Saturday, January 31, 2015

How Jewish exiles lived in Babylonia


An exhibition shedding new light on the Jews who settled in Babylonia  in the 6th - 5th c. BCE is set to open at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem on 2 February, i24 News reports.

< Among the rare artifacts are 100 clay tablets from the Al-Yahudu archive (named after the city that the Judean exiles settled, in southern Iraq) which display evidence of the lives of the exiles.

The Al-Yahudu archive is a large archive of over 200 tablets, which surfaced on the antiquities market in the early 1970s, and is currently owned by two private collectors, according to museum's site.

Each small tablet contains texts written in cuneiform in the Akkadian language with sporadic writing in Aramaic and Paleo-Hebrew. Under the supervision of Prof. Wayne Horowitz, the tablets have now also been translated into Hebrew,
Complementing these artifacts are illustrations from the Medieval and Modern eras of the dramatic events.

Dr. Filip Vukosavović, the curator of the exhibition, explains that, “the Bible Lands Museum has had the opportunity to receive on loan the Al-Yahudu Tablets – approximately 100 Babylonian texts documenting the lives of the exiled Judeans in Babylon in the 6th-5th centuries BCE .”

“We now know so much,” Vukosavovic adds. “They were considered state dependents, paid taxes and followed Babylonian law. It was a multi-cultural society, since there were also groups exiled from other nations in addition to the Judeans.”

The Babylonian Empire"
The exhibition focuses on one of the people who is mentioned in the tablets, Haggai Ben Ahiqam, and tells the tragic story through his eyes.

Haggai’s great-grandfather, who was from Judah, was exiled to Babylon.

“Thanks to the tablets, we know a great deal about Haggai Ben Ahiqam’s father, four siblings, grandmother, grandfather and great-grandfather,” explains Vukosavovic. “We are going to show what really happened in Babylon behind the scenes, the way the people lived.”

Read article in full

Friday, January 30, 2015

President Rivlin's Iraqi family

With thanks: Sami

On his father's side, Israel's President, Reuven Rivlin (pictured), is descended from the Vilna Gaon. His family have been established in Jerusalem since 1809.

However, his father 's first wife was Rahel Ftaya, of a distinguished Baghdadi family.

Rahel was a scholar who studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and collaborated with her husband Yoel, who later became a professor of Islamic Studies at the Hebrew University. She died childless after 13 years of marriage.  In her memory, Reuven Rivlin's father Yoel translated  the Koran from Arabic into Hebrew.

Rahel was the daughter of Rabbi Yehuda Ftaya, who was born in Baghdad in 1859 and was a disciple of the Ben Ish Hai.

Rabbi Yehuda was a famous kabbalist and saw himself as the reincarnation of Rabbi Yehuda Landau, a great Ashkenazi Halakhist.

It is said that during the Second World War, the Nazis had reached Greece and Rommel was on the borders of Egypt. Israel was caught in the middle. Rabbi Yehuda prayed intensely at Rachel's tomb and went with other kabbalists to the boundaries of the Land of Israel where they read Tiqqunim (rectifications).

Before he died in 1942, he received a sign from Heaven that the Nazis would not enter the Land of Israel.

After the death of his first wife, Yoel married Reuven's mother, also Rahel, who belonged to the Rivlin clan.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Eichmann hoped Arabs would finish off Jews

A new book by Bettina Stangneth reveals that the leading architect of the Nazi genocide of the Jews, Adolph Eichmann - abducted from Argentina in 1961 and sentenced to death by an Israeli court - hoped that his Arab friends would complete his task of 'total annihilation' of the Jews. Review by Douglas Murray in the Spectator:

Eichmann (pictured) goes on to say that if he himself were ever found guilty of any crime it would only be ‘for political reasons’.  He tries to argue that a guilty verdict against him would be ‘an impossibility in international law’ but goes on to say that he could never obtain justice ‘in the so-called Western culture.’  The reason for this is obvious enough: because in the Christian Bible ‘to which a large part of Western thought clings, it is expressly established that everything sacred came from the Jews.’  Western culture has, for Eichmann, been irrevocably Judaised. And so Eichmann looks to a different group, to the ‘large circle of friends, many millions of people’ to whom this manuscript is aimed:
‘But you, you 360 million Mohammedans, to whom I have had a strong inner connection since the days of my association with your Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, you, who have a greater truth in the surahs of your Koran, I call upon you to pass judgment on me.  You children of Allah have known the Jews longer and better than the West has.  Your noble Muftis and scholars of law may sit in judgement upon me and, at least in a symbolic way, give me your verdict.’ [pp 227-8]
Elsewhere Stangneth shows how open Eichmann must have been in his admiration for Israel’s neighbours.  After Eichmann’s abduction his family apparently became concerned about his second son.  According to a police report, ‘As Horst was easily excitable the Eichmann family was afraid that when he heard about his father’s fate, he might volunteer to fight for the Arab countries in campaigns against Israel.’  As Stangneth adds, ‘Eichmann had obviously told his children where his new troops were to be found.’ [229]

Of course for years after the war there were rumours that Eichmann had fled to an Arab country.  He might have had a better time there.  Other Nazis certainly did, including Alois Brunner – Eichmann’s ‘best man’ – who settled in Damascus after the war and who is now believed to have died in Syria as recently as 2010.  Eichmann’s Argentina years were certainly filled with frustration and rage.  What is most interesting is how mentally caught he remained even before he was captured, principally by the impossible conundrum of how to persuade the world to accept what he had done and simultaneously boast about his role in the worst genocide in history.

There is much more to say about this book.  But I do urge people to read it.  Not least for the way in which Stangneth sums up the problem with the only strain of Nazi history which really remains strong to this day.  ‘Eichmann refused to do penance and longed for applause.  But first and foremost, of course, he hoped his “Arab friends” would continue his battle against the Jews who were always the “principal war criminals” and “principal aggressors.”  He hadn’t managed to complete his task of “total annihilation,” but the Muslims could still complete it for him.’

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nessim Dawood: master of language

The Jerusalem Post has been interviewing the late Nessim Dawood's Israel-based family and friends in order to put together this tribute to the Iraqi Jew best known for his translation of the Koran into English.

On November 20 the world lost a rare talent with the death of Nessim Joseph Dawood (pictured).

An Iraqi Jew, he is revered for his masterful translation of the Koran into English for Penguin Classics, never out of print since 1956. He was the 20th century’s most outstanding translator of Arabic to English and English to Arabic, and a man with an extraordinary sense of language and poetry. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, whose work fascinated the scholar from an early age: The man had music in himself.

Dawood’s translations of tales from The Thousand and One Nights collection put the original Arabic stories of Shahrazad onto the bookshelves of many an English- speaking living room, and his idiomatic version of the Koran became the go-to text for those who, while interested in its content, had been unable to contend with the old-fashioned and more literal renditions previously in existence.

The descendant of an ancient Jewish family that had left the Land of Israel before the destruction of the Temple, he was born in Baghdad, the sixth of seven children.

Yakov Yehuda, the youngest of the seven, and today one of Dawood’s three surviving brothers, spoke to The Jerusalem Post about his scholarly sibling and their family history.

Their parents, whose marriage had been arranged – as was the custom at the time – both attended the Alliance Française (sic: Alliance Israelite - ed) school in Baghdad. They were fluent in French as well as Arabic, and their mother spoke enough English to teach the rudiments to her children.

“Our father, Yosef, was a merchant who had been an officer in the Ottoman Empire. Before we were born he had business concerns in Iran, in Isfahan I think, and therefore also spoke fluent Persian,” said Yehuda.

“Our [original] surname is Yehuda,” he said, explaining that the family is related to Sarah Yehuda, the mother of David Yellin, of David Yellin Academic College fame. This ancient family name did not, however, appear on Dawood’s Iraqi ID card, just his own given name, plus those of his father and paternal grandfather, “Nessim Yosef [Joseph] David.”

