Friday, November 29, 2019

This Shabbat, 38 synagogues will recite prayers for dead in Arab lands

Update: the total is 44 plus one church*

This shabbat, prayers will be recited in synagogues around the world  for Jews killed in Arab lands and those buried in cemeteries inaccessible to relatives.

Baghdad Jewish cemetery

This is the second year running that this initiative is taking place. As at 9 am GMT the number of synagogues planning to take part in the mass kaddish, or Hashkaba, was 38, or about three times as many as took part last year.

 The man behind the initiative is Sass Peress, a Jew living in Montreal. It grew out of a  project to clean up Sass Peress's grandfather's grave in the Jewish cemetery in Baghdad.

This year Shabbat falls on 30 November, the date designated as 'Jewish Refugee Day'.

"The specific date for the commemoration was chosen as the day following the November 29th anniversary of the passage in 1947 of the UN Partition Plan, which recommended the establishment of two separate states, Jewish and Arab, in the territory of British Mandatory Palestine, because “the measures taken by the Arab League and its member states against their Jewish communities began then,” explains Ashley Perry, President of Reconectar and Director General of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Communities, who was involved in legislating the Knesset bill with then-MK Shimon Ohayon.

This year, the participating synagogues include Ashkenazi as well as Sephardi congregations, thus demonstrating solidarity across the diaspora and in Israel.

The Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, Montreal
Chabad NDG, Montreal
Montreal Open Shul, Montreal
OR Shalom, Montreal
OR Hahayim , Montreal 
Shaar Hashomayim , Montreal
Mile End Chavurah Group, Montreal
Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation, Montreal
Kehila Synagogue, Toronto
Melech Israel, Toronto 
Congregation Beth Hamidrash, Vancouver
Kehillat Beth Israel, Ottawa
Hillel Lodge, Ottawa
Temple Israel, Ottawa
S&;P Holland Park Synagogue, London
Wembley S&P Synagogue, London
Lauderdale Road S&P Synagogue, London
Bevis Marks S&P Synagogue, London
Neveh Shalom, David Ishag Congregation, London
Ohel David, London
Temple Buffault, Paris
Temple Rodef Shalom, Alexandria, Virginia
Magen David Sephardic Congregation, San Francisco
Khalal Joseph, Los Angeles
Temple Israel, Columbus, Ohio
Chavurah Shir Ha-Yam , San Diego 
Sherith Yisrael, New York
Babylonian Jewish Center, Great Neck, New York
Bene Neharayim, Iraqi Synagogue, New York
Bnei Israel, Boca Raton , Florida
Edmond Safra Synagogue, Aventura , Florida
Temple Shalom, Port Charlotte, Florida
Tifereth Israel, Des Moines, Iowa
Chabad, TMR
Beth Tikvah, Montreal
Congregation Chazin Ovadis, Lakewood, NJ, USA
Zayit Raanan, Efrat
Shirat David, Efrat
Shaare Ratzon, S&;P Synagogue, Old City of Jerusalem
Kehillat Lechu Neranena, Buchman, Modiin
New North London Masorti
Sephardic Minyan at Beth Sholom Congregation, Potomac, Maryland, USA

*Missione de L'Annunziata, Montreal, CA 

  Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation in the UK, has composed a special prayer for the occasion:

תפלת אזכרה על מגורשי ישראל מארצות ערב
ֱאלֵֹהינוֵּואלֵֹהי ֲאבוֵֹתינוּ ָכּתוּב ְבִּדְבֵריְיֶחְזֵקאלְנִביֲאךָ)כא:יא-יב(:"ְוַאָתּה ֶבן ָאָדם ֵהָאַנח ְבִּשְׁברוֹן ָמְתַנִיםוִּבְמִרירוּת ֵתָּאַנח ְלֵעיֵניֶהם.ְוָהָיה ִכּייֹאְמרוּ ֵאֶליךָ ַעל ָמה ַא ָתּה ֶנ ֱא ָנח ְו ָא ַמ ְר ָתּ ֶאל ְשׁמוּ ָעה ִכי ָב ָאה ְו ָנ ֵמס ָכּל ֵלב ְו ָרפוּ ָכל ָי ַד ִים ְו ֵכ ַהת ָכל רוּ ַח ְו ָכל ִבּ ְר ַכּ ִים ֵתּ ַל ְכ ָנה ַמּ ִים ִה ֵנּה ָב ָאה ְו ִנ ְה ָי ָתה ְנ ֻאם ְי ָי ֱאלֹ ִהים"

וַּבֲעווֹנוֹתנו ָעָשׂהְיי ֲאֶשׁרָזָמם ִבַּצּעאְמָרתוֹ ֲאֶשׁר ִצָוּהְוָרִאינוּ ִבּדָאבוֹן ִלבינו ֲהִריַגת ַא ֵחינוּ ְו ַא ַחיּו ֵתנוּ וּ ְשֵׂר ַפת ָבּ ֵתּי ְכֵּנ ִסיּוֹת ְו ִס ְפֵרי תּוָֹרה ִבּיֵדי ְשׁ ֵכֵננוּ ָה ַעְר ִבים ֶשׁשכננוּ ָתִּמיד ְבִּקְרָבָתם.
ְיתוֹ ִמים ָה ִיינוּ ְו ֵאין ָאב ִא ֹמּ ֵתינוּ ְכּ ַא ְל ָמנוֹת׃ ַא ָתּה ְיי ְלעוֹ ָלם ֵתּ ֵשׁב ִכּ ְס ֲאךָ ְלדֹר ָודוֹר׃ ֲה ִשׁי ֵבנוּ ְיי ֵא ֶליךָ ְו ָנשׁוּ ָבה ַח ֵדּשׁ ָי ֵמינוּ ְכּ ֶק ֶדם׃

ֵאל ָמ ֵלא ַר ֲח ִמים שׁוֹ ֵכן ַבּ ְמּרוֹ ִמים, ַה ְמ ֵצא ְמנוּ ָחה ְנכוֹ ָנה ַעל ַכּ ְנ ֵפי ַה ְשּׁ ִכי ָנה, ְבּ ַמ ֲעלוֹת ְקדוִֹשׁיםוְּטהוִֹרים ַכּזַֹּהר ָהָרִקיַע ַמְזִהיִרים ֶאתְנָשׁמוֹת ַאֵחינוְּוַאְחיוֵֹתינוּ, ֶשֶׁנֶּהְרגוּ ְוֶשִׁנְּרְצחוּ ַעלְיֵדי ַאְכָזִריםְואוְֹיִבים ָבֲּאָרצוֹת ַהַהגרים.ֶנֶהְפכוּ ַאְרצוֹת ְמגוֵּריֶהם ְלִכְבְשֵׁני ֵאשְׁוַאְנֵשׁי ְשׁלוָֹמם ַלֲעִריִצים.ְיִהיָרצוֹן ִמְלָּפֶניךְָיָי ֱאלֵֹהינוּ, ַבַּעל ָהַרֲחִמים ֶשַׁתְּסִתּיֵרםבֵּסֶּתר ְכָּנֶפיךָ ְלעוָֹלִמים,וְּצרוֹר ִבְּצרוֹר ַהַחִיּים ֶאת ִנְשׁמוֵֹתיֶהם,ייהוּא ַנֲחָלָתם, ְבַּגן ֵעֶדן ְתֵּהא ְמנוָּחָתם, ַוַיַּעְמדוּ ְלגוָֹרָלם ְלֵקץ ַהָיִּמין, ִויֻקַיּםבּנו ִמְקָרא ֶשָׁכּתוּבוָּבא ְלִציּוּןגּוֵֹאלָיֵגלַיֲעקֹבִיְשַׂמחִיְשָׂרֵאל ְבּשׁוּבְיָי ְשׁבוּת ַעמּוֹ.ְוֵכןְיִהיָרצוֹן ְונֹאַמר ָאֵמן.

