Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Show some sympathy for Yazidis

 Gina Waldman

The year 2014 will be remembered as the year that a genocidal  group overran large parts of Iraq and Syria, destroying age -old minorities. Gina Waldman of JIMENA , writing in the Times of Israel,  calls for sympathy with, and support for, beleaguered Yazidis:

In 1941, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Iraq’s pro-Nazi government led by Rashid Ali al-Kailani encouraged mobs to pillage the Jewish quarter of Baghdad and to kill and rape innocent men, women, children, and babies. This pogrom or Farhud left 120 dead, dozens wounded and the Jewish quarter destroyed. In 1952, 120,000 Iraqi Jews were stripped of their nationality and fled with only the clothes on their backs. Today the Jewish community of Iraq is extinct.

Similar events are currently taking place in Iraq and again, violence is directed at minority communities who have been part of the fabric and the history of Iraq, and the Middle East, nearly 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. Violent attacks by ISIS targeting Yezidis, Shabaks, Assyrian Christians, and other groups have escalated to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Middle East, which used to be one of the most diverse regions of the world, is sadly becoming one of the most homogenous.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Egypt bans Abuhatzeira shrine visits for good

CAIRO - An Egyptian court  has banned a Jewish celebration that has taken place since the 1979 peace deal with Israel and asked the government to remove the tomb where it takes place from a list of official shrines, the Jerusalem Post reports. Although the authorities have threatened to ban pilgrimages to this Moroccan  rabbi"s shrine on previous occasions, this time the ban looks permanent. So much for official protestations that Egypt is not anti-Jewish, just anti-Zionist.

The court said its decision was due to "moral offenses" committed in previous years at the three-day festival celebrating the birth of Rabbi Jacob Abu Hasira. It did not elaborate on what the offenses were.

Jews, mostly from outside Egypt, have congregated every year at the 19th century tomb around Jan. 1 even though the festival was cancelled for security reasons after the 2011 uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.

Monday's ruling would make the ban permanent unless a higher court overturns it on appeal.

The court called for the government to reverse the 2001 recognition of the festival by state tourism officials and to remove the tomb in Egypt's Nile Delta region of Buheira from a list of recognized shrines.

Local residents have previously complained of the disruptive security presence that comes with the festival. 

2014: the Year in Review

2014 was a good year in many respects, even as actual Jewish communities still  in Arab countries continued their slide towards extinction.

First the good news: in June 2014, the Israeli Knesset passed a law designating a Memorial Day to remember the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

Good news when over 40 programmes were arranged worldwide on or around the designated date of 30 November, from a reception at the Israeli president's residence to conferences, Knesset lobbying sessions, film showings and book launches. The Israeli government and World Jewish Congress held an event in the UN building. The net result was unprecedented press interest in the Hebrew and Jewish media, although the occasion did not break through into the mainstream, with one or two exceptions.

Good news when the Kerry peace talks hinted that compensation for Jewish refugees was being considered as part of a final settlement.

Good news that two films about the plight of Jews in Iraq, Shadow in Baghdad and The Dove Flyer, were widely screened in Israel and abroad.

Good news that the  journalist Matti Friedman received acclaim for writing his groundbreaking article, Mizrahi Nation.

Good news that the return of the Iraqi-Jewish archive, which was to have been sent back from the US to Iraq, has been postponed.

Good news that UNESCO seems to be aware of the need to protect Jewish heritage in the Middle East, even if it is too little, too late.

But 2014 was also a bad year in many respects:

Bad news for non-Muslims in the Middle East who have been killed, captured, sold into slavery, beheaded, forcibly converted and generally ill-treated by the jihadists of Da'esh (IS - ISIS) .

Bad news for Jewish, Christian, Yazidi and Shi'a heritage, much of it destroyed by Da'esh in areas under their control.

Bad news for the Jews in Yemen, whose capital Sana'a was taken over by the fanatical Shi'a Houthis.

Bad news for the (predominantly Sephardi) Jews in France, who experienced an antisemitic backlash from the summer's Gaza war and are still suffering from antisemitism, causing over 5, 000 to emigrate to Israel.

It was a good year for Point of No Return. We are getting 1, 800 page views per day, and you can find us on Facebook and Twitter as well as through Google.  Thank you to all Point of No Return readers for your support and comments, and  see you in the New Year.    

Monday, December 29, 2014

Exodus film banned in Egypt and Morocco

 It is said that any resemblance between Ridley Scott's new biblical epic and the Bible story is purely coincidental - but the suggestion that the Jews built the pyramids is too much for Arab states to take, among other things. (I wonder what Arab states would have said about the Cecil B de Mille version?). The Guardian reports:
A scene from Exodus: Gods and Kings

Egypt has banned the Hollywood biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, citing historical inaccuracies, the culture minister said on Friday. The decision comes a day after a similar move by Morocco.

The film, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale, relates how Moses helped Israelite slaves flee persecution in Egypt under the Pharaoh Ramses by parting the Red Sea to let them cross safely. The Egyptian culture minister, Gaber Asfour, said the film was rife with mistakes, including an apparent claim that “Moses and the Jews built the pyramids”.

“This totally contradicts proven historical facts,” Asfour said.

“It is a Zionist film,” he said. “It gives a Zionist view of history and contains historical inaccuracies and that’s why we have decided to ban it.”

The ban was decided by a committee comprising the head of the supreme council for culture, Mohammed Afifi, the head of the censorship committee and two history professors, Asfour said.

Afifi said he took issue with the scene showing the parting of the Red Sea in which Moses – a prophet revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike – is seen holding a “sword” like a warrior, instead of a “stick”. Furthermore, he said, the parting of the Red Sea was explained in the movie as a “tidal phenomenon” rather than a divine miracle.

Morocco has also banned the film, despite it having been approved by the state-run Moroccan Cinema Centre, media reported on Thursday, quoting theatre managers. Hassan Belkady, who runs Cinema Rif in Casablanca, told media24 news website that he had been threatened with the closure of his business if he ignored the ban.
“They phoned and threatened they would shut down the theatre if I did not take the film off the schedule,” Belkady said.

Read article in full

UAE also bans film (EoZ)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

'We Arabs miss you Jews"

 An Arab Middle East without minorities is a terrifying prospect for a Lebanese Christian acquaintance of Einat Wilf, MK. He wants the Jews back, a symbol of pluralism and tolerance. It is not about the Jews, however: the Arabs, like the Europeans, are working out their identity - with tragic consequences. But this time, the Jews are not sticking around, she writes in The Irish Examiner:

Dr Einat Wilf, MK: 'it's not about the Jews'

“We, the Arabs of the Middle East, miss you – the Jews.” I smiled at the irony.
He went on to explain that while it has been more than sixty years since nearly a million Jews of the Arab Middle East have been expelled and forced out of their home countries, it is now becoming evident that this merely foreshadowed things to come.