When he left his native land for England in 1945, the third name, adapted from David to Dawood (the equivalent in Arabic), became the surname on his passport. Later, his nom de plume was to be N.J. Dawood.

The Yehudas left Iraq for Israel when Yakov was 19, as a result of the difficult situation for Jews in Arab countries after the establishment of the state in 1948.

“Shortly after we came to Israel [in December 1950], we returned to the airport to collect a Torah scroll that my father had commissioned in Baghdad in the name of his brother, Salah, who died at a very young age, and that Torah scroll is now in an Iraqi synagogue, Ohel Ari, in Ra’anana.”

Yosef’s sons did not know “much” about their father’s side of the family. Yakov said that they were aware that their mother, “had two uncles, Aharon and Ephraim Tweg, who went to Turkey, to Istanbul, to learn to be pharmacists and then became the first two pharmacists in Israel.”

The medical vocation appears to have run in the family, as Dawood’s eldest son, Richard, is a doctor, author of Traveler’s Health, and his youngest, Andrew, a dentist, is involved with 3D printing, which includes making medical applications. The middle son, Norman, however, followed his father’s professional footsteps and works in translation.

Arriving in the Promised Land in the ’50s “was very difficult, we had left everything behind. There was not much money and we lived on a moshav at first, and after two years moved to Tel Aviv,” Yehuda explained.

The eldest of Dawood’s brothers, David, who left Iraq at the age of 16 to study in Beirut, was already in Israel, having arrived in 1930. Upon immigrating, he changed his last name to Eshed.

“It was usual for people to change their names when they came to Israel in those days,” explained Yehuda.

David spent some time in the UK, only to return to Israel and work in the government, in the Agriculture Ministry. Another brother, Fouad Salah Yehuda – named after his uncle – (who changed his name to Gad Eshed when he came to Israel, at David’s suggestion), “studied aviation in the UK, and when he finished [his studies] El Al contacted him and he came to work with them at the airport. He left [that position] after a few years and opened a motorcycle shop and a driving school for motorbikes,” said Yehuda.

The fourth of the brothers, Heskel, worked at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv as commercial attaché.

The two sisters were Matilda, who came to Israel in 1946, and Flora, who married in Iraq and moved to London, then Nice, and spent her final years in Monaco.

Upon arrival in Israel, Yakov enlisted in the IDF and then “worked in a factory, and after that I went to Bank Leumi at the airport at the age of 25; I left in 1985 having attained the position of assistant manager.”

Dawood did not immigrate to Israel with the rest of his family. He had been in the UK since 1945, sent there at age 17 on an Iraqi state scholarship to study English literature. He had exhibited an uncanny knack for this from an early age, having fallen in love with Shakespeare’s works as soon as he came across The Merchant of Venice while still a schoolboy.

He left Iraq on August 15, 1945, recalled Yakov, “the very day the atom bomb exploded on Hiroshima.”

His natural gift for language, and his perseverance, enabled Dawood to publish Arabic translations of English short stories in local publications while still in school in Iraq. According to researcher and fellow Iraqi Emile Cohen (“Tribute to Nessim J. Dawood: An Arab Jew in a Muslim World”), this attracted the attention of a respected democratic politician, Kamil Chadirji, owner of the Al-Ahali newspaper, who asked Dawood to translate articles from English for his periodical.

Chadirji, who also hired Dawood to teach English to his son, was to sign as guarantor for Dawood when he received a grant from the state to study in London.

Years later in the UK, Dawood – an assiduous book reviewer and contributor to letters to the editor of The Times – wrote a eulogy of Naim Tweg, his uncle and a former colleague at Al-Ahali.

Dawood’s received a scholarship to London University in the capital, but the university was evacuated to Exeter during World War II, where he toiled the next four years. The result of his labors was a double degree in English literature and Arabic.

Subsequently Dawood – whose fantasy was to translate Shakespeare into Arabic – qualified as a teacher and taught English at a secondary school in South London. He also spent three years as a journalist at The Jewish Chronicle.

In 1948, as an international student in London, he was thrilled to be invited to attend Shakespeare’s birthday celebration in Stratford-upon-Avon, a previously annual event that had only just resumed, following the end of the war. Years later – in 2011 – he was asked to speak at the same anniversary as the oldest survivor of that first postwar lunch, and shared anecdotes of the time, including how he met Shakespearean actors Claire Bloom and Alfie Bass at the theater bar. Over the years, Dawood attended several such lunches in commemoration of the Bard, whose work he continued to delight in.

In 1949 he married Juliet Abraham – the sister of his childhood friend Eliahu Abraham – at the Lauderdale Road Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London.

The couple were married for 65 years and had three sons and nine grandchildren.

But it was in 1952, when the young scholar attended a talk by E.V. Rieu, renowned for his Greek-to-English translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and founding editor of Penguin Classics (a subdivision of Penguin Books), that his life-course would change.

Rieu’s novel concepts went straight to Dawood’s core, as he explained in a 1990 interview with The Bookseller magazine.

The publisher spoke of “a new kind of translation,” of the “challenge of emulating the excellence of the original”; and the concept that “a good translator must be a good writer” and should use “idiomatic English”; that “a translation had to sound well when read out loud.”

“I was enthralled,” said Dawood in the interview.

He wrote to Rieu, enclosing a translation of the prologue to the book of Eastern tales that was to become a household name, Tales from the Thousand and One Nights.

To Dawood’s amazement, what he received by return mail from Rieu was the offer of a contract to translate the Tales themselves.

Read article in full (Subscription required) 

Tribute to Iraqi Jew who translated the Koran

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Baghdad hangings commemorated

Commemorations have taken place in Israel  on the anniversary of the hangings in Baghdad's liberation square of nine Jews on 27 January 1969.

Over 40 years later, the community and its representatives are still trying to grapple with the consequences of that fateful day.

Following the defeat of Arab armies on all fronts by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and the 1968 ‘war of attrition’, the 3,000 Jews who remained in Iraq following the mass migration of the 1950s were being singled out for vengeance by the Iraqi regime. Dozens of Jews had been arrested and imprisoned. The remainder were placed under virtual house arrest. One Jewish girl remembers that secret service men installed themselves in armchairs opposite her house in order to keep her family under 24-hour surveillance. The tension was such that she and her mother made a suicide pact.

Jewish bank accounts were frozen. Jews lost their jobs. Jewish students were not allowed to pursue their university studies. Foreign trade agencies were taken away from Jews and handed over to Muslims. Telephones were cut off. There was no escape: Jews had to carry special identity cards and could not obtain the necessary passports in order to leave the country. They were virtual hostages to the regime.

Antisemitism intensified with the rise to power of the Ba’ath party in 1968. Saddam Hussein was its deputy leader. Before long the regime had concocted a story of ‘Zionist espionage’. The stage was set for a show trial of unspeakable cruelty and cynicism. Of nine Jews falsely accused of being Zionist spies, four were under the legal age to face execution. No matter – the regime falsified their ages.

The late Max Sawdayee describes the scene on 27 January 1969 in his book All waiting to be hanged:

“Masses of people, red, excited, smiling, laughing, walking fast, running, jostling – all with one and only one goal: to reach as quickly as possible the square where the ‘traitors’ are hanged. We take the same streets we came from, and return home. Wife tells us that she has heard from neighbours that the ‘spies’ now hanged in the Liberation Square were actually executed at the central prison at about eleven o’clock last night. They were brought to the Liberation Square at about two in the morning after improvised scaffolds had been erected by prisoners mobilised from the central prison, and by soldiers. She has heard also that many people were already there at two in the morning watching the scene of preparations for the hanging.

“The poor ‘actors’ of the scene... are dressed in special, humiliating brown linen trousers and shirts, barefoot, with the hands of some of them (for some mysterious reason) dressed in special white gloves. All of them are labelled with large sheets of paper stating, first of all and in big letters, their religion, then in small letters the reasons why they are hanged.

