The giant menorah stood proudly overlooking the pool at the plush Raffles Hotel in the bustling heart of the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Facing the crowd of well-wishers stood the who’s who of the royal family, guests from around the world and an Israeli-born Chabad rabbi.
They were there to celebrate the belated bat mitzvah of Elior Koroghli of Las Vegas. Her father, Ray (Rahamim), is a Persian Jew, and her mother Susie (Sarah Bracha) is the Washington, D.C.-born granddaughter of HM King Monivong, who ruled Cambodia until his death in 1941.
Elior’s bat mitzvah was the first Jewish milestone ever celebrated by the Cambodian royal family, and the first time many of the royals ever tasted food from a kosher kitchen, catered by Chabad of Cambodia, which was founded by Rabbi Bentzion and Mashie Butman in 2009.
The family celebrated the actual bat mitzvah when Elior turned 12 on the fifth night of Chanukah a year ago, but the official celebration in Cambodia took place this Chanukah, closer to her 13th birthday.
Literally a party for the books, the event will be chronicled in the Royal Palace Record Book.
The celebration was the brainchild of Susie Koroghli, who wanted her children, who live a rich Jewish life in Las Vegas, to know of their Cambodian Royal Family roots.
After the bat mitzvah party, which included the lighting of a large menorah, speeches and lots of food, the family formally met the current ruler HM King Norodom Sihamoni and the queen mother, HM Norodom Monineath.
The celebration continued on Shabbat at the Chabad House. When the entourage walked to and from the synagogue, they were escorted by an honor guard.
To cater for the event, Chabad invited Chef Kobi Mizrahi, who “took over” the kitchen and guided Chabad’s staff in creating meals that were truly “fit for a king.” In addition, some of the kosher food was prepared in the hotel kitchen under Susie’s watchful eye.
“She lights up the room wherever she goes,” explains her husband with pride. “People are just drawn to her and are fascinated by her knowledge of Judaism, as well as her actions.”
Susie Koroghli’s journey to Judaism is an unlikely one. Her father served as the Cambodian ambassador to the United States, and she grew up in a Buddhist home.
She met Ray, who had left Iran to study in America and never returned home due to the 1979 revolution.
Before Rosh Hashanah, he informed her that he would be out of touch for two days due for holiday observance and begrudgingly agreed to take her to services.
A Life-Transforming Shabbat
She was enthralled by what she encountered and insisted that they return for Shabbat. After experiencing the entire holiday season at Chabad in Las Vegas, she began a journey of self-discovery that resulted in conversion to Judaism.
The couple lives with their three children in Las Vegas, where they form an integral part of the Chabad of Henderson community.
Although she was a member of the royal family, raised with the formalities and expectations of a granddaughter of a king, she never visited Cambodia until 2012, when she represented her mother at the funeral of late king HM Norodom Sihanouk.
It was only then, she says, that she realized that the stories she had been raised on were real—she was truly the child of royalty.
When asked if his wife, a leader in her Jewish community, was technically a Cambodian princess, Ray deflected, saying, “I call her my queen.”
This article was first published in Chabad.org