Journal of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center
No.14, Autumn 2003



 

JEWS OF IRAQ IN RECENT GENERATIONS

THE OZAIR FAMILY TREE

Victor Ozair M. Sc., Los Angeles

The family tree with its biographical information is considered an important historical book, where a lot of information about the family is exposed.

 

I have been working for several years on the Ozair ( Ezeir ) family tree. Within the scope of this work I have accomplished the following: meeting with old relatives, talking with families who lived in Iraq near the Ozairs, obtaining names from the old Ottoman government files of those called Ozair who paid poll-tax to avoid military service, calling the Ozairs who are listed in the telephone book and those who reside in other countries, attending the yearly conference of the Jewish Genealogical Society, as well as reading books on genealogy, which might mention the Ozairs. With the information that I have collected in this manner, I was able to go back in time to 1720-1750. However, based on the oral tradition of the elders of the family, the Ozairs are descendants of the prophet Ezra the Scribe or Ezra Hasofer, who died on his return from Jerusalem to Babylon around the year 385 BC. He was buried in a village by  the Tigris River named Ezeir. The prophet Ezra Hasofer was nicknamed Ezeir by the Jews of Iraq. The location of his grave is also known by the name Ezeir.

 

Since the Islamic occupation of Iraq in about 675AD, this country has been invaded many times by foreign armies. Each time, the invasion brought havoc to the Jewish people and forced them to escape to neighboring countries in order to save themselves from religious prosecution and death. When the Mongols, in 1258, led by Holako Khan, the grandson of Gengis Khan, occupied and destroyed Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Empire, they killed the Caliph Al Mustasem-Billah and put an end to the Abbasid Caliphate 750-1258. The Mongols treated the Jews well in the beginning and installed in 1284 the Jewish Saad Al Dawla as a governor of Baghdad. Saad Al Dawla was also the physician of Argun Khan, the grandson of Holako Khan. With the death of Argun Khan, the Mongols killed Saad Al Dawla, as they blamed him for the death of their leader. After the assassination of Saad Al Dawla the hostility and religious intolerance toward the Jews from both the Muslim population and the Mongol army increased considerably.

Consequently, in order to escape this intolerable oppression, numerous Jews including many Ozair families fled to Egypt and North Africa, then to Andalusia in Spain.

On many tombstones in old churches in Andalusia and in other cities in Northern Spain the name Oxair is written (the letter z was changed to x in order to adapt the name to the Spanish pronunciation at that time). During my graduate work in Nuclear Engineering in England in 1956, I met an English Christian engineer, who was working in the General Electric Company in Coventry, England. His family name was Oxair (also written Oxare). He told me that he was interested in genealogy and that he had made enough research to substantiate that the Oxairs originated from the Middle East. He said that many Oxair families live in England, Spain, and other parts of Europe.

 

I presume that the presence of Christian Oxairs in Europe is due to the fact that during the Spanish Inquisition some Ozairs were forced to embrace Christianity; however many others fled through France and Holland to Eastern Europe. Those Ozairs, who reached Eastern Europe, were absorbed into Ashkanazi society. Thus, when a multitude of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe came to Israel in the fifties, I was taken by surprise to meet among them many Ozairs. One of them was a young man studying engineering at the Technion a year after my graduation from that Institute. One day I approached him to say that we have the same family name and how happy I was to meet another Ozair studying at the Technion. He looked at me with condescension as if it was beneath his dignity to have any relations with me. His manner  revealed without doubt, his country's attitude of discrimination and prejudice directed, then, towards the Jews from Arab lands.                                                

 

Consequent upon my studies on the Ozairs, I have made notes on the following observations:

 

1. Traits and Features

The physical and facial appearance of the Ozairs, including many of those Europeans, is representative of the general features of the Iraqi Jews. They are white-skinned with black or dark brown hair, while some have a fair complexion. However, there is one branch of the family, where the members are red-haired, (this is how Jews were described in pre-Islamic poetry). This trait was present among the last three generations of that branch.

 

2. Countries of residence

Most of Ozair families live in Israel. However there are Ozairs, who reside in England, New York, Los Angeles, India, Persia, Hong Kong, Australia and other parts of Europe.

