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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Stop leaving Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews out of US Jewish life

Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews could comprise the single largest ethnic component among US Jews, yet they are consistently undercounted, misunderstood,  ignored and marginalised, argues JIMENA Executive Director Sarah Levin in this important article for Jewish Philanthropy. 

For many years at JIMENA, Jewish foundations and partner organizations have asked us to provide demographic statistics on Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews in North America. It’s been incredibly frustrating that we’ve never been able to adequately meet a single request for information as no empirical data on our communities exists. While Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews were intentionally excluded from the recent Counting Inconsistencies survey conducted by the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, the results of the study provided useful information affirming that Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, like Jews of Color, have been vastly undercounted, miscounted and inconsistently included in Jewish demographic studies across the board.

 Because so little reliable research has been conducted, JIMENA has relied heavily on anecdotal research and it’s very likely that Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, and their descendants, constitute the largest ethnic minority group amongst American Jews. We know that Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews are occupying greater spaces in organized Jewish life and in Jewish Day Schools, yet Sephardic and Mizrahi projects, organizations, and thought-leaders are still underfunded, underutilized and at times tokenized. Jewish institutions, have yet to design much needed programs and policies to ensure the inclusion of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Most troubling, is that as attention towards Jewish diversity is finally growing, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish leaders are frequently left out of initiatives, conversations, and projects that address and advance issues of Jewish diversity and inclusion.

Read article in full


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Rebuttal to Avi Shlaim's London conference bombshell

Avi Shlaim, an emeritus professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, has been chairing sessions at a conference in London called 'Jews of Iraq: Engagement with Modernities'. Shlaim, who was born in Iraq but left for Israel as a five-year-old, revealed to the audience he has nearly completed a memoir. Its provisional title is : From Baghdad to Jerusalem: Memoir of an Arab-Jew. The main focus, he said,  was on 'The Baghdad Bombs and the Jewish exodus from Iraq, 1950 - 51.' Waving a piece of paper,  he then presented 'new evidence of Israeli involvement in the bombs'.

Emeritus professor Avi Shlaim

There followed uproar, as Shlaim's claim was fiercely disputed by members of the audience. (There was also some controversy over the expression 'Arab-Jew'.)

David Kheder Basson  disagreed with professor Shlaim, producing graphic data affirming that the bombs had no bearing on the registration of Jews wishing to leave. See video of his presentation here.

A lively panel discussion followed. See video.

The venerable professor is no stranger to controversy. He has moved from  mildly critical of Israel to becoming a staunch anti-Zionist during his career. Now that he has resurrected the old 'Baghdad bombs' chestnut, it is perhaps time to  dig into Point of No Return's archives and revisit the subject.

Mordechai Ben Porat, Mossad's leading operative  in Baghdad, had his name cleared in an Israeli court when he sued an Israeli magazine for libel. The court heard evidence  in support of the theory that non - Jews threw the January 1951 bombs and that Muslim peddlars were tipped off to clear the scene just before grenades were thrown at the Messouda Shemtob synagogue, which was being used as a registration centre for would-be emigrants. This was  the only fatal bombing (four were killed).

The so-called new historian Tom Segev refuted the charge that Zionists were behind the bombs.

Read this post in full 

It is a mystery why the Mossad might have thought it necessary to set off bombs when by late 1950 there was a backlog of tens of thousands of Jews stranded in Iraq who had already registered to leave. When the Massouda Shemtob bombing occurred, there were only six weeks still to go before the deadline for emigration expired. Indeed, the Iraqi government toyed with the idea of dumping these Jews on Israel's borders or in the Kuwaiti desert because Israel was not shipping them out fast enough.

More about Avi Shlaim

The Baghdad bombings: Whodunnit?

Video recordings of Jews of Iraq conference

Monday, September 16, 2019

An Israeli-Tunisian Jew 's trip to his ancestors' world

Jewish pilgrims visiting the Al Ghriba synagogue on Djerba (Photo: Gidon Uzan)

Tunisia likes to project an image of tolerance, yet has lost 99 percent of its Jews. A young Israeli of Tunisian heritage goes in search of his roots, and finds some surprising links with the past. Article by Gidon Uzan in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Janet)

My grandfather Yehuda Uzan had been a shop owner. After exploring the neighborhood for over two hours to no avail, another store owner suggested we ask an 86-year-old resident named Misira if he remembered anything about the old Jewish community.

