The late Emma Baroukh, alumna at the Alliance Israelite Universelle Girls' school in Tunis
The Alliance Israelite Universelle, founded in 1860 by six French Jews to help their fellow oppressed Jews in Muslim lands towards emancipation through education, is said to have schooled one million children. Allan Solomon 's mother-in-law was among the Jewish girls receiving education for the first time, and was able to apply the language skills she learned at the AIU. Allan was inspired by seeing the film 'In the beginning there was a school' by Josy Eisenberg, part of the AIU's 150th anniversary celebrations in London, to write this on his blog:
"My connection with the AIU is through my wife Paulette, an ex-pupil, and of course my late mother-in-law, Emma Baroukh née Benassein (1895-1998) who attended the Tunisian Girls’ School founded in 1882. My “recollections” come from them.
"The AIU in Tunis insisted that the pupils spoke French. In many cases, the pupils were the only members of the family who possessed this language, as Judeo-Arabe was the lingua franca of the Jews. Young Emma was often summoned by the local French medic to act as translator for his patients. On one occasion the doctor instructed Emma to tell a patient with a gangrenous leg that the limb must be amputated. “Amputated” was not yet a word known to the child, but when the medic explained the term she was able, with obvious joy at this addition to her vocabulary but little comfort to the unfortunate patient, to convey the message.
"On graduation from the AIU, Emma understood that she had now an obligation in turn to teach at the Alliance, but was excused as she had obtained a prestigious post working for the French colonial power. During the First World War, she was attached to the French Naval hospital at Sidi-Bou-Said near Tunis, where she served in the Quartermaster Department, being responsible for food supplies to the French sailors hospitalized there, ultimately receiving an honour from the French government. Her boss was the Admiral Saliège. A fine man and doctor, he and his family adored the 19 year-old Jewish girl. He called her my Rebecca, after the heroine of Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe which he and Emma both liked, and gently mocked her insistence on eating her Kosher sandwiches apart from others in the officers’ mess.
"I often wonder if this great family friendship influenced the Admiral’s cousin, Cardinal Jules-Gérard Saliège, Archbishop of Toulouse (February 24, 1870—November 5, 1956), one of the French Yad Vashem righteous gentiles, who gave so much support to Jews during the Vichy period, and to whom ex-President Chirac recently paid tribute in a speech recognizing his contribution.
"The Holocaust saw the essential destruction of the Ashkenazi Jewish community of France. This community was replaced by the Mizrahim, Jews from the Maghreb, displaced from their Arab homelands. The immense success of this new community, providing leaders in French politics, the professions of law and medicine, business, journalism, science, academia – including Academicians and Nobel prize-winners – as well as the entertainment and media industries, is in no small measure due to the education received from the Alliance Israelite Universelle."
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