 

3. Professional Activities

The family tree records diverse occupations associated with the Ozairs. There are members of collective farms (moshav), who live in Israel growing fruit, vegetables and raising  cattle as Mr. Shaul Ozair and his brothers do; there are doctors such as Dr. David Ozair in Tsfat. There are university professors such as Prof. Edmond Ezra Ozair in Naharya. There are lawyers such as Mr. Rony Saleh Ozair and Mr. Leeor Edmond Ozair in Tel-Aviv.  In the financial field my son Danny Ozair holds the position of director of financial analysis here in Los Angeles. There are pharmacists, engineers, scientists, merchants, accountants and officers in the Israeli Army. My father, the late Nessim Shaul Ozair, was a prominent, high ranking officer in the Iraqi police responsible for the passport office on the Iraqi-Persian border. There are musicians, such as the late Jamil Saleh Ozair. There are Rabbis such as Rabbi Rafael Guy the son of Hanna Menashe Ozair in Los Angeles. There are poets such as Mr. Yosi Ozair, who wrote a poetic collection called Silan Tahor. There are industrialists such as Mr. Jacob Ozair and sons, who manage instrument factories in Hong Kong, China and Israel and Mr. David Nissan the son of Salima Daood Ezeir, owner of factories in Israel manufacturing mechanical products for aircraft, civil and defense industries. In the advertising field, in England, the distinguished Lord Maurice Saatchi, the son of Daisy Saleh Ozair ( Ezeir ). Lord Saatchi was elevated to the rank of nobility by Queen Elisabeth in 1996. According to the family tree, Daisy's grandfather and my father's grandfather were brothers. These two grandfathers had a brother Rabbi Ezra Ezeir, who was the head of the Jewish Community in Basrah around 1850.

 

4. National Service of Distinction

Numerous members of the Ozair families have honorably fulfilled their duties in the defense of Israel. They have been serving in the Israeli Army with distinction. The writer of this article has completed his three years military service as an officer in the navy. Some of these Ozairs fell on the altar of various Israeli battles.

The late Maurice the son of Hanini Yosef Ozair fell in the war of Israeli Independence in 1948, The late Yosef the son of Ezra Yosef Ozair fell in the war of Hatasha in 1970. The late Yaacov the son of Moshe Yaacov Ozair fell in the war of Yom Hakipurim in 1973.

The late Daood Eliahu Ezeir (Ozair) was killed in a street of Baghdad by a fanatical Arab in 1936. He was one of several victims to give his life for being a Jew and a Zionist following the Arab uprising against the Jewish population in the Holy Land at that time. The attack on the late Daood was described in the newspaper Davar in Tel-Aviv on October 18,1936.  (The name in Davar was printed in error as Daood Yehuda Ezeir).

 

The enmity, disdain and hostility towards the Jews in Iraq continued after 1936 and it climaxed in the Farhud, the pogrom against the Jews of June 1941 (Refer to Nehardea No.11 of Nov.98, Kuchat Yahya Alaaraj, page17). During this pogrom, organized fanatical Arab groups, incited by Nazi propaganda, attacked the peaceful Jewish population, celebrating the feast of Hag Hashavuot, in their homes, in the streets and buses, killing and wounding hundreds of Jews. After the Farhud several Ozair families hurt, humiliated and embittered by these barbaric acts of the Muslims, moved to Iran, India, Europe and Israel. In 1942, my uncle Abraham Hoorine (mother's side) fled to Israel taking the desert route through Jordan. He reached Kibbutz Beit Hashita where he stayed for a year. Then he volunteered for the Jewish Brigade (a brigade of Jewish soldiers from Eretz Yisrael attached to the British army to fight against Germany in the Second World War). I can remember my intense pride, during his visits to his family in Baghdad in 1943, 1944, and 1945, when  he walked through El- Rashid Street wearing his military uniform as a Jewish army officer and bearing the insignia on his shoulders with the inscription of "The Jewish Brigade".

