Sunday, October 21, 2018

For Chloe, there was more to life than lunch

This clip is from the World Jewish Congress, and illustrates the rich and varied contribution made by the Jews of Egypt in all walks of life. Here's the Beit Hatefutsot entry about Gaby Aghion, founder of the Chloe fashion brand: 

Jewish success in the fashion industry is well documented – from generations of textile traders to modern day fashion icons like Donna Karran, Ralph Lauren and Isaac Mizrahi. But the story of Gabrielle Hanoka is somewhat different. The Parisian fashion legend out of Jewish Egypt.

She was born in Alexandria and commerce was never foreign to her, as her father managed a tobacco factory. Like many young girls of the local elite she received a French-style education. She first visited Paris as a student at the age of 18, the year before her marriage to Raymond Aghion. Aghion was a man with family wealth but leftwing political convictions. The couple moved to Paris in 1945.

 Gaby and Raymond Aghion in Cairo (photo: Chloe Archive)

The move made sense in retrospect. The Israeli-Egyptian conflict soon made Jewish life in Egypt uncomfortable. In Paris the Aghions gravitated toward Communism – but of the bohemian style. They knew writers such as Louis Aragon and Tristan Tzara, the legendary painter Picasso, poets Paul Éluard and poet-writer Lawrence Durrell. Raymond later opened a modern art gallery.

Despite her comfortable lifestyle, Gabrielle strove for more. In 1952 she allegedly told her husband “I’ve got to work … it’s not enough to eat lunch,” and fashion was the obvious choice.

She had had six sample summer plain high-quality cotton dresses sewn in  her Paris apartment. Rather than labelling them under her own name she chose the brand name – Chloé, after a friend.

Casually styled to be easily altered to fit, the dresses were a great success. She would soon team with a business partner Jacques Lenoir and the business never looked back. Their twice a year prêt-à-porter (Ready-To-Wear) collection paraded over breakfast in the Café de Flore on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, first launched in 1956, became a highlight of the Parisian fashion calendar.

“Everything was yet to be invented, and this thrilled me”, she once said and as brand Chloé had unique vision. Much in line with her socialist inclination she would bring quality fashion to the masses. Her vision was astute: soon the ready-to-wear industry would comprehensively outgrow the ready-to-measure products of the elite.

She had a unique eye for talent. In 1966 she made Karl Lagerfeld her main designer and soon the company’s illustrious customers included Jackie Kennedy, Brigitte Bardot, Maria Callas and Grace Kelly, and in 1971 the company launched its first Parisian boutique.

Gabrielle sold her share in the company in 1985, but remained closely involved in the industry until her death in 2014, at the age of 93.

Friday, October 19, 2018

'Uprooted' : corrective to one-sided discourse

 'Uprooted' by Lyn Julius is a welcome corrective to the one-sidedness prevalent in public discourse regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, writes Brandon Marlon in his Jerusalem Report review:

The British-born daughter of Mizrahi Jewish refugees from Iraq, Julius (co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the United Kingdom) compiles a series of historical essays highlighting the plight of the lumpen and often forgotten Jewish communities throughout the Arab world that, after many centuries of existence, met their fateful and sudden demise variously between 1950-1980. While in 1945 as many as 856,000 Jews dwelled in the Middle East and North Africa, today approximately 4,500 remain – an unprecedented international dislocation of Jews.

Moroccan immigrant family, 1949

The author depicts two competing historical narratives concerning Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry: the mythic Convivencia (mutual toleration during the Golden Age), and the lachrymose conception of Jewish-Muslim history, which sadly but evidently is the more accurate of the two. She makes clear that only those who downplay the ubiquitous dhimmitude and Muslim antisemitism can avoid the dolorous facts, from the massacred Jewish community of Khaybar in Arabia under Muhammad to the collaboration of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini with Nazi Germany, to the vicious Farhud of 1941 in Iraq (in which 179 Jews were brutally murdered) and subsequent mass expulsions wherein “the Jews were faced with a stark choice: suitcase or coffin.”

The culminating period of woes following the advent of the State of Israel, termed the “Jewish Nakba,” is portrayed as a shortsighted and wholly avoidable upheaval: “Two victim populations arose out of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Arab leadership bears responsibility for needlessly causing both Nakbas – the Jewish and the Arab.”

Moreover, the number of Jewish refugees fleeing 10 Arab countries exceeded that of Palestinian Arab refugees fleeing what is now Israel by more than 100,000: “Their displacement was on a larger scale than that of the Palestinians, and their material losses were greater. Whereas Arab refugees fled a war which Arab leaders had instigated, the Jews were victims of unpredictable violence and a deliberate legislative policy scapegoating them for being Jews.”

Julius decries the West’s lack of awareness of and attention to the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, ascribing the dearth to a warped schema: “In the fashionable ‘hierarchy of oppression’ of marginalised groups, Jews rank well down the list. They are seen to enjoy power, despite their history as a vulnerable minority, and ‘white privilege,’ despite their ethnic origins in the Middle East.” She likewise laments how, even in Israel, the suffering of Mizrahi Jewry has not received its rightful place in the political context: “The peace agenda is seriously skewed when a trauma afflicting more than half the Israeli population – those who descend from refugees from Arab and Muslim countries – has been airbrushed out of dialogue and coexistence projects.”

Well-researched and accessible, “Uprooted” is a modern and welcome corrective to the one-sidedness frequently prevalent in public discourse regarding the Arab-Jewish conflict. Julius rightly calls attention to salient points elided by purblind post-colonialists insensible of the reality “that Arab and Muslim rule is a colonialism that predates Western European colonialism.” She holds to account countries bereft of their Jews who, nonetheless, promote phantom communities for tourism’s sake, “without the inconvenience of live Jews.” As a text, “Uprooted” joins important predecessors including Norman Stillman’s “The Jews of Arab Lands” (1979), Joan Peters’ “From Time Immemorial” (1984), and Martin Gilbert’s “In Ishmael’s House” (2010), and as a historical narrative complements the documentaries “The Forgotten Refugees” (2005, director Michael Grynszpan) and “The Silent Exodus” (2009, director Pierre Rehov).

