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Article: Flora of Bombay

פלורה מבומביי

Flora of Bombay

Rachel Misrati

"Great Scholar, Hostess, and Woman of Business. Mrs. Flora Sassoon Dead,” announced the London Evening Standard on January 14, 1936. “A noble and sainted mother…no words can adequately do justice to her personality and mentality,” wrote her daughter, Lady Rachel Ezra. “A first-class Hebraist” was how Rev. Singer, president of the Jews’ College Literary Society, introduced her when she became the first woman to preside over one of their meetings. “Her house was full of men of great affairs and half a dozen eminent scholars…her charity and her hospitality were great,” reported her son, David.

Who was this extraordinary woman, heralded by family, friends, and important public figures in such terms?

Flora Sassoon (1859–1936) was the wife of Solomon Sassoon, whose father, David, had moved from Baghdad to Bombay in the eighteenth century. There he established the Sassoon family’s commercial empire with its major centers in Iraq, India, China, and England – each headed by one of his sons. By the eighteenth century, the Sephardi “Rothschilds of the East” were already among the world’s wealthiest families.

Solomon ran the business in Bombay until his death in 1894 when he was succeeded by Flora. A prominent businesswoman, she divided her time between India and England in her search for the best medical treatment for her chronically ill daughter, Mozelle. She settled permanently in London in 1911. Flora moved in the highest circles of Indian, Anglo-Jewish, and English societies as a patron, philanthropist, and society hostess. She was a learned Jewish scholar, kept a traditional Jewish household, and corresponded with the renowned Sephardi Hakham Joseph Hayyim, known as the Ben Ish Hai. After her death in 1936, she was reburied in the Sephardi cemetery on the Mount of Olives in 1947 in a ceremony that was attended by both chief rabbis and many other prominent personalities.

Flora Sassoon was an exceptional woman of her time. Annie Landau, head of the Evelina de Rothschild School in Jerusalem, expressed these sentiments in a letter during Flora’s visit to Palestine in 1925: “From when I was a young girl beginning to study you were spoken of in our home as the Jewess whose wit, learning and heart it would be a privilege to try to emulate.”

The exciting story of Flora and the transnational Sassoon family can be traced over hundreds of years in the thousands of documents, photographs, newspaper cuttings, and letters written by numerous generations in the fascinating and richly diverse Sassoon Family Archive.