Friday, September 25, 2020
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The excitement was palpable when, for the first time, a member of Bahrain's Parliament appeared on an Israeli TV channel, days after the signing of the Abraham Accords.
The presenter of the Knesset Channel programme repeatedly asked Nancy Khedouri, a Jewish member of the Shura Council, the upper house of Bahrain's parliament, 'esh lonek? (How are you?) in Iraqi-Jewish dialect.
He also asked after the health of Edwin Shuker, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. 'Fantastic!' Mr Shuker replied.
There are some 30 Jews living in Bahrain, a community which at its height numbered about 800. When asked about the history of the community, Nancy Khedouri said that Jews settled in 1873 from several cities in Baghdad, Iraq.
However, historian Sami Sourani comments that Jews lived in Bahrain for centuries before. He points to the story of the brother of Maimonides (Ha Rambam) who lived in Bahrain and was a dealer in pearls. Oysters were fished off Bahrain's coast.
The Cairo Geniza records correspondence between the two brothers. In his letters Maimonides complains that he worked from early morning till midnight treating the sick. He could hardly make a living because the sick people were poor and could not afford to pay. His brother encouraged him to persevere: he told him he was ready to support him for all his sincere efforts.
The Rambam's brother, unfortunately, drowned in the sea while his sailing boat was on a pearl-fishing trip.
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And then there is the patriarch of the Srour family, who died at the same time as his two children during the great famine of 1916. All three were buried in the same place. On some stelae, we find sad poems engraved on marble, calligraphed in Arabic, sometimes with a few simple words, such as “pray for them,” in Arabic and French.
I understood a thousand things about the Jews, the complete opposite of what I was taught as a child. I felt compassion for these people while reading their epitaphs, and told myself that it was possible to live fraternally with them, to negotiate together.
During the renovation and cleaning of the Jewish cemetery in Sidon between 2015 and 2018, I discovered several graves buried in the sand. I was able to read the names of some deceased written in Hebrew, thanks to friends who translated them to me.
This cemetery had been vandalized several times, especially after the Israeli army evacuated the city in February 1985. The majority of the stelae had been ransacked and graves had collapsed when sand was moved from the cemetery. I was in tears.
My team and I had to re-bury the deceased with great respect and dignity. I took pictures and filmed everything to record all that I saw and did. I know this cemetery by heart, I know the smallest details. I have started to archive and save each of the graves that were unearthed.
This cemetery holds a special place in my heart, it is a part of me and the deceased have become like members of my own family."
My responsibility was to make things right and to identify some of the deceased who have been buried for many years. I posted articles on my Facebook page regarding my work at the cemetery and as a result, several Lebanese Jews in the diaspora contacted me to ask if I had found their parents’ graves. Sometimes I was even asked to film and take pictures of the graves of their deceased.
I have become a different man. All my Jewish friends respect me, and I have gained self-respect, too. In a few weeks my book on the history of the Jews of Lebanon will be published in France. It will be the culmination of 25 years of research."
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Two weeks ago, Herzog concluded a similar agreement with the UAE's Jewish community.
The Bahraini Jewish community is small, totaling 50 Jews. Most of its members arrived in Bahrain from Iraq decades ago, and earn their living working in commerce and services industries.
Huda Nonoo, former Bahraini ambassador to the US
Nonoo asked the Jewish Agency for tools to support Jewish education, enhance Jewish identity and cultivate community life.
Following this conversation, a Jewish Agency team will be established in the coming days, headed by the organization's CEO, Amira Ahronoviz, who will be working with the head of the Bahraini Jewish community and members.