While some readers may understandably prefer a single, linear narrative as opposed to the book’s serialized articles, “Uprooted” will especially suit piecemeal perusers. The book is generous with photographs of the people, holy sites, historical documents, and lively culture of the now-defunct Jewish communities across the Arab lands and includes numerous appendices, a bibliography, and an index.

Read article in full

More reviews of UPROOTED

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Trigano's 'End of Jewry' published in Hebrew

Professor Shmuel Trigano's important work 'La fin du Judaisme en terres d'Islam'   has been translated into Hebrew and  published by Carmel in cooperation with Dialogia.

A graduate of the Hebrew University, Shmuel Trigano is emeritus professor of the University of Paris and the author of 25 books on philosophy, history, sociology - mostly of Jewish interest.

The French original, published in  Paris in 2009 by Denoël, featured chapters edited by Professor Trigano and written  by  Ruth Attias Toledano, Richard Ayun, Rifat Bali, Yigal Ben-Nun, Levana Zamir, Jacques Taieb, Shmuel Trigano, Yaron Harel, Esther Meir Glizenstein, Maurice Roumani and Orly Rahimian.

Front cover of the Hebrew version

 Between 1940 and 1970, after the destruction of European Jewry, an event was ignored. The Jewish communities of the Arab-Muslim world have disappeared almost completely. About one million Jews were forced to leave their countries. Some 600, 000  found shelter in Israel, where they constituted the majority of the population. Without them, Israel would not have survived.

Nevertheless, The history of their aliyah concealed the other side of that history: the side of the expulsion, of exclusion, of  oppression, of discrimination for nationalist and Islamic motives. Colonial rule freed the dhimmi, the other Muslims from the state of humiliation they were in. But once the colonialists had gone, the Jews were again destined to be second-class subjects. Crucial proof of this is the hostility of the Arab-Muslim world that persecuted them. As Israelis in the State of Israel,  they became free citizens. Why and how was this history repressed, first and foremost by the Israelis, and even by some of the Sephardim themselves? Worse still, why was it ignored by academia and political elites?

This is the best-kept secret of the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its ramifications for Israel's image in international policy are particularly damaging. It paves the way  to an ideological war waged by the Palestinians against the State of Israel. More deeply, it forbids the Sephardim from putting their trauma into words and prevents them from revealing their own history.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Yemen Houthis are still cursing the Jews

 There are barely 50 Jews left in Yemen, yet the Iranian-backed Houthis who control much of the country still incorporate a curse on the Jews in their slogans. Report in the Jerusalem Post:

“Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam,” is the slogan printed on small cards handed out at Sana’a University in Yemen. Nadwa Dawsari, a specialist on conflict and tribes in Yemen, posted a photo of a laminated “student and staff ID” on October 9 on Twitter.

The slogan has been used for years according to Dave McAvoy, a security and risk analyst who tracks developments in the region.

“It’s an integral part of their propaganda and chanting. It’s the Houthi slogan,” says McAvoy. 

Houthi flag: "God is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam."

The Houthis are a Yemeni rebel group that conquered Sana’a and almost took control of Aden in 2015, threatening the country’s most important cities. A Saudi Arabia-led alliance has been fighting the rebels since then. The Houthis are backed by Iran and have fired ballistic missiles at Riyadh. In recent years they have increasingly incorporated anti-Israel rhetoric into their speeches, as part of the growing network of Iranian-backed groups in the region, such as Hezbollah, that is obsessed with fighting Israel.

The Houthis have incorporated the antisemitic “curse the Jews” slogan into their chants as well.

“They chant it at their marches. They shout it in their combat videos and they hold signs which read it,” says McAvoy.

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

New film explores Shalom Shabazi, poet and legend

 Mystery surrounds Shalom Shabazi, Yemenite Jewry's most famous rabbi and poet. An orphan born into poverty in the 17th century, Shabazi has been elevated into a symbol and saint. A new film tries to do justice to different interpretations of his life and character. David Guedj writes in Haaretz :
Young Yemenite, early 20th century (photo:  Ephraim Moshe Lillen)

Despite his financial plight, Shabazi acquired a very broad religious education, one that encompassed the entire universe of Jewish tradition. He achieved extraordinary fluency in the three languages that are the pillars of Jewish wisdom – Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic – as well as classical Arabic. Hence the intercultural mosaic that underlies his writings.

A poetic spirit impelled Sharazi from youth. Even though he was immersed in the study of Judaism in all its facets, poetry was the core of his spiritual activity, and the medium in which he was most prolifically creative. His 850 poems (written in both Hebrew and in Arabic translated to Hebrew) will be published next year in an academic edition, under the aegis of Professor (Yosef) Tobi. 

The manifold narratives of Shabazi’s life are reflected in the remarks of the film’s interviewees. Shaer Meoded has chosen not to set forth one single story; there are as many versions as there are speakers. Judaic studies scholar Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman, for example, relates that Shabazi had three children, whereas poet Tuvia Sulami refers to four. The latter adds that Shabazi’s father died of natural causes, but Lea Avraham, a singer and former member of the Inbal dance troupe, describes the father was tortured to death in the presence of his young son. The diversity of biographical information stems from the fact that there are almost no surviving contemporaneous, written testimonies about Shabazi. The meager information we have derives from popular traditions handed down from one generation to the next and from biographical tidbits interspersed in his poetry. 

The multiplicity of voices expressed by the interviewees is reflected in a particularly meaningful way thanks to the various interpretations the director offers for the poems. Thus, for example, “Ayelet Chen” (Graceful Gazelle) can be read as a work about love between a man and a woman, according to the bold exegesis of Lea Avraham, literary scholar Galili Shahar, and writer and poet Almog Behar. Alternately, it can be seen as a poem of longing for the Shekhinah – the “divine presence,” according to Jewish mystical tradition – and for the Holy Land, according to the conservative interpretation of Yehuda Amir, an expert in Yemenite poetry, and Uri Melamed, a scholar of modern Hebrew. The film itself shows no preference for either possibility. On the contrary: It creates tension and interest precisely through the debate among speakers characterized by different religious beliefs, age, gender and academic expertise. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Yemenite builder's son with a PhD

 Sarah Ansbacher runs the Aden Jewish heritage museum in Tel Aviv. Sometimes the visitors to the museum she meets have such interesting stories to tell, they deserve to be shared with a wider audience. Thanks to Sarah for giving us permission to post this one: 

Sometimes the most ordinary-looking people are anything but. So it was with an older gentleman in his eighties I met on Friday with an inspiring story about success against all odds. (Grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea - this is a good one.)

