Month: April 2009

The Biblical shrine of Oholiav in southern Lebanon

With thanks: Beitcafe

These pictures, showing the Biblical shrine of Oholiav in Lebanon, are a further reminder that ‘ Arab’ lands are full of Jewish history. (As with many such sites, this shrine was apparently venerated by Muslims as well as Jews). Oholiav’s shrine was recently the subject of a fascinating thread on the blog Shalom-Salaam. If any readers have any recollections of a pilgrimage to this shrine (at Lag La’Omer) or any other Lebanese holy sites, Point of No Return would be glad to post them.

The pictures show what remains of the shrine (bottom) after it was destroyed by fighting and (top) how the site would look if it were rebuilt.

Oholiav’s shrine at Sojod (Soujud) in southern Lebanon is the presumed burial site for a minor, but significant, biblical character referred to in Exodus. Oholiav (“tent-builder” in Hebrew) was said to have been a carpenter and a builder of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Posters on Shalom-Salaam suggest that the IDF demolished the site. Others point out that the area was already hotly-contested between the South Lebanon Liberation Army (SLA) and Hezbollah and the shrine could have been destroyed, and the village abandoned before the Israeli withdrawal in 2000.

An Israeli poster points out that Sojod is associated with Hadi, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s son, who was killed there in 1997 at the age of 18. ” There were, if Hebrew discussion forums are to be believed, many dreadful battles there”, he writes. ” The two helicopters that crashed in Israel, also in 1997, killing 73 Israeli soldiers on board, was bound for Sojod. There was also, last September, another helicopter story. Shot down this time, and by Hezbollah, over Sojod: a Lebanese Army helicopter in an embarrassing incident that cost its pilot his life. However you look at it Sojod saw a lot of action besides prostration on shrines.”

The Jewish Theological Seminary librarian has this information on the shrine:

According to an article by Zvi Ilan “Towards a History of the Jewish Community in Lebanon in Modern Times” [the article is in Hebrew] in a journal called Kardom (March 1983) vol 26-27, p. 134-144: In Ottoman times Soujud was one of the most important sites of pilgrimage for Jews in southern Lebanon, being, according to tradition, the tomb of Oholiab Ben Ahisamakh. He was a Biblical figure mentioned in Exodus 31:6, 35:34, 36:1-2, and 38:23; he was described as a skilled artist and craftsman (engraver and embroiderer), appointed by God, to help Bezalel construct the Tabernacle.

Additional documentation connecting Sujud with the biblical Oholiab is from a website about the nearby village of Mlikh, which cites Dr. Estee Dvorjetski, of the University of Haifa [email protected] as verifying the connection between Sujud and Oholiab Ben Ahisamakh.

You may have noted that various sources have spelled the site differently: Sajad, Soujud, Sijud. We are assuming that these differences are due to differences in local dialect, and the passage of time.We have not found reference to Sajad or Soujud in current gazetteers or maps, but we have found a location called Sijud (about 22 km north of el-Mutallah ) : map 16 in Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land, edited by George Adam Smith (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1915). Nineteenth century travelers to the Holy Land, who have chronicled their journeys, have also mentioned this place: Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, in Later Biblical Researches in Palestine and the Adjacent Regions: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1852 (Boston, Crocker & Brewster, 1856), p. 44 mention a wely called Neby Sijud [neby means prophet in both Hebrew and Arabic].

William M. Thomson, a missionary, mentioned that local Jews sometimes make pilgrimages to the shrine of Sijud; now [1886] the location is the tomb of a Moslem saint (The Land and the Book, or Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1886, p. 168)

We have read many such travelers chronicles, and these two excerpts are quite typical.

A contemporary explanation of the term “wely” [also spelled weli] can be found in Karl Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria: Handbook for Travelers (1906). In short, it is the tomb of a saint, or holy man, held in veneration by the local population. “In Syria, almost every village has its weli, venerated alike by Moslems, Christians and Jews.” p. lxxiv. [At the time this was published, Syria referred to what is now Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, as well as Syria].

Other Biblical figures reportedly buried in Lebanon are Job (Ayyub to Muslims). Job has a tomb in the Druze Shouf Mountains of Lebanon, but other tombs are claimed for him in Oman, Yemen and Turkey.

The tomb of Zebulun is located in Sidon, Lebanon. Towards the end of the month of Iyyar, Jews from all corners of Palestine would make a pilgrimage to this tomb. Zebulun was the sixth son of Jacob and Leah and the Prince of the Israelite tribe of Zebulun.

