Thursday, December 31, 2009

In 2009, Yemen's Jewish community fizzled out

Jewish children in Sana'a. From Josh Berer's blog

2009 will be remembered as the year when the Jewish community of Yemen came to an end. Now that Yemen has become a battlefield between Saudi and Iranian-backed forces and that the 'underpants' airliner bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is said to have been radicalised by al-Qaeda there, Yemen is no place for Jews. A steady stream of Jews is quietly making its way from Yemen to Israel and the US: although this article in the Yemen Observer hesitates to put a figure on the emigration trend, most probably fewer than 300 remain. A pocket of some 70 are nevertheless determined to remain in the capital, Sana'a.

"Leaders of the Jewish Community in Yemen have publicly stated that the population of the remaining community does not exceed 370, with continued decline a certitude. Another Jewish citizen, Yahya Saeed, sighed, "We are less than that."

"Israel, as well as other American and Jewish Foundations, have organized flights in order to evacuate the remaining Jews from Yemen in recent years, with the underlying assumption that the Jewish community will be threatened if they do not leave. In the past year, a Yemeni Jew was killed on the doorstep of his house, while several other Jewish Yemeni citizens have received threats.

"After the violent uprisings against the Jews in Yemen in the 1940’s, tens of thousands of Yemeni Jews left Yemen, destined for Israel, assisted by internationally organized flights, in an exodus known as Operation Magic Carpet. (...) America Jewish organizations have managed to raise over 750 thousands dollars in order to extricate Yemeni Jews from their country under a program launched by the U.S. Department of State.

"Not all Yemeni Jews feel that the money is well spent. Some would rather see the money spent on the communities themselves, in an effort to restore, beautify and protect the homes of the Jews, rather then detach them from their adored homeland. "If they want to offer help, let them do it by establishing schools and covering the expenses of marriage, not to work removing us," Rabbi Yousif Gaish exclaimed to the BBC. "I hope these free flights will be stopped."

"Some of our more extreme Muslims neighbors do indeed bother us, and often we feel we are not welcome here, but we have no choice. Despite the fact that some foreign organizations urge us to leave, we cannot bear being away from our beloved home. We love Yemen," Yahay Saeed added.

Read article in full

Conversions: This clip in Hebrew on the Jews in Rayda, Yemen, the main community in flight, reveals that Jewish girls were made to marry Muslims and convert to Islam. One Jew says he is the last of his family not to have converted to Islam. The conversions took place about 30 years ago.

As many as 28,000 Jews may have converted to Islam, one Yemenite Jew in Israel claims, although this figure seems preposterously high, given that almost the entire community of 50,000 was airlifted to Israel in 1949 - 50.

Jews of Yemen remain in eye of Al-Qaeda storm (With thanks: bh)

Mubarak approves pilgrimage to Rabbi's shrine

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Tuesday acceded to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request to allow hundreds of Jewish pilgrims to visit the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira near Alexandria at the end of next week, Haaretz reports.(With thanks: Lily)

Citing security concerns, Egyptian authorities had initially refused to allow a traditional hilula, or remembrance ceremony held on the anniversary of a revered rabbi's death, to take place at the tomb.

In 1879, Abuhatzeira, an elderly and well-respected rabbi, made his way from his native Morocco to the Land of Israel via Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. While passing through the Egyptian city of Damanhour, he grew ill and died.

Every year on the 19th of Tevet (the date of his death according to the Hebrew calendar) a hilula ceremony is held at his tomb, often attended by hundreds of devotees. But last year, the anniversary fell immediately after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and Egyptian authorities denied Israeli worshippers entry, saying they could not ensure their safety.

In recent weeks, Israeli defense officials have asked their Egyptian counterparts to ensure the pilgrims were allowed entry. Prior to Netanyahu's trip to Egypt, Shas chairman Eli Yishai asked him to speak with Mubarak about this issue.

An Israeli diplomat said Mubarak personally approved Netanyahu's request and instructed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to take measures to ensure the worshippers' safety.

Read article in full

'Thousands of pilgrims may come' - Canadian Press

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Over 300 came to Israel from Muslim states in 2009

Over 300 Jews moved to Israel from Muslim states in 2009, AFP reports. Some 47 Jews fleeing persecution and unrest arrived in Israel from Yemen. Other reports say that this year another 60 moved to the US.

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Jewish immigration to Israel increased in 2009 by 17 per cent compared to the previous year, the first rise in a decade, the government said on Sunday.

According to figures presented by the Jewish Agency, the government body in charge of immigration, 16,244 people immigrated to Israel in 2009, whereas 13,869 had moved to the Jewish state the previous year. “We’ve recorded this year, for the first time in ten years, an increase in the number of immigrants,” the agency’s Chairman Nathan Sharansky told reporters.

Nearly half of the immigrants arrived from former Soviet states, with the rest came mostly from North and South America and Europe. Jewish Agency figures also showed that 331 Jews arrived in 2009 from Muslim states, including Turkey, Morocco and Yemen.

Read article in full

According to Yeshiva World News: 'This year, the Jewish Agency boasts the immigration of 47 Jews from Yemen, 25 from Morocco, 13 from Tunisia, and 3 from Lebanon. She added there are even Jews who arrived from countries from which there is a marginal Jewish community. This would include 4 immigrants from Hong Kong, 3 from China, 3 from Japan, and 2 from Honduras. There were also immigrants from Kenya, Taiwan, and Madagascar.'

Shemesh draws up Iraqi-Jewish claims petition

An Israel-based association of Iraqi Jews, Shemesh, headed by lawyer David Nawi, is attempting to maintain pressure on the Israeli government to pursue Jewish compensation claims agains the Iraqi government. Nawi has drawn up a petition. (With thanks: Iraqijews)

The petition reads as follows:

"We hereby call on the Israeli government and the Knesset of Israel to take up with the Iraqi government the question of compensation for Jews from Iraq. Compensation is for property robbed, stolen and nationalised by the head of the Iraqi goevrnment Nouri al-Saeed in 1950-1951. And compensation for those who did not own property for pain, suffering and persecution under the militant Iraqi regime headed by Nouri al-Saeed.

"We again call on the government of Israel not to overlook this historic window of opportunity before us - a democratic Iraq, whose ministers have announced that it is possible to pay compensation to Jews originating from Iraq."

In September 2005, Nawi filed a suit with the Israeli High Court of Justice on behalf of his group, then named Shemesh-Shalom ve Shilumin. The suit sought to force the Israeli government to enter into compensation negotiations with the new Iraqi government.

Sign the petition here (Hebrew)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'Palestinians drove Iraqi Jews to Israel' - author

At last, an Iraqi tells it like it was: the Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who incited the 1941 Farhoud attacks, was guilty of the political stupidity of driving the Jews of Iraq into Israel. The following are excerpts from an interview with Iraqi author Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on December 4, 2009. (With thanks: Sacha, Lily)

Here is the MEMRI clip.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: When you meet an Iraqi Jew today on the streets of Europe or elsewhere, he remembers his co-existence with his Muslim or Christian neighbor.

Interviewer: When did the Iraqi Jews begin to lose that sense of security and tolerance?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: When pan-Arab nationalism grew stronger in Iraq, from the late 1940's to the early 1950's. The Jew began to be the target of deliberate affronts. Iraqi Jews are known for their patriotism. They have nothing to do with Israel. The issue of Israel and Zionism...

Interviewer: But many of the Jews moved to Israel.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: They were coerced to move.

Interviewer: Who forced them?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: The wave of pan-Arab nationalism within Iraq.

Interviewer: So they thought that Israel would be better for them than Iraq?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: They did not go [straight] to Israel. First, they went to European countries, to Iran*... They tried to find an interim region from where they could later return to Iraq. You shouldn't be surprised if I told you that the first to study [the possibility] of expelling the Jews from Iraq was the so-called Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Al-Husseini.

Interviewer: What, Amin Al-Husseini banished the Jews of Iraq to Palestine?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: Yes, Amin Al-Husseini played a significant role, along with German Nazism, in dragging the Jews out of Iraq.

Interviewer: How?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: In the days of the "Farhoud" pogroms, at the end of May and the beginning of June 1941 – which was called the revolution of Rashid Ali Al-Kilani... This is well known. The "heroes" of the Farhoud were Amin Al-Husseini, and some Syrian and Palestinian teachers. I am not accusing these people of collaborating with Israel, but I am accusing them of political stupidity. You drive out a group of peoples who are doctors, blacksmiths...

Interviewer: How did this happen? How did they pressure the Iraqi Jews to move to Israel?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: By organizing the Farhoud. This was determined by government investigations...