‘Ah, Adenim!’ he said when he entered, ‘We always used to be against them.’ There was a twinkle in his eye and his smile was good-natured. It was obvious he wasn’t being serious. ‘Why is that?’ I asked.

‘I’m Temani. We were in school together. There was always this rivalry. They’d say, “You Temanim!” we’d say, “You Adenim!”’

‘But why?’
A street in Keren Hateimanim, Tel Aviv

He gave an amused shrug. ‘I don’t know… we were children.’ He told me he needed to sit down, he'd just returned from shopping in Shuk Carmel (the market) and was a bit tired. Since it was quiet I joined him on the bench and by then, it had somehow been established I was originally from London. He switched to near-flawless English with a slight accent. Perhaps I should have been surprised, but it didn’t occur to me yet. And then, he told me his extraordinary story.

He was born to Temani parents in Kerem Hateimanim, a neighbourhood in Tel Aviv close by, next to Shuk Carmel. His great-grandparents had come here from Yemen in the 1880s and settled in Kfar Shiloach, a village in Jerusalem just outside the Old City walls, also known as Silwan. His father didn’t speak much Hebrew back then. Amongst themselves, they spoke Arabic. He was also fluent in Yiddish and Ladino to converse with the Ashkenazim and Sefardim. Nearly destitute, his parents moved to Tel Aviv shortly before he was born as his father had found work there as a builder.

Kerem Hateimanim, the neighbourhood they moved to, was the poorest in Tel Aviv and made up predominantly of Yemenite families. There was no paving between their hovels, only sand.

Growing up in the thirties, there was a friendly rivalry between the Temanim and Adenim, who lived in Mahane Yosef (the adjoining neighbourhood - where the museum is situated). Between the two neighbourhoods, besides the sea and stretching to Yaffo was an Arab neighbourhood. It looked much like Kerem Hateimanim, with low homes and sandy streets. In fact, the landlord of his parents' home at the time was Arab. The children of these three neighbourhoods would play together in the streets. And apart from the usual childhood arguments, they all got along.

The school he went to was in Kalisher Street, not far from his home. It was a Talmud Torah and all the boys were Temani or Adeni. In those days there was segregation - the boys weren’t admitted to any of the Ashkenazi schools. The school went up to kita chet (last year of primary school). He told me of all the boys he knew during the time he was there, in the entire school, not a single one went on to high school. Some didn’t even finish up to kita chet. They’d go into manual jobs. Working in a garage or as builders etc. They were given the most menial jobs. He gave me the example of a rabbi from Yemen who, having recently arrived and needing to support his family, would be forced to take a job sweeping the streets to survive.

On 29 November 1947, after the UN vote, everything changed. From north to south the Arabs began to riot and murder Jews. From the minaret of the Hassan Bek mosque (which still stands across the road from the David Intercontinental Hotel) snipers were posted who would fire into Kerem Hateimanim. They killed several people in the streets in this way, who were just going about their business. He remembers how they would often have drills in the school to teach them how to take cover from the snipers who regularly took aim at the windows of their school and homes. He told me that if you were in the street and heard a bullet whistle past; you ran as fast as you can because that meant you had a few seconds to take cover before he reloaded.

After several months of this, his mother being terrified for the family, took him and his siblings somewhere else for refuge. For a while, they lived in the back of a cafe on Allenby Street, while his father remained in the home to make sure no one stole it. There were many other families in the same situation. They were known as the Yaffo (Jaffa) refugees and the government eventually settled them in another area.

In this new area, there was an opportunity to go to a different school. But he was religious and felt out of place, so returned to his old school, cycling on his bike several miles every day there and back. Like all the other boys, he finished school at around thirteen years old and then went to work with his father employed as a builder.

His best friend from school, who was Adeni, also started off in manual labour. But he eventually opened his own business and became a self-made millionaire and helped others in the community by employing them.

As for him, the question suddenly occurred to me about his excellent command of language and I asked him where he had learnt such good English - in school? He laughed. ‘No! not in that school,’ and then almost matter-of-fact he said: ‘I learnt it when I went to University in England to do my PhD.’

I was astonished! ‘What?’ I asked, ‘How did you manage that?’

And then this unassuming man explained how his employer was very unkind and didn’t treat his father, who was older, with respect. He decided to leave and swore he’d never be employed by someone as a manual worker again. He was just fifteen when he set up on his own renovating houses and at the same time, he decided he wanted to go back to study for his bagrut (high school diploma). He went to evening college to study for his exams - the only one in his class who was a builder. During the day he would spend two weeks out of every month studying in the library and work for two weeks as a builder to help support himself and parents. He got his bagrut at 18 and after mandatory army service (where he was promoted to officer) he studied for a law degree. He moved to England for a few years to do his PhD where he also met his wife and then returned to Israel.

Having told me his story, he decided he had to continue on preparing for Shabbat. He wished me a warm Shabbat Shalom and went on his way. And I was left in awe over this amazing man, thinking about him and his incredible story for much of the day.

Guardians of the memory of Jewish Aden

Sunday, October 14, 2018

When Iraq considered dumping 50,000 Jews in Kuwait

The Iraqi government floated a scheme to deport 50,000 Jews to Kuwait in 1951, according to documents in the UK National Archives. Lyn Julius uncovers this little-known episode in The Times of Israel:

A law passed in March 1950 permitted legal emigration, on condition that the Jews, who were being harassed and persecuted, forfeited their nationality. Those Jews who wanted to leave were stranded in Iraq while waiting to be airlifted to Israel. By mid-November 1950, 83,000 Jews were thought to have been deprived of their nationality and were ready to depart, but only 18,000 had left the country. Israel had been airlifting about 4,000 a month via Cyprus, as the Iraqi government would not allow direct flights: the stopover made the operation slow and cumbersome. Israel made things worse when it halved he quota in November 1950 to give priority to Jews from Rumania and Poland, thought to be under greater threat.

