“Many left in silence, hastily packing their belongings. From one day to the next, the Jews of Lebanon were gone.” Alexandra Sandels wrote this post for Babylon and Beyond blog about the screening of Nada Abdelsamad’s film on the Jews of Lebanon. shown in Beirut a couple of weeks ago:
“We sat down and cried on the doorstep of the house,” said one elderly Lebanese woman in a new film about Lebanon’s now-destroyed Jewish community.
The 45-minute Arabic-language documentary, “The Jews of Lebanon: Loyalty to Whom?” by BBC journalist Nada Abdelsamad, tracks the lives of Lebanese Jews before, during and after their departure.
It is based on accounts from Lebanese Jews, who fled or migrated to other countries, and memories from their old neighbors and friends and the residents of former Jewish neighborhoods in Beirut and Sidon.
The 1948 establishment of Israel, the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflict and warfare between Israel and Lebanon triggered exoduses of Lebanese Jews to Israel and other countries around the world. It is estimated that only a few hundred or so Lebanese Jews are left in the country, compared with well over 20,000 in 1948.
The film begins with scenes of the Beirut seaside juxtaposed with images of Israel as soft Arabic music is playing the background. The camera then turns to a couple of old buildings, some of them riddled by bullet holes from Lebanon’s 15-year-long civil war, in Wadi Abu Jamil, the neighborhood near downtown Beirut that in earlier days used be the city’s Jewish quarter.
One older Lebanese woman in the movie takes out a black-and-white photo of her Jewish friend Gamalo that her friend gave her 60 years ago. Gamalo was leaving the country with her family and wanted her friend to keep a memory of their friendship.
Many years have passed since Lebanon’s Jews left, but nostalgia for the old days still appears to be there, according to the film. Former neighbors and acquaintances interviewed still wonder what happened to their Jewish friends, where they went, and about their families.
“Of course I think of them,” one Lebanese woman said in the film. “I ask myself whether they’re still alive, doing well, or if they are dead. I don’t know. I think of them so much.”