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
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
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
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