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By: Ikey Mamiye

With a multitude of yeshivot that instill Jewish principles in our youth, organizations that aid families through the many hardships of our day, and a multitude of shuls in our midst, we are truly blessed. Among the men that have helped lay this amazing foundation for our community is my grandfather, Jack Mamiye.

The Early Years

Jack Mamiye was born in Brooklyn on October 17, 1931. His parents, Elie and Milo Mamiye, both emigrated from Aleppo. In the 1930s, the Syrian community lived primarily in Bensonhurst, where they established the first Magen David Yeshiva. Every evening after going to P.S. 205, my grandfather made his way across the street to Magen David and received his Jewish education there.

Between the ages of five and eleven, Grandpa Jack, his parents, and four siblings moved from state to state, trying to make ends meet by selling imported Japanese merchandise. Due to the very small Jewish communities, limited access to kosher food, and the reality of anti-Semitism, it was not easy to practice Judaism in many of the places they settled – but this never stopped the Mamiye family from remaining devout Jews.

The Mamiye boys made sure to put on tefillinevery morning, and learn whatever they could about Judaism. In fact, they routinely bought live animals to have them slaughtered according to halacha.

Against all Odds

In 1940, the Mamiyes settled in Colorado, where they were constantly penalized for their faith. Hearing anti-Semitic remarks, deafening racial slurs, and even getting mud thrown at them were not uncommon occurrences. Despite the abuse, they continued to practice their faith in Colorado as they always had.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Under these war-time circumstances, the Mamiyes were looked upon as traitors. Between the baseless anti-Semitism already lingering in Colorado and the family’s dealings in Japanese merchandise, feelings of animosity raged. Local residents forced the Mamiyes to leave town only a few weeks before the winter-holiday season, the busiest time for retailers.

Forced to pack up whatever merchandise they were able to carry, the Mamiyes did noteven have enough money for train tickets back to New York. They did, however, have just enough for one-way tickets to San Francisco. There, my grandfather had an aunt, who would host them until they could establish themselves.

Although they arrived with some of their merchandise, they still had no money to establish a retail location in which to sell it. Thankfully, my great grandfather, Elie Mamiye, found a location in Oakland where the landlord agreed to accept the rent money as merchandise sold.

At thetime, the United States held an embargo on Japanese merchandise and my great grandfather was one of the only people in Oakland with Japanese merchandise to sell. Hashem blessed him with tremendous success, as he was able to sell all of the merchandise at considerably higher prices. In time, the Mamiyes were able to establish a successful business in Oakland.

Throughout his high school years in Oakland, Grandpa Jack would divide his day between going to school, working in his father’s store, and practicing gymnastics and fitness. Interestingly, Grandpa was friends with Jack LaLanne the health guru, and
Clint Eastwood.

The United States Navy

In 1948, Grandpa Jack was drafted into the Navy, where he was forced to endure even more anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, nothing could stop my grandfather from practicing his beloved faith. He would put on tefillinevery day while aboard the USS Dixie AD-14, and was once accused of injecting himself with drugs when doing so; his putting on tefillinlooked strange to the crew.He did not eat meat throughout his time in the navy, because kosher meat and poultry were unavailable.

Grandpa was once on kitchen patrol on Thanksgiving Day, when the navy men received a supply of rotten meat for the holiday meal. Most of the ship’s crewfell ill, but because Grandpa Jack did not eat meat, he was not affected. His good health in the face of so much sickness was viewed with suspicion. He was
wrongfully accused and nearly
court-martialed for poisoning the meat! Miraculously, he was able to make his superiors understand the situation, and was not penalized.

While in the navy, Grandpa saved the lives of many of his shipmates.
While loading live ammunition from another ship, the cable transferring the explosives snapped. Jack, who was trained for the Under Water Demolition Team (UDT), jumped overboard in the freezing waters of Korea to keep the explosives from hitting the side of the ship. For his heroic efforts, he was awarded a US Service Medal by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt during the 1956 naval reunion.

A Spiritual Architect

In 1956, Grandpa traveled to Brooklyn to find a wife from our community. He was blessed to find the women of his dreams, Sara Wellman. In the short span of two weeks, he met and married my grandmother and moved back to San Francisco to start a family of his own with her.

After witnessing anti-Semitism, and undergoing so many hardships for practicing Judaism in his early years, Jack Mamiye made it one of his life’s goals to ensure Jews always had a place to pray. He began by giving financial support to the only Sephardic synagogue in San Francisco at the time.

By 1965, Grandpa Jack had five children, a retail store, and an import business. He would often travel tothe Far East, where he would usually stay at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. Even in the hotel, he would always be on the lookout for ten men to start a minyanwith.

One time, while looking for a minyanin the hotel, he met a man whom he invited to pray with him. As they started to pray together, the man dropped to his knees suddenly, chanting “Allahu Akhbar!” My grandfather then realized he confused this Arabic man for a Jew!

Jack realized he couldn’t rely on random men he happened upon for a minyan. It was best to open his office in China so as to ensure there’d be a consistent minyanfor traveling Jews to rely on. Eventually, with the support of other community members, a Rabbi was brought in from Israel to lead their own shul, Kehillat Sion. Till today, the synagogue enjoys the largest minyanim and Shabbat meal attendance in China.

In 1975, my grandfather decided to move back to Brooklyn so that his children could grow up within the community. While living in Deal, New Jersey for the summer, he saw a need for an additional minyan, and opened up his summer home for the purpose., A minyanwas held there every Shabbat and his wife, Sara, would prepare seuda shelishitfor over fifty people every week. The High Holiday services were conducted in his backyard, where they raised money for a new shul. With support from our community members, Ohel Yaacob Congregation, also referred to as the Lawrence Avenue Shul, was born.

Both Jack and Sara Mamiye supported synagogues, Jewishorganizations, and the less-fortunate for their entire lives. Currently, Grandpa Jack and Grandma Sara live in Hallandale, Florida during the winter months, and Deal, New Jersey during
the summer.

Take a Lesson

My grandfather’s devotion to prayer has never faded, andhe is currently the president of the Hemispheres Minyanin his Florida condominium. He helped establish and develop the minyan,which originally consisted of barely ten men and now welcomes over one hundred and twenty people every Shabbat. In the summer months, my grandparents open their apartment in Deal to a minyanevery Friday and Saturday night.

My grandfather is an inspiration to me and so many others. I hope everyone can learn from his example – one founded on prayer, love of Gd and love of his fellow Jew.