Sunday, October 20, 2019

A piyyut for Simhat Torah: Mi Pi'el

The festival of Succot comes to a climax with Simhat Torah, which celebrates the end of the reading cycle of the Torah. Mi Pi'el is a popular Sephardi piyyut which has also become popular in Ashenazi communities and is also sung on Shabbat.

Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael.
 Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael. 
 Ein Adir ka'Ad_ai, V'ein Baruch k'ven Amram.

Ein G'dolah ka'Torah, V'ein Dorsha k'Yisrael.
 Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael. 
Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael. 
 Ein Hadur ka'Ad_ai, V'ein Vatik k'ven Amram.

Ein Zaca'ah ka'Torah, V'ein Homda k'Yisrael.
 Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael. 
Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael.

Ein Tahor ka'Ad_ai, V'ein Yashar k'ven Amram.
Ein K'vudah ka'Torah, V'ein Lomda k'Yisrael.
 Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael. 
Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael. 

 Ein Melech ka'Ad_ai, V'ein Navi k'ven Amram.
Ein S'mucha ka'Torah, V'ein Ozra k'Yisrael.
 Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael.
 Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael. 

 Ein Podeh ka'Ad_ai, V'ein Tzadik k'ven Amram. Ein K'doshah ka'Torah, V'ein Rohasha k'Yisrael. Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael. 
Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael.

Ein Shomer ka'Ad_ai, V'ein Shalem k'ven Amram. Ein T'mimah ka'Torah, V'ein Tomcha k'Yisrael. Mipi El, Mipi El, Y'vorach Yisrael.

Stained glass windows at the Adly syngogue.

 To listen to Mi Pi'el as sung in the Adly synagogue Cairo in 2006, click here.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The festival of Succot brings the first rains

Succot is the festival where Jews are enjoined to live in structures open to the sky to recall the forty years which the Children of Israel spent in the desert before being allowed to enter the Promised Land. On the last day of the festival, Shemini Hag Atseret, Jews pray for rain.

But even the Muslims of Iraq were aware of this Jewish festival, which was associated with the first rain of the season. In fact some called it El Arazeel al Yehud.

EL Arazeel al-Yahud by Ala Atar. As a child in Iraq he recalls his mother using the expression 'Arazeel al Yahud ' to describe a heavy rainfall (عرازيل اليهود)

A friend remembers how, each year, her family would erect a succah with four upright wooden beams in the middle of the garden in Baghdad. The walls consisted of date palm leaves tied at the top and base to horizontal beams. Pomegranates and oranges hung from the roof. The roof had a trellis, but it too was bedecked with palm leaves. The whole was decorated with coloured lights. My friend remembers there was a large table in the centre and divans on three sides of the succah so that the family could sleep there.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Palestinian Journalist: 'help the Jews return to Arab countries'

MEMRI reports that in a two-part article in the Palestinian Authority (PA) daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, journalist Muwaffaq Matar called to adopt an idea presented by Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas in a booklet from 1982, titled "We Need an Arab Keren Hayesod." See my comment below. (With thanks: Lily)

Mahmoud Abbas

In this 14-page booklet, 'Abbas reviewed the activity of the Zionist movement after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, with emphasis on the Keren Hayesod organization, which was established in 1920 to raise funds for encouraging Jewish immigration to Palestine and consolidating the Jewish settlement there. 'Abbas concluded the booklet by stating that Keren Hayesod had served its purpose and that Israel no longer had any use for it. However, he advocated establishing an "Arab Keren Hayesod" that would help Jews leave Israel.

He wrote that the Zionist movement had lured the Jews to Palestine with lies and false promises, and that their lives there have been nothing but "pain, difficulty, anxiety and loss"; therefore, many of them now wished to flee Israel, and helping them do so would benefit both them and the Palestinian cause. After summarizing 'Abbas's arguments in the booklet, journalist Muwaffaq Matar writes that the Zionist Movement deliberately pushed Jews to leave their countries of origin and emigrate to Palestine by drumming up fear of antisemitism, and also by initiating terrorist actions against Jews around the world.

The greatest victims of its activity, he said, were not only the Palestinians but also the Eastern or Sephardi Jews, i.e., the Jews originating in Arab countries, whom he calls "Jewish Arabs." According to him, the Ashkenazi Jews, i.e., Jews of European origin, took over Israel's state institutions and positions of power, while using the Eastern Jews as pawns and settling them in Israel's border regions to serve as cannon fodder in the conflict with the Arabs.

Consequently, these Jews are now disillusioned with Zionism and would be happy to flee the state of Israel. The uprooting of the Jews from the Arab countries, he adds, was the most dangerous plot in the history of mankind, second only to the extermination of the native Americans. Matar claims that the Eastern Jews have remained devoted to their Arab culture and heritage and yearn to return to their Arab countries of origin. It therefore behooves the Arabs to liberate them from "the shackles of the racist imperialist state [of Israel]" by helping them to realize this hope.

My comment: The Palestinians have long realised that their 'right to return' demand looks pretty shaky unless they can neutralise the claims of Jews from Arab countries.  Abbas first wrote his proposal to facilitate the return of Jews to Arab countries after a series of offers made by Arab countries in the 1970s inviting Jews to return. The uptake was negligible because the offers were made on the basis of several false assumptions - that the Zionists caused the Jews to flee, that Arab and Muslim antisemitism did not exist, and that Mizrahi Jews are more attached to Arab culture and heritage than they are to Israel. In spite of a resurgence in interest in Arab culture,  Jews from Arab and Muslim lands are Israeli patriots and have no illusions about the antisemitism that drove them out.

Read article in full

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Syrian Jews race to 'restore' Great Synagogue of Aleppo

The US organisation Sephardic Heritage Museum is leading a project to 'restore' the Great synagogue in Aleppo, Syria. One of the leaders of the community, Joseph Sitt, has urged the community to help advance the work on the roof and walls  before the winter sets in. There are no Jews living in Aleppo and only a handful in Damascus.

The Great Synagoue in Aleppo as it was in 2008

A recent photo allegedly testifies  to  extensive destruction

A temporary roof has been erected to protect the graves of prominent Aleppan rabbis and community notables 

 Photos on the recent newsletter show the Great Synagogue in 2008 and the alleged destruction following the Syrian civil war. It is not known if the Sephardic Heritage Museum is in consultation with experts.

