This memorial website was created in memory of our loved one, Rafi Altaweel . We will remember him forever.

Gaithersburg, MD. Dr. Rafi Khether Bunny Altaweel, accomplished surgeon, loving husband, father and grandfather, passed away on February 24, 2019.  He was 77 years old. Dr. Altaweel received his MD degree in 1964 from  University of Baghdad. He went on to complete fellowships in General Surgery and Urology in England and Ireland.  During a span of 36 years, he was responsible for the care of thousands and touched the lives of patients, and often even strangers he just met in his daily activities, during a career that spanned three countries, Iraq, the United Kingdom and the United States. While highly skilled in urologic surgical procedures, his medical knowledge spanned a vast breadth to include general surgical conditions, acute and subacute medical procedures.  Later in his career, he worked for over 15 years at Resurrection Hospital and Martha Washington Hospital in Chicago, Illinois until his retirement in 2000.  
Dr. Altaweel was born July 19, 1941 in Mosul, Iraq. He was the middle child of Khether Altaweel, a jeweler, and Najeeba Frangoul, a teacher, whose prayers to St. Matthew for a baby boy were answered with his birth. He spent most of his youth in Mosul. A rebellious child, he was known for being the school jokester and even sometimes giving his teachers fits. From a young age, his extreme intelligence was evident. He took a national exam in iraq which qualified him for college at an early age and allowed him to pursue medicine. He was known for his keen medical knowledge and zest for fun even in a stressful medical school environment. In July 1970, he married Dr. Aghawni Abrahamian, a pediatrician he had pursued using his fountain of charm. In 1974 and 1975, his two children, Laith and Mark respectively, were born. By the late 1970s, life seemed comfortable for the family as they had moved to Basra where Dr. Altaweel was appointed to head the surgical department at a major hospital in the city.
Then, the Iran-Iraq War came, changing Dr. Altaweel's life and his family's forever. Dr. Altaweel and his wife left from Iraq with Laith and Mark to make their home in the US, first living in New York and then eventually settling in Chicago where he and Aghawni lived for over 30 years.  
Dr. Altaweel always wanted to be there for his children and he soon began to adopt the interests of his sons and American sports and culture, following hometown teams such as the Chicago Cubs and Bears. He was a doting father, present for every baseball game, school event, teacher conference, and graduation, his heart swelling with pride with each of his children's accomplishments. He was known for preserving every certificate and accolade of their youth with extreme care.  He had strong family values which he imparted to his sons.
To his loved ones, Dr. Altaweel showed great attentiveness to his personal relationships, including family members, neighbors, friends, and very often he would warm the day of a stranger with a nice smile and chat.  In times of trouble, he was quick to offer support and advice. Dr. Altaweel would go out of his way to help others and always thought of others before himself. When someone he loved hurt, he often hurt more. His heart was always open to helping not only his loved ones but random strangers, helping more than a few times people involved in serious accidents or even giving someone a hug after a bad day.
During his retirement, Dr. Altaweel showered his love on his four grandchildren never letting them live a day without their feeling that they were the most loved and special children in the world.  
In his later years, he said of his chronic heart failure, “When I had my heart attack, I asked Jesus to let me live to see Laith and Mark grow up. I lived not only to see them graduate but also to see my grandchildren. I could not ask for anything more.”
Dr. Altaweel was an active member of his church, St. Aphraim Syriac Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He loved serving his church and was always proud to be a Christian from Iraq and that Christians there were among the earliest community of Christians. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Aghawni Abrahamian, sons Drs. Laith and Mark Altaweel and 4 grandchildren, Naveen, Shaan, Milan and Melinda Altaweel, his brother Mr. Elias Altaweel and sister Ms. Salima Altaweel.   
  
