This is a useful potted history of the Jews of Libya by Eness Elias in Haaretz, the differences between the Tripoli and the Benghazi communities, and the differences between the acculturated upper classes, who mainly went to Italy, and the great majority of Jews who went to Israel, where life was difficult. (With thanks: Imre)
My grandmother died a little more than three weeks ago. Grandmother Eness, for whom I’m named, was born in Tripoli, Libya, and lived there until age 13, when she immigrated with her family to Israel. Here she met my grandfather, Tzion Hasson, who was born and raised in Benghazi.
My grandmother’s house was filled with laughter, people and joy, and we all waited for Nonna, as we called her, to put on her show. Sometimes she emerged from the hallway dressed up like a gorilla and scared us to death. She had all kinds of masks in her closet, and we waited in suspense for the next thing. She told us stories, impersonated family members, stung us with loving sarcasm and was always there for the big family that she had brought into the world.
Life in Tripoli wasn’t harder for Nonna than life in Israel. She was an educated girl who possessed joie de vivre, knew four languages even before she learned Hebrew (Arabic, Italian, English and Ladino), loved to sing the songs of the Egyptian artists Farid el-Atrash and Abdel Halim Hafez, was an avid dancer and later did all she could not to let the difficult life in Israel break her. The story of my grandfather and grandmother is the story of an ancient community that disappeared from Libya but found itself in Israel, where it carries on the customs that sustained it for thousands of years.