Joseph Sitt traces the history of the synagogue in  his Succot newsletter: "One of the recent initiatives of the Sephardic Heritage Museum has been to oversee and fund the restoration of the Great Synagogue of Aleppo. According to legend, the foundation for this holy place of worship was constructed by King David's General, Joab Ben Zeruyah (circa 950 BCE) after he conquered the city. Visitors throughout the centuries were impressed by its beauty. An Italian nobleman, Pietro della Valle, who visited the synagogue on August 23, 1625, writes, “The synagogue of the Jews of Aleppo ... is known for its beauty and antiquity."

"For 3,000 years this synagogue has been a silent witness to our illustrious community's steady growth, yet ultimately has been left standing alone as our entire community of over 25,000  emigrated from the area over the course of the past century.

"Unfortunately the synagogue was severely damaged in a 1947 riot, but rebuilt again by Murad Guindi, Albert Nakash and Jack Chakalo in the 1980's.

"Sadly the recent civil war in Syria  has caused the destruction of the synagogue once again.
As the weather grows cold and wet in the winter months, we are racing against the clock to restore a proper roof and walls of the Eastern portion of the synagogue. This section is the location in which the newly arrived Spanish Jews prayed in the 1500’s and the area that houses the cave of Eliyahu Hanavi.

"This area also protects the graves of our ancestors and many great rabbis of Aleppo, some dating back 2500 years ago."

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Assimilation did not save last Camondo from Auschwitz

There are no heirs left to the Camondo name, but the tragedy of this Ottoman banking family transplanted to a splendid villa on the rue Monceau in Paris, whose last assimilated descendant Beatrice and her family were murdered in Auschwitz, has a lesson for today, claimed Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt in his Rosh Hashana sermon. Here it is reproduced in Medium magazine: (with thanks: Lily)

Walk into the home, and find yourself facing a grand sweeping staircase, then a magnificent dining room overlooking manicured gardens. It’s a dizzying experience: The furniture, the paintings, the porcelain. Count Moise De Camondo, heir to a vast Jewish banking fortune, amassed one of the greatest collections of French artistry of the 18th century, including a table covered by petrified wood that once belonged to Marie Antoinette and silverware commissioned by the Empress of Russia Catherine the Great. Moise and his cousin Isaac were early supporters of the French Impressionists, including Manet, Cezanne, Monet and Degas (even though he was an ardent anti-Semite). Isaac donated his collection to the Louvre (the museum curators were at first “horrified” by the radical artwork, and locked the paintings away).

The Camondo brothers were board members of the Louvre; Moise hosted the museum’s board meetings around his dining room tables on Rue De Monceau. If that does not sufficiently describe Moise’s social status — in 1891, Moise married Irene Cahen d’Anvers, daughter of Louis Cahen d’Anvers, one of Europe’s wealthiest Jewish bankers and owner of the bank today known as BNP Paribas. The Cahan d’Anvers family had a tradition that they are descendants of King David. Irene was immortalized by Renoir, who was commissioned to draw her in 1880, in a painting titled “Little Irene”.

'Little Irene' by Renoir: Moise de Camondo married the Jewish banking heiress Irene Cahen d"Anvers

But as we walked through this palace, I did not see not one mezuzah, menorah, kiddush cup, Shabbat candles…. Our curiosity was growing by the minute — who were these Camondos, really? Abraham Salomon managed to become a leading financier in the Ottoman Empire, earning the name ׳the Rothschild of the East’. He became an advisor and confidant of the Grand Viziers, Sultan Abdulmecid I and Sultan Abdulaziz. He helped finance the Crimean War, and was essential in helping the Ottomans implement the tanzimat reforms that were supposed to modernize, consolidate and strengthen their empire.

Abraham Salomon was knighted by Emperor Franz Joseph, and later attended his wedding in Vienna in 1854. After the reunification of Italy, in recognition of his philanthropy to various Venetian causes, King Victor Emmanuel II conferred upon him the title Count on the 28 of April 1867, with the privilege of transmitting it in perpetuity. ; But Abraham understood that being the wealthiest of the 800,000 Jews living in the Ottoman Empire was not merely a privilege — it was a responsibility.

Abraham Salomon de Camondo

He served almost continuously as the president of its Consistoire since its founding. He built Jewish day schools, hospitals, and welfare organizations especially for the impoverished Jews living in the Peri Pasha neighborhood in Istanbul. He even got into a major fight with ultra-Orthodox rabbis because of his support of the building of Alliance Jewish day schools that intended to teach Turkish and French in addition to tradition. They feared the assimilation that may follow. (Every great Jewish leader has to get into a fight with rabbis at some point in their career.) Abraham eventually opened his own synagogue. In 1840, during the Damascus blood libel which accused 13 prominent members of the Jewish community for murdering a Christian child for his blood — Abraham Salomon hosted Sir Moses Montefiore and helped persuade Sultan Abdulmecid I in Constantinople, to issue a firman (edict) on 6 November 1840 to declare the libel as slander against Jews and to be prohibited throughout the Ottoman Empire.

Abraham’s only son Raphael died young, leaving his two sons Abraham Bechor and Nissim. The grandsons joined the family business — which by then had helped finance the Suez Canal — and expanded their grandfather’s banking and real estate activities to Paris in 1868, relocating the bank to Rue Lafayette. The brothers bought adjoining homes 61 and 63 on Rue de Monceau.

They built the home to include a family chapel that was adorned with their grandfather’s Judaica they brought from Constantinople, a collection which included Torah crowns, menorahs, yads, and even a Torah scroll with the inscription: “This case and its Torah scroll belong to the famed, esteemed, superb, lordly, influential, Prince of Israel, R. Senor Abraham of the Camondo lineage; may G-d protect him; may the Lord grant him the privilege of fulfilling all the commandments of the Torah, Amen, year 5620 of the Creation.” (1860)

Read article in full

Monday, October 14, 2019

Jews celebrate the Festival of Succot

With thanks: Lisette

'The four species' used at Succot: a reminder of the agricutural significance of the festival

Today Jews are celebrating the festival of Tabernacles, or Succot.

The holiday lasts seven days in Israel and eight in the diaspora. The first day (and second day in the diaspora) is a Shabbat-like , when certain work is permitted. The festival is closed with another Shabbat-like holiday called Shemini Atzeret (one day in Israel, two days in the diaspora, where the second day is called Simchat Torah).

 A sukkah is the name of the temporary dwelling in which farmers would live during harvesting, a fact connecting to the agricultural significance of the holiday stressed by the Book of Exodus. As stated in Leviticus, it is also intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Throughout the holiday, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and many people sleep there as well.

