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The Sassoon Yehuda Synagogue

Nita Tiffaha Jawary

The Sassoon Yehudah Synagogue did not begin in 1994 at 92 Hotham St, Melbourne, Australia. Nor did it begin in 1975 in Darling Rd. Malvern, Australia. It began in 1942 in the Kutaman Hills of India.
Albert Sassoon Yehudah, son of Sassoon and Rosie Yehudah, was born in Baghdad 1921. The youngest of six children, Albert lost his mother when he was two years old. His sister Marcelle, mothered him and cared for him.

Marcelle's youngest son, solicitor and accountant Dan Horesh, now cares for Albert.
The Yehudah family was well-to-do and lived, not in the Jewish district of Baghdad, but on the other side of the river, where only two other Jewish families lived. The Dangoors, whose family now own The Scribe in London, was one of them.

Sassoon Yehudah was a jeweller and goldsmith, and Albert used to love watching his father mould the jewellery with simple bellows made from goat skins over a coal fire.

Life was good in Baghdad until the outbreak of the Second World War. In May 1941 a scourge broke out against Baghdad's Jewish population. It was known in Arabic as The Farhud, Anarchy. Albert and his sister were offered refuge in the house of their Armenian neighbours and listened to the cries and screams of their brethren all night long. After that, Albert left Baghdad forever. He travelled to Bombay.

In Bombay Albert met another wayfarer from Baghdad. My father, Anwar ibn Abdullah Jawaherry, and Albert Sassoon Yehudah, became the best of friends. Together they travelled into the Kutaman hills and established a restaurant for British soldiers. Each day they cooked The Special of the Day. The name of the dish may have been special, but the fare never changed. They were two loveable rogues having a lark and living from moment to moment.

My father had to leave India in 1947 and Albert followed him to Melbourne in 1948. Together with another Iraqi Jew, Richard Hougie, they became partners in a pawnshop at 180 Russell St Melbourne. The trio became known as The Three Musketeers. They were happy-go-lucky young bachelors. My father taught Albert the jewelry business, how to evaluate gems and precious metal. He thrived and made a lot of money.

In 1974 my father took Albert aside. ''We need a synagogue. For the memory of your father, help the Sephardim of Melbourne build a synagogue". Because they were best friends, Albert agreed to help. In 1975 he donated $10,000, a third of the cost of the building, to the Sephardi Association of Victoria, to build a synagogue in the name of his father, Sassoon Yehudah. In 1994 Albert Yehudah laid the foundation stone for that synagogue at 92 Hotham St and the rest is history.

To set the record straight, the name Sassoon, Sasson, Sass for short, is a common Baghdadi name. The synagogue is not named after Sheikh Sassoon of the Ottoman Empire whose family made their fortune in India and Hong Kong, but after the goldsmith, Sassoon Yehudah, who brought up his youngest son alone and whose name his son wished to honour. May his soul rest in peace.

Nita Tiffaha Jawary is a Melbourne writer




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