Aharon and Rachel Dahan were crucial to building the foundation of the Baltimore Jewish community. Due to his strong commitment to Judaism and Israel, Aharon created a $45 million endowment to the medical school at the prestigious Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel before he passed away in 2013. Bar-Ilan is Israel’s second largest educational institution.
“He created the endowment to help start the medical school and help endow it for scholarships and research,” their son Nissim (Nick) Dahan explained. Aharon was also a founder and past president of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville.
During Bar-Illan’s 64th annual session of the Board of Trustees, the university officially dedicated the Dahan Family campus in a special ceremony as a tribute to the benefactors. The Dahan family from Baltimore, France, and Israel were all present at the event, including 11 grandchildren, as well as representatives of the Dahan Foundation.
“It was a very moving tribute to my parents. It was very inspiring because it was for a very good cause. It’s something that I think does justice to their legacy and something that we could all be proud of,” Dahan said.
The son of a market manager and a homemaker, Aharon Dahan was born and raised in Tiberias, Israel, a mixed Jewish-Arab town near the Sea of Galilee. When he was 16, he joined the Haganah, the Jewish Agency’s fighting force. Two years later, he enlisted in the British navy. Dahan then joined Menachem Begin’s underground group, the Irgun, which fought for Jewish independence.
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation pointed out that Aharon Dahan was penniless when he came to the United States in 1958, yet always wanted to give to others. “Aharon Dahan was the finest human being I have ever met. His satisfaction came from giving to others,” Wohlberg said.
Bar-Ilan is in the process of building The Dahan Gate which is a very elaborate entrance into the campus. There were also monuments built called “A Time to Heal” located in Tzfat as well as the Dahan Unity Park. The ceremony shot videos at all three locations and were shown simultaneously to the crowd. Several people gave speeches including Nick Dahan, Dr. Zipora Schorr, Rabbi Wohlberg, Chairman of the Board, and President [Arie Zaban] of Bar-Ilan.
Rachel and Aharon’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren awarded two dozen scholarships to those of Sephardic descent. Some of the awardees’ majors included: “economics, accounting, law, communications and political science, social work, education, literature, psychology, sociology, multidisciplinary studies, business administration, and land of Israel studies.”
Prof. Arie Zaban, President of Bar-Ilan, reminisced over the time he met Aharon Dahan, while working as Director of the University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials. Prof. Zaban used the triangles that comprise the Star of David as an example to compare to who Mr. Dahan was. One triangle demonstrated that of Mr. Dahan’s public life. He was committed to Judaism, Zionism, and science. The other triangle was Mr. Dahan’s personal life. His love for family, his generosity, and how humble he was. Both triangles united to make a huge impact on Bar-Illan and the world. “We will continue this legacy and ensure that it lasts for generations,” said Zaban.
Dr. Zipora Schorr, Director of Education of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Chairwoman of the Baltimore Schools Association, and Treasurer of the Dahan Foundation noted how Rachel Dahan’s Yahrzeit falls on Jerusalem day [28th of Iyar] and how 28 in Hebrew is koach, meaning strength. Rachel Dahan displayed strength throughout her life.
The Dahan family has been active in Bar-Illan University throughout the years. They established a Center for Culture, Society and Education in the Sephardic Heritage, scholarships for disadvantaged undergraduates from Israel’s periphery, Doctoral Fellowships of Excellence, and the Dahan Family Unity Park. They promoted scientific progress through their contributions to the University’s Nanotechnology Institute. They also established the Exodus Classroom Building reached out to new immigrants from the former Soviet Union; the Rabbi Harry Wohlberg Chair in Biblical Studies; the Electronic Technology building which anchors the University’s Engineering Complex; and a perpetual fund that ensures the future of Bar-Ilan’s Faculty of Medicine.