For video of an Iraqi piyut, or liturgical song, for Succot,  click here

More about Succot

Friday, October 11, 2019

Halle shooting reminds Tunisian Jews of a darker past

The German city of Halle was the scene of a terrorist attack over Yom Kippur on Wednesday  9 October  2019 which claimed two lives. But the city conjures up dark wartime associations for Tunisian Jewry - as academic, writer and journalist Jean-Pierre Allali reminds us.

Chancellor Angela Merkel joins a vigil for the victims of the Yom Kippur shooting in Halle

It was in Halle that three Jews from Tunisia,  Joseph Scemla and his two sons, Gilbert and Jean, were beheaded. Tunisia had been occupied for six months by the Germans (from 23 November 1942 to 7 May 1943). Fierce opponents of Nazism, the Scemlas had decided to join the 2nd Armoured Division of General Leclerc's army.

They made the fatal mistake of trusting one Hassan Ferjani, who gave them away to the Nazis.  Arrested on 10 March 1943, the three men were first imprisoned in Tunis, then in Berlin before being deported to Dachau. Judged by a military court, they were sentenced to death for espionage.The three Scemlas of Tunis were beheaded in Halle. The father was forced to attend the execution of his two sons.

As a student of mathematics in Tunis, I had a friend, Frédéric Gasquet. I  knew he was the son of Gilbert Scemla. His mother, a Jewess of Russian origin, Lila Vilenkine, respecting the last wishes of her husband, had married Louis Gasquet who adopted the young Frédéric and gave him his name. When Frédéric reached adulthood, he threw himself into the search for the truth about the fate of the three Scemlas. I did my best to help him by  sharing any information I had.  At the end of his quest, that led him to visit Halle several times, he published a book whose title translates from the French as: " My father's letter: A family from Tunis in Nazi  hell" (Introduction by Serge Klarsfeld, Feline Editions 2006).

Jean-Pierre Allali: helped research the fate of the Scemlas

In this book, he thanks me me for my advice and information. With much perseverance, Frédéric Gasquet found the graves of Joseph and Jean Scemla at Stutthof camp. The  body of Gilbert Scemla was used by the Medical Institute of Halle and  had been buried in a common grave. After the liberation,  a French Military Court sentenced  Hassan Ferjani  to death and forced labour. This was commuted to twenty years in prison. He ended up being pardoned, shortly after Tunisia gained its independence, by president Habib Bourguiba. I myself told the tragedy of the Scemlas in my book whose title translates from French as "The Jews of Tunisia under the German boot" (Editions Glyph Glyph 2014. Introduction by Elie Wiesel).

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Protest new cultural US agreements with Yemen and Morocco

The organisation JIMENA is  urging  the public to comment on two agreements to be signed imminently between the US and Yemen and Morocco. While ostensibly designed to protect a nation's cultural heritage from looting and smuggling, these agreements, known as MOUs, can give legitimacy to the state confiscation of Jewish property and heritage such as Torah scrolls.

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of State will meet on October 29th – 30th, 2019 to review MOU requests from Yemen and Morocco.The public has just two weeks to submit their comments.

The Yemeni capital, Sana'a

  The signing of the MOUs is done under the auspices of The Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). This law provides for the US to enter into agreements with foreign nations to temporarily restrict the import of “significant” cultural items as part of a multi-nation effort to deter looting of ancient archeological sites.

Over time the State Department has broadened the scope of the law to provide for “near permanent” bans on the import of ALL cultural items to the present time. The MOUs recognize those nation’s claims and seizures of all cultural property, including the personal property of individuals and the communal property of religious and ethnic groups persecuted and expelled from these countries.

The MOUs are based on a flawed premise – that Jewish cultural property constitutes the national heritage of Arab governments. In fact, under the color of law, Jewish cultural property in Arab countries was expropriated from private homes, schools, and synagogues. It is the heritage and patrimony of the Jewish people. Arab governments have done little to preserve the remnants or memory of Jewish history in the countries and verified reports describe Jewish synagogues, pilgrimage sites, homes, and cemeteries being looted and destroyed. Jewish holy sites throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been appropriated and many demolished.

The Cultural Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is the governing body responsible for signing MOU agreements.The committee will meet on October 29th – 30th, 2019 to review MOU requests from Yemen and Morocco.

The public may participate by submitting comments virtually, by submitting written comments and/or by participating in person.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Moshe Habusha leads Yom Kippur eve prayers

Around 100,000 people thronged the western wall plaza on the eve of Yom Kippur for Selichot (repentance) prayers this year (via The Jerusalem Post). The fast of Yom Kippur, which begins tonight, is the culmination of a month of Selichot and the most solemn day of the year.

It has become a Jerusalem tradition for Moshe Habusha of the Ades synagogue to lead these prayers (56 minutes into the video). Habusha is one of the most distinguished hazzanim and paytanim of the Sephardic-Jerusalem school to emerge from the Ades synagogue, which was founded in the 19th century by Jews from Aleppo.

 Habusha is famous for borrowing popular Arab tunes - especially Egyptian melodies - and reciting religious lyrics to them.

 He was born in Jerusalem in 1962 and served as the hazzan (cantor) for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the late  Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel. Habusha’s grandfather was the famous paytan from Baghdad Gorgi Yair, who officiated as cantor in Jerusalem and from whom Habusha absorbed music of the foundations of liturgical music. He performs across Israel and abroad.


  More about Moshe Habusha
Wishing all those who are observing Yom Kippur Well over the Fast

Monday, October 07, 2019

Iraqi Jew who remained hidden under Saddam's regime

This extraordinary JTA story by Ben Sales about a Jew who recently left Iraq, Ceen Gabbai, has been widely disseminated in the Jewish media. It has met with scepticism from Iraqi Jews, who had never heard of her and say she was never part of the small Jewish community. Sources close to Point of No Return tell us that Ceen is the daughter of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother. They divorced long ago and she was brought up by her mother. While still in Iraq, she contacted a rabbi in New York to help her, ended up leaving Iraq and marrying him, and now lives in Brooklyn as an orthodox Jew.

Ceen Gabbai: sought asylum in the US

NEW YORK (JTA) — When Ceen Gabbai argued with her first-grade teacher about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, she didn’t realize how big of a risk she was taking.

 The year was 2000 and students across the world held strong opinions about the Second Intifada, an outbreak of violence that claimed thousands of lives and began in September of that year.