In Iraq the waiting Jews had been stripped of their rights and many had no means of support. This made them vulnerable to expulsion by the Iraqi government.
Iraq feared that they would be a danger if it took months, even years, for the Jews to be airlifted to Israel. The government predicted a repeat of the 1941 Farhud pogrom. A confidential memo from the British embassy in Baghdad to the Foreign Office relayed Iraq’s anxiety.

It was the bombing of the Massouda Shemtob synagogue on 14 th January 1951, with the loss of three lives, that lent even greater urgency to the matter. The incident dramatised the plight of the Iraqi Jews. The British embassy sent its memo on 5th February 1951.

Iraq was considering transporting these Jews anywhere outside Iraq – such as Jordan, Syria or Kuwait and sought great power support for its plan. ‘Unless a solution were found the Iraqi government would be compelled to drive them over the frontier to Kuwait or elsewhere,’ the British embassy in Baghdad reported to London.

The Iraqi plan to dump  Jews in Kuwait ‘would create the utmost difficulty, politically and otherwise’, the British warned in a confidential memo.

Jordan refused to allow convoys of Jews to be dumped at the frontier with Israel in spite of a promised Iraqi military escort. The Jordanian option was quickly quashed – the regime feared that the Palestinian refugees would witness the Jews passing through. It would be strange indeed if Iraqi Arabs and Palestinian Arabs clashed over the security of Iraqi Jews.

Less well known is the Kuwaiti option. This too was a non-starter. Northern Kuwait did not have the water or resources to accommodate the Jews. The Iraqis talked of locking the Jews up in detention camps.

The British ambassador told the Iraqis that the UK could accept no responsibility for the Jews. Its interest was purely humanitarian. The only solution was for Israel to increase its monthly quota for Iraqi Jews. In any case the UK had not been consulted about the law stripping Jews of their citizenship. The US refused to cooperate.

The bombing of the synagogue, which was used as a registration centre for departing Jews,  galvanised the Israeli government into drastically stepping up the numbers of Jews to be transported to Israel before the law allowing legal emigration expired in March 1951. Yet Israel had neither the money, food nor housing to cope with them. In spite of all its threats, the Iraqi government still managed to hold up the airlift by dragging its feet on issuing the refugees’ paperwork.

The airlift was completed in May 1951. By then, 90 percent of Iraq’s 150,000-member Jewish community had left for Israel.

Read blog in full

Friday, October 12, 2018

Why we named our daughter Asenath

Five days after their marriage, Benjamin Kweskin and his wife travelled to Kurdistan to spend a year in the country. One of the heroines of the now extinct Jewish community was the 16th century Asenath Barzani, the first female rabbi.  So impressive was she that Benjamin and his wife have named their daughter Asenath. Charming story in NRT English:

 Asenath Barzani: focused on Torah study, not domestic work

With great respect to the legion of Jewish women named Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, we traveled down a road far less traveled and ultimately opted for a lesser known woman of valor.

Most people believe the first female rabbi to be the esteemed Regina Jones, given smicha (ordination) in 1935 Germany. While R’ Jones was technically the first female (Reform) rabbi to be given such a title, there were at least a few other women before her that were acting rabbis such as the so-called “Maiden of Ludmir” Hannah Verbermacher, and Lily Montagu. In fact, someone preceded all of these woman—by centuries.

Born circa 1590, Asenath Barzani was the daughter of the highly respected Rabbi Samuel ben Nethanel Ha’Levi Barzani

(BK: the surname Barzani references the specific region where they lived—Barzan—which lies a couple of hours north of the modern-day capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil. It also connotes the name of the Barzani tribe).

Others contend that Rabbi Samuel was from Mosul while others still maintain that he was from Amedi (Amediya), a picturesque town populated on top of a plateau surrounded by beautiful valleys and streams formerly populated by a sizable Jewish population through the mid-1800s. There were at least two synagogues in Amediya—one in the city itself and one in the valley below. 

Asenath Barzani’s narrative begins with the patriarchal sentiment that Rabbi Samuel did not have any sons “because of his sins” and Asenath was merely his smartest, most capable daughter. He taught Asenath how to read and study Torah, Talmud, Mishna, and Kabbalah, “I grew upon the knees of sages, pleasing my late father greatly with my wisdom, he taught me nothing but the holy work of studying the Torah day and night,” she recalled in one of her remaining letters.
Eventually her knowledge became well-known throughout the wider Middle East. When it was time for her to marry, her father chose his brightest pupil, Rabbi Jacob ben Abraham Mizrahi. Radical for perhaps any time period, Rabbi Samuel stipulated in the ketubah (marriage contract) that they would not be betrothed unless his daughter would focus her time as a Torah/Talmud scholar as opposed to typical domestic work. 

After Asenath’s father passed away and while her husband was away serving the needs of Kurdistan’s other remote Jewish communities she effectively became the religious leader of Amediya and the surrounding villages, and was acting Rosh Yeshiva (head of the religious school). She was also given the honorific title Tanna’it which references the early Tanna scholars who taught Mishna; however in at least one correspondence with a certain Rabbi Pinhas Hariri, he referred to her as rabbi (teacher), “My rabbi and teacher, we are always willing to serve you with pure faith.”

It is also said that while Rabbi Jacob was away, the Tanna’it wrote several petitionary letters to the Jewish community of Baghdad and elsewhere, asking for financial and religious assistance for her impoverished community. These letters were not only informative but lyrical, stylized, even poetic.

