Month: January 2014

Sultana’s story for the weekend

When she is not commenting on Point of No Return, our regular reader, Egyptian-born Sultana (aka Suzy), is busy writing memoirs of her family. She is pleased to announced that 12 of her stories, titled Sephardi Peregrinations, are now online. Here is an extract from the first story – about her ancestor Yehuda, who moved his Souery family from Iraq to Egypt : 

Yehuda addressed himself to his sons:“Weladi, my
children, I have gathered you because the situation for us Jews is not good –
not good at all!

We must make a decision. But whatever we do we
must remain together.” 

 “What can we do baba, father?” Asked his
oldest son Moussa, (Moses)..“We must leave before the situation gets any
worse.”

“But Baba, how will that be possible? Leave
everything, our home, our synagogue, friends and go?”

 “Yes! Ya ebni, my son, that is what we
must do whether it breaks our hearts or not.

For the moment we are still safe here but for how long? I
have thought about that very seriously since the turmoil and aggressions
started on our community. 

 “We
shall form a caravan with donkeys, pack up everything and leave during the
night when everyone is asleep. Then at one of the hams, caravan serail, we
shall rejoin the camel caravans that spread out in many different routes. One
of these routes is Samarkand on the Silk Route but that is not our goal.

 “We shall take the one going through to Syria and then Egypt.

”Egypt by then had developed and with the inauguration of the Suez Canal (Nov.17, 1869), would know a
massive Europeanised era. 

 “Every one who longed to leave Iraq, and they were many, opted for Egypt because of
the same language, a sound Jewish community and great possibilities offered.

 “At that time the Jewish Community was a small one in Egypt but with the on-coming
Jews who chose Egypt it grew and became an important one. 

Consequently,
apart from both the dangers and difficulties of an eventual voyage through the
Desert, they would have fellow Jews to guide them once they reached Egypt. That
was essential because mutual assistance from fellow Jews was not a vain word! 

 Any Jew going anywhere knew that if he went to his synagogue he would be directed
to the right people who would in turn do what they could for the newcomer.

Read story in full 

Suzy Vidal’s memories of a shattered world

Kerry deal ‘to compensate Jewish refugees’

 John Kerry (left) with Martin Indyk (photo: Martin Stern)

Update: MK Shimon Oyahon welcomes inclusion of compensation to Jewish refugees in Kerry peace deal framework (Israel National News)

Update to the Update: ‘State Department officials cautioned that the process could take longer
than a few weeks, and they said the issue of how to treat families of
Jewish refugees had not been settled. ‘(New York Times)

 **

Martin Indyk, lead US envoy in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, has reassured US Jewish leaders that Jewish refugees will received compensation under a final peace deal.

The Washington Post reports:

“Indyk also told the group that a final peace treaty could provide for
compensation to Jews forced out of Arab countries after the founding of
Israel in 1948. That would give descendants of those refugees living in
Israel a potential financial stake* in a deal long assumed to also
provide compensation for Arabs who left land in what is now Israel.”

 Yediot Aharonot (Hebrew) reports: 

“The
framework agreement will address  Palestinian refugee compensation,
but for the first time there was also talk of compensation to Jewish refugees from
Arab countries.

The reports corroborate an article in the Jerusalem Post where senior Palestinian official Yousef Abed Rabbo talks of a solution to the refugees problem – not  Palestinian refugees specifically.

Unconfirmed sources quote Indyk as stating that the US does believe that Jewish refugee compensation ought to be addressed, although the Palestinians could not be held responsible for compensating Jewish refugees.

However,  Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni is reported as still firmly refusing to raise the Jewish refugee issue. The issue has been discussed notwithstanding.

Her reticence, exposed byPoint of No Return, has caused concern among advocates for Jewish refugees and had led to MK Nissim Zeev tabling a motion to create a committee to monitor the implementation of a 2010 Knesset law. That law requires that compensation for Jewish refugees be on the peace agenda.

The impetus for the Knesset law came from the US. In 2008 the US Congress passed a resolution insisting that whenever Palestinian refugee rights are discussed, Jewish refugee rights must also be discussed.

