November 29, 2007
Leven has a special bond with the Jews of Iran
If you ask your average Iranian Jew in the U.S., Europe or Iran who Hubert Leven is, they wouldn’t have a clue. However, his family’s generosity to the Jews of Iran more than a century ago significantly transformed the fabric of our once isolated community. At the turn of the 20th century when Iran’s Jews lived in extreme poverty and persecution by the Muslim majority, the
Fortunately, Leven has been able to reconnect with our community in Los Angeles as his new non-profit organization is seeking to help the less fortunate in Israel. This week my piece in L.A. Jewish Journal gives some insight into his meeting and the following is an excerpt of my interview with Leven:
Can you share with us a little about your great-grandfather and the work of those who helped established the AIU?
My great-grandfather’s Narcisse Leven was part of a group of seven who established the AIU in 1860 and also served as their President. This group of founders were very much influenced by the liberal and humanistic ideals of the 1848 French Revolution one of the achievements of this revolution was the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. Adolphe Cremieux, one of the founding members of AIU served as Minister of Justice and gave French citizenship to all the Jews of Algeria. The AIU also provided a platform for French Ashkenazi Jews to reach out to their Sephardic brothers who did not benefit from the Enlightenment which advanced civilization in general and to the French Jews in particular. The Hebrew name of AIU in Israel is Kol Israel Haverim or “all Jews are friends/brothers”.
Why has your family had such a dedication to Jewish philanthropic work?
Narcisse Leven was not wealthy, he gave his time, competence and dedication to the cause. He also transmitted a sense of responsibility and duty towards to his son Georges and who in turn passed it on to his children. Philanthropy is to a large extent an element of culture, a way of life and if you are immersed in it from an early age, it becomes almost genetic. Gustave Leven, my father’s younger brother made a significant fortune and wholeheartedly believed that it would be put to much better use if invested in the future of the Jewish people rather than in making a few wealthy heirs—a philosophy that I fully share. Because of Gustave’s philosophy our family has been privileged to establish the Rashi Foundation and continued its extensive support to AIU.
Are you aware of the extent to which the AIU’s schools have substantially benefited Iranian Jewry?
Of course I am aware and proud. And especially when you remember what the AIU did in Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, etc. Let alone those in central Europe and Russia by allowing thousands to flee the pogroms for the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, etc.
The remainder of my interview with Leven can be found at the: Iranian Jewish Chronicle Magazine.