By: Fern Sidman
Despite the onerous challenges that the Sephardic communities of Brooklyn and Deal, New Jersey have navigated over the past year, somehow, with Hashem’s help they have risen to the occasion and prevailed. On Thursday, however, the entire community was once again rocked to the core upon learning of the profoundly sad passing of one its most beloved charter members.
Albert “Bero” Chehebar, zt’l, 78, was not only a founding member of the proud and glorious Sephardic community of Brooklyn but the role he played in shaping it into what it is today was tremendously impactful.
Having arrived in America at age 14 from Egypt, Albert’s legacy is one of unwavering faith in Hashem and pure determination to succeed despite the odds. Thanks to a special bill in Congress that was passed in the 1950s that would allow for Egyptian Jewish boys to come to the United States for the purposes of furthering their Jewish education in yeshivot and day schools, Albert was taken along with 14 other boys from his town in Egypt to the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn where they could look forward to a life of Torah immersion under the instruction and loving guidance of prominent rabbonim in the yeshiva world.
Because the congressional bill mandated that all boys coming to the United States must be at least 16 years of age, Albert did not qualify as he was only 14. The rabbi in charge of bringing the boys to New York was the late Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, HaGaon Harav Avraham Kalmnovitch, zt’l. When Albert’s father, Gabriel , zt’l, appealed to Rabbi Kalmnovitch to take his son Albert despite his age because he wanted a better life for his beloved son, Gabriel made a pledge that he would do anything to help him and the yeshiva to thrive in the future. Because Rabbi Kalmnovitch saw how much it meant to the elder Chehebar and how much he loved his son, he could not refuse his request. Somehow, he managed to get him through customs and towards his safe arrival in Brooklyn.
The year was 1957 and young Albert dedicated himself to his Torah study as he continued to carve out a life as a true Eved Elokim; clinging to Hashem and his Jewish heritage. In 1958, Albert’s father Gabriel, along with his mother and four siblings were able to migrate to Cuba. Two years later in 1960, the Chehebar family were once again reunited in Brooklyn.
Over the subsequent decades, Gabriel Chehebar, of blessed memory, not only fulfilled his promise to Rabbi Kalmanovitch by providing substantial financial assistance to the struggling Mir Yeshiva but became a highly esteemed member of the group of yeshiva supporters.
One need only look at the Mir Yeshiva building on Ocean Parkway to see the names of the Chehebar family on it as proud and exceptionally generous benefactors of this historic yeshiva that has produced a wealth of talmidei chochomin.
After leaving the yeshiva, Albert took a summer resort job in upstate New York and his objective was to work hard and save money to help his family and his community. Because Albert maintained an absolutely superlative work ethic throughout the course of his life, he was known as a man “who never stopped working” and thusly, he was richly blessed by Hashem who granted him the ability to become a humble philanthropist who helped everyone in need.
“My brother never, ever, turned anyone down who was experiencing financial challenges, “ said Giselle Habert, Albert’s sister.
After his stint at the summer resort, Albert opened a ladies wear store on Nassau Street in lower Manhattan. When his family arrived, Albert joined his father and brothers in yet another business venture. The Chehebars opened another store in Old Orchard Beach in Maine while simultaneously managing the Nassau Street store.
Having acquired a unique business acumen and a vast amount of knowledge about entrepreneurship, Albert was now considered a seasoned merchant. It was then that he decided to open a wholesale business called “Skiva” which was an importer of sportswear. This new business required that Albert travel to such far off venues as Taiwan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt, among other countries. While it was difficult for Albert to be apart from his beloved family for weeks and sometimes months, he knew that all that he was accomplishing was for them and those in his community.
Although these were tough times for Albert and the trips were quite arduous, he always derived tremendous gratification from what he was doing as he graciously shared his bounty with anyone who needed help.
In 1982, Albert and his family purchased the Rainbow Shops chain of women’s clothing stores from the Swarzman family who had founded it in 1935 in New York City. Today, along with sister brands 5-7-9 and Marianne, Rainbow operates 1,300 stores in United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Rainbow’s holding company, A.I.J.J. Enterprises Inc., purchased the 5-7-9 brand in 1999 from the bankrupt Edison Brothers Stores. It’s operated through a company division named The New 5-7-9 and Beyond, Inc.
As Albert’s reputation grew as a quiet, humble and “behind the scenes” contributor to a wide variety of charities, organizations and individuals, he and his family initiated the creation of the Chehebar Family Foundation. It is through this charitable foundation that the Chehebar family donated substantial sums of money to the Mir Yeshiva and hundreds of other religious organizations, schools and hospitals.
Albert’s sister Giselle and her husband Raymond said that in addition, Albert donated to organizations that were dedicated to educating autistic children, special needs children and families who were in dire need of help.
Moreover, Albert was a proud founder and constant sponsor of the Ahava V’Achva synagogue on Ocean Parkway that is known for maintaining and preserving the religious traditions of Egyptian Jewry.
“What I will always remember about my dear brother Albert was his enormous hospitality. He always looked forward to hosting family and friends in his home. He really loved entertaining his guests and relished in a lovely day spent with them, “ said Giselle.
Albert Chehebar, of blessed memory, was interred at the Har HaZeitim cemetery in Jerusalem, Israel. He is survived by his wife, Joyce Chehebar and their children Gabby, Eddie, Marcy Franco, Michael and Jojo. He is also survived by his sister Giselle and brother-in-law Raymond Habert as well his brothers, Isaac “Zako”, Jack “Jouky” and JoJo. His beloved father was the late Gabriel Chehebar, of blessed memory and his mother is Marcelle.
This kindly, generous and loving man will be sorely missed by his family, his community and everyone who had the honor and distinct privilege of knowing him.
May Albert’s memory be for a blessing and may Hashem comfort his family amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.