Monday, November 30, 2020
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Friday, November 27, 2020
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
In the week in which the flight of Jews from Arab countries is being remembered, the term 'ethnic simplification' springs to mind. It's an ongoing process that has included massacres, discrimination and national homogenisation following the dissolution of empires. Lyn Julius writes in JNS News:
Jewish refugees from Yemen in a ma'abara in Israel
Earlier this year, a Jewish man, Saad al-Nati, his disabled mother and three daughters were forced to leave their home in Amran province, Yemen. The family had been harassed by the fundamentalist, Iranian-backed Houthis whose slogan is 'convert or die'. Saeed was jailed but was released after promising to sell his home. He was offered asylum by the United Arab Emirates, which was about to sign a peace deal with Israel.
The departure of the Al-Nati family leaves just five Jews - an old woman, her crazed brother and three others - in Amran province. There are 33 Jews still living in the capital San'aa.
The cleansing of Yemen of its Jews is almost complete, from a population of 55,000 we now have 38. This pattern has been repeated across the Middle East and North Africa . Of almost one million Jews in the Arab world in 1948, barely 4,000 remain.
This month has been declared Mizrahi Remembrance Month. The initiative comes not a minute too soon to recall the exodus of 850,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab world in barely a generation. The expulsion of the Jews is seen increasingly in the context of the plight of other MENA minorities - Copts, Assyrian and Palestinian Christians, Bahai's and Yazidis, persecuted or driven from the region.
What is the solution? Greater education? Enshrining minority rights into a country's constitution?
Even if the comparison is not made as often as it shoud be, the Arab-Israeli conflict produced an exchange of populations between Jews and Palestinians not dissimilar to the exchanges produced by other 20th century conflicts.The Indo-Pakistan conflict displaced 14 million Muslim and Hindus. In the post -WWI Greek-Turkish conflict one-and a half million Greeks and half a million Muslims swapped places.
These exchanges were part of a process that the American social and political theorist Jeff Weintraub calls 'ethnic simplification'.
This a hugely euphemistic term for what has included massacre (eg Armenians and Assyrians by Turks) discrimination (Christians and other religious minorities are ground down to the extent that they have no choice but to flee), the redrawing of boundaries and a process of national homogenisation following the dissolution of empires: the Austro-Hungarian empire no less than the Ottoman empire. Thus Poland has divested itself of 30 percent of its non-Poles - Germans, Jews, Russians. Now 97 percent of the country is Polish and Catholic.
In 1900 the Ottoman port of Smyrna (Izmir) hosted a motley population of Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and Jews. Today the city is 100 percent Turkish.
Nowhere is 'ethnic simplification' more pervasive than in the Middle East. The Christian population continues to shrink, while tribal and religious strife has ravaged countries like Syria and Iraq.
Some people look wistfully back to the 'coexistence' prevalent in the Ottoman empire. Weintraub calls Ottoman coexistence 'despotic multiculturalism'.
But the system, says Weintraub, is built on a protection racket: minorities are forced to pay for protection, while the ruler holds the ring between different sects. Sometimes the ruler throws a minority to the wolves.The system is difficult to maintain in the face of mass mobilisation movements.When it breaks down, a minority finds itself without rights and vulnerable to other groups, usually motivated by fear, who act violently towards it.
Ethnic nationalism, ironically founded in the Arab world by Christians, was a movement intended to cut across religious and sectarian lines and build loyalty to an over-arching identity. But it failed and has been replaced by forms of theocracy.
To protect minorities it is not enough to enshrine their rights in a constitution. It is not enough to educate succeeding generations. Both of these are important, but not as important as what Weintraub terms 'a culture of democratic pluralism'.
It is difficult to see how such a culture might emerge in the Middle East in the near future. The UAE is taking baby steps towards liberalisation and de-Islamisation. But for the Jews of Yemen, it will be too late.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Monday, November 23, 2020
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Friday, November 20, 2020
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Monday, November 16, 2020
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Friday, November 13, 2020
Thursday, November 12, 2020
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Monday, November 09, 2020
Sunday, November 08, 2020
Friday, November 06, 2020
Only the walls of the synagogue in Aley, in the mountains of Lebanon, survived the 1975 Civil War, but it remains a monument to the philanthropy of Ezra Anzarut, who built it in 1892. So generous was Ezra el Kebir (as he was dubbed) that he was respected not just by the Jews, but the local non-Jewish population. His great-grand-daughter Edna Anazarut Tuner tells his story.
