Iranian Jewish Culure
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Agha-Jan Abrishami
Philanthropists and Community Leaders

Agha-Jan Abrishami


 

Raphael Haim, better known as Agha-Jan Abrishami, was born in 1901 C.E., 1280 of the Persian Calendar, henceforth P.C., to a religious Jewish family of Kashan, Iran. His father Agha Eliahu Ben Meeta was a well-reputed Kashani merchant, who did business with the western Iranian cities, Sanandaj and Kermanshah, in particular. His mother Tzebia was the daughter of Mullah Shemuel “Samuel”.

Ever since a child, Agha-Jan Abrishami had a passion and a gift for learning about the Jewish religion and the Hebrew language. He began taking Hebrew lessons in the maktab or traditional school of Mullah Yehazqel “Ezekiel” Namroudi. He then completed his elementary education at the Agha-Yeghoutiel Ettehad “Alliance” School of Kashan. Before long, he joined his father in their private business, undertaking trades with Tehran. His business merits soon earned him special credit within the Bazaar. Alongside work, he cooperated with Hadj Eliahu and Agha Asher Esmaeilian to play an active role in the philanthropic activities of the Jewish community. At 15, he was entrusted with the financial affairs of the Jewish Association of Kashan. Given his knowledge of the Jewish tradition and religious law, he was also regarded as an exceptionally learned and qualified man in the religious affairs, well noticed by the contemporary sages of Kashan.

In 1924 C.E., 1303 P.C., Agha-Jan Abrishami married his maternal cousin Iran Esmaeilian. The couple brought two sons and a daughter to the world.

In 1946 C.E., 1325 P.C., as the World War II subsided, Agha-Jan Abrishami and his family moved to Tehran to gain better grounds in business. In the capital, he focused more intensely on his business goals, including in real-estate. Nevertheless, he did not neglect to carry out philanthropic causes and public services alongside work. He was known as a trusted and committed member of the society. Having learned his mission from his mentor, Agha Yeghoutiel, the founder of the Ettehad “Alliance” School of Kashan which bears his name, Agha-Jan Abrishami seized passionately upon every chance to help solve the problems that emerged within families and between the businessmen. He cared much about Judaism and the Jewish history and culture, and he maintained religious obligations, as well as helping to revive and develop an advanced society, at the top of his social endeavors. To that end, he didn’t hold any reservations.

In 1961 C.E., 1340 P.C., together with a few likeminded friends, he founded the Tzedek “Justice” Association, thus going on to carry out public services officially. First, he rented a place near the Keshavarz “Elizabeth” Boulevard for the northern Tehran Jewish community to gather for prayers and other religious ceremonies. Then, in 1963 C.E., 1342 P.C., he purchased a land on the northern side of the said boulevard, branching out from N. Kakh “Castle” Ave., later the Palestine Ave., where he built a three-story building, which consisted of a more than 500-seat synagogue and a mixed school for elementary boys and girls. The building opened in 1965 C.E., starting with the first three grades. Soon enough, having covered all six grades of the old elementary system, the school expanded to include the junior high and high school levels, as well. Later, two Jewish ritual baths, the Rosa mikveh for the ladies, and another for the gentlemen, were built for the community. With the growing Jewish population in that district, two more synagogues and a dining hall were constructed, allowing to host religious ceremonies within the complex. The Tehran Jewish Association also helped expand the educational units of the Agha-Jan Abrishami School when it purchased and annexed the Nourmand Building on the eastern side of the North Kakh “Palestine” Ave., which looked upon the Agha-Jan Abrishami Complex.

In the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Abrishami School was compelled to change name to the Mousa Ben Amran “Moses the Son of Amram” Educational Complex. On most evenings, the Abrishami Synagogue has hosted Jewish religious classes known as the talmud Torah, as well as courses in Hebrew, for adults and children. Besides, every school year on Fridays, the so-called “Sunday schools” have been offered in Judaism and Hebrew language at the elementary, junior and high school levels, for the Jewish students who attend the non-Jewish schools.

As the Agha-Jan Abrishami Cultural Complex opened in 1965 C.E., 1344 P.C., its founders joined a number of other philanthropic members of the community to form the first Regents Council of the Abrishami Synagogue and School. The original Council consisted of Agha-Jan Abrishami, Dr. Nasser Akhtar-zad, Davoud “David” Broukhim, Benjamin Shabani, Mahdi Mousa-zadeh, Dr. Habibollah Levy, Abdollah Netan-eli and Mousa “Moses” Nassir.

Shortly afterwards, upon the request of Agha-Jan Abrishami, the Regents of the Abrishami Synagogue and School approved to let him endow the Abrishami Cultural Complex to the Jewish community by transferring the deed of the building to the Tehran Jewish Association.

Agha-Jan Abrishami was fully learned in the Persian, French and Hebrew languages. He was a rare philanthropist and a knowledgeable figure, who recorded his name among the lasting faces of the Jewish community by leaving behind both a cultural and a religious establishment in his name. Besides, he spent much of his life aiding the oppressed members of the society. Especially during his last years in Tehran, he devoted his time to expanding the cultural complex and some other philanthropic causes.

In 1979 C.E., 1357 P.C., Agha-Jan Abrishami yielded to an unwanted emigration. He immigrated to the United States, where he settled in Los Angeles, California, to be with his children. Although in the age of retirement, he maintained interest in carrying out philanthropic causes. And from afar, he remained up-to-date on the status of the Abrishami School and Synagogue of Tehran. Not surprisingly, his children have followed the path set by their father. Both in Los Angeles, Elias Abrishami is a member of the Director’s Board of the Sinai Temple, while Enayat Abrishami is a founding member of the Nessah Synagogue and Cultural Center.

Agha-Jan Abrishami passed away in the August of 1988 C.E., the 20th of Av, 5748 of the Hebrew Calendar, from prolonged illness. He was 87 years old.

More than half of a century later, the Abrishami School and Synagogue is deemed as one of the greatest cultural and religious complexes of the Jewish community of Tehran. The quality of the education at the Abrishami a.k.a. “Moses Ben Amram” School has been consistently maintained at an admirable level, many a year placing first for the percentage of its successful graduate

 From Right to Left: Agha-Jan Abrishami, Founder of the Abrishami School & Synagogue, next to Sulaiman “Solomon” Senei, Founder of the Keshvarieh Bath. Tehran, 1961 C.E., 1340 P.C.

 

 The Agha-Jan Abrishami Family. Tehran, 1955 C.E., 1344 P.C.