Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
What does Nathan mean? It is to say that Alexandria in the 20th century was home to a cosmopolitan mix of nationalities, many of them recent arrivals, drawn by the port city's thriving commercial life.
The real Egypt is to be found in Cairo, where Nathan was born. Indeed he comes from a long line of native Jews. The family house was in Haret El-Yahud, the Jewish quarter. The quarter had a gate which the Jews themselves locked in order to protect themselves. In fact the gate to the quarter (now removed) was also the gate to the large Nathan family house.
The Nathans were stateless, as were 40 percent of Jews. Only some five percent held Egyptian nationality, a privileged class with connections to the elite.
Nathan is the author of several books. The most recent is a novel, 'La Societé des Belles Personnes'. It is a tale of revenge based on real events. (See Akadem Interview in French with thanks: Viviane).
The book is the sequel to 'A Land like You'. Here is an extract from a review by Jean Naggar for the Jewish Book Council:
In his latest novel, A Land Like You (short-listed for the Prix Goncourt in 2015), Tobie Nathan has written a beautiful and immersive novel, plunging readers headlong into Egypt’s unique history and extraordinary variety of cultures. Nathan interweaves the worlds of the voluble Jews from Haret el Yahud—the Cairo Jewish Quarter — with those of the Muslims of Bab El Zuweyla, along with the complex international communities that connect and divide them.
Propelled forward by vivid, unforgettable characters, the layers of political, historic, and mystical Egypt tumble together into a rich mosaic, encompassing a period of great change from 1918 to the 1950s. Within the crowded Haret El Yahud, Esther, an orphaned child, suffers a traumatic accident that reshapes her future. The trauma leaves Esther’s relatives, and the larger community, convinced she is possessed by alien spirits and demons.
Beautiful, wild, and ungovernable, Esther clearly marches to the beat of her own drum. Her intimacy with unseen forces commands consternation and respect, distinguishing her in the often claustrophobic community of Jews who inhabit the twisted paths and teeming dwellings of the Haret El Yahud. For Jews and Arabs alike, religious mysticism and close contact with the spirit world imbues their daily lives with wonder and drama.
Urged on by a multitude of anxious relatives, Esther marries at fourteen, and finds deep love and happiness with Motty, an older man, blind from birth. Sadly, the love between them produces no child in seven years of marriage. Her quest for motherhood eventually results in a son, Zohar, but she has no milk with which to feed him, so she seeks out a woman in the Muslim quarter who has recently given birth to a daugher, Masreya.
Monday, March 29, 2021
Sunday, March 28, 2021
With thanks: Sandra
As Jewish families the world over sit down to their Passover ceremonial meal or Seder to recall the Biblical exodus, here is a rendition of MaNishtana, Why is this Night Different from all other Nights? This is the first of four questions, usually recited by the youngest member of the family.
Here is a version familiar to Iraqi Jews. It is recited in Hebrew, and then in Judeo-Arabic. The children carry on their shoulders a piece of matza wrapped in a napkin: they knock at the door. The guests call out: 'Where are you coming from?' 'Mitsrayim', they reply. 'Where are you going? ''Yerushalayim' they shout.
Friday, March 26, 2021
Thursday, March 25, 2021
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Monday, March 22, 2021
Sunday, March 21, 2021
This is the story of how one Jew living in Paris came face to face with an unexpected evocation of her Moroccan past. Photos collected by Hannah Assouline are now on display at the Jewish Museum in Paris, but one photo stands out. See Academ video here of an interview with Hannah (with thanks: Vera):
Shoeless in Tinghir
It was in 1985 that Hannah Assouline, herself a photographer, was introduced to the photographer Jean Besancenot. He lived in straitened means in a tawdry Paris apartment. Between 1934 and 1937, Besancenot went on assignment to photograph the inhabitants of the Atlas mountains in Morocco. Most of his Jewish portraits were of women, and although poor, they wore the traditional dress reserved for festive occasions, weighed down with jewellery.
Besancenot immediately identified Hannah as a Jew, and could even tell which part of Morocco her family came from. They were dirt-poor and came from Tinghir, in the Berber Atlas mountains, where time had stood still for hundreds of years. Hannah was the daughter of a rabbi and the great niece of the famous rabbi Baba Salé, whose tomb has become a place of pilgrimage.
Sifting through piles of Besancenot's old photographs, Hannah came across a young bride and groom in their wedding costumes. The groom had a pained, even miserable expression. He was barefoot.
Hannah was struck by the boy's remarkable resemblance to her nephew. She bought the photo and presented it to her parents. Her father exclaimed in Arabic,'That's me!' The bride was his cousin Leila Sarah.
Was it really his wedding photo - and how come did Besancenot choose to photograph him?
Jean Besancenot had actually asked to have a wedding couple pose for him, but the custom in that part of the world was for girls to be betrothed at a very young age to much older men.
Bensancenot would have none of this - and called for a much younger groom. That's how Hanna's father was dragged out of a nearby yeshiva to pose for the camera. In fact it all happened so fast that the young man did not have time to put his babooj (slippers) on.
The reason for his pained expression was his embarrassment. A few months before he died, he asked Hannah: with all the modern technology nowadays, can't you photoshop a pair of shoes for me?"
Photographs by Jean Besancenot, 1934 -7, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris, until 18 April 2021.
