BRADENTON-- A Bradenton resident who was saved by a Muslim neighbor in Iraq and emigrated to Israel and eventually to the United States left more than $1 million to the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee after she passed away in March.
Semha Zimmerman, who passed right after celebrating her 92nd birthday, requested that the funds be used in honor of her husband, Abraham Zimmerman, who passed away in 2002 from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Marty Haberer, JFSM’s associate executive director, said her legacy is more than just the money.
“Hers is a story of someone whose generosity and love for the Jewish people will have significant impact on Jewish life in our Sarasota-Manatee community," he said.
Zimmerman was born in Baghdad, Iraq, on March 10, 1922, the second of six children, and was fluent in Arabic, French, English and Hebrew. After the end of the British mandate on Iraq and the creation of the State of Israel life for her family became difficult; her father disappeared, likely shot by Iraqis, and her only brother fled to Israel to avoid being drafted into the Iraqi army.
Zimmerman, her mother and her younger sister were left alone in an increasingly violent and anti-Semitic Iraq. At one point, a mob came down her street looking for Jews, and one of her Muslim neighbors saved her family by telling the mob there were no Jewish people there. The three were eventually able to barter their property for freedom in Israel in 1951.
Zimmerman met Abraham, a German Jew whose entire family had been murdered by the Nazis, in Israel in 1956, and they were married in 1957. Their only child was a stillborn.
The Zimmermans emigrated to the U.S. and became citizens in 1964 and moved to Bradenton in 2000. Zimmerman spent her remaining years at Freedom Village in Bradenton, teaching a course called “The History Buff,” featuring community residents as speakers on various topics in American history.
“Semha loved this country and was very proud to be an American,” Haberer said. “Her heroines were the women who traveled with their husbands in wagon trains to settle the West. Until six months before her death, Semha was full of life, taking a total of 27 cruises with her loving companion, Karl Ahrens. We at are eternally grateful to Semha Zimmerman; we only wish we had had an opportunity to thank her in person.”