Said to be prolific in Kabbalah in particular, Asenath was perhaps most known for surrounding legends and folktales involving her. One recalls her yelling holy words to fend off an attacker, while the most famous, “Flock of Angels,” recalls that during one Rosh Hodesh (new month) she saved a burning synagogue in Amediya while using Kabbalistic incantations. Indeed, it is said that the community was so grateful to her for saving the synagogue that they renamed it after her. It may be the first time a synagogue was named after a woman.
Asenath’s influence was so powerful that century’s later, Jewish women in Iraqi Kurdistan continued to teach and lead their communities in different capacities. While unconfirmed, some Kurdish locals contend that her grave still exists today in the middle of the town.

Of course, while my wife and I do not literally expect our daughter to use Kabbalist chants to stop burning buildings, and do not necessarily need her to become a rabbi, we did seek to impart the values of this strong, unique proto-feminist woman, the first female ‘rabbi’ in Jewish history. Our expectations remain high nonetheless.  

Read article in full

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Algerian postcards depict 19th century Jews

With thanks: Benjamin

This selection of postcards depicts Jews in 19th century or early 20th century Algeria. Some are hand-coloured.

The Jewish women are likely not to have objected to being photographed, and would anyway have made more interesting subjects since they had their faces uncovered.

 It is interesting that there are comparatively few Jews wearing European dress, although Algeria was a French colony since 1830. Algerian Jews became French citizens after 1870, except in Ghardaia in the south of the country.

 Some of the women look quite opulently dressed. This is possible because they had their photographs taken on special occasions, such as on the eve of their marriage when it was customary for the Jewish bride to wear jewellery and an embroidered dress for the Henna ceremony.

Others are photographed in a suggestive pose.

The overall impression is that the majority of Jews were poor and downtrodden. Under French rule, there arose a middle class of assimilated petits bourgeois who no longer spoke Arabic and often felt fiercely French.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

'Jews have no interest in returning to Arab lands'

  JIMENA is sponsoring a screening of Remember Baghdad at the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival. Here JIMENA's founder, Gina Waldman, talks about her own story as a Jewish refugee from Libya, JIMENA's achievements, and what she liked about the film. Contrary to the impression the film might have given,  she stresses that most Jews are legally barred from returning to Arab countries and have no interest in doing so. Interview by Michelle Shabtai and Karen Winokan of SVJFF.

SVJFF: What has JIMENA accomplished that you’re particularly proud of? 

WALDMAN: One thing I’m extremely proud of is how we’ve put our story into the narrative of the Middle East. It was practically non-existent beforehand. Most people familiar with the refugee story during that time, would refer only to Palestinian refugees, ignoring the fact that we Jews also have a narrative. Another thing that has happened is that we’ve pushed the Israeli government, which had completely neglected our narrative because they didn’t see the importance of it. The Palestinian refugee issue needs to be addressed, but to recognize one and ignore ours is not right and not just.

JIMENA uses education to create an awareness of these narratives. We’re now partnering with Beit Ha’Tfutzot—the Museum of the Jewish People in Israel. All our data, stories, history and photographs are going to be included in their website. Every researcher, whether sitting in Timbuktu, Mali, Kenya or anywhere else, will be able to tap into the JIMENA story and learn about it. The Israeli government is also finally collaborating with is to collect hundreds of testimonies from Jews of Arab countries. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has been curating JIMENA’s oral history collection and students have written theses. The main thing is, that if we once said that nobody knows our story, we can’t say that anymore. We have an abundance of historical testimonies that are extremely powerful, so there’s a lot we can be proud of.

SVJFF: What drew JIMENA to sponsor the screening of “Remember Baghdad”?

WALDMAN: Movies are an effective educational tool. It’s important for the public to see how Jews lived in countries besides Poland or Russia, and how they co-existed in other places. Also, I’m totally sympathetic to some of the narratives that were relayed in the film. The lifestyle of the Iraqi Jews back then differs from the lifestyle Jews experienced in other Arab countries. Besides Moroccan Jews, who can visit Morocco if they choose to, no other Jews are allowed to visit in Arab countries, let alone live there or purchase property. It’s part of the law—you were given an exit visa, you became a refugee, and you can’t claim it back as your country, they will not take you back. If I were to go back to Libya, the first thing they would probably do is arrest me.

Edwin Shuker, the protagonist in the film “Remember Baghdad” wanted to buy property in Baghdad, to hang onto that last remnant of his family history. I could really relate to how extremely nostalgic he was about his background and growing up in Iraq. Realistically speaking, Jews could not live in Iraq today. Antisemitism is even stronger today in the Arab countries than it was when Jews were living there. While JIMENA respects the hopes and aspirations of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, as an institution we are committed to representing the greater interests of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Of the one million Jews who fled or were ethnically cleansed from the region, 650,000 settled in Israel and are legally barred from entering the countries that exiled them – including Iraq.

We confidently believe the vast majority of Jewish refugees and their descendants have no interest in returning to countries that violated their basic human rights and confiscated their assets and communal property as they fled or were expelled. Edwin is a friend of JIMENA and we appreciate his advocacy—however, we view his desire for Iraqi Jews to buy property in Iraq as an anomaly opinion that we don’t endorse.

SVJFF: What was especially meaningful for you in the film? What did you like about it? What do you think makes it significant today?

 Gina Waldman

WALDMAN: I think that would be the part about identity, for better and worse. On the flip side, the film portrays very sad moments. Most of the people interviewed share the anguish of the Farhud, or pogrom, which also happened in Libya. I think it was 1945 when people in Libya took to the streets. People were murdered. My father was a young man at the time and volunteered to bury the severed bodies of his friends. This traumatized him for the rest of his life. My mother ran from rooftop to rooftop until she was saved by Christian woman who hid her in her house. All this came back to me when watching the film. Righteous Arabs, who saved the lives of Jews, should not be overlooked. When I was hiding with my family in the garage of my British employer there was a mob that came to burn down my parent’s house. My Arab neighbor came out of his house and told them that there were no Jews living there, only him and his family. He said, “Do you want to kill your fellow Muslim? Go away from here, I’m an Egyptian!” He saved my family’s lives, so I always mention him when give a presentation. Jews who left their houses were knifed to death.

