New book will track Lebanese-Jewish life before and after displacement

After 28 years of research,  Lebanese Christian Nagi Gergi Zeidan has become the guardian of Jewish memory in Lebanon. He acquired a detailed knowledge of the geneaology and history of the community, leading  up to the publication of his first book, Juifs du Liban. Now Nagi is planning to publish a second book charting the events between 1932 and 1987, culminating in the kidnapping and murder of Jews. Some bodies were never found.

The shrine of  the Biblical character Bezalel at Arab Salim in Lebanon was replaced by a mosque. Researcher Nagi Zeidan is one of the few to know where Bezalel is buried

For his first book, which was aimed at the Jewish community of Lebanon, the oldest religious denomination in this country, the author Nagi Gergi Zeïdan  did 28 years of research,  collecting as much information as possible on this community. This book was also a genealogical and historical survey of the ancestors of certain families who lived in Lebanon.

In this second book, the author wanted to develop the story of these last Jews of Lebanon in greater detail, their life before their final departure for  their countries, their displacement and need to reinvent themselves elsewhere.

It depicts Lebanese society, its economy, and in particular all the anti-Semitic events that occurred in the years 1932-1948-1985-1987, the kidnappings and murders of several Jews whose bodies were never found.

These people were kidnapped at the time when the French hostages MM. Michel Seurat, Jean-Paul Kaufmann, Roger Auque*, and others were themselves kidnapped by Muslim jihadist factions. They found themselves taken hostage together and held in  the same location in Beirut.

Albert, son of Abdallah Elia, July 6, 1971
Raoul, son of Sobhi Mizrahi, on July 2, 1984. His body was found
Selim, son of Mourad Jamouss, August 5, 1984

Nine  Jews were kidnapped in the space of a few months between 1985 and 1986:

1) Haim Halaleh-Cohen, on March 29, 1985. His body was found
2) Dr. Elie, son of Aslan Hallac, March 30, 1985
3)Elie, son of Youssef Srour, March 30, 1985
4) Ishac, son of Selim son of Meîr Sasson, March 31, 1985
5) Ishac, son of Abraham Tarrab, June 18, 1985
6) Youssef, son of Yehouda Bénisté, July 18, 1985
7) Yehuda, son of Selim Bénisté, February 15, 1986
8) Abraham, son of Yehouda Beniste, February 15, 1986
9) Henri, son of Elie Mann, February 15, 1986.

The book is expected to be published in the next two months.

More about Nagi Zeidan

*All these hostages were released






Libyan Jew tells Pope that Jews driven from Arab countries were refugees

Libyan-born David Gerbi used an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican to deplore the fact that Jews who had been driven out of Libyan and the Arab world had not been recognised  as refugees. Report in Moked, the newsletter of the Italian-Jewish community:

David Gerbi is introduced to Pope Francis by Argentinian Sephardi Chief Rabbi Isaac Sacca

“Never remain silent in the face of injustice. For the wind to change, on the contrary, it is essential to denounce, act, mobilize. Work for a different future.”

This is the message that the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Argentina Isaac Sacca shared with Pope Francis during a private audience in the Vatican which was attended by Argentinian and Brazilian Jewish representatives.  This was an occasion, in the context of an intense exchange of ideas, to present the variety of philanthropic activities in support of children’s rights and assistance to  less developed countries sponsored by Rav Sacca.

David Gerbi was also part of the Jewish delegation.  Gerbi, president of the ASTREL association, has in recent months promoted  many initiatives dedicated to the Jews of Libya, their history and culture (most recently at the Beth El Temple in Rome ). With the Pope Gerbi   addressed the failure to recognize the “refugee ” status of those who lived  through the pain of exile from Libya and the rest of the Arab world. He has collected to-date several dozen testimonies of Libyan Jews on the trauma of ’67 and its aftermath.

“We are forgotten refugees, ” he wrote recently, “because we have not made enough noise. Our silence derives from the fact that we have invested the time, energy and effort to rebuild our life in an honest way and without disturbing anyone “. “But now”, he says, “it’s time to let us to be heard.”

Read article in full (Italian)

How Jews of Rome welcomed in Jews fleeing Libya

More about David Gerbi




New CRIF head Yonathan Arfi warns against French polarisation

Yonathan Arfi, 42, is the new head of CRIF, the  umbrella organisation representing Jews in France.  Arfi is alarmed at the polarisation of French politics and has declared his resolve to fight the rising threat of antisemitism, a threat to society at large.  He is from a Sephardi family with roots in Algeria and Morocco and is on the board of the Alliance Israelite Universelle. Ben Cohen reports in the Algemeiner (with thanks: Nancy):

Yonathan Arfi, elected youngest-ever head of CRIF

The newly-elected head of the umbrella organization representing Jews in France has warned that the community faces an “unprecedented political threat” as a result of the success of political factions from the extremes of left and right in the country’s legislative elections earlier this month.

