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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                                       RABBI S. ROBERT ICHAY  

INTERVIEWER:                                  JOEL AROGETI

LOCATION:                                         ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                                                   SEPTEMBER 1, 1995

                                                              OCTOBER 20, 1995

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Rabbi S. Robert Ichay, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Or VeShalom, was born in Sousse, Tunisia in 1929.  He is the son of Simon Ichay and Louise Bessis Ichay.  Rabbi Ichay is the oldest of his three siblings.  He has a brother and two sisters, Yvonne, Albert, and Colette.  Rabbi Ichay was bar mitzvahed in 1943, the year the Germans had occupied Tunisia during World War II.  He studied at the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva in Tunisia and received a college degree at Montefiore College in England.  He married Blanchette Lieberman in 1957 in Geneva, Switzerland.  In 1959, he moved to Salisbury, Rhodesia, to serve as associate rabbi at the Sephardic Hebrew Congregation of Rhodesia.  In 1963, he graduated from the University of Rhodesia.  In 1969, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to serve as rabbi to Congregation Or VeShalom.  He became Rabbi Emeritus in 2002 after serving as chief rabbi for 33 years.  Rabbi Ichay and his wife have one son, David.

 SCOPE OF INTERVIEW 

Rabbi S. Robert Ichay talks about growing up in Sousse, Tunisia.  He describes Sousse as a cosmopolitan city with a diverse population of Arabs, Maltese, Italians, Greeks, and French.  He speaks of the Jewish quarter of the city and remembers walking to different synagogues with friends on Shabbat and Sunday afternoons.  He describes his father as a businessman and a jeweler who worked in silver and gold.  He recounts that most of his father's family were in the jewelry business.  Rabbi Ichay describes both parents as Sephardim and talks about his father being from a typical Tunisian family.  He describes his mother’s family background as Italian Tunisian of an educated class. 

Rabbi Ichay tells he was bar mitzvahed in 1943, the year the Germans had occupied Tunisia, and remembers the city of Sousse being bombed by the Americans.  He attended primary school with Italian, French, Arab, and Jewish children.  He reflects that the school did not recognize Jewish holidays as an excuse for absence.  He tells that his mother was not particularly observant until she married his father.  Rabbi Ichay describes the Tunisian Jews being second-class citizens and never having full Tunisian citizenship.  He describes them as guests of the Tunisian government.  He describes the Jews as being a state within a state and having their own courts.  He tells that the Tunisian Jews and the Jews who lived in Arab countries were very Zionist. 

Rabbi Ichay speaks of his family’s origin, which can be traced back centuries in Tunisia.  He reflects that today in Israel there are 2,500 Ichays.  He recounts that his father is the only one of all his brothers and sisters who did not move to Israel and went to Paris, France, instead.  He discusses the State of Israel, the years before it was established, and his thoughts on it today.

Rabbi Ichay discusses the yeshiva he attended in Tunisia and the education he received in London and Rhodesia.  He discusses his position as assistant rabbi in Rhodesia and his eventual move to Atlanta, Georgia.  He discusses his first impressions of the City of Atlanta and the Congregation Or VeShalom.  He reflects on the strong connections between the communities he served in Rhodesia and Atlanta.   He talks about his wife, Blanchette Lieberman, and their son, David.

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