The tomb of the prophet Zephania is located more to the south closer to the Lebanon-Israel border. It is said to be atop an inaccessible mountain. It can be seen from afar but cannot be reached.
The tomb of Job in the Druze Chouf District, Lebanon. Another tradition locates it at Salalah, Oman

List of Holy Sites (Wikipedia)

Read Shalom-Salaam thread in full

Aga Levy and the mystery of the hidden treasure

From the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ department: The Israeli descendants of the Iraqi-Jewish Levy family, who settled in England in the 19th century, have so far failed to find any trace of their vanished fortune. Haaretz reports:

Many Jews who have immigrated to Israel from Iraq over the past several decades are convinced they are descendants of the Levys – an Iraqi merchant family that amassed a fortune in England at the beginning of the 19th century.

Every few years an additional piece of information comes to light about the dynasty’s history, sparking new hope in tracing the family’s fortune allegedly held at the Bank of England, only to be dashed again.

Sasson Aboud, a Tel Aviv insurance agent and the treasurer of the heirs organization Aga Levy, was close to desperation this week.

He had asked more than 750 families, all claiming to be related to the Levys, to raise NIS 500 each for yet another effort to track down the “Iraqi treasure,” but only 25 of them paid up.

“People have lost faith in finding even a pound of the money,” Aboud said.

According to one version, Elazar Levy was the father of Yair Refua, who had two sons – Elazar and Zecharia Levy. The two brothers were making a living selling scrap metal and junk in Iraq when they found a small package of precious stones in one of the old objects they were selling. They took the stones and settled in Venice, where they became wealthy merchants.

At the beginning of the 19th century they moved with their families to London, where they established themselves in senior government positions and even in the royal palace.

Aboud believes the brothers lent money to the royal family, enabling the digging of the Suez Canal. Another tale has it that the brothers had sold or lent the diamonds in Queen Victoria’s crown. Some say they owned houses and land in the London and Kent area and that billions of pounds in their money, jewelry and gold are lying in Bank of England coffers.

A former Israeli government minister, attorney Moshe Shahal, was one of Aga Levy’s founders. He wanted to carry out his late father’s request to trace Aga (meaning “lord”) Levy’s property. “It’s like a soap opera,” he said this week.

Since the organization was set up in the early 1990s, it has tried to establish whether various people of Iraqi origin were related to the Levy family of London. Among those who helped was a man from the Netherlands who promised to provide documents and information, for a price. He found that one of the brothers had married a daughter of the Montefiore family who converted to Christianity and changed his name to Lawrence.

Shahal traveled to London several times in vain, at his own expense, to try to trace the family and its assets.

“For a week they let me check thick books a meter long and a meter wide, in handwriting, of all those who died in the London area. It was a mission impossible,” he says.

The Bank of England provided a list of 13 banks, some of them no longer operating, in which the family allegedly had funds. But it was expensive to check their records, so Shahal gave up.

Around two years ago an Israeli Arab was recruited to go to Iraq to uncover the family’s genealogy.

The envoy returned with documents purporting to be from the Iraqi population registry, but this only complicated things, adding another generation to the family tree that the descendants had outlined over the years.

The organization also enlisted a British private-investigation agency, which found that in 1930 16,000 pounds had been withdrawn from one of the accounts allegedly belonging to the Levy-Lawrence family.

“I don’t believe we’re going about it the right way,” says James Becker, a professor at Ben-Gurion University who was once active in Aga Levy. He says that even in the best-case scenario – that Aga Levy has a treasure at the Bank of England – the organization’s members have no proof the treasure belongs to them.

Read article in full

More about the Jews of Pakistan

This blog continues to draw much interest in the Jews of Pakistan. Jayzee Jehan tells us he was one of the first to write about the Jews of Karachi and met several in 2003. Here is his article, written in 2004 or 2005:

According to 1998 census there are no Jews living in Pakistan, but at the turn of the twentieth century, Karachi had a Jewish population of about two to three thousand. They were mainly traders and a few were civil servants. They spoke Marachi, which was spoken by most of Ben-e- Israel people living in various parts of the British India. The community was well-to-do, vibrant and fun-loving.

It seems under British jurisdiction, the Jewish people were treated with tolerance. A small community lived in Peshawar where, apart from the Bene Israel, the Baghdadi Jews and Bukharan Jews formed a small community and city had a synagogue. It has disappeared now. Few Jewish families lived in Rawalpindi and some in Lahore also.

Karachi had a couple of synagogues. The famous Magain Shalome Synagogue was built in 1893 in Karachi by Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon. Some accounts suggest that it was built by Solomon David, a surveyor for the Karachi Municipality and his wife Sheeoola bai. It soon became the center of a small but vibrant Jewish community.