“We see two blocs which for us are a subject of concern: Both the 89 RN [far-right National Rally] deputies, but also the bloc of  LFI [far-left ‘France Rising’] deputies, which for us represent an unprecedented political threat,” Yonathan Arfi, the new president of the umbrella Jewish organization Crif, said in a media interview on Sunday.

“We have never had to deal with extremist blocs which are at this level of political weight in the national assembly,” Arfi said.

Mural in the city of Avignon showing Jewish banker Jacques Attali ‘pulling the strings’ for Prime Minister Macron

Arfi was elected as Crif’s new president on Sunday, comfortably defeating his opponent, Ariel Amar, by 149 votes to 74. The 42-year-old Arfi, who hails from a Sephardic family and has spent his career in real estate and business consulting, officially takes up his post on July 26, replacing Francis Kalifat, who has headed the organization for the past eight years.

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How Jews of Rome welcomed in fleeing Jews of Libya

The Libyan-Jewish association ASTREL marked  20 June, World Refugee Day, with a special event recalling the exodus of the last Jews of Libya after June 1967. The memories of one of the speakers, Lello Anav, who was then head of  the Jewish Aid Committee in Rome, have been transcribed in the  Reflessi Menorah community newsletter. They tell how the Italian-Jewish community assisted in the resettlement of the remaining Jews from Libya.

Lello Anav (left) with David Gerbi, president of ASTREL, who organised the World Refugee Day event on the last Jews of Libya

” I remember that the Community, after the victory of the Israeli army on 10 June 1967, was shaken by what was happening in Libya, following the hatred and anger of many Arabs in Tripoli towards the Jewish population.

Jews were locked up in their homes, shops were set on fire; King Idris, following international pressure, transferred part of the Jews to an old military fort, Camp Gurgi, and sought a way to expel all the Jews as soon as possible, issuing temporary TTD (Temporary Travel Docunent) permits for those who did not have an Italian or English passport (the majority).  The Libyan police then took the families to  Tripoli airport.

The first groups arrived at Fiumicino airport around 20 June, almost always at night and above all with Alitalia planes crammed full with many more passengers than the seats available. The credit for this goes to employees of Alitalia itself. The flights continued until the end of July and even August.

The reception was organized by the Joint, the Community of Rome, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, the Israelite Deputation of Assistance and the OSE. Guest houses were booked in the city and the Italian authorities were asked to make refugee camps available. Mrs Lony Mayer, director of the Joint in Rome, summoned  young Tripolitanians  who had just arrived and asked them to form a group  who would shuttle  to Fiumicino airport to greet families by speaking their language.

The young people welcomed the new arrivals and arranged for them to find accommodation. Some families were taken to boarding houses, others were placed in the refugee camps of Capua, Latina and Canzanella (Naples), made available by the Italian government.

Bino Meghnagi, then a young 22-year-old, told me that he himself provided  a minibus to take the families to the Campo di Capua. In addition to arranging their accommodation he also organised important religious services, such as prayers in the Campo. Kosher slaughter was also ensured. The camp manager praised the industriousness of the guests who did not remain idle, but went to work in the countryside near the camp doing agricultural work to earn money.

In addition to the Joint, the Union of Communities, the Community of Rome, the Deputation and the OSE, a Committee formed by Libyan Jews was also formed, including Lillo Arbib (President of the Tripoli Community) Simone Habib and  Josef Habib, Vittorio Halfon, Climo Habib and, as reported in the minutes of the Community of Rome, Saul (Lino) Haggiag, counsellor of the Community of Rome.

In the minutes of the session of 25 July 1967 of the Council of the Community (President Prof. Gianfranco Tedeschi), in fact, the Refugee Committee noted:

Mr. Saul Haggiag…. proposes that the Council make a recommendation to the Committee… that it would be appropriate for the President to be  present on a daily basis.

The Committee met and worked in the rooms below the Tempio Maggiore in Rome, where the Museum is now located; very active was Vittorio Halfon, who was then employed by the Community to provide assistance until 1970.

Assistance consisted of, among other things, compiling forms requesting economic aid as a refugee; if it concerned refugees with Italian citizenship, the request was made directly to the Italian State,. in the case of stateless persons,  the request was made to international institutions; other assistance was given to those who wanted to move to Israel.

The beginnings in Rome were hard, but the Tripolitanians immediately adapted, doing even modest work,  and not long afterwards became progressively integrated. Marriages between girls from Tripoli and young Romans, and vice versa, helped cement friendships.

As children from Tripoli were sent to to Jewish schools, Tripolitanian and Roman families interacted. Among my dear friends  I remember Climo and Giulia Chabib, Alberto and Iris Fellus, Bondi and Fortuna Nahum, whom we met often. I had a deep bond of esteem and friendship with Shmuel Naaman and Shalom Teshuba.

