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Tribute to David Elias, Z"L

by Percy S Gourgey, MBE

Born Calcutta 5.11.16, died London 1 December 2002

The Jewish Chronicle described David Elias (aged 86) as the "father-figure of Eastern Jewry who devoted his life to helping fellow Oriental Jews especially from Calcutta and Bombay."

My first connection with David was through the Zionist Federation of India, which I helped to found as Honorary Secretary of the Bombay Zionist Association (founded in 1920 by three Jews of Baghdadian-Babylonian origin, Judah Gubbay, Ezekiel Somekh, and Joseph Saddik Ezra). In 1952 the Calcutta Zionist Association was represented by David's brother-in-law, Eric Moses, who passed away in Australia some years ago.

My next connection with David was at a meeting in the Maida Vale home, London in 1955, of Haham Solomon Gaon, head of the British Sephardi community. (In the intervening years, David had gone to Israel and had worked in the office of Ben-Gurion in Jerusalem).

The meeting in Haham Gaon's home was concerned with organising the growing Indian Jewish community in London and especially combating inter-marriage with other faiths. Members, prominent among British Sephardim at this meeting was the late Alan Nabarro. David said he was very disturbed by "our boys and girls going out with, and even marrying yoks and shiksas", the Yiddish term he had picked up in London! By his remarks it seemed that Alan had heard it for the first time!

It was decided to found an Indian Jewish Synagogue in London run on the lines of Minhag Bavel (as in India) and Rabbi Solomon Sassoon helped enormously to implement this aim and the first such synagogue was established in Golders Green, Broadwalk Lane, where it still is called 'Ohel Rahel'. (It had been the Lincoln Institute founded by the father of Captain Ashe Lincoln who had fought bravely in the Second World War).

Other synagogues founded by Rabbi Sassoon and David were in Stamford Hill and in Hackney, and in Ilford. The Stamford Hill Synagogue was called the Benjamin Elias Synagogue, with Hebrew classes at the nearby Yesodey HaTorah School.

The numbers of the community rose from 6000 in 1948 to 9000 by 1970 including 2000 Jews from Egypt after the Suez crisis of 1956 and 3000 Aden Jews after Britain left the Colony with Iraqi and Persian Jews, totalling 16000. David's concern for the community led him to establish contact with the Stoke Newington police station and form a police liaison committee. He was a member of the Borough of Hackney's race relations committee. He was awarded a British Empire Medal in 1991.

He is survived by his wife for 60 years, Sophie, four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. In a tribute to him, Rabbi Dr Abraham Levy, head of the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue wrote: "David brought assistance and relief to those in need and those who felt oppressed. They waited patiently for him at his home while his wife provided meals for them. He was one of the most remarkable men to have helped Jewish life in England." I was associated with David, as a trustee of the J. E. Joseph Charitable Fund, set up by the late J. E. Joseph of Baghdad and HongKong at the suggestion of my late Uncle Joseph Nissim, barrister and ex-ICS, and a nephew of Sir Jacob and Lady Rachel Sassoon of Bombay. The fund helped David in his charitable work, including the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem, now run by Haham Yaacov Hillel, formerly of Bombay. David's coffin was taken by his relatives and friends from the Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem to the cemetery in Sanhedria - another area of Jerusalem

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