"Our God and God of our fathers, it is written in the words of Ezekiel your prophet (21:11-12) :
“And you, O mortal, sigh; with tottering limbs and bitter grief, sigh before their eyes. And when
they ask you, ‘Why do you sigh?’ answer, ‘Because of the tidings that have come.’ Every heart
shall sink and all hands hang nerveless; every spirit shall grow faint and all knees turn to water
because of the tidings that have come. It is approaching, it shall come to pass—declares the Lord

And for our iniquities, the Lord has done what He purposed, has carried out the decree. We have
seen with pained hearts the murder of our brothers and sisters and the burning of our synagogues
and our torah scrolls by the hands of our Arab neighbours amongst whom we have dwelt for
generations. We have become orphans, fatherless; Our mothers are like widows. But You, O Lord,
are enthroned forever, Your throne endures through the ages. Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself,
And let us come back; Renew our days as of old!

Lord full of mercy Who dwells in the heights, give rest on the wings of the Divine Presence,
amongst the holy, pure and glorious who shine like the sky to the souls of our brothers and sisters
who died and who were murdered by the hands of cruel enemies in the Arab Lands. Our dwelling
places became fiery furnaces and our friends turned to foes.

May it be Your will, Our Lord, that their souls be bound up in eternal life. God is their allotment.
And may they rest peacefully in their lying place.

And may God’s promise be fulfilled that a redeemer shall come to Zion, O that the deliverance of
Israel might come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of His people, Jacob will exult,

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Charges likely to be dropped against Paris murderer

The family of Sarah Halimi suffered another setback when it looked likely at a hearing this week  that charges would be dropped against her murderer. The Jewish Chronicle reports:

Sarah Halimi, murdered in April 2017

Local prosecutors in Paris initially argued that Kobili Traoré should be put on trial for his actions.

 But they were opposed by the more senior procureur général, which argued Traoré should be hospitalised.

 The different opinions come after separate panels of psychiatrists concluded Mr Traoré had suffered a psychotic episode after a massive use of cannabis, but disagreed over whether he was partially aware of his actions.

 During an earlier hearing, Halimi family lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel asked Traoré: “Do you think you should be tried? And get a sentence for what you have done?”

 Witnesses told Wednesday’s hearing that shortly before Ms Halimi was thrown from the balcony Traoré shouted “a woman is trying to kill herself”. Her family’s lawyers said it proved Traoré was already planning his defence.

 Mr Bidnic said there were “no good solutions in the case”, adding: “This is Sarah Halimi’s tragedy, her family’s tragedy and this boy’s tragedy, although I’m not comparing the two. Sending him to hospital is not ideal nor sending him to prison.”

 He said Traoré, who remains in a psychiatric hospital but is receiving limited amounts of medication, is “still a threat”.

 Francis Szpiner, another Halimi family lawyer, said the case was setting a historic precedent: “You’re saying that people can walk free after carrying out criminal action just because they were allegedly not aware of the effects of drugs or other substances? “Will this also apply to drunk drivers who kill children on the road?”

The court will rule on December 19 on whether Traoré should face trial.

Read article in full
More about the Halimi case

In the Middle East, there are only conquerors and conquered

The only way for a dhimmi people to survive in the Middle East is to defeat its foes, argues Nave Dromi in this must-read article in JNS News. Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries know this truth:
Nave Dromi

On Nov. 30, we will remember them on the Day of Commemoration for the Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran. We will remember their history, culture and tradition, maintained under difficult circumstances, and also their ethnic cleansing.

 However, there are also lessons we need to learn. Those of us whose origins are in lands now known as Arab countries and whose families were dhimmis understand well this history of defeat.

 Perhaps this is why, according to numerous surveys, Jews whose origins are in the Middle East and North Africa are disproportionately more hawkish than others—they understand, better than most, that in this region there are only two types of people: the conquerors and the conquered.

 They lived as the conquered for far too long, and that is why they push harder for Israel to defeat its enemies and those who seek to turn us once again into a stateless people.

 We have seen in recent years how the stateless are treated, whether it is the Kurds in Turkey, Syria or Iraq, the Christians in Egypt or the Yazidis in Iraq, among others.

 This was the lot of the Jewish people for 1,300 years in the region. When Islamist terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, and Islamist regimes like that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, talk about destroying Israel, their goal is to undo what they see as the unnatural emergence of Jewish sovereignty on territory previously conquered by Islam.

 They see Israel as dar al-harb (literally, “land of war”), territory ruled by non-Muslims that was previously governed by Muslims and which must be reclaimed in battle. A cursory examination of the Hamas Charter, or the comments of leaders like Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, prove that for them, this is a very real religious obligation.

 For Israel to survive in such a region, with such enemies, it unfortunately must prove itself on the battlefield by defeating its foes. The only reason Islamist extremists do not try to reclaim Spain or parts of the Balkans that were also once under Islamic rule is that they do not believe they can.

 Sadly, for many regimes and Islamist organizations in the region this is not true of Israel; they believe Israel can and will be defeated.

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Arab states are claiming the heritage of their expelled Jews

Update: US government urged to protect heritage of Jewish refugees in Arab world 

Arab states are legitimising the theft of their Jewish cultural heritage under cover of international law, instead of restoring Jewish property to their expelled Jews, argues Lyn Julius in JNS News. It is a worrying trend that Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey and Yemen are also queuing up to sign such legitimising agreements with the US.

 Please sign this JIMENA petition asking the US to rethink its position regarding minority rights to their heritage.

On or around Nov. 30, Jewish communities around the world will be holding events to remember the mass exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

Almost a million people were displaced in the past 50 years, leaving billions of dollars’ worth of property behind. Not only have Arab governments never compensated Jews for their stolen homes and businesses, they are waging a pernicious campaign to claim communal property and Jewish heritage as their national patrimony.

 Synagogues can’t be moved and clearly, it is better for Arab states to preserve them as memorials to an extinct community than not at all. However, these states are also declaring Torah scrolls, communal archives and books to be part of their cultural heritage.

 For instance, the Egyptian government claims that all Torah scrolls and Jewish archives, libraries, communal registers and any movable property over 100 years old are “Egyptian antiquities.” However, Jews consider Torah scrolls their exclusive property. It is forbidden to buy or sell them. Fleeing Jews have often prioritized scrolls and books over their personal possessions.