 

  Mr. Victor Ozair

 

The late Heskel Saleh Ezra Ezeir (Ozair), the brother of the late Rabbi Ezra Ezeir, a rich merchant, was living in Basra in 1860 in a typically Iraqi house with his wife and five children, Shaul (my grand father), Menashe, Yosef, Masuda and Salman.  The house had a large open square in the center surrounded by two stories of rooms and a flat roof above. This flat roof was used as a sleeping area during the hot summer season. One day, that year, two Muslim hoodlums broke into the house in order to kidnap their beautiful teenage daughter Masuda. Similar ugly, savage attacks happened sometimes, to young beautiful Jewish girls, who were kidnapped, raped, then either killed or forced into Islam to marry those Muslim criminals. Masuda was then upstairs with her father Heskel and her baby brother Salman. One gangster went upstairs but was stopped by Heskel. A fight took place and Heskel was stabbed in the heart. Before fleeing the gangster took the baby  in anger and threw him onto the first floor. It was a miracle that the other gangster caught the baby and left him crying where he fell. Heskel died an hour later.

Salman grew up to become a successful merchant. He has two sons: Heskel and Saleh, who have specialized in wireless telecommunication, and in radio and television engineering. Their children have succeeded in the scientific, business and law echelons in Israeli society, to provide fruitful and important accomplishments.  

 

It was customary for Iraqi Jews who visit another city to stay with a Jewish family or a relative during their visit. Their trip used to start first with a prayer in the synagogue, where they met coreligionists and made acquaintances. During my research work on the family tree I was told that in 1912 my grandfather the late Shaul Heskel Ozair with his son Nessim, my father, traveled from Basra to Baghdad, where they stayed for few days with the family of Sion Ozair and his son Nessim.

 

In 1996, I was fortunate to meet with Mr. Nessim Sion Ozair, 96 years old, at his daughter's house (Shoshanna Pereg) in Ramat Gan. Shoshanna had written previously to me in response to my article published in the Scribe about the Ozair family tree. I found Mr. Nessim Ozair a very intelligent person, alert, with a sharp memory and a strong ability to recollect events. He recalled the visit of my father and my grandfather at his home in Baghdad. He gave me some very interesting, rich information and impressions from that distant past about my father and the life in Baghdad at that time under the Ottoman regime.

 

Two Ozair families have been living in Nahariya for the last thirty years. Each family has a member by the name of Edmon Ozair. The two families never met, but now and again their mail crossed and arrived at the wrong address. These families had been strangers to each other. During my visit to Israel in May 1999, I met both families and showed them the family tree. Their names were mentioned in the tree and they were indeed relatives, distant cousins. Each family was so happy to find, so unexpectedly, relatives living nearby.

 

Two years ago, during my work on the family tree, I called Mr. Jacob Ezra Ozair in Hong Kong. Mr. Ozair told me that his son Ezra was managing a new plant manufacturing instruments, that he had established in Israel: also that he was interested in getting married. Perusing the family tree I located a beautiful educated young lady, the daughter of Mr. Meir Heskel Ozair. A  few  days later their son Ezra met this beautiful young lady and happily they fell in love. They got married on Feb. 8, 2000.

 

Through my several contacts with the Ozairs, I found out that they were hard-working, with a warm temperament, of good character, friendly and hospitable. They have a happy, optimistic view of life and are proud of their heritage. There are other good and respected families bearing similar names such as Abd el Ezair, Ben Ozair, Azar, Eizer, (The late Salem Saleh Eizer was Brigadier General in the Iraqi Army). As far as I know, these families are not related to the Ozairs.

 

An informative "family tree" ought to show the names of the family members and the city of residence as well as several aspects of their personal lives such as their date of birth, social activities, professional achievement, successes and failures. If the person is dead, then it should provide the date and the cause of death. The tree should demonstrate important historical events, such as what might have happened to them since. In addition it should provide us with a treasure of information in the genetic area, such as susceptibility to diseases and inherited traits and characteristics.

 

The research work on the family tree generates social contacts with other family members, develops new friends and reinforces relationships with distant relatives. The tree motivates the young with a sense of pride to learn about those relatives and ancestors who have succeeded in offering positive services to their communities. Thus, the tree might inspire them to reveal colorful vistas toward a successful and enlightened future.