In the first months of 1968 Shmuel Naaman z”l, told me that he had rented an apartment of about 40 square meters on the mezzanine floor of Via Cremona 30 and that he wanted to use it as a synagogue. The apartment was located by Shaul Guetta z”l, who had moved to Israel in late 1967.

Shmuel asked me to fund a basic space for the Ark and services.  They would think about extending it later. I accepted with pleasure and by September 1968 the synagogue hosted the Tripolitanian Jews who had fled from Libya.

Subsequently, the space was enlarged with the purchase of the adjacent apartment with its entrance on Via Garfagnana. By a strange coincidence the seller of the apartment was called Tempio, so that the name on the intercom of Via Cremona 30 remained TEMPLE.

Read article in full (Italian)

The Farhud heralded the decimation of Jewish communities in the Middle East

The Farhud pogrom in Iraq, 81 years ago, was not just a mortal blow to the Jewish community, it was a sign of things to come. From Libya to Syria and from Yemen to Tunisia, murderous pogroms became more and more ubiquitous. Mark Regev writes in the Jerusalem Post. (With thanks: Sandra, Imre):

Lea and Yosef Chen, Mark Regev’s in-laws, left Syria for Palestine on foot (Photo: Chen family)

The leader of the Palestinian national movement, Amin al-Husseini, living in Iraq since 1939, played a crucial role in supporting the anti-British coup that brought Rashid Ali to power and in encouraging the deadly violence against Baghdad’s Jews. With Britain’s reconquest of Iraq, al-Husseini relocated to Berlin, where he served the Nazi regime until its demise. Notwithstanding this wartime collaboration, al-Husseini was elected president of the All-Palestine Government in 1948.

Baghdad’s Jews have a rich heritage. Known as the first diaspora, the community predated the rise of Islam, tracing its roots back to the Babylonian exile of antiquity.

Over the centuries, the Jews of Mesopotamia made an immeasurable contribution to Jewish scholarship and civilization, as well as to the culture and society of the Middle East as a whole.

But the Farhud was not just a mortal blow to one historic community, it was a sign of things to come for Jews throughout the Arab world. From Libya to Syria and from Yemen to Tunisia, murderous pogroms became more and more ubiquitous. And in the aftermath of the Second World War, entire Jewish communities were decimated.

In 1948, there were 135,000 Jews left in Iraq; today, there are less than 10. In 1948, there were 75,000 Jews in Egypt; today, the total number of known Jews permanently residing is 3. In 1948, 140,000 Jews lived in Algeria; today, no community exists there at all.

In Tunisia, the Jewish population in 1948 reached 105,000; today, it numbers some 1,000. In 1948, 63,000 Jews lived in Yemen; today, only a handful remain. In 1948, Morocco had 265,000 Jewish inhabitants; today, just a residue of its former self, the community numbers a few hundred souls.

The eradication of these indigenous communities received official sanction. In 1947, the Political Committee of the Arab League drafted a law declaring all Jews in Arab countries “be considered members of the Jewish ‘minority state of Palestine’; that their bank accounts would be frozen and used to finance resistance to Zionist ambitions in Palestine; and that Jews believed to be active Zionists would be interned as political prisoners and their assets confiscated.”

At the United Nations, Egyptian delegate Heykal Pasha warned, “the proposed [partition] solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Moslem countries… If the United Nations decided to partition Palestine, they might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of a large number of Jews.”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fadil Jamali went further, stating “Not only the uprising of the Arabs in Palestine is to be expected, but the masses in the Arab world cannot be restrained. The Arab-Jewish relationship in the Arab world will greatly deteriorate.”

Following the UN’s partition vote of 29 November 1947, some 850,000 Jews were forced to depart the Muslim Middle East – a figure that exceeds by 100,000 the recorded number of Arab refugees that exited the territory of the newly established Jewish state.

Yet, while the Palestinian narrative receives wide international acknowledgment, the experience of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries is scarcely a footnote. Maybe this is because the Jewish refugees were successfully absorbed in Israel and other countries, while for political reasons Palestinian refugees were denied resettlement in neighboring Arab countries, their refugee status deliberately perpetuated as a diplomatic weapon in the war against Israel.

Unfortunately, this self-defeating approach towards Palestinian refugees remains an orthodoxy. In April of this year, current UNRWA commissioner-general Phillipe Lazzarini proposed dealing with his agency’s ongoing financial crisis by “maximizing partnerships within the broader UN system.” Yet, despite the clear managerial logic in enlisting the help of additional UN bodies to support UNRWA’s humanitarian work, Lazzarini was attacked by the PLO for ignoring the “political dimensions.”

Perhaps because of Israel’s achievements in integrating consecutive waves of Jewish refugees, it is possible to forget that a huge proportion of Israeli citizens are either refugees themselves or the offspring thereof – my own children, being no exception, having three refugee grandparents.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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