Gabbai Family Picnic, Alexandria, April 1924

T h e    G a b b a i    F a m i l y

In the last year of my grandmother's life, I began to talk with her about her family and realised how little she knew or remembered of her heritage. It was then that I decided that a reconstruction of her family's origins was required; I could not simply allow a highly influential part of my identity to slip beneath the sands, and be forgotten forever. As a result, I dedicate this homepage to my grandmother, Mafalda Gabbai, who inspired me during the few years I lived with her and was perhaps the single greatest influence in defining who I am today.

Their Story

I know very little about my grandmother's family but that is slowly changing. I have but a handful of names with only seven surnames - Gabbai, Taranto, Cori, Huri, Palazzi (Palacci), Arditi & Rodriguez - that I am aware of. I know that they were Sephardic Jews, of Italian nationality, and were domiciliated in Livorno, Italy (this is certainly the case of the Gabbai, but I am not certain of the other names). My grandmother's great-grandparents, Mair Gabbai (son of Haïm Gabbai) and Ester Taranto, lived in Izmir, Turkey (I believe they were born there but I can't be certain), where the following two generations (at least) of their family were born.

I know of seven children they had - Haïm, Isacco, Leone, Naftali, Zaffira, Elia and Jossua.

I know that Naftali moved to Livorno, where he was a merchant and married Rachele Cori (b. 1864), of whom I know nothing. I do know however that they had a son, Avraham (b. 1866, d. 5 Aug., 1941), who is buried in Izmir. From records in Izmir, it would appear they had four other children but I know nothing of them.

All I know of Jossua is that he married Rachele Gabbai (b. 1866), possibly related considering their same surname, with whom he had six children. Rachele was possibly the daughter of Yacov Gabbay, an opium merchant. If this is correct, she died very young on December 6th, 1901 in Izmir. The reason I am not sure is that there is conflicting information about her father. Another source seems to indicate her father was called Abramo, hence the confusion.

Isacco (b. 1849) married Ester Palazzi (Palacci). They had three children. Salomon (b. 1879) has the sad distinction of being the first Gabbai I became aware of who died during the Holocaust, at Auschwitz. Zaffira (b. 1883) was their second child and Mazalto (b. 1885) their third. Cemetery records from Izmir possibly suggest that they may have had two other children - Nesim and Matilda - but I can be in no way certain at this stage.

Concerning Zaffira (b. 1864) and Elia (b. 1869) I have no further information about at present.

I know that Haïm (b. 1846) married Sarota Cori, undoubtedly related to Rachele Cori mentioned above - "two brides for two brothers"??? Haïm apparently died during the war of Abyssinia. They had eight children: Behora (b. 1869) and Jacobbe (b. 1871) both of whom died at a young age. The remaining children were David (b.1878), Vittoria (b. 1880), Rachele (b. 1882), Gad (b. 1884) who married Sara Huri, Rahamim (Clemente - my great-grandfather - see below) (b.1886) and Pinhas (b.1896) who lived in Alexandria I have been told and I believe worked for Barclay's Bank there. With the exception of my great-grandfather, I have no information about their descendants.

I also believe that Mair and Ester may have had another daughter, Leah (Liya), (b. 1860, d. 9 Dec., 1936), but I am not completely sure of their connection.

My grandmother's grandfather, Leone, had seven children according to the Italian Consulate registry of Izmir. I know only the names of three - Abramo (Albert), Solomon and my great-grandmother, Fortunata.

I know that Abramo moved to Cairo, Egypt at some point, married Ester (Stella) Arditi and are the parents of Raymond and Victor, mentioned below. They also had a daughter whose name I do not know. Both the daughter and her mother, Ester, died in Auschwitz. Some time after the war, the family moved to Rome, Italy, where they live today.

As for Solomon, all I know, which stems purely from my grandmother's memory of him (I have found no record of him to date), is that he had red hair and became deaf from artillery fire during, possibly, the war in Abyssinia.