He recounted his horror by the rising tide of Islamic brutality, genocide, and ethnic cleansing of Christian communities that is taking place everywhere the Islamic State is gaining ground. Just like the Jewish communities, those Christian communities – gone overnight - have been there before the birth of Islam and the Arab conquest of the region.

He said that he is terrified to think of an Arab Middle East without minorities. He expressed fear that the intolerance demonstrated towards the Jews decades ago is now being turned towards almost all other minorities from Christian to Allewaites to Shiites to the Sunni Muslims who fail to uphold the demented standards for Muslim piety set by the Islamic State.

My Arab colleague was brave enough to admit this simple truth that the world has learned over and over again, and yet seems to never internalize: It starts with the Jews. It never ends with the Jews.

Rising tides of hatred, intolerance and brutality are not satisfied once they have rid society of its Jews. Sooner or later, others will follow. Not only does it never end with the Jews. It is never really is about the Jews. That is why it never ends with them. Hatred of Jews is about those who hate – not about those who are hated.

When the “Jewish Question” was discussed in Europe of the 19th century, it was not really the Jewish Question – rather it was the European Question. It was about what Europe is and what it wants to be.

Tragically, Europe worked out its identity as a continent, its ideologies and its loyalties, on the back and ultimately, on the ashes, of the Jews, nearly destroying the entire European civilization in the process.

When Europe is experiencing yet again rising tides of hatred and intolerance towards Jews – whatever else it might call it and however it might seek to mask it. It is time for Europe to ask what is wrong with Europe and not what is wrong with the Jews. Europe’s vision of itself is challenged from within and without, and this time around, it seems that many Jews don’t plan to stick around to find out how Europe will resolve the European Question "this time around “.

The Arab world is no different with respect to the “Jewish Question”. It is not about the Jews, and not even about Israel and Zionism, it is about the question of Arab and Muslim identity. And, like Europe before it and, sadly perhaps still today, it is working out its identity, ideologies, and loyalties - initially on the back of the Jews and now on the back of other minorities.

The Christians of the Middle East believed they would find their peace and security by aligning themselves with Arab nationalism and becoming some of its most vocal defenders. They thought that by aligning themselves with Arab intolerance towards Jews, they would shield themselves from the simple fact that the vast majority of Arabs were Muslims and that as far as Muslim theology is concerned Christians, like Jews, are not and cannot be considered equal to Muslims.

With the advancing terror, my colleague expressed his desired to see the Jews back in Beirut, Alexandria, Baghdad, Damascus, Aleppo, Tripoli and Casablanca, as they have been for over a thousand years.

He believed that if the Jews were to return, the minorities of the Middle East could join hands together to promote a vision of pluralism and tolerance that would stem the tide of rising intolerance and brutality.

My colleague overlooked the irony that the only place in the Middle East were Christians were not fleeing, but were secure, growing and prospering, was in the Jewish State of Israel.

Some day, perhaps, the Jews will return. Some day, perhaps, there will once again be bustling Jewish communities across the Arab Middle East.

Some day, perhaps, the Jews of Europe will reverse their renewed Exodus. Some day, these places might truly offer havens of peace, pluralism, and tolerance, and would settle the questions of identity that plague them.

Until that day – thank goodness for the Jewish state.

Read article in full 

Arabs without Jews: roots of a tragedy (Magdi Allam)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Efforts to salvage cemetery futile so far

 Miracles never cease:The struggle of the Karachi Jewish cemetery's caretaker and Pakistan's last self-declared Jew to save the cemetery has come to the attention of the Guardian, of all news media. Jon Boone writes:

A broken headstone in the Jewish cemetery, Karachi (Photo: Jon Boone/The Guardian)

There are few clues as to the identity of the last Pakistani Jew to be buried in Karachi. A heart-shaped piece of marble set into a slab of rough concrete in the city’s Jewish cemetery in February 1983 has none of the detail or Hebrew script of the more elaborate tombs built a century earlier, when Jews were a self-confident minority in a country where they are now often demonised.

“In loving memory of darling sweet Dorothy, left me suddenly her soul rest in peace,” is the extent of the inscription. It marks the end of a community.
Chand Arif, the cemetery’s self-appointed caretaker, remembers Dorothy’s burial when he was a 13-year-old boy, but has no idea who she was. He says the rundown graveyard, which has not been visited by relatives of the dead for decades, is at risk of encroachment. Encircling what is known locally as the “Israel compound” is the Mewa Shah burial district that – in this sprawling megacity of 20 million – is running out of space for the dead.

Arif, his extended family and several goats have been squatting on the land for two generations. “There are people who want to come over and make this a Muslim graveyard,” he said. “They tell us we will give you money to give this area to us.”

In the 1950s there were regular burials and visitors, many of whom came wearing black suits and hats to pay their respects. But their numbers dwindled as Jews moved to India after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 into India and Pakistan. Later, many more went to Israel.

The first of several mob attacks on the city’s synagogue came in May 1948, following US recognition of the new Jewish state. Today, conspiracy theorists are as likely to hold the “Jewish interest” responsible for disasters as they are the US or India.

Some members of Karachi’s Jewish community had been brought to the city by empire, but most were members of the Bene Israel community, which claims to trace its roots in south Asia back almost 2,000 years.

It is thought there may still be a handful of Jews living in the city, although many have married into non-Jewish families or pass as Parsees or Christians.

Most of the roughly 300 surviving graves date from the mid-19th century, with the grandest clustered in the early decades of the 20th century. It was a high point for a small community in a fast-growing port city that would later become Pakistan’s first capital.

Lengthy inscriptions mention professional designations such as “wharf supervisor” and refer to the synagogues dotted around a city that now has no places of Jewish worship.

In one corner a square sandstone building contains a grand sarcophagus for the remains of Solomon David, who built the Magain Shalome synagogue in the city died in 1902. One of the last remaining Jews in the city agreed the synagogue could be replaced with a block of flats in the 1980s, provided a small replacement was built, but the developers reneged on the deal.

Despite the hostility to Jews in Pakistan, an engineer called Fishel Benkhald is happy to wear his religious affiliation on his sleeve.

Benkhald, the son of a Muslim father and Iranian Jewish mother, says he grew up in Karachi respecting both religions and now considers himself Jewish, even though his national ID card says otherwise. In an antisemitic society, he is Pakistan’s sole self-declared Jew, and is campaigning to preserve the cemetery. “I want the government to recognise the Jews as a minority in Pakistan,” he said.

Read article in full

Friday, December 26, 2014

Albert Elias: last of the Baghdad greats

 Top: Albert Elias (extreme right) plays the flute at a recent festival in Israel. Below: In Baghdad, 1946/7. Albert Elias (seen here with his flute) played with the famous Nazem al-Ghazali

Who is that handsome young man with slicked-back hair and a thin moustache, holding a flute? It's Albert Elias, who died yesterday.