But Gabbai’s situation was different: She was one of the few Jewish students in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Standing up for Israel in a Baghdad elementary school was not an advisable move.

 “Saddam was all crazy about Palestine,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I go to school and they’re talking about what a horrible thing that is and how Israel was horrible. And I go and I’m like, ‘I think that’s a lie.’ Gabbai was called to the school office, took a letter home to her mother and her parents had a meeting with the principal.

Soon after they moved homes and she switched schools.

 Following the episode, her parents did not talk with her about Israel or Judaism. Gabbai has had a dangerous life. Born a Jew under an Iraqi dictatorship, she endured constant anti-Semitism from a young age, then survived the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the years of war that followed.

 In 2015, Gabbai received asylum in the United States. She is now living in an Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, raising a child, teaching elementary school and writing children’s literature.

 She does not look back fondly on the hardships she endured, but feels they taught her to persevere no matter the situation.

Read article in full

Sunday, October 06, 2019

The ruthless Ottoman suppression of three 'dhimmi' peoples

Important article in the Tel Aviv Review of Books by Shmuel Trigano pointing to the essential Islamic context behind the violent suppression by Ottoman sultans of the nascent nationalism of three dhimmi peoples - Greeks, Armenians and Jews - in the 19th and 20th centuries. Professor Trigano's book 'Juifs en terre d'Islam' was recently published in Hebrew. 

Caricature of Sultan Abdul Hamid as a 'first class' butcher following the Ottoman  massacres of Armenians in the late 19th century 

Succumbing to the pressure of the European Christian powers, the Ottoman Empire was forced to change the status of dhimmis . The Tanzimat reforms of 1839, enacted by Sultan Abdul Mejid, followed by the edict of Hatt-I humayun of 1856, enshrined the principle of equality for all subjects of the empire irrespective of their religion. However, it preserved the structure of communities or “nations” , by changing their administrative function and keeping the hierarchy intact (with the Greeks, Armenians and Jews at the very bottom).

If these reforms had in effect undermined the established order of the communities and emancipated their members, it was a traumatic insult for the Muslims whose millet had lost its privileged status, making it one nation among many— an insult compounded by the fact that the reforms were imposed by Christian powers. For the Muslims, this evolution was nothing short of the complete capitulation of Islam and the abandonment of its legitimacy. Yaron Harel has shown that in Syria and Lebanon, the Tanzimat reforms changed nothing regarding the segregation of the communities across all areas of everyday life.

 In fact, before the Tanzimat the longing for independence among the dhimmi peoples had already begun with Greece’s 1822 War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.  Greece’s victory showed that Independence seemed within reach. Though generally forgotten, Zionism began in the Turkish Balkans in Sarajevo with Yehuda Alkalai and not in Europe with Herzl. Inspired by the Greeks, Alkalai developed an extensive theory of Jewish sovereignty and travelled throughout Europe and the Middle East to spread his ideas. Herzl heard of him in Vienna.

After the Greeks and the Jews it was the turn of the Armenians. The national awakening of these three dhimmi people led to the Arab nationalist movement and also the first Islamic repression. The Armenians, under the impetus of the movement of nationalities, committed an act of rebellion against the dhimmi by fighting for national autonomy. After several rebellions in the Caucasus, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation was established in 1890 in Tiflis, and advocated an armed struggle for liberty.

In 1893, Armenian nationalists made public appeals across Armenian territories to rise up against the Sultan’s oppression. A violent response ensued: several massacres were carried out by the Ottomans in 1894-5, in Sason, Constantinople, Trebizond and other places. The death toll stood at somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 people. Often overlooked is the Jihadi nature of these massacres: not only in their motivation and their legitimation, but also in the nature of the acts themselves and the fact that the surviving women and children (some 150,000) were forcibly converted to Islam. The same pattern was to reappear in the second wave of genocide, this time instigated by the Young Turks, who had toppled Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1908.

 The transition from a caliphal regime founded on religion to a Turkish state centered on the nation, doing away with the Ottoman system of power, cultivated hopes of liberty among the nations of the empire. But this was not to be the case; here too, the Armenian case comes in handy in highlighting the prevalent role played by Islam in modern nationalism in the Turkey—a Muslim, albeit not an Arab, state.

The peaks of Armenian oppression came about against markedly different backdrops but were eventually similar in essence. The massacres of the late nineteenth century were the doing of an imperial power bent on suppressing any attempt to question its authority, religious in effect, which applied to the entire Ummah and derived its power from the and the religious sentiments of its subjects.

 Hit with the reforms, the massacres provided an outlet for their resentment. For the Young Turks, it was the Turkish nation and its ethnicity—their Turkishness—in the spirit of the nationalist movements that consecrated the ethnic homogeneity of the emergent nations, then transformed into a “rationally” thought out and systematically implemented political plan.

 In this respect, the Armenian massacre of 1915-1916, with its 1.2 million victims, paved the way for the genocides of the twentieth century. This plan was later fully achieved via population swaps between Greece and Turkey (1,750,000 displaced persons on both sides). Between 1923 and 1930, 1,250,000 Greek Christians were banished from Turkey, while a smaller number of Turks left Greece for the motherland.

Read article in full

Friday, October 04, 2019

Yemenites who settled in London: a failed experiment?

As documented at the time by Point of No Return, some 20 families from Yemen settled in the ultra-orthodox district of Stamford Hill in London after 2010. Persuaded not to flee to Israel by the anti-Zionist Satmar sect, their integration has been fraught with trouble. As well as the usual difficulties experienced by all immigrants, the Yemenites faced racism and resistance to their integration into the Satmar community. One, Avi Karni, turned to crime. Ben Weich of the Jewish Chronicle has the story:

Avi Karni: convicted of sexual crimes

 Sixteen years ago, Avi Karni, then an infant, was brought to the UK by his Jewish Yemenite family, who settled in the Charedi neighbourhood of Stamford Hill, in east London.

 They had come from Monsey, New York, where his family had lived among the Chasidic community after being lured from Yemen’s largest city, Sana’a, by Satmar missionaries in 1993. The Karnis were one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Yemenite families who were convinced by Satmar Chasidim to eschew emigration to Israel, where they would have received support from the state as new olim, to instead live among Ashkenazi Charedim in New York and London.

 Now 21, Karni — who sometimes goes by his birth name, Abraham Ibrahim — has been sentenced to seven and a half years in jail after being convicted of nine counts of sexual offences against young girls he met through social media.

