The giant menorah stood proudly overlooking the pool at the plush Raffles Hotel in the bustling heart of the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Facing the crowd of well-wishers stood the who’s who of the royal family, guests from around the world and an Israeli-born Chabad rabbi.

They were there to celebrate the belated bat mitzvah of Elior Koroghli of Las Vegas. Her father, Ray (Rahamim), is a Persian Jew, and her mother Susie (Sarah Bracha) is the Washington, D.C.-born granddaughter of HM King Monivong, who ruled Cambodia until his death in 1941.

Elior’s bat mitzvah was the first Jewish milestone ever celebrated by the Cambodian royal family, and the first time many of the royals ever tasted food from a kosher kitchen, catered by Chabad of Cambodia, which was founded by Rabbi Bentzion and Mashie Butman in 2009.

The Koroghli family and friends celebrated Elior's actual bat mitzvah in their home town of Las Vegas when Elior turned 12 on the fifth night of Chanukah a year ago.

The celebration in Cambodia this year was the brainchild of Susie Koroghli, who wanted her children, who live a full Jewish life in Las Vegas, to also know of their royal roots, and also took place on Chanukah, closer to Elior's 13th birthday. Literally a party for the books, the event will be chronicled in the Royal Palace Record Book.

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The bat mitzvah party was highlighted by the kindling of a large menorah, speeches emphasizing the beauty and depth of Judaism and gratitude to G‑d, and lots of kosher food. It was an opportunity to educate those gathered about how when a Jewish girl turns 12, the day of her bat mitzvah, she obtains all the rights and obligations of a Jewish adult, including the commandments of the Torah, and how from that date, she takes her place in the Jewish community.

Before the menorah was lit, Rabbi Butman set the tone by speaking of the spiritual elements of the events leading up to the Chanukah celebration and how the flames of Chanukah shines through those who choose light over darkness and good over evil. After the party, the family met the current ruler, HM King Norodom Sihamoni, and the queen mother, HM Norodom Monineath.

The celebration continued on Shabbat at the Chabad House. When the entourage walked to and from the synagogue, they were escorted by an honor guard.

To cater for the event, Chabad invited Chef Kobi Mizrahi, who “took over” the kitchen and guided Chabad’s staff in creating meals that were truly “fit for a king.” In addition, some of the kosher food was prepared in the hotel kitchen under Susie’s watchful eye.

The bat mitzvah girl in traditional Cambodian dress. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
The bat mitzvah girl in traditional Cambodian dress. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)

No stranger to preparing meals for large crowds, she and her husband often host as many as 30 guests for a Shabbat meal and many more for Jewish holidays, including 120 that cram their giant sukkah and as many as 300 who attend the Purim party she throws every year.

“She lights up the room wherever she goes,” explains her husband with pride. “People are just drawn to her and are fascinated by her knowledge of Judaism, as well as her actions.”

Susie Koroghli’s journey to Judaism is an unlikely one. Her father, Thay Sok, served as a Cambodian diplomat to the United States, and Susie (known as Sathsowi Thay in Cambodian) grew up in a Buddhist home.

She met Ray, who had left Iran to study in America and never returned home due to the 1979 revolution.

A Life-Transforming Class

Elior's grandmother, center, is the daughter of King Monivong, who ruled Cambodia until his death in 1941. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
Elior's grandmother, center, is the daughter of King Monivong, who ruled Cambodia until his death in 1941. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)

Once, while waiting for Ray at Chabad of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, she happened to hear a Torah class by Rabbi Shea Harlig. She was enthralled by what she encountered and insisted that they return. Thus began a journey of self-discovery that resulted in conversion to Judaism.

The couple lives with their three children in Las Vegas, where they form an integral part of the Chabad of Henderson community.

Although she was a member of the royal family, raised with the formalities and expectations of a granddaughter of a king, she never visited Cambodia until 2012, when she represented her mother, HRH Sisowath Neary Bong Nga, at the funeral of late king HM Norodom Sihanouk.

It was only then, she says, that she realized that the stories she had been raised on were real—she was truly the child of royalty.

When asked if his wife, a leader in her Jewish community, was technically a Cambodian princess, Ray deflected, saying, “I call her my queen.”

Elior with her parents, Ray and Susie Koroghli, and her brothers at a Chanukah menorah-lighting during the celebration. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
Elior with her parents, Ray and Susie Koroghli, and her brothers at a Chanukah menorah-lighting during the celebration. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
Elior had a formal bat mitzvah in her home town of Las Vegas when she turned 12 a year ago. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
Elior had a formal bat mitzvah in her home town of Las Vegas when she turned 12 a year ago. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
Elior’s bat mitzvah was the first Jewish milestone ever celebrated by the Cambodian royal family and the first time many of the royals ever tasted food from a kosher kitchen. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
Elior’s bat mitzvah was the first Jewish milestone ever celebrated by the Cambodian royal family and the first time many of the royals ever tasted food from a kosher kitchen. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
Elior's family are mainstays of the Las Vegas Jewish community. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)
Elior's family are mainstays of the Las Vegas Jewish community. (Photo: Kang Predi/Teh Ranie)