Year: 2010

Ofra Haza: Yemeni desert to global stardom


Here’s a lovely sound to play you into the New Year – the gorgeous voice of Ofra Haza. The BBC has broadcast this refreshingly unpoliticised radio programme, to mark the 10th anniversary of her tragically premature death.

From the programme blurb:

“Ofra Haza, dubbed ‘The Israeli Madonna’, rose from her poor roots in the Yemenite community to global recognition.

“The music writer and critic Pete Paphides first heard the voice of Ofra Haza on the Eurovision Song Contest in 1983. It was an extraordinary voice and belonged to a woman with extraordinary talent and presence. Her life and career were tragically cut short when she died of an AIDS-related disease. Here, Pete talks to her life-long manager and father figure Bezalel Aloni and musicians who worked with her – Ben Mandelson, Yair Nitzani, Ishar Ashdoth, Roger Armstrong, and producer Wally Brill.

“It’s ten years since the death of Israel’s most well-loved pop star Ofra Haza (Feb 2000). Until succumbing to AIDS-related complications, Haza enjoyed an iconic status in her own country. Though described as ‘the Israeli Madonna’, her importance exceeded even those comparisons. Having grown up the youngest of nine children in the deprived Hatikva Quarter of Tel Aviv, she became a teen pop sensation in her own country. Haza’s international break came in 1983 when she represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest with Hi (sic)– a song whose chorus, ‘Israel is alive’ took it within a whisker of overall victory.

“Her breakthrough album, recorded in 1985, was Yemenite Songs – a piercingly beautiful collection of traditional songs from her own upbringing, gently updated, whilst at the same time retaining key aspects of the old instrumentation (tea trays, petrol cans). As well as cementing her status in her own country, Yemenite Songs was a word-of-mouth sensation across Europe. The a cappella intro of Im Nin Aluwas sampled by Coldcut, which in turn prompted the song to become a British hit.”

You can listen to the programme on BBC i-player for the next few days.

Enjoy – and a Happy New Year 2011 to all Point of No Return readers.

Is reclaiming property in Iran a lost cause?

A reader asks: what are the chances of getting restitution for his grandfather’s property seized post-the Islamic revolution in Iran?

The Knesset law passed in February 2010 requires compensation for Jewish refugees from Iran as well as Arab countries to be included in peace talks. But is there an organisation (apart from JJAC where claimants can register their losses and human rights violations) actually addressing the issue of restitution for Jews from Iran?

To find out the answer, Point of No Return turned to trusted sources in the US Iranian-Jewish community.

“There is no organisation in the world addressing this issue because it’s a lost cause right now, “my sources said.

“This is because the current Iranian Islamic regime has passed legislation stating that anyone who “abandoned” their properties or had their properties “confiscated” by the government following the revolution in 1979 has officially forfeited their right to the property.

“Some Iranian Jews who had extensive properties and no personal fear of the current regime have risked their lives, returned to Iran and were able to sell their properties on their own. But it must be noted that they were only able to sell their properties because they either: (a) had inside contacts with government officials whom they bribed to help them and allow the sale to go through
or (b) handed over legal rights to the property to a Muslim friend they trusted to sell the property for them and take a “commission” for doing so.

“Nevertheless, many Jews who returned to Iran themselves to sell their properties or to reclaim them have been arrested by the regime and held to ransom by the government. Many Jews who transferred their rights to the properties to a Muslim, in hopes of selling the properties, were duped by their “friends” and have lost everything. Of course they had no recourse in the Iranian courts because the regime’s laws and courts are always tilted in favour of Muslims over non-Muslims.

“To conclude, no one has explored the option of Jewish claims in Iran because the current regime is not accepting such claims and never plans to accept them in the future. The only hope Jews with claims in Iran have is for the regime to be overturned and for a new government to accept these claims and offer compensation. ”

The advice to our blog reader is as follows: pray for the current regime to be toppled. Also hold onto your property deeds because in the future you might be able to get your assets back.

Our big fat Moroccan wedding!

Traditional Berberisca costume worn at at Moroccan-Jewish Henna

Inside every Ashkenazi there’s a Sephardi struggling to get out, discovers Michael Ledeen, whose son Daniel is marrying a girl of Moroccan-Jewish extraction. Read his account of the wedding festivities, which include a traditional henna party, in Pajamas Media:

Our son Daniel (aka Lt Ledeen, USMC, based in Okinawa) is in the midst of week-long events that will culminate in the wedding ceremony on Thursday afternoon here in Jerusalem. He is marrying Natalie Almog, a woman born and raised in Houston. They both attended Rice University, met and fell in love there, and so here we are: Daniel, daughter Simone, son Gabriel, Barbara and me, delighting in fabulous sunny weather in one of the world’s truly magical cities.

Why Jerusalem? Because Natalie’s dad, Avner, grew up on a kibbutz along with seven — or is it eight — siblings, and while he went to America and married a Texan woman, Rose, the others stayed here and so the bulk of the bride’s family are in Israel. The elders came to Israel from Morocco in the forties, part of the huge but rarely remarked exodus of North African Jews after the Second World War. So this wedding is very different from the typical North or Central European ceremony most Americans are used to. It’s Sephardic, not Ashkenazi, and it’s very Moroccan. Last night we participated in the Henna Ceremony, at which bride, groom, and immediate family members dress in traditional robes (and for me, a big fez), and put a circular patch of Henna on the palm of their right hand. That mark will stay with us for several weeks (I hope TSA won’t ask a lot of pointed questions when we come back). It wards off the evil eye, and initiates wild music, dancing, ululating and of course eating and drinking.

