In Israel today, state officials report there are 669 people registered as being over 110-years-old, but many are skeptical as to the accuracy of this number, some pointing out that back then, record keeping was not what it is today.
Whatever the case may be, one of these senior citizens is reportedly Chacham Zechariah Barashi, born in Kurdistan and who recently celebrated his 111th birthday. What is truly amazing is that despite his advanced years, Zechariah continues learning and writing, pushing ahead with his seforim on the Zohar. He is a resident of the Baka neighborhood of Yerushalayim.
Chacham Zechariah was visited and interviewed in his home this week by a member of the Kikar Shabbat staff. Following are some of the highlights of that report.
ZECHARIAH: What do you do for a living?
KS: I am a journalist.
ZECHARIAH: I am looking for work. They say there is a recession and it appears that is the reason I cannot find work. If only I could work as you do [he stated with a bit of a visible smile].
I was born in 1900 in Kurdistan, at the start of the 20th Century, way before both world wars, before the space program, and before many historic events of the 20th Century.
I was born in a small village called Barashi, living with my expanded family. It was a small village in Iraqi Kurdistan. My father sent me to learn Torah, and when I reached adulthood I was compelled to begin working. Father was in the carpet weaving business as well as textiles, and I learned the trade which permitted me to earn a livelihood as well.
As I grew older, already married with a number of children, I decided it is time to see Yerushalayim, close up. For years I dreamed about Yerushalayim. The name alone made me emotional. I very much wanted to get there, that holy place – so I decided to work harder towards making my way to the land of our fathers.
In those days, I knew everyone in our community, all longing to get to Yerushalayim. Today, it’s a different story. I no longer can say I know the entire community. It was a different time when I began working towards making my way to the holy city. I was 34. The Zionist establishment already existed and efforts were underway to assist new immigrants. The British were in control then, and they were beginning to close their gates. To make aliyah was tantamount to the splitting of the Red Sea.
I filled out the appropriate forms but I never received a response. If not for the Jewish Agency at the time I would not have made it here. I sent letters to the British Consulate, but a response never arrived. I explained that I have family in Israel and the law made provisions for uniting families. As such I stated I am entitled to come, requesting a passport. They played with my head. ‘Come tomorrow’ they would say, or ‘in two days’, and this continued for two years.
Through a chain of events, Dr. Moshe Zamura of the Jewish Agency arrived in Kurdistan in 1936. He actually came to our village. The local rav, who was already in his 90s, escorted the prestigious guest. Because the rav only knew our local language, a dialect of Aramaic, communicating with the doctor was difficult. They called me since I was able to communicate, and I used the opportunity to explain how I yearned to come to Israel. Dr. Zamura promised he would work to assist me.
A number of months passed and then it came, the passport notification. Dr. Zamura was true to his word. He looked out for me. I then went to the British Consulate again to begin moving things along. I requested that I and a number of others receive the passports. I was told they are in Baghdad. We traveled to there to get the passports. I remember that day like it was today. It was extremely hot, a most memorable day.
It occurred. We received the permit to leave Iraq and enter Israel – then the family journey began. I will not detail more because there is not enough space on a pages to describe the details of what occurred. We left in very old vehicles, making our way to Eretz Yisrael. Our first stop was in Damascus, and from there, the gates of Eretz Yisrael.
Upon our arrival at the Syrian-Israel border we encountered a problem. Not all the children were listed in the passports. We carried a two-day-old infant as well, born en route. They insisted that we return to the British Consulate in Damascus. I told him this is not going to happen. There is no way that we are not entering into Eretz Yisrael. After an exchange of words, we found ourselves in a Haifa consulate where the necessary bureaucratic affairs were to be addressed. They are waiting for me to return there to this day.
When we finally crossed the border and arrived in Yerushalayim the tiresome journey came to an end. I cannot explain the joy that we felt. For the past 75 years, I have merited to live in Yerushalayim! I began working in the construction and with time, I began giving drashas in shuls, and little by little, I began doing so around the country.
KS: Two of Chacham Barashi’s children have already died, at an old age, and for the most part, he is constantly surrounded by children and subsequent generations.
One cannot help but noticing the impressive amount of seforim in his home, some bearing the name ‘Yalkut Barashi’. I ask just what this sefer is and I am told these are seforim that he wrote, based on seforim of Gedolei Yisrael, many from the great Sephardim of previous generations. The seforim also include a commentary on Zohar he explained, as well as ‘divrei musar’.
It is truly amazing to see such a person. He is more-or-less independent, and the only visible sign of his age may be the hearing aid. He does not rely on modern-day technology, and admits to a visual handicap, which is why he asked for children to be around constantly, towards assisting him getting around due to his limited vision. “I try not to bother them” he explains, speaking of his youngest daughter, who is almost 70.
She explains that her father is having difficulty completing his 5th sefer due to his visual handicap, but he continues working, unwilling to give up.
Prior to leaving we had to ask the obvious. To what do you contribute your longevity?
ZECHARIAH: There are three things that hasten death – jealousy, hate and competitiveness. This is simply the way I see it. It’s simple. If one is constantly preoccupied with envying others, speaking about others or competing with others, he hastens his own death.
I can say that for myself B”H, I do not have these problems.
The next thing is the Biblical command, to honor one’s parents, which we know lengthens our own lives. My entire life I did my utmost to honor my parents. HaKadosh Baruch Hu rewarded me with longevity. This applies even if one if non religious! Even one who does not believe in the Torah! I meet with many non-frum Yidden and some do not even believe in Hashem. At least they say they do not. But when you probe deeper, get to the truth, you see the Torah is eternal.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)