“ The sight of the nine, their heads twisted and drooping, their bodies dangling from the gallows and swinging high in the air, with all these vengeful mobs, all excited, agitated, cheering, dancing, chanting, singing, cursing the dead, spitting and throwing stones on them, or jumping high to catch their feet or their toes – well, this sight is most humiliating and sad, and most unforgettable. It shakes one to the bones. It shakes even one’s faith in humanity.

“When we tune in to our car radio, the announcer is still howling madly. ‘Great people of Iraq! You great people of Baghdad and Basra! Today is a holy day for all of you! Today is your feast! The day of your joy and happiness! The day on which you have got rid of the first gang of despicable spies! Iraq, your beloved Iraq, has executed, has hanged, has settled the account with those traitors! You great people of Baghdad and Basra, get free, move, go to your Liberation Squares to see with your own eyes how the traitors are hanged!’ then he goes on to read the names of those ‘traitors’, perhaps for the third or the fourth time. “

Morris Abdulezer, an Iraqi Jew now living in Canada, describes the lead-up to the hangings:

These innocent men were tortured then put through a televised mockery of a military trial, which culminated in nine of them being publicly hanged, one acquitted and two others were sent to Basra to face another trial and then were hanged on August 25, 1969 in Basra.

“I can recall precisely how terrified and confused we were throughout the entire trial and, more precisely, the night of January 26 when the guilty verdict was announced by the military judge. We did not believe that the sentence of death by hanging would be carried out because the whole court process did not make sense, from the defendants who were not allowed to appoint their own lawyers, to the stories and accusations that were outrageous and full of lies, where the defendants were being asked to bear witness against each other.

“We waited in fear, praying and trusting in our Jewish faith and hoping for pressure to come at the last minute from the international community to end this mockery.”

But international pressure did not come - until it was too late.

The reign of terror continued. Iraq’s rulers promised that there would be further hangings. Every citizen was urged to inform against their Jewish neighbours. Scores of Jews disappeared. Linda Menuhin, now a columnist and peace activist in Israel, recalls that her own father was abducted on the eve of Yom Kippur on the way to the synagogue. He was never heard of again. “We don’t know what happened to my father exactly. Until today we have never said Kaddish for him.”

Maurice Shohet, president of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI), believes that the number of Jews who were executed in prison, abducted, or simply vanished without trace exceeds 50. After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, a young Jewish jeweller, newly-wed to one of the few eligible Jewish women in Baghdad, was abducted in December 2005 and never found again.

Only five Jews remain in Iraq.

Article by David Kheder Basson in Elaph (Arabic)

Tunisians recall wartime labour camps

Today is International Holocaust Memorial Day.
While the Holocaust overwhelmingly affected European Jews, let us not forget that Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews too would have been targeted for extermination had Rommel won the military campaign in North Africa.

Nevertheless, from November 1942 to May 1943, Jews in Tunisia came under direct Nazi rule. This three- minute clip tells the stories of Shushan Cohen and Gad Shahar, who were among the 5,000 Jews sent to Labour camps. Gad Shahar tells how as a 19-year-old he was shocked to hear the people of his neighbourhood cheer as the Jews were herded to the camps.

 Shushan Cohen remembers having to bed down in a horses' stable full of dung. He recalls a few curses and other words in German. The
prisoners had to eat, drink and urinate from the same tin. Jews were singled out for such treatment.

 Dozens of Jews were shot to death in these camps. Some 40 were deported to European death camps and never returned.

Here is the list of Tunisian Jewish victims:
Tibi in the resistance of Sousse, deported to Europe, died
 Assous in resistance of Hodjeb El Ayoun, deported to Europe, died
 Mounier in resistance, died during mission
 Joseph Chemla deported to Buchenwald, died in Torgau
 Gilbert Chemla deported to Buchenwald, died in Torgau
 Jean Chemla deported to Buchenwald, died in Torgau
 Rousseau Ruhlmann deported, died
 Cohen-Hadria died in Auschwitz
 Raymond Samama died in Oranienbourg
Victor Nataf shot by the Nazis, as a spy for the Allies
 Serge Moatti deported to Auschwitz, came back
Victor Silvera deported to Auschwitz, came back
 Andre Assuied in Djebibina, died in forced labor camp
 Emile Hababou shot by a German guard, 1/23/1943, Bizerte camp
 Alfred Hababou shot by German guard, nicknamed "Grandma," Bizerte
 Elie Saadoun shot by German guard, nicknamed "Grandma," 2/9/43
 Victor Lellouche killed by soldier Walter, nicknamed "the killer"
 Simon Allali
Jacques Attal
 Ed. Bellaiche
Albert Boccara
Gilbert Cohen
 Joseph Cohen
Moise Cohen
Felix Ghidalia
G. M. Guedj
Joseph Haddad
Maurice Haddad
 Joseph Hassan
Lucien Naccache
 Ab. Sitbon
 Alfred Smadja
 Elie Taieb
Zerah Andre
 Haddad Maurice
Kalfon Asher
 Gino Uzan
 Albert Slama
 Edmond Azria 2/16/43
 Chalom Guez 2/24/43
 Robert Amram 1.43
Jacques Cohen 4.43
 Joseph Chelly
Gilbert Mordechai Mazouz, shot on a long march 9.12.1942
 Roger Ktorza, rescued by Saada J. Saffar
(compiled from Sabille, Jacques. Les Juifs de Tunisie sous Vichy et l'Occupation. Paris: Edition du Centre de Documentation)
Acknowledge the Righteous (Robert Satloff in The Daily Star)

Monday, January 26, 2015

'Return to Morocco' on Al-Jazeera

Return to Morocco. 

 The title of this Al-Jazeera programme says it all: Jews, who once numbered 260, 000, long to return to Morocco.

The programme interviews those who left, those who stayed, and those who returned. How come all but 2,000 joined the mass exodus, mostly to Israel? "It is said that they needed to be rescued..." said the narrator. "Many were persuaded to leave..."

 Ah, those dastardly Zionists. Israel perpetrated a massive con trick on these poor Jews, tearing them away from their shared roots and millenarian coexistence with Arabs, in order to put them in tent camps.

'Return to Morocco' is typical of a raft of films coming out of Morocco in recent years - long on nostalgia and short on historical context.

This is, however, the first film to tell us that the exodus was a racket. Jews like David Elbaz (as well as many Muslims) stayed on to get rich from Jewish property, abandoned or sold off cheaply.

 Sion Assidon stayed on to run the Boycott Israel movement in Morocco ('All Israelis are war criminals' he says).

Royal adviser Andre Azoulay stayed on to burnish the King's image.  One can't be true to one's Judaism unless one is also 'a Palestinian', he says,  showing how politically correct he is.

 During her childhood Fanny Mergui used to see family after family leaving the Casablanca docks for the Promised Land until she too joined the Jewish exodus aged 16. "I was terrified," she says.  (Terrified of what, exactly? Appalled at the sight of fleeing Jews? Scared of becoming the last Jew left in Casablanca? Fanny does not explain.)

 Although those deceitful Israelis made sure that Fanny herself was fast-tracked to a good degree and a profession in Jerusalem ( she is a psychologist), she looked in the eyes of her Moroccan-Israeli relatives and 'saw their despair'.

A Palestinian writer exiled to Morocco helpfully explains that Israel (the pecking order was Ashkenazi, Sephardi and at the bottom, Arab) needed Moroccan Jewish-labour for construction and agriculture (he obviously had not heard of the Ashkenazi-dominated agricultural kibbutz movement). He too can't resist political point-scoring: lucky Moroccan Jews - they could return to Morocco - but he can't visit Palestine.

Given the depths of Jewish despair, you would have expected there to be more returnees. But Al-Jazeera could find only two: forceful Fanny, and pathetic Pinhas.

Fanny is a leftwing academic and pro-Palestinian activist. Her reasons for returning to Morocco - apart from nostalgia - are not clear.

