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The Sassoon family saga: The Israeli phase

CM 22/04/2021

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 J.Sassoon Group is currently launching its business in Israel, it is a continuation of one of the oldest investments and financial houses in the world, owned by one of the oldest families in the world, a Jewish family with roots dating back to the ancient Kingdom of Israel. The documented modern history of the Sassoon family begins in the early 11th century in Spain. The family’s name was then known as “Ibn Shoshan,” and over time it evolved into the modern version “Sassoon.” In the 12th century, the Sassoon family established a trading and banking institution in Toledo, Spain. When the family was expelled during the Inquisition, it rooted itself in Thessaloniki, Greece, and laid the foundations for its business activities in the country. In 1523, Moshe Sassoon founded Sassoon Frères & Co., a trading house in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The company also served as a merchant bank and it established trading posts in the Middle East, India, China, Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil.

“The Rothschilds of the East”

The more famous branch of the family is the Baghdad-Mumbai-British branch, of which David Sassoon is considered the patriarch and often referred to as “the Rothschilds of the East,” reflecting the marital ties between the two families and, whose descendants can today mainly be found in Britain. David’s younger brother Joseph married into the Dayan family from Aleppo, Syria. Whilst the Aleppo-Cairo-USA branch is lesser known since the 18th century its wealth far exceeded that of their British cousins and surpassing the wealth of the Rothschilds. Today, descendants of the Aleppo branches of this Sephardic dynasty are spread across six continents and run a long list of businesses, and are involved in various fields such as science, technology, banking and even politics. 
In 1840, Joseph Sassoon took over Sassoon Frères & Co., and rebranded the company as The Sassoon Merchant House, establishing a trading business in Aleppo. Joseph expanded trade to Africa, South America, and the United States, hence establishing the foundation for the American branch of the Sassoon family. In 1858, Joseph Sassoon was one of the first investors to take part in financing the construction of the Suez Canal. Joseph’s family branch attributes their success to a balance between maintaining Jewish values and business activity, in accordance with the Sephardic-Jewish traditions on which the patriarch and his descendants were all educated, emphasizing charity, social justice and Tikkun Olam.
In 1921, the company was consolidated and relaunched as Sassoon & Co and the head office moved from Aleppo to Cairo. In 1952, the firm was among one of the first investors and founders of Banque du Caire (Bank of Cairo), which was nationalized in 1959 by the government. In 1965, after the expulsion of the Jewish community from Egypt by Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sassoon & Co relocated to the US. In 2010, after the death of the chairman, Eliyahu Nissim Sassoon the company ceased operations. In 2020, David E. Sassoon, Eliayhu’s grandson was appointed Chairman of the board and he reinvigorates the company with his passion and vision rebranding it as J. Sassoon Group, in honor and as a tribute to the patriarch of the Aleppo Sassoons.

The family’s philosophy remained resolute.

J. Sassoon Group has already invested in Israeli technology firms and ideas, such as 3D printing technologies and continues to explore other opportunities. In an interview with Menahalim magazine, the group’s CEO, Bruce Fein, promises that the J. Sassoon Group has ambitious investment plans in Israel.

“The business environment changes, and with it the group’s business goals and models, but the desire and aim to do mitzvot, giving charity and acquiring wisdom, knowledge and understanding will always remain steadfast in the Sassoon family,” says Fein. “In this sense, the family philosophy has not changed. Technology has changed, but our principles have not. When you look at us as a business that has existed in one form or another since 1495 to the present day – we have developed a lot of knowledge and understanding that helps us navigate the world.”
Fein came to the group from a very accomplished and highly distinguished legal career. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he traveled to Washington, where he worked as a prosecutor in the Justice Department at a decisive time in US history. The Watergate scandal broke, and Fein was called upon to help. “It was crazy,” he recalls. “I was only 25 and here I was working in the most important place in the world. I would often go to the White House where part of my job was to investigate allegations against the US president. That was my job, to explore and challenge the most powerful man in the world. It was a unique experience that provided me with the understanding and ability to never be blinded by power and authority.”
Later, Fein was promoted to Associate Deputy Attorney General during the Reagan administration. He continued to advance and was appointed General Counsel for the Federal Communications Commission. His expertise in constitutional and international law brought him to serve as a constitutional law advisor to many countries including Russia, South Africa and South Korea. “I taught constitutional law and ethics at university, I am also the master trustee and general counsel for the Sassoon Family Continuation Trust. For me this is a great honor. This means serving a true living legend that overcame the obstacles of history and has done so within the framework of Jewish values.” How was the connection made between you and the Sassoon family?
“I was first introduced to the Sassoon Family Continuation Trust through a friend of mine, and I became the general counsel for the Trust. This is when I met David E. Sassoon, before he became Chairman of the board and before he took over after his grandfather’s passing. I was fortunate to recognize his abilities, integrity and commitment to his family’s values and beliefs. We developed mutual respect and friendship; David was raised with strong Jewish values which have played a central role in developing his leadership qualities. He possesses impressive analytical skills that he developed as an intelligence operative, coupled with his deep knowledge of the political landscape, particularly of the Middle East, both of which are complimented and enhanced by his experiences of global markets, learned at his grandfather’s feet. These combinations make him an astute financier and investor. In the face of rising antisemitism and hatred in the world, I was impressed by David’s position on many issues, particularly his uncompromising, unwavering and unapologetic stance towards his Jewish heritage, faith and identity. For David these are the prerequisites for a brand of integrity, balance and success which his ancestors built. 
David like many of his family members and ancestors, is a linguist, mastering seven languages. He is also highly educated, holds an undergraduate degree in neurobiology, and two master’s degrees in political science, and international banking & finance. He has held intelligence and counter-terrorism roles within the American intelligence community for more than two decades in many parts of the world. He brings with him knowledge that is a vital part of his business decisions and investment strategy.”
Former intelligence and counter terrorism officer John Kiriakou, who served in the CIA for over fifteen years said in an interview: “I have known David for more than 20 years, he is one of the most principled people I worked with, we were both employed with US intelligence and served together in Europe and the Middle East. David and I worked together on counterterrorism issues until I left the government’s employ in 2004. David comes from a patriotic and well-regarded family in the United States. Both of his parents were killed by terrorists, and David has dedicated much of his adult life to fighting terrorism. Over the last several years, he has taken over leadership of his family’s firm, and in that position, he has focused on creating opportunities for entrepreneurs, start-ups and help bring an energy of creativity, innovation and a no-nonsense attitude.”Members of the Sassoon family from Cairo and Aleppo (Family Portrait), 1930s. (Photo credit: Sabah Studios in Cairo)Members of the Sassoon family from Cairo and Aleppo (Family Portrait), 1930s. (Photo credit: Sabah Studios in Cairo)