On the other hand, Jews from the Arab countries identify very strongly with their own tradition and culture. In the film, it’s when you see David Dangoor looking through the photo album at the wonderful, smiling faces of people who loved living in the community where they lived. There was a sense of belonging. In countries where Jews were oppressed, like in Arab countries, Jews stuck together in their insular communities. Since we couldn’t afford to leave the walls of the community, we developed strong friendships, bonding closely with one another, embracing one another with love and affection, where we cared for and helped one another. This is an innate part of how I grew up. In the film, when David Dangoor shows the place where parties took place and people gathered together, whether it was for a Bar Mitzvah or any other event, there was this sense of harmony. When you leave a place, this is something you lose. My family, who stayed in Rome after we left Libya, are part of a community that really stick together. They have their own synagogue, marry members of the same community, continue traditions, they are very, very strongly tied together.

When you come to the USA and scatter across the country you lose a lot of the sense of identity. I cook a couscous dish that is typical of Tripoli and I’m the only one who knows what that’s all about because none of my friends would know.

Remember Baghdad” – October 30th at 6:30-8pm, at the AMC Saratoga 14, in San Jose, California.

Cross-posted at Times of Israel (with thanks: Imre) 

More about Gina Waldman and JIMENA

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Time's up - but no sign that the archive is moving

The deadline for the return of the Iraqi-Jewish archive - September 2018 - has come and gone, but there is still no sign of any movement on this issue.

 Eylon Aslan-Levy has filed this report for i24 News: he interviews Harold Rhode, the man who found the archive in the flooded basement of the secret police headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.

 The US shipped the random collection of documents, books and Torah scrolls - stolen by Saddam's regime - to the US to be restored, but promised to send it back to Iraq.

 Rhode believes that to return the archive would be like returning stolen Jewish property to the Nazis. Iraqi-Jewish groups have been campaigning for the archive - which represents their community's history and heritage - to remain in the US. Four US senators have introduced a bill to this effect.

 As Eylon explains, either the archive goes back in keeping with the agreement signed between the US and the Iraqi government, or a new deal is struck allowing for the deadline to be extended.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Eli Cohen's widow pleads for body's return

 Nadia Cohen, widow of legendary spy Eli Cohen, corresponded with President Bashar Assad of Syria and actually received a reply from him that Cohen's body would be released 'when the time was right'. Israel Hayom reports that she has renewed her appeal:(with thanks: Lily)

The widow of famed Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who was executed in Syria 53 years ago, issued a public plea to Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday to return her husband's remains to Israel for burial.

Nadia Cohen was speaking at the first International Multidisciplinary Conference on the Treatment of War Injuries at the Galilee Medical Center in northern Israel.
"Release Eli, release his bones," Cohen said, addressing her plea to Assad.
"When my mother-in-law died, I wept and said she had not been able to see her son laid to rest.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Yemenite families sue for reparations

Dozens of families of Yemenite Jews who say their children were taken from them by Israeli authorities in the 1950s are filing a class-action lawsuit demanding millions in reparations from the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency, Channel 10  has reported. (With thanks: Lily)

 Yemenite children brought to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet by an Alaska Airline 'plane

The lawsuit seeks to force the state to accept responsibility for at least 69 infants known to have disappeared from public institutions such as hospitals and day care centers.

Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50. Since the 1950s, more than 1,000 families — mostly immigrants from Yemen, but also dozens from the Balkans, North Africa, and other Middle Eastern countries — have alleged their children were kidnapped from Israeli hospitals and put up for adoption, sometimes abroad, in what is known as the Yemenite children affair.
Disputed by scholars and seemingly refuted by three state commissions that examined the affair and concluded that most of the children had died, the case has kept resurfacing, not least because most of the families were not given their children’s bodies or informed of their burial places.

Read article in full 

More about the Yemenite Children Affair

Friday, October 05, 2018

Moroccan schools to teach the Holocaust

This has to be a positive development, although the Moroccan king has been recognising the Holocaust for almost ten years now. But teaching the Holocaust must not avoid the question of Arab complicity with Nazism. Will Moroccan schools mention that wartime labour camps existed on Moroccan soil, and will they exaggerate the Moroccan king's role in 'saving' the Jews? (With thanks: Michelle)

King Mohammed VI of Morocco on Wednesday ordered that the Holocaust be included in the school textbooks of Maghreb high schools, the Moroccan news website Le Desk reported.

 King Mohammed VI

The report, widely circulated on social networks, indicated that during his visit to the United Nations General Assembly, the king sent an order to the Moroccan Minister of Education to introduce studies on the Holocaust to the curriculum.

“The history we teach our children must contain a range of pluralistic opinions and stories. It must present the greatest moments of humanity as well as its darkest moments,” the king stated, according to the report.

“Education has the power to fight against discrimination and racism and against the ugly phenomenon of anti-Semitism,” the king added.

Read article in full

All about the Aladdin project

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Mizrahi Jews are key to understanding the Arab-Israel conflict

Wide-ranging interview in Fathom, the magazine of British-Israel Communications (BICOM), with Lyn Julius, author of Uprooted. Julius explains how and why Jewish civilisation in the Arab world vanished in one generation. She describes what brought Nazi Germany, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem together into an alliance and how this impacted Jews in the Middle East.

Grant Goldberg: What prompted you to write the book?
Lyn Julius: I have a strong connection to the region. My parents arrived in Britain in 1950 as Iraqi-Jewish refugees, and throughout my childhood I was very conscious of the connection with Iraq, mainly because I still had family there. Conditions deteriorated for the remaining 3,000 Jews of Iraq after the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel’s defeat of the Arab countries. Saddam Hussein embarked on a reign of terror, executing nine Jews in Liberation Square in Baghdad. My grandparents were still in Iraq as well as various aunts and cousins and all were desperate to leave. The community’s telephones were cut off, their jobs were lost and their university entry blocked. Their very lives were in danger – some 50 Jews were arrested and never seen again.
I honestly think that understanding the Jews of the Middle East is the key to understanding the whole Middle East conflict. The way the Jews have been treated in Arab countries points to a major dysfunction in Arab society: the inability to tolerate anyone who is different from the mainstream, whether non-Sunni Muslims or minority non-Muslims.
I’ve been very involved in Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, which I founded 13 years ago. As well as organising events to raise awareness of the history and culture of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, I’ve been blogging and writing. Eventually, I realised I had accumulated enough material for a book.
Also, there has not been much written about Mizrahi Jews, certainly not in English.[i] The most mainstream work was In Ishmael’s House by Sir Martin Gilbert, published in 2010. Most of the research on the subject has been done by historians writing in French, such as Georges Bensoussan, Nathan Weinstock, Shmuel Trigano, Bat Y’eor and Paul Fenton, who, despite his English origins, is a professor at the Sorbonne. David Litman also wrote about Jews from Morocco. I hoped my book would make the essence of their work accessible to English readers.