Karni’s crimes have now cast fresh attention on these Yemenites, many of whom faced great hardships as they struggled to adapt not only to the language and culture of their new countries, but also to the strict and mysterious social mores of the Satmar.

Read article in full

Britain to admit 200 Yemenite families after all

Yemeni families flee persecution for Stamford Hill

Thursday, October 03, 2019

132,000 Sephardi Jews apply for Spanish citizenship

The deadline has expired for Sephardi Jews applying for Spanish citizenship: 132,000 applications have been received, mainly from Jews living in Latin America, AFP reports via Israel National News. The Portuguese law granting citizenship to Sephardi Jews is open-ended. So far, 10,000 applications have been approved (roughly a third).

Under the legislation, those able to prove their Jewish heritage and their "special connection" to Spain, were able to apply for citizenship, with the justice ministry saying it received 132,226


More than half of them were filed in the past month when the ministry received some 72,000 applications.

 The vast majority came from Latin American countries, with around 20,000 from Mexico, followed by another 15,000 from Venezuela and 14,000 from Colombia, the ministry said, without giving exact figures.

 More than 4,000 applications came from Argentine Jews and around 3,000 from those living in Israel. So far, only 6,000 people have been granted citizenship, given the long and complex process involved.

 Read article in full

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Writer and scholar Shimon Ballas dies

 The death in Israel has been announced, after a long battle with Alzheimer's, of the prize-winning writer and scholar Shimon Ballas, 89.

 Shimon Ballas was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1930, and immigrated to Israel in 1951. He published stories and essays in the local Arab press for several years. Later, he spent four years in Paris, where he received his PhD from the Sorbonne. Ballas  taught Arabic literature at Haifa University and latterly divided his time between Tel Aviv and Paris, where he did most of his writing.

The author of 15 books, Ballas began his writing career in Arabic. He published his first novel in Hebrew in 1964 and had been writing fiction and essays ever since. He was awarded the Prime Minister`s Prize for Literature twice (1978, 1993) and the President`s Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2006).

Perhaps he is best known for Ma'abara, an account of the transit camp experiences of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. 

Read Y-net article in full (Hebrew)


Rosh Hashana 1961: When Jews rioted against Muslims

Rosh Hashana 1961 saw an outbreak of violence in the Algerian city of Oran where Muslims were the main victims. By the time  calm was restored, a Jewish man and three Muslims had been killed and scores were injured, including police and soldiers. Tensions were then building between the communities as the Algerian war raged. But in his paper Joshua Schreier blames colonialism for creating a chasm between Jews and Muslims, and the Arab-Israeli conflict for poisoning hitherto 'harmonious' relations.

The Great Synagogue of Oran, now a mosque

Newspaper reports provide a detailed report of the events that took place over Rosh Hashana in 1961. On September 11, the first day of the two-day holiday, a Jewish barber named Henri Choukroun was taking a walk through the Jewish quarter of Oran. The second largest city in Algeria, Oran lies on on Mediterranean coast, about 350 km south-west of Algiers, and it was then home to about 30,000 Jews, about 7.5 percent of the city's population.

Unlike the colons, Jews were descendants of the inhabitants of Algeria at the time of the (Arab) conquest. As he strolled, Choukroun held his nine-month-old infant on one arm and his four-year-old daughter on the other.

Read paper in full

The forgotten Jewish-Arab battle of Constantine, 1956

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Levana Zamir returns to Cairo for New Year celebrations

It was certainly one of the more unusual celebrations of the Jewish New Year: foreign diplomats and other distinguished guests gathered on 29 September in the Adly synagogue, Cairo, to hear 'prayers' led by Eden Goldberger, the wife of Thomas, the US Charge d'Affaires. 

Mrs Eden Goldberger addressing distinguished guests at the Rosh Hashana celebration in the Adly synagogue, Cairo

The Jewish community in Cairo has not had formal services since the death in 2013 of Carmen Weinstein, former community president.  Now led by Magda Haroun, it  comprises just five elderly women.

This year, the event was all the more remarkable for the presence of one guest: Levana Zamir, president of the organisation representing Jews from Egypt in Israel, and the Israeli umbrella group representing associations of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries.

Levana Zamir was given a warm welcome as she attended the Adly synagogue with her daughter and grandchildren at the invitation of the Cairo Jewish Community and the Drop of Milk Association, which is currently cataloguing and restoring Jewish artefacts. She was also honoured with a tour of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria, which is being repaired by the Egyptian authorities at a cost of $5.6 million.

Levana Zamir with Mr Abdel Nabi, General manager of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue (left) and Roberto Marini, president of the Jewish Community of Alexandria. 

In a sense, Levana Zamir's visit represents a new beginning: Since taking over as head of Cairo's Jews, Magda Haroun has vowed not to have any dealings with 'Zionists'. Yet the two women were seen getting along famously.

Cairo-born Levana had not visited Egypt since 2008, when 45 Egyptian Jews from Israel were forced to cut short their 'roots' trip and cancel a conference after scaremongering by the Egyptian media that they were coming back to reclaim their property.

Since the signing of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty,  Levana Zamir had made nine trips to her country of birth. Roughly half the Jews expelled from Egypt now live in Israel.

Levana Zamir with Cairo community leader Magda Haroun: getting along famously? 

To see a video made by Keisar Zamir, Levana's grandson, recording the highlights of their trip, click here

Monday, September 30, 2019

Matti Friedman: US Jews do not understand Israel

It's always worthwhile listening to Matti Friedman, one of the foremost proponents of a new paradigm for understanding Israel as a 'Mizrahi Nation' - in terms of culture, religion and politics. The categories espoused by American Jews to understand Israel just do not fit, he says. Perhaps the most striking point he makes in this Tikva Fund podcast is that the project to destroy Israel is a long game, taking decades, if not centuries. Long ago,   Jews from Muslim lands understood that Muslims will never reconcile to the Jewish state.

Matti Friedman

 After the founding of the state, Israel absorbed a massive influx of Jews from Middle Eastern lands—Mizrahim—who came from a society and culture vastly different from that of their East European co-religionists.

These Jews are also part of the story of the Jewish state’s beginnings; today they represent over half of Israel’s Jewish population, profoundly shaping the culture, religion, and politics of 21st-century Israel. In 2014, author and journalist Matti Friedman penned an essay in Mosaic titled, “Mizrahi Nation,” in which he tells the story of these Jews from Arab lands and explains how one simply cannot understand contemporary Israel without understanding that it has been profoundly shaped by the Mizrahim.