 What does international law have to say? The Hague Convention of 1954 “protecting cultural property in conflict” was brought in to stop the massive looting that has always occurred in war and specifically during WWII. There is also the post-colonial understanding that the new states that emerged in the 20th century have ownership of their own cultural heritage; the days when Britain could ship the Elgin Marbles from Greece, or Napoleon could plunder ancient Egyptian obelisks as “war booty,” are over.

 In Egypt, registers of births, marriages and deaths of Jews from Alexandria and Cairo dating back to the middle of the 19th century were once kept in the two main synagogues in each city. But in 2016, government officials took away the registers to be stored in the Egyptian National Archives. Egyptian Jews living abroad cannot even obtain photocopies of certificates, often the only formal Jewish identification Egyptian Jews have to prove lineage or identity for burial or marriage. Repeated efforts since 2005 to intercede with the Egyptian authorities have come to nothing.

 Egyptian government policy has been backed by the tiny remnant of the country’s Jewish community. Its leader, Magda Haroun, intends to leave the community’s assets to the government. She has even suggested that two paintings in the Louvre once owned by an Egyptian Jew should find their way back to Egypt.

 Under the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, thousands of books, manuscripts and other documents were seized from Jewish homes, schools and synagogues and stored at the headquarters of Iraq’s secret service in Baghdad. In 2003, the archive was discovered in the flooded basement after the building was bombed by the Americans.

 The Americans shipped the archive to Washington, D.C., for restoration and hastily signed a diplomatic agreement promising to return the material to the Iraqi government. The United States spent over $3 million to restore and digitize the archive, which has since been exhibited across the country. The collection includes a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793 and an 1815 version of the Jewish mystical text Zohar, as well as more mundane objects such school reports and a Baghdad telephone book.

 Although tens of thousands of Iraqi documents were shipped to the United States, the Iraqi government has only formalized its claim to the 2,700 books and 30,000 documents of the water-stained archive, which it claims are the country’s “precious cultural heritage,” a last emotional link with its ancient Jewish community and a reminder of Iraq’s former diversity.

 The Iraqi Jewish community in exile has been waging a bitter battle to recover the collection and prevent it being sent back to Iraq. They say that to return the archive, which was seized from Jewish community offices, schools and synagogues, would be like returning property looted by the Nazis to Germany.

 The Iraqi and Egyptian cases are symptomatic of a larger problem. Since 2004, the United States has been bound by law to impose import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material that constitutes a country’s cultural heritage and has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) to this effect with Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Libya.

 In January 2018, the International Council of Museums released a “Red List” for Yemen aimed at protecting Hebrew manuscripts and Torah finials from leaving the country. All but 50 Jews have fled the country, taking what possessions they could, but even these ultimately could be returned to Yemen.

 “These MOUs claim to be about [stopping] looting, but their broad scope and limited evidence of success suggests their real impact is providing a legal vehicle to legitimize foreign confiscations and wrongful ownership claims. … The MOUs are based on a flawed premise. It is the heritage and patrimony of 850,000 indigenous Jews who fled their homes and property under duress,” said Sarah Levin of the California-based Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA).

 It is understandable that the international community should wish to prevent the looting and smuggling of ancient artifacts and their sale on the international art market. That is how Islamic State financed much of its conquest of northern Iraq and Syria. But there is a distinction between theft for financial gain, and legitimate salvage of Torah scrolls or books taken by fleeing Jews to be used for prayer.

 Eight Sumerian artifacts sold to the British Museum were recently sent back to Baghdad. But the Iraqi-Jewish archive does not belong to some long-extinct civilization—some of the owners are still alive.

 International law is based on the outmoded assumption of territorial sovereignty. It needs updating, specifically to resolve the tug-of-war between minority and national heritage, where the minority has been persecuted and displaced.

Read article in full

Also at The Algemeiner

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

How Iran discriminates against Jews and other minorities

Must-read by Karmel Melamed  in the Times of Israel detailing the built-in discrimination, both in civil and criminal law,  prevailing in Iran against Jews and other minorities. 

Every synagogue must contain a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini, architect of the Islamic revolution

Since 1979, the Iranian regime has been ruling Iran by Shiite Islamic Sharia laws. As a result of these Sharia laws, non-Muslims can be subjected to mass punishment and exile, even in their own lands which have fallen under Islamic rule. Under the current Iranian regime’s constitution non-Muslims are identified as different “nations” even if they live within the boundaries of Iran.

While the constitution does recognize some individuals as second or third-class residents, there are also many “unrecognized” minorities in the document, referring to non-Muslims who do not have any human, legal or civil rights at all. According to these laws, non-Muslims are all “infidels” who are either the “tolerated infidels” with limited rights, or “enemy infidels” with no rights. Jews, traditional Christians such as Armenians, Chaldeans and Assyrians, as well as Zoroastrians, are considered as recognized minorities or tolerated infidels.

 However religious minorities who are Bahais’, Buddhists, Hindus, or atheists are unrecognized minorities with no rights. Muslims who have converted to Christianity are considered as apostates and face the threat of the death penalty if they are discovered to have left the Islamic faith by the Iranian regime.

 While one may argue that the Iranian regime affords a limited number of minorities such as Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians some protection under the law, this is inaccurate because Iranian judges are allowed to directly rule on the validity of any law in the country based on the random authoritarian edicts of major Shiite Mullahs whenever the actual laws are deemed inadequate or “un-Islamic”.

This factor, in essence, means even recognized religious minorities have no rights at all, including the right to life, marriage, education, work or even burial in “Islamic land” if an Iranian judge or mullahs randomly considers the law or situation to be “un-Islamic”. Perhaps one of the worst discriminatory aspects of the Iranian regime’s jurisprudence is its asinine constitution when it comes to the country’s religious minorities.

Sadly in the constitution, every time a certain right is expressly given to “Muslims” as it pertains to civil and criminal laws, it clearly means that those rights are being withheld from the country’s religious minorities. The following are just a few of the major discriminatory aspects of the Iranian regime’s constitution with regards to non-Muslims living in the country:

Read article in full

Monday, November 25, 2019

A forgotten pogrom agains the Jews of Tetuan, Morocco

With thanks: Yoel

 Nineteenth century Morocco was a volatile country, and the Jews were often on the receiving end of violence from warring armies and tribes. European travellers have testified to their miserable and degraded existence.  Now the estimable blogger Elder of Ziyon has discovered evidence of a forgotten pogrom against the Jews of Tetuan in 1860. 

Tetuan today

"In 1790, a pogrom happened, started by Sultan Yazid. The mellah was pillaged and many women raped. The Jews lived in a mellah, which is located inside the old medina. I cannot find any account that  corresponds to the horrors narrated in this article in The Occident, Thursday, April 05, 1860.

On February 6, 1860, Spanish soldiers who were then fighting in Morocco entered Tétouan, a town very close to the Straits of Gibraltar. Apparently the Sultan's soldiers got wind of an impending surrender and took the opportunity to attack the Jews of the city - stealing and breaking anything of value and raping the women, as happened 70 years earlier."