We finally located Misira, who was practically blind, but after some probing recalled my grandfather, explaining that his father had worked in my grandfather’s shop for many years. As he stood on the doorstep of his house, Misira told us how he remembered the moment my grandmother informed him that they’d be leaving Tunisia for Palestine in three months’ time. He excitedly described to us how my grandfather would tear every loaf of bread in half and give half of it to his family. And with tears in his eyes he recalled the day my grandmother put a sizeable amount of cash in his hand so he could get an education. In fact, he did go on to learn to be a silversmith, and was then able to support his family for many good years until he retired.

 Our next stop was the local cemetery. The first gravestone we visited was that of Rabbi Yitzhak Chai Tayeb, who died nearly 200 years ago. According to a legend that’s described in an anthology put together by Dr. Michal Sharf, the rabbi once put on worker’s clothing and offered to carry a man’s belongings all the way from the port to a local hotel in Tunis. On the way, the rabbi answered all of the man’s questions with such brilliance that the man wondered if this worker was so clever, imagine how clever the rabbi of such a place must be. Next, we approached the headstone of Rabbi Yaakov Slama, also known as Morid Hageshem, and many other famous rabbis and mystics. For me, as a Jew with Tunisian heritage, hearing all the stories about these holy men and the society they lived in was most gratifying.

During our trip, in addition to visiting Jewish cemeteries, we also toured a number of cities where Jews had lived, each of which had remains of a synagogue. In addition to El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, there was another house of prayer there called Beit El. And in the city of Monastir, farther north on the Tunisian coast, there are remnants of the Keter Torah Synagogue, which served an active community in the 19th century. This city also happens to be the birthplace of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president, who is greatly revered by Tunisians. And I must say that even though I am not a religious person, I prayed with all my heart and soul each time we entered one of these ancient synagogues in Tunisia. I felt so close to God and my ancestors.

Read article in full

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jews contributed massively to Moroccan culture

This is an honest overview by Mohamed Chtatou in Eurasia Review of the contribution of the Jewish exiles from Spain (Megorashim) to Moroccan society, culture and commerce. Today this huge Jewish influence  is recognised in the 2011 Moroccan constitution. (With thanks: Michelle) 

 A golden age of Judaism emerged under the Ummayads of Cordoba (756-1031); and the “adaptability of the Jew” proved forthright: Jews learned Arabic, climbed the socio-political ladder and held powerful positions in the palace as trusted advisors, controlled trade and maintained prestigious occupations.

The dhimmis were not supposed to be above Muslims in theory, this was commonly the practice in Moorish Spain. The Kingdom of Grenada, for instance, had a Muslim Emir and a Jewish vizier named Samuel ha-Naguid (d. 1056) 11, who was succeeded by his son Joseph.  This was not without retribution and indeed sparked a pogrom resulting in the death of 5,000 Jews and destruction of their quarter. Conditions oscillated under the Taifa kings, and worsened under the puritan rule of the Almoravid (1040-1147) and Almohad (1121-1269) dynasties.

Dhimmi Jews fared better under the Almoravids despite dhimmi status and regulations than the Almohads, wherein thousands of Jews were killed between 1130 and 1232, convert or death threatened again in 1147, Mellahs were created and the yellow star on clothing enforced; this encouraged many prominent Jewish families and figures (i.e. Abraham Ibn Exa, Seti Fatma, Juda Habri, Maimonides) to flee Spain. Thus, the dynasties’ relationship with the Megorashim shifted from coexistence, uneasy toleration, to brutal persecution throughout the centuries.

But the Jews by and large persevered until the Christian conquest in 1492.  Upon their expulsion, the Sultan of Morocco, Muhammad Sheikh al Wattasi, was amenable to the new arrivals and recognized the Megorashim as valuable assets. They were ushered into positions of authority as administrators, palace advisers in foreign and military affairs, and leaders in trade and commerce. They also thrived as doctors and moneylenders, especially in Fez, Sefrou 12, Marrakech, and Essaouria. Although the local Tovashim, rural and urban, had flourished in Morocco since the fall of the Temple in 70 AD, the Wattassid favored the new arrivals due to their education and sophistication. Animosity between the two Jewish communities grew, especially since the Megorashim spoke Hekitia (mixture of Spanish, Hebrew and Darija) and refused to speak Darija 13. They initially settled in Fez and the southern regions, while the Tovashim remained in the northern cities and rural areas. The two communities lived separately until the 18th century.