GG: You begin your book in the tomb of the prophet Ezekiel, which has been converted to an Islamic holy site in present-day Iraq. Once visited by 5,000 Jews a year, it is now devoid of Jewish pilgrims. What made you start there?
LJ: I wanted to show that Jewish continuity in the Middle East goes back to Biblical times. The prophet Ezekiel is one of 17 Biblical figures buried in Syria, Iran and Iraq. That region has as much of a Jewish history as does the land of Israel. The Jews were taken as slaves to Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple. It’s important to know that Jews have lived for a long time in these lands and shaped the culture. There was a sort of symbiosis between Jew and non-Jew, often misunderstood as coexistence. It wasn’t coexistence; that word assumes there was an equal relationship. The Jews were influenced by, and actively shaped, the culture. Islam is much closer to Judaism than Christianity. Local Muslims felt Jews had a direct line to God as the elder religion. An Iraqi Jewish friend of mine, around the time of Sukkot, once overheard her Muslim neighbours talking as rain fell. ‘The feast of the Jews must be over,’ they said, because they knew that Jews pray for rain at the end of Sukkot. It’s almost as if this culture could set its watch by the Jewish calendar. The Jews were intrinsic to the rhythm of life in the Middle East.
It all ended in the space of a generation. Some 850,000 Jews fled 10 Arab countries; most found refuge in Israel, where over half the Jewish population has roots in Arab or Muslim lands. Israel organised unprecedented airlifts and rescue operations. A greater number of Jews were displaced than Palestinian Arabs from Israel, and it was the largest exodus of non-Muslims from the Middle East until the mass flight of Christians from Iraq after 2003.
However, the plight and dispossession of the Jewish refugees remains an unresolved and unrecognised injustice. Age-old communities are now extinct and only some 4,000 Jews remain in the Arab world. So, with the exception of Morocco, the physical presence of the Jews has been wiped out almost completely from the Middle East and North Africa outside Israel. Memory was also erased; the younger generation often had no idea that Jews ever lived in their lands. However, since the ‘Arab Spring,’ the memory of the huge contribution made by the Jewish community is being revived. In Iraq, intellectuals are lamenting the departure of the Jews and the fact that the country went downhill once they left, leaving it economically and culturally impoverished.
GGIs this erasure of history the result of top-down persecution by government or bottom-up hostility from the ‘Arab Street’?
LJ: In the past, often both. In Syria, Yemen, Libya Iraq and Egypt both governments and peoples have been adamantly hostile. Anti-Jewish riots also erupted in Morocco and Tunisia, although there was less state-sanctioned persecution in these countries. Public opinion remains hostile despite, in Egypt’s case, having signed a peace agreement with Israel. Today, we can see a kind of rapprochement coming from the top-down, for pragmatic reasons. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is really quite friendly to Israel. In Morocco and Tunisia, the motivation is a bit different. The Moroccan King is very aware of the importance of tourism to his country and he has invested a huge amount of money into preserving Jewish heritage. He also has a strategic motive, which not many people are aware of; he wants to get American support for his policy objectives, especially his claims in Western Sahara. And, of course, he believes the Jews control American foreign policy. When the US proposed that a UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara help monitor human rights a (Moroccan) diplomat was quoted as saying: ‘It’s very useful for us to have someone — a strong lobby group, perhaps — to help talk the State Department out of this idea. The Jewish lobby is a very strong one.’ That’s another reason why Morocco is edging towards normalising relations with Israel.


GG: What is ‘dhimmitude’? And what is the ‘dhimmi syndrome’?
LJ: The dhimmi status of non-Muslims was mandated by the 7th century covenant of Omar, after Muhammad defeated the non-Muslims living in the Arabian Peninsula. Basically it stated that Christians and Jews would be spared their lives provided they obeyed certain conditions. Notably, the Jews had to pay a special tax and were not allowed to be armed or defend themselves. The system recalls a Mafia-style racket; you pay protection money to the ruler. The other characteristics of the dhimmi status was that Jews and Christians had to abide by certain humiliating restrictions in order to be free to practise their religion. A Jew’s testimony was worth half that of a Muslim in court, Jews had to wear certain clothing or coloured patches, live in certain areas, and so on. In short, you had to know your place as a non-Muslim. And there was always pressure to convert to Islam.
The lived experience of dhimmitude can produce a ‘dhimmi syndrome,’ i.e. a particular deferential or frightened mentality or psychology. And this syndrome can remain with a people even after they leave an Arab country. As an example, I read an article not long ago about a Jew living in Mexico who was driving with her mother. She had been born in Mexico while her mother had been born and raised in an Arab country. They were stopped by a policeman, who falsely accused the daughter of jumping a red light. She insisted that she was innocent, but her mother pleaded with the policeman for clemency. Having lived in an Arab country, the mother knew that ‘a Jew does not claim his rights but asks for favours’. This attitude can remain for a whole lifetime. The syndrome downplays suffering and seeks to flatter the powers-that-be. It still exists today among the remnant Jewish communities.
Read article in full

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Western Jewry must re-orient its view of the Jewish world

The more Hen Mazzig, a Tel Aviv activist and writer of Iraqi and Tunisian-Berber parentage, mixes with North American Jewry, the more he is conscious of his eastern origins. The Ashkenazi diaspora needs to jettison its Eurocentricism or risk being accused of post-colonial orientalism, he argues in The Jerusalem Post:

Yet for as much as my family has assimilated, these layers of my identity are triggered as I encounter the ideas held by some in the Western (mostly North American) Jewish communities. By and large the articles, the Jewish publications, the speakers and the Jewish academics see “World Jewry” as an exclusively Western phenomenon. They gloss over the history of the Jewish People in the Middle East.
Hen Mazzig: Jewish world is diverse and multicultural

To them, the Jewish world is centered in North America, with its origins in Europe.