 Here is an extract from a report by the Honorary Consul, Mr Nahon:

 "In the night between Saturday and Sunday, the Moroccan soldiers and the Arabs entered the Jews' quarters, plundered all that was composed of gold and silver, broke every article of pottery and glass, burnt all that they could not carry away, destroyed the Sepharim and committed all sorts of horrors upon the women and children. On entering the city, the Spaniards found the women almost naked and half dead."

 Read post in full

Sunday, November 24, 2019

UN event to mark exodus of Jews from Arab countries

As part of this year's '30 November ' commemorations, an event to highlight the plight of Jews expelled from Arab countries will take place at the UN Headquarters in New York on 4 December. The former Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan, and the US 'antisemitism tsar, Elan Carr, will take part in the  event, arranged by Israel's UN Mission and JIMENA. (With thanks: Imre)

Former Miss Iraq Sarah Idan will be a keynote speaker at the gathering, which is being organized by Israel’s UN Mission and the Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) organization. Idan now lives in exile in the US after controversy erupted in her home country in 2017 when she posted a selfie with Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman.

 Other speakers will include Israel’s UN envoy, Danny Danon, and the Trump administration’s special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, Elan Carr.

 Danon said in a statement on Monday, “The story of nearly a million Jews who were brutally expelled from their homes has so far received no UN attention, and has even been deliberately downplayed to focus solely on the Palestinian narrative. The State of Israel must voice support for Jewish refugees and correct this historical injustice.” To book your place, click here.

Read article in full

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Palestinians reprint 'truthful' account of Jew's exodus from Iraq

President Abbas's decision to reprint the memoir of an Iraqi Jew - Yitzhak Bar Moshe -  is a significant departure: instead of blaming the flight of Iraqi Jews to Israel on the Zionists, he is acknowledging that Arab regimes were responsible for creating Jewish refugees. This is a good thing. However, it is clear he also wants to draw an equivalence between Palestinian refugees, who were fleeing a war zone, and Jewish citizens of Arab countries, who were non-combatants far way from the conflict with Israel. Abbas might also wish to  use Bar Moshe's book as a tool to attack the Zionist establishment for discriminating against the incoming refugees, and disrespecting Bar Moshe's work. He makes the mistake, common on the far left,  of assuming that Arabic-speaking Jews are a bridge to peace because they shared a common language and culture with Muslims. In fact it is their bitter experience of persecution which makes them more mistrustful of peace initiatives. 

The Times of Israel reports (with thanks: Lily)

“The president plans to re-print Bar Moshe’s book Exodus from Iraq in Arabic soon because he wants to inform Palestinians, Arabs and everyone else about the Jews of the Arab world.

 He wants them to know what happened to them in Iraq but also in the transit camps in Israel,” Darwish, a cousin of famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who was friends with Bar Moshe, told The Times of Israel in a phone call.

Yitzhak Bar Moshe, who  died in 2003 (Photo by his daughter, Idit Shemer)

“He told Bar Moshe’s family yesterday that he first read the book when he was living in Syria and that it made him cry. He said he thinks it is so important because it shows how the suffering of Iraqi Jews is not different from that of the Palestinian people,” Darwish added, noting he plans to give it to “many of the people he will meet after he receives the new copies.”

Darwish said both the Bar Moshe family and the Sephardic Community Committee, which originally printed the book, granted Abbas permission to commission the re-printing of the book.

Read article in full

+972 Magazine reports (with thanks: Stan):

“Leaving Iraq,” the book that made Abbas weep with recognition 40 years ago, describes how Iraqi Jews — who were, in Baghdad, an integrated and respected elite — ended up being persecuted and losing their rights.

 The governments forced them into exile, but they never stopped loving their place of birth. ‘It’s sad that my father was never respected in Israel’

 This is not the first time Abbas has expressed his admiration for Iraqi Jews. “The behavior of Arab regimes toward their Jewish citizens is indescribably saddening and painful, and must be repudiated,” he wrote in 1977, not long after reading Bar-Moshe’s book.

“We turned them into enemies and made them stand against us without giving them another choice. We forced them to choose between emigrating to Israel and imprisonment or death,” he continued.

Photo-op in Ramallah: Idit Shemer, Bar Moshe's daughter,  met President Abbas recently

 Abbas has also written about discrimination against Mizrahim in Israel, labeling Zionism “an Ashkenazi movement” whose “crazy obsession” with Arab Jews has embittered their lives.

 He once called on the Arab states to offer financial aid to Arab Jews as an enticement to bring them back from exile.

 Given that the return of Jews to Lebanon, Iraq or Syria is now impossible, why is Abbas so interested in distributing “Leaving Iraq” to Arab leaders?

 “I want them to read it, because it tells the truth,” he says. “And also because they don’t know that there is a large, peace-seeking Arab-Jewish public — Jews who listen to Umm Kulthum at home and who write in Arabic.”

Read article in full

Jewish refugees from Arab lands meet Palestinian leader

Friday, November 22, 2019

Let's show communal solidarity on 30 November

The proposed mass kaddish for Jews buried in Arab lands should be recited by Ashkenazi synagogues as well as congregations from the Middle East and North Africa. It is an opportunity to end the perception that the history and culture of Mizrahi Jews is 'other', argues David A Dangoor in the Jerusalem Post:

 Baghdad Jewish cemetery: prayers will be positive and cathartic

As a result of the majority’s attitudes, culture and history, little is known of the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa. Its history, culture and traditions are rarely studied at Jewish schools or other educational institutions, even in Israel.

 Some, like Prof. Daniel Elazar, who contributed much to the academic study of Sephardim, described these communities as “The Other Jews.” Elazar, writing in 1989, meant this term as an implicit dig against those who saw these communities as the “others,” stressing how the Ashkenazi Jews were the main protagonists of Jewish history and culture.
Three decades later, it is time to end this othering of Middle Eastern and North African Jews and place their history, culture and tradition on an even keel.

 On November 30, for the second year running, prayers will be recited in synagogues across the world in remembrance of Jews buried in inaccessible cemeteries in Arab lands. A mass hashkaba (kaddish), at the initiative of a Montreal resident of Iraqi origin, Sass Peress, will be said. For decades, families have been prevented from reciting prayers at the gravestones of their loved ones buried in Arab lands.

 Peress said that the hashkaba and prayers help “to create a positive and cathartic event for all.” Last year, only 12 synagogues in the world took part in this historic event; four times that number are expected to join this year. Nonetheless, most, if not all of these synagogues and communities are from the Middle Eastern and North African tradition.

 To make this a truly positive and cathartic event, it would be extremely gratifying to witness other communities without these origins stand shoulder to shoulder in Jewish solidarity to remember the Jewish communities that were decimated in that part of the world.

 In February, the Exilarch’s Foundation sponsored a special event at the historic Bevis Mark Synagogue to mark 50 years since the infamous Baghdad hangings, when nine Jews and others were publicly hanged, an event that spurred the remaining Jews of Iraq to flee.