With him died the last of the Chalghi Baghdad musicians. Born in 1930, Albert was taken on as a novice flute-player by the Iraqi Radio Orchestra, where almost all the musicians were Jews. He played with the al-Kuwaity brothers and the great singer Nazem al-Ghazali. The lower  picture was taken in 1946/7, before the mass flight of the Jews of Iraq to Israel. Most spent their early years in tent camps (ma'abara).

Chalghi Baghdad was an ensemble of Jewish instrumentalists, often accompanied by a singer, who played popular maqams (musical scales) at cafes, cabarets and in private homes.

On his Facebook page the storyteller Yossi Alfi pays tribute to Elias: "Albert Elias was a pillar of authentic Iraqi music. He loved playing in the Middle East. He played with the Israel Philharmonic and (the renowned violinist) Yehudi Menuhin. There was not a storytelling festival without him until last year.

"I loved him from my childhood. He would come to play in the transit camp to the delight of the family, and even our family today. He was loved and cherished. The world will miss you."

Albert Elias interviewed by Eli Timan

Kanoon player Abraham Salman dies

Take a bow, kanoon player Yusef Zaarur

Duki Dror brings musical venue back to life

Voices of Departure : the Jewish contribution to Iraqi music (43 mins)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Kurd: 'To be happy, live like the Jews'

Here's a nice story of brotherhood and good cheer in the Algemeiner, picked up  from the Saudi-funded online news medium Elaph: a Kurdish writer, Mahdi Majid Abdullah, praises the  Jews for their 'values and principles'.

The Saharane Kurdish music and dance festival in Israel

“I personally learned from the Jews that it is no exaggeration to say that ‘if you want to live a happy life, then be like the Jews.’” So says the Kurdish writer Mahdi Majid Abdullah in a remarkable oped published in the liberal Arab daily Elaph.

Based in London, Elaph bills itself as the Arab world’s only independent newspaper, with a particular accent on liberal and democratic causes. The paper has tussled with several Arab regimes in the past, including those in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The paper is, therefore, no stranger to controversy. But Abdullah’s article is likely to cause a stir regardless, and not only because the author is a member of the one Middle Eastern nation, the Kurds, with whom Jews have always enjoyed warm relations. His views directly challenge the prevailing climate of hostility and prejudice towards Jews across the region.

“When I came to the European country where I live, I settled in the city inhabited by a large number of Jews and I got to know a Jewish family and which strengthened my relationship with other Jewish writers and journalists,” Abdullah wrote.

He then continued:

"Jewish families teach children from a young age on the proper goals and values ​​and principles, which instill confidence and facilitate the way for him and fueled by tenderness and kindness and to make him know how to walk in the path of his life, so the Jew does not see failure in his life. Where Jews entered a city or a country they dominated them culturally and intellectually, politically and economically for the greater good at this place. There is no need to list many examples; just to know that the United States and Europe are successful was because of the Jews who have lived there, and in the eastern countries if we go back to the history books, we find the Arab and Islamic countries were living in affluence in all respects when the Jews inhabited them.

"In European countries do not see the young Jew interested in meaningless things, while the young Muslim and Christian is interested in pursuing football supporting his club or national team, or gasping behind drinks and pursuing girls in the bars and nightclubs or on the streets. You find a Jew interested in the study or the economy or in the goal of particular benefit to himself and others. Of course, there are also creative and responsible Muslims and Christians, but compared with the Jews their proportions are negligible."

Read article in full

By the same author (via MEMRI - with thanks: Ranbir; Lily)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Turkish Armenian blames the victim

The Armenian chief adviser to the Turkish Prime Minister is blaming the country's Jews for rising antisemitism: being better educated,  they (and the country's 60, 000 Armenians) humiliate Muslims with their 'superiority' complex. Burak Bekdil explains in the Gatestone Institute (with thanks: Lily)

 Etyen Mahcupyan is a leading Turkish Armenian intellectual, writer and columnist. He has published more than 15 books and has written regular columns in Turkey's leading liberal newspapers. Last October, Mahcupyan, one of a dwindling number of liberals keenly supporting Turkey's Islamist government, was appointed as "chief advisor" to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. In a recent interview with Turkey's leading daily, Hurriyet, Mahcupyan said,

Whatever has been a [political] asset for Turkey's Armenian community (they number around 60,000) is an asset for the Jewish community too. But... there is Israel... As long as the psychology of the Israel issue continues to influence politics in Turkey and relations between the two countries do not normalize...
The line Mahcupyan shyly did not finish probably would have gone on like this: "Turkey's Jews will keep on paying the price."

Turkish Armenian intellectual Etyen Mahcupyan thinks that daily attacks on Turkey's Jews and other non-Muslims happen because they are better-educated then Muslims and have a "superiority complex."
In a recent article, Mahcupyan, a former editor of Agos, where the slain Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink wrote, argued that Turkey's [secularist] Jews harboured an allergy against Muslims.

Mahcupyan apparently deserves his new position as "his master's voice."

He admits that it is the government's responsibility to do something if Turkey's Jews felt awfully alienated. But he thinks "there is the other side of the story."
Mahcupyan said: "All of this [anti-Semitism in Turkey] is related to the Jewish community's perception of Islam and the region. This is a perception that powerfully produced politics and positions. If the Armenians do not behave like them [the Jews] we can understand the historical difference between the two [Jewish and Armenian] communities."

Apparently, Mahcupyan, the prime minister's chief advisor, tends to blame the victim, not the criminal. "I have lived through this personally for the past 60 years," he explains. "Among Turkey's non-Muslim minorities, including Jews and Armenians, there is an [established] opinion about humiliating Muslims." So, did your poor friend Dink deserve to be murdered because he humiliated Muslims?

Secondly, Mahcupyan continues, "Both Jews and Armenians are better-educated [than Muslim Turks] and more open to the West. And this brings in a feeling of superiority complex."

To sum up, the Turkish Armenian liberal intellectual, who also happens to be advising the Turkish prime minister, thinks that daily attacks on Turkey's Jews and other non-Muslims, including the murder of his "friend" Dink, happen because: Jews and Armenians humiliate Muslims; they are better-educated then Muslims and hence their superiority complex. Lovely!

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ottoman state machinery produced several non-Muslim converts (the devshirme) who enjoyed higher echelons of the palace bureaucracy and finer things of life because their pragmatism earned them excellent relations with the ruling Muslim elite. It looks like the devshirme system is still alive in post-Ottoman Turkey.

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'Shadow in Baghdad' reviewed

 A highly evocative documentary, although muted: that's Emile Cohen's verdict on Shadow in Baghdad, Duki Dror's acclaimed documentary film. Read his review in The Arab Review.

The film is a documentary of the story of Linda Menuhin who fled the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein in Dec 1970 when she was 20 years old to go to Israel awaiting the rest of the family to follow, which they did some 5 months later except for her father Yacoob Abdul Aziz, a well-respected lawyer who stayed awaiting the right moment.