Interviewer: Tell us the story.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: Amin Al-Husseini was in Iraq then, and so were teachers from Palestine and from Syria. They believed that every Jew was a Zionist, but they failed to understand the mentality of Iraqi Jews. Iraqi Jews lived in Iraq 3,500 years ago. When Cyrus, the Persian king who invaded Babylon and occupied it, he issued a decree, inscribed on a clay cylinder – which can be found at the British Museum. The decree stated that any Jew who wants to return to his country, to Jerusalem, may do so. Only very few returned. The [others] said: This is our country. At the beginning of the modern Iraqi state, the French commander met with the dignitaries of Iraqi Jewry – the English commander, pardon me – and talked to them about the Balfour declaration. They said categorically: "This is our country, and Jerusalem and Palestine are holy places, and we go on pilgrimage there, like the Muslims go to Mecca." This was the position of the Jews.

Interviewer: In the case of Farhoud specifically, how can you accuse Amin Al-Husseini and German Nazism?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: It is not me who is making accusations. These are legal investigations by the government. The pan-Arab nationalist incited the mob to attack the Jews for two days.

* Hundreds of Jews did leave for Iran and India after the 1941 Farhoud and some returned to Iraq, but it is incorrect to say that most Jews went to Israel 'indirectly': 90 percent of the community was airlifted to Israel in 1950 -51, although the first flights were routed via Cyprus.

Read transcript in full

Friday, December 25, 2009

Islamic parties plan to de-Judaise Ezekiel's shrine

A report by the Iraqi news agency Urnews revives fears that the Iraqi Antiquities and Heritage Authority is under pressure from political parties to erase original Hebrew inscriptions and ornamentation on the walls around the tomb of Ezekiel under the pretext of restoring the site. (With thanks: Iraqijews)

It is four months since Point of No Return publicised a tip-off from a German-based Iraqi scholar to academics in Israel that plans were afoot to build a mosque on the site of the shrine of the Jewish prophet Ezekiel at al-Kifl. The rumours were investigated by a philosemitic Iraqi Shi'a. They were denied by the shrine's director. Now a report by Urnews has triggered fears that in the absence of Jews on the ground, nothing - not even UNESCO - stands in the way of politically-motivated plans to erase all Jewish traces of this ancient holy site.

Here is an extract, paraphrased from the Google Arabic translation of the Uragency report:

The officials of the Department of Antiquities and Heritage say that their restoration programme will continue until 2011 and is designed to carry out essential maintenance and prevent the dome and roof from collapsing. But their hidden purpose, sources say, is the removal of features that emphasize a historical connection with the Jews who built the shrine and lived in the city for hundreds of years after the Babylonian exile.

According to the sources, the Antiquities and Heritage Authority is under pressure from Islamic political parties who insist on erasing all evidence of a Jewish connection. Drastic changes taking place currently on the site to change its character will prompt UNESCO to delete it as a protected site on the World Heritage List, similar to what happened to the historic city of Babylon, where old buildings were demolished and new layers of construction added.

Hebrew writings will be erased from the site and from the room that houses the shrine. Restoration work includes skimming the walls, 3 metres high in the yard, 2 metres high inside the shrine. Sources say that the media are not allowed to take pictures and visits to the shrine are limited to pilgrims.

The city of Kifl contains thousands of dunams of land belonging to the Jewish community before their displacement from Iraq in the last century. The majority of tenants' shops around the shrine still pay rent to their original Jewish owners through accredited mediators. The tomb of the prophet Ezekiel dates back to the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC.

Read original article in full (Arabic)

Arutz Sheva: Iraq plans to de-Judaise Ezekiel's tomb

First they came for the Jews... now the Christians

Phyllis Chesler

First they came for the Jews...and now it's the turn of the Christians to be ejected from the Middle East. In this post for Pajamas Media Phyllis Chesler does a country-by-country report on their plight - and it's not a pretty story. In fact, if Jesus came back today, he would not be able to live safely in Bethlehem.

It is Christmas 2009, and instead of peace on earth and good will towards all, Muslims are busily blowing up churches and Christians all over the Islamic world.

This is an awful reality but it is neither recent nor unexpected. Perhaps what is even more awful is the world’s silence and seeming passivity. We in the West who believe in religious tolerance have not stopped the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries. In the name of political correctness, we have also “tolerated” the often aggressive demands for mosques, public prayer, minarets, and loudspeakers on our own soil even though there is absolutely no reciprocity towards Christianity (or any other non-Muslim religion) in most Arab and Muslim countries.

For example, this year, in a church in Bellinzona (Ticino), in Switzerland, a Nativity scene displays Jesus surrounded by minarets! “The unusual scene is supposed to make people reflect about brotherhood and human rights, after 57% of the Swiss (and 68% in Ticino) recently voted against minarets on mosques. On the crib are verses from the Bible and the Koran on the topic of water.”

First they came for the Jews … and indeed, most Jews, all 800,000 of us, fled the Arab and Muslim world in the 1940s and 1950s. No one stopped this “silent exodus” or really cared that it had happened. Individual Muslims and the Muslim governments happily, greedily, confiscated Jewish homes, factories, and farms; those Jews who were not slaughtered were allowed to leave with ten dollars in their pocket. Unlike the Palestinian refugees, the Jews and Israel took care of their own. Unfortunately, the Muslim world turned parasitically to the United Nations and to the world to fund the very Palestinians whom they would not allow to remain in their countries as refugees or citizens.

As to our Christian brothers and sisters:

Two days ago, in Mosul, Iraq, the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Thomas, founded in 770 AD, was bombed — killing two civilians and wounding five others. This was the “sixth attack on Christians there in less than a month.” Ironically, according to their identity cards, the two murder victims were actually Muslims. However, according to Father Abdul Massih Dalmay of this church, “Christians are being targeted during Christmas time.” Father Dalmay feels that the government has not provided enough security for churches at this time and views this as “negligence on their part.”

The Syrian Orthodox Parish of the Immaculate Virgin was attacked a week ago. An infant girl was killed and forty people were wounded. Father Faez Wadiha, of this church, says, with irony: “This is certainly a Christmas present for Mosul, a message of congratulations why we are celebrating a feast of love and peace. But we will pray in the streets, in homes, in shops. God is everywhere, not just in churches.” The Syrian Catholic Church of the Annunciation , the (Chaldean) Church of St Ephrem, and the St. Theresa Church were all bombed in Mosul in the last month. According to another Christian Father: “These attacks are aimed at forcing Christians to leave the country.”

Some might say: There is an unwanted (and perceived as) Christian-American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. These bombings are in retaliation …well, not so fast. There are other Muslim countries where there is no (unwanted) American military presence and where both Jews and Christians have lived long before Islam even came into being — countries in which Christians are now under siege. Let’s look at what’s happening to Christians who live in some Muslim countries today.

Read post in full

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lebanese journalist discovers Beirut's Jewish past

Nada Abdelsamad (Now! Lebanon)

Writing a book of stories about Lebanese Jews radically changed Lebanese journalist Nada Abdelsamad's perspectives, she tells the Lebanese publication Rue 89. But while it restores Jews to Lebanon's history, will this book do more harm than good by feeding the delusion that an idealised past of neighbourly coexistence in Lebanon can be revived? Via Women's Lens:

When he fled Beirut as a child after 1967, Marco Mizrahi probably never imagined he would return - in an Israeli tank in 1982! Carrying a list of names of his parents' friends in Wadi Jamil (pictured above), the old Jewish quarter, he asked for their news. He also asked for news of his best friend. The latter, he was told, had emigrated to the Gulf states.

Marco Mizrahi's sudden re-appearance in Wadi Jamil was the talk of the Jewish quarter for months, says Nada Abdelsamad. His is one of the more unusual anecdotes in Nada's new book: Wadi Abu Jamil: stories about the Jews of Beirut (al-Nahar publications*).

Before writing the book Nada tells Rue 89 how the Jews of Lebanon were the last people on her mind. A seasoned journalist and TV news presenter, she says: "they were for me part of a fantasy world. I'd always heard of them, but never met any. I even considered them disloyal to Lebanon. Every time somebody talked about their Jewish friends, the story always ended the same way. The latter had always left in great secrecy from one day to the next, without even telling their closest relatives. No-one had ever heard from them again - one assumed they had gone to Israel."

The community had dwindled from 20,000 (10 - 14,000 is the figure more often cited - ed) to about 30.

Working on a BBC series on Lebanon's various communities, Nada went from suspicion to astonishment in her view of the Jews. She 'phoned Canada to do some research. It was the first time she had spoken to Lebanese Jews. "I was deeply touched by their love for Lebanon and their wish to return and spend their retirement there if the situation allowed it. It upset all my reference points. Till then, I'd always associated Jews with Israel."