Friday, September 11, 2020
Retired judge Yitzhak Banai and his wife, Simcha, their son Eviatar Banai, music historian Yoav Kutner, exhibition curator Tal Kobo, Gavri Banai, and Eilat Lieber, museum director, pose for a photo at the Tower of David Museum. (Photo: Ricky Rachman)
Thursday, September 10, 2020
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Seventy years this month, a daring mission to airlift 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel, dubbed On Eagles' wings, or Operation Magic Carpet, came to an end. It was made possible with the bravery and heroism of the pilots of Alaska Airlines. They did not lose a single passenger, despite sandstorms and enemy gunfire. The last surviving crew member, Captain Elgen Long, described the mission as the highlight of his flying career. Yanky Fachler takes up the story:
Another Alaska Airlines pilot was Robert F. Maguire Jr., the chief pilot of Operation Magic Carpet, and incidentally the son of an American judge at the Nuremberg war trials.
Maguire had enlisted in the Army Air Corps the day after Pearl Harbour. Before becoming a pilot with Alaska Airlines, he had flown in the Pacific region during the war.
During Operation Magic Carpet, he flew between 270 and 300 hours each month, at a time when the United States limit under its aviation rules was 90 hours. Maguire relied as much on his wits as on his aviation skills.
A typical work day on Operation Magic Carpet was 16 to 20 hours long. After unloading passengers in Tel Aviv, Maguire and his crew usually flew on to Cyprus to spend the night there because of the danger of being caught up in the fighting between Israel and its Arab neighbours.Each flight was perilous.
Fuel was scarce and sandstorms were frequent. Landing on Arab soil was to be avoided at all costs. The pilots were warned of the dire consequences if that happened. The passengers would likely be killed. On one trip, McGuire ran out of fuel and was forced to land on a runway in Egypt.
When airport officials rushed to the plane, the quick-thinking Maguire asked them to send ambulances immediately to take passengers to the nearest hospital. "Why?" they asked.
"Smallpox," he replied.
He got his fuel in record speed, and flew on to Tel Aviv.
When Alaska Airlines had to withdraw after a few months into the operation, Maguire started his own company, Near East Air Transport, hiring planes and pilots from Alaska Airlines, and continued the job.
David Ben-Gurion was reported to have called Robert Maguire “the Irish Moses.” • Quite why Ben Gurion thought that Maguire was Irish is not known. The writer Leon Uris used Maguire as a model for his fictional character Foster J. MacWilliams, the chief pilot of the fictional Artic Circle Airways, in his 1958 novel, "Exodus."
Another Uris character, “Stretch” Thompson, was based on Alaska Airlines boss James Wooten. • In 2004, Maguire was awarded a medal of valour by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for his role in rescuing the Jews of Yemen.
Warren Metzger was a DC-4 captain with Alaska Airlines and his wife Marian was a flight attendant, when they embarked on what turned out to be one of the greatest feats in the airline’s history. "One of the things that really got to me was when we were unloading a plane at Tel Aviv," said Marian, who assisted Israeli nurses on a number of flights. "A little old lady came up to me and took the hem of my jacket and kissed it. “She was giving me a blessing for getting them home. We were the wings of eagles."
A child arrives in Tel Aviv with Alaska Airlines (JDC archives)
Before Operation Magic Carpet, the Metzger couple had been involved in the Berlin airlift, and helped repatriate Jews from Shanghai who had fled to China before WW2 to escape persecution in Germany.
Now that the communists had come to power in China, Alaska Airlines flew the German Jews to Israel.
Tragically, while not a single Yemenite refugee died during the rescue mission itself, some 850 Yemenite Jews had died en route to their departure points or while waiting in the transit camp in Aden. Infant mortality rates were high, and Ben-Gurion noted in his diary that Yemenite children in the Israeli ma'abarot – the tent transit camps - were dying like flies.
As the Jerusalem Post reported on 25 September 1950, Operation Magic Carpet came to an end that evening at 10 pm at Lydda Airport.
The two aircraft which wound up the operation landed within ten minutes of each other. Among those gathered at the airfield to meet them were the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, our own Dr Isaac Halevi Herzog and Rabbi Ben Zion Hai Uziel. The planes parked close to each other, and health formalities were completed aboard the planes.