Pinhas Suissa was born in Israel of Moroccan parentage but returned to his 'homeland' . It is only at the end of the film that we learn that Pinhas is divorced and his business went bankrupt in Israel. Pinhas has good financial reasons for  living in Morocco.

A few years ago, a survey carried out in Israel found that Moroccan Jews were the happiest of Israelis. Funny how the interviewer of Return to Morocco never cares to ask those Israeli tourists on roots packages to Morocco if they want permanently to 'return'.

The response they might give will not be what she is looking for.

The Aden pogrom that the world forgot

 With thanks: Tom

The December 1947 pogrom in Aden, in which 82 Jews were murdered, marked the beginning of the end of the community in this British colony neighbouring Yemen. But  the small museum of the history of Aden's Jews in Tel Aviv reveals an earlier pogrom in 1932, which  the British authorities were keen to blame on the victim. Lyn Julius blogs in the Jerusalem Post:

The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum  at 5 Lilienblum St in Tel Aviv is  of the city's best kept secrets. The spacious room beneath the Adeni synagogue is a window on a vanished world: a vibrant community with its synagogues, shops, boats and schools. The beginning of the end came after 82 Jews were murdered in the December 1947 riots. The community limped along for another two decades until the British granted the territory independence, and then became extinct.

Photos of buildings completely gutted by fire, like the King George V Jewish Boys' school (pictured below), attest to the savagery of the 1947 riots in the Crater district, where Jews lived and worked.

But these were not the only riots to shake the few thousand Jews of this British colony and trading post neighbouring Yemen at the tip of Arabia.

Between 23 - 25 th May 1932, Jews were attacked and Jewish shops looted after Muslims had claimed that a mosque had been defiled by Jews throwing 'human filth' and beer bottles. It was a familiar pretext in the Muslim world. The British colluded in blaming the victim: five Jews were deported to the interior and the British authorities refused to pay a penny of compensation to those Jews whose property was damaged.

The High Commissioner for Palestine wrote to an anxious Chaim Arlosoroff, then head of the Jewish Agency, informing him that seven Jews had been wounded, four so seriously that they needed hospital treatment.

Another account, from the India Office (which was in charge of administering Aden) to the Board of Deputies in London, puts the number of injured at 60, including 25 Jews. Seven were hospitalised.

One particularly scathing letter (above) was sent to the Jewish Chronicle in London by the Aden Jewish community president, Bentob Messa. He criticised the newspaper for its 'untrue and misleading' report. An unbroken bottle of beer was planted in the mosque, maintained Mr Messa. The Jewish synagogue was desecrated, nine Jewish homes broken into and 22 Jewish shops looted.

Another letter received by Chaim Arlosoroff from the High Commission in Palestine gave the distinct impression that  the British authorities were suppressing information pertaining to the riots by censoring telegrams or refusing to deliver them.

After the May riots it seems that disturbances continued almost daily. Six months later on 9 October, the community leadership wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Aden, complaining that worshippers in the Crater synagogue  had been pelted on Yom Kippur with stones by Muslims, "alarmingly defying and unmindful of public peace".
Model of the Crater synagogue

The leadership called on the authorities to  adopt draconian measures against the rioters: "The troublemongers seek to vindicate their outbursts on the most clumsy of causes."

By 1933, so 'oppressive and intolerable' had the situation become for Jews that the Zionist movement in Aden pleaded for a bigger share of the meagre 130 immigration certificates into Palestine that the Yishuv was prepared to give Yemen.

Read article in full 

The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum is open every day from 10 - 2 pm (hours are flexible on Fridays) from Sun to Thurs.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jewish crafts sought after in Yemen

 Jewellery made by Jewish craftsmen from Yemen

This article admits that the departure of skilled Jewish craftsmen and silversmiths from Yemen was a grievous loss to the economy. Ironically enough, objects bearing the Star of David, a badge of quality, are highly sought after today, according to National Yemen:

For thousands of years, Jews in Yemen excelled in the manufacture of silver, old wooden windows, doors and boxes, as well as in carving the walls of houses, mosques, and schools, which are considered today relics and historical places.
Jews were keen to sculpt the Star of David, a Jewish symbol, in all their works. At the same time, people were also keen to buy things that had the Star of David because it indicated quality Jewish work.

However, because of spreading sectarianism, racism, and hatred between peoples, non-Jews in general avoid things with the Star of David because of its association with Israel.

Whether people today love the Star of David or not, it is sculpted in many old doors, walls, and jewelry in old Sana’a. Tourists and businessmen pay thousands of riyals to buy jewelry and other works by the Jews.

Ahmed, 47 and a craftsman in old Sana’a, said that anything in a Jewish craftsperson’s hand was transformed into a masterpiece, especially silver and gold pieces, textiles, and architecture.

“In addition, Jews were responsible and accurate in their time with customers. Despite people at time considering craftsmen from the lower class, many preferred Jewish works and praised their performances. They were called Industry Men in Yemen,” he added.

According to Ahmed, until recently when most Jews left Yemen, craftsmen were sculpting the Star of David or any symbols in order to convince people their work was Jewish.

He explained that the traditional industries of Yemen’s Jews developed with time and place where they inherited their jobs for each other and watched modern industries that were brought from abroad through Aden and the Turks.

“All this creativity and magnificent sense came from the Jews under difficult circumstances faced by Yemen economically, politically, and socially before the revolution,” said Ahmed.

According to old families in Sana’a, any village or neighborhood inhabited by Jews was turned into workshops for industries and crafts of all kinds.

The emigration of Jews from Yemen led to the deterioration of the Yemeni economy and the extinction of many crafts.

Read article in full

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Don't excuse Muslim antisemitism

 The Left avoids talking about Muslim antisemitism, preferring to focus on the antisemitism of the Right. If it did talk about Muslim antisemitism, it would also have to talk about Muslim colonialism, argues Daniel Greenfield in Rightside News.

 Benjamin Hattab at the funeral of his son Yoav: forced to praise how well Tunisia treats Jews

Muslim anti-Semitism predates the difficulties of integrating Algerians and Pakistanis into Europe by over a thousand years. In Islam, Jews represent both a subject race and a primal enemy. Israel infuriates Muslims so much not because they care a great deal about the Palestinian Arabs who have been expelled in huge numbers from Muslim countries within the last generation, but because Jews no longer know their place. Islam is supremacist. Allahu Akbar asserts Islamic supremacy over all other religions. As an historical subject race, Jews are a natural target for violence by Muslim immigrants with strong supremacist leanings. The disenfranchised Muslim isn’t looking for equality. He’s seeking supremacy. That is what the Islamic State and the Koran give him. He picks the same Jewish targets as Mohammed did because the Jews are a vulnerable minority. That is as true in Europe today as it was in Arabia then.

Unlike the Christian world, which was never fully subjugated by Islam, both the Jewish homeland and much of the Jewish diaspora population existed under Muslim rule long enough that non-submissive Jews became a particularly galling reminder of the fall of the Caliphate.

Muslims had taken Jewish submission for granted making the existence of non-submissive Jews, whether in Jerusalem or in Paris, that much more outrageous. The Algerian Muslim can more readily accept taking a back seat to a French Christian than to an Algerian Jew, whom he knows would have been considered inferior to him if they were both back in Algeria.

The left has become so mired in a post-colonial worldview that it refuses to understand that the struggle is not between Western European colonialism and a post-colonial Third World, but between different eras of colonialism. Arab Islamic domination is not post-colonial; it’s a colonialism that predates it.
When Western leftists make common cause with Arab and Islamic nationalists, they aren’t being post-colonial, they’re advocating an earlier form of colonialism that led and is once again leading to ethnic cleansing, genocide, mass slavery and the destruction of indigenous cultures; including that of the Jews.

Middle Eastern Jews, like other non-Muslim and non-Arab minorities, welcomed European colonialism as relief from Islamic and Arab colonialism. France is filled with Jews from North Africa because they received their rights for the first time under French rule. As French citizens, they could shed their mandatory black clothes and no longer fear being killed because of Islamic law, like Batto Sfez, a Tunisian Jew who was executed for blasphemy in an atrocity that triggered French intervention.