Nada then interviewed Lebanese living in the old Jewish quarter of Beirut. Most wished to remain anonymous and expressed great nostalgia for their Jewish friends, relatives, ex-lovers, neighbours. That's when she decided to write her book.

"I realised that the Jews were Lebanese citizens with the same rights as me... We were affected by the conflict with Israel like other Arab countries and the pain of displaced Palestinians. Remembering the Jews of Lebanon was therefore not a priority. But now we must integrate them in our national history."

Reaction to the book in Lebanon hase been positive and sales are taking off. Some worry, however: "Why are you doing this now? Do you sympathise with the cause of the Jews?"

To which Nada Abdelsamad replies:" I have no ideological agenda, I just want to talk about a past that once existed and one cannot erase, just by denying it."

*in Arabic, but soon to be translated into English

Read article in full (French)

Interview with Nada Abdelsamad at Now! Lebanon (with thanks: Sacha)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How the Ottomans abused Jews of Baghdad in 1916

If you thought the Ottomans were tolerant and fair-minded to their Jews, prepare to have your perceptions shattered by this harrowing story of unspeakable cruelty. In 1916, the increasingly desperate Ottoman authorities, on the verge of defeat in the First World War, plotted to take their revenge on the Jews of Baghdad. In this ugly episode, recorded in 1937 for posterity by Raphael Shlomo Zion Rahamim of Jerusalem, 17 upright Jewish citizens, including his own father, were tortured and their bodies dumped in the river. (With thanks Robert H)

Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long;we are counted as sheep for the slaughter

Psalm 44

'The first days of the month of Av are a fitting time for me to publish one instance of the deeds and cruelty of the tyrannical (Ottoman) governors of Baghdad during World War I. Here I will mention only a little of the great evil that was done to us, so that our ordeal of slaughter and murder may be preserved in the pages of history as testimony for generations to come.

"In the winter of 1916 Fayek, governor of the village of Bakuba near Baghdad, was appointed to replace Huali in Baghdad. He was promoted to this lofty position because of his tyranny and hatred for the Jewish people. His appointment shocked the Jews who knew him as one who loved collecting taxes and was a vengeful enemy. They knew it was a dark day for them. In the few months that he ruled Baghdad, murder and exploitation became the hallmark of his rule. Many Jews were imprisoned and exiled, and there were many casualties. With indescribable cruelty, seventeen innocent Jews were abused, among the best and most respected of the city.

"This oppressor of Israel, upon taking power in Baghdad, set about getting his revenge on the Jews he so hated by finding a charge to pin on them. Innocent blood spilt from time to time did not satisfy his bloodlust, and he searched for a way to destroy, kill and eliminate tens of Jews at once. He looked, and found it. Turkish currency bills had lost much of their value: he laid the blame on the Jews, and so he put his schemes into effect. In secret, he and his militia Khalil Bey and Said El-Din, chief of the police, sent inspectors to sell the Turkish bills to the Jews in order to entrap them into committing a crime. But it was God’s will that it became known to them, only after the decree had already been issued, that after a set number of days all the residents had to exchange their silver and gold coins for Turkish bills, and the offenders punished with all the severity of the law. Of course, no Jew dared to do this and the efforts of the inspectors were not successful. However, the inspectors did not despair and were advised to wait until Sabbath eve when the Jewish masses stocked up for the Sabbath from the Jewish market. Perhaps there they would manage to trap someone in their net? This time, they were successful.

"After many attempts, one of the policemen met a cantor - I remember his name was Aharon. They say that this cantor was losing his mind as his income had dwindled to almost nothing. He was at once touched by the inspector's pleas, who appeared before him as poor and needy, and asked him to exchange one Turkish bill of one pound for a silver coin of half a Magidi, that he desperately needed. And he took pity on this seemingly poor person, even though he was not an ally, and fulfilled his request, and did not know that his life depended on it. It appears that this policeman, who knew that he had captured a misguided and naïve man in his net, did not know that it would please those who sent him. Thus he let the poor soul go after following him to his house. But the chief of police, apparently, thought it correct to incriminate all the Jews with this nutcase's guilt, and after a few hours a policeman came with an inspector and took the poor man to the police station, and this is where the torture started.

"Fayek and the head of the police were present at the police station when they brought in Aharon. When the poor man refused, under interrogation, to incriminate Jews in the trade of the Turkish bills, the tyrannical oppressors started to torture him. Cruel policemen used all kinds of torture, to no avail. The torture victim's excuse was that he did not know even one Jew who traded in these bills. He cried, to no avail, begged, to no avail. The cruel individuals whose hearts knew no mercy closed their ears to his pleas and excuses. The more the poor soul cried and begged, the more the Cruel Ones tortured him. They cut his fingers, pierced his eyes and did not relent until he lost consciousness and fell in a pool of his own blood, fighting until bitter death.

"That Sabbath eve was a night of fear and horror for a number of Jewish families. After the Evil Ones abused poor Aharon until the late hours of the night, they were ordered to bring another sixteen Jews before them to take vengeance upon them. Following orders, a police unit went out again with a list of names of sixteen Jews. This time, it seems, the police numbered the greatest sadists among them. The police first knocked loudly on the doors of the Jews they encountered on their way, awoke the inhabitants and angrily forced them to identify each of the sixteen Jews on the list. They cruelly beat anyone who hesitated even for an instant. A man who hesitated between two Joseph ben Shimons was also beaten. And the Joseph ben Shimon whose house they found first, fell into the hands of the Evil Ones.

"During the night fifteen Jews were led off to the police station. Among them was the old man Baruch Dangoor, brother of Rabbi Ezra Dangoor who was later appointed chief rabbi of Baghdad. The victim was about eighty-five, an honest, innocent and modest man. His religion meant everything to him. In his old age and weakness, he used to sit at home and study Torah. In his last years he hardly left his house. This poor man was taken with his son Joseph, about 40, a well-loved man whose very face showed his innocence and honesty. From the same family they also took the wealthy and well-known Eliyahu Dangoor. Later they took the respected Yehuda Somekh and Sasson Sofer – upstanding people from good families.

"These five, together with another ten respected others – whose names I cannot unfortunately exactly remember – all honest and innocent people whom the oppressors could surely not suspect of a fraudulent trade in Turkish bills, were guilty only of the crime of refusing to accuse other innocent Jews accused by the Evil Ones of crimes they did not commit. The victims, while still trembling under their oppressors, offered up all their property in order to hasten their deaths, but the Cruel Ones, whose one and only intent was for revenge, turned a deaf ear all night long to their helpless pleas and cries of distress.

"During the first service that Sabbath morning when the people gathered in the synagogues, word spread about the police searches that night. Fear possessed everyone who heard the news, although they did not know yet the suffering and torture endured by the victims. People assumed that either the police went in search of those people whose names were found in a notebook on Aharon the cantor - individuals called to the Torah the previous Shabbat, who had not yet made their donations. Else, Aharon the cantor, while being tortured, and from the depths of his suffering, divulged names. It did not matter to these Evil Ones, whose only purpose was to abuse the Jews, to search out and capture only those on their list. Anyone similar would do. As the Gemara Chagiga 4b tells us, the Angel of Death who summoned his messenger to bring Miriam (who dresses women's hair) and instead brought him Miriam (who raises children), told him that since he had brought her, she might as well be included in the count.

"On the same Sabbath day the order went out to find the sixteenth man that the police had not been able to find the previous night, despite all their best efforts, as his name had been incorrectly written down. Two policemen went out and interrogated every Jew they met, asking the missing man's name. To this man’s joy, even when they found him they treated him well, and not with the cruelty that the police treated all the other Jews that night. They handcuffed the man to whom their investigation led, took him by force, and did not allow him to utter a word. These two policemen probably did not know what was in store - how those who sent them intended to abuse the Jews - and so they treated this man with patience. They acceded to his request and gave him the list so that he could see if his name appeared on it, and if he was their man. Reliable witnesses tell us that the man looked at the list and at once said that he was not the one they were looking for, but rather his cousin, who also had the same two names. When he saw that the police did not believe him - they told him that the cousin could not be the right man as they had done a thorough investigation - he offered to show them his cousin’s house, my late father Shlomo Zion's. They agreed to this, probably thinking that they would investigate later. This was at 1 pm.