 Bevis Marks is the oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom. Its Spanish and Portuguese founders had no immediate roots in the region, so it was deeply heartwarming that such a Jewish community joined in the occasion to make it a shared point of commonality. For those of us whose roots are in in Iraq and the Middle East but live in an Ashkenazi majority community, it is vital that the barriers between our different communities are broken down.

This will only happen if there is a greater sense of awareness of the history, culture and tradition of other communities. With knowledge comes understanding, and the lines that separate us will begin to blur and disappear. We need literacy in the history and culture of each and every Jewish community to be passed down as the previous generations leave us.

Read article in full

Mazzig: Zionism was not a political decision, it saved Jewish lives

Anti-Zionists in America assume that because they do not personally need a haven in Israel, the family of Hen Mazzig, who survived the Farhud massacre, did not either. Writing in Jewish Journal, Mazzig, who recently completed a tour of US campuses, was shouted down at Vassar College. The College has since said that the protesters had violated its values. 

Mazzig's speech at Vassar College was disrupted for 15 minutes

As soon as I arrived at the on-campus venue, I was greeted by protesters. As a staunch supporter of free speech, I invited them to join the talk and ask me the hard questions. Instead of discussing their concerns with me, they decided to scream over me.

One said she decided to oppose me telling my story because she’s a “white queer Jew.” Another claimed they were protesting me telling the story of Mizrahi refugees as a means of fighting white supremacy. It’s ironic because I was there to speak about how my grandmother narrowly survived the Farhud, a catastrophic event in which the Iraqi government collaborated with Hitler’s white supremacist regime and killed around 180 Jews in two days.

 To put this in perspective, British newspaper The Guardian reported in August that more than 175 people have been killed worldwide by white nationalists in the past eight years.

 My talk was titled “forgotten refugees” for a reason. Too often Mizrahi history is excluded from Jewish memory. But anti-Zionists, whose narratives of white saviorism are disrupted by our mere existence, actively work to keep us forgotten.”  In their quest to “fight white supremacy,” these students at Vassar chose to shout over me during my presentation about the anti-Semitic supremacy that my family has endured.

It’s not lost on me that they chose to chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — a slogan often employed by members of Hamas when they call to ethnically cleanse Jews with the same fervor as white nationalists.

 As I tried to honor the memory of my great-grandfather, who was hanged by anti-Zionists in Baghdad, anti-Zionist students called for the murder of the world’s largest Jewish population. Yes, I do say murder, which is what the destruction of Israel means for Middle Eastern Jews. When my grandparents sought asylum in the United States in 1951, America declined to provide them sanctuary. Their only refuge was Israel.

To Iraqi Jews, being Zionists wasn’t a political decision — it was either that or death. People often claim these incidents are not anti-Semitic, especially when Jewish people participate in them.

One Jew involved in the protest was an American Jew with European roots. Like most with her background, I’m sure she’s never even heard of the Farhud. She and other anti-Israel Jews seem to assume that because they personally do not need Israel to survive, my family should not either.

Read article in full
More from Hen Mazzig
The Edinburgh haters

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Arab 'normalisation' initiative falls short of dialogue with Israelis

Update: See below for important NY Times report.

According to Jenni Frazer writing in Jewish Weekly,  a public 'groundbreaking' initiative bringing together Arabs who want normalisation with Israel has been held in London. However, no Israelis were present, because some of the delegates could have been subject to prosecution in their home countries for the “crime” of normalising relations. See my comment below.

The participants came from all over the Arab world, and were young and old, men and women, diplomats, media and arts personalities, often at odds with the leadership of their states but taking a nuanced and independent route to talking about the resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict.

Mohamed Dajani photographed at Auschwitz

 Some of the delegates, such as Mohammed Dajani, a Palestinian academic who shocked the Arab world by taking a group of his students to Auschwitz, were already well known to Israeli activists.

But many of the opinions were highly significant, not just because they are music to Jewish and Israeli ears, but because this is the first time that such declarations have been made in public and on the record.

 Taking place, by coincidence, on the anniversary of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s historic 1977 visit to Israel, the conference, warmly commended by US diplomat and long time Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross, produced some revelatory discussions and presentations. Not least were numerous personal stories about good relations with Jews, and a plea from several participants for Jews to return to Arab countries and work there for reconciliation.

Professor Dajani suggested that the stories of close interaction with Jews could be collected and published by the new Arab Council.

 Extremism and terrorism were deplored, and concern expressed about “brainwashing” of children in school and of students at university level; and, remarkably, from the clerics Hassen Chalghoumi, a condemnation of the “politicization” of Islam, and from Lebanon’s Saleh Hamed, a plea to Europe to crack down on the number of mosques in which imams were preaching hatred.

 In a video link from Washington D.C., Ambassador Ross told the participants that their deliberations “would have been wonderful if they had happened years ago,” but nevertheless he welcomed the initiative.

 He said, “You represent the voices who say enough. The more voices like yours who are prepared to speak out, the more you will build your voice [in talking] with Israel, and the more you will influence Israel’s leaders. You represent a ray of hope: it is a courageous endeavor, but also the right endeavor, and I am inspired by your example. You know you are on the right path.”

  Read article in full

My comment: this initiative is welcome,  but falls short of 'groundbreaking' because it does not address the elephant in the room: the Arab world's failure to engage directly with Israelis. Accounts of how well Jews and Arabs got on together and calls for Jews to return belong in the realm of fantasy: the Arab side needs to acknowledge that they need to talk to real Israelis, most of whom hail from Arab and Muslim countries. Oddly, Dennis Ross commends them for 'building a voice in order to influence Israel's leaders'  - what about the Arab world's leaders?

David Halbfinger of  the New York Times reports: 

Boycotting Israel and its people has only strengthened both, while doing great harm to Arab countries, and not least to the Palestinians. For the sake of the region, it is long past time to move forward to a post boycott era.
That’s where the Arab Council for Regional Integration aims to go. The council formed this week in London and is made up of 32 civic actors from 15 Arab countries, including us. The council isn’t a government organization—members include heads of NGOs, prominent media figures, Muslim clerics, and even musicians. The only political figures who attended were a former Kuwaiti information minister and an Egyptian legislator who also heads a political party there. Regardless of profession, those gathered espoused a spirit of partnership that knows no borders and repudiates the culture of exclusion and demonization that has wreaked havoc across the Arab world. First on our list is the generations-old boycott of Israel and Israelis.
The boycott evolved in stages. In the mid-20th century, Arab elites enacted exclusionary policies against 900,000 Jews indigenous to Arab lands, culminating in their mass dispossession and forced migration. In the 1940s, the internal crackdown developed into an intergovernmental Arab effort to target the young country to which most of these Jews fled—Israel—through political, cultural and economic isolation. The goal was to uproot them and their European Jewish brethren from the area. Next came a ban on all civil engagement with Israelis, even and especially in countries nominally at peace with Israel.
The latest iteration is driven largely by foreigners: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aims to drive a wedge between Israelis and their global partners. Each boycott has failed to defeat Israelis. Instead, the economic pressure inspired innovative responses that invigorated their economy and society.
But let us count the ways the boycotts have harmed Arab societies. They lost the economic benefits of forming partnerships with Israelis. Trade could provide desalination technology for parched Yemen or more investment in Jordan where unemployment rates are overwhelming. The exclusionary movement impeded Arabs from resolving tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Hard-line “resistance” factions such as Hamas have enjoyed support from numerous powers, but those Palestinians striving justly and peacefully to build institutions for a future state can hardly find Arab partners. Nor have they been able to trade or form contracts with Israelis—which would have empowered them economically, and given them some leverage to move the area toward peace.
Worse still, the regional boycott of Israel became a template for excluding and marginalizing opposition in the Arab world. Ethnic and sectarian divisions hardened, hastening the disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
To rebuild the region, we must break with this tragic history. Much of the media and many of the political institutions in the Arab world are waging a rhetorical war against Israel’s legitimacy in the public’s mind. 

