Thursday, January 04, 2007

Secret and fearful Jews of Lebanon

Six months after 'Point of no return' first flagged his 'Jews of Lebanon' blog, Haaretz does a feature on Aaron-Micael Beydoun, its Muslim webmaster, and the few Jews still living in Beirut. (If initially we approached Beydoun's blog with suspicion, it was because it purported to speak for the Jews when none were associated with it).

Notice that the Lebanese Jews in Yoav Stern's piece are all pathetically fearful of revealing their identity (with thanks: Albert, Lily).


"The Magen Abraham central synagogue is located in the heart of Beirut, not far from the offices of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The synagogue is in grave need of repair but one can still see the Magen David that adorns every column of the building. Magen Abraham once symbolized the splendor of the city's opulent Jewish community. Now, it is roofless and the wind howls through it, symbolizing the remnants of the Jewish community that remain in Beirut.

"However, Aaron-Micael Beydoun, a 21-year-old American Muslim of Lebanese descent, recently launched a campaign to renovate the site. In his blog,"thejewsoflebanon.org," Beydoun also presents updated information regarding the besieged Jewish community in Lebanon.

"Almost 60 years after the establishment of the state of Israel, only a few dozen Jews remain in Beirut and other parts of the country. They keep their religious identity a secret, fearing that exposure might cause them harm in the currently tense situation in Lebanon. A tourist, who visited Beirut on Yom Kippur a year and a half ago, told Haaretz that he saw a few Jews visiting the graves of their loved ones to pray. They refused to talk to him. Community representatives do not appear in official ceremonies or public events, and any attempt to contact them is met by icy refusal. But their community is still a part of Lebanon's religious tapestry. The Jewish community is one of 17 religious groups officially recognized in that nation.(...)

"I used to think that all the Jews in Lebanon were blondes from Europe. I gradually realized that it was a loyal community of real Lebanese, who were and still are part of the fabric of that wonderful nation, and without them, the Lebanese puzzle is missing a piece," (Beydoun) told Haaretz.

"Beydoun says that many Jewish Internet surfers of Lebanese descent have written responses to his blog. There are also responses from surfers who identify themselves as Lebanese Muslims. They mainly warn Beydoun of the political implications of grappling with the sensitive subject of Jews in Lebanon, noting that Jews are automatically identified with Israel. A surfer who called himself "A Muslim Observer" wrote, "Go for it. Though keep in mind that any Jewish attempt of reviving the once great community on Lebanese land should clearly disavow itself of any Israeli/Zionist ideology."

"The synagogue is located in Wadi Abu Jmil, directly under the Grand Serail, the seat of Lebanon's Prime Ministry. That site is currently the focus of political tensions that could return Lebanon to civil war. But during Lebanon's better years, the site was part of the Solidaire Company's ambitious plan to renovate the area, a plan initiated by former prime minister Rafik Hariri. According to Lebanese law, every individual or organization in the area is obligated to renovate its own property. If they fail to do so, the property is transferred to national representatives. Several months ago, the Jewish community was granted another extension during which it has to locate funding to renovate the synagogue.

"Reports in the Arabic press indicate that there are very few Jews left in Lebanon, and most of them are very old. Many of them are married to non-Jews. "My cousin in Lebanon is married to a Muslim. Her children are Jewish according to Halakha [Jewish law] and Muslim according to Sharia [Muslim law], and they live as Muslims. There are dozens like her," a source in the Lebanese community in Israel said.

"Liza Sarour, a 50-year-old Jewish woman, lives in grave poverty in Wadi Abu Jmil. Another Jew, Ze'ev G., was interviewed in March in the Saudi newspaper Okaz in a series of articles about the Jews of Lebanon. During the interview, he said that he avoids taking part in parliamentary elections because he knows that if he votes, he will become the focus of media coverage. According to him, there is a restaurant owner in Beirut who conceals his Jewish identity so his clientele will not boycott the restaurant."

Read article in full



4 comments:

Manu said...

It is interesting to say that, until the civil war broke out in 1975, Lebanon was the only arabic country where the jewish community kept on growing even after the state of Israel was created ...

bataween said...

You are right that the community did grow as a result of Syrian and Iraqi Jews fleeing to Lebanon after 1948, but it began to shrink again in the 1960s and dramatically after the 1967 war

Babyzz said...

Very interesting story on the Jews of Lebanon. Israel should get the balance of them out of there for their own safety. Is there any updates as this blog is a couple of years old?

bataween said...

Babyzz
Not much has changed,except the community has shrunk further. Beydoun has discontinued his blog, and the synagogue in Beirut has been repaired. But the few Jews live too far from it to use it. Lisa stour has moved out of wadi Abu jamil.