This past week our Iraqi Jewish community here in New York lost someone very special. Mr. Selim Mahlab A'H passed away at the age of 91. While I knew parts of his past, it was only after his passing that I was really able to grasp how much this man had accomplished in his lifetime. He was a man who gave everything he had to his country and his community. A veteran of the US Army, he was an intelligence officer in Post World War Two Europe. His brigade was in charge of hunting down Nazi criminals. Some of the stories I had the opportunity of reading in his memoir at the shiva were remarkable.
Later on in his lifetime, Mr. Mahlab saw that there was a problem within the Iraqi Jewish Community of New York. The problem was that there really was no center for the community to congregate. It was his efforts and leadership that led to the establishment of Congregation Bene Nahrayim in Jamaica Estates, New York. The very first Iraqi Synagogue of its kind. He saw that 2500 years of tradition were disappearing in just a matter of decades, and his visionary leadership led to the establishment of an official Iraqi community in New York.
It is within this community that he paved the way for, that I personally have been able to establish myself here in New York. Indeed, I owe him a lot for his work, and hope to continue to build on his vision of a strong community.
As I stood at this great mans funeral, saw the American Flag draped on his casket, and heard both he wonderful tune played by the marines present as well as the Hebrew liturgies praising his soul, I was truly at awe. I was in awe of how much this man accomplished, and how he left behind a proud country, proud community and most importantly a very proud family. I shall hope that through our work at the Moishe House, and our roles as leaders, that we too will be able to look back one day and be proud of our accomplishments. I hope that our experiences here prepares us all for a life of leadership and devotion to the Jewish people and all that is important to us.