Kurdish-born Rabbi Zecharia Barashi, widely believed to be Israel’s oldest citizen, passed away in his Jerusalem home on Monday. Israel’s Interior Ministry had him registered as being born in 1900, and Hebrew media reports of his death gave his age as 117. When officials from the Guinness Book of Records attempted to determine who was Israel’s oldest citizen several years ago, however, Barashi was deemed ineligible because he did not have the original documentation they required.
Barashi was born to a rabbinic family in Iraqi Kurdistan. He immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1936 with his wife and their three young children. Barashi initially earned a living as a construction worker, though he would also regularly deliver sermons in his local Kurdish synagogue in Jerusalem.
After the influx of immigrants to Israel in the 1950s, Barashi began to visit Iraqi and Kurdish communities to attend to their spiritual needs. He often encouraged the new immigrants to preserve their Kurdish identity and customs.
Barashi was among the founders of the National Association of Kurdish Jews in Israel, a publisher of a journal on Jewish-Kurdish affairs, and worked for years in the Jerusalem Municipality’s Education Department.
He was widely accepted in Israel as being the country’s oldest living Jew, Kurd and resident.
Barashi, who lived in the Baka neighborhood, is survived by 29 grandchildren, 72 great-grandchildren and 24 great-great-grandchildren. He was buried Monday evening in Jerusalem.