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. ..”  John 3:16
Posted by Roshan Ramanathan on July 20, 2019
Dear Jiddu happy birthday to you, laith and I think of you whenever we have good food. We feel you are with us every moment watching the kids and seeing them do good things. They know they have to make you proud and they miss you a lot. But we tell them they can always talk to you in their heart.
Posted by Mark Altaweel on July 20, 2019
Happy birthday dad....as usual one day late :).
Posted by Wes Frangul on March 12, 2019
My first recollection of meeting Rafi was probably sometime around 18-20 years ago when my father Hamid came to visit from Phoenix. He asked that I reach out to his cousins Rafi and Mazin who he hadn’t seen in decades as both lived in the Chicago area too. I had met Mazin 30+ years prior when my two brothers and I did a road trip to California with my father when Mazin was still a student at University of Chicago, but we had lost touch after that. I had not known Rafi at all until my dad reconnected with them on his visit as he came to the US several years after I had met Mazin.
We hosted a barbecue at our house and Rafi, Mazin, Michal and Mark came out from Chicago to see my father and meet my wife and daughter. Everyone who knew Rafi would probably guess that he was smitten by my daughter Julia who was probably 3-4 years old at that time. Rafi immediately nicknamed her Princess, a name that stuck with her over the last many years. Rafi and my father were close growing up and the time gap between their visits didn’t seem to matter as they started ribbing each other about weight, gray hair, politics, weather and any other topics where they disagreed. Just like old times. Their bickering-like-brothers relationship continued on for years over the phone and during my dad’s visits. Despite their differences, I think they both needed someone in their lives who brought back memories of better times in their home country.
Over the many years since, Rafi had always taken an interest and shown great concern for my family. He was usually the person we’d seek out for advice on health questions and family matters. He listened with unfailing attention, provided heartfelt guidance and was always generous with his time. He loved a good political debate and usually won because he had more stamina than everyone else (not because he was right!). Despite his failing health, he never failed to show more concern for people he cared for which seemed to be the reason he carried on.
Rafi and Mazin are the closest connections I have had with the Frangul (Frangoul/Frangool) side of the family and they have treated me and my wife and kids as though we had always been close family. My biggest regret is not having the chance to know Rafi and his wonderful family until my late-30s. He will be missed. Godspeed.
Posted by Mark Altaweel on February 28, 2019
On Sunday March 3, 2019 at 11 AM in St. Peter and Paul Syriac Orthodox Church, there will be a memorial service for Dr. Altaweel. The address is 25566 Lahser Rd. Southfield, MI 48033
Posted by Mark Altaweel on February 28, 2019
On Saturday March 2, 2019 at 5 PM at St. Behnam Syriac Orthodox Church in Toronto, Canada there will be a memorial service for Dr. Rafi Altaweel.
Posted by Megan Pierce on February 28, 2019
This Sunday, March 3rd 2019 (starting at 2pm) St. Afrem Syriac Orthodox Church (Northlake, Illinois) will have a Memorial prayer on behalf of the late Dr. Rafi Altaweel.
We ask that you inform family and friends to join us, as we bid farewell to a dear friend and important figure in the history of St. Afrem’s Church and pray on behalf of his departed soul. He will be deeply missed. Our sincere condolences to the Altaweel family.
Light snacks & refreshments to follow in the Church Hall. In lieu of flower donations, his family has asked for donations to be made to St. Judes Children’s Hospital, in his name.
Posted by Edith Tao on March 1, 2019
Words cannot even begin to express my sorrow.  Azo, Laith and Mark, please accept my deepest condolences for your loss.
Dr. Altaweel opened his arms to my family, when we just moved from Taiwan to Glenview, Illinois.
There were several years,  my husband Alex worked at Taipei branch of his employer then and I worked at Chicago downtown, our son James spent most his after school hours with the Altaweel's.  Every time when I went to pick James up after work, Dr. Altaweel would welcome me into his house  with his sincere smile and ask me how my day was, the warmth of his would wipe away my guilty feeling for leaving my child with this family til so late..., even today I can still vividly hear his warm and kind welcoming voice. 
We kept our friendship after Alex changed his job and we moved to California, I remember Altaweel and Tao families met up at Las Vagas for Christmas one year, I also remember when Dr. Altaweel and the kids came to California, they would visit us whenever they could. 
Dr. Altaweel kept his generosity and passions towards his friends even when his health was getting fragile, he made a good effort to call us on every Christmas holidays, no matter where we are.  He reached out to me immediately when Alex passed away, even though he himself was not in very good condition.  I am forever indebted to his kindness, encouragement and thoughtfulness.
I miss you, Rafi. 
Posted by Mark Altaweel on February 26, 2019
Funeral service will be at St. Aphraim Syriac Orthodox Church on Friday 3/1 at 10:00 am (viewing) and mass at 11:00 am
6200 Indian Run Pkwy, Alexandria, VA 22312

