Month: January 2007

Lisa Srour, the last Jewess in Lebanon

Rare interview with Lisa Srour, who claims to be the last Jewess in Lebanon. Nobody can tell if she is correct, as the few Jews still living in that country are too fearful to stand up and be counted. With thanks to Iraqijews for summarising an article published on 6 September 2006 in Ana-News.

Abu Jamil Valley in Beirut was once called Jew Valley: 6000 Jews lived there. They belonged to high-class society and owned most of the wealth of the country.

They say that when the late president Rafik Al-Hariri wanted to renovate a synagogue there, the Jewish Community Association refused because of fear that it might be blown up.

Today, although there still is a Jewish community in Lebanon, nobody talks about it and almost
no one knows of its existence. There are no Jewish marriages since there is no younger generation.

Lisa, in her 50’s, lives in Abu Jamil Valley, on the fourth flour of a building almost in ruins. She lives on eggs which she shares with her cats. She said that she was once the most beautiful girl in the valley.

She is very poor but does not complain. Lisa is afraid to say that she’s Jewish.

In the past her family owned a luxurious house and a big store. Her brothers left for France during the (civil) war, her parents died, her uncles emigrated to Brazil. During the war, armed people came and abducted her father and forced him to sign a paper giving up their house and
their store.

She is hoping that maybe she’ll get some compensation like others have done (from the construction company that is renovating and rebuilding the whole area).

See Lisa’s photo and read article (in Arabic)

Yemen Jews accused of selling wine

A new twist in the unfolding story of the 45 Yemenite Jews driven from their homes by an Islamist group, allegedly for selling wine:

SANAA, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Nearly a quarter Yemen’s Jews have fled their village and sought refuge at a hotel in the Arab country after militant Islamists threatened to kill them for selling alcohol, a government official said on Monday.

The official, who asked not to be named, said authorities had deployed policemen around the hotel to protect the Jews, numbering at least 45, after they escaped the village of Al Salem in the northern province of Saada two weeks ago.

Just 200 Jews live in Yemen after thousands were evacuated to Israel in 1948.

“The Shi’ite militants of (Abdel-Malik) al-Houthi sent threats to them (Jews) because they sell wine,” the official told Reuters. The Jewish community denied they sold wine. Islam forbids the sale or drinking of alcohol.

Read article in full

BBC names Yemeni Islamist death threats group

The BBC has caught up with the story of the 45 Yemenite Jews forced out of their homes by Islamist death threats, and names the group responsible for their flight: the Youthful Believers.

The message was clear – the Jews must leave the country or lose their lives.

Dawoud Yousef Mousa and his neighbours fled to Saada City, the provincial capital. Since then, the group has been living in the Paris Tower hotel at the expense of a local tribal sheikh, despite the authorities’ promise to guarantee their safe return home. Saada’s governor claimed the threats against the Jews came from Zaydi Shia rebels, who have fought a decade-long insurgency in northern Yemen.

The extremists are said to belong to a banned organisation known as the Youthful Believers, who want to replace Yemen’s democratic government with an Islamic theocracy.

Read article in full

Babylon…. and on

Naim Kattan’s memoirof his Iraqi boyhood tells a familiar tale: Jews were here. Now they are not.

Reviewing Kattan’s book in Nextbook the Egyptian-Jewish author Andre Aciman ponders this fact of Jewish life. And why do some Jews consistently fail to read the warning signs of impending doom, while others are already ‘mentally elsewhere’?

We were already somewhere else…”

In Farewell, Babylon, the Iraqi-born Jewish writer Naim Kattan restates one of the most enduring paradoxes in Jewish history: that all the while they belonged to Iraq—belonging there with all their being, their history, their love—most Iraqi Jews were scrambling to obtain passports and exit visas to seek out homes and fortune elsewhere. They were already somewhere else. So many of them eventually left Iraq that today there are no Jews left there.

