Sami Barsoum

PHOTOGRAPHY: Afif Amireh

Mukhtar of the Syriac community

‘My father came to Jerusalem in 1915 as a Christian refugee from Turkey. He ended up in a German orphanage and was trained as a shoemaker. He was a true craftsman and his store became famous. Jewish refugees who came here from Europe after World War II were amazed that he spoke German.’
Sami himself, who prefers to be called by his first name and makes a decidedly youthful impression, was born in Jerusalem in 1935. He became a tailor and gained the same excellent reputation in his trade as his father had in his. In addition, he became muktar (representative) of the Syriac community in his city, which numbers about 500 people. In this capacity, he has met numerous dignitaries over the years. In a book he wrote about his life, dozens of photos attest to that fact. ‘The Syriac Church is the first holy, universal and apostolic church of Christianity’, he says proudly.

“Respect everyone, hate no one and you will live as long as I have”

With a little wink, Sami explains that he considers himself a man of five nationalities: Ottoman because of his father’s ancestry, British because he was born at the time of the British Mandate, Jordanian because East Jerusalem was Jordanian territory after 1948, Israeli because his city is currently under Israeli rule, and Palestinian because he is, above all, part of the Palestinian community.
As a muktar, Sami has traveled extensively, both in the Middle East and to the US, Canada and India. In the process, it was quite convenient that he speaks an impressive range of languages : English, Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Turkish and German.
Although officially retired, Sami is still in his tailor store every day. He gets frequent calls from American Jewish students who are sent to study in Jerusalem by their Orthodox parents. ‘Then I mend a pair of pants or a shirt and have a chat. Above all, you have to stay active, that’s important.’
In a friendly gesture, he confronts his clients with the wisdom that his eventful life and respectable age have taught him: ‘Respect everyone, hate no one and you will live as long as I have.’

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