Sir Naim Dan­goor

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -


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”


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