 In 1969 the Ba'ath party staged a mass execution of nine Jews and displayed their bodies in the main square amongst cheering fans. They were scapegoats to make up for the loss of the 1967 war and the writing was on the wall for the Jews of Iraq.

  In 1970 and 1971 many Jews fled through Kurdistan in small groups arriving to Iran passing over precipitous mountains and dangerous terrain to avoid border police patrols. It was indeed a risky adventure requiring a lot of courage for, if caught, they would be subjected to the horrors and torture as Saddam’s prisoners but such was the level of despair that some 2300 out of 3000 people took that route. 

In September 1972 Yacoob Abdul Aziz was abducted by the Intelligence bureau of Saddam Hussein and disappeared without trace to Saddam’s Bastille, called Qasr Al Nihaya (Palace of the End) and nothing was heard of him since; presumed dead.  This is not an unusual story in Saddam’s Iraq, for many Iraqis had been taken by the secret police and killed without the body ever found. It is not an unusual Jewish story either as they had received more than their fair share of sufferings, oppression and persecution.  At the same time her father was abducted so were 22 other Jews.  So what prompts her to make a film 40 years after the event?  What is there to search for when there are no documents, no grave, no body of her father, just a shadow in Baghdad?

The journey starts when she was contacted on Skype by a young Iraqi journalist who read her story about her father’s abduction in her blog and her unsuccessful attempt to vote in the 2010 Iraqi elections in Jordan.  He was touched and wanted to write a column about her father and offered to do all the search and probing necessary to trace her father’s abduction and fate. She was naturally distrustful and he explained to her that his grandmother told him about the Jews who once lived in Iraq and how friendly the relationship used to be. It was evident that with all the racial and sectarian turmoil in Iraq this was a risky undertaking for him. Similarly Linda had a lot of poignant memories that were buried and she was apprehensive of reviving them all.

Our young man starts investigating, visiting their family home and coffee bars, contacting people in the business to shed some light into the disappearance. The film follows him in Iraq.  In the meantime, Linda reflects on her past and her Arab culture like many of the Arab Jews.  Reminiscing, she says that Baghdad was her home, Tigris was her river, Arabic was her language, how she liked Arabic poetry and how beautiful life was before everything turned round with the 1967 war and the advent of the Ba'ath party. She left Iraq but Iraq never left her. 

She discusses all this with her family and they start evoking memories about her father but that brought up some revelations to the family like her request for a dowry from her father as she was getting married. Her sister was stunned and she gently rebuked her. She looked up the letters from her father, which were full of clues and codes, and started analysing their meanings. She tells how she came to Israel and studied journalism in order to join the Israeli broadcasting as a news reader or a commentator but her Mizrahi accent was a handicap and the Iraqi sound was unacceptable in the Ashkenazi milieu and she joined the Arabic section of an Israeli TV channel.  She is now a well-known PR and media personality.

Her journey takes her to London and Israel where she probed more about her father, his work, his history and his abduction from members of the Jewish community who existed in Iraq at the time.  Her father took it upon himself to defend or to arrange the defence of the Jews who were arrested.  Invariably these arrests were random and not based on any sound allegations; a function of all fascist regimes. To undertake such tasks were brave and courageous and he arranged through one way or another, to secure the release of a number of Jews caught by the border patrols and that may have been the reason for his abduction, but this is speculation. His fate is finally revealed as having been taken to Qasr Al Nihaya killed by the secret police and unceremoniously dumped in a grave somewhere.

The story, for anyone who lived through the Jewish Iraqi experience, is one of many.  There were 52 such stories of abduction and hundreds of stories of the people who decided to leave their home and all their possessions to escape to save their lives or gain freedom. It is a story of courage and despair. The film portrays sincerity, honesty, frankness and truthfulness. It is a thoroughly commendable effort for a documentary and though very touching and highly evocative, for me, it was a muted drama without inspiration.   The young Iraqi journalist found nothing to reveal about the abduction and the final solution of Yacoob Abdul Aziz except its inevitability.  It was interesting that having lived through a vacuum of memories for 40 years Linda felt her roots once again.  Having resigned to the destiny of her father, she turned her attention to the fate of the young Iraqi journalist fondly concerned about the risk he had taken for a Jew.  It became noticeable that the rapport between the two crossed the borders between Arabs and Jews.

Duki Dror appears to be an accomplished director and a prolific documentary maker who seems good producing evocative films.  He directed many successful films amongst which was Café Noah which was about Arab Jewish musicians in Israel and won acclaim. Shadow in Baghdad is not a film about nostalgia but an intelligent documentary of a journey into the past honestly portrayed by Duki Dror. It documents a page in blood and tears of the history of Iraqi Jews who had lived there for 2,600 years and now in Iraq no more.  The film was well received in New York, Montreal, and London.  No doubt it will collect its fair share of awards.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Who will bury the last dinosaur?

Articles about the fast-shrinking Jewish community of Egypt are popular these days following the screening of Jews of Egypt, Amir Ramses's nostalgic portrayal of a pluralist past. The last dinosaurs -  the nine Jewish ladies led by Magda Haroun - are keen to show they will remain Egyptian patriots to the grave. Article by Nadera Bouazza in Slate (with thanks: Eliyahu):

The Adly synagogue, Cairo (Photo: Reuters/Asma Waguih)

 Magda Haroun, president of the Jewish community in Egypt, is overseeing the festivities. The synagogue is alive. As a girl in festive dress, she ran down the aisles while the adults were praying. Today she compares herself to the Last Dinosaur:

     "It must have felt sad to see everyone around them disappear. Me too, everyone around me is disappearing. I'm burying them one after the other. I do not know who will bury me? "

The Jewish community, like a family of diplodocus, gradually reduced to a trickle until the Six Day War. Less than a  week of military activity  between an Arab coalition and Israel would seal the fate of the Jews in the region.

     "Until the 1967 war, my friends were leaving, we did not know why. I felt that the family was shrinking day by day. I was little, I did not ask questions. A story without words. I began to realize what was happening when my cousins left. My grandparents were crying then. I did not understand why. "

Magda's mother decided to stay. Her husband, like all men of the community aged 18 to 60, had been interned during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Without him, she refused to leave the country. "My mother had a French identity card in her pocket, she could flee. She did not make that choice. "

Read article in full (French)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A song for Hanucah, Iraqi-style

With thanks: Janet


Here is a piyut (religious song) traditionally played at Hanucah by the Jews of Iraq (Babylon). The oudh player explains that the piyut is performed to a particular maqam or scale. Every Shabbat and festival had its own maqam. As a child he remembers being given a sevivon, or spinning top, to play with. Inside were sweets.