Yoav Hattab, one of the Jews murdered in the Kosher supermarket attack in Paris, was the son of the Chief Rabbi of Tunisia. While the Chief Rabbi was, in the unfortunate Dhimmi fashion of those who live under Islamic rule, forced to praise how well Tunisia treats Jews, his son was buried in Israel. Israel was also the place where most Tunisian Jews moved to escape Arab Muslim persecution.

The Western left can’t talk about Muslim anti-Semitism because it would also have to talk about Muslim colonialism. And then the entire basis of its approach to the Arab and Muslim world would collapse. If post-colonialism in the Middle East is just the replacement of one colonialism with another, then the left would have to admit that it has once again disgraced itself by supporting a totalitarian system.

Just as it replaced the czar with the commissar, it is replacing the protectorate with the caliphate.

Modern histories of the Middle East excuse the historical Muslim persecution of Jews for the same reason the media excuses modern Muslim attacks on Jews. This historical revisionism justifies Islamic colonialism in the service of post-colonialism with the myth of a golden age of benevolent tyranny.

The post-colonial narrative obligates academics and journalists to favorably contrast the Muslim treatment of Jews, then or now, with the European treatment of Jews. This obstructionism has endangered European Jews even more than Jihadist videos advocating violence because it makes it impossible to discuss an urgent violent threat for fear of violating the left’s post-colonial narrative.
Muslim anti-Semitism must be discussed. And it must be contextualized within the history of Muslim-Jewish relations, not European ones like the National Front or Jobbik. It must not be dismissed as some transient phenomenon caused by poverty or the latest Hamas clashes, but viewed within the context of Islamic colonialism and the treatment of non-Muslims in the Muslim world. The treatment of Yazidis in Iraq and Christians in Syria must also be placed within that same context.

Historical revisionism for Muslim anti-Semitism is as unacceptable as Holocaust denial or any other attempt to stick a smiley face on the oppression of Jews. And what is at stake here is not merely history, but the root cause that drives Muslim men and women born in Europe to attack and kill Jews.

Read article in full

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sephardim on the cusp of coexistence

Following the murder of four Tunisian Jews in a Paris supermarket, Arthur Asseraf and Elizabeth Marcus are at pains to paint a world 'beyond black and white' - a complex picture of Arab-Jewish relations - for Reuters. They give useful context to the origins of French Jews. But they confuse cultural connections with the unequal political relationship between Jews and Arabs: Jews in Arab countries have always been a vulnerable minority. See my comment below.   

A Jewish pilgrim at the Al-Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian  island of Djerba

“Jews have no problems with Arabs.”

Those were the words of Benjamin Hattab, the father of Yoav Hattab, one of the four killed last week in an attack on a Paris kosher grocery store, which followed the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Hattab is Tunisian and serves as the chief rabbi of the Muslim-majority North African nation — his comments, made in an interview after the attack, referred to his experience in Tunisia, not in France.

Sephardic Jews like Hattab — who originate from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East — have once again become a living barometer of Muslim-Jewish relations. To some, they represent the possibilities of co-existence. To others, they represent the sheer impossibility of that vision.

It is easy to see why that might be the case. Sephardic life has always been complex and hybrid. A friend of Yoav Hattab, Yohann Taieb, paid tribute to him by writing “In another world, he could have become a star of Arab Idol, who loved Arabic music.” His Jewish religious practice, too, was steeped in Arab culture. “When leading a prayer, it was not uncommon for him to borrow tunes from secular Arab Tunisian songs by slowing the tempo, recalling the inseparability of the Tunisian Jewish ethos and its surrounding culture.”

Of course, many question how inseparable the two are. But, Sephardim have also been remarkably resilient in maintaining their mixed cultural traditions through exile. As conflict blows up once more, the community faces many challenges, but their continued existence points to a world beyond black and white.

The Hattabs are part of roughly 2,000 Jews left in Tunisia, after many thousands migrated en masse in the 1960s and 1970s. The once one-million strong Jews living in Arab countries shrank to nearly nothing in the 20th century as a result of a messy process involving de-colonization, the rise of Arab nationalism, Zionism and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and economic migration that cut across all communities, as well as discrimination and forced exile. Those who chose to remain have been under increasing pressure. The Hattab’s recent loss follows the death of Yoav’s aunt, who was killed in an attack on a synagogue in Tunisia in 1985.

France’s Jewish community — depleted after the Second World War — was revived by the arrival of Sephardic Jewry in the mid-20th century. Now, Sephardim are the majority among the French Jewish community. France contains Europe’s largest population of Jews and Muslims, both hailing mainly from North Africa.

Two starkly different accounts exist of Jewish life before they left Arab countries. Some portray it as having been a perfect coexistence, with older women remembering bringing pastries to their neighbors for religious holidays. Others speak in terms of conflict, referencing only anti-Semitism, discrimination, violence and forced exile.

Neither of these opposing versions does justice to the long, complicated history of Muslim-Jewish relations, both in the Arab world, and now, in Europe.

That is why, in moments like these, the Sephardim have faced huge pressure to declare which side they are on — to choose which of these narratives defines them as a community. Living on the frontlines, their decisions — like whether they stay in France, or emigrate to Israel — will be watched intently. Their individual actions are weighted with huge significance for broader Muslim-Jewish relations, and for the future of Jews in Europe.

Read article in full

 My comment: this article is a curate's egg, good in parts. Benjamin Hattab, the father of Yoav,  gunned down in the kosher supermarket in Paris, is bound to say that Jews have no problems with Arabs: he lives among them. But the Tunisian government did not condemn his son's murder: it was left to a small group of minority rights activists to demonstrate their sympathy, amid ugly rumours that Yoav's burial in Israel was a betrayal. Yes, there is an overlap of culture between Jews and Arabs, but this did not save Yoav, nor Yoav Hattab's aunt, herself the victim of a terror attack.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Yemen's Jews are 'in big danger'

Rabbi Yahya Youssef, the leader of the remaining 70-odd Jews in Sa'ana, poses with a photo of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh

The news that Houthi rebels have seized the Presidential palace in the capital Sana'a puts Yemen's remaining Jews, who live under government protection, at unprecedented risk. The Jerusalem Post reports:

A takeover of the Yemenite capital of Sanaa by Houthi rebels may put the country’s Jewish community at risk given the Shi’ite group’s track record.

“It is clear they are in danger” due to “religious hate” and “extreme Islam,” University of Haifa professor emeritus Yosef Tobi said, although he was hesitant to make specific predictions.

Sanaa’s Jewish community lives in a guarded district under the protection of the central government, after fleeing to the capital from the town of Saada following Houthis threats in 2007.

“We warn you to leave the area immediately... Ignore this message, and we give you a period of 10 days, and you will regret it,” a Houthi representative warned the Jewish community of Saada at the time.

“Rising societal tensions, and the government’s lack of resources and capacity to protect [the Jews] adequately from increased threats in late 2008 and early 2009, led to increased emigration of the community,” according to a report on the US State Department website.

After the Houthi rebels entered the capital last year, supporters gathered in the streets, some chanting “Death to America! Death to the Jews! Victory to Islam.” The Houthi logo features the phrases “Death to Israel” and “Damn the Jews.”

“The Jews of Yemen are in big danger now,” said Michael Jankelowitz, a former spokesman to the international media at the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization.

“This should trouble the leaders of the Jewish Agency who have been trickle by trickle bringing them out.”

Read article in full

No news on Sana'a Jews after Houthis invade

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

London, watch out for Les Feujs!

Loud, brash and a little too Jewish for some tastes, France's Sephardi community has been moving to London over the past decade. With antisemitism on the rise, the UK can expect more Feujs, as they call themselves. Michelle Huberman reports in Jewish News: 
Michelle Huberman: I felt I was living in 'North Africa'

Many years ago I was part of their parents’ community in Paris. I lived there through the 1980′s. It was a total culture change from my Hampstead Garden Suburb upbringing and I often felt that I was living in North Africa rather than France.

