Saleh Nikoo was born in 1917 C.E., 1296 of the Persian Calendar, henceforth P.C., to a religious Jewish family of the city of Sanandaj in the western Iran. His father Yehazqel “Ezekiel” was a trusted merchant and a learned religious figure, well-versed in the Jewish religious law and tradition. His mother Esther was a pious woman. At the age of 8, Saleh Nikoo immigrated to Kermanshah along with his family, where he studied at the Ettehad “Alliance” Elementary of the city.
From an early age, fate taught him some bitter lessons, as a row of tragic events befell him over the years. He was barely 12, when he lost his mother. Shortly thereafter, he first lost his younger brother, then his only sister Miriam, to illness and a lack of medical facilities. Yet, Saleh carried on the torch, studied with optimism and an energetic spirit, and remained an outstanding student throughout his years at the school. Besides the homework, he devoted much time to learning the Hebrew language and the Jewish religious law and tradition, including the Torah and its commentaries. He also had a gift for calligraphy, a skill which came in quite handy, since textbooks were rare and too expensive to buy for many families, and the students were thus forced to copy the books by hand.
The young Saleh studied books in Persian, Hebrew, French and English, and he made much progress in those languages, as well as in the Aramaic. Even as a young man, people called him Chacham Saleh, for he seemed to already know as much as a religious authority. He loved to learn, and he enjoyed grasping the meaning of things and receiving the moral inspirations. Still a student, he also earned an income from private tutoring.
At the age of 18, Saleh Nikoo was drafted to fulfill the national service. Due to his merits, discipline and adherence to the religious values, he was appointed as the Head of the Battalion’s Office. This was a rare appointment, for the post had been normally reserved for the ranking officers. Having fulfilled the service in Kurdistan, he began to teach at the Ettehad “Alliance” School of Kermanshah.
Saleh Nikoo immigrated to Tehran in 1944 C.E., 1323 P.C., in the pursuit of a better social status. At first, he was hired by the Singer Company, where he worked diligently for years. He then moved on to work on commission and releasing the cargo at the exports section of the Mehrabad Customs Office. He would remain at this job until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 C.E., 1357 P.C.
When he first visited Chacham Haim Moreh at the revered cleric’s home in the Oudlajan ghetto of Tehran, the miserable environment which had engulfed the residents of that Jewish neighborhood moved Saleh Nikoo to bitter tears. Shortly afterwards, driven by such feelings, he enlisted some friends’ help to found the Jewish Alley Association of Tehran. He then went on for years to collaborate with several philanthropists and organizations in order to raise the hygienic standards of the neighborhood, keep the area clean, and also maintain its security. Before long, he began offering Torah commentaries at the Mullah Hanina Synagogue on the Shabbat afternoons. He also seized upon the sermons to analyze the social conditions of the Jewish community, and to offer the necessary guidance. The community warmly welcomed the move, and he was encouraged to present his sermons and commentaries from time to time at the other temples.
Alongside his professional career as a customs release agent, and besides his social activities, Saleh Nikoo built on his more than 15 years of teaching experience — first as a young private tutor, and next, as a teacher at the Ettehad “Alliance” School of Kermanshah — when he began to teach Hebrew and Jewish subjects at the Ettefagh High School of Tehran. He taught in order to serve the public, and for his love of Judaism. Personally, to the end of his life, he spent his spare time on studying the Jewish religious topics, and on commenting and interpreting various sections of the Torah, Haftarah and the Talmud.
In 1949 C.E., Saleh Nikoo married his future wife Sara, the daughter of Asher Broukhim. The couple brought four sons and one daughter to the world, all of whom have received higher education.
Philanthropic work was an inherent aspect of this erudite figure. He accepted no official position or membership in any social organization. Yet, he closely collaborated with most social and cultural associations, offering his invaluable services as a volunteering member of their boards of directors. Among them, he founded or co-founded the Brothers’ Association, Kanoon‑e Kheyr-Khah i.e. “The Philanthropy Center”, and the Jewish Alley Association of Tehran. He also sustained close cooperation with the Otzar Ha-Torah a.k.a. “Ganj-e Danesh” or “The Treasure of Knowledge” Cultural Organization, besides collaborating with such synagogues as Ganj-e Danesh, Fakhr-Abad, Pol-e Choubi and Zargarian. He further collaborated with the National Jewish Fund, the Iranian Jewish Academic Students’ Organization, and many of the other religious and cultural institutions of the Jewish community. Thus, Saleh Nikoo earned himself special credit, recording himself in the annals of social activism as a benevolent figure of the community.
Saleh Nikoo was a co-founder and active member of the Brothers’ Association, and the Kanoon-e Javanan or “The Jewish Youth Center”, i.e. Ha-Chalutz of Iran. He was also instrumental in creating Kanoon-e Kheyr-Khah “The Philanthropy Center”, which first sprouted at the location of Mullah Hanina Synagogue of Tehran by the Brothers’ Association. Subsequently, he played an important role in strengthening and advancing The Philanthropy Center and in establishing the Dr. Rouhollah Sapir Hospital under the umbrella of the Center. He further cooperated with those in charge of the Beheshtieh “Eden” Jewish Cemetery of Tehran. As noted earlier, he helped Ha-Rav Levy and Sultan Sulaiman Kohan-Sedgh “Cohen-Tzedek” in founding and developing the Otzar Ha-Torah Cultural Complex. He also collaborated in creating the Fakhr-Abad Synagogue, helped run the establishment, and went on for years to perform an important role as its cantor and Torah commentator.
In the early 1960’s C.E., 1340’s P.C. Saleh Nikoo left an indelible imprint during the creation of the Pol-e Choubi “Wooden Bridge” Synagogue at Darvazeh Shemiran “The Shemiran Gate” of Tehran. In particular, he helped much in the purchase of the land and the construction phase of the building. He then went on to actively serve the synagogue until 1974 C.E., 1353 P.C., as a cantor and Torah commentator. For some time, he also served as a cantor at the Zargarian Synagogue. Among his other services to the public, he participated in the housing of the Jewish refugees from Iraq. With the cooperation of the Sochnut “The Jewish Agency” and some other philanthropists, he set up tents in the O.R.T. Technical School of Tehran as temporary housing for a portion of the immigrants. He also did much else to resolve their issues, as he helped in particular to facilitate the immigration process and customs release, thanks to his position at the Iranian Customs.
In 1979 C.E., 1357 P.C., in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, Saleh Nikoo and his wife immigrated to the Northern California, the United States, where they joined their children who were studying at the time at the University of California, Davis.
Awhile later, Saleh Nikoo resumed his cultural activities at the city of Davis synagogue, where he taught the Torah and Hebrew language to the academic students. In 1981 C.E., he moved to Los Angeles. Before long, upon his friends’ requests, he resumed his cultural activities in the Iranian synagogues of L.A., going on for years to offer sermons, serve as cantor, and lead the prayers.
Though in the retirement age, Saleh Nikoo nevertheless carried on his socio-cultural pursuits with typical resolve. In 1992 C.E., he placed his personal archive of the newspapers published by Jews of Iran, a precious treasure which had taken him years to collect, at Professor Amnon Netzer’s disposal. Included in the archive were Geoula, Ha-Am, Ha-Olam, Donya-ye Yahoud “The Jewish World”, and several other publications, all of which were made available to the school library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to be used by the generations of scholars of the Iranian Jewish history.
The erudite philanthropist Saleh Nikoo passed away in 1994 C.E., at the age of 77, of illness.