In light of 20th century European Jewish history, the tale is familiar enough. After generations, sometimes centuries in one place, Jews are no longer welcome. When they resist leaving, or try to prolong their stay, or learn to put up with ever-crueler forms of oppression, their lives are made so intolerable that they have no option but to abandon everything and flee. Failure to read the writing on the wall often forecloses even the possibility of flight, thus spelling—as in the German case—looting, imprisonment, forced labor, slaughter. (…)

There are gradual snapshots of discrimination and hostility against Jews, but Kattan never provides a clear narrative of how the relative comfort of Jews under Ottoman rule finally devolved into oppression following World War II. Or perhaps the path from one to the other is so familiar by now that the shorthand version will do well enough. Jews were here. Now they are not. End of story.

Perhaps there is a slightly altered version that might do better yet: Jews were here but they were always already out, always already elsewhere. Maybe this is what being Jewish has always meant from the days of Babylon, and before.

The one little detail no one bothers mentioning, however, is what Jews left behind: their schools, their temples, their cemeteries, their homes, their businesses, their bank accounts, their things. The tale here is so familiar as to stare the banality of history in the face. Even as Jews held on to their things, these were always already being looted.

Read article in full

Naim Kattan will be in conversation with Marina Benjamin on 4 March during Jewish Book Week in London. He will be giving a talk about his journey to find his identity as a Jewish writer on 6 March. For details of both events see Harif.

Book review of Farewell Babylon

Threatened Yemenite Jews ‘will be allowed home’

In the latest development in this disturbing saga, the Yemeni government has assured Jews fleeing Islamist death threats that it will be safe for them to go back to their homes. A community spokesman in the US suggests, however, that they would choose to leave Yemen altogether if they were given financial help.

NEW YORK, Jan. 25 (JTA) A small community of Jews who fled their homes last weekend after a Muslim leader threatened to kill, rob or kidnap them will return imminently, Yemen’s government says.

As of Thursday, however, it wasn’t clear whether the Jews actually had returned home.

“A number of government levels from a number of countries have been involved in seeking a solution to the Jews’ plight, said Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews in Arab Countries. “There seems to be an evolving resolution.”

According to news reports, 45 Jews from the village of Al-Salem sought refuge in a hotel in the capital of the Sa’ada region and asked for protection from Yemeni authorities, to whom they reportedly pay a special ‘minorities’ tax in return for security.

The threats began with a letter attributed to the followers of Hussein Badr al-Deen al-Houthi, a reputed al-Qaida ally whom the government has accused of trying to overthrow the regime.

In the letter, the tiny Yemeni Jewish community was accused of ‘doing things which serve mainly Zionism,’ as well as corrupting society and spreading vice.

According to reports, the threatening letter arrived Jan. 10, but the Jews stayed put until one community member was threatened directly by a group of four masked men. The men warned that if the Jews didn’t leave their homes in two days, ‘they will have only themselves to blame.’

In an interview Monday with Israel Radio, one resident confirmed that the government had urged the Jews to flee.

The Yemen Times reported Wednesday that Prime Minister Abdulqader Bajammal had promised state protection for the country’s Jewish minority, which numbers several hundred people.

Several Jewish sources told JTA they believed the commitment to be credible, citing the importance the Yemeni government places on good relations with the United States.

‘We don’t allow anyone to harm any of the Jewish citizens in Yemen,’ Bajammal said Tuesday, according to the newspaper. ‘We strongly reject what happened to Jews in Sa’ada.'(…)

In a brief interview Amir Shaviv, assistant executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, told JTA that ‘no action is needed’ to assist the Yemenis. According to Shaviv, Yemeni Jews are free to leave the country but have chosen to stay.

Yemeni Jews dispute that characterization, telling JTA that community members effectively are stuck in Yemen because they cannot liquidate their assets.

‘These are people that want to leave but know that if they do leave without their assets, they’d have to be asking for handouts, which they don’t want to do,’ said Sampson Giat, former president of the Yemenite Jewish Federation of America. ‘These Yemeni Jews are very proud people and they’ve been in Yemen for centuries.’

Read article in full

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.