While they may see Israel and Jerusalem as their homeland, they present the Jewish community as belonging to the West. It seems they are the only ones who really matter. My story, the story of almost a million Jews from the Middle East and Africa, is often ignored, or looked down on in a way that mimics a post-colonial approach. Although some scholars have begun to realize the diversity of our global Jewish community, the main voices, as well as the majority of ideas espoused by English-speaking Jews, are still centered in the European/North American hegemony. Discourses on the meaning of Judaism, Jewish peoplehood, Israel and the Middle East seem to come from a naturally superior standpoint: that of the Westerner.

It is as if knowledge about Middle Eastern and African Jewish communities is generated not from facts, but from paternalistic tendencies. Preconceived archetypes envision all the Jews of the East as fundamentally similar to one another and alien to the Western Jewish community.
While I disagree with much of Edward Said’s writings, his descriptions of “Orientialists” remain accurate.

According to (Edward) Said ( author of Orientalism), these are people who study the East, but not purely as scholars attempting to understand other cultures. Intermingled with their scholarly pursuits are self-serving political biases that undermine the actual needs of the Middle Eastern communities they study.

Orientalism converted the “Orient” into a legitimate academic field, about which the West invented facts. According to Said, these thinkers and scholars were politically driven. Through their discussions of the Middle East, they fashioned themselves into the self-appointed representatives of the Orient.

They actively misrepresented the Middle East and its people, creating stereotypes and perpetuating false characteristics.

The global Jewish community is diverse and multicultural.

In Israel alone, almost 60% of us are descendants of Middle Eastern and African Jews.

Regardless of our origins, we should be united in the constant struggle for global equality and against antisemitism. But we must also remember that the Jewish world is centered in the East. It is in the East that the Jewish People began, and where today, in Israel, our peoplehood is maintained and continues to blossom. More Jewish writers and thinkers need to understand this key fact, and re-orient their scholarship with it in mind. The rich history of Eastern Jews should not be nullified by the superficial biases of Western scholars.

Read article in full 

More by Hen Mazzig

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Forty years since peace treaty, Egypt still chilly to israel

Forty years after the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, relations between the Egyptian people and Israelis are still chilly, reports AFP via the Times of Israel. (Below, a contrasting view from an Egyptian poetess.)  But the piece fails to say that crocodile tears for the Palestinians mask the strongest strategic alliance between the Sisi government and Israel against Hamas that both countries have seen in years. 

CAIRO, Egypt (AFP) — Forty years after signing the Camp David Accords, Egypt and Israel live in uneasy peace, as cool diplomatic ties have failed to unfreeze other relations.

 “There is still a psychological barrier between us and the Israeli people,” said Egyptian ex-lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew of former president Anwar Sadat. Mohammed Sadat proudly keeps a photo of his late uncle in his Cairo office.

 Egypt’s then head of state risked everything in making peace with Israel at the US presidential retreat Camp David on September 17, 1978. The accords, cemented by a peace treaty in 1979, saw regional powerhouse Egypt temporarily shunned by the rest of the Arab World. Sadat himself was assassinated on October 6, 1981. The late president “had great courage and a vision for the future”, his nephew said. But the peace, he said, “has always been cold.”

Read article in full

The poetess Fatima Na'ot breaks the mould of Egyptian antisemitism with empathy for the loyal Jews of Egypt, according to MEMRI. The state has broken its social contract with its Jewish citizens. (Few Jews were actually Egyptian citizens, 40 percent being stateless). However, she falls into the usual trap of separating Judaism (good) from Zionism (bad - she calls it  'political fascism') - hardly conducive to 'normalising' ties with Israel. (With thanks: Lily) 

Why did the Egyptian Jews who live among us today on Egyptian soil, and have only Egyptian citizenship, forego [the right to] an Israeli citizenship that would grant them unlimited privileges, and prefer to remain in Egypt? It does not take [great] intelligence or analysis to answer this question. [They did this] because they are loyal Egyptians who cleave to their Egyptian identity just as they cleave to their [religious] faith. This is the main point of my article: me, the honor of being an Egyptian is the only meaning of Egyptian citizenship.

Fatima Na'out

During the 1940s, Dr. Taha Hussein was chief [editor] of an excellent literary magazine called The Egyptian Writer, which cultivated the literary, philosophical, political and sociological [sensibilities] of the Egyptian reader. Who founded and funded this magazine? Seven Egyptian Jews. Just as they contributed to Egypt's cultural prosperity, they also promoted its industry and economy, when they founded land reclamation companies such as the Al-Behera Joint Stock Company and acted to industrialize Egypt's cotton sector, which was no. 1 in the world. They also founded diamond companies, textile companies such as Cicurel and Benzaion-Adas-Revoli, department stores like 'Omar Effendi, and so on. These were high-quality [businesses],and diamonds at the shops of the Egyptian Jews...

 The Egyptian lady Magda Haroun, the head of the Jewish community in Cairo, said to me sadly: "When I was a little girl and my father would take me to the synagogue to pray, we would not find a single empty seat in it. Today there are only four of us left. Before 1948 the number of Jews in Egypt was 11,000.[2] It is sad that half of the university graduates in Egypt think that a Jew is necessarily a Zionist or even an Israeli, and it is sad that many of us do not distinguish between Judaism as a religious faith and Zionism as [a form of] political fascism.

 The honorable Jews of Egypt, who loved Egypt with all their hearts, were persecuted with violence and hatred by blind and ignorant thugs until they were forced to leave [the land] where they had been born and bred, the land they had loved and helped to make prosperous. They knew no other homeland. On the occasion of your holiday [Rosh Hashana], which took place yesterday, I convey to you my love and my apologies. Even if there are only four of you left, history will never forget your patriotism, nor will Egypt. 

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