*My comment: The expression ‘potential financial stake’ is an interesting one and suggests that the US is seeking to provide a financial incentive to the sector of the Israeli electorate most mistrustful of a peace deal – Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. However, compensation without Arab recognition of the Jewish refugee ‘narrative’ may not be enough. 

Report suggests Jewish refugees under discussion

Report suggests Jewish refugees under discussion

 An advertisement appeared today in both the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom drawing attention to the Big Nakba (‘for those who know and those who need to know’) – namely the forced exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Half of Israeli Jews, it states, are refugees from Arab countries. (These outnumber Palestinian Arab refugees by as many as two to one.) 

The unattributed advertisement appears to be timed to coincide with reports of what a final peace deal brokered by the US Secretary of State John Kerry would look like.

Activists on behalf of Jewish refugees have been worried by news (broken by Point of No Return) that Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, did not see a connection between Jewish and Palestinian refugees. There is anxiety in some quarters that Ms Livni is still failing to include the Jewish refugee issue on the peace agenda. 

MK Nissim Zeev took steps to call Ms Livni to account by tabling a motion calling for a Joint Knesset Committee to ensure that recognition and compensation for Jewish refugees are included in peace talks, in accordance with a Knesset law he introduced in 2010.

This year the UN has declared the Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian Refugees. MK Zeev has called for it to be declared the Year of Solidarity with both Palestinian and Jewish Refugees.

However, other sources say that the issue is on the table and is being discussed.

Confirmation from the Palestinian side appears  in this Jerusalem Post article, they say. The article quotes a response of PLO Executive Committee Secretary General Abed Rabbo to the Kerry proposals.

Abed Rabbo said: “the plan proposes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the establishment of the Palestinian capital in a part of East Jerusalem and solving the refugees problem in accordance with former US President Bill Clinton’s vision.” 

 Abed Rabbo does not mention Palestinian refugees, referring instead to “the refugees problem” in the plural – language echoing the wording of UN Resolution 242  covering both refugee populations – Jews and Arabs.

 He also refers to Bill Clinton’s vision or plan. The major component of the Clinton plan is the International Peace Fund, which would provide compensation to both Jewish and Arab refugees.

An Algerian life: Maxim’s and Macias

 The great synagogue, Oran



Claude Rouas (see his videotaped interview here) was born in Oran, Algeria in 1933. He overcame great hardships to finally settle in California, but returned to Algeria to visit to his mother’s grave in 1985. He tells his story to JIMENA on the Jerusalem Post:

Orphaned at a young age
after both of his parents died of cancer, Claude was raised by extended
family including his uncle “Papa Isaac”, and his brother, who was the
eldest of 5 siblings. Growing up in poverty and without parents, Claude
learned the art of hard work early on. His childhood jobs included
selling movie tickets, peddling goods on the street, tailoring and
working as a pastry chef. He lived on an all-Jewish street in the city
of Oran, bordering an Arab Muslim neighborhood. Claude recounts some
fights between the groups, but overall he remembers Jewish-Muslim
relations during this time as peaceful.

Claude’s family migrated from Algeria to France in 1937 in hopes of
finding better opportunities and a more secure life. Their first home in
Paris was a store they rented, sleeping in the storage room and using
the storefront as a makeshift dining room. They returned to Algeria in
1941, where Claude remained until moving to the U.S. in 1963.

Though he doesn’t come from an observant background, Claude was
raised with a value of preserving Jewish tradition, and recalls fondly
practices from his childhood such as studying for his Bar Mitzvah and
going to synagogue on Passover. Every Friday evening his family
gathered together for a Shabbat meal of couscous and d’fina stew. Jewish
custom was an integral part of mourning and life cycles growing up.

The holiday of Yom Kippur holds significant meaning and memory for
Claude. He remembers the hunger-fueled intensity and sullen temper of
his congregation members at La Grande Synagogue d’Oran, some of whom
even passed out at services. But Claude still looked forward to the
holiday every year for a different reason. As it is customary to don new
clothing for Yom Kippur, it was a busy time of year for the 9-year-old
tailor. Working longer hours than usual, Claude stayed at his boss’s
house for extended periods of time. Here he was guaranteed a cup of hot
coffee and a slice of bread and butter every morning – a luxury that
felt like “a dream life”. Nowadays Claude feels even closer to his
faith, which he expresses through practices including lighting Shabbat
candles weekly and wearing tallit.