Looking for companies that are changing the rules of the game.

The business sectors in which the J. Sassoon Group operates do not necessarily have a common denominator. The group sees itself as a conglomerate that’s involved in everything, or as Bruce Fein puts it: “Through our ancient wisdom we have developed certain investment criteria. For example, the impact a business creates and its expected lifespan. If a business does not meet these criteria – we do not invest in it. One point we have clarified over the years is to combine the group’s financial capabilities with its creativity. When we face a business challenge, it excites us. Once we understand the root of the problem, we design the solution. Israel has human capital that can solve problems, foresees the future and realizes it quickly and efficiently. These things make Israel a promising investment in the long run.”
What are your business plans for Israel?Fein: “This is our Chairman, David E. Sassoon’s brainchild, we concentrate on start-ups, but not only in typical technological areas. We are looking for companies that are completely changing the rules of the game, even small businesses that challenge the status quo. We want to accompany businesses and make our collective network accessible to them, we do this under our Network as a Service (NaaS) program to help such companies, identify new opportunities and open new markets. “

Keep the knowledge in Israel.

Fein is not only a businessman, but also a warm Jew. The words “Judaism,” “Israel” and “Tikkun Olam” are woven throughout the interview with him. Concern for Israel is an integral part of his worldview and shapes his management of the business in representing the family. “We have noticed that in the last 20 years, Israeli companies have been sold to foreign companies and moved to other countries,” he says. “We believe that it is important to keep the knowledge in Israel. The depletion of human and intellectual capital in the country (what you call ‘brain drain’) is dangerous to the economic growth of any country and its economic and national security. Human capital is Israel’s most powerful asset. Without it, Israel’s economic growth will be in jeopardy – and you may lose this synergy. Therefore, we have taken on the task of helping businesses at the beginning of their path to continue to grow here in Israel.”
What are the challenges your business must deal with?
Fein: “When it comes to big companies, stagnation, lack of creativity and organizational bureaucracy are Achilles’ heels. We do not want to be like Kodak, which rejected the digital camera because of billions that had already been invested in film development chemicals. Steven Sassoon, a Kodak employee and inventor of the self-contained digital camera, offered the camera to Kodak. Following Kodak’s rejection, he resigned, but Kodak went bankrupt. In 2009, US president Barack Obama awarded Sassoon the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Looking for innovation solution driven companies is a cornerstone in our business plan, it is an integral part of our corporate DNA. “
Tell us about the Sassoon Israel – Hellenic fund?
Fein: “The fund was set up to invest in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Greece, Cyprus and Israel. The Sassoon family has had a special relationship with Greece for centuries. Israeli-Greek relations have recently warmed, and we want to support them. One of the problems in Greece is that they are lagging in technology in comparison with Israel and other Western countries. Greece should look to Israel as a model. A technologically advanced but small nation that can easily and comfortably face bigger and stronger rivals. This is an opportunity for Israel to share its technological advantage – build a commercial bridge connecting the East to the West and this will serve both countries and create stability in the region.”
The J. Sassoon Group prides itself on being a solution-driven investor. The company has been collaborating with ASDERA, founded by renowned epidemiologist Dr. Knut Wittkowski, which developed a food supplement that strengthens the immune system and treats respiratory infections. The product has already received FDA and EU approval and now J. Sassoon Group is looking for potential partners and distributors.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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