Pinhas Barak and his wife, Miriam, were members at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield and Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit, and Beth Ahm Rabbi Steven Rubinstein officiated at his Nov. 1 funeral service.
Pinhas Barak’s life story was truly one going from rags to riches. A poor Moroccan Jew whose parents died young, he rose to become an officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and later a respected Ph.D. engineering professor in Michigan and eminent leader in his profession.
Mr. Barak, 86, of Bloomfield Hills, died Oct. 31, 2021. He and his wife, Miriam, were members at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield and Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit, and Beth Ahm Rabbi Steven Rubinstein officiated at his Nov. 1 funeral service.
Born April 3, 1935, Pinhas’ original name was Felix Ohana. His family lived for generations in Morocco where young Felix experienced violence and antisemitism. More misfortune struck when he and his older brother, Rami, lost their parents, Sreha and Shlomo Ohana, to typhoid and tuberculosis. The young boys went to live in orphanages.
A Paris-based Jewish organization, Alliance Israelite Universelle, rescued 13-year-old Felix and his brother. After a year in a French orphanage, the brothers were taken to Israel. Felix joined and studied Judaism at Hafetz Haim, a religious kibbutz in central Israel. Renaming himself Pinhas Barak, he discovered his love of mechanical things while working in the kibbutz auto shop.
He joined the IDF as a teenager, working his way up to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Son Leor Barak said, “One of my dad’s proudest life accomplishments was helping to design the Israeli tank, the Merkava.” Pinhas attended the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, graduating with an advanced degree in engineering.
Pinhas met his future wife, Miriam Savescu, a native of Romania, in Haifa. They became friendly when he bought chocolates at the kiosk she ran with her mother. Miriam at first scoffed when Pinhas said he wanted to take her out when he’d return from his military training in the Negev. But Pinhas was a man of his word, and the couple married on Aug. 28, 1966.
In 1979, the Barak family moved to Detroit for Pinhas to pursue a doctorate in automotive engineering at Wayne State University. He worked more than 25 years as a tenured professor in the Engineering Department at General Motors Institute/Kettering University in Flint. Colleague Dr. Greg Davis said, “He loved the give-and-take of teaching.” Pinhas also was a world-renowned expert in his field of mechanical engineering, suspension design and vehicle dynamics. He wrote articles and several textbooks.
For personal interests, Pinhas loved the State of Israel, soccer, James Bond movies, dogs and all types of music. Leor called him a “gentle, loving, emotional and optimistic person. He always found the good in people and looked for peace in difficult situations.”
A natural fighter, he persevered through numerous and challenging medical conditions. Nurses and doctors were said to be amazed by his humor and unflagging optimism. Pinhas emphasized to Leor: “Don’t you ever squander your experiences in life.”
In his eulogy, Dr. Brian Blaufeux described a father-in-law who was welcoming, effusive in his point of view and an excellent storyteller.
Pinhas Barak was the husband of Miriam Barak, father of Leor Itzhak Barak and Shlomit (Dr. Brian) Blaufeux, grandfather of Adam Chaim Blaufeux and Chloe Leah Blaufeux, and uncle of Uri and Osi Barak.
He was the son of the late Sreha and the late Shlomo Ohana, and brother and brother-in-law of the late Rami and the late Eti Barak.
Interment was at Clover Hill Park Cemetery in Birmingham. Contributions may be made to Friends of the IDF, PO Box 999, Walled Lake, MI 48390, (248) 926-4110/4111, www.fidf.org; Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, 1457 Griswold, Detroit, MI 48226, (313) 362-4047, www.downtownsynagogue.org; or a charity of one’s choice. Arrangements by Hebrew Memorial Chapel.