There existed a variety of social and welfare organizations to serve the Jewish community. The Young Man’s Jewish Association, founded in 1903, whose aim was to encourage sports as well as religious and social activities of the Bene Israel in Karachi; the Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund, established to support poor Jews in Karachi; and the Karachi Jewish syndicate, formed in 1918, to provide homes to poor Jews at reasonable rents. Abraham Reuben, one of the leaders of the Jewish community, became the first Jewish councillor on the city corporation in 1936.

After the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948 and Arab–Israel war, things got ugly for the small Jewish community in Pakistan. The synagogue in Karachi was set on fire and Jews were attacked. The synagogue was later on repaired and restored by the community. The situation got worse and the plight of Jews became more precarious following disturbances and demonstrations directed against the Jews during the Arab-Israel wars in 1956, and 1967. Eventually most of the Jews moved to India, Israel and the United Kingdom. By 1968, the number of Jews in Pakistan had decreased to about 250 to 300.

Read post in full

‘Lebanese Jews will no longer be labelled Israelis’

If you’ve ever wondered why Jews and Israelis are easily conflated in the Arab world, The Beirut Daily Star explains why:

BEIRUT: Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud proposed on Monday that the Cabinet amend the legislation that currently labels Lebanese Jews as “Israelis” to “Jewish Lebanese.”

A press release by Baroud’s office said on Monday that the interior minister has submitted the proposal to be discussed by the Cabinet.

Members of Lebanon’s Jewish sect are referred to as Israelis on on their identification cards and on electoral lists.Baroud’s proposal asked the Cabinet to adopt a draft law to differentiate between a sect “whose rights are legal and protected by the Constitution and between the subjects of an occupying entity.”

“The Jewish sect in Lebanon is recognized, and its rights are guaranteed by the ninth article of the Lebanese Constitution that guarantees all the Lebanese freedom of religion,” Baroud added.

Read article in full

The emissary who never came back from Algeria

As a new monument is unveiled in Israel to victims of terrorism and hate crimes around the world, Moshe Hassan reflects in The Jerusalem Post on the father he never knew:

Moshe Hassan’s father knew the process of aliya inside and out.

“My father tried to come here from Tunis in 1946, but was caught by the British and sent to Cyprus,” Hassan told The Jerusalem Post by telephone on Sunday. “He was put in a camp there, and that’s where he met my mother. They immigrated to Israel in 1948.”

They settled in Beit Hagadi, a religious moshav next to Netivot, but the elder Hassan would spend little time in his new country. Asked by the Jewish Agency to help bring Moroccan Jews on aliya, Ya’acov Hassan returned to North Africa in the mid-1950s to begin work as an emissary for Israel.

“He knew the area well,” Moshe said. “By 1956 he was well-established in Morocco, going to far-flung places like the Atlas mountains, and beyond, and helping entire families come here. Sometimes, he was able to get hundreds of people out of Morocco a day.”

His father would go to a synagogue on Shabbat, give a speech about Israel, and then ask people to sign up with him after Shabbat was over, Moshe said.

“Once they signed up, he would also teach them different agricultural techniques to prepare them for their aliya. He had a lot of success in Morocco – the communities there were very connected to the idea of coming to Eretz Yisrael, so many of them were anxious to come, and he assisted in thousands of cases of aliya.”

But in 1958 – the same year that Moshe was born – King Muhammad V of Morocco joined the Arab League, and the aliya process became much more difficult. Around that time, the Jewish Agency decided to send Ya’acov to Algeria.

“You know, one gate was closing, so they looked to another one,” Moshe said. “But Algeria posed difficulties as well. The Algerian communities were more rooted; many of them declined to leave, or preferred to go to France, so my father had a more difficult time there.”

In any case, Ya’acov was made manager of the entire aliya project in Algeria, and along with Rafael Ben-Gera, another agency worker, they continued with the work of bringing Jews to Israel.

“But Algeria was also different than Morocco in that it was unsafe,” Moshe said. “They knew it was dangerous, but they went anyway.”

“Then, on February 17- we know this now – “my father and Ben-Gera were kidnapped by members of the FLN [the Algerian National Liberation Front], who, while they were fighting the French occupation of Algeria, were also staunchly anti-Israel. They informed the [Israeli] government of the capture and the government even negotiated with them. At one point they offered to pay a $1 million ransom for them both, but the FLN was hard to deal with, they kept delaying the process until the government just lost contact with them.”

“We still don’t know exactly what my father did,” Hassan said. “We know it was probably something more than just aliya work, because he was recognized as a fallen intelligence officer by the army, but his files are closed – they pertain to activities conducted in an enemy country.

“We also know that they were murdered. The Red Cross told us that was the likely outcome after the negotiations fell apart, and the FLN later confirmed, in August of 1958, that they had been killed about six weeks earlier.”

Read article in full


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