Sir Naim Dangoor
BORN BAGHDAD, APRIL 17 1914. DIED LONDON,NOVEMBER 19 2015,AGED 101
IN THE early 1960s Iraqi-Jewish businessman Naim Dangoor arrived in London with his wife, Renée and four sons. His comfortable life in Baghdad, the city of his birth, had virtually vanished — his assets seized under the Ba’athist government’s anti-Jewish laws. Offered a loan to start over again, as a man of faith, he considered this stroke of fortune “a sign from above”. He vowed that if he could again achieve success, he would give back to his new country a gift of education as he regarded education as the key to his good fortune.
In June 2015 Naim was awarded a knighthood in recognition of his “extraordinarily generous philanthropy to a range of health, educational and religious charities”. At 101, thought to be the oldest Jew to receive this honour, he had kept his vow.
Sir Naim Dangoor was born into a different world from the one he emigrated to. He was a subject of Sultan Mehmet V, when Iraq was just an Ottoman province, and 40 per cent of Baghdadis were Jewish.
His father, Eliahou, was one of the world’s largest printers of Arabic books and his grandfather, Hakham, was the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad. With such illustrious heritage the stage was set for Naim to make something of himself, and at the age of 17 he travelled to London to enrol on an engineering degree at the University of London.
On returning to Iraq after a brief conscription in the army, he was forced to abandon his plans for a career in engineering, due to Iraq’s restrictions imposed on Jews. Instead he went into business, setting up Eastern Industries with a Muslim friend Ahmed Safwat. It was a fortuitous decision — within a year they had secured the first contract to bottle Coca-Cola in Iraq as well as a sizeable property portfolio.
Life was going well for Naim. In 1948 hemarriedRenéeDangoor,afirstcousin who had just been crowned Miss Baghdad. They enjoyed a prosperous life in Baghdad, then a vibrant city, where the ideas of the day were fiercely debated while sipping Turkish coffee and Naim’s newlyimportedCoca-Cola.Buttherewas a sense of growing insecurity among the Jewish community as they felt the brunt of the political turmoil that was to engulf Iraq.
In 1963 when the Ba’ath party declared that Jews who failed to renew their passports in Iraq would forfeit all their assets, Naim grasped the opportunity to make a new life in Britain. He set up a booming property company, Monopro, joined by his four sons.
However, he never lost his passion for Iraq and was keen to preserve the Baghdadi Jewish traditions. His Haggadah, with Arabic and English translations, is still used worldwide. He set up the Iraqi club in west Kensington to help Iraqi Jews rebuild their lives, and launched a journalof BabylonianJewry, The Scribe, to maintaintheheritageof hiscommunity inexilewhichranfor35yearswith4,000 subscribers in 25 countries.
In 1978 with Monopro now worth millions of pounds, the time had come to make good on his vow. He set up a charitable organisation — the Exilarch’s Foundation. The foundation has given fundstoCancerResearchUK,AgeUK,the Royal Society of Medicine, and the Fran-
Sir Naim Dangoor: made good on his vow “to give something back”