Part of a historic Babylonian Jewish family that introduced banking to the Middle East—the Zilkhas can trace their lineage back more than a thousand years—Ezra was born in Iraq and forced to flee Baghdad with his parents and siblings during World War II. Ezra's father, Khedouri Zilkha, settled the family in Beirut and then Cairo; Ezra later spent time living in London, Paris and Hong Kong before eventually settling in New York. For more than four decades, he's tended to the family fortune as the chair of Zilkha & Sons. (In the 1980s, his wealth earned him inclusion on the Forbes 400.) But he's much better known around town for his philanthropic activities.
The Zilkhas have been extremely generous over the years, which is why you'll see the family name displayed (or carved in marble) at the Metropolitan Opera, Hospital for Special Surgery, and on the campus of Wesleyan University. Zilkha has also been active with a number of political causes. He's donated to a slew of Republicans candidates (most recently Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney), is an honorary trustee of the Brookings Institution, and serves on the board of Layalina Productions, which creates and distributes pro-American Arabic-language entertainment programming.
Zilkha's life story can be found in his memoir, From Baghdad to Boardrooms: My Family's Odyssey, which he self-published in 1999.
Zilkha and his wife, Cecile (née Cecile Iny), have been married since 1950. They have three kids: Bettina, a prominent social fixture; Donald Zilkha, who works with his father at the family firm; and Donna. (Donald made the tabloids in 2002 after his wife, Valerie, discovered that three years earlier he'd had a baby with his Guatemalan secretary and installed them in a mansion in New Jersey.) Ezra and Cecile live on East 66th Street, in the same building as Ace Greenberg, Lew Sanders, and fellow Met Opera benefactors Sid and Mercedes Bass.