Jewish woman of Tangiers, painted by Charles Landelle
Jews, also, monopolized maritime trade and banking under Sa’di dynasty (1554-1655) and conducted business and diplomacy on the Sultan’s behalf. Moranos migrating to Morocco later on to Fez 14, Tetuan and Meknes developed the sugarcane industry and developed the tea trade with India and China propelling the Barbary state into prosperity. Rural Jews developed the caravan trade (gold, ostrich, feathers and women) in Fez and Sefrou as they were the trusted guides (azettat in Tamazight (Amazigh/Berber language)) and expert negotiators.

During Portuguese occupation of Safi and Azemmour, the Megorashim served as translators and negotiators, contributing to the roots of the would-be protégé system of the 19th century in Morocco. Megorashim adapted to Morocco, but they also infused their culture into the local milieu. So much so that within a few centuries it was indistinguishable from Moroccan culture. This included the “culture of expulsion”, especially Andalusian music and poetry from Grenada and Cordoba.

 The music stressed Kebbala spirituality that found easy reception with Sufism. Cuisines also overlapped and were no longer distinct, including sardine and garlic recipes of Safi and Essaouria; Mahya fig liquor; and baqeeya (Paella), just to name a few. Clothing customs also merged, most noticeably the colorful kaftans with gold embroidery worn by Moroccan brides.

  Read article in full

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sephardi weddings past and present in Izmir, Turkey

 A hearty besimantov to Beni and Veronica, who were married in Izmir  on 1 September 2019

 These two Youtube videos give a fascinating insight into Sephardi wedding rituals practised by the Jewish community of Izmir, Turkey over the decades.

As in other communities, weddings have become fancier: Ceremonies once  celebrated at home now take place in luxury hotels.

Similarly, the tevila, or ritual bath preceding the marriage,  used to take place at home. Now the bride immerses herself in the synagogue mikveh. A rosca (kind of beigel or cracker) is broken over the head of the bride to bring good luck.

The father of the bridegroom would send musicians to the bride's house in order to escort her to the wedding ceremony.  Another ritual is the breaking of the kezada, a round cake  of marzipan, containing three little birds. Pieces would be handed out to the single guests.

What is striking about these videos is that the older generation speaks ladino, the language of their ancestors expelled by the Spanish Inquisition, to describe their distinctive wedding customs. The younger generation speaks Turkish.

The community once saw four or five weddings take place in a single day. Nowadays, numbers have dwindled to such an extent that Izmir is lucky to witness four or five Jewish weddings a year. There might come a time when no Jews live in Izmir any longer, says one lady. But the unique heritage and culture of Turkish Jews will be preserved.

See Part 1 here:
 See Part 2 here:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sara Cohen passes away in Cochin, India

Sara Cohen, one of the best known  Paradesi Jews of Jew Town, Cochin, India, passed away last month. She was 96 years old. Two other Jews remain.

Sara used to pray at the Paradesi synagogue, which celebrated its 450th anniversary in 2018.
This is a portrait of Sara in her home in Mattancherry in 2015.

The White Jews of Cochin (not to be confused with the much older community of Black Jews) are the descendants of Sephardi Jews expelled from Iberia in 1492. They became known as Paradesi Jews (Foreign Jews). In the 19th century, Baghdadi Jews joined the Paradesi community.

Abandoned synagogue in Cochin, less than  a five-minute walk from the Paradesi synagogue.

Reconstruction of the Paradesi synagogue at the Israel Museum.

(All photographs are the copyright of Shalva Weil, and reproduced by kind permission.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

'As a Sephardi woman, I felt seen by the world'

TV critic of Syrian extraction Linda Maleh was ready to be disappointed by Netflix's news series 'The Spy'. But she needn't have worried - the show, which focused on the Egyptian-born Israeli spy Eli Cohen, introduced the mainstream viewing public to  'Sephardi culture', she writes in Alma.

