The Jewish cemetery in Algiers

The Jewish Chronicleof 24 February ran a story about the Jewish cemetery in Algiers. Journalist Paula Slier located it after a two-hour search (“No one ever ask me go Jewish cemetery! ” declared Ebrahim, the taxi-driver).

” The Jewish cemetery – situated alongside a large Christian one – was completely restored by the Algerian authorities when President Jacques Chirac visited the country in 2003 and is clearly looked after. Some of the graves date back to the early 1800s. Almost all have a picture of the deceased on a small plaque adorning the tombstone. Against the wall, stones from older graves are lined up against each other. But Sherifa (the caretaker’s daughter) unfortunately knows precious little about the history of Algerian Jews.

“For this I turn to the community’s leader, lawyer Roger Said, who left Algeria for France some years ago, although he comes back several times a year. He has a house in both countries and maintains close ties with the few remaining Jews in this vast North African country.”

M. Said is not about to upset his Algerian friends and clients, and softsoaps the Jewish exodus. There is no mention of attacks on the Jews, terrorist outrages and the brutalities of the Algerian war with the French, which drove out the majority of the Jews along with the pieds-noirs. According to him, 130,000 Jews simply ’emigrated’ to France, and 25,000 ‘made aliyah’ to Israel. Most recently, following the civil war, Jews remain ‘here and there’, but according to a Christian pastor fearful for his own flock, ‘none will come forward and openly admit it’.

“When Algeria faced the (recent civil war) terror, three Jews were assassinated”, remembers Said.”I left for France with my family, as did most of the Jews. And, although the security situation is much better today, I will not give you the names or addresses of any Jews until it is completely safe.” “Before 1962 there were dozens of synagogues around Algeria,” says Said.” Especially in Algiers, there were many, many Jewish places of worship, but they were all taken over by the locals after the Jews left. There’s still one synagogue but it’s closed because of looters. The community runs a small one in a building.

“Said stresses that official government policy was never antisemitic, even after the country became independent. Whatever antisemitism there is, or was, is linked to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.Antisemitism in Algeria has increased because of this conflcit and some newspapers have been very anti-Israel and sometimes even anti-Jew..”

A reminder of the sort of antisemitism M. Said might be thinking of.

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