Tribute to David Elias,
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
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