Rachel Safdie, fourth-generation Shanghai Jew

Practically up to her dying day, Rachel “Ritchie” Safdie was a woman on the move.

As a teenager in the Shanghai Jewish ghetto, she pedaled her grandmother to mah jongg games and her little brother to school on the back of her bicycle. And she hauled 25-pound bags of sugar and flour when she brought home the family’s monthly food rations.

“One time she skidded and lost the whole month’s rations. Oh, that was a hardship,” recalled Safdie’s sister, Leah Jacob Garrick.

Well into her 70s, Safdie was still a bundle of energy. She walked three miles a day and “knew all the gardeners in the park on her walk. She talked to everyone,” Garrick recalled.

Safdie fell and hit her head last month and never recovered. She died in her sleep Nov. 24 in San Francisco at age 78.

Rachel Jacob was born in Shanghai, China into a small community of 500 to 700 Sephardi Jews. Her ancestors hailed from Baghdad and made their way to Shanghai via Bombay by the late 1800s. Rachel, Leah and Jack Jacob were fourth-generation Shanghai Jews brought up in British schools.

By the Jacob sisters’ teen years, massive numbers of Russian and Western European Jews began making their way to Shanghai to escape persecution. The small Sephardi community didn’t have a shared language with the Ashkenazi refugees, but Garrick recalls her family and others doing what they could to welcome them.

After the war, Rachel and Leah, then 17 and 18, immigrated to San Francisco to continue their education. And, on the very first day she set foot in the city, Rachel met her future husband. Joe Safdie was a Syrian Jew attending services at Magen David, the Sephardi synagogue. The two were married within a year, and Rachel soon learned Arabic to communicate with her mother-in-law.

The couple kept an observant home (both were shomer Shabbos). Rachel devoted much of her life to Jewish causes such as Hadassah and AMIT, an organization devoted to educating disadvantaged Israeli children.

Garrick remembered her sister as “fun, fun, fun” and a “vivacious” woman who loved playing bridge, rooting for the San Francisco Giants and just living life.

Rachel “Ritchie” Safdie is survived by her husband of 59 years, Joe Safdie of San Francisco; sister Leah Jacob Garrick of San Francisco; brother Jack Jacob of Baltimore; daughters Regina Safdie of Los Angeles and Miriam Butrimovitz of San Francisco; and a pair of grandchildren. Son Eddie Safdie died several years ago at age 47.

Donations in her memory may be sent to AMIT Women, 817 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 and preferably earmarked for aiding the children of Sderot.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.