A scene from the Netlix TV series 'The Spy'

The second I had a moment last Friday, I raced to my computer to watch Netflix’s new limited series,  Let me back up. The Spy  is about Eli Cohen (played brilliantly by Sacha Baron Cohen), Israel’s most famous spy that infiltrated Syria in the ‘60s and was eventually caught and executed by the Syrian government. (I’m not spoiling anything. Besides for the fact that this is decades old history, it’s also revealed within the first few minutes of the show.)

Why do I feel a personal connection to Eli Cohen? Because my ancestors, like his parents — Eli grew up in Egypt — were Jews from Aleppo, Syria. We have the same heritage.

What does this mean for my experience watching a show about him? Everything.Being from the Middle East means that Eli was a Sephardi Jew, and so the show, so grounded in portraying Eli’s family, has Sephardi culture on display. There aren’t a lot of Jewish characters on television. This may be surprising, considering Hollywood is full of Jewish filmmakers, but it’s true. And when there is a Jewish character, they’re often only Jewish in name, not in practice. When Jewish characters are actually made to be Jewish in practice, however, they rely on cliches. There are ultra-religious Jews with their “backwards ways” on display (especially in procedurals, like doctor or detective shows, or the infamous film,  

Read article in full

Eli Cohen story  dramatised on Netflix

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Why 'progressive' groups must not disrespect the rights of Jews

The rights  of Mizrahi Jews are ignored and their history distorted by 'progressive' groups who claim they are only being anti-Zionist, writes Rachel Wahba in her Times of Israel blog:

Rachel Wahba

Jewish Voice for Peace's (JVP) call for the destruction of Israel and turn it into an Arab state where Jews can live as a minority "other” in the region is not only insulting, it is the opposite of progressive.

This political organization openly promotes disrespect towards the experience of fellow Jews, 850,000 of us persecuted under Islam and turned into traumatized refugees, brutally forced out in the fifties and sixties. Israel deniers refuse to care or believe that close to a million Jews from Baghdad to Yemen have already lived that life as Dhimmi ever since the Islamic Conquest.  JVP’s claims of our charmed life under Islamic rule is offensive.

 Our pogroms, the Islamic version of Nuremberg Laws, and the bullying in the best of times, are meaningless to a group that features Linda Sarsour, “No Feminist can be a Zionist,” with convicted murderer and terrorist Rasmeah Odeh, on their stage.

 In their “From the River to the Sea” mentality, these Anti-Zionists claim Mizrahi Jews are so naively ignorant we were duped by evil Ashkenazi Zionist recruiters, to leave idyllic lives I would like to see them suffer before they open their mouths.

 It takes a lot of arrogance and contempt to believe we Jews in Arab lands just “left” everything, our communities, businesses, culture, penniless with nothing but a suitcase of clothing, for the maabarot, tent cities in a dirt-poor Israel is insane. Then again, Israel Denial, like Anti-Semitism is a mental illness.  A lot has changed since the ancient Romans renamed our country to distance Jews from Israel and destroy us as a People. And too much hasn’t changed.

 When a progressive LGBTQ organization, A Wider Bridge, is attacked by a mob calling for Israel’s demise, when queer women are kicked out from Pride and Dyke marches for carrying a rainbow flag with a Magen David on it, the time is now for the pro-Israel progressive community to come out as Jews, for Israel, for ourselves, louder than ever.

 Read article in full

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Sudan invites Jews to return

Sudan has a new 'democratic' government. Its religious affairs minister has just broadcast a call for Jews to return to the country. To reinforce the notion that the Jews have an ancient presence there,  the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is rumoured to have been born in northern Sudan! Minister Nasr Al-Din Mufreh promised returning Jews full citizenship rights, claiming that the country is now governed by 'secular' law(With thanks: Samah; Lily)

 MEMRI has the transcript of the minister's interview on Al-Arabia ,which coincided with another on Sudania 24 TV with writer Haidar Al-Mukashafi  :

Nasr Al-Din Mufreh [on Al-Arabiya Network): Sudan is pluralistic in its views, its values, and its cultures. It is pluralistic in its ideologies and its Islamic schools of thought, and it is pluralistic even in its religions. We have Islam and Christianity, and there were Jewish minorities that may have left the country. I'd like to take this opportunity to call upon them to reclaim their right to citizenship. I call upon them to return to this country. Since Sudan [has become] a country rules by secular law, citizenship is the basis for rights and duties.