Lots of noise. No quiet conversation, if you see what I mean. Very little sitting. An incredible intensity. And it’s just the beginning.

In the next few days, there will be ritual baths for bride and groom, a formal marriage contract negotiated by me and Avner, a fast for Daniel, and then the ceremony.

Read article in full

Lawyers can’t take more than half Libyan payments

The Israeli government’s decision to compensate Libyan Holocaust survivors has prompted a new ruling setting a ceiling on what fees lawyers can charge for processing claims. Ynet News has the story:

Lawyers will be able to charge Holocaust survivors no more than NIS 6,583 for processing compensation claims, about half the standard payment until now, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman decided yesterday.

Neeman’s decision marks the successful conclusion of a battle waged by the Finance Ministry’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority against what it deemed excessive legal fees.

The issue arose in April, when the government decided that Jews who suffered persecution in occupied Libya during the Holocaust would also be eligible for compensation under a law to compensate victims of the Nazis. Subsequently, the authority received some 5,000 compensation applications.

Read article in full

Pilgrims greeted with ‘death to the Jews’ signs

Hebrew signs reading “death to the Jews” greeted Israeli pilgrims who came to the Egyptian Nile Delta village of Damtu to commemorate the annual anniversary of death of a 19th-century rabbi, The Media Line reports. AndIt’s not the first time there has been trouble at the Abu-Hatzeira shrine.

Some 550 Israelis arrived Monday at the mausoleum of Rabbi Yaakov Abu-Hasira, a revered Moroccan rabbi, who died in Egypt in 1880 en route to the land of Israel. But 3,000 Egyptian security personnel cordoned the village, closing down local businesses for the day.

Last year, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak allowed Israeli pilgrims to enter Egypt, responding to a personal request by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Pilgrims had been refused entry the previous year, when the anniversary fell immediately after Israel’s Cast Lead offensive on the Gaza Strip, and Egyptian security officials agued they couldn’t ensure the safety of Israelis in the country.

But Egyptian opposition parties said the event shouldn’t pass quietly this year either. The local chapter of the Nasserist Party launched a campaign titled “You shall not pass on my land,” calling on the government to disallow the presence of “Zionists” in Egypt.

“I welcome Jews from all parts of the world in my home and I will be their servant,” Gamal Munib, secretary-general of the Nasserists and coordinator of the campaign, told The Media Line. “But I refuse to welcome Zionists, who killed Egyptian prisoners of war and are killing my brothers in Palestine.”

Munib said his party convened an anti-Zionist meeting Monday night, and was organizing a protest vigil on Thursday across from Damanhour’s municipal court with the participation of “all national forces.”

The burial site wasn’t identified as Jewish until 1996, when it began being developed, Munib added. The Nasserist Party petitioned the court to declare the area isn’t a historic site, a move that would ban the annual Jewish festivities he said included the drinking of alcohol. In 2001, the court accepted the appeal.

Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) won and overwhelming majority of the seats in Egypt’s parliamentary elections November 28. Opposition groups and international observers accused the regime of widespread election fraud and a violent crackdown on opposition activists.

Munib said Mubarak’s regime was ignoring the court ruling and allowing Zionists to enter Egypt in order to buy the world’s silence regarding his election fraud and plans to bequeath the regime to his son, Gamal.

“When elections were falsified in Iran the world was in an uproar, but Europe remained silent about election fraud in Egypt, which was a thousand times worse,” he said. “I simply can’t understand the European criteria on this matter.”

Another grassroots campaign, the coalition of “Bloggers against Abu-Hasira”, sharply criticized the government and called for the arrest of the Egyptian official who allowed the festivities to take place.

“It isn’t surprising that the regime, which falsified the will of the Egyptian people, would allow the Zionist regime to trample the will of Egypt, its laws and its constitution with recurring visits throughout the year, and especially during December,” the coalition told the Egyptian daily Al-Yom A-Sabi’.

In January, the Egyptian state prosecutor charged a local armed group with plans to bomb Abu-Hasira’s mausoleum during the annual festivities as well as American ships in the Suez Canal, the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yom reported.

Yaakov Yehudayoff, a Jerusalem resident and Abu-Hasira’s great great-grandson, has been visiting the grave in Egypt since 1988. He said that Egyptian authorities repeatedly amounted difficulties on Israeli pilgrims.

“We’ve never encountered hatred, but you can tell from their faces that they don’t like us there,” he told The Media Line. “At the grave itself they take our cell phones, our alcoholic beverages, and act very aggressively.”

Yehudayoff added that Egypt often denied entry visas to Israeli pilgrims. “Last year they refused 180 applications after we had already booked an airplane,” he said.

Yehudayoff denied allegations that pilgrims were trying to take over Egypt. He said that Abu-Hasira was buried in a small Jewish cemetery on land owned by the local Jewish community.

Read article in full

Al-Masri al-Youm article

About

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.