Saturday, July 21, 2012

Is he for real? The wannabe 'Arab' rabbi

He's an Algerian in all but religion, with ambitions to be an 'Arab' rabbi. His story has been intriguing the readers of the French-Jewish site JForum. Its authenticity cannot be verified - you be the judge. See my comments in italics. (With thanks: Dominique)

I, Naim, 24, want to be a future rabbi in Algeria

They share everything with Algerians except - religion. They are the Jews of Algeria. Today, they still continue to hide in order to lead a better life.

I'm only 24 years old. But I've spent most of my life in hiding. To hide my secret, that of my family, my peers. I am Algerian. With my community, I share the sky, sea, earth, the joys and sorrows. But not religion.

To the writer the Jew is not a separate ethnicity - he is indistinguishable from his fellow Arabs except in matters of faith: a not uncommon Arab attitude.

Now, after studying law, I'm going abroad to study at a Hebrew school to further my knowledge and specialize in the study of worship and North African Algerian Judaism in particular.

I want to become the future rabbi in Algeria so that finally one day we can celebrate faith in Hashem on this earth, in freedom, in peace and in sharing, respecting the laws of the Republic and living together.

To whom would this rabbi minister? The writer seems unaware that the remaining Jews of Algeria, barring a handful, left in the mid-1970s. He is typical of many Arabs who have created a phantom Jewish community in their imaginations, perhaps to serve a political purpose.

My name is Naim and I'm a Jewish toshav. I was born one summer 1988 in Algiers. It was beautiful. There was no indication that the fall would take a dramatic turn in the tormented life of my country. Despite this, my family has always refused to leave Algeria and remained tied to its history for centuries.

In 1962, when many Jews were leaving in haste, carried by the rumors according to which all Jews would be "slaughtered", my grandfather decided to stay. "Here, this is our land. Your parents and ancestors were born here and we have nowhere else to go, "he repeated in each discussion.

The grandfather symbolises the figure of the Jew as Algerian patriot. In reality, most Jews remained neutral between the OAS and FLN until they began to be harassed and murdered and the Great synagogue of Algiers set alight. Soon the nationalists were threatening Jews, along with the pieds noirs, with the bleak choice of coffin or ship. All but a few thousand chose to leave in 1962.

My parents were very tempted to make aliyah to Israel, but my grandfather deterred them. "In 1963, Israel had forbidden Algerians to make Aliyah, like other Jews of the world. The treatment of Algerian Judaism and Jews of Algeria in 1963 in Jerusalem was shameful and contemptuous of us. Just because we had not made aliyah en masse and that we were special.

The truth is the exact opposite. Israel never forbade Algerian Jews for coming en masse to its shores, although some 10,000 - 14,000 did - mainly to Ashdod.

But we are proud to be who we are. Do not expect another. Trust our Algerian brothers. Promise me you'll stay here no matter what, my son, " he said to my father.

My grandfather, at the time a shopkeeper in Znikat Laârayass in the Lower Casbah, helped his mujahideen brothers. His brother had even engaged in the National Liberation Army. This is a shaheed. Even today, old men and women of The Casbah remember the commitment of my family in the Revolution. France we had harmed, because it has assimilated and Frenchified us by this sordid Cremieux decree *. "

Here the French are accused of driving a wedge between Jewish and Muslim Algerians. In fact French citizenship was originally also offered to Algerian Muslims, but turned down.

France forbade our Jewish brethren to be buried in its soil. With this decree, she wanted to separate us from our Muslim brothers and embarrass us, "explained my grandfather. He had Algeria in his heart and saw no other heaven than that of Algiers. He was proud to be Algerian and did not accept any other name, refusing the labels "Jews of Algeria", "Jews of Algerian origin" or "Israelite or Jewish community in Algeria."

He loved lamhadjab, and zlabia makrout. El Hadj El Anka brightened his days and evenings. Chaabi music was his favorite and Edmond Yafil, one of his greatest friends.

The writer harks back to the golden age of Chaabi music, when Jewish and Muslim musicians of the 1950s played under the direction of the great maestro El Anka.

My father was a quiet man who was scared all the time. He was an ambitious civil servant who, unfortunately, was dismissed from high office in the State because of his Jewishness, revealed after lengthy investigations of eligibility by the security services.

An admission that Jews were discriminated against just for being Jews.

He did not learn of halakha. I'll always remember this story. I was six and one day when I accompanied him to the fishery, we passed the Great Mosque of Sahat Echouhada. Berbers were trying to demonstrate outside the mosque. I watched this beautiful white mosque, its ornaments, when suddenly I saw the six-pointed stars: "Look at that star, it's weird, it has six branches!, It looks like the one on the wall of your room! "" One day you'll understand, my son! "My father gave me shifty eyes, after a long silence.

An unlikely story.

I remember the school, the first lessons of Arabic alphabet.
And Islamic education classes. We began to recite the Fatiha and Echahada. Something unusual to my ears. The tone was the same, but the words were different from those my mother used to pray in the evening or the day of Shabbat. In the evening, at dinner, my mother felt disturbed. She asked me questions, but I could not tell her anything. I expected to see her sitting and praying before a candle. It was at that moment that I realized that my mother did not recite the Quran and spoke a language other than Arabic.

