Moise Y. Safra, a banker known for his global philanthropy, passed away June 13 in São Paulo, Brazil. He was 79 years old.
One of eight siblings in a prominent family, he was born in Syria to Esther and Jacob E. Safra, who had started a bank bearing the family’s name in Beirut a century ago. The family—and their business—relocated to Brazil in 1952.
Not long afterwards, they met Rabbi Yosef Wineberg, who often traveled to Brazil on behalf of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Throughout the years, they visited the Rebbe in person and received blessings and penetrating advice on many occasions, resulting in a very warm relationship. The Safras became stalwart supporters of the Rebbe’s growing string of Jewish institutions in Brazil and beyond.
“His kindness reached all across the world,” said Rabbi Y. Dovid Weitman, who directs Chabad Beit Chabad Morumbi in São Paulo and is rabbi of the Beit Yaacov Safra synagogue. “In just recent months, he dedicated institutions in Shanghai, China; Montreal, Canada; Montevideo, Uruguay; Monaco; and many more places.”
Safra at the Ohel in Queens, N.Y., with Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, left, and Rabbi Mendy Weitman
“Even though he was involved with political and business leaders, he had an amazing heart and was sensitive to every individual,” said Weitman. “After hosting a head of state for dinner, he could sit down with a poor man and listen to his problems, as if he had all the time in the world.”
“Sure, there are hospitals, universities, yeshivahs and synagogues all over the world that bear his name and the name of his brothers, but there was so much more done discreetly, with no one ever knowing,” continued the rabbi.
Survivors include Safra’s wife, Chella (Cohen); sons Jacob, Edmond and Ezra; daughters Esther and Olga; a brother, Joseph; and three sisters, Huguette, Gaby and Arlette.
At the Ohel with Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Moise and Chella Safra, center, with family members at the dedication of the Bait Ezra Community Center, Chabad of the Town in Montreal, Canada. It was the first institution named by Safra for his father-in-law, Ezra Cohen.
Safra, center, in Shanghai, China, where he dedicated a new mikvah.