"Abba (Father) had finished praying minha and had come home for the third Shabbat meal. While he was talking we heard a loud banging on the door of our house. Due to the crisis and the terrible rumours we were hearing, the banging alone was enough to make all our hearts tremble. The maid hastened to open the door and Abba’s cousins came in accompanied by the policemen. The cousin with the same first name waited with the policemen in the yard. Another cousin who went up to Abba and whispered something in his ear (to this day, we do not know what he said, and the cousins later never showed any interest in his fate) and then went back to tell the police that Abba was going with them. The police allowed the cousin’s brothers to return home safely. Abba accompanied the police. We small children at home sobbed; Imma cried with us. Abba mumbled something to quieten us down but at this point the policemen lost patience and arrested him. From the window we could see Abba going with the policemen. We kept on crying, as if our hearts knew he would never return.

"Relatives and acquaintances immediately took the necessary steps to redeem our father, but their efforts were in vain. So were those of the families of the other sixteen Jews. To quieten us children, they told us that the police had promised to release him the next day. Though we believed what we were told we could not accept that our father would not be released that same day. The idea came to us to run to the police station and hear again his last words as he left the house. At our age, this is all that mattered.

"The police station was housed in the building of the shipping company Lynch, an English company whose representatives left Baghdad at the time of the war. We circled it, trying to find a way in. On one side, we heard the cries of those being cruelly beaten and tormented rising to the heavens. We anxiously listened closely for the voice of our father, but we could not hear him. We were afraid to wait any longer. It was late, already night: this was not a place for Jews. We walked through the back alley, where the voices were coming from, ready to go home. Suddenly we were aware that the voices were hushed although we were closer to them. We waited a few more moments under the high window of the warehouse where we thought the voices were coming from, and then we heard the voice of our father. It was not just a cry: sobbing, he was reciting parts of a confession attributed to Rabbi Yehuda Halevy or Rabbi Ibn Ezra: “To you, my Lord is my passion.”

"We could not control ourselves and began crying and yelling, “Abba, Abba! What are they doing to you? Why are you crying?" His voice stopped immediately and we understood that he was trying very hard to overcome his sorrow and talk to us, but he could not. With great restraint and difficulty he said to us: “go home, my children and pray for mercy for us”. We waited a few more minutes and heard nothing. We went back home, upset and despairing. We begged our family to take desperate measures to release our father that night.

"On Sunday morning everyone learned of the torture of these poor souls. Their relatives’ efforts to redeem them at any price were in vain. The torment of Aharon the cantor, the first victim, was worse than those of his friends. He died 24 hours later, but his sixteen friends were tortured in ways that prolonged their agony in order to force them to implicate other Jews. These sixteen saintly men sanctified the name of the Lord, and did not under any circumstances mention the name of other Jews, though the Cruel Ones demanded to know the names of their friends and acquaintances. We kept trying to talk to our father through the high windows. At times we were answered, at times not.

"On Tuesday, the 28th day of the month of Shvat, at dawn, my esteemed uncle, Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim went to inquire about my late father’s well-being. One of the martyrs, Sasson Sofer, answered that his brother, our late father, had been taken at midnight and had asked Sofer to notify the family. More than this he could not say. Over the next two days nothing more was heard of these saintly martyrs.

"On Thursday and Friday a rumour spread that, after the great victory of General Khalil Bey on the Kut-al-Amara front over the last few months, he had now suffered a great defeat and retreated with the rest of his forces. On Shabbat this rumour was reinforced. Further rumours of great losses caused embarrassment to the tormentors of Israel. The Jews had their belief strengthened that the Turkish defeats were divine retribution for the spilling of the blood of pure souls.

"That same day a body, missing several body parts, was found outside the town, and identified as Aharon the cantor by the members of his family. On Sunday, after the martyr's funeral, a modest affair due to fear of the enemy, rumours spread that the Turks had begun to evacuate Baghdad and to dig in at the city of Samara. During the week this rumour became fact and the three tormentors of Israel left Baghdad.

"On Sunday, the sixteenth day of the month of Adar, the British entered Baghdad. The Jews were relieved that the plot of the tormentor Fayek and his lieutenants to kill all the Jews of Baghdad had come to nought. On Monday a deputation of the relatives of the martyrs went to see General Maude, the conqueror of Baghdad, and asked him to question the chief of police Said El-Din as to what happened to the sixteen Jews he had tortured. It was rumoured that the British had captured El-Din. General Maude welcomed the deputation and told them that the tormentor Said El-Din was not among their captives. The relatives of the martyrs felt depressed and hopeless, not knowing what had happened to their fathers.

"On the 3rd day of the month of Nissan a large sack was found, full and sealed closed, washed up on the bank of the Ahidekel river, about 45 minutes away from Baghdad, in front of a Jewish qasr (palace). The sack was opened and in it was the body of our late father, on whose face no change could be seen. We speculated that on the night of that Tuesday the 28th of Shvat, he was taken from the police station to an unknown place and cast into the river. This would have meant that he was in the river for more than 30 days, though he looked like a man who had died in his bed. Our sages say [Gemara in Yevamot 121a] that water preserves the shape of the face and does not allow it to swell or become disfigured. His hands were handcuffed and in the sack were several large stones. Despite this, he was floating on the water - a miracle. Some attributed this to nature, saying that the British navy plying these waters caused the sack to float in the slipstream. But I, who saw the heavy stones with my own eyes, am among those who believed that it was a miracle. Our late father’s virtue was to his credit and his coffin was floating so that he would receive a proper burial.

"My late grandfather, the late Rav Rahamim, son of Rav Shlomo, aspired only to raise his sons to Torah and good deeds. This came to pass. Our late father, his oldest son, was born in Baghdad on the eve of the Sabbath, on the 28th day of the first month of Adar in the year 1871 and was named Shlomo Zion, Shlomo after his father and Zion for redemption. In his childhood he studied diligently in Yeshiva for several years and excelled in intelligence and diligence. His true love of God, acquired from his fathers and rabbis, accompanied him to his last day.

"In the year 1912 he visited the Holy land where he spent several months. He returned filled with wonder, wishing to wind up his business in Baghdad and live honourably in Israel. The Great War delayed his plans and the cruel ones who murdered him ended his hope. We are sure that his soul and the souls of his sacred friends are engraved in the Book of Life, together with the victims who died for noble causes and were killed under false pretences, and about them the heavens proclaim:

“Blessed be they that no being can stand among them”. (Psachim, 50)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Jew who was saved by Kurdish leader-to-be

Students at Leeds University in England glimpsed life in one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities earlier this month through the recollections of Edwin Shuker, an Iraqi Jew who fled his homeland as a youth, Chabad News reports. Shuker was smuggled out by Kurds, one of whom turned out to be Iraqi Kurdistan's future President:

More than 75 people attended the lecture, which was sponsored by the university town’s Chabad-Lubavitch Student Centre and accompanied its weekly Shabbat dinner and services.

Shuker – who at the age of 16, joined a mass emigration of Jews fleeing through the mountains of Kurdistan and over the border into Turkey – offered two contrasting images in his talk: of an ancient and far-flung community that prior to Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War, was upwardly mobile and respected, and of an all-but decimated remnant ravaged by the oppression of Saddam Hussein and the hazards of war.

Born in 1955 in Baghdad, Shuker lived in a community that numbered more than 200,000 people in the1940’s, but had been reduced to just 10,000 after years of persecution and flight. By 1970, most of those 10,000 were gone. Shuker’s family managed to escape in 1971, and was among the very last Jews to leave until after the fall of Hussein.

He also told of his work on behalf of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, a non-governmental organization dedicated to raising international awareness of the “forced exodus” of some 850,000 Jews from the 1950s to 1970s. He first returned to his birthplace in 2003 as part of a delegation of 12 refugees who chartered a flight to the newly American-controlled territory.

“His stories were entirely unique,” related Rabbi Michael Danow, who directs the Student Centre together with his wife, Chana Sara Danow. “His first visit to Iraq was while there was still a lot of bombing, and he had an interesting landing. That was the beginning of many miracle stories from his visits.”

Shuker has since made several trips back to Iraq, visiting the sites of the Jewish school, his family’s synagogue, and his family’s former home. In 2006, he accompanied an American congressman on an official tour, acting as his interpreter and meeting with government officials.

Shuker addresses the Herzilya Conference of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries in February 2009.

As the American delegation met with Masoud Barzani, the then newly-elected president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Shuker mentioned that the two had met before, when Barzani had smuggled Shuker and his family to safety. As Shuker tells it, when the two embraced, even the American officials had tears in their eyes.

During that same trip, Shuker was invited to dinner with the Iraqi Prime Minister. He attended, he told the Leeds crowd, but did not eat because the food wasn’t kosher.