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Recent Tributes
Posted by Roshan Ramanathan on July 20, 2019
Dear Jiddu happy birthday to you, laith and I think of you whenever we have good food. We feel you are with us every moment watching the kids and seeing them do good things. They know they have to make you proud and they miss you a lot. But we tell them they can always talk to you in their heart.
Posted by Mark Altaweel on July 20, 2019
Happy birthday dad....as usual one day late :).
Posted by Wes Frangul on March 12, 2019
My first recollection of meeting Rafi was probably sometime around 18-20 years ago when my father Hamid came to visit from Phoenix. He asked that I reach out to his cousins Rafi and Mazin who he hadn’t seen in decades as both lived in the Chicago area too. I had met Mazin 30+ years prior when my two brothers and I did a road trip to California with my father when Mazin was still a student at University of Chicago, but we had lost touch after that. I had not known Rafi at all until my dad reconnected with them on his visit as he came to the US several years after I had met Mazin.
We hosted a barbecue at our house and Rafi, Mazin, Michal and Mark came out from Chicago to see my father and meet my wife and daughter. Everyone who knew Rafi would probably guess that he was smitten by my daughter Julia who was probably 3-4 years old at that time. Rafi immediately nicknamed her Princess, a name that stuck with her over the last many years. Rafi and my father were close growing up and the time gap between their visits didn’t seem to matter as they started ribbing each other about weight, gray hair, politics, weather and any other topics where they disagreed. Just like old times. Their bickering-like-brothers relationship continued on for years over the phone and during my dad’s visits. Despite their differences, I think they both needed someone in their lives who brought back memories of better times in their home country.
Over the many years since, Rafi had always taken an interest and shown great concern for my family. He was usually the person we’d seek out for advice on health questions and family matters. He listened with unfailing attention, provided heartfelt guidance and was always generous with his time. He loved a good political debate and usually won because he had more stamina than everyone else (not because he was right!). Despite his failing health, he never failed to show more concern for people he cared for which seemed to be the reason he carried on.
Rafi and Mazin are the closest connections I have had with the Frangul (Frangoul/Frangool) side of the family and they have treated me and my wife and kids as though we had always been close family. My biggest regret is not having the chance to know Rafi and his wonderful family until my late-30s. He will be missed. Godspeed.
his Life

Planting Vegetables

Rafi was always proud of his vegetable garden. His general personality was one of attentiveness to his loved ones and those around him. He took that same attitude to his vegetables. Rafi did not have a large garden. In fact, it was just a porch with some planters that he made from wood where he bought soil and then created small areas where he grew tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and a few other vegetables. But it's not always about the size of garden that matters most but its how much you get out of what you have. Rafi always seemed to find a way to get a bountiful harvest. He made sure the plants would be watered at the right time and at the right amount. He even tried to scheme to find ways to keep one particular squirl out of his little patch. Nurture defined much of Rafi's life. He nurtured that little garden of his so it grew sweet vegetables that produced plenty for a little area. He liked to give those who visited a few tomatoes or cucumbers and made sure you knew his vegetables were loved. Come to think of it, he really just extended his nurturing spirit from people to plants and back again.