Previous posts about Hanucah

Insecure Turkish Jews are leaving

Many Turkish Jews are leaving the country after increased threats and attacks, a prominent businessman from the community has written in the Istanbul-based Jewish newspaper Şalom. What's more, Jews do not have confidence in the ability of Turkish law or civil society to protect them :(with thanks: Eliyahu)

An Edirne synagogue, now under restoration, was the centre of a controversy when the province governor said it should only ever become a museum in response to Israel's actions

“We face threats, attacks and harassment every day. Hope is fading. Is it necessary for a ‘Hrant among us’ to be shot in order for the government, the opposition, civil society, our neighbors and jurists to see this?” Mois Gabay wrote on Dec. 10, referring to the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007.

Gabay, a professional in the tourism industry, added that increasing numbers of Turkish Jews are making plans to move abroad with their families, feeling unsafe and under pressure in the country.

“Around 37 percent of high school graduates from the Jewish community in Turkey prefer to go abroad for higher education ... This number doubled this year compared to the previous years,” he wrote.

It is not only students, who have begun to think about building a life abroad for their families and children, but also young businesspeople  according to Gabay.

“Last week, when I was talking to two of my friends on separate occasions, the conversation turned to our search for another country to move to. That is to say, my generation is also thinking more about leaving this country,” he wrote.

Gabay’s column came a few days after verbal attacks on the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul's Beyoğlu district, which has been attacked with explosives on three previous occasions in 1986, 1992 and 2003. A paper reading “to be demolished” was placed on the entrance of the synagogue by an unknown group two weeks ago. Later, the Alperen Ocakları, the youth group of the ultranationalist Great Union Party (BBP), attempted to march to the synagogue as a part of a protest.

In a recent interview with Radikal, Gabay also said changes in the law and the recognition of hate crimes in the Turkish penal code are not sufficient for the protection of Turkey's Jewish community.

“The laws have changed. Hate speech is now a crime, but when is a lawsuit ever opened over hate speech against our community? I don't blame the government alone for this. The opposition, civil society, unions and the democratic public sphere should be a shield for us. They should monitor these incidents. Are they waiting for the shooting of a Hrant among us?” he said, adding that daily threats have increased due to the widespread use of social media in Turkey.

Read article in full

Erdogan wishes Turkish Jews a happy Hanucah

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jews endorse Tunisian secularist

Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of Tunisia's secular Nidaa Tounes party (Photo: Al Ahram)

Ahead of the second round of Tunisia’s presidential elections, the head of the country’s Jewish community endorsed the campaign of secularist hopeful Beji Caid Essebsi, reports The Forward:

Joseph Roger Bismuth, president of the Jewish Community of Tunisia, or CJT, gave Essebsi his support in an interview published Thursday by the news site ahead of the Dec. 21 vote.

He is quoted as saying that Essebssi will win the election because “he has worked for a long time for Tunisia and he has many contacts and relations that allow him to work better” than other candidates.

In an interview for the news site earlier this week, René Trabelsi, who heads the Jewish community of Djerba, also endorsed the campaign of Essebsi, who is the leader of the secularist Nidaa Tounes. In October’s parliamentary elections, his party emerged as the country’s largest after it won 86 seats of the Tunisian parliament’s 217.

Bismuth also said that the Islamic Ennahdha party, which after the elections became the country’s second largest, “will complement the next government, and this will serve socio-political stability” in Tunisia.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Jews may be enslaved, not Muslims

 With thanks: Maurice

A manual instructing Islamic State ( IS) fighters on how to buy and sell women as slaves says that all 'unbelieving' women, including Jews and Christians, can be captured and sold into slavery, the Daily Mail reports. (A single terrorist, Anas al-Libi, is suspected of recently gunning down 150 Yazidi women, some of whom were pregnant, who refused to enter into sham marriages with fighters and become sex slaves.)

The document was distributed by masked IS fighters outside a large mosque in Iraq’s second city Mosul, which is controlled by the group.

The document has been obtained by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute and translated into English.

British terrorism experts, who have studied the document, have concluded it is genuine.
They have condemned the manual – which answers questions dealing with sex with slave girls, their status as the master’s property, and how to beat them – as ‘disgusting’, saying it harks ‘back to the Dark Ages’. (..)

The Arabic manual (pictured), entitled Questions And Answers On Taking Captives And Slaves, instructs ISIS fighters on how to buy and sell women and girls who have been captured in war as booty 

(One questioner) asks: ‘Is it permissible to sell a female captive?’ The response is: ‘It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of.’

The document says that all ‘unbelieving’ women, including Jews and Christians, can be taken as captives and sold as slaves. 

However, it prohibits the enslavement of Muslim women, even if they have become apostates.

The pamphlet allows masters to beat their female slaves, but only as a disciplinary measure, and not as a source of gratification. The master is also forbidden from beating his slave-girl on the face.

Monument unveiled to Jewish soldiers

 Photos from the unveiling of the monument to the fallen Jews of the Iraq-Iran war (IRNA)

Why did Iran this week unveil a monument to Jewish soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and saw both countries suffer millions of casualties and billions of dollars in damage? Numbers of dead Jewish soldiers are estimated at 150, a drop in the ocean. The regime has two objectives: to show that it is moderate and reasonable - that the US can do business with Iran in its nuclear talks; and to emphasise the Jews' unswerving loyalty to their country.  Haaretz/AP reports:

Jewish community leaders and a number of Iranian religious officials took part in the ceremony on Monday, according to Maariv's website, NRG.

Photographs from the ceremony were published on the websites of Iranian news agencies IRNA and Tasnim, showing banners featuring images of the fallen Jewish troops, called "martyrs," and wreaths placed alongside the monument, which includes a Hebrew inscription reading "Peace forever."

Other images show religious figures laying wreaths at the soldiers' graves and attendees of the ceremony praying together.

The vice speaker of Iran's parliament attended the ceremony, where he praised the Jewish community for supporting the government.

“The explicit stances of the Jewish community in supporting the Islamic Republic’s establishment and their obedience to the Supreme Leader of the [Islamic] Revolution demonstrate the bonds originating from the teachings of the divine religions,” Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard said on Monday, according to Tasnim news agency.

He also praised the Jewish community for denouncing U.S. demands on Iran and the "violent and inhumane" behavior of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Iran, a home for Jews for more than 3,000 years, has the Middle East’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel. ( But while Iran’s Jews in recent years had their faith continually criticized by the country’s previous governments, they’ve found new acceptance under moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

“The government has listened to our grievances and requests. That we are being consulted is an important step forward,” said Homayoun Samiah, leader of the Tehran Jewish Association. “Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nobody was listening to us. Our requests fell on deaf ears.”

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Fighting for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What are Yiddish actors doing in Cairo?

A photograph bought on Ebay sheds light on a remarkable phenomenon: a Yiddish theatre group in Cairo in 1916. Yes, Cairo. David Mazower blogs on the Digital Yiddish Theater Project:

Who are these smartly-dressed young men and women? And why are they all wearing white ribbons? We can sense a certain earnestness and a strong sense of pride in their carefully posed ranks. But with no names, dates or inscription on the back on the photo, what can we learn from it?