I worked in the bustle of the Sentier (the fashion district) where entrepreneurial Jewish immigrants from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria mixed happily with Muslims from the same countries.

These were the good times – when the Jews had expressed support for the Arab immigrants  and  the campaign “Touche Pas A Mon Pote – Do Not Touch My Buddy”.

I look back affectionately at how I was adopted by the matriarchs of both the Jewish and Muslim communities and found myself loving their culture and picking up Arab slang as well as French.

That Sephardi community had an amazing energy and worked hard to re-establish themselves in their new country – having left North Africa in the  50′s and early 60′s when France granted those countries independence.
My generation who had left as kids had good memories of their childhoods, but the older generation remembered the times before the French arrived when there was persecution of the Jews.

The communities from those three countries all had different experiences of departure, but one thing was clear, even when they were living well in Morocco, Jews felt insecure without French protection. Algerian Jews had French citizenship and most of the 140,000 strong community moved to France.

The Tunisian and Moroccan communities (100, 000 and 250,000 respectively) underwent an utter breakup of families. Those that had the money went to France and Canada whilst the others went to Israel and faced harsh conditions.
Many didn’t stick the tough life in Israel and left later to join family in France and Canada who were faring better.

They were not warmly received by the established French Ashkenazi community – many of them survivors from the Holocaust – who saw them as loud and brash and just a little too Jewish.

The Ashkenazim had learnt to hide their Judaism – no outward signs nor mezuzot on the doors. After all – these had marked them out for deportation. But the Sephardim were the opposite: deeply religious and proud Zionists.

Spurred on by the Lubavitcher movement, they were going to revive and transform the French Jewish community.  With their large families they soon swelled the 180,000 – strong postwar community to 600, 000.

As much as the Jewish establishment didn’t warm to them, the younger generation did. For most Ashkenazi families, either your children married out or into a Sephardi family.

Like so many immigrant communities before them, they were determined to better themselves and make sure their children had a good education. But as they prospered, few purchased property in the city, preferring to rent their homes.
They had experienced losing property in North Africa and still lived with the mentality of the ready-packed suitcase. The exception was a holiday home: families saved for an apartment in Juan-les-Pins where the whole community went en masse for the summer vacation.

But in the mid 90′s something changed. The second generation Maghrebi Muslims who lived in the banlieues started identifying themselves with the Palestinians.

They labelled as Zionists their Jewish neighbours and turned their anger on them. France was no longer a comfortable place for the community. 

Their choice for vacations changed from Juan-les-Pins to Netanya. Most already had family in Israel and realised it was their future.  

Israel was where they would invest their money. Breadwinners sent their wives and children to live in Israel but would still run their businesses in France, choosing to commute for weekends – the Boeing aliya.

In Israel they have made their impact : thousands of French tourists spend the summer months there. I once again hear derogatory adjectives used against them: loud and brash and maybe a little too Jewish. But this entrepreneurial and educated aliyah is actually the biggest gift to Israel.

Read article in full

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'Cavemen' accuse national poet of racism

 Has Berlin-born poet Natan Zach lost it? Israel's iconic poet has a history of making shocking statements. But Zach’s most controversial moment may have been in July 2010, when, in an interview on Army Radio, he made a comparison between European and Middle Eastern Jews, saying: “The one lot comes from the highest culture there is – Western European culture — and the other lot comes from the caves.” Now the 'cavemen' have responded with a petition calling for Zach's works to be dropped from the schools curriculum. Haaretz reports:

Natan Zach

Poet Natan Zach's comments last week on the Channel 10 television show "Hamakor" ("The Source" ) have resulted in a petition accusing him of racism.
The petition, which has been uploaded to the Web, calls upon Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar to take immediate measures against the 80-year-old Israel Prize laureate.

The petition specifically calls for Sa'ar to remove Zach's works from the educational curriculum, to revoke his appointments at every academic institutions where he is employed and to add content addressing the history and culture of Jews with roots in the Middle East to the curriculum.

In an interview conducted with Zach about a week ago, the poet described his impressions of Israeli television, saying that "the Jews from the Oriental communities will get the blacks and the Ashkenazis [European Jews] will get the bastards."

The poet went on to say "The idea of taking people who have nothing in common arose. The one lot comes from the highest culture there is - Western European culture - and the other lot comes from the caves." 

The petition states: "It is inconceivable that students, certainly the Mizrahim [Jews of Middle Eastern descent], will be asked to memorize poems by the man who scorns their culture and publicly defines it as an inferior culture... It is the obligation of the Ministry of Education to make it clear to him and to the entire public that it will not permit such despicable opinions to be sheltered under its wing."

While those who initiated the petition have remained anonymous, so far over 500 people have signed the petition, among them many prominent cultural figures, including writer Yossi Sukari, artist Shula Keshet, poet Mati Shmuelof, artist Shay Pardo, musician Ravid Kahalani and cultural researcher Sivan Shtang.

Responding to Zach's remarks, Sukari says the poet's view that Western culture is superior to Mizrahi culture is based on the parameters of the sole culture in which he is submerged.

"Even if we allow this relativist outlook and accept that it is possible to create a hierarchy among cultures and find specific differences whereby one culture is superior to another, the preferential treatment of one ethnic group and the diminution of another still amount to racism," argues Sukari.

Furthermore, he says, "With regard to the fact that we came from 'the caves,' I would like to say that to my great regret, the only person actually in a cave is Natan Zach himself - where it's so dark it's impossible to see even the shadows."

Read article in full

Monday, January 19, 2015

Yemenite babies: neglect yes, plot no

 The tragic story of the vanished Yemenite babies of the 1950s  has reared its ugly head once more in  this +972 magazine article reprinted from Haokets. While the authorities can be accused of negligence and callousness, it is harder to find evidence of a conspiracy to 'steal' children from their parents. Pedro X, whose comment I am reproducing below, provides additional truths the article omits. Another commenter asks why more of these 'orphaned' children have not come forward to identify themselves.

"The baby in the photo is younger than my Abigail. His name is Rafael – a tiny baby, seen here in his mother’s arms. She wandered from Damascus to Beirut and onto the shores of the promised land, before being placed in a tent in the Beit Lyd transit camp. Rafael is my mother’s younger brother. She traveled this long route along with him in a sailboat when she was one-and-a-half years old. Grandfather Mordecai wrote in his diary about what had happened to them when they arrived at the immigrant camp:

“One of the nights a horrible wind was blowing, and rain came pouring from the sky. The small children who slept with us in the tents became sick with colds, diarrhea and fever. The smallest one, five-month-old Rafael, got stomach poisoning, and so we went to Tel Aviv and took him to the government hospital in Jaffa, where he returned his pure and innocent spirit to God in the morning light of Tuesday, 13/9/49.”

"In Donolo Hospital they wouldn’t let my grandfather see his son’s body nor his place of burial. They also refused to provide him a death certificate."

Read article in full 

 Pedro X comments: Haokets and these so called activists are not telling the whole story. Between 1967 and 2001 Israel held three commissions and one public inquiry into the issue. The 1967 commission found two cases of children having been adopted. 316 died for sure and in 24 cases no conclusions could be agreed upon. The public inquiry which reported its findings in 2001 found that out of 800 cases examined it was certain that 733 of these children died. No conclusions could be reached for 56 children.
   Ami Hovav, an investigator who served on two earlier official commissions that examined the fate of the Yemenite babies, said that out of 650 cases of babies reported missing by their parents, 80 had not been solved. Records showed that a few dozen who were put up for adoption when their parents could not be traced. He explained that frequent mix-ups occurred when babies were transferred to and from nurseries and hospitals resulting in medical institutions being unable to trace the parents of the children.
   The New York Times in an 1999 article quoted Dov Levitan of Bar-Ilan University, an expert on the Yemenite immigrants, to state that there was “no evidence of an organized conspiracy to spirit away Yemenite children for adoption."... “there was a condescending attitude toward the new arrivals that led to carelessness in tracking down children and their parents….There was disregard for the parents, an unwillingness to make the effort to investigate, but not a conspiracy.”

