particularly fond of his designs, and among his biggest fans are Angelina Jolie, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Halle Berry, and Beyoncé. Azria has also designed clothing for TV shows, including Friends and Seinfeld. In all, he owns twenty different brands and has nearly 600 stores around the world. Unfortunately, many of these locations will soon be closing, as BCBG filed for bankruptcy yesterday. Nonetheless, Azria has been hailed as “one of the most important and influential designers in the world”. Aside from fashion, he is the spokesperson for ‘Concept: Cure’, a charity that supports breast cancer research. His brother Serge, daughter Joyce, and wife Lubov are all successful fashion designers as well. The latter recently spoke of the large Shabbat meals that the couple hosts at their home: “Sometimes there’s only five people, sometimes a hundred.”

Words of the Week

My relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.
– Albert Einstein