New York Times article 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Seventy years since Norwegian air disaster

A monument is being unveiled today in Jerusalem’s Mekor Chaim neighborhood marking the 70th anniversary of the Hurum Air Disaster, in which an Aero Holland plane transporting Jewish children from Tunisia who were to transit through Norway while immigrating to Israel crashed near Oslo, killing three counselors, four crew members and 27 children. Story in the Jerusalem Post:

 “Aliyah for North African Jewry has not been easy. That is why we are doing this event,” Felix Perez, one of the organizers of the event, told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s not only about the 70th anniversary of the Oslo Children’s Disaster.”

  Read article in full

Tunisian envoy snubs Oslo crash commemoration

  More about the Oslo air disaster

Monday, November 18, 2019

Forty years since Victoria and 80,000 others fled

Forty years since the Iranian revolution, Lyn Julius in Jewish News assesses its impact, resulting in the exodus of three-quarters of the Jewish community:

 I never gave liquorice much thought until I met Victoria. This lady, now in her 80s, had lived in Iran until 1979. Her late husband's business was to harvest the roots of the liquorice plants which proliferate naturally near the town of Kermanshah, and to sell the liquorice for food processing, tobacco or for its medicinal properties.

As soon as the Shah was deposed and the Islamic Republic of Iran declared, Victoria's husband lost no time in bundling his family out of the country : Israel was a major client. Under the Shah, Iran had good relations with the Jewish state. After the Islamic revolution, Israel became the little Satan (the regime considers the US – whose diplomats were taken hostage for 444 days in November 1979 - the great Satan).
Ayatollah Khomeini, architect of the Islamic Revolution in Iran

Iran is racing to develop nuclear weapons so as to dominate the region. It denies the Holocaust and regularly declares its intention to wipe out the Jewish state. Together with its proxies Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah, it presents the greatest physical threat to Israel.

Victoria and her family abandoned their house and their business. They caught a ‘plane to London. She was just one of the 80,000 Jews who made their escape from Iran, many migrating to the US, the UK or Israel.

Thousands of others became hostages. Desperate parents sent 1,800 lone children to safety in the US. Jews risked their lives to be smuggled out over the Pakistani border. The route was treacherous, and several disappeared without trace.
Forty Jews have lost their lives to the regime. The wealthy businessman Habib Elghanian was executed as an example to the terrified community.

For decades the regime has been dispatching its enemies to Evin prison . Into a cell four by ten feet, shared by ten prisoners with two blankets between them, was flung a Jewish manufacturer of brake linings, Joseph Koukou. Greedy employees denounced Koukou as a Zionist spy. Every day inmates would be randomly executed by firing squad. Koukou was lucky to get out alive after serving five years in jail.

Victoria knows of no refugee from the Islamic regime - Jewish or non-Jewish - who has received compensation. In London, she went to the Iranian embassy to register the family’s lost assets. Their house was now a police station, but the thought of turning up on the doorstep to order the policemen out was improbable.
The remaining 8,000 Jews are ostensibly free to practise their religion, but any link with Israel is taboo. The secret police controls what the community says. To its credit, the regime has not encouraged popular violence against Jews, although there have been isolated incidents.

Jews in Iran have fewer rights than Muslims, are subject to unfair inheritance laws and debarred from the upper echelons of government, the army and politics – except for one token Jewish MP.

Unlike their rulers, the Iranian people are generally thought of as open-minded and pro-western. Victoria had nothing but pleasant memories of life under the Shah. But Jews have suffered pogroms and forced conversions during their 3,000-year old history.

Ultimately individuals pay the price for political upheaval and intolerance: Every year on or around 30 November , we commemorate the exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran. On the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, let’s not forget the innocent victims of this anti-Semitic and brutal regime.

Harif ( and the S&P Sephardi Community will be holding a Jewish Refugee Day event on 30 November with the band Eastern Beats. Booking www. article in full

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Jordanian minister: "We have been mad at the Jews since Hitler'

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.  The Jordanian Health Minister gives us a rare glimpse of the truth: the Arab world has not shaken off Hitler's antisemitic legacy in this TV interview recorded by MEMRI (with thanks: Lily):

Dr. Zaid Hamzeh, who served as Jordan’s Health Minister, commented during a recent interview on A One TV that he and the rest of the Arab world backed Adolf Hitler during World War II because of the brutal dictator’s sentiments regarding the Jews. According to Hamzeh, “We supported Hitler, because he hated the Jews, and we have been mad at the Jews ever since those days.” Hamzeh added, “We laud dictator[s] and wish [they] would come back. We want [them] to come riding in on a white horse and to liberate the land, while the people here are in a slumber or watching from the sideline.”

Friday, November 15, 2019

On 30 November, a mass kaddish for Jews in Arab lands

For the second year running, prayers will be recited in  synagogues across the world in remembrance of Jews buried in inaccessible cemeteries in Arab lands.

This year the mass Hashkaba (kaddish) will take place on 30 November, the official day to commemorate the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, which in 2019  falls on Shabbat.

The mass Kaddish is the initiative of  a Montreal resident of Iraqi origin, Sass Peress. For decades, families have been prevented from reciting prayers at the gravestones of their loved ones buried in Arab lands.

 Last year,  18 synagogues in Canada, the US, the UK, Mexico and Germany recited he prayers. This year, Sass Peress is hoping that 50 congregations will  take part,  ' helping to create a positive and cathartic event for all' .

 Inspired by a Facebook post by a Muslim friend in the UK referring to Miss Israel's selfie with Miss Iraq in 2017, Peress embarked on a project to locate and clean up his grandfather's grave in the Sadr City Jewish cemetery in Baghdad. This was done in secrecy in case of official interference.

"While some Iraqi Muslims stepped up and saw the positive in helping me discover my grandfather’s grave, some tried to get in the way, to the point of threats against the lives of those who sought to help me, "Peress recalls.

Before long the clean-up was extended to 150 graves. Their inscriptions were photographed and translated into English by Sami Sourani, a historian of the Iraqi-Jewish community based in Montreal. Peress hopes to obtain a photographic record of all 3,000 graves in the Sadr City cemetery.