“He gave a very powerful example of how you have to be proud of who you are, no matter the circumstances,” said Danow. “The students enjoyed it very much.”

Read article in full

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Knesset committee to discuss refugee law today

The Knesset committee which introduced the bill to safeguard the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries - a groundbreaking measure which passed its first reading last month - is convening this morning. The bill's passage is by no means secure, having met opposition from those who see it as an obstacle to peace. Meanwhile, Il Foglio, the right-of-centre Milan daily, is one of the first national European newspapers to give the story in-depth coverage. Here are extracts translated from the Italian (with thanks: Eliyahu):

"The law, which in November was approved by a large majority at first reading, would require the government to raise the issue of Jewish refugees in any future peace talks. Initially, the draft required the recognition of the rights of refugees as a condition for signing a peace agreement, but its instigator, Nissim Zeev, had to amend the text, which would have tied the government's hands and stilted negotiations.

"Zeev does not hide the political implications of the proposal, which aims to balance the claims of Palestinian refugees. These claim the so-called "right of return" to homes abandoned in 1948 during the conflict which marked the birth of the state of Israel.

"Negotiations cannot be one-way," Zeev told us. "The Palestinians demand billions of dollars from Israel, but we are the ones who have lost everything." "The MK is a member of the Orthodox Shas party, whose electorate is made up primarily of Jews who fled Arab countries, now about 40 percent of the Israeli population. His family fled Baghdad for what was then Palestine under British mandate after the riots that accompanied the anti-Semitic pro-Nazi coup in Iraq in 1941.

"Although they had experienced them throughout the twentieth century, the attacks against Jews in the Arab world peaked between 1948 and the Six Day War of 1967.

"Those decades saw Jews disappear or be reduced to a few dozen members of communities predating Muhammad by centuries. The degree and type of persecution varied: they could include popular uprisings and terrorist attacks, arrests on charges of espionage followed by show trials and public executions, and laws that took away citizenship from Jews and limited their rights.

"Where governments did try to stem the popular fury and discrimination, a few thousand Jews still survive - one example is Morocco, which has seen high emigration. But from Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other countries Jews are completely gone, fleeing in their tens of thousands on clandestine desert journeys or in airlifts to Israel, Europe and the United States.

"In October the U.S. State Department revealed that it had secretly taken out sixty Jews from Yemen. About 300 remain, threatened by Shi'ite rebels in the north. The rescue was a mini "Magic carpet," operation which took nearly 50 thousand people from Yemen to Israel between 1949 and 1950.

"In 1967 Italy took in 6,000 of the last Jews of Libya. Liliana Fadlun remembers the end of the community of Tripoli. She was at the mercy of a mob galvanized by the first propaganda Arab victory reports after the Six Day War and then angry at the news of their defeat. "They shouted, they burned everything, shops, synagogues. '">For years I dreamed of these crowds of screaming Arabs, " says Fadlun, who now lives in Rome. Her husband, Rahmin Buhnik, said Libyan law prohibited the Jews from leaving the country.

"If there was a Jew in the street they would have killed him," recalls Buhnik. "We spent a month locked up at home, almost without food."

"Diplomatic pressure finally convinced King Idris to allow Jews to leave Libya "temporarily", allowing them to carry a suitcase and 20 pounds apiece. "Of Buhnik's flourishing construction and import-export business nothing remains. "You only hear about the Palestinians.It's only fair that we should also put our history on the negotiating table, "says Fadlun about the proposed Israeli law.

"In Arab countries, the exodus of the Jews is generally considered the result of lobbying by Zionist agents. But the Jewish state and the exiles themselves speak little of it, partly out of deference to the victims of the even more terrible Holocaust tragedy.

"The United States Congress has pre-empted Israel by approving a 2008 resolution that supports the rights of Jewish refugees. WOJAC, the world organisation of Jews from Arab countries, with its headquarters in New York, estimates that confiscated property is worth billions of dollars and that land would amount to 100 thousand square kilometers, nearly five times the area of Israel.

"According Heskel Haddad, president of the association, there is little hope of obtaining compensation and the real purpose of these legislative initiatives is to persuade Arab countries to give citizenship to Palestinian refugees who were born or have lived for decades in their territory.

"I really do not want the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, they just want to have a recognized status," says Haddad. "If the Arab countries agreed to give them citizenship it would be a major step for peace."

Read article in full (subscription required)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jews 'not targeted for their faith' in Algerian war

This interesting post at the Algerian Review quotes two letters sent by the Algerian liberation movement, the FLN, to the Jewish community, as evidence that Jews were not targeted for their religion. It was as French nationals that the Jews were assumed to be complicit with the pieds noirs. My comment follows: (with thanks: Sacha G.)

"Many suspected Algerian Muslims, Jews and Christians were targeted during the mob killings. Some Jews and Christians continued to live in the infant state even though the majority left. I do not believe that the FLN and the revolution had an inherently racist or xenophobic agenda. While digging through history books, specifically Mohamed Harbi’s La Guerre d’Algérie, published in 2004, I came through a letter from the FLN written to the Jewish community in 1962. The FLN tried to engage the Jewish community and appealed to them to side with the Algerian revolution. The FLN was sympathetic to the plight that the Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis and Vichy’s government. It aknowledges the help of many Jews that were in the cause of the revolution. (...)

From the translation of the first letter (1956) (all emphasis is mine):

The National Liberation Front, which has led the anti-colonialist revolution for the past two years, feels that the moment has arrived when every Algerian of Israelite origin, in light of his own experience, must without any ambiguity choose sides in this great historic battle. The FLN, authentic and exclusive representative of the Algerian people, considers it its obligation to directly address the Israelite community and to ask it to solemnly affirm its membership in the Algerian nation. This choice clearly affirmed, it will dissipate all misunderstandings and extirpate the seeds of hatred maintained by French colonialism. It will also contribute to recreating Algerian fraternity, broken by the arrival of French colonialism.[...]

Without going too far back in history, it seems useful to us to recall the time when the Jews, held in less consideration than animals, didn’t even have the right to inter their dead, the latter being secretly buried during the night wherever this could be done, due to the absolute prohibition against the Jews having any cemeteries. At precisely this period Algeria was the refuge and land of freedom for the Israelites who fled the inhuman persecutions of the Inquisition. Precisely during this period the Israelite community was proud to offer its Algerian fatherland not only poets, but consuls and ministers.

It is because the FLN considers the Algerian Israelites the sons of our Fatherland that it hopes that the leaders of the Jewish community will have the wisdom to contribute to the building of a free and truly fraternal Algeria…

And from the second letter (1962):

The Algerian problem is at a decisive stage. We want to address this appeal to you, in the face of the hysterical and racist clamor of the fascists who claim to speak in your name, declaring that you are French and that you are all participants in the criminal acts of the backwards colonialists. You know full well that this is both a gratuitous declaration and a policy of mystification that should fool know [sic] one, and even less so you, who are Algerians.[...]

…Recently, in Oran, demonstrations provoked by young hotheads in the Israelite neighborhood took place, followed by fires set in stores belonging to Muslims. These acts are the clearest illustration of how some of you attempt to thoughtlessly align yourselves with the racial policies of the ultras. Will you today make yourselves the accomplices of the backwards colonialists by rising up against your Algerian brothers of Muslim origin?…[...]

Israelite compatriots, many Israelites are active in our ranks. Some among them were interned, others are still in prison for their acts in service to the Algerian cause. Algeria’s independence is near; independent Algeria will need you and tomorrow you will need it, for it is your country. Your Muslim brothers honestly and loyally offer you their hand for solidarity coming from your direction. It is your duty to answer.

These letters are not new, I am not trying to break new ground or rewrite history. They were just found by a curious mind digging back through the history of his country. These letters do not excuse the treatment that Jews or anyone endured after the revolution, what they show is that the Jews were not targeted because of their religion, they just shared the fate that anyone that was suspected of complicity and treason with the French did.

Read post in full

My comment:

During the Algerian war the Jews tried to maintain a studied neutrality: at this time conciliatory letters were also written by the CJAES, the representative body for Algerian Jewry, declaring that Jews were against violence of any kind. Although some Jews did support the FLN, many were murdered by them, according to Les juifs d'Algerie, deux mille ans d'histoire by Ayoum and Cohen. The turning point came on 12 December 1960 when the Great synagogue of Algiers was ransacked and 'Death to the Jews', together with swaztikas, scrawled on the walls. The desecration of the Jewish cemetery at Oran soon followed, the stabbing of the hairdresser Choukroun and confrontations between Jews and Muslims. From then on, it is hard to argue that the Jews were not targeted qua Jews.