Israel, Friedman argues, is a much more Middle Eastern country than many Jews in the West imagine it to be. In this podcast, Friedman joins Jonathan Silver to reflect on his essay. They discuss the long and remarkable history of Mizrahi Jews, how they have shaped the Jewish state, and how understanding their role in Israel’s past and present can give us a clearer picture of the nation’s future.

Listen to podcast in full 

More about Matti Friedman

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A piyut for Rosh Hashana: Adonai Shamati

 The words of this stirring psalm or piyut, Adonai Shmati,  sung on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, echo the verses of the Prophet Habbakuk 3:2. Here are various interpretations in the Sephardi style.

                                                     Lord, I have heard of your fame;

                                                   I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. 

                           Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known 

                                                             In wrath remember mercy.

This 'piyut'  is sung by Cantor Hagay Batzri

Here is a more upbeat version by Natan Levi and Haim Israel

This version is by an unknown singer

And here is a traditional Moroccan interpretation by Eyal Bitton

                              Happy New Year 5780!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Rosh Hashana in Baghdad, 1990s

Here is rare footage of a Rosh Hashana service in the Meir Tweg synagogue in Baghdad in the 1990s. By the time this video was taken there were some thirty Jews still living in the Iraqi capital. The service would have been conducted by ordinary members of the community who could read Hebrew. The last of these, Emad Levy, left in 2010.

The Meir Tweg was built in 1942. Of some fifty synagogues, it is the last synagogue standing in Baghdad.

There are no services held there today. The synagogue is almost permanently shut, as there is no longer a Jewish community in Baghdad. Indeed there are just five self-identifying Jews.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Foods you need for the New Year Seder

The Jewish New Year 5780 begins  on Sunday evening with blessings for a sweet New Year. Jews of Sephardi and Mizrahi origin will do more than eat apple and honey: they will recite blessings over a whole range of different foods.

Courtesy of Chabad, via JIMENA, here is what you need for a typical Sephardi seder, together with the blessings recited for each food. Note that the foods can vary from table to table: for instance, French beans are often eaten instead of white beans. Spinach replaces beetroot (in Hebrew selek) because the Arabic word for it is Selk. On both nights of Rosh Hashanah, a number of foods are eaten to symbolize our prayers and hopes for a sweet new year. Many of these foods were specifically chosen because their Hebrew names are related to other Hebrew words that convey our wishes for the coming year. An accompanying prayer is recited, expressing our wishes inherent in these words and foods. Recite each prayer while holding the particular food in the right hand, immediately before it is eaten.
Before Rosh Hashanah, gather the following items:
  • Dates
  • Small light colored beans
  • Leeks
  • Beets
  • Gourd
  • Pomegranate
  • Apple (cooked in sugar) and honey
  • Head of a ram (or a fish)
After chanting kiddush, washing, and breaking bread, the following foods are eaten:
Dates. Related to the word תם—to end.
Take a date and recite:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.
After eating the date, take another one and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּתַּמּוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us.
Small beans. Related to the words, רב—many, and לב—heart.
(The following blessing over vegetables is only recited if one has not recited the blessing over bread:3
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.)
Take some white beans and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּרְבּוּ זָכִיּוֹתֵינוּ וּתְלַבְּבֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that our merits shall increase and that You hearten us.
Leek. Related to the word כרת—to cut.
Take a leek and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּכָּרְתוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters, and those who wish evil upon us shall be cut down.
Beets. Related to the word סלק—to depart.
Take a beet and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּסְתַּלְּקוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us shall depart.
Gourd. Related to the word קרע—to rip apart, and also קרא—to announce.
Take a gourd and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתִּקְרַע רוֹעַ גְּזַר דִּינֵנוּ, וְיִקָּרְאוּ לְפָנֶיךָ זָכִיּוֹתֵינוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that the evil of our verdicts be ripped, and that our merits be announced before you.
Take the pomegranate and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה מְלֵאִים מִצְוֹת כָּרִמּוֹן
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that we be filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate [is filled with seeds].
תפוח בדבש
Apple and Honey.
Dip an apple in honey – some have the custom of using an apple cooked with sugar – and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה כַּדְּבָשׁ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that You renew for us a year good and sweet like honey.
ראש כבש
Ram's Head (or the head of another kosher animal or fish4).
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה לְרֹאשׁ וְלֹא לְזָנָב
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that we be a head and not a tail.
(The following is added only over the head of a ram:
וְתִזְכֹּר לָנוּ עֲקֵדָתוֹ וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל יִצְחָק אָבִינוּ בֶּן אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עַלֵיהֶם הַשָּׁלוֹם
…And You shall remember for us the binding and the ram of our forefather Isaac, the son of our forefather Abraham, peace be onto them.)

Wishing all readers who are celebrating the Jewish New Year                                              שנה טובה!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Dr Jack Shabi, father of modern Iraqi psychiatry

Jews in Iraq contributed beyond their numbers to modernity in the 20th century. Together with the Christian minority, Jews filled a shortage of doctors. Later, quotas were introduced to limit their admittance to medical colleges.

As we heard from academic researcher Sarah Farhan at the Jews of Iraq conference: engagement with modernities on 16 - 18 September 2019, Jews comprised 40 percent of Iraqi doctors in the first half of the 20th century.

 One of the most eminent  was Dr Jack Aboudi Shabi(1908-1980), an  Iraqi doctor specialized in nervous and mental diseases (neurology).

Dr Shabi practised in his first floor surgery in Baghdad. So identified with the treatment of mental  illness was Dr Shabi that the expression 'send him to the first floor' became a common expression for 'the man (or woman) is crazy'.   

Born in Basra in a Jewish family, Dr Shabi was one of the first students to study at the Iraqi Royal Medical College (founded in 1927). His work has forever changed psychiatry in the country. He studied in Baghdad and London and subsequently with the famous Professor Hans Hoff of Vienna who lived in Baghdad during the Second World War. Dr. Shabi was for a time director of the Baghdad Mental Hospital and professor at the Royal College of Medicine. He left Baghdad in 1971 for London where he served as doctor in the Prisons Department.

His sister, Dr J Shabi, was also a doctor.