Grave of Sasson Moshi Peress, grandfather of Sass Peress

 Jewish cemeteries across the Arab world have been vandalised or destroyed by Arab governments. The Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein reportedly planted grenades among the gravestones in Sadr City Cemetery. The government under General Kassem (1958 - 61) refused to revoke an order to bulldoze the old Baghdad Jewish cemetery so that a highway could be built. Most of the tombs were destroyed, including the mass grave containing the remains of the victims of the 1941 Farhud.

"If your synagogue or community centre would like to join the mass Hashkaba please contact Sass Peress (

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Embracing rather than erasing Mizrahi culture

This article by Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah in HaSepharadi takes up the familiar theme of Middle East and North African Jewry suffering 'discrimination' by the Israeli establishment. It has some interesting insights, but fails to differentiate between the various Mizrahi groups. It assumes that Mizrahi Jews were 'coerced' into abandoning  their customs and languages, when many were all too eager to change their names,  learn Hebrew and integrate into the new state. As for Ashkenazim getting better housing and jobs it is almost never stated that many were able to move out of the ma'abarot thanks to reparations they received from the German government. (With thanks: Isaac)

Ovadia Yosef, Israel's legendary Sephardi Chef Rabbi, being greeted by Shimon Peres.

In the period between 1948-1973 over a million Jews left the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It’s no secret that this experience was traumatic. Historic Jewish communities dissolved overnight, families were separated and many were left impoverished due to autocratic governments, political insecurity, and corruption.

 The trauma of exile was compounded for those who went to Israel by the atrocious conditions of the maʿabarot (transit camps) in the 1950s and later resettlement in remote development towns along Israel’s border. The experiences left an indelible mark on MENA Jewry, but it was not only the dreadful living conditions (which many Eastern European Jews experienced as well) that traumatized MENA Jewry. More shockingly, MENA Jewry were treated as second class citizens by the Ashkenazi establishment who saw their languages and cultures as inferior to that of the Germanophile Ashkenazi majority at the time.

 It is well documented that many political leaders in the early years of the state viewed Eastern European Jewry as having greater potential than MENA, not a surprising bias given the shared origins. Furthermore, government leaders feared that lack of enthusiasm for Zionism, connections to Arab communist parties, and apathy towards an agrarian lifestyle in many circles of MENA Jewry could engender political instability in the already fragile state. As a consequence, these concerns and biases translated into Ashkenazim being allocated better housing, jobs, and more access to higher education due to their perceived superiority, ultimately resulting in socio-economic differences which are felt to this day in Israel. 

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Jews in Egypt apply for Spanish citizenship

Eleven Jews born in Egypt have applied for Spanish citizenship. Three are Samy Ibrahim, his brother and his father, among the last Jews living in Egypt. Fascinating article on the history of Jews of Sephardi origin in Egypt in Al-Monitor: 

According to a list published in a 1948 Spanish law anticipating the end of the Capitulations in Egypt and Greece the following year, at least 265 Sephardim, meaning originally from the Iberian Peninsula, had been under Spanish protection since Ottoman times.

The list, the only one of its kind ever published, shows that 123 of those Sephardim lived in Cairo and the remaining 142 in Alexandria and Port Said. Jews of other origins and those who received protection after 1914 are not listed. After Ibrahim found the documents of protection of his family, the Spanish authorities in Egypt suggested he apply for Spanish citizenship in accordance with a 2015 law granting citizenship to the “sons of Sepharad," a reference to the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in the late 15th century. The window for application closed on Oct. 1.

Samy Ibrahim, pictured here with Levana Zamir of the Jews from Egypt association in Israel and Cairo community head Magda Haroun

At first, “it was not in my mind to apply,” said Ibrahim. But he came to think, “If I am defending the Jewish identity, why not seek the origin?” he wondered. “From then on, I started to give real thought to my origins.” Today, all Jews in Egypt, thought to now number around 10, are of Sephardic origin, Ibrahim said. Historically, the differences of origin, culture, language, religious rites or social status made the Jews of Egypt one of its most diverse minorities, yet Sephardim were always in a clear majority compared with the Ashkenazis and Karaites.

 The first Sephardim started to arrive in Egypt by the end of the 15th century. But from 1897 to 1907, there was a major immigration during which Ibrahim’s grandfather came from Istanbul. A source in the Spanish Ministry Foreign Affairs told Al-Monitor that a total of 11 Jews born in Egypt had applied for citizenship. Of them, the Spanish Ministry of Justice confirmed to Al-Monitor that nine retain Egyptian nationality.

Yet only Ibrahim, his brother and his father — all of whom applied following Ibrahim’s initiative — still live in Egypt, according to the official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To meet all the conditions required to obtain Spanish nationality, Ibrahim had to learn the Spanish language and history in Cairo while he was putting the pieces of his familiar story together, especially that of his grandfather’s side, information that was crucial to proving his Spanish ancestry.

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Taliban put bickering Jews in prison

Zebulon Simentov is the last Jew of Afghanistan. There used to be two, but they bickered constantly - so much so that the Taliban imprisoned them, then kicked him out for being too annoying. Laura Adkins reports for JTA:

As the old saying goes, two Jews, three opinions. Add one headache for the Taliban.

Emran Feroz profiled Simentov for Foreign Policy and uncovered some incredible stories about the feisty Afghan — including that the Taliban once imprisoned him for arguing with a fellow Jew, then kicked him out because the constant bickering became too annoying. 

 There is a good amount of information available already on Simentov, given his newsworthy title as Afghanistan’s last remaining Jew. He always wears a kippah and observes the Jewish Sabbath, though he will watch television if a non-Jew has turned it on for him. He lives in Afghanistan’s last standing synagogue — which he renovated himself — in the heart of Kabul’s flower district. Every Shabbat, he reads Torah from the bimah of the old sanctuary. He hates the Taliban, and is on a quest to reclaim a Torah stolen by its interior ministry. 

He allegedly charges a pretty penny (or euro) for interviews.

 But Feroz’s article, framed around the imminent return of the Taliban to Afghanistan, adds much to the story. “Everyone in these streets knows [him],” one neighbor told Feroz. “He is very salient and, sometimes, he is very choleric. But we have fun with him.” 

Read article in full

Simentov: charges a pretty penny for interviews

Monday, November 11, 2019

How Egypt's beloved cartoon Mishmish fell into oblivion

There is a famous Arabic saying ' Bukra fil mishmish' - literally 'tomorrow, when the apricots bloom.' It's the languid Egyptian equivalent of 'when pigs fly' .

In the 1930s and 40s, Egypt was home to a thriving film industry. The work of Walt Disney became popular. It was then that the three Frenkel brothers, David, Herschel and Shlomo, hit on the idea of introducing a typically Egyptian character into animated films screened in Egypt -  Mishmish Effendi.

Mishmish Effendi got his name when a sceptical producer refused to back the brothers' work, telling them: 'Bukra fil mishmish'.  But the fez-wearing character soon became a household name in the 1930s and 40s. The Frenkel brothers, whose Ashkenazi family was driven by the Turks from Palestine to Egypt during WWI, were at the peak of their career.