The improvised banner, with new lettering fixed to the original cloth, reads: “4 yoriger yubileum yudish literarisher un dramatisher tsirkl” – the 4th Anniversary of the Jewish Literary and Dramatic Circle.

So what’s a group like this doing in Cairo?

Cairo’s large and well-integrated Jewish community was mainly Arabic and French speaking in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, just as in Constantinople and Baghdad, from at least the mid 19th century onwards there was also a constant presence of Ashkenazi Jews – workers, artisans, traders and professionals. Their main languages would have been Yiddish, Russian and Polish. (And of course many people in both groups would also have had some proficiency in Hebrew).

Cairo’s secular Jewish cultural products – its songs, theatre, literature and journals – were thus a complex hybrid of overlapping languages and subcultures, connected both to the popular culture of the Arab street but also to high society and the elites. Within this melting-pot, Yiddish culture also gained a foothold by the early 20th century.

In the Yiddish language, yudish (an alternative spelling of yidish) can mean both Jewish and Yiddish, and our Circle is in fact a Yiddish amateur dramatic society.  For more on its history, we can follow in the footsteps of one of the finest historians of modern Yiddish (and a pioneer of digital Yiddish scholarship), the late Leonard Prager. Omnivorously curious about global Yiddish culture, Prager wrote an article in 1992 titled “Yiddish Theatre in Cairo”, based on a small archive he found in the YIVO Institute in New York.

Prager tells us that Der yudisher literarisher un dramatisher tsirkl fun kayro (The Cairo Jewish Literary and Dramatic Circle, also known under its French name Le circle litteraire et dramatique du Caire ) was founded on 3 September 1912 by a group of amateur lovers of Yiddish culture.

His article includes a grainy image of the man sitting proudly in the front centre of our photograph, Joseph Weinstein, described as “an attorney with a deep attachment to Yiddish culture [who] founded the group and directed most of its performances…Odessa-born and formerly resident in Palestine, he was the key personality in the Ashkenazic community’s dramatic and radio activities.”

Prager also reveals that the Circle held a memorial meeting on 10 September 1916 to mark the recent passing of the revered classic Yiddish writers Y L Peretz (1852-1915) and Sholem Aleichem (1859 – 1916). We can therefore assume that our photograph was taken at this gathering, which would also explain the white memorial ribbons worn by all twelve men and seven women.

Cairo’s Yiddish theatre enthusiasts were part of a worldwide trend for Yiddish amateur dramatics. Similar groups sprang up from Shanghai and Baku to Montreal and Geneva, and right across the Yiddish-speaking heartlands of central and eastern Europe and the Americas. Inspired by the new art theatre repertoire of the Yiddish stage from Jacob Gordin onwards, they typically flourished from the 1900s to the 1930s. (...)

The Cairo Jewish Dramatic Circle lasted until at least 1948, when the war between Israel and its neighbours transformed the fortunes of the city’s Jewish community.  According to Leonard Prager, the Circle maintained an extensive archive of its meetings and performances at its club rooms in the  same building as the Ashkenazi Synagogue, but all these records were destroyed in a fire on 2 November 1945.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Instead of a Dreidel, try a Zarbout

One fixture of the festival of Hanucah, now being celebrated,  is the spinning top, also known as dreidel in Yiddish or sevivon in Hebrew. The dreidel, whose square sides are each inscribed with a letter, has replaced the spinning tops which were current in the Jewish communities of the Arab world.

Abraham Bar-Ishay remembers the zarbout or zarbouta of his childhood in Tunisia. In a post on the website Harissa he explains the rules of the game:

1- The object of the game is to keep your top spinning for as long as possible.

2- The forces that hold the top upright are so strong that one can move it from the floor to one's hand without it stopping turning. Simply move your index finger away and quickly slide your hand under the top at ground level. Spinning in the palm of your hand you can use it  to knock over your opponent's top, propel if off balance and, most importantly, become scratched as it falls. You can tell a champion player by his pristine top.

3- To start the game off, a player vigorously launches his top over  a pile formed by the tops of his opponents. If a top is hit by the sharp tip of the tossed top it could be seriously damaged.

4- One can  pass the spinning top from one hand to another. There are other stunts one can do with a balancing top spinning on its tip.

           WISHING all our READERS who are celebrating HANUCAH 
                                                   HAG SAMEAH!

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Iraqi Jews made Hong Kong

The Kadoories and Sassoons, Iraqi Jews, 'the cleverest Jews as far as business is concerned,' made Hong Kong. But they were not the only ones, according to this fascinating, in-depth feature in the South China Morning Post (with thanks: Michelle):

"We're so lucky to be in Hong Kong - it's a fantastic place for Jews. It always has been."

Judy Green, chairwoman of the Jewish Historical Society of Hong Kong, has lived here since she was 11 years old. We meet at the Jewish Cemetery, a green and peaceful spot in a hidden corner of Happy Valley, tucked behind a Buddhist temple and surrounded by a cluster of tower blocks. It's dotted with gravestones bearing with a mix of English and Hebrew script. The earliest recorded burial plot, belonging to a Leon Bin Baruel, dates from 1857. The most recent gravestone is dedicated to Mervyn Gatton, who died in February.

Hong Kong's Jewish population, currently estimated to be 5,000 strong, is thriving. "It's a close-knit and dynamic community," says Green. And it's a community that has deep roots, stretching right back to the earliest days of the colony.

The first Jews to set up home in Hong Kong were Iraqis who arrived in the 1840s. They were descendants of Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition (which lasted from the late 15th to early 19th centuries) who had worked their way east to Baghdad, where a sizeable community developed.

During the 19th century, Baghdadi adventurers travelled to India and set up trading operations in the booming ports of Bombay and Calcutta. Later, as China gradually opened to international trade, they crossed the Indian Ocean and established outposts in Canton, Macau and Hong Kong.

Although there were only a handful of Jewish families in Hong Kong in the mid-19th century, they enjoyed enormous success and several became fabulously wealthy.

"The Iraqis are supposed to be the cleverest Jews as far as business is concerned, at least that's what my Iraqi friends tell me," says Green. "I think they had a lot of courage. They saw opportunities that other people either didn't see or weren't brave enough to pursue."

Jewish refugees from Shanghai at the Peninsula hotel, in 1946. 
The cemetery was created by the Sassoons, a family that was once dubbed "the Rothschilds of the East". They bought the parcel of land from local farmers. Green points out a plaque on the back wall that commemorates the opening of the burial ground, in 1855.

The family patriarch, David Sassoon, left Baghdad in 1832 and established himself in Bombay, modern-day Mumbai. He had seven sons whom he dispatched to outposts across the Orient, using his offspring to build a business empire.