Haidar Al-Mukashafi [on Sudania 24 TV]:The Jewish presence in Sudan is very old, and perhaps dates back over 1,000 years. There is a quaint story being told in the city of Merowe. There is a rumor there that Benjamin Netanyahu was born and raised in Sudan. They say that he was born in the city of Nuri, in the northern state of Sudan, and that he was raised there. In any case, this is proof that there was a Jewish presence, at least in Merowe.

The chances of any Jews returning to Sudan, which is now undergoing a period of unrest after the ouster of President Omar Bashir in April 2019, are slim.

Nearly the entire Jewish community was forced to leave Sudan after  the 1967 Arab defeat by Israel. Because they could not get exit visas, they  had to pretend to be taking holidays or business trips,  leaving all of their belongings to sympathetic friends or neighbours.  They resettled in Israel, America, England and Switzerland.

In 1977, some remains were moved from the Jewish cemetery in Khartoum to Jerusalem, although many more remain in terrible condition in Sudan.

Times of Israel article 

Iraq will restore citizenship to Jews, but not to Israelis

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Eli Cohen's story dramatised on Netflix

A series about the spy Eli Cohen, who inflitrated the highest echelons of the Syrian regime in the 1960s, launched on 6 September on Netflix: it is likely to attract a global audience. The part of the ill-fated Egyptian-born Cohen, whose body was never returned, is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as a comic actor. Article by Harry de Quetteville in the Daily Telegraph:

Spying, Kipling describes so beautifully in the prototypical espionage novel Kim, is about living with many identities. Eli Cohen, the charming Israeli spy whose astonishing, nerveless, glamorous feats of derring do are now being serialised by The Spy (with Sacha Baron Cohen in the lead) was a master of the art.

 Born Eli Shaul Jundi Cohen in Alexandria in 1924, he studied at a lycee and Cairo Farouk University, where he spoke French, English and Arabic. In 1949 his family left for Israel even as he stayed behind. Eventually he would join them, only to acquire a new identity in Syria. But his first target was Britain.

His is an eye-popping tale, one of many told about the agents and operatives of the Israeli secret services, and one which proved tempting to Gideon Raff (creator of Homeland) and irresistible to Baron Cohen. The actor’s father - an Orthodox Jewish accountant - treasured the tale of Eli, and Baron Cohen was asked to play the spy role shortly after he died. “I felt compelled to do it,” he told Vanity Fair. 

 If the transformation of the comic actor into the deadly serious spy seems unlikely, it is as nothing to the contortions of identity required of Eli Cohen. How, after all, could a passionately Zionist Jew reach the zenith of Syrian society, passing himself off as a Arab nationalist of unimpeachably antisemitic persuasion? The answer, of course, lies in the mesmerising flux of the Middle East.

Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about living in Israel is discovering how much of the Middle East is there. You bump into Iraqis, and Syrians, Egyptians and lots of Iranians. You see elderly, craggy faces that would not look out of place in Baghdad, Damascus, and Tehran. These are the Jews of those cities and countries who have been expelled, or rescued, or have fled for the security and prosperity of Israel.

 Today they are citizens of a nuclear-armed country which is routinely threatened with destruction by their former homelands. And yet, for all the promises of mutual annihilation, contact between old communities flourish, diplomatic ties or no. When I was living in Jerusalem, marble was imported from Iran, routed via Turkey, and bought in to build Israel’s best homes. Old ties were literally moving mountains.

 Read article in full
More about Eli Cohen

Friday, September 06, 2019

Love could not keep apart two Yemenite Jews

They were young and in love. It was their secret. But now they were about to be separated. She had been offered a place on a flight as part of the 'Operation Magic Carpet' Operation. But he could yet secure one; they were giving priority to the women. He didn't want to be separated from her and risk losing her. He had to get on that flight! So he disguised himself as a woman. And in that way, he followed her to Israel where they married.