Although the new Algerian leader Ben Bella made an appeal to the Jews to stay on, the Jews had little option but to join the mass evacuation from Algeria of the French pieds noirs. In March 1963, Algeria passed its nationality code, effectively excluding any citizen who was not a Muslim by birth.

More on the Algerian Jewish community here

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Damascus Jewish Quarter is being renovated

The newly-renovated Beit Farhi mansion is the quarter's jewel (Tim Beddows)

The Jewish Quarter of Damascus is being spruced up - a transformation made possible, ironically, by the exodus of its orginal inhabitants, The Globe and Mail's Patrick Martin remarks in his blog:

Of all the areas in Damascus undergoing change, the Old City is going through the most, and of all the areas inside the walls of the Old City, the old Jewish Quarter is undergoing the biggest transformation.

Once home to about 3500* Jews, the community now numbers fewer than 40. Many of the old homes now house Muslim or Christian families (the quarter stretches between the traditional Christian sector around the Church of St. Paul and the more populous Muslim area around the Umayyad Mosque). Many other of the Jewish homes remain vacant, their doors and windows boarded up or otherwise secured. One house still displays its Hebrew-inscribed lintel over the front door.

Most of the Jewish community left the country in the 1990s* after then president Hafez al-Assad made it easier for them to emigrate and take their wealth with them. (Until then, it was possible to leave, but only with substantial limits placed on how much money or valuables they could take along.) Most of the community turned up in the United States, mostly in Brooklyn, New York. Some went on to live in Israel..

The Quarter’s former Jewish school, built only a few years before the departures, now has an Arab owner and it sits mostly empty, people say.

Around the corner from the school is the most dramatic change. The building that once housed the community’s principal synagogue is being beautifully renovated as Beit Farhi, named for the Jewish financier (and adviser to the Ottoman sultan) who lived in it almost two hundred years ago. Overall, the 25,000 sq ft of the original mansion will become a boutique hotel.

Across the narrow road from Beit Farhi is the Talsiman, a gem of a hotel built four years ago from the renovation of two other spacious Jewish homes. Its 17 rooms look out onto a spacious central courtyard.

Everywhere you look in the Jewish Quarter, construction is underway: galleries, restaurants, as well as more small hotels, are being built. In another decade, the Jewish Quarter will be a destination of its own — made possible, ironically, by the exodus of its original inhabitants.

Read blog post in full (scroll down)

*In 1947 there were about 30,000 Jews, but the vast majority left after rioting. Only a few thousand hostage Jews were living in Syria by the 1990s. These were eventually allowed to leave, but not to Israel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why is this Cairo synagogue in limbo?

Photos: Mostafa Hussein

Neither demolished, nor restored, the once grandiose Adda synagogue is in limbo, the Egyptian newspaper Masri- al-Yom has revealed. The synagogue, which is being used as administrative offices, has no official owner. Despite its obvious Art Nouveau features, it is not a listed building - because the present occupants have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, it is slowly going to rack and ruin, much to the bewilderment of Egyptians themselves. (With thanks bh)

Curious pictures of this Cairo temple were first posted by Egyptian blogger Mostafa Hussein last year. The photos, which showed a sign of the ruling NDP (the ruling National Democratic Party - ed) in front of the building's main door and a handful of employees working inside, generated a buzz in the Egyptian online social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

The building, in the eastern Cairo neighborhood of Hadayeq el-Qubba, turned out the bygone synagogue that has been revived for different functions at different times. It consecutively became a public kindergarten, a local headquarters for the NDP, and a local administrative center for the Ministry of Social Solidarity. Signs remain from each of the three functions, suggesting a rather schizophrenic identity.

People living in the area recall the building being a synagogue until the 1960s, but aren't entirely sure what has become of it since. "Our building used to be filled with Jews. But they all left. This synagogue used to function long time ago, but I don’t recall when it stopped. Now it has become related to the government," says Saleh Mahdy, a 72-year-old retired accountant who lives in the building adjacent to the synagogue.

Equally visually confusing is the presence of a small mosque which has almost cordoned the synagogue with its freshly painted green fence. A men's prayer room stands to the right of the synagogue's main body and a women's prayer room is on the left. According to Mahdy, the mosque is only a handful of years old. “It looks ridiculous. I totally disagree with its presence there,” he says.

At night, the synagogue looks like nothing but a distant relic of the past with its huge dark gates and walls with Hebrew inscriptions, run-down stairs, and ancient wooden chairs covered with cobweb. An old woman was seated on the stairs of the synagogue. When asked about it, she said she knew nothing. "My husband used to work as an office boy in the kindergarten. When he died, the [Ministry of] Social Solidarity people gave me a room to stay here," she said, pointing to a small wooden structure behind the synagogue. She had extended a laundry rope from the synagogue’s wall to her small house where she hung her clothes.

During the day, the synagogue is the working space for about 30 employees who say they work for the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

But inside lies a grandiose structure that features a central cupola, Hebrew inscriptions, spiral stairs, huge marble columns and tiles, and ancient wooden gates and chairs. The original stained glass panes, in the shape of the star of David and other geometrical formations, are mostly intact. In the eastern side of the interior architecture--pointing towards Jerusalem--sits the holy ark, otherwise known as the hechal, a curtained niche where the Torah scrolls were kept. The niche is now covered by a makeshift curtain, but the scrolls are long gone. Instead, a bunch of old government folders are scattered behind the curtain.

Above the niche, an old Fatah poster of President Gamal Abdel Nasser fails to hide the faded but legible golden Hebrew letters, spelling "Gateway to the Righteous." Above those still are a pair of tablets, on which are inscribed the ten commandments. The "Eternal Light" that hangs above the niche, a common feature in all synagogues, has long been turned out.

In stark contrast to the historical feeling of the synagogue are wooden partitions that divide the space into quasi-offices. Employees sit behind grey metal desks reminiscent of a 1960s and 1970s office style. When Al-Masry Al-Youm paid the office a surprise visit, the employees were having their usual breakfast of fuul and taamiya.

"We’ve been here for the past 20 years. They keep telling us it’s a temporary location," said a female employee. "Didn’t they occupy Al-Aqsa mosque? We’re occupying them here," said another. Many complained that the synagogue is not the perfect working environment because it’s too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer.

"It’s so old that I feel there are ghosts hidden somewhere in the walls," said another woman.

Despite the seeming lack of local knowledge about the 400-square-meter synagogue, it does have a long history. It was built by an Egyptian Jewish family that resided in the neighborhood. “This temple was built by the Adda family,” says Carmen Weinstein, president of the Egyptian Jewish Community Council (JCC).

"The Adda's were a Jewish Egyptian family of industrialists and bankers, who contributed to the growth of the Egyptian economy in the 1940s. I wish the state would preserve this temple, which is unique in this part of the city." For Jewish communities in Egypt before 1952 it was customary to erect neighborhood synagogues. "In each neighborhood, the local Jewish collectivity built a synagogue," says Weinstein, who also points out that while 29 synagogues once existed in Cairo, only 13 remain.

When contacted for more information about the building, Cairo Governorate officials expressed surprise with respect to the building's unusual status, and gratitude that Al-Masry Al-Youm reporters brought the matter to their attention. According to one governorate employee who wanted to remain anonymous, the building is recognized in the district's files, but has no licenses or ownership documents.

"This means that no measures of demolition, or restoration, have been taken with respect to the building. Nevertheless, the Hadayeq el-Qubba district headquarters believe the construction to be stable and safe," he says. "Since there has been no ownership documents for the synagogue, the government has put its hand on it."

Abdallah Attar of the Sector of Islamic and Coptic Monuments in the Supreme Council of Antiquities says that the synagogue is not considered a registered monument and therefore does not fall under the jurisdiction of the council. "The Permanent Monuments Committee has to agree to register it as a monument under Law 117/1983," he says. According to the law, the minister of culture or the prime minister has to approve the registration, based on the age of the monument and its architectural standards.

"Once registered, a monument of the Supreme Council of Antiquities becomes regulated by the law in terms of the organization of its use and the criminalization of any violations against it," Attar says. The synagogue of Hadayeq el-Qubba is not one of the registered synagogues as antiquities and therefore falls out of the Supreme Council's jurisdiction, according to Attar. He says there are only nine registered synagogues in Egypt.

"It is not registered as an antiquity because we're yet to formally request it," Weinstein explains. "But I have recently spoken to [head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities] Zahi Hawwas, and he requested we submit a report about it." Regarding the presence of government employees, Weinstein says that the JCC "submitted a request to the Ministry of Social Solidarity to have their offices relocated so that the synagogue can be returned to its original appearance and made into a touristic site." The ministry's response? "They responded that they needed to find a new location first."

