Haron Dahan spent nearly his entire life following his vision of tikkun olam, healing the world.
From fighting for the Jewish army during World War II to later donating millions of dollars to Jewish causes, including the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School that bears his name, Dahan worked to help improve the lives of those around him. It is that philanthropic drive that friends and family are remembering after Dahan died Monday. He was 87.
“My father lived the American dream,” said Dahan’s son Nissim (Nick). “He had great success in life, but he understood that with great success comes an implied responsibility to help those who need it most in the community.”
Born March 21, 1925 in Tiberias, Israel, Dahan joined the Jewish army known as the Haganah. When he was 18, he enlisted in the British Navy at the urging of the Jewish Agency. Dahan went on to join the Irgun, the underground Israeli freedom fighters and became a captain fighting for Israel.
Dahan then went on to marry Rachel Algazi in 1950. The couple remained married for 58 years prior to her death in 2008. The Dahans moved to the United States in 1960 and lived in New York and Philadelphia before settling in Baltimore in 1968.
Still learning English, Dahan took a job selling homes while trying to understand every aspect of the real estate industry.
“My father didn’t know any of the terminology when he first got into real estate,” Nissim Dahan said. “In fact, he used to sit in the closet and listen to the other salesmen speak to clients so he could learn all the building terms.”
Over time, Dahan started his own home building and land development company where he earned his fortune. It was at that point that Dahan and his wife turned their attention to philanthropy. Those that most benefited from the Dahans’ generosity were Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Pikesville and Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
Thanks to their millions in donations, Beth Tfiloh founded Baltimore’s first and only co-ed Jewish day school for students in preschool through 12th grade 25 years ago. The school was named in the family’s honor in 2003. Beth Tfiloh’s Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg called Dahan “the finest, most decent human being” he had ever met.
“Haron can never be replaced,” Rabbi Wohlberg said. “If you’re going to cry for anyone today, don’t cry for him. He is at peace. Cry for me. I loved the man. He was my guide and inspiration. How fortunate I was to have him come into my life. I miss him already. But I can tell you I will never be [the same] without him.”
Beth Tfiloh Director of Education Zipora Schorr said Dahan’s mission in life was to help as many people as possible receive a Jewish education because he believed education was the key to sustaining a Jewish way of life.
Among his gifts to Beth Tfiloh was assisting with the school’s scholarship fund in which he provided a $230,000 donation during a fundraiser this past June. This gift helped the school raise about $1.2 million for the cause.
“So many Jewish students received an education at Beth Tfiloh because of Haron Dahan,” Schorr said. “He was not only a great success story, but a great Jewish success story. In many ways, he was a father to us all and will be greatly missed.”
At Bar-Ilan University, the department of Sephardic studies, the department of nanotechnology and the electrical engineering building are named in the Dahans’ honor.
“[Haron] made education possible for hundreds, if not thousands, of students – not just at Bar-Ilan, but also in his longtime home of Baltimore,” said Bar-Ilan University President Moshe Kaveh in a statement. “With his most generous heart, he was the embodiment of Menschlichkeit and man’s humanity toward man. I feel a great sense of personal loss, but I am comforted by the fact that future generations will continue to be touched by [Haron] and his dream of providing them with an outstanding education.”
Nissim Dahan said he hopes his father’s lasting legacy is being remembered for pushing a core set of fundamental values such has hard work and education to its limits in order to make a difference in people’s lives.
“One of my father’s favorite expressions was ‘He who is wealthy is the one who is happy with his own life,’” Nnissim Dahan said. “Helping offer Jewish education to others was something that made him very happy.”
In addition to his son, Dahan is survived by another son, Ely (Marsha) Dahan; sister-in-laws Shoshana Fuhrer and Ruth Salomy; brother-in-law Eddie Kenter; grandchildren Rachel (Slava) Katz, Lily (Eric) Black, Erin Dahan and her fiancee Tzuriel Fenigstein, and Daniel, Richard, Robin and Sara Dahan; and great-grandchildren Samira Katz, Noah Black, Milo Katz, Dylan Black, Olivia Katz and Naia Katz. Funeral services will be held at 12 p.m. Wednesday at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, 3300 Old Court Road in Pikesville. Interment will take place at Beth Tfiloh Cemetery, located at 5800 Windsor Mill Road in Woodlawn. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be sent to the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School Scholarship Fund, 3300 Old Court Road, Baltimore, MD 21208.