Friday, March 19, 2021
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Monday, March 15, 2021
Sunday, March 14, 2021
Friday, March 12, 2021
With the third draft of the California Ethnic Studies curriculum expected to be approved on 18 March 2021, a divide has appeared between JIMENA, supported by mainstream Jewish organisations, and the American Sephardi Federation. The disagreement stems from the ideological framework behind the proposed curriculum, Critical Race Theory (CRT), itself under fire here and here. CRT sees US society afflicted by systemic racism and ethnic groups in the US as oppressed or oppressors (Jews are lumped into the latter group). While JIMENA has tried to work within the framework to ensure that Jews - and specifically Sephardi Jews - are mentioned and that antisemitism in conformity with the IHRA definition is not ignored, the ASF claims that the latest curriculum draft is in opposition to US values of pluralism and drives a wedge between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, as well as defining Jews by their own oppression.
sign their petition by today's deadline (12 March), the ASF held an online discussion called Beyond the Curriculum between Isaac de Castro (pictured) and Blake Flayton. De Castro wrote the following Times of Israel blog:
College campus antisemitism has become a hot topic, but one so many wrongfully isolate. The push for a Critical Ethnic Studies is a consequence of this, a natural ending point to a toxic cycle forming.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Tuesday, March 09, 2021
Monday, March 08, 2021
Sunday, March 07, 2021
Omar Mohammed — an historian who was an essential chronicler of the occupation through his anonymous website “Mosul Eye” — told The Algemeiner that the visit would be a sign of encouragement to the handful of Christian families still living there.
Such interfaith forums are a staple of Francis’ international trips. But its sectarian breadth was startling in Iraq: From Shiite and Sunni Muslims to Christians, Yazidis and Zoroastrians and tiny, ancient and esoteric faiths like the Kakai, a sect among ethnic Kurds, Mandaeans and Sabaean Mandaeans. The Vatican said Iraqi Jews were invited to the event but did not attend, without providing further details. Iraq’s ancient Jewish community was decimated in the 20th century by violence and mass emigration fueled by the Arab-Israeli conflict, and only a handful remain.
Friday, March 05, 2021
Thursday, March 04, 2021
Wednesday, March 03, 2021
Jews with roots in Iraq are today the third largest community in Israel - after the Soviet and the Moroccan. Did you ever wonder how they got there? Lyn Julius writes this tribute to Shlomo Hillel z"l in Times of Israel.
Shlomo Hillel z"l
The mass aliya of some 120,000 Jews between Iraqi 1950 and 1951 is attributable largely to the efforts of one man - Shlomo Hillel, who died on 8 February 2021, aged 97.
The Jews of Iraq, the oldest diaspora in the world, had been through troubled times in the 1930s and 40s. Hundreds were murdered in the Farhud massacre of 1941, and the Arab war against the fledgling state of Israel had led to persecution, extortion and the criminalisation of Zionism. In defiance of a travel ban, 12,000 Iraqi Jews were smuggled over the porous border into Iran. Working with a Jewish-born priest, Alexander Glasberg, to get the Jews French visas for Israel, Shlomo bribed Iranian policemen to look the other way. Posing as a member of the crew, Hillel used freelance American pilots to arrange the first test flights transporting out 100 Jews, Operation Michaelberg.
Before Israel had an official army, Hillel led the construction and operation of a secret bullet factory, under the noses of the British. The factory, known as the Ayalon Institute, was built beneath the laundry room of a kibbutz in Rehovot.
When the Iraqi government briefly lifted the ban on immigration in 1950 on condition that the Jews relinquished their citizenship, Baghdad-born Hillel returned to Iraq as a Mossad agent to facilitate their exodus. Aged 23, he posed as Richard Armstrong, the British representative of Near Eastern Airlines to negotiate the airlift of the Iraqi Jews with the Iraqi government. Throughout the meeting he shifted in his seat, fearing he might be recognised by his cousin, the leader of the Jewish community. (He wasn't). Shlomo told his story in Operation Babylon.
Born in Iraq, Hillel was the youngest of 11 children of a Jewish merchant importing goods from India, Japan and Manchester. Iraq Jews were not generally Zionist, but until the rise of pro-Nazi feeling in the 1930s, there was a small Zionist movement, Achi-ever, where Hillel and his brothers learnt Hebrew. In 1934, aged 11 on a family visit to Palestine, Shlomo insisted on remaining with two elder brothers, attending the prestigious Herzliya Gymnasium in Tel Aviv. Having lived through the massacre of Assyrian Christians in Iraq in 1933, Hillel's father had a sense of foreboding 'If they do this to Iraqi Christians, what will they do to Jews?" He moved the rest of his family to Israel.
A founder of kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, Hillel married Temima, who came as a refugee from Europe on the Patria. He reluctantly embarked on a political career, becoming a Minister and Knesset speaker. He also served as as Israeli ambassador to several African countries and was awarded the Israel prize in 1988. But he was always modest about his achievements.
Later Shlomo Hillel was involved in the mass emigration of Jews from Ethiopia. The wheel came full circle when his son Ari fell in love and married an Ethiopian girl. When asked what he thought of the match, Hillel said he was delighted. The Jewish people was completing the 'Ingathering of the Exiles'.
More about Shlomo Hillel