Growing up the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, Mimi Algazi, M.D. learned about being Jewish from a unique perspective. But, it wasn’t until the summer of 1986 at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) that she felt the joys of being Jewish through an intensive experience in Jewish learning, arts, culture, and community for Jewish young adults from around the world. Inspired by a vibrant vision for her Jewish future, rather than the terrors of her family’s past, she began to see being Jewish as a privilege to be treasured and enjoyed. When her grandparents Jacques and Linda Gabbai passed away, Mimi established an Endowment Fund in their honor to support BCI scholarships to give other young Jews the same opportunities.
“It is my hope that the young people who benefit from the Jacques & Linda Gabbai Brandeis Collegiate Institute Scholarship Endowment Fund fall in love with being Jewish and embrace a lifelong commitment to tzedakah and living a Jewish life,” says Mimi, who signed the Endowment Book of Life at the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona in 1991. She appreciates the Foundation’s role in helping her both honor her family legacy and give back to her community. The Endowment Fund helps provide a future for young Jews, and it also allowed Mimi to honor her grandparents’ legacies by creating a Fund purpose statement that includes their family’s history and values as part of the permanent Fund. In this way, Mimi has not only made an indelible mark on the community, but has also shared her family’s story and her love for Jewish life.
The Story Behind the Legacy
Mimi’s Grandparents – Jacques & Linda Gabbai. A year after the Germans invaded Paris in World War II, they arrested Mimi’s grandfather and held him in the internment camp at Drancy, France. While the Germans were still developing ways to deport the Jews at Drancy, Jacques and others with Italian passports were freed with the determined help of Mimi’s grandmother. Some of the Drancy prisoners with Italian passports, including Jacques and Linda, had moved to Paris from Turkey, where their families had lived for generations with Italian passports because Turkey did not recognized them as citizens when they arrived from Italy. Since Italy was not yet deporting Italians who were Jewish, the prisoners with Italian passports were released from Drancy. Over the next two years, 67,000 Jews held at Drancy were deported to extermination camps in Poland. Three percent of them survived.
Mimi’s grandparents and her mom Liliane escaped Paris with forged papers and made their way to Pierre-Buffière, a village in west-central France, where they survived the war. Jacques and Linda did not tell Liliane she was Jewish until after the war in an effort to keep the small child safe. After Paris was liberated in 1944, they returned to a very difficult life.
Following two years of struggles trying to get the proper visas, they moved to Mexico in 1948 at the invitation of family already living there. Jaques and Linda founded the first lace manufacturing business in Mexico, Encajes Franceses. Many women attended church every morning, wearing long lace mantillas over their heads, which had previously been imported and expensive. Their business prospered, and they shared their good fortune with family in France and Israel.
The Algazi Family. Mireille (Mimi) grew up in Mexico City, the daughter of Liliane and Albert Algazi. Liliane and Albert had very similar family backgrounds, meeting and marrying in Mexico City in 1960. In addition to Mimi, they had two sons, Maurice and Michel.
The family came to the United States after Mimi received a scholarship from the U.S. State Department’s Institute of International Education to attend Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in physics.
Mimi earned her medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and completed an internship in Internal Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. Subsequently, she completed a dermatology residency at the University of Arizona where she served as Chief Resident. She now practices dermatology with Arizona Community Physicians in Tucson.
The Legacy Continues
Mimi’s two children, Gabriel (20) and Dara (24) Lehrer, are giving back, too. Dara is studying traditional Chinese medicine in Boulder, Colorado. When she attended school at Congregation Or Chadash, she raised funds for a water well in Darfur, Sudan for her mitzvah project. At 16, Dara spent eight weeks with Amigos de las Americas in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she helped build a playground for children in a rural community. Most recently, she has worked as a staff member for a homeless shelter in Boulder.
Gabriel, who studies music therapy at Arizona State University, gives back through his music. He donated all of his bar mitzvah gifts to the nonprofit Lead Guitar and taught guitar in a school where Lead Guitar had a program. He participated in a fundraising concert on the day Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 others were shot, helping people through a very difficult day. While in Israel with Camp Ramah in the summer of 2014, he spontaneously played the guitar on Ben Gurion Street in Tel Aviv to raise funds for those affected by war.
Mimi’s experiences, and those of her parents and grandparents, helped shape the future not only for her own children, but for all who will benefit from the Jacques & Linda Gabbai Brandeis Collegiate Institute Scholarship Endowment Fund. Their history, their story, and their generosity is a meaningful and enduring imprint on the future.