Yemenite Jews being airlifted to Israel during Operation Magic Carpet.

 This is the story of the grandparents of one visitor to the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv, as told to the Museum manager Sarah Ansbacher. Israeli-born, the granddaughter has Adeni roots on one side, Polish Holocaust survivors on the other. And she came to visit together with her husband whose roots are from Germany on one side and Iraqi on the other....

It is 70 years since the start of  Operation Magic Carpet. This is a widely known nickname for Operation 'On Wings of Eagles' (Hebrew: כנפי נשרים‎, Kanfei Nesharim). This operation between June 1949 and September 1950  brought 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the new state of Israel.

 During its course, the overwhelming majority of Yemenite Jews – some 47,000 from Yemen, 1,500 from Aden, as well as 500 from Djibouti and Eritrea and some 2,000 Jews from Saudi Arabia– were airlifted to Israel. British and American transport planes made some 380 flights from Aden, in a secret operation that was not made public until several months after it was over.

Another story from the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Netanyahu: 'we are not strangers in Hebron'

For the first time, as reported by the Times of Israel, an Israeli prime minister visited Hebron to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1929 massacre. The Jews of that city were evacuated soon afterwards and did not return until  after 1967.

HEBRON, West Bank — During a rare visit to Hebron on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israelis would remain in the flashpoint West Bank city forever, but stopped short of announcing new construction in the area as Jewish locals and right-wing lawmakers have been demanding.

 The premier also entered the Tomb of Patriarchs, along with his wife Sara, in what was his first visit there as prime minister. “Hebron will never be cleansed of Jews… We are not strangers in Hebron. We will remain here forever,”

Netanyahu declared at a ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the Hebron massacre, in which Arab rioters murdered 67 of their Jewish neighbors in the ancient city.

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Bensoussan's comprehensive history of Jews in Arab lands

At last, Georges Bensoussan's groundbreaking book: Juifs en pays arabes: le grand deracinement is available in an English translation by Andrew Halper. Here is a review by Aaron Howard in Jewish Herald Voice, a newspaper published in the Houston area.

The history of Mizrahi Jews is largely silent, writes French Jewish historian Georges Bensoussan. One reason is that most Jewish historians take a Eurocentric view of history; Jewish history is the narrative of Ashkenazi Judaism. Second is that Anglo-American Jewry is overwhelmingly Ashkenazic. In contrast, about 60 percent of French Jewry is from North Africa and the Middle East.

Third is Arab archives are, for the most part, closed or not accessible unless the historian in fluent in Arabic.

Bensoussan is the author of “Jews In Arab Countries” (Indiana University Press). Originally published in France as “Juifs en Pays Arabes, le Grande Racincement 1850-1975,” the book is now available in an English translation.

 Much of the author’s source material comes from the archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. As the most important Jewish philanthropic organization of its day, the AIU first tasked emissaries to examine the state of the Jewish population and report on their needs. The AIU also established a comprehensive educational system in North Africa and parts of the Middle East.

 The narrative begins in the middle of the 19th century when Western nations began colonizing the Arab world. Granted, AIU agents carried certain prejudices with them. Yet, in location after location, agent after agent recorded a Jewish population marked by fear and submission to the point of “internalizing the idea that he was the natural inferior of the Arabs.”

 What emerges from these accounts, writes Bensoussan, “is the sense that humiliation had become so all-encompassing, so omnipresent, that words failed to express it.” Jews lived in the context of being a minority in an Islamic world, where tolerance was not a recognized value.

 But, there’s a deeper level of subjugation going on. Islam is fundamentally a religion of submission. Man submits to G-d’s authority. The ruled submits to the ruler. Women submit to men and so on in a highly hierarchical society. Freed slaves and dhimmis (Jews and other People of the Book) were next to the bottom rung, a status of inferiority.

 The general picture of Mizrahi Jewry, just prior to European colonization, with a few exceptions, is one of extreme poverty, filth, alcoholism (Jews distilled and consumed their own anisette), disease, ignorance and “diffused violence” suffered at the hands of local rulers and the general Muslim population, who had barely a leg up on the Jews.