Portrait of Dr Jack Aboudi Shabi, father of modern Iraqi Psychiatry.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ayman Odeh has been pandering to Mizrahim

The news that the Arab Joint List has for the first time endorsed Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party as a potential Prime Minister, brings Arabs closer to power than ever. Perhaps  it comes as a surprise to learn that its leader, Ayman Odeh, has also made overtures to Mizrahi Jews in Israel.

Ayman Odeh (centre) celebrates the Arab Joint List's performance in the 17 September 2019 elections.

According to Wikipedia, Odeh has 'expressed strong support for increasing recognition of Mizrahi culture and Arab Jewish history in official Israeli and Palestinian discourses; in a widely cited speech to the Knesset plenum in July 2015, MK Odeh argued that the State of Israel has systematically discriminated against and suppressed the culture of Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab and Muslim lands in order to feed the idea of a natural separation between Jews and Arabs. He also argued that the large role played by Jews in forming historical and modern Arab culture (including famous Jews such as Rabbi David Buzaglo, who wrote Jewish religious poetry primarily in Arabic, and famous Jews who were popular in the Arab world in the mid-20th Century, such as Leila Murad), has been forgotten by Jews and Arabs alike due to the ideological elements of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the desire by Israel's elite to portray a Western image of Jews and of the country.'

Odeh called upon Jewish and Arab members of the Knesset alike to support a new Knesset committee (which he had joined as a member) lobbying for the re-emphasizing of the culture of Jews from Arab and Muslim lands. In that speech, Odeh summarized his position thus: "The culture of the Jews of Arab and Islamic countries is a shared Jewish and Arab culture. Because of this, the state has fought [against] it, and yet because of this [same reason], we must fight to strengthen it."

In a 2015 TV elections campaign debate,Odeh approached the leader of the Mizrahi religious party Shas, Aryeh Der‘i, in a call to form an alliance to fight poverty, given that their constituencies are similarly marginalized in society. But Der‘i declined to accept the offer.

Nevertheless, Odeh has been quoted as saying: "We represent those who are invisible in this country, and we give them a voice. We also bring a message of hope to all people, not just to the Arabs, but to the Jews, too".

What lies behind Odeh's pro-Mizrahi strategy? It seems that as a socialist he has absorbed the far left's 'narrative' that Mizrahim are 'Arab Jews' divided from their Arab 'brothers' by Zionism and the Ashkenazi establishment. But nostalgia for Leila Murad is not enough to bring Jews and Arabs together. An enormous political gulf separates Mizrahi Jews, who customarily vote for Rightwing parties, from Arabs in Israel. Few Jews, except for a minority of (Ashkenazi) farleft academics, would support the Joint List's anti-Zionist agenda, and to believe that a majority of Israeli Jews of Mizrahi background are 'marginalised' is not a view widely shared by mainstream opinion.

The bankruptcy of Mizrahi post-Zionism

Monday, September 23, 2019

Holocaust memorialisation in Morocco conceals a deeper angst

The bizarre incident of the rogue Marrakesh Holocaust memorial, built by an idiosyncratic German "guerilla-artist," and the heavy-handed destruction of the monument by the Moroccan  authorities, reveal a much larger angst about the meaning of memorializing the Holocaust and its politicization, claim Aomar Boum and Daniel Schroeter writing in Haaretz. The Marrakesh case is reminiscent of an earlier incident in Ashdod, Israel, in which a plaque praising the Moroccan wartime king Mohamed V for 'saving the Jews' from the Holocaust, became the object of controversy.

Clearly the government felt it had to act, once international attention was drawn to a freelance Holocaust memorial with neither official sanction nor the approval of the Moroccan Jewish community leaders, and was triggering loud opposition.

 But the Moroccan government's bulldozing of this rogue monument was not only about its unauthorized construction. It was also about controlling the narrative of the Holocaust in Morocco.

 For the Moroccan government today, the story of Mohammed V, protector of the roughly 240,00 Moroccan Jews in the then-French Protectorate, exemplifies Morocco’s open-mindedness and tolerance.

Praising Mohammed V’s heroic role defying Vichy to protect the Jews of Morocco is a sine qua non of any Holocaust commemoration in Morocco - and by all indication, this was Bienkowski’s crucial mistake.

 Furthermore, in a Morocco where same-sex sexual activity is a criminal offense, it is highly unlikely that commemorating of European LGBTQ victims could ever supported as a significant part of an agenda to educate Moroccan Muslims about the Holocaust.

 After the demolition of the memorial, Bienkowski launched new social media posts highlighting the history of North Africa's Vichy-era forced labor camps, declaring that "because foreign Jews died in Morocco, we need our Holocaust Memorial."

 Tweet by Oliver Bienkowski (Pixiehelper) highlighting the forced labor camps in Morocco. Some Jews were prisoners there.

Indeed, the French collaborationist Vichy government established a large network of penal, labor and internment camps in its African colonies and in North Africa. It incarcerated European political dissidents, foreign refugees, and Republican partisans of the Spanish Civil War -European Jewish refugees and Spanish Republicans - and in only a few cases, indigenous North African Muslims and Jews.

 For the monarchy in Morocco, the forced labor camps are not part of the official Holocaust narrative, since they had no connection to Mohammed V and his protection of Moroccan Jews.

 Angered by the demolition, Bienkowski decided therefore to go for the jugular – that protection of Jews that has gained mythic status. He posted on Facebook: "History needs places of memory and  no fairy tales…Mohammed V did not protect the Jews."

He denounced the wartime king for having issued anti-Jewish decrees expelling Jews from the public education system, forbidding them to engage in professions such as finance and media, and being forced to leave their homes to live in overcrowded Jewish quarters - or mellahs. On the Vichy regime's forced labor camps in Morocco, he wrote: "Morocco also has a Holocaust story. They call Bouarfa [the main camp] the Auschwitz of the desert."*

 Behind this probably soon-to-be-forgotten drama looms a much larger issue about the relationship between the Holocaust and North Africa and its politicization, all unfolding against a landscape of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, diplomacy and peacemaking, and ethnic identity politics. The very question of public memorials  connecting North Africa to the Holocaust highlights intensely sensitive, complex and sometimes contrasting feelings about historical memory and WWII among Muslims and Jews.

 Europe-centered Holocaust studies, educational centers and memorials have historically ignored the North African story. For many state and non-state actors in the Middle East and North Africa, the topic of the Holocaust is a historical taboo - since its telling is seen as providing ammunition against the Palestinian cause. But for Moroccan Muslims and for liberal Jews especially in America, anxious to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding, the story of the good Muslim ruler, Mohammed V, saving Jews during the Holocaust is a beacon of hope, amid the ongoing conflict between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East.