"He had a son in practically every port," says Green. "As well as in Hong Kong, he had offices in Singapore, Burma, Canton, even as far as Japan and Indonesia."
The family started trading back and forth and invested in shipping, hotels and property, but its real fortune came from the less salubrious trade in opium. By the 1870s, the family was one of the leading importers to China of this incredibly lucrative commodity.

The Sassoons and their staff formed the core of the Jewish community in Hong Kong.

"Most of their employees were also Baghdadi Jews whom they sent over from Bombay," says Green. "They were deeply religious people and always made sure they had somewhere to worship - until they built a synagogue, it was usually just a room in one of their offices."

The Sassoons had fingers in pies across the breadth of Hong Kong society and helped to get the fledgling colony up and running. One of David's sons, Arthur, was on the provisional committee that founded the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in 1864. Another son, Frederick, was elected to the Legislative Council in 1884.

As Green continues her tour, we come across a small chapel and a tahara room, where bodies are ceremonially washed and prepared for burial. She explains that this building stands on ground that was leased in 1904, to expand the cemetery, with the assistance of Matthew Nathan - Hong Kong's only Jewish governor.

A Jewish New Year service conducted for the refugees at the hotel, in 1946. 
Nathan served as governor from 1904 to 1907. Born in London, he was a soldier and an engineer with a reputation as a competent and decisive administrator.
"He wanted to develop Kowloon, which was a muddy backwater in those days. My husband's grandfather remembers walking around in gumboots because it was a swamp. Nathan decided that for Kowloon to flourish it needed an access road, to link it to the hinterland of the New Territories. Many thought he was making a mistake but he was determined to push the project through."
Once dubbed "Nathan's folly", Nathan Road - the shopping megastrip that bears his name - catalysed the development of the whole area, proving the wisdom of his decision.

Although gifted in practical matters, Nathan didn't thrive socially.
"He was a bachelor and didn't have a wife to act as hostess at functions at Government House," says Green. "I think he found that aspect of colonial life very difficult. A lot of expat socialising was centred on the Hong Kong Club, which didn't admit Jews in those days, and there were Sunday gatherings at church, which he couldn't attend."

In 1907, Nathan was transferred to South Africa. On his departure, the South China Morning Post reported that "the general regret at the departure of Sir Matthew Nathan from Hong Kong is a tribute to his fine personal qualities as well as to his splendid administration …"

David Sassoon (seated) with sons Elias, Albert and David Jnr. 
At the front of the cemetery's main burial ground stands a pair of marble sarcophagi, marking the final resting places of brothers Lawrence and Horace Kadoorie, members of the best known Jewish family in Hong Kong. Green puts a small stone of remembrance on each sarcophagus. The Kadoories were family friends.

"The brothers were lovely. Lawrence was very warm-hearted, easy-going and generous-spirited. He would talk to anybody - he didn't seem to think of himself as the special person he was. Horace was extremely jovial, really interested in young people and enthusiastic about his philanthropic work."

Like the Sassoons, the Kadoories are of Iraqi extraction by way of Bombay. The first member of the dynasty to arrive in Hong Kong was Elly Kadoorie, who came in 1880, at the age of 15, to join the Sassoon family company. Brother Ellis joined him later. Elly subsequently moved to Shanghai while Ellis concentrated his efforts in Hong Kong.

The brothers amassed a fortune by investing in rubber plantations, banking, docks and real estate. In 1914, Ellis made a major investment in Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, which now operates 10 properties under the Peninsula brand across Asia, Europe and the United States. The flagship Peninsula, in Tsim Sha Tsui, an iconic Hong Kong landmark, was said to be "the finest hotel east of the Suez" when it opened, in 1928.

Four years later, he bought into China Light and Power (now CLP Holdings), the largest electricity-generation company in Hong Kong.

Lawrence Kadoorie speaks to a farmer in the 1960s. 
Ellis was to remain a bachelor and died aged 55, but Elly married in Shanghai and had two sons, Lawrence and Horace. As the boys grew older, they became increasingly involved in managing the family's affairs. In 1937, Lawrence, who had been born in Hong Kong, moved back to the city to run the hotel business.
When Hong Kong fell to the Japanese in 1941, Lawrence was interned in Stanley with his wife and two small children. After five months, the family transferred to Chapai camp, near Shanghai, to be closer to Horace and Elly, who were living in the former stable block of the family mansion. Elly died in 1944 and succession fell to the brothers.

After the war, Lawrence returned to Hong Kong to reclaim his family's assets. He set up home at the Peninsula. During the occupation, the hotel had been requisitioned as the headquarters of the Japanese and, afterwards, by the British military, and was in a terrible state of disrepair. Just as restoration work got under way, refugees started arriving from Shanghai.

In the lead-up to the second world war, about 20,000 European Jews, fleeing Nazi persecution, had taken refuge in Shanghai, one of the only cities in the world for which a visa wasn't required.

"They had no money, no nothing," says Green. "The Jewish community in Shanghai galvanised and looked after them and Horace was particularly active in that. It was a huge undertaking - because there was an awful lot of them and only a relatively small Jewish community."

After the war, the refugees were repatriated to Europe or went on to start new lives in the US, Australia and Israel. Most of them had to transit through Hong Kong to collect their visas.
Horace Kadoorie at a Gurkha resettlement farm, in Nepal, in 1972. 
The Kadoories joined forces. Horace gathered information about each batch of refugees at the Shanghai end and sent it to his brother. In Hong Kong, Lawrence visited the Immigration Department almost daily, bearing lists of names, final destinations and petitions for permission to transit.

Once they arrived in Hong Kong, the refugees had nowhere to stay so Lawrence threw open the doors of the Peninsula. Most stayed only a few days but one group of nearly 300 people, who were due to sail to Australia, were stranded when their ship was diverted to carry troops. Lawrence repurposed the hotel's ballroom as a dormitory and accommodated them there for several months until alternative transport was found.

"Lawrence wasn't known for being observant, religiously," says Green, "but the Jewish people were very important to him and he was unstinting in his efforts to help them."

He had the support of Hong Kong's other Jews, who banded together to provide clothing and medical aid, and handle baggage, change currencies and assist the refugees in planning their journeys.

Once the refugees had dispersed, Lawrence turned his attention to the family business, becoming a key player in Hong Kong's phenomenal post-war economic growth. By the time of his death, in 1993, the Kadoorie portfolio included stakes in the Star Ferry, the Peak Tram, the Cross Harbour Tunnel and the Daya Bay nuclear power station, in Shenzhen.

As the Kadoories acquired money, they also gave it away. They were legendary philanthropists and their generosity was not confined to the Jewish population.

Workers at the Tai Ping carpet factory in Hong Kong. 
Elly built a number of schools and hospitals in the Middle East that were open to all-comers, irrespective of race or religion. His brother endowed the Ellis Kadoorie Chinese Schools Society in Hong Kong, which originally served the poorer sections of the Chinese population and now caters mainly to the children of lower-income South Asians.