 Read article in full

More about Georges Bensoussan

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Judge calls for Jewish convict to be deported to Yemen

For the first time, an Israeli judge has ordered the deportation of a Jewish convicted sex offender back to his native Yemen, reports Israel National News. There are thought to be about 50 Jews remaining there.

Jews living in Yemen. All save about 50 have now left

 The Makor Rishon daily reported Friday about the case of Avraham Salem Alhadad, who immigrated to Israel in 2007 on a student visa. Alhadad’s visa expired while he was serving a 5 1/2-year prison term handed down in 2014 for molesting and sexually assaulting a minor from his own family. The former student of a religious seminary, or yeshiva, in Bnei Brak was declared an illegal alien upon his release this year.

 His application to be naturalized under Israel’s Law of Return for Jews and their relatives was denied citing his criminal record.

His application for asylum, based on his claim that his leaving Yemen in 2007 for the Jewish state would expose him to persecution there, also was dismissed.

 Last week, a judge ordered the Interior Ministry, which was seeking Alhadad’s deportation to Yemen, to detail how it intended to deport him to a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations.

Read article in full

Monday, September 02, 2019

Egypt criticises own sportsman for shunning Israeli judoka

It's an indication of how far Egyptian policy has moved: it is now to show solidarity with  Israel. Instead of defending the Egyptian judoka who lost to Israeli Sagi Muki at a recent contest in Tokyo, the Egyptian government has criticised him for refusing to shake hands. Haaretz reports:

The moment when Egyptian Judoka Mohamed Abdelaal turned away from Sagi Muki's outstretched hand.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has criticized an Egyptian judoka, Mohamed Abdelaal, for refusing to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent, Sagi Muki, who defeated the Egyptian in the semifinals of the World Judo Championships. The Israeli went on to win the championship on Wednesday.

Despite Muki's historic gold medal on Wednesday at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, Arab sports media devoted much of their attention to Abdelaal. Following his loss, Abdelaal refused to shake hands with Muki, who had extended his own hand. For its part, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that "sports needs to be kept separate from politics."

 On Thursday, Egyptian Judo Federation Vice President Marzouk Ali issued a statement saying that the Abdelaal's refusal to shake Muki's hand was the result of unfairness in the Egyptian's loss. "There was injustice behind Abdelaal's loss," Ali said. "The Israeli should have lost, which didn't happen, and the Egyptian judoka therefore didn't shake his hand."

  Read article in full

Iranian Judoka defects after being pressed not to face Israeli (Jerusalem Post)

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Did you escape Iraq? Write your story

Next year Iraqi Jews will be marking 70 years to the start of the "Tasqit" - the great exodus of de-nationalised Jews airlifted to Israel. The year 2020 will also mark 50 years since the first Iraqi Jew escaped illegally through northern Iraq. A book recording their personal stories is planned:

David Kheder Basson (pictured), chairman of Academics from Iraq in Israel, plans to publish a book of personal eyewitness accounts. He is calling for all those who escaped to contribute their personal stories so that they could be collated into a book.

The 3,000-member Iraqi Jewish community which stayed behind after the 1967 Six Day War became hostage to the regime. It suffered  one of the worst periods of persecution and liquidation, particularly after the Baath  party came to power in 1968.

The remaining community suffered a terrible period of persecution after 1967: nine Jews were hanged in Baghdad in 1969.

In the summer of 1970 Fouad Sawdayee z"l managed to escape with his family via Kurdistan to Iran and to freedom. This encouraged the majority of Iraqi Jews to follow in his footsteps (via different escape routes) and to leave Iraq in 1970 and 1971. Finally, in the autumn of 1971, the Iraqi government started granting passports and within few years most of the remaining community left. Most of the Iraqi Jews ended up in Israel, though there are many who chose to live in Canada, USA, the UK and the Netherlands.

Each one has his own personal and his family story to tell. No two stories are alike.

David Basson would like to collect some 50 “personal eyewitness accounts” of 4-7 pages each and publish them in a book in commemoration of the 50 years anniversary. The writers can either write in English or Hebrew, in whatever languagethey feel comfortable with. It is likely that the book will be published in English and Hebrew. Contact

Joe Shemtob's escape story 

Emil Somekh's story

Not without my grandmother