She did her dafayoumi. Before my stubborn silence, thinking me haunted by a spirit, she decided to treat me to the word of God. She recited dafa and threw water everywhere until I broke down and I told him: "At school, we learned the Quran and how to pray. But I've seen and you did not do what you tell us to do at school! "She remained stunned and then burst into tears:" We are like no other! We are Jewish, my son! May God protect you! "

Through the small window of my room, I watched the sky. Shema Israel, Adonai Elohenou, Adonai Echad (people of Israel: Adonai is our only God, Adonai is one). This is our echahada to us Jews. I started to pray to God along with my mother. Faith has become the priority in my life. My mother had taken care to warn me: I was never to reveal my religious affiliation. Especially at this time.

The writer has a bizarre understanding of Judaism, probably gleaned from motley internet sites.

January 23, 1994, my maternal uncle visited us to tell us the murder of Raymond Louzoum. An optician Jewish Tunisian origin of the present street Didouche Mourad, foully murdered in front of the library of Fine Arts. My father hurried back to his work. He spent the evening talking with my mother. I heard him shout "No! I stay here! I would not go anywhere else! "My uncle came back a few days later and took me to the synagogue. Finally, let's say a room converted into a place of prayer. During the 1990s, the Jews of Algeria were forced to be more discreet. It was risky in that bloody period of Algeria. We used to pray in a small mosque where the imam had allowed us in for Shabbat.

The imam did what? Incredible.

Read article in full (French)

English version (Google)

Verdict: in my view, the story is a hoax. The Jew is a useful device for the writer -
probably an anti-Islamist liberal - to put forward his vision of a pluralistic Algeria.


Mimi said...

I 100% support you. I am also Algerian who has been doing some research about the Algerian-Jewish heritage. My dream is to see Algerian Jews walking the street of Algiers just like any other Algerian. As an Algerian it took me 6 years in a foreign country to learn that yes Algerian Jews do exist. In Algeria, we are not thought anything about Algerian jews and how they too fought for Algeria. We have no knowledge about Judaism in Algeria. This is really important for the future of Algerian Jews and Algeria.

Sylvia said...

I think this is entirely possible. There are still Algerian Jews who are passing off as Muslims, although their children and grandchildren are probably totally lost to Judaism.

There are procrastinators among Jews also, and there were indeed Jews who took the side of the revolution. That a Jew living and working in the Kasbah would side with the Revolutionaries is not that far-fetched - if only out of fear because that's where they hid from the French.

By the time the Constitution and the Nationality Code were written - which stated that only a Muslim whose grandfather was a Muslim could be Algerian - I guess it was too late for those people.

The problem with Naim is that resurrecting Algerian Judaism would require a change in the Constitution. And if it is proven that he is not a Muslim by the Algerian authorities he will lose his Algerian citizenship. If not worse.

Beside, any Jewish institution outside Algeria can verify his claim. They have the records, and people who can testify as to who is his grandfather - particularly if he had a shop in the Kasbah. They aalso had the thing called "Livret de famille". Not easy to lie about it.

The Algerian people are so consumed by hatred that they have long passed the point of no-return. Let them burn.

bataween said...

Good point, the Algerian Constitution puts anyone not a Muslim into a bind.

The story reminds me of the ambiguous status of the remnants of the remnant - those handful of Jews in mixed families in Egypt, Lebanon and Kurdistan, with Christian as well as Muslim family members. They cannot quite resolve their identities.

Yoram said...


Arent it those who in recent times (because of the arab spring etc) are applying to make aliyah?

bataween said...

Yes, there have been cases of Kurdish Jews from mixed families who made aliyah after the 2003 invasion.
Meanwhile, some have gone back.

Sylvia said...

In terms of religion - both Ashkenazim and Sephardim recognize that it is better to be martyred than to convert to a religion that practices idolatry.
But Islam is not an idolatrous religion, which is why Maimonides ruled that those who were forced to convert to Islam (as opposed to Christianity) should be accepted back in the fold and not be excommunicated.
In other words, from Sephardic Judaism point of view, forced conversion to Islam is not binding.
The Shahada is not binding either because you can replace one letter and it will not have the intended meaning.

Now, those Algerian Jews who for a reason or another - they probably thought it was just another episode of persecutions and things will eventually return to normal - found themselves in a situation where they had to present a Muslim facade.

This is not to say that the story is genuine. Just that it is not impossible.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

since Sylvia brought up the nationality law in Algeria, Prof Shmuel Trigano points out that the not yet born "palestinian" Arab state has a draft constitution which states that "palestinians" are Arabs and the official religion of "palestine" is Islam.

Mimi said...

Algerian people are not consumed by hatred! Do you know all Algerian people? No! My husband is Jewish by blood and I am Algerian born and raised in Algeria! It is not nice to spit fire for non reason! La méchanceté gratuite ne sert a rien Madame Sylvia