Memories of Jiddu By Naveen Altaweel

Every time we visited Jiddu (In Chicago) for Christmas and Thanksgiving every mourning I woke up 

Mar Mattai Monastery

The story of Rafi really began in a remote monastery called Mar (St.) Mattai Monastery, or St. Matthew Monastery, located on Mount Alfaf in northern Iraq sometime around 1940. The monastery is ancient, dating to the 4th century AD when the Sasanian Empire once ruled Iraq. The story goes that Mar Mattai fled to Mount Alfaf after Julian the Apostate, ruler of the Roman Empire, began to persecute Christians. It was a refuge for Christians who fled persecution and became a place of scholarly learning. It was also a place where some of Rafi's ancestors were buried. Christians in Iraq believe the monastery gave them a special closeness with God.

That closeness was demonstrated by his mother Najeeba (Frangoul) Altaweel sometime around 1940 when she visited the monastery. There she prayed to God to give her another child after Rafi's sister, Salema, had been born. Najeeba had married later in life and having a child at her age was not easy. But she was a woman of faith and soon she found out that her prayers at a monastery so dear to her and generations of Iraqi Christians was soon answered. Soon after her visit, she learned she was pregnant. She had also made a promise when she was there, which was she would not cut the hair of her child for few years if God granted her a child. His baptismal name was Matthew, after the monastery and famous saint. 

After Rafi was born, he would go on to have quite the locks, with his hair growing longer than even his sister's before eventually his mother cut it. Few believed Rafi when he told this story years later, considering his hair issues later in life, but luckily there was a photo of him and his sister that proved otherwise. Mar Mattai would go on to have a special place in Rafi's heart. Years later, he would ask about the monastery's welfare and would fondly tell stories about spending summers there with his family. Christian families, particularly from Mosul, would often sleep in the monastery over the summer months, usually outside in the courtyard. It was also at that beautify monastery on the mountain that the story of Rafi began.

Recent stories

Jiddu's Cooking

Shared by Mark Altaweel on March 19, 2019

Rafi liked food. We all new. But later in his life, he became quite the chef. He would learn new dishes almost every day after his retirement and took great pride in making something for people who visited him. I remember he insisted how his soup was the best on Earth. Well it was good, not sure if it was the best, but good. I think the things I remember the most about Rafi in his later years were his visits to the Botanic Gardens in the Chicago area and going to church with him on Sundays. When it came to food and cooking, I think Rafi took some pride in what he could do.

Last Smile

Shared by Mark Altaweel on March 6, 2019

I remember the last time I saw Rafi smile. This was New Year's Eve in 2018. One might think it's sad to think of the last time you know someone close to you smiled, but in this case it gives me comfort. Rafi had been quite sick for the last few months of his life. He often was in a difficult mood. It became difficult to make him happy, even for a moment. But on New Year's Eve, after one of his more difficult episodes, my daughter Melinda and Milan, her cousin, decided to do a little recital for their Jiddu. They sang Christmas and other music for Jiddu; they also danced for him. This had the immediate effect of making Jiddu smile. His difficult mood turned positive and he even encouraged them on as they performed. He became happy. We had one more evening where we could all share a positive experience. That was the last night my daughter saw her Jiddu. But if I had to chose how the last night would go I could not imagine a better way.

Singing Grandparents

Shared by Roshan Ramanathan on March 5, 2019

During  one of Jiddu's visits, my parents were also visiting. Those were happy days - Naveen was a newborn and our families were just  in heaven. I used to be so inspired that I would write songs to my little one. One evening, I decided to put the grandparents to work! I asked if they would be willing to sing one of the songs I wrote.  Lucky for me, they all agreed! This is how giddy we all were at the time with our new baby. I sat down at the piano - they sat in the room around me with the newborn and each grandparent sang a verse - just changing 1 word - when it was their turn. It was magical. The lyrics are below for anyone who is curious!


Your (insert relationship - mommy/daddy/grandma/grandpa) loves you and that's no lie!

S/he will love you all of her life! 

Loving you is easy 'cause you're beautiful!

Little boys are lovely and so sweet. 

Being with them is such a treat. 

But being with you is simply wonderful. 

Little boy blue! 

There's no one like you. 

You're my special baby that's for sure!