A little over two months ago on February 27th, 2018 (the 10th of Nissan), my Grandfather, Rabbi Ephraim Tita (of Blessed Memory) passed away in Jerusalem. I had just flown in to visit him during my Presidents Day weekend break and (within 36 hours of landing back in NYC from Israel and 2 days before Purim), he passed away peacefully in Jerusalem. Upon hearing the news, I immediately returned back to Israel for the Funeral, in which my Grandfather was laid to rest next to my Blessed Grandmother in the Har Hamenuchot cemetery of Jerusalem.
Words cannot express the emotion that I felt, in which my Grandfather was blessed with 98 righteous and fulfilling years on this earth. He was a Rabbi, a successful business professional and Scholar who came from a long dynasty of Rabbis (the Matitiyahu Family) from the Jewish Community of Baghdad. My Grandparents moved to Israel in 1951 and witnessed many of the defining moments of Israel’s History.
During the early years of Israel’s history, an estimated 250,000 Israelis of Iraqi origin came to Israel and set up schools, synagogues and foundations throughout the country to support the community and pass on the rich Babylonian Jewish heritage. The third largest Jewish community in Israel, the Iraqi Jewish community has been actively involved at all levels of Israeli society. Very soon after the community’s mass immigration, 17 percent of all Israeli doctors and 11 percent of all teachers were from Iraq. Since that time, over 30 Iraqi Jews have served in the Knesset.
All of Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbis have come from families with Iraqi origins, including Ovadia Yosef and Mordechai Eliyahu, of whom my Grandfather was very close with. Ten Supreme Court justices, and about 40 judges on other courts, have been of Iraqi descent. When my Grandfather honored the Knesset with his presence over 10 years ago, Dalia Itzik personally thanked him for his visit and asked for his Blessing as she had just been honored with the role of Speaker of the Knesset (the first Iraqi Jewish woman to be given the role).
Ten years ago on Israel’s 60th Anniversary, My Grandfather was asked to say the closing Kaddish prayer for the State of Israel on Mount Herzl with the IDF saluting behind him, all of the Heads of State standing up for him and the whole country watching. I felt this great sense of emotion as I sat behind the heads of state and witnessed my Grandfather saying the Kaddish in my Grandmother’s memory, in which he commemorated both her and all of the Heroes who died ‘Al Kiddush Hashem’ in the history of our Nation.
I vividly remember seeing the IDF standing in solidarity right behind him, reflecting on all of those who have died in times of terror and war throughout our over 3,000 years of Jewish history. In his precious lifetime, he lost his wife (my Grandmother Bertin Tita of Blessed Memory) who was killed ‘Al Kiddush Hashem’ in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem almost 15 years ago and his brother Shimon who fought bravely in Israel’s War of Independence. Throughout it all, he kept his Faith in Hashem and gave strength to all of those around him.
Our family has a Beit Midrash, publishing warehouse and Chesed Organization in Jerusalem that will continue both his and my Grandmother’s Blessed Legacy.
I would like to conclude with a quote from Parshat Kedoshim (my Grandfather’s Birthday Parsha) which states “You must be holy, since I, the Lord your G-d, am holy” (19:1). What one can infer from the scripture is that Holiness is attained through imitating G-d, in imbuing the secular with meaning and purpose. But holiness is also attained through struggle, through trial and error, through sincere effort.
The Midrash teaches that G-d created many worlds and destroyed them before our universe was created. There is never a guarantee of success. But we must keep building, using what lays before us to build higher and higher. That is the path to kedusha. May my Grandfather’s Holy Memory be a blessing for us all as to how to live one’s life with both dignity, honor and respect and may we only merit to celebrate in good health and in good times for many years to come.
Joseph Scutts is a Financial Consultant and Vice President for Santander Bank in New York. He holds an MBA from Long Island University and a Bachelor of Science Degree in business, with honors, from the SY Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University. He has volunteered in the past for ZAKA as President of Young Leadership for North America.
By Joseph Scutts