David Khabie was good with cloth and even better with people.
Khabie, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Middle East and raised his family in Minnesota, was a respected tailor who helped suit many important Minneapolis businessmen. But his family says he was best known for his warm demeanor, unique view of the world and an ability to captivate listeners with his soft-spoken storytelling.
Khabie died May 22 at age 81.
"I think that the reason that he was loved wasn't necessarily because he was a master tailor. … His skill was with people," said his oldest son Victor. "Always smiling, always making everyone feel welcome."
Khabie was born in 1937 in Damascus, Syria, and raised in the Sephardic Jewish community there. He left Damascus and went to Beirut, Lebanon, in his early teens after his father's store was ransacked.
While in Beirut, he worked in the textile trade, fell in love and married Lili, who would be his life partner for nearly 54 years.
Khabie's life changed when he met Sam Maslon, founder of the Minneapolis-based Maslon law firm, in a synagogue one Sabbath. Khabie told him of his wish to leave Beirut and move to America. The pair stayed in touch and with Maslon's help, Khabie, his pregnant wife and their 2-year-old son were able to get the visas needed to immigrate to the United States in 1967.
The Khabie family had to leave much of their life behind, including family and friends and most of their belongings, because they could bring only what they could carry onto the plane. They also spoke little English. But despite their hardships, the Khabies were able to find tight-knit Jewish communities in north Minneapolis and then in St. Louis Park, where they would primarily live.
While they raised their five kids in the United States, the Khabies honored their Jewish heritage by observing holidays and Sabbaths. Khabie also helped establish a Sephardic minyan, a Jewish prayer group, at Kenesseth Israel Synagogue.
"The pride of where you came from and what it took for you to get here, that just kind of seeped out in everything," said daughter-in-law Wendy Khabie. "The way they observed holidays and invited people to be in their home, it just exuded that this was a very proud family to be in the United States."
With his background in textiles, Khabie became a tailor and worked at Juster's in downtown Minneapolis before later working at the Dayton's department store, which would become Marshall Field's and then Macy's. Khabie took the bus to work and outfitted many downtown businessmen and local celebrities such as Twins player Kirby Puckett and entrepreneur Dick Enrico in the store and at his shop in his home basement, often sharing his own perspectives on issues from politics to universal peace.
"Everything he talked about was very important and had meaning to it," his son Victor said. "It wasn't small talk; with him it was issues, big issues."
Khabie took pride in his heritage, his children and his appearance. "Clothing was a symbol for a lot of things," his daughter Fifi said. "For him, clothing mattered, and how you looked mattered."
Khabie was still making and tailoring suits until about three years ago. His son Benjamin said he had no doubt his father could have held public office of some kind if he had had the opportunity.
"He's so proud of his kids and proud of coming to the country, but I knew he had to really sacrifice," he said.
Khabie is survived by his wife, Lili; sons Victor, Nissim, Daniel and Benjamin; daughter Fifi, and 13 grandchildren.
Services have been held.