 For instance, Mohammed V serves as the symbol of Muslim-Jewish coexistence for a unique partnership between Kivunim, a New York-based gap-year program created by Peter Geffen, founder of the Upper West Side liberal Jewish Heschel School on the on New York, and Mimouna, a Moroccan Muslim student club founded a decade ago dedicated to understanding Morocco's Jewish heritage, and has also been at the forefront of promoting Holocaust education in the Arab world - and Morocco in particular.

  Read article in full

*Daniel Abraham, whose father was in the Bou Arfa labour camp, comments:

My father was incarcerated in Bou Arfa between the end of 1940 and June 1941. When discussing his experience there, he dismissed any thought of comparing it to the concentration camps of Easter Europe, and declared that Bou Arfa was "nothing at all like the German camps in Europe" - in other words he hadn't experienced the horror of the holocaust. I am surprised that Oliver Bienkowski writes that "they call Bouarfa the Auschwitz of the desert", especially as he must have read my father's statement on my website, on the same page where Bienkowski found the map of Bou Arfa he uses for his post. Further showing that Bou Arfa was NOT akin to Auschwitz, I also show a photo of three prisonners in the tent my father shared with them in that camp. The men look healthy, relaxed and smiing - a far cry from the skeletal prisonners of the Shoah. Keep in mind also that most of the people interned in Bou Arfa were not Jews but Spaniards and International volunteers who had fought in the 1936 Civil War for the Republicans. My father, a Jew, was interned there most likely because he held a Spanish passport and was suspected of being Republican fighter. While I cannot know what exactly happened in Bou Arfa for lack of direct personal experience, it is clear that comparing it to Auschwitz is certainly wrong and an exageration that would have been angrily rejected by my father without any doubt. As for Oliver Bienkowski, I don't know what his motivation is with this memorial, but I have serious doubts as to his knowledge on the history of the camps, and more disturbing, I question his dedication to the truth for not contacting me for more information and for being very selective on what he appropriated from my site. Jews suffered enough during WWII - there is no need to invent additional "sufferings" which cheapen what happened in the real Shoah.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Azerbaijan erects monument to Jewish war hero

The love affair continues between Azerbaijan and the Jews, as a monument is unveiled to an Azeri Jewish military hero, Albert Agarunov. But the Azeris' Armenian adversaries are not impressed, and the comments thread on this JNS News story is replete with insults from Armenian readers. 

On Dec. 8, 1991, Agarunov and  his driver, Agababa Huseynov, managed to disable nine Armenian tanks and two armored trucks.

During another skirmish, Agarunov managed to disable two tanks by a method called the “Jewish sandwich” by his comrades.

 He was wanted by the Armenians, who allegedly offered 5 million rublуs to catch him. In 1992, he voluntarily served in the Karabakh war; on May 8 of that year, he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.

He won awards from his country; a school in Baku is named after him; and in 2017, a memorial plaque was erected in front of his home.
Read article in full

Friday, September 20, 2019

Selihot prayers, sung Iranian-style

Earlier this month,journalist Karmel Melamed recorded this short extract from the Selihot (repentance) prayers. These are traditionally recited during the month of Ellul preceding Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

 In Part 1, Rabbi Malekan, an Iranian Los Angeles rabbi, sings in the Mizrahi style.

Click here for Part 1

Here Rabbi Malekan is joined by Ashkenazi Cantor Michael Stein of Temple Aliyah.

Click here for Part 2

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Moroccan article ridicules Israeli support for Amazighen

Morocco World News has been poohpooh-ing an article in The Times of Israel about an Israeli called Martha Retthig who is giving financial support to an Amazigh (Berber) called Mohamed.  The implication is that the Zionists are trying to subvert Morocco's quiet Atlas villages and to foster Amazigh nationalism which, it claims, only a small minority supports. In order to affirm Moroccan loyalty to the Palestinian cause, the article alleges that relations between Morocco and Israel are going through a rough patch. 

Mohamed’s village and his last name are not revealed because, the Israeli paper writes, his university teachers and friends—and even perhaps his neighbors—will surely harm him if they knew that he is pro-Israel or his family and education is sustained by Israeli generosity.

 “Some people here are crazy and I’m afraid for my safety. Please don’t use my pics or family name I beg you, because it’s serious here,” Mohamed  told the newspaper shortly before they ran the report.

The Berber hinterland in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco (Photo: Morocco World News)

 What is “serious,” the piece comments throughout, is both the unbearable lives of the village-dwelling Amazigh and the supposed Arab supremacy under which they live. They have been “Arabized” and “Islamized” and are denied access to Morocco’s most visible jobs and government positions, the kinds of promotion that bring political and economic clout.

 Rettig and Mohamed met on Facebook and the Israeli woman was immediately “touched” by his life story. But implied in the larger narrative of the story is a supposed historical affinity between Jews and Berbers. This is based on the claim that Islam and Arabs somehow constitute an existential threat to the survival of both peoples.

 According to Rettig, while Jews have relatively stood the challenge (mainly after the creation of the State of Israel), the article implied, Amazigh are still living under Arab religious and socio-political hegemony. The report claims that Amazigh identify with Israel’s fight for legitimacy, which they equal to their own long standing struggle against Arab supremacy.

 “There are huge natural resources, and the [Arab] leadership has all the control over it. They have not at any time invested in infrastructure for the Amazigh population,” Rettig told the Israeli newspaper.

“Many Amazigh have become so Arabized through an intentional move by the Arab leadership over the last 60 years or so.” At some point in the report, Mohamed is also presented an activist for Amazigh rights and Amazigh self-determination. The movement seeks, according to the report, an Amazigh awakening in Morocco. It wants to force its tribesmen out of the alleged identity slumber in which they have been plunged by Morocco’s state-sponsored Arabization and Islamization policies.

 So pervasive and entrenched is Morocco’s Arab and Islamic identity, Rettig said, that “a large number of Amazigh don’t speak the language nor feel the need to reanimate the culture.” More still, the report commented, some Moroccans “of Amazigh heritage who no longer identify as such, can be hostile, and even violent, to people involved in the [Amazigh autonomy] movement.”

 The article comes amid rickety relations between Israel and Morocco. While there are reports of unofficial warm relations between the two countries—mainly through economic developments—Morocco has remained a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Read article in full