Read article in full

The myth of Jewish colonialism

In much discourse about the Middle East, there is a widespread myth that Jews are interlopers from Europe and the US - white westerners who came to ‘colonise’ and ’steal land’ from the ‘native’ Palestinian people to whom it rightfully belongs. This myth, drawing on Marxist terminology, gained increasing legitimacy after 1967 when Israel annexed East Jerusalem and ‘conquered’ the West Bank. The notion of 'occupation' and the use of the word ‘settlers’ reinforce the concept of Israeli ‘colonisation’ of ‘Arab’ land.

Aside from assuming that the Palestinians must be the true natives because they look authentically ‘brown’, the colonialism myth supports another myth: Jews are not a people, deserving of the right to self-determination, but a religion. Thus anti-Zionists habitually talk about of US citizens of the Jewish faith, Germans of the Jewish faith and even Arabs of the Jewish faith. At the time of the French Revolution, Clermont-Tonnerre said of the emancipation of Jews: “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals.” The Jewish community would somehow disappear, leaving only French citizens of Jewish religion or ancestry.

Lately, the notion that Jews are not one people but a motley collection of converts has been given a boost by Tel Aviv Professor Shlomo Sand, whose bestselling book, The Invention of the Jewish People, is now out in English. Sand’s theories build on the work of Arthur Koestler, who popularised the idea that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Turkic tribe, the Khazars. Both men undermine the legitimacy of Israel by inferring that Jews have no link to Palestine. Genetic studies, however, discredit Koestler’s theory: they find that Jews from East and West have more in common with each other, and are genetically closer to non-Jews of Middle eastern origin – the Kurds in particular – than they are to the non-Jewish populations they lived amongst.

Last June President Obama articulated another myth: Israel was created as a penance for the Holocaust in Europe. This myth obscures the truth that every Arab state is equally a creation of western colonialism. It also ignores the fact that the institutions of a Jewish state-in-waiting were established decades before Ben Gurion read out Israel’s declaration of independence.

We often hear or read about Israel being populated by pork-munching non-Jewish Russians and settlers from Brooklyn. But these groups are marginal. We almost never hear that 40 percent of Israel’s Jews trace their ancestry from Muslim and Arab lands. The vast majority of these Jews merely moved from one corner of the ‘Arab’ world to that Middle Eastern coastal sliver known as Israel.

Until their expulsion 50 years ago, Jews had been settled in Iraq, for example, since the Babylonians exiled Jews from Jerusalem almost 3,000 years ago. In the early 20th century, Baghdad was the most Jewish city in the world, after Salonica and Jerusalem. The Jews can be said to have as legitimate a claim on Baghdad as Palestinians on Jerusalem.

The Arabs are relative newcomers to the region; the ‘Arab’ world is a misnomer. By the time the Arabs had conquered land largely inhabited by Jews and Christians in the 7th century, the Jews had been settled there for 1,000 years. People in the West tend to apply a common misconception to all Jews, borrowing the Christian notion that Jews have been punished to wander from land to land with no country to call their own. But not only have Jews always lived in Palestine, there was continuity of Jewish settlement in the Middle East and North Africa for 2,000 years. If only native inhabitants are titled to political rights, the Jews are as indigenous as any people living in the Middle East can be.

That Jewish presence came to an end in the last 50 years. The Arab League determined to wreak revenge on defenceless Jewish citizens in Arab lands if the partition of Palestine went ahead. On the day when five Arab armies invaded the new Jewish state, the Arab League secretary, Azzam Pasha announced :"This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades".

The Arab governments actually declared two wars in 1948. The military war against the fledgling Jewish state of Israel they lost, but they declared a second war, against a million Jewish citizens. This war they won easily, through a policy of intimidation, repression, persecution and sporadic outbreaks of violence. The result is that only 4,500 Jews are left in Arab countries.

Jews ‘stealing Arab land’ is an offensive inversion of reality. Jews in 10 Arab countries were stripped of their rights and in most cases dispossessed of their property. The World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries estimates that Jews in Arab countries lost many more billions of assets than the Palestinians, and four times as much land as the size of Israel itself.

Seen in these terms, Arab antisemitism created Israel no less than the Holocaust. The Arabs owe the Jews big-time. It’s time the world stopped viewing the conflict through a distorted, Eurocentric lens.

Cross-posted at Jewcy, The San Francisco Sentinel
Harry's Place and Solomonia

Monday, December 14, 2009

First the Saturday people, now the Sunday people

Rev Majid El-Shafie, in Jerusalem for a minority rights conference (Jerusalem Post)

Every three minutes a Christian is being tortured in the Muslim world. In 2009 more than 165,000 Christians will have been killed because of their faith, most of them in Muslim countries.

And so the news, reported in The Jerusalem Post, that rights groups are meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the plight of the dwindling minorities under Muslim rule is to be welcomed. The conference will provide new statistics on the persecution of minorities in Muslim countries.

An Egyptian convert from Islam, Reverend Majed El Shafie, President of One Free World International (OFWI), will head a delegation of human rights activists, members of parliament from Canada and religious personalities. El Shafie said that between 200-300 million Christians are being persecuted in the world, 80 percent of whom lived in Muslim countries.

The plight of Jews in Arab countries must always be seen in the context of the plight of all non-Muslim minorities. The treatment of non-Muslims in Arab states has always been a telling barometer of the ill-health of Arab societies. The disease is called bigotry, oppression and ethnic cleansing. It's endemic, systemic and frequently metastisizes into intra-Muslim strife.

It began with the Jews, but it never ends with them. It's too late to save the Jews, 99 percent of whom have been 'ethnically cleansed' from the Arab world. (Largely transplanted to Israel, they enjoy freedom and full civil rights and no desire to return to their precarious existence in Arab countries).

As the saying goes, 'first the Saturday people, then the Sunday people': now that the Jews have gone, Assyrian Christians, Chaldeans, Copts, Palestinian Christians - together with Baha'is, Persian Zoroastrians and Mandaeans - they are all are in process of disappearing from their ancient homelands in the Middle East.

The state of the Mandaeans is saddest of all. This community does not even believe in defending itself. These millenarian followers of John the Baptist (whose communal plight, documented by Rudi Stettner and Magdeburger Joe here, here and here) are on the verge of extinction. They have been driven into exile, mainly in Australia, where there are no more than 30,000 souls.

If the disease is horrible, what is the cure? Minority rights can only safeguarded in a secure and democratic society governed by the rule of law. The West has done all too little to support democrats and liberal reformists in the Arab world and Iran. Thousands are locked up in jail simply for wishing to practise their religion. It's a tough road, but it's the only way forward.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Precious record of Yemen Jews' vanishing lifestyle

Back in the US from two and a half months with the Jews of Yemen, Josh Berer is now free to post stories he was not free to publish while he was there. With pictures by Rachael Strecher, Josh has now compiled this fascinating blog. The 70-odd Jews of Sana'a he befriended are themselves refugees from persecution in Raida, in the north. As the remainder of the Jews flee for the US and Israel, those in Sana'a, sustained by government handouts, are likely to be the last Jews to remain in the country. (With thanks: Megan)

We arrived in Yemen the day before Eid al-Fitr, and left the day after Eid al-Adha. Our time there was bound on each side by the two most important holidays of the Islamic calendar.

In Yemen we spent the vast majority of our time with the last community of Yemenite Jews. I was working on a project of recording folklore, the stories of the last Jews of the oldest diaspora in the world. Over the coming months I will be translating those stories and slowly putting them online. However, I could not post anything on this blog about our experiences and the friendships we made, because the government keeps a very close watch on those who have contacts with the Jews, and we promised and swore that we were not journalists. Things could have been bad had I posted pictures and stories before we had actually left the country.

All photographs by Rachael Strecher

I would like, therefore, to publish the stories I would have published in Yemen, but could not. The following posts are all back-dated.

I would like to thank Mori Yahya Yusuf Marhabi, rabbi of the Sana’a community, who helped us countless times, and whose friendship I will not forget. Saying goodbye to him and his family was among the most emotionally difficult things I have done in recent memory.

These posts reflect not only my first experience doing fieldwork in folklore and linguistics, but also months spent in a community of people who became our close friends. Yemenite Jewry is a unique and ancient minority, and its survival in a war-torn and poverty-stricken corner of the map is of great importance to me. I feel that a piece of Jewish life dies whenever a community such as this is destroyed by emigration, and therefore the preservation of life there is crucial for the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Jewish people.

