Recently, our good friend Mr. Pierre Bejjani, the Executive Editor of Profile News, suggested that we sit down and talk with Mr. Husein Rabah, a respected member of the Middle Eastern community here in Northeast Ohio.
We had honestly never heard of Mr. Rabah before Pierre told us about him but we were excited to meed him. Pierre agreed to arrange an interview with Mr. Rabah at his home in Westlake and for this we are very grateful to Pierre. Shortly after meeting Mr. Rabah, now in his early 90’s, we could tell that he is a fine man and one who possesses genuine integrity and wisdom.
Taking part in the interview, in addition to Pierre and ourselves, was Mr. Rabah’s son, Mr. Moran Rabah, the owner of Moe’s Tires on Superior Avenue in Cleveland and his nephew, Mr. Michael Awad. In the course of the dialogue, Mr. Rabah’s daughter, Ms. Susie Rabah, made sure that we had plenty of fruit, nuts, and coffee to snack on.
Mr. Rabah was born in a village in Palestine in 1927 named Beit Hanina. He remembers the exact date when he first came to the United States in 1952; he remembers that it was via TWA airlines from Jerusalem to Cairo to New York and that the tickets cost him only around $150 or its equivalent in Middle Eastern currency. If only airline tickets were still at that price!
Accompanying Mr. Rabah was his lovely wife, Lillian, (already a United States citizen) and their eldest daughter. Here in the United States, they would have eight more children. Throughout our conversation both Morad and Michael emphasized to us that their father always put his family first and that they, in turn, respected him and always turned to him for guidance.
Initially, the newly arrived family lived with members of Mrs. Rabah’s family in Erie, Pennsylvania before deciding to settle in Detroit due to the large Middle Eastern community there, many of whom worked for automobile manufacturers.
All told, Mr. Rabah and his family lived in Detroit for 35 years while he worked as a salesperson for such items as tapestries, sweaters, and bedspreads. He traveled frequently (two weeks on the road then two weeks home) and his journeying took him all over Michigan with frequent sojourns to Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, where he was on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
Nevertheless, he remained a constant presence in the lives of his family and frequently took his children on his automobile trips as they got older. In fact, Morad remembers the drives on Route 2 and shared a fond memory of once stopping to buy corn and tomatoes, freshly grown on a nearby field, which they enjoyed eating during a picnic.
Morad recalled that it was his own entrepreneurial spirit that was at least part of the reason that Mr. Rabah moved his family here to Cleveland in the early 1980’s. Morad, who had earlier moved here with his brother Mazen, wanted to open a grocery store with several partners but Mr. Rabah believed that his son would be better served if he would help him open the store himself minus the complications of multiple owners with no family ties.
This initial grocery store was launched near 75th and Kinsman and remained in existence for two months before it was destroyed by an accidental fire.
Undeterred, Mr. Rabah bought some property in that same vicinity and created a strip mall that was home to a grocery store, a video store and a restaurant. To this day, the family owns the property as well as the buildings that rest upon it.
Eventually, Morad started working on cars behind the grocery store. This work led to Moe’s Tires, opened around 1995 very much to his father’s approval; as we wrote previously, Mr. Rabah is a very strong advocate of small business and individual ownership and has encouraged and supported his other children, along with their spouses, in such ventures.
On a more quiet note, Morad told us that his dad never pressured him to pay back the money he supposedly loaned him when Moe’s Tires was started. Morad did pay it back though, unceremoniously through his mother, Lillian, who sadly passed about six years ago.
As for himself, upon coming to Cleveland, Mr. Rabah bought a large house in Cleveland to share with his family. Initially the surrounding neighbors were not too happy about this because the family who owned it before were also from the Middle East and did not properly maintain the house and the yard. Instead of being angry or resentful of his neighbors’ distrust, Mr. Rabah focused on fixing things up and soon became very well-liked.
This incident exemplifies the kind of person Mr. Rabah is: very hard-working and very self-sufficient while always being available to assist and offer counsel to others. As Morad and Michael were quick to point out, their dad/uncle never applied for public assistance (even though in tough periods he might have been eligible) and never once had an issue with a police officer.
One of his most worthy accomplishments is helping to found the Beit Hanina Social Club in Cleveland in the early 1990’s with the help of Palestinian backers in New York City. Pierre was quick to point out that this is the largest Palestinian club in the Cleveland area. Named after the village where Mr. Rabah was born, he says it helps people stay connected who immigrated here from that village as well as all Palestinians. Similarly, while he was living in Detroit in the 1960’s he had helped found a small but beloved social club for his people.
Mr. Rabah officially became a citizen in 1958. He loves it here in the United States because people have the opportunity to achieve their potential and all religious faiths are welcome.
Even though he eventually sold the large house that we mentioned earlier, Mr. Rabah still lives in the same neighborhood and is visited all the time by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that total so many in number that he, Morad, Susie, and Michael couldn’t come up with an exact number without thinking it through.
As a person of the Muslim faith, Mr. Rabah has worshipped at the many mosques in Westlake, Rocky River, and Parma. He told us that he goes “wherever my feet decide.”
This led to him sharing with us an experience that he had while helping to launch a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan in the mid-1950’s. It was soon discovered that the land which was designated as an excellent locale for it was owned by the Ford Motor Company but things worked out because Ford agreed to sell them the land for the same amount that they had paid when it was purchased 20 years previously.
After completing this story, Mr. Rabah nodded his head and said that this incident reflected another thing he loved about the United States which was that we all help each other here.