Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Monday, April 12, 2021
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Saturday, April 10, 2021
Friday, April 09, 2021
News has reached Point of No Return of a worrying spate of attacks on Jews on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, one of the last remaining functioning Jewish communities in the Arab world.
The annual pilgrimage to the Al-Ghriba synagogue on Djerba is scheduled at the end of April.
The attacks were publicised on the Facebook page Tunes et les Assimilės Tunes but have not been widely reported in the press and media. Local sources have attempted to suppress or deny the antisemitic character of the attacks.
On 7 April, a Jewish girl aged 16 was attacked by two Muslim youths on the island's Jewish ghetto, Hara Kbira. The youths seized her mobile phone. This was not a simply mugging, however, as the attackers attempted to suffocate and strangle the girl. She fought off her attackers 'like a lioness'. After two passers-by appeared, the youths were arrested.
The antisemitic nature of the incident was clear to Yakoub Peres, who posted a description on Facebook. However, his father-in-law Haim Bittan, chief rabbi of Tunisia, forced Peres to remove the post.
In a previous incident, a boy of ten, wearing a kippa and tsitsit was beaten up.
In an incident reminiscent of the Nazi era, a Jew was made to remove his trousers. He was tormented, spat upon and told 'to go back to his country'. Yet the Djerba Jewish community, which today numbers around 1,000, has existed for 2,000 years and predates the Arab invasion of Tunisia.
There was a fourth incident, but no details are available.
The Tunisian civil rights NGO Attalaki condemned the incidents as antisemitic. They have occurred in the run-up to the annual al-Ghriba pilgrimage at the end of this month.
This event was traditionally the highlight of the Djerba tourism calendar. This year, few visitors will be able to travel to Tunisia because of the pandemic.
The election of Kais Saied as President of Tunisia is thought to have fostered a rising climate of antisemitism. The President himself has been accused of slandering Jews in an attempt to distract from the economic crisis.
Saied was elected two years ago on campaign promises that he would maintain no ties with Israel, that normalization with Israel constitutes treason, and that he would bar Israelis from visiting the country.
Thursday, April 08, 2021
Wednesday, April 07, 2021
Tonight is the start of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day marked by Israel and Jews around the world on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It is a fitting occasion to focus on how fugitives from Nazism found refuge in parts of the Muslim world.
Professor Ada Aharoni in her book The Woman in White: an extraordinary life documents the exploits of Thea Woolf, a German-Jewish nurse who spent working 12 years at the Jewish Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. Thea lost all family members who stayed behind in Germany.
The Jewish community of Egypt set up a Rescue Committee for Jews from the Holocaust in the 1930s and generously helped refugees with both medical care and money. Until June 1940, a delegation from the Jewish hospital in Alexandria visited ships docking at Port Said. They were carrying Jewish refugees bound for Shanghai, one of the few destinations open to fleeing Jews. The committee obtained from the Egyptian authorities permission to disembark the sick.
Thea Woolf also tells the story of how the hospital took under its wing Karl, a fugitive dancer from eastern Europe whose leg had to be amputated after a serious illness. The hospital set Karl up in an alternative career running a student boarding house.
In 1939, an Egyptian policeman arrived at the Jewish hospital in Alexandria. He had been sent to ask for help by an anxious German sailor on board a ship from Hamburg carrying 13 Jews seeking a haven from persecution in a Mediterranean port. But every time the ship docked, the Nazi captain locked the Jews in their cabins.
The sailor, Thea and the hospital director, Dr Katz, concocted a plan. If an epidemic broke out on a ship, the captain was obliged to tell the health authorities and allow a doctor on board. The doctor distributed sleeping pills to the 13 Jews. All fell into a deep coma and were taken into the Jewish hospital in Alexandria; the Nazi captain had no choice but to continue on his journey without them. The Jews took two months to recover from a coma and lung infections. They asked to go to Palestine and were taken to Port Said prison.
As the British would not allow Jews entry into Palestine, Thea and her colleagues had to think of another plan. A fishing vessel carrying the Jewish refugees was hired to sail outside Egyptian waters, escorted by the hospital team on a police boat. Back in Alexandria, Thea heard nothing for a week, until she received the secret code, 'your aunt has arrived'. But the refugees almost never made it. Off the Jaffa coast, a British coastal patrol had intercepted the fishing vessel. The refugees piled into a cutter, and despite rough seas, managed to row ashore.
It is important to note, Ada Aharoni reminds us, that none of the refugees from Nazism could have been saved without the assistance of the Egyptian authorities and acts of compassion by individual Egyptian Muslims like the kindly policeman.
Tuesday, April 06, 2021
Monday, April 05, 2021
Sunday, April 04, 2021
This year, hard on the heels of the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and Morocco, the Mimouna festival, which marks the end of Passover, will be extra-special in its celebration of Jewish-Muslim good neighbourliness. The Israeli and Moroccan embassies in Washington are hosting the first-ever joint Mimouna celebration in partnership with Sephardic Heritage International in Washington (SHIN-DC) and the Smithsonian Institution. The Jerusalem Post reports:
Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at a Mimouna celebration in 2018 (Photo: Jerusalem Post)
Friday, April 02, 2021
Passover is being openly celebrated in Bahrain and in the Gulf countries, where over 100 guests attended a seder in Dubai. Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post reports, rabbis in the West have been tending to the religious needs of Jews in Muslim countries:Matza production in Tehran
Thursday, April 01, 2021
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
What does Nathan mean? It is to say that Alexandria in the 20th century was home to a cosmopolitan mix of nationalities, many of them recent arrivals, drawn by the port city's thriving commercial life.