In January of 2007, war between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels reached the Jewish community of al-Salem, in the province of Saadah. The rebels, who adhere to the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam, posted notices on the Jews homes threatening them with death if they did not leave the country, or convert to Islam. The government stepped in, and relocated the entire community, now numbering 67 individuals, to Sana’a. They were given homes in a protected compound across from the American embassy, known as Tourist City. The government provides them with monthly stipends and food supplies. Those stipends are designed to provide them with just enough to survive, but not enough to save anything, which could allow them to leave. Their situation is one of stagnation.

The leader and rabbi of the community is Yahya bin Yusuf Marhabi, and he was our first main contact, and became our close friend over the three months we spent in the community. He is the lynchpin of Jewish life here: he is the only one who knows the halacha of Kosher slaughter, circumcision, and many other basic services needed for a Jewish community to survive.

The majority of the community is from the Marhabi clan, but there are families from the Zindani and Habib clans as well. All have family in Israel, many have family in New York. I have a family tree, drawn for me by the rabbi’s brother Dawud, but I’m not posting it online, as it could be used for the wrong purposes. For those curious about the genealogy of the community, contact me and we can discuss it.

Despite being provided homes and food, the Jews here don’t work, as they cannot afford start up costs for the trades they know. Many of them are silversmiths, some are carpenters and mechanics. All of those trades require workshops and expensive equipment. This lack of employment breeds boredom, and thus contemplation of better options in Israel or America. They do very little day to day, except chew qat*.

Read posts in full

*plant chewed for its narcotic properties

Friday, December 11, 2009

N. African Jewish suffering under Nazis 'neglected'

As the 67th anniversary of the Nazi round-up of Tunisian Jews is commemorated in France and Israel, the prominent historian Sir Martin Gilbert* says he is struck by how far the suffering of Jews in North Africa during World War ll, an extension of their treatment in Vichy France, has been neglected (with thanks: Sacha G):

(JTA) -- Holocaust memorial institutions in France and Israel commemorated the roundup 67 years ago of Tunisian Jews.

Ceremonies Wednesday at Yad Vashem and Sunday at the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris marked the Dec. 9, 1942 roundup of Tunisian Jews as part of an effort to raise awareness of Jewish suffering in Nazi-occupied North Africa during the Holocaust.

Jews in Tunisia were forced to wear yellow stars and work in labor camps; some were deported to Auschwitz. Jews in other Vichy France colonies in Algeria and Morocco, as well as in Italian-occupied Libya, suffered similar fates.

Martin Gilbert, the pre-eminent Holocaust historian, also marked the anniversary with a statement.

"In my historical work over the past 50 years, I have been struck by the neglect of the story of the Jews of North Africa and the dangers facing them under Vichy French and Italian Fascist rule," Gilbert said in his statement, released Wednesday.

"The story of the persecution of the Jews in North Africa during the Second World War is an integral part of the history of the Holocaust in France; the fate of the Jews living in French North Africa was directly connected to the fate of the Jews living in Metropolitan France. The collaborationist Vichy France extended its anti-Jewish laws -- passed in France -- to its three North African colonies. Thousands of Jews were sent to camps for slave labor between 1940 and 1943."

Sixty-seven years since the Tunis round-up (French)

Read article in full

Nazis planned to exterminate Jews of North Africa

*Here is the text of Sir Martin's statement: (With thanks: Edith)


In my historical work over the past fifty years, I have been struck by the neglect of the story of the Jews of North Africa and the dangers facing them under Vichy French and Italian Fascist rule. The story of the persecution of the Jews in North Africa during the Second World War is an integral part of the history of the Holocaust in France; the fate of the Jews living in French North Africa was directly connected to the fate of the Jews living in Metropolitan France. The collaborationist Vichy France extended its anti-Jewish laws - passed in France - to its three North African colonies. Thousands of Jews
were sent to camps for slave labour between 1940 and 1943.

Although the stories of the Holocaust in France, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco varied, depending on the specific conditions and circumstances in each country, and the military developments of the course of the Second World War, it is a story that needs to be told, and to be reflected in the museums, exhibitions, websites, lectures and books.

In two of my own books, THE ATLAS OF THE HOLOCAUST and THE HOLOCAUST: A JEWISH TRAGEDY, I tell the story of the Jews of North Africa in the Holocaust. In my ATLAS OF THE HOLOCAUST I make it clear that “It was not only in Europe, but also in North Africa that Jews were at risk” (page 137). On page 85, in map 99 “Jews Marked Out for Death, 20 January 1942,” I specify “France Unoccupied Zone: 700,000 including French North Africa.” In my book THE HOLOCAUST; A JEWISH TRAGEDY, I explain that “…700,000, a figure which included the Sephardi Jews in France’s North African possessions, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia… (page 282). …with the Allied landings…the 117,000 Jews of Algeria (and the 200,000 Jews of Morocco) were freed from the danger of deportation to Mmetropolitan France…and beyond. (page 482). I also tell the story how "the Jews of Tunisia suffered five months of confiscation of property, plunder, forced labor, ill-treatment and execution under German rule…many had died from ill-treatment, disease, and even during Allied aerial bombing." Germany’s defeat by the Allies in May 1943 averted the potential extension of mass murder to the Jews of Tunisia.

In my forthcoming book JEWS UNDER MUSLIM RULE*, I tell the story of the fate of Jews in North Africa between 1940 and 1943, including those of Libya. I strongly recommend that story of the Jews of North Africa in the Holocaust becomes an integral part of Jewish and Holocaust history.

Sir Martin Gilbert

* due for publication in Spring 2010


En 50 ans de travail historique, j’ai été frappé par le manque d’attention à l’égard de l’histoire des Juifs d’Afrique du Nord et les dangers auxquels ils ont eu à faire face sous les régimes du gouvernement français de Vichy et fasciste italien. L’histoire de la persécution des Juifs en Afrique du Nord pendant la 2ème guerre mondiale fait partie intégrante de l’histoire de la Shoah en France ; le destin des Juifs vivant en Afrique du Nord française était directement lié au destin des Juifs vivant en France métropolitaine. Le régime collaborateur de la France de Vichy a étendu ses lois antijuives – promulguées en France (dans la Métropole) - à ses 3 colonies nord africaines. Des milliers de Juifs sont envoyés dans des camps de travail forcé entre 1940 et 1943. Bien que les récits sur la Shoah en en France, au Maroc, en Algérie et en Tunisie varient en fonction des conditions et circonstances différentes dans chaque pays et en fonction des développements militaires de la 2ème guerre mondiale, leur histoire doit être racontée et rapportée dans les musées, expositions, sites web, conférences et livres.

Mes deux livres, L’ATLAS DE L’HOLOCAUSTE et L’HOLOCAUSTE : UNE TRAGÉDIE JUIVE, relatent l’histoire des Juifs d’Afrique du Nord dans la Shoah. Dans mon ATLAS DE LA SHOAH, j’affirme sans équivoque que « ce n’était pas seulement en Europe, mais aussi en Afrique du Nord que les Juifs étaient en danger » (page 137). À la page 85, carte 99 « Juifs marqués du sceau de la mort, Janvier 20, 1942 », je précise: « France libre: 700 000 y compris les Juifs d’Afrique du Nord Française. ». Dans mon livre L’HOLOCAUSTE : UNE TRAGÉDIE JUIVE, j’explique que «…700 000 est un chiffre qui inclut les Juifs Sépharades dans les possessions d’Afrique du Nord françaises, Maroc, Algérie, Tunisie … (p. 282)… avec le débarquement des forces alliées les 117 000 Juifs d’Algérie (et les 200 000 Juifs du Maroc) n’étaient plus en danger d’être déportés en métropole… et au délà (p. 482). Je raconte aussi comment « sous la domination allemande, les Juifs de Tunisie ont souffert pendant 5 mois de confiscation de leurs biens, de pillage, du travail forcé, de mauvais traitements et d’execution sommaire…Beaucoup moururent suite aux mauvais traitements, maladie, et aussi à cause du bombardement aérien des forces alliées. Seule la défaite de l’Allemagne par les forces alliées en mai 1943 a empêché l’extermination massive des Juifs de Tunisie.

Dans mon prochain livre sous presse, LES JUIFS SOUS LE RÉGIME DE L’ISLAM*, je relate le destin des Juifs d’Afrique du Nord entre 1940 et 1943, y compris les Juifs de Libye. L’histoire des Juifs d’Afrique du Nord dans la Shoah doit faire partie intégrante de l’histoire Juive et de l’histoire de la Shoah.

Sir Martin Gilbert, Historien

Traduction de l’anglais par Dag Kakou (frere d’Elie Kakou, z”l).

*devrait paraitre au printemps 2010