I know a little more about my great-grandmother, Fortunata. Born in Izmir, she married Clemente Gabbai (they were first cousins - see above), who was also born in Izmir. Fortunata apparently spoke Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Judeo-Spanish and Italian and later also learnt English during a visit to Australia. She was a very big poker player, a game which my grandmother had a great passion for also, to say the least! Clemente originally worked for the local branch of a German bank near Istanbul. They moved to Alexandria, Egypt at some point where they settled in the Mazarita district. Clemente worked for the Yehua Pachà, where he was responsible for his properties and plantations. My great-aunt, Yolande and my grandmother, Mafalda, were both born and grew up in Alexandria. Fortunata moved to Milan, Italy in her later life, where she died in 1973, I believe.

My grandmother and her family often returned to Izmir where they would visit their family. My grandmother particularly remembered visiting an aunt who lived on a property just outside Izmir in a place called Bonarbashi. There was also a place on the coast near Istanbul where they had family and often used to visit but she didn't recall the name. She mentioned that she had family in Rhodes whom she visited on several occasions in her youth but she could not remember any details.

As you will see from the photos, my grandmother could remember the names of certain people but couldn't quite remember how they fitted into her family tree. Her cousins Raymond and Victor Gabbai are the best example. She remembered playing with them as a child but could not remember exactly how they were related to her - a question which has now been answered. My grandmother also remembered a cousin, Davide Rodriguez, born in Izmir, who was about 10 years older than her and who once broke her scooter, for which she never forgave him. He was related to Fortunata's family line according to my grandmother but exactly how, she did not remember.

Of course there were also people that she did remember, whom I can find no record of - photographic or otherwise. She did remember an uncle ( I now believe he may be the Pinhas, son of Haïm Gabbai and Sarota Cori, mentioned above)- her father's brother she thought - who lived in Alexandria and who used to meet her everyday and fait une promenade(walked) with her. He married an Italian woman, Anita, whom he later divorced. After that, he remarried. My grandmother however did not know his name. Exactly how many members of her family were in Alexandria is also difficult to ascertain at this stage; the photo at the top of this page comprises predominantly Gabbai (see the picture gallery for details).

As you can see, many of the details are sketchy. I must thank though the genealogists I have 'met' on the internet who have helped me in the past six years or so in providing and gathering information, in particular, Mrs Laurence Abensur-Hazan whose own first-hand research in Izmir has been invaluable. I am continuing to gather information about my grandmother's branch of the Gabbai family and remain certain I will continue to do so for a long time to come.

This homepage will be under constant development and update - time, server space and revelations permitting! If any of the details however sound or look familiar and you have any information which may be relevant to my heritage and the history of the Gabbai family, I would be very grateful if you could please email me at Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, corrections and greetings also!

Yolande and Mafalda Gabbai c.1920

The Picture Gallery

I have constructed a family tree from the details given above. It helps to put the few names I have been able to link together in perspective. (I have chosen to leave out the details of most living relatives, in the interest of their privacy)

Photos from a picnic in Alexandria in 1924 showing some of the Gabbai family and friends mentioned above and others whose exact relation is unknown.

A few other photos of some of the Gabbai family.

Some photos of friends of my grandmother and her family. If you can help in identifying anyone, please let me know.

I have put together a small gallery of Alexandria, Egypt and its Environs from my grandmother's collection of photographs.

Books about the Sephardim

One book that may be of interest to visitors to this site is a wonderful collection of photographs of the city of Alexandria between 1860 and 1960 called Vintage Alexandria. I was delighted to be asked by its author, Michael Haag, if I could provide any photographs that he could use in the book. Along with the many other contributors, this book helps bring to life the city as it was during this period. If you would like to find out more about the book or to order your own copy, please follow this link: Vintage Alexandria

Some Sephardic Links of Interest JewishGen: The Official Home of Jewish Genealogy, with a searchable database of researchers; the place where I began my own research Sephardic Genealogy Resources - this site, by Jeff Malka, is the definitive resource for researching Sephardic genealogy and also for finding more general Sephardic sites of interest. Go here first! The Rhodes Jewish Museum Online

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All photos and text © 1997-2008 Robert Wagner unless otherwise indicated
Last updated 30 November, 2008

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