Desperately seeking mum and dad

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tunisians stage vigil for Paris victim

 In what might be the first demonstration of solidarity with a murdered Jew in an Arab country, some 150 Tunisians staged a vigil for Yoav Hattab, 21, whose family still lives in Tunis. Several demonstrators criticised the 'disgraceful' silence of the Tunisian authorities. 

Yoav Hattab pictured with an inked finger after casting his vote in the Tunisian elections

 The Jerusalem Post reports:

About 150 people, including a number of Muslims, attended a memorial service Saturday night outside the Tunis Great Synagogue to honor the slain Yoav Hattab, Israel Radio reported. Hattab was the son of the city's chief rabbi ( the rabbi of the Great Synagogue - ed).

Participants lit candles and held up pictures of Hattab alongside Tunisian flags.

Some of those in attendance criticized their government's silence in the face of Hattab's death.

Hattab was killed on January 9 in an attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris. He studied marketing in the city and worked in an office near the supermarket.

Tunisian Sara Horchani deplored the official silence surrounding the murder of Yoav Hattab. Only the Islamist party Ennahda condemned it: 

"This silence was an affront to Tunisian history. It's an affront to democratic principles.This silence affects the Tunisian citizen I am. It hurts me as a Tunisian Republican,  as a fervent advocate of equality. The basis of any democracy is equality between citizens irrespective of their origins.

"Sad to see the (Islamists ) Ennahda, of all parties, steal a march over Democrats and leftist parties.

"It is the duty of Tunisia to honor Yoav Hattab. He is a Tunisian citizen, the victim of a horrible murder. Murdered because he was Jewish. Because he was in a kosher store for shopping before Shabbat.

"It is the duty of Tunisia to respect all its citizens regardless of their confession. Enough of these perpetual suspicions of lack of fidelity and loyalty to our fellow Jews."

Read post in full (French)

Arutz Sheva report 

Terror victim: Tunisian patriot or Zionist?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How Baghdad got its Jewish cemetery

With thanks: Lisette

 An Ottoman miniature depicting the Sultan Murad 1V

For centuries, until 1639, Baghdad did not have a Jewish cemetery.

This state of affairs dates back to the Mongol conquest of Baghdad. In the 14th century the Mongol leader Hulagu made his Jewish doctor prime minister, conferring on him the title Sa'd el-Dawla. According to amateur historian Sami Hourani, this Jewish prime minister  was given a free hand to impose law and order. He relied on Jews and Christians to administer the country. In Mosul, he appointed only Jews to his staff.

The local Muslims, says Sami, "reacted very badly, because they were superior and should never take orders from a non-Muslim, especially if he is a Jew. "
 The Muslims  established an underground resistance movement called "Al-Hashashin". They recruited young boys, train them to kill and give them drugs, so that when directed to kill they could do it quickly and efficiently. From the word Hashashin came the English word Assassin,  meaning killing for some holy cause. 

An Assassin killed the Jewish prime minister. Hulagu, who had been cured by his doctor-cum- PM,  fell sick again, had a heart attack and died. The whole country descended into chaos.

The Muslims now wanted revenge from the Jews. They looted their homes and killed many, forcing the survivors to live in a ghetto with no right to have a cemetery for the community.

They forced them to bury their dead around their houses and in their basements.

The main Jewish cemetery was designated as a main place of burial for Jews  by the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV around 1639.

In a story befitting a tale from the Arabian nights, it is said that a poor Jewish woman was granted the Jewish cemetery after she had shared her bread with the Sultan, who was planning to conquer Baghdad from the Safavid Persians.

Here is her story.

On the eve of his army's attack, the Sultan entered Baghdad on foot disguised as a poor Dervish.

Through the window of a shack  he saw a woman baking pita bread. He knocked on the door. The woman opened the door and he implored her to share her food with him. She told him that all she had was a small pita for each one of her sons: she was ready to share her own pita with him. She gave him half. He told her God would bless her many times over and that she would be rewarded for her kind heart. 

The Sultan went back to his camp with the half pita in his hand. He  told his soldiers: "  this is a sign that God is with us and we shall attack Baghdad the following morning and capture the city."At dawn, he moved  his army toward Baghdad, attacked the city and by mid -day he had expelled the Persians. He became the ruler of Baghdad. Some historians say that nearly 2,000 Jewish men supported him.

He asked his men to fetch that poor woman who was generous enough to give him half a pita.  When she saw the soldiers she panicked and cried, thinking that she had committed a sin or a crime, for nobody left the governor's office alive. She followed the soldiers to the court of the Sultan. She entered the court and she stood before him. 

The Sultan revealed himself as the Dervish who came begging for food the night before and that she was kind-hearted enough to share with him half of her small Pita. "If you are well off and  help people, society will thank you for your generosity, he told her. "But if you are poor and ready to share the last piece of bread with other needy people, your reward comes from Heaven. "

He then handed her two bags full of gold and silver coins and he said, “This is my gift to you. Now make a wish.”

 She asked him, “What is a wish?” He answered that it is something you want to get for yourself but you cannot afford. The woman answered that she did not want anything for herself but for her community. She said the community did not have a cemetery: poor people did not know where to bury their dead. She requested that he may be kind enough to earmark a piece of land as a cemetery for the Jewish community. 

He agreed and a large piece of land was designated as a Jewish cemetery in a suburb of the city. This cemetery was the main Jewish cemetery from that time until 1959 when the Iraqi Government decided to demolish it after the exodus of the Jews in 1951-52.  It was the main Jewish cemetery from 1642 to 1952, over 300 years. In that cemetery,  great Rabbis were buried. Also located here was the mass grave of the Jewish victims killed in 1941 Farhud. 

This woman  became a celebrity in the Jewish community. Some people said  that she had received a gift from Heaven: in Persian “Para Azada”, twisted  into Parizat.   The alley where she lived became the Alley of “Bet Parizat”. Others saw in her story the Biblical proof that  God's mercy can change things in the blink of an eye;  the stone that all builders hate, turns out to be the corner stone. Others said that the Sultan was, in fact, a personalization of Eliyahu Hanabi who came and blessed her house. To attract Eliyau to their houses, women developed the tradition that when they bake, they leave aside a piece of bread  for Eliyahu; perhaps he might come disguised as a poor person asking for help.

When Iraq was captured by the British in 1917 the welfare of all the Jews of Iraq was entrusted to the Israelite Community of Babylon, with its seat in Baghdad. The Jewish community in Baghdad took responsibility for the Jewish communities in towns and villages throughout the country.
The name  "Israelite Community of Babylon" dated back to 1841 when the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire introduced a bill for freedom of all minorities. The head of the Jewish Community was called Hakham Bashi. The name of the community was changed in 1947 to "the Community of the followers of Moses ( Moussawi) , because the Iraqi Government objected to the name Israelite.

The Jewish cemetery in Sadr City has been in use ever since the main Baghdad cemetery was destroyed by the Iraqi government in 1959

Historian Sami Sourani adds that a large number of Geonim (Biblical scholars) were buried around the Shrine of Joshua the High Priest who was exiled to Babylon together with King Joachim. Joshua was said to descend from the Prophet Samuel. Today his shrine  has been converted to a mosque called," The Mosque of God Prophet Joshua Hacohen".

The Jewish community was in charge of burial and fees were paid according to the financial situation of the family.
Poor Jewish people were exempt from paying burial fees. It was the policy that every Jew deserved to be treated with dignity in his final hour in this world.
  After the Exodus to Babylon in 586 BCE, one of the rabbis (  Geonim) introduced the policy of simple burial. Until the 4th century BCE, Jews who had the means, had expensive burials, probably influenced by their non-Jewish neighbors.