One of the most profoundly sentimental mediums that invoke Claude’s
memory is the French-infused Jewish Algerian music. Ingrained in
Claude’s mind are the lyrics of Enrico Macias, which intone stories of
Jewish expulsion and migration to France. The melodies bring up such
strong emotions of longing that he avoids listening to them altogether.

At the age of 14, Claude took a major step towards a more promising
future when he left his family to attend a hotel and restaurant school.
As the only Jewish student, he faced some of his most marked
experiences of anti-Semitism the hands of his teacher, Monsieur Soleil,
who was the head of the dining room department. Mr. Soleil had cordial
relationships with other students in his department, who were 90% Arab
Muslim, but with Claude he was physically and verbally abusive,
asserting that Claude didn’t belong in the school because he would
“never survive in this industry.”

Claude excelled above and beyond these hardships, graduating at #2 in
his class and building a career in the hospitality business. He served
for two years in the French Army as a butler to a general in Paris. Here
he went on to work at some of the most renowned restaurants and hotels
in Paris and London, such as Maxim’s and Hotel Mirabelle. In Paris he
also met the owner of San Francisco’s acclaimed Ernie’s restaurant, who
invited him to work there. He was promoted to General Manager at age 32,
and oversaw the institution as it grew to be San Francisco’s most
successful restaurant of its time. In 1981, he opened a Napa Valley
restaurant which subsequently grew into a world-class luxury resort –
aptly named Auberge Du Soleil, a fitting comeback to the instructor who
told Claude he would never succeed in this industry.

Claude’s last visit to his birthplace was in 1985, when he returned
with his two daughters to see his mother’s grave. Claude found the
Algeria of his childhood was unrecognizable: the street names were
changed and beautiful landmarks had been destroyed. A road ran straight
through the middle of the Jewish cemetery, which had become a
“wilderness”, and it was impossible to find his mother’s burial plot.
Miraculously, his daughter happened upon the very patch of land where
his mother’s tombstone still stood. For Claude, the entire trip was
worth this very moment.

Read article in full

Loving Umm Kalthum – In Israel

 Umm Kulthum performs for Gamal Abdul Nasser (8.56 mins into the clip)

 Politics and music are two different things in the Middle East, but it’s no reason to ignore cultural connections between Israel and the Arab world, according to this story in the Times of Israel:

That Umm Kulthum is highly, even increasingly popular in Israel, despite being an iconic symbol of the 20th century Arabic nationalist movement, is no surprise to Elad Gabbay, a prominent qanun(eastern zither) player and a teacher of Middle Eastern music and piyutim (Jewish religious poetry) at the Musrara School of Eastern Music in Jerusalem.

“For us, music is art, music is joy,” Gabbay
said. “We love her, because her songs are beautiful. We grew up on them
and we sing them. It doesn’t matter who she was.”

There was “never a question” in Israel, he
added, of rejecting Umm Kulthum because of her background, because in
the East, music and politics “are two different things.”

In the Western world, music gets mixed up with
“spirituality, politics and ideology,” Gabbay asserted, but in the
East, music is just “a job, a profession.” Just like “a Jew will go to
an Arab carpenter to buy a good table… the Jews have no problem to
listen to Umm Kulthum. We love her music, and that’s it.”

Of course, Israel’s Mizrahi Jews are not
politically naïve and know very well “who our enemies are,” Gabbay said.
Some people “look at old photographs of Arab and Jewish musicians
playing together in Morocco or Iraq,” he said, and think that back then
it was all “shalom and kumbaya, but it wasn’t. They played together, but
afterwards one was a Jew and one was an Arab. The communities were
separate, and there was anti-Semitism, and later they [the Arab
countries] wanted to get rid of the Jews… but it didn’t affect the
music.”

Those old photographs are part of the vision
of conductor Cohen, for whom it is important to give Middle Eastern
music “a place of honor, because we are living in this culture. All the
time, we are looking at differences and problems between Israel and our
neighbors, but we can look at our connections as well, for example this
music.”

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.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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