The best years lasted until the early 1950s - when like thousands of Jews, they were forced to leave. Egypt confiscated Jewish property, replaced Jews with Muslims, and accused Jews of sending smoke signals to Israel.

The Frenkel story encapsulates the tragedy of Egypt's Jews. It  is now the subject of a new one-and-a-quarter hour documentary, Bukra fil Mishmish, directed by Tal Michael and produced in Israel by Cassis Films. A story of displacement, frustration, and failure. In France, the brothers doggedly waited for the apricots of their career to bloom. They shifed to colour from black-and-white and ingeniously invented a portable projector so as to pitch their ideas to one producer after another. They sank all their savings into one last film in 1964. It flopped.

The film follows Didier Frenkel, son of Shlomo, into the basement of the family home. Ancient film reels are gathering dust. This is the oeuvre of the Frenkel brothers, salvaged from Egypt, which Didier's embittered father had wanted destroyed. The reels are shipped off to be restored at France's leading film laboratory. After decades in a crate, Mishmish Effendi is given a new lease of life.

But there is another side to the story: Didier's surviving mother, Marcelle, reveals the tension at the heart of the family dynamics. She and Shlomo and their three children shared their house in Montgeron with David and Herschel, who never married. She is the down-to-earth Sephardi who wanted to join her family in Israel and start afresh, while the brothers ranged against her - united  'as the fingers of one hand' in clinging to their futile film-making dreams. They disparaged Marcelle's voice of reason. For her, a better tomorrow never came: 'bukra fil mishmish'.

The plight of the Frenkel brothers mirrors that of actors, artists and musicians who plummeted from fame after their uprooting from Arab countries. There was Zohra al-Fassia, who once sang for the king of Morocco but ended up shuffling around aimlessly in her dressing gown in a tiny Israeli apartment. Souad Zaki, a famous Egyptian singer,  became a cleaning lady in Tel Aviv. And the el-Kuwaity brothers, once the darlings of the Iraqi music scene, were reduced to selling kitchen utensils in the Hatikva market. To add insult to injury, their names were erased in their native land, although their songs were still played.

As with the El Kuwaity brothers, so with the Frenkels. But Mishmish Effendi has been rehabilitated recently in Egypt and the Frenkels are no longer forgotten. Fifty years too late for the brothers - who died despairing and disappointed.

The film has been produced with French and English subtitles. Enquiries

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Bene Israel have a special link to the Tomb of Rachel

A 19th century Jerusalem rabbi, Yaakov Sapir, forged a special link between the Bene Israel Jews of India and the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem, when he travelled to India to raise funds for the tomb's renovation. Today few Bene Israel Jews visit the tomb, which more closely resembles a fortification, writes Shalva Weil in Jewish Asian News, but the memory is still alive.

One of the causes to which the Bene Israel of Bombay contributed was the Tomb of Rachel. This tomb marks the very spot where the Biblical matriarch Rachel died in childbirth on the road to Bethlehem. In the Book of Genesis (35:19-20) it is written: "And Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day."

 Muhammad al-Idrisi, the 12th century Muslim geographer confirmed that: "On the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is the Tomb of Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin." The tomb has been the site of pilgrimage and prayer for Jews in the Diaspora for more than three thousand years. Throughout the centuries, Jews from all over the world visited the tomb, and sent funds to help renovate and maintain it. It was such a revered site that even Jews in far-flung countries, as far away as India, longed to pray there and felt connected to the place.

However, as with many Jewish religious sites, and particularly with respect to tombs of patriarchs, prophets and great Rabbis, the site also had religious significance for members of other faiths. This was particularly well documented in the 15th century with descriptions of Jews, Muslims and Christians frequenting the place. In 1615, Muhammad, Pasha of Jerusalem, gave the Jews exclusive rights to the tomb. In 1830, the Ottomans recognized the legal rights of the Jews to the site.

When Sir Moses Montefiore purchased the site in 1841, he restored the tomb and added a small prayer hall for Muslims. When Rabbi Yaakov Sapir left Jerusalem, emissaries were collecting money for the renovation of the tomb. It appears that Rabbi Sapir was successful in fund-raising in India for the holy site.

Inscribed on the wall of Rachel's tomb is the following plaque: "This well was made possible through a donation from our esteemed brothers, the Bene Israel, who dwell in the city of Bombay, may the Lord bless that place. In honour of the whole congregation of Israel who come to worship at the gravestone for the tomb of our matriarch Rachel, may her memory rest in peace, amen!

In the year 5625." This lunar year is the equivalent of 1864, the year that Rabbi Sapir returned to Jerusalem from India. At the beginning of the twentieth century, while Jewish art in Palestine portrayed Rachel's tomb as one of the most important holy sites, the site also began to be coveted by Muslims and became a source of contention, with the Wakf demanding control of the place on the grounds that the tomb was part of a neighbouring Muslim cemetery.

After the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, the tomb was allocated to Jordan and Jews could no longer visit. During the Six Day War in 1967, after Israel occupied the West Bank (previously Jordanian territory), the tomb once again became part of Israel. During the 1970's, when I used to visit the tomb, the keeper of the small tomb was a Bene Israel Indian Jew from Bombay, who felt an historical affinity with the site because of his forefathers.

 The security around the Tomb of Rachel In 1995, after the Oslo agreement, Bethlehem, with the exception of Rachel's tomb, became part of the Palestinian Authority. The following year, the Israel Defense Forces, fearing a terrorist attack at the site, built a huge fortification around the previously modest tomb. In retaliation, in 1996, the Palestinian Authority declared the place to be on Palestinian land, stopped referring to it as Rachel's tomb and made the claim that it was the site of an Islamic mosque.

 During the second Intifada in 2000, there were intermittent attacks on the tomb with altercations between the IDF and Palestinian gunmen. Since then, there has been a growing wave of support for the idea that the site was in fact a thousand year-old mosque by the name of the "Bilal ibn Rabah mosque" until, finally, the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) endorsed the idea. In October 2010, it was declared a mosque.

Out of 58 member states, only the United States voted against the decision; 12 European and African countries abstained. In a petition to UNESCO initiated on the internet, petitioners wrote: "In attempting to sever the Jewish cultural, religious and natural heritage bond with the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb, UNESCO denies the history it is mandated to preserve, engages in a political maneuver designed to weaken a member UN nation, and undermines its own principles. …

We demand that UNESCO, whose purpose it is to protect heritage, also protect Jewish heritage, rather than deny it." The tomb was even known by the Bene Israel of Bombay as one of the holiest sites to Jews over the generations even though they were disconnected from world Jewry. It symbolized fertility, and is of special significance to Jewish women. Rachel's birthday, which falls on the 11th day of the lunar month of Heshvan, has become a day of pilgrimage for thousands of Jewish women, who come from all over Israel to pray for their loved ones or themselves. Busloads of Bene Israel have in the past visited the tomb to make vows and pray for suitable marriage partners for their children or beg for children for a childless couple.

The Bene Israel groups who visit the tomb today, which now more closely resembles a fortification marking the checkpoint to Bethlehem more than an ancient holy site, are few and far between. The Bene Israel guard is no longer there. The memory, though, is still closely guarded.

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