Arbell, Mordechai

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ARBELL, MORDECHAI (Mario Varssano ; 1929– ), Israeli diplomat, businessman, and researcher of Sephardi and Caribbean Jewish history. Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, to a prominent Sephardi family, Arbell settled in Tel Aviv in 1941. After serving in the Israeli Air Force in the War of Independence and studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he entered the Israeli foreign service, holding various positions, including ambassador to Panama and Haiti. In 1977 he became the general manager of International Operations of the Eisenberg Group, consisting of 80 companies in 42 countries.

His studies of the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish communities in the Caribbean and the Guianas began in 1965 and included research trips all over the Caribbean basin. He studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and was a research fellow at the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem, at the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University and at the American Jewish Archives of the Hebrew Union College.

Among his publications are "La Nacion" – The Spanish and Portuguese Jews of the Caribbean (1981, an exhibition and catalogue); Comfortable Disappearance, Lesson from the Caribbean Jewish Experience (1998); Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the Caribbean, A Bibliography (1998); The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica (2000); and The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean (2002). Arbell also studied Sephardi Jewish history in Vienna, Austria, and Madras, India, the Inquisition in Manila, and the history of the Jews in Vlor (Valona), Albania. He is also an expert in the history of postage stamps featuring Sephardi Jews and has published Filatelia Sefaradi (1999).

Active in many communal and research institutes, Arbell was adviser to the World Jewish Congress and chairman of its Research Institute; chairman of Sefarad for the Preservation of the Sephardi Heritage; adviser to the National Council for Ladino and Its Culture and to the Israeli National Council for Foreign Affairs. Among his other activities, he served on the board of directors of the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, the Institute of Cultural Relations Israel-Iberoamerica, and the Association for Research of Latin American Jewry.