Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Jews of Algeria, Ashkenazim of the Arab world

Not much has been written about the Jews of Algeria, mainly because they were French for four generations. "They are the Ashkenazim of the Arab world," says Benjamin Stora, author of a new history on the Jews of Algeria*. "They believed in the Republic of the Enlightenment, as did the Jews of Poland, Lithuania, Russia. But there were also old men who felt they were taking their memories of their heritage with them."

The Jews of Algeria did not see themselves as a separate group. When they arrived in France in the 1960s they melted into the 'pieds noirs' (French settlers expelled after the Algerian war). The singer Enrico Macias was originally seen as a 'pied noir'.

In an interview with Information juive (July/August 2005) Stora said that few academic studies had been made. But historians would find a wealth of archive material at Aix-en-Provence. Unlike the Jews of Morocco, who were 'protected', the Jews of Algeria were stripped of their French citizenship and subject to Vichy laws but were never deported. The official archives for all towns except Constantine were destroyed in 1944 on the orders of the Free French.

Except for the Jews of Constantine, the acculturated Jews of Algeria were always fascinated by France. After 1962 they did not go to Israel. As early as the 19th century, rabbis were warning of the dangers of assimilation.

Could a Jewish community have survived in an independent Algeria? Stora thinks not.

"The nature of Algerian nationalism was problematic. Originally it was a composite, incorporating all currents from secular republicanism to Muslim Brotherhood religious fundamentalism. Many Jews identified at the time with Ferhat Abbas, who stood for egalitarian republicanism. But there is the other, Arab-Muslim aspect to nationalism. It's an ethnicist concept of the nation: it says Islam is my religion, arabic is my language and Algeria is my homeland. In other words, nationality is defined by religious affiliation.'

*Histoire des juifs d'Algerie (Editions Stock)

1 comment:

  1. Wow let there were NOT Jews in Algeria BEFORE the Ashkenazim