After the war, Horace and Lawrence pioneered social initiatives to help an influx of Chinese refugees escaping the civil war across the border become self-supporting and secure.

Horace - who had always wanted to be a farmer - was instrumental in the founding of the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association in 1951. It established an experimental farm and provided training in sustainable agriculture, interest-free loans and livestock. Starting in 1968, thousands of Gurkhas (Nepalese serving in the British Army) stationed in Hong Kong were offered training, so they could work as farmers when they left the army and returned home. Later, as agriculture declined, the farm shifted its focus to environmental issues and is now run as the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.

Lawrence, together with six friends, established an enterprise to provide employment for boat girls and preserve the traditional Chinese craft of making fine carpets. Tai Ping Carpets started life in a house in Tuen Mun. Sales soon soared. Prior to the 1950s, carpets were rarely seen in Hong Kong and the floors of smart hotels were made of polished wood, but that changed with the proliferation of air conditioning, which protected carpets from damaging humidity. Tai Ping also cornered the market in the US. A trade embargo meant goods could not be imported from mainland China, creating a vacuum that Lawrence and his friends promptly filled.

In 1959, Tai Ping moved its headquarters and factory to Tai Po, bringing new vitality to the small market town. The company remained there for 32 years before all production was moved to the mainland. Still based in Hong Kong, Tai Ping is now the world's largest hand-tufted carpet company.

 Horace shows governor Alexander Grantham around the factory in 1957.
Lawrence's multifarious achievements were rewarded when he became the first person born in Hong Kong to be elevated to a British peerage. In 1981, he was named Baron Kadoorie of Kowloon and Westminster in the House of Lords.
Sir Matthew Nathan.
He and his relatives have sprinkled the SAR with the family name. While the Sassoons have only a road in Pok Fu Lam named after them, the Kadoories are credited with an avenue in Mong Kok, a beach at Castle Peak and, of course, the farm and botanical gardens.

The Kadoories still maintain a presence in Hong Kong. Lawrence had two children, one of whom - Michael Kadoorie - chairs both CLP Holdings and Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels.

The Sassoons and Kadoories may be the best known but a host of other Jewish characters contributed to Hong Kong's prosperity, enriched its cultural scene and added colour and spice to to the social fabric.

Emanuel Belilios, a contemporary of the Sassoons and another opium millionaire, built a huge mansion on The Peak and filled its garden with a menagerie of exotic animals, including a camel. As generous as he was eccentric, he helped to fund the Alice Memorial Hospital and Hong Kong's first school for girls. He was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1881 in recognition of his contribution to Hong Kong Society.

The flamboyant Harry Odell, known as Hong Kong's first impresario, arrived here in 1921, fresh from a stint as a tap dancer in Japan. He started a film business, persuaded famous performers to visit and successfully lobbied the government to support the foundation of the City Hall theatre complex.

Erica Cohen Lyons with cases containing the Torah, in the Ohel Leah Synagogue.  
Solomon Bard, who died last month, was a talented musician with a prodigious intellect. The founding director of the student health service at the University of Hong Kong, he also led the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, became music director of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and co-founded the Hong Kong Archaeological Society.

After the war, many Jews relocated but some stayed on, laying the foundations of today's community. From the 1960s onwards, there was a steady influx of expats and the Jewish community is now bigger, and busier, than at any other time in Hong Kong's history.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Turkey's long record of antisemitism

 Remember the Turkish governor of Edirne who was so angry at Israel's conduct in Gaza that he would turn his town's synagogue into a museum? (A statement he later retracted). Uzay Bulut of the Gatestone Institute argues that ethnic cleansing in Edirne had been so effective that the synagogue was already a museum. He gives a useful overview of the pressures on Turkey's Jews throughout the 20th century. But the Turkish establishment's vicious anti-Zionism, it must be stressed, is of recent vintage. (With thanks: Jonah)

The latest anti-Semitic statement in Turkey was made on November 21 by Dursun Ali Sahin, the governor of Edirne, a city in Eastern Thrace. Governor Sahin announced that because he was angry at Israel, he would turn the city's synagogue into a museum. "While those bandits [Israeli security forces] blow winds of war inside al-Aqsa and slay Muslims," he said, "we build their synagogues. I say this with a huge hatred inside me. We clean their graveyards, send their projects to boards. But the synagogue here will be registered only as a museum, and there will be no exhibitions inside it."

A view of the Great Synagogue" of Edirne, from 2010. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons/Yabancı)

In response to the uproar that followed, Governor Sahin phoned the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, Ishak Haleva, to apologize and, according to the newspaper, Salom, said his statements had been misunderstood and distorted by the media.
The Director General of the General Directorate of Foundations, Adnan Ertem, then said that the synagogue would, after all, remain a house of worship.
More shocking, however, is the demographic makeup of Edirne's current population.

Before the Turkish Republic was established in 1923, the Jewish population of Edirne, for centuries a home to Jews, was 13,000, as reported in the detailed essay "The Jews of Edirne," by Rifat Bali, an independent scholar specializing in the history of Turkish Jewry. But by 1998, Edirne had three Jews left: Yasef Romano, who was born in 1938, and Rifat and Sara Miftani, a couple who owned a shop there.

Today, the current Jewish population of Edirne is two.
The Jewish presence in Edirne dates back to early Byzantine times, during the rule of Roman Emperor Theodosius I (reigned 379-395 CE). During the Ottoman Empire, Edirne -- home to many Jewish intellectuals, scientists, musicians, publishers and merchants -- was as central to Jews as Constantinople (Istanbul) and Thessaloniki.
What happened?

The "Turkification" of Turkey: Anti-Semitic Attacks against Jews during the Early Years of the New Republic:In January 1923, provoked by a series of anti-Semitic pieces published in the Pasaeli newspaper in Edirne, residents of Edirne gathered in the city center and shouted, "Your turn to leave this country will come, too! Jews, get out!" After the police were barely able to prevent attacks against Jewish shops, Jews who lived in small towns, such as Babaeski, moved to big cities, such as Istanbul.

Later that year, in December 1923, the Jewish community of several hundred living in Corlu, in Eastern Thrace, was ordered to leave the town within 48 hours. Although the decision was delayed at the request of the Chief Rabbi, a similar order, given to the Jews in Catalca, a town in Istanbul, was applied immediately.

The reason for the anger was clear: Within the Turkification campaign of the new Republic, Armenians and Greeks had been eliminated, but Jews, who were successful merchants, remained.

Prohibitions against Free Movement for Jews: In Anatolia, in June 1923, free movement for Jews was prohibited. Many Jewish merchants who had journeyed to Istanbul from the cities in Thrace -- such as Edirne, Kirklareli and Uzunkopru -- and Jewish mothers and children who had come to Istanbul because of health or other reasons, were unable to return.

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