Some of the new arrivals on this final trip had been among the first to arrive at Aden, but had stayed on there until the end, to help with the camp arrangements. They were greeted enthusiastically by the former camp staff with whom they had worked for many months and who had come to see them arrive.
A surprise witness to the emotional scenes at the airport was Mrs. Lorna Wingate, the widow of General Orde Wingate. Lorna had arrived from London earlier that evening, in order to attend the foundation stone ceremony of the Wingate Youth Village. She stayed at the airport so that she could witness the Magic Carpet complete its operations.
Another Alaska Airlines pilot was Stanley “Buddy” Epstein, a Jewish Machal volunteer from the USA who served as a pilot in Air Transport Command. Although not a religious man, Epstein said later that Operation Magic Carpet had to have been blessed by God because the possibility of any of these airplanes being successful was pretty remote. Epstein, a pilot and maintenance specialist, contracted with Alaska Airlines to help with “Operation Magic Carpet” after having airlifted supplies from Czechoslovakia to Israel. “We flew almost continuously from Christmas Eve 1948 to nearly a year later,” said Epstein, “and never lost a life or had an injury from an accident.
“One airplane undershot the runway in Asmara, but it didn’t burn, even though it was loaded with gasoline barrels. “We had a few bullet holes.”
Epstein noted that the C-46 aircraft were carrying 76 passengers per trip – nearly 30 more than licensed for, based on the average passenger weight and the number of aircraft exits.
Epstein said at the time: “If there was a single reason felt by all of the English-speaking flight crews and other volunteers, it was a feeling of “never again” after the press and other news media dramatically revealed the stories of the Holocaust.”
Alaska Airlines president James Wooton shares his memories of the first flight in 1949.
More about the Alaska airlines airlift
Wednesday, September 02, 2020
The Palestinians are now saying that have a problem not only with Jews touring the Temple Mount, but with those who wish to pray inside a synagogue in an Arab country, namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
A multifaith complex that includes a synagogue is currently being built in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. “A church, mosque and synagogue will share a collective space for the first time, serving as a community for inter-religious dialogue and exchange, and nurturing the values of peaceful co-existence and acceptance among different beliefs, nationalities and cultures,” the committee overseeing construction of the complex said in a statement.
The prospect of Jews praying inside a synagogue in a faraway Arab country seems to worry Palestinian Muslim figures more than the killing and wounding of thousands of Muslims and Christians in last week’s huge explosion at the port of the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
Iconic photo of UAE residents hailing the first El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi over Saudi Arabian airspace
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Tuesday, September 01, 2020
Dr Omar Fora: Mizrahi Jews subjugated, as in Morocco
Dr. Omar Fora: "Our brothers should know that Israel does not endanger the Palestinian people alone. By Allah! Israel refused to open an embassy east of the Nile. It established its embassy west of the Nile, because it considers the land stretching from the eastern bank of the Nile to the Euphrates to be the biblical Land of Israel. Therefore, the embassy was established outside the land that stretches from east of the Nile [to the Euphrates]. It established its embassy west of the Nile, because it considers the land west of the Nile to be outside of its territory. Israel is not about to achieve these Zionist or biblical ambitions now, but Israel wants to establish 'Greater Israel.
' By Allah! The day will come when Israel will demand lands in Medina, the lands of [the Jewish tribes of] Qurayza, Nadhir, and Banu Qaynuqa, as well as the lands of Khaybar. As we study history and understand it, we know the true nature of the Zionist movement. "The only Jews that have a right to live with us in Palestine, under our patronage and our authority, are those who have been living in Palestine. But the Ashkenazi Jews who came from overseas, from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and settled this land – they should go back to where they came from.
But Mizrahi Jews would have the same rights and obligations that we have, they would live with us, just like they live in Morocco, under the authority of the Kingdom of Morocco, they would live with us in Palestine. We are not against Judaism as a religion. We are against Zionism as a racist, bloody, and occupying movement."
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