Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation

Rabbi Nahum’s Visit to Seattle

The article below, “Treasure from the Jewish Archives” by Nancy Blase, Arlene Cohen and Eugene Normand  appeared in the 2013 Spring issue of Nizkor, Newsletter of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society.  The entire issue of Nizkor, including this article, can be seen on the Internet at http://www.wsjhs.org/nizkor.php

Before becoming the Chief Rabbi of Egypt, Rabbi Haim Nahum was the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Empire (1909-20). Turkey also was the homeland of the Barokas family, which came from Tekirdag (Rodosto), a city along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Marmara. Before moving to America, many of the Barokas family and their friends in the photo (including the Caston, Haleva and Benezra families) had attended the Alliance Israelite Universelle school in Tekirdag. During the early 1920’s, the rabbi visited Seattle and a number of West Coast cities to raise money to support the Alliance.

The Alliance was a French organization established in 1860 to safeguard the human rights of Jews around the world by promoting the ideals of Jewish self-defense and self-sufficiency through education. By 1900, the Alliance was operating 100 schools with a combined student population of 26,000, and many of them were in Turkey, as well as Morocco and Tunisia.

In 1944, Rabbi Nahum helped to reconstitute the Society for the Historical Study of the Jews of Egypt and served as its honorary head. He also was active in international affairs, assisting in the establishment of contacts between Jews throughout the world. At age 78, the rabbi became blind but continued to carry on his duties as best he could. He could recite long quotations from the Bible and rabbinical texts from memory.

You can view this photo online, as well as read details about it, including the identities of the others in the picture and family connections, by visiting the Washington State Jewish Archives digital photo collection at: http://content.lib.washington.edu/jhpweb/index.html. Type “Barokas” in the search field to view the photo.

Addendum: “How Many Rabbi Nahum’s Do You See?”
By Eugene Normand

 

As indicated, Rabbi Haim Nahum had been the Haham Bashi, Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Empire, for many years (1909-1920).  Due to the political turmoil following the end of World War I between factions within the Jewish community of Istanbul, he left that position in 1920.  In 1921 he was asked by the Alliance Israelite Universelle, known as the Alliance, to make a trip to the United States to help raise money for the Alliance. 

He made the trip in 1921 to the United States, in particular the West Coast, stopping in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.  He traveled with Marshall Foch who had been the chief of staff of the French army during WW I. 

When it was announced that Rabbi Nahum would be coming to Seattle, all of the Sephardim in Seattle were excited.  Whether they were from the various cities in Turkey or from the island of Rhodes, they all knew and respected him and were very familiar with the Alliance.  After all, he had been the Haham Bashi when most of them were still living in Turkey (Tekirdag, Marmara, Istanbul, Rhodes, Gallipoli, etc.).  Further, many of them had attended Alliance schools (in Tekirdag, Istanbul, Rhodes and Gallipoli) so they supported both the Rabbi and his institution, the Alliance. 

However, most of these Sephardim had been in the US for only a few years and so were still relatively poor, and thus could not donate very much money to his cause, the Alliance.  That year the Alliance budget was about $6 million which was necessary for to it to carry out its worldwide program of operating approximately 200 schools in Jewish communities throughout the Middle East.

Rabbi Nahum remained in Seattle for a week.  One of the highlights of his stay was going to be an address that he would deliver on the afternoon of Sunday, April 24, 1921.  The entire Seattle Sephardic community was invited to hear Rabbi Nahum at Cong. Ezra Bessaroth at 15th Avenue and East Fir Street.

A humorous incident is related about this speech which was scheduled for the afternoon and so a number of men got together with their friends ahead of time to prepare for the talk.  Two such men were Isaac (Yitzhak) Akrish and his friend, Jack (nicknamed Chakir – meaning blue eyes in Ladino) Bensussen.  These two met early and in anticipation of the speech, they started talking about the old days in Tekirdag, which made them thirsty, so they indulged in a few shots of raki (arak, the anise-flavored whiskey distilled from raisins or grapes that Levantine Sephardic men favored).  They started off slowly, but picked up the pace, so by the time they were ready to leave for the Ezra Bessaroth building, they were feeling no pain. 

Akrish and Bensussen made their way to some seats and listened as the program began.  As Rabbi Nahum began to speak, Akrish tried hard to focus, but he was having trouble.  The arak had worked its magic.  He said to his friend Bensussen, “Chakir, how many Rabbi Nahums do you see?”  Chakir replied “Two”.  “Two?” Akrish said, “I see three”.  Whatever Rabbi Nahum’s message was that afternoon, it seems that it passed right by these two friends but they enjoyed it nonetheless.

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