Friday, January 16, 2015

French Jews face hate they fled in N. Africa

 History is repeating itself for Jews in France, most of whom have escaped antisemitism in North Africa. The Wall St Journal reports: (with thanks: Lily)
The four Jews killed at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris

PARIS—Every Friday, Johanna Bettach, a pregnant mother of two, stocks up on weekend supplies at the Hyper Cacher supermarket. Last week, just before she was getting ready to shop, an Islamist militantgunned down four Jewish customers at the kosher store and took many others hostage.

The Hyper Cacher attack, one of the deadliest against France’s Jewish community since World War II, spurred outrage across the country. It was by no means isolated, coming against a backdrop of acts of violence and intimidation.
Just three months earlier, Ms. Bettach said, she found her mezuzah—a box containing a parchment of Torah verses that religious Jews attach to their doors—torn off and thrown out.

“It is going from bad to worse in France, and we know that it is not going to stop,” said Ms. Bettach, 33 years old. “I can’t sleep at night anymore. All day when my kids are at school, I worry. I just don’t see any future for my children in this country.”

Three-quarters of France’s roughly half-million Jews are, like Ms. Bettach, of North African origin, Jewish community officials estimate. Their families moved to the safety of France mostly in the period between Israel’s creation in 1948 and Algeria’s independence in 1962, as persecution and discrimination emptied out the once-huge Jewish communities of former French possessions across the Mediterranean.

France has the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the U.S., according to most estimates. “We need to act,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Saturday as he paid homage to the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack. “France without Jews is no longer France.”

In 2013, the last full year for which data have been compiled, there were 423 reported anti-Semitic incidents in France, compared with 82 in 1999, according to the Jewish Community Security Service, a joint body created by France’s main Jewish organizations that compiles data based on police reports.

Much of the recent upsurge of anti-Semitic violence in France has occurred in rundown towns likes Sarcelles, a north Paris suburb where Jews of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian origin live alongside Muslim immigrants from the same countries.

While feelings of fear and distress through the French Jewish community after the Hyper Cacher attack, they are particularly strong among those of North African origin, with their memories of forced exodus still raw.

“They had come to the French Republic with the conviction that things would not happen that way again,” said Elisabeth Schemla, a prominent French Jewish writer and magazine editor who moved from her native Algeria as a teenager in the 1960s. “Now, they have a feeling that they are reliving what they themselves or their parents had lived through already.”

Ms. Bettach said her sister moved to New York a decade ago and two of her husband’s brothers emigrated to Israel. On Sunday, two days after the Hyper Cacher attack, she began paperwork for moving to Israel.

“In Algeria, my father had to flee from one day to another because if he hadn’t left, he would have been killed,” said Ms. Bettach. “At least we still have time to prepare, to take our possessions with us.”

Some 6,900 French Jews moved to Israel in 2014, up from 3,300 in 2013, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, an Israeli organization that oversees the process. The number is expected to grow to 10,000 in 2015, the agency said. Many others are moving to Israel informally, or leaving France for the U.S., Britain and even Germany, Jewish community officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met French Jewish community representatives over the weekend, said Israel is preparing for increased immigration of Jews from France and other countries he said have been hit by anti-Semitism. “I wish to tell all French and European Jews: Israel is your home,” he said in Paris.

Anti-Semitic attacks occur elsewhere in Europe. One lethal attack outside France came in May 2014 in the form of a shooting spree that killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. It was allegedly perpetrated by a French Islamist, who is currently awaiting trial. He hasn’t entered a plea and according to his lawyer declined to comment.

In France, attacks have been particularly violent. On July 20 in Sarcelles, a pro-Palestinian rally turned into a confrontation that led to the burning of several Jewish-owned businesses. Two years earlier, an Islamist gunman killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in the city of Toulouse. In 2006, cellphone salesman Ilan Halimi in the Paris area was kidnapped by a gang who held him for ransom and tortured him to death for three weeks for being Jewish, burning his skin with acid and gasoline, according to police reports. The perpetrators were tried and convicted.

“We are in a situation of war,” said Roger Cukierman, president of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France, or CRIF, an umbrella group representing France’s Jewish organizations.

The French government has said on many occasions that it will do all it can to protect the country’s Jews. Asked if violence against Jews is on the rise in France, a spokeswoman for President François Hollande’s office said that the “fight against anti-Semitism is a permanent engagement.”

As part of its response to the killings at the kosher store, the French government appointed a special official in charge of Jewish security and deployed 4,700 troops to guard 717 Jewish sites across the country. In Sarcelles, mothers now push their prams into the Jewish crèche past three policemen standing ready with rifles.

Ms. Bettach said she appreciates what the government is doing now, with armed troops staying overnight in sleeping bags at the Jewish school attended by her children, aged 7 and 1. “But we know they will not stay there forever,” she added. “And once they go, what will we do then?”

Nearly four million people demonstrated in France against last week’s attacks, in which Amedy Coulibaly, a follower of Islamic State, killed four people at Hyper Cacher and killed a policewoman, and brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi, followers of al Qaeda in Yemen, gunned down 12 people at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine.

Muslim community leaders in France have condemned the attacks. “The feeling of the French Muslims is shame and fear,” said Slimane Nadour, head of communications at the Grand Mosque of Paris. “Shame because people could commit those crimes in the name of Islam, and fear because we feel that our community is being blamed for the actions of a small minority of extremists commanded from overseas.”

Asked whether the French Jews have a reason to be increasingly afraid, Mr. Nadour said: “Everyone in France, including the Muslims, is afraid of the radicals. Muslims themselves are the biggest target of radical Islamist terrorism.”
Many French Jews say the level of public outrage was relatively muted after the 2012 killings in Toulouse.

“Even if the French are against anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic attacks don’t provoke the same display of emotion due to their repetition, it gets trivialized,” said Maurice Lévy, chief executive of French advertising company Publicis Groupe SA . “We have to fight against this trivialization.”

At the end of the 18th century, revolutionary France removed Medieval restrictions against its Jews and led the push to give equal rights to long-oppressed Jewish communities across the continent. Many of its Jews prided themselves on assimilating into the mainstream. A Jewish prime minister governed France in the years before the outbreak of World War II.

About a quarter of France’s prewar Jewish population of around 300,000 perished in the Holocaust, killed by the Nazis and their French collaborators, according to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and research center in Jerusalem.

Then, the numbers started growing again, thanks to the postwar influx from North Africa. These newcomers from North Africa were often more religious than France’s established Jewish communities, sparking a boom in the creation of Jewish schools, kosher restaurants and places of worship—turning France into the center of Jewish life in Europe.

When you reach that high, you cannot envisage for yourself or your children the future of Jews who have to live in hiding,” said Michel Gurfinkiel, head of the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute, a Paris think tank, and a member of the board of governors of the union of French synagogues.

Over the past decade, however, the country’s Jews increasingly began feeling threats from a new direction—targeted by Muslim militants angered by Israel’s actions in the Middle East.

There were similar attacks in the past, such as a 1982 bombing that killed six people in a Jewish restaurant in the Marais district of Paris. Those, however, were mostly perpetrated by Palestinian terrorist groups.

By contrast, the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 spurred a wave of anti-Semitic violence by France’s Muslim youths. That wave has yet to abate, with spikes closely tied to events in the Middle East, according to the Jewish Community Security Service.

The 423 reported anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2013 included 49 acts of “physical violence” and 152 incidents of insults or verbal threats and gestures, according to the service’s report. This means that in 2013, 40% of racist violence in France targeted Jews, who represent less than 1% of the French population, the report said. Many more incidents just don't get reported, Jewish organizations said.

Delphine Sultan said her daughter decided to leave for Israel when some fellow students at her university south of Paris refused to observe a minute of silence for the Toulouse victims. “She came home in shock and said: ‘I don’t have a future here,’ ” said Ms. Sultan, a 48-year-old Parisian of Algerian-Tunisian origin.

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For Jews in France, plus ca change