The real Egypt is to be found in Cairo, where Nathan was born. Indeed he comes from a long line of native Jews. The family house was in Haret El-Yahud, the Jewish quarter. The quarter had a gate which the Jews themselves locked in order to protect themselves. In fact the gate to the quarter (now removed) was also the gate to the large Nathan family house.
The Nathans were stateless, as were 40 percent of Jews. Only some five percent held Egyptian nationality, a privileged class with connections to the elite.
Nathan is the author of several books. The most recent is a novel, 'La Societé des Belles Personnes'. It is a tale of revenge based on real events. (See Akadem Interview in French with thanks: Viviane).
The book is the sequel to 'A Land like You'. Here is an extract from a review by Jean Naggar for the Jewish Book Council:
In his latest novel, A Land Like You (short-listed for the Prix Goncourt in 2015), Tobie Nathan has written a beautiful and immersive novel, plunging readers headlong into Egypt’s unique history and extraordinary variety of cultures. Nathan interweaves the worlds of the voluble Jews from Haret el Yahud—the Cairo Jewish Quarter — with those of the Muslims of Bab El Zuweyla, along with the complex international communities that connect and divide them.
Propelled forward by vivid, unforgettable characters, the layers of political, historic, and mystical Egypt tumble together into a rich mosaic, encompassing a period of great change from 1918 to the 1950s. Within the crowded Haret El Yahud, Esther, an orphaned child, suffers a traumatic accident that reshapes her future. The trauma leaves Esther’s relatives, and the larger community, convinced she is possessed by alien spirits and demons.
Beautiful, wild, and ungovernable, Esther clearly marches to the beat of her own drum. Her intimacy with unseen forces commands consternation and respect, distinguishing her in the often claustrophobic community of Jews who inhabit the twisted paths and teeming dwellings of the Haret El Yahud. For Jews and Arabs alike, religious mysticism and close contact with the spirit world imbues their daily lives with wonder and drama.
Urged on by a multitude of anxious relatives, Esther marries at fourteen, and finds deep love and happiness with Motty, an older man, blind from birth. Sadly, the love between them produces no child in seven years of marriage. Her quest for motherhood eventually results in a son, Zohar, but she has no milk with which to feed him, so she seeks out a woman in the Muslim quarter who has recently given birth to a daugher, Masreya.
Monday, March 29, 2021
Sunday, March 28, 2021
With thanks: Sandra
As Jewish families the world over sit down to their Passover ceremonial meal or Seder to recall the Biblical exodus, here is a rendition of MaNishtana, Why is this Night Different from all other Nights? This is the first of four questions, usually recited by the youngest member of the family.
Here is a version familiar to Iraqi Jews. It is recited in Hebrew, and then in Judeo-Arabic. The children carry on their shoulders a piece of matza wrapped in a napkin: they knock at the door. The guests call out: 'Where are you coming from?' 'Mitsrayim', they reply. 'Where are you going? ''Yerushalayim' they shout.
Friday, March 26, 2021
Thursday, March 25, 2021
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Monday, March 22, 2021
Sunday, March 21, 2021
This is the story of how one Jew living in Paris came face to face with an unexpected evocation of her Moroccan past. Photos collected by Hannah Assouline are now on display at the Jewish Museum in Paris, but one photo stands out. See Academ video here of an interview with Hannah (with thanks: Vera):
Shoeless in Tinghir
It was in 1985 that Hannah Assouline, herself a photographer, was introduced to the photographer Jean Besancenot. He lived in straitened means in a tawdry Paris apartment. Between 1934 and 1937, Besancenot went on assignment to photograph the inhabitants of the Atlas mountains in Morocco. Most of his Jewish portraits were of women, and although poor, they wore the traditional dress reserved for festive occasions, weighed down with jewellery.
Besancenot immediately identified Hannah as a Jew, and could even tell which part of Morocco her family came from. They were dirt-poor and came from Tinghir, in the Berber Atlas mountains, where time had stood still for hundreds of years. Hannah was the daughter of a rabbi and the great niece of the famous rabbi Baba Salé, whose tomb has become a place of pilgrimage.
Sifting through piles of Besancenot's old photographs, Hannah came across a young bride and groom in their wedding costumes. The groom had a pained, even miserable expression. He was barefoot.
Hannah was struck by the boy's remarkable resemblance to her nephew. She bought the photo and presented it to her parents. Her father exclaimed in Arabic,'That's me!' The bride was his cousin Leila Sarah.
Was it really his wedding photo - and how come did Besancenot choose to photograph him?
Jean Besancenot had actually asked to have a wedding couple pose for him, but the custom in that part of the world was for girls to be betrothed at a very young age to much older men.
Bensancenot would have none of this - and called for a much younger groom. That's how Hanna's father was dragged out of a nearby yeshiva to pose for the camera. In fact it all happened so fast that the young man did not have time to put his babooj (slippers) on.
The reason for his pained expression was his embarrassment. A few months before he died, he asked Hannah: with all the modern technology nowadays, can't you photoshop a pair of shoes for me?"
Photographs by Jean Besancenot, 1934 -7, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris, until 18 April 2021.