The synagogue at Aley, built by Ezra Anzarut, dubbed El Kebir (the Great).
The Anzaruts were Cohannim and were an Orthodox practising Jewish family. They were so pious that my Gt. grandfather Ezra would build a synagogue as close to where he was living as possible, so that he would not have far to walk during the Sabbath or the High Holy Days.
He built one adjacent to his lavish country house in Aley (in the Shouf Mountains of Lebanon). This synagogue had electricity, which the one in Beirut lacked. He also built one in Camp de Cesar in Alexandria (Egypt), within a few minutes’ walking distance from the family villa.
These synagogues were always built "In honour of his father Jacob".
I was informed that the Anzarut synagogue in Alexandria has now been turned into a mosque. The one in Aley was badly damaged by rockets during a Lebanese Civil War. One of my relatives who was in the IDF and was stationed there for a while, took photographs of it.
The exterior walls are still standing. In the middle of the floor in what was the Great Hall, he found the Anzarut alms box, which he took back to Israel. I was shown it when I visited the family in Jerusalem.
According to tradition, Great Grandfather Ezra and Great.Grandmother Rachel were not only extremely philanthropic but they were also very hospitable, and the Sabbath and High Holy Days were a time for wonderful family gathering and togetherness.
One of my father's cousins Ezra Charles of Melbourne (Australia) recalls that the dining room table was so big that it could easily accommodate three families.
My Grandfather Leon told me that Great Grandfather Ezra was a very loving and proud father, but was rather formal and aloof with his children, but he always had an amused twinkle in his eyes when he spoke with his young children and his eventual grandchildren He was very kind, and they loved him dearly.
My Great Grandfather was given the title of " Ezra El Kebir,' (Ezra the Great) a tribute to his great philanthropy.
According to an Israeli historian who contacted me, Ezra el Kebir was the founder and first president of the Jewish community in Beirut.
He mentioned that he was writing a book on the Jewish community in Beirut at the time my ancestor resided there. He discovered that the name of Ezra el Kebir kept cropping up, and that he seems to have been a very important and highly respected figure at the time, not only by his co-religionists but also by the rest of the non-Jewish population.
I was later sent a photograph of the prominent and wealthy Jewish businessmen of Beirut. My great grandfather is sitting in the middle, and my Farhi great Uncles are standing behind him.
Ezra demanded absolute respect. It was customary for his children and grandchildren to kiss his hand when they saw him. My Great Grandmother Rachel on the other hand, was a relaxed, nurturing and loving human being, according to her grandchildren. They all adored her, and whenever they visited the villa, they never left empty-handed, as she showered them with gifts.
In the very large three storey stone country house in Aley, it was the tradition to keep the entrance doors open during the Sabbath, and the High Holy Days, when all the poor of the area, including the Druze inhabitants could come and eat to their heart's content.
Nothing was ever stolen, in spite of the fact that all the silver and valuables were left on display. Not one of the Druze, or any poverty stricken guest would have ever considered pilfering anything.
When we were in Israel many years ago, visiting very old tombs in a cavern near the border, I met an ancient looking Lebanese Druze who came from Aley. He was selling entrance tickets from a small tin can kiosk.
When I informed him that I was an Anzarut, he became very excited, and stopped yelling at our three sons who were boisterously hopping over the rope barrier and hopping back. He threw his arms around me, and said in Arabic that Ezra el Kebir and his son Leon (my grandfather) had been so incredibly kind and generous, that when they died, they must surely have gone straight to Paradise.
Read the rest of Edna Anzarut Turner 's memoir at Les Fleurs de l'Orient.
The synagogue at Aley will feature in a talk (in French) hosted by Harif by Nagi Zeidan on 10 November at 7:30 pm UK time. Details from email@example.com.