Month: October 2014

Jews make a come-back in Arab novels

Arabs are now writing novels about Jews (irritatingly referred to here by the controversial phrase ‘Arab Jew’) – maybe because their communities are gone. Is it nostalgia for days gone by? Or a  more honest appraisal of the past? But still, they try to draw a distinction between ‘their’ Jews  and Israeli policies. Interesting blogpost in the Guardian.

More honest about history? Iraqi novelist  Ali Bader writes about the Farhud massacre of the Jews

For decades, Arab Jews went missing from Arabic films and
novels. This loud absence followed the Jewish exodus from Cairo,
Damascus and other cities around the region. Before the second world
war, Jews had seemed an eternal part of the Arab cultural fabric. In the
early 20th century, Baghdad’s Jews had made up one-third of the city’s
population, and were prominent in the arts, commerce and city

Things changed drastically in June 1941, when the riotous Farhud pogrom
killed around 180 of Baghdad’s Jews and wounded closer to 1,000. Over
the next decades, as the city’s Jewish residents emigrated or were
driven out, they also disappeared from Iraqi narratives. But when
acclaimed Iraqi novelist Ali Bader
was searching for the origins of contemporary violence in Baghdad in
his 2008 novel The Tobacco Keeper, he circled back to the Farhud
massacres. From there, he depicted the city’s vibrant early-20th-century
Jewish population.

Bader, who also wrote about the city’s Jewish population in
his influential Papa Sartre, isn’t alone. Papa Sartre, published in
2001, was followed by more than 20 other novels and novellas that
foreground Arabic-speaking Jews.

From the 1950s through the 1990s, if Arab Jewish characters
appeared in Arabic novels, they were largely of two types. Either they’d
been crafted by Arab Jews living in Israel, such as Sami Michael,
or the characters reflected the situation of Israel and Palestine. The
war and occupation “kidnapped … an important part of the Arab world
history,” according to scholar Najat Abdulhaq. “And froze it.”

These stories remained largely frozen until about a decade
ago, when films and novels that put ordinary Arab Jews in the spotlight
began to appear, and were set in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt,
Iraq and Algeria. Among these are Syrian novelist Ibrahim al-Jubain’s
Diary of a Damascus Jew (2007), Egyptian novelist Mutaz Fatiha’s The
Last Jews of Alexandria
(2008), Yemeni Ali al-Muqri’s The Handsome Jew
(2009), and Algerian Amin Zaoui’s The Last Jew of Tamentit (2012),
written in French.

These novels have been coming from across the region. “And I
don’t think that the writers had an agreement among each other – that
they had a workshop and then decided, ‘Come on, we’re going to write
novels about it!’” Abdulhaq said at a talk this summer.

Most of the novels are set in the middle of the last century
and are based on true stories. “Lastness” is a central trope. A cynic
might say that it’s now possible to write about Arab Jews because their
communities are gone.

But Bader, who was perhaps the first of this new wave, says
he was intentionally writing against official regime history. In 2001,
Bader said in an email: “Political discourse in Iraq was designed to
legitimize the [Ba’athist] revolution, by denigrating systematically the
previous eras.” This included the denigration of Jews and other
minorities. “All my novels try to invalidate the official version of the
history,” Bader said.

Other authors have had other motivations. Egyptian novelist
Kamal Ruhayyim, who grew up in Giza and well-to-do Maadi, worked as a
police officer in Cairo and Paris. When he began to write novels, he
turned not to crime scenes, but to memories of his Jewish neighbours.
According to his son Ahmed, Ruhayyim wanted Egyptians to remember this
important part of their history. He also wanted them to understand the
difference between Jewish communities and Israeli policies.

Read article in full

Hebron massacre survivor, 86, dies

The youngest survivor of the Hebron massacre of 1929 has died. Shlomo Slonim (pictured), only 18 months old at the time, was covered by the bodies of his slain parents. Report in the Jewish Press:

In 1929, after years of relatively peaceful existence, the Arabs of
Hebron responded to the call of the Mufti of Jerusalem and slaughtered
the Jews in their midst.

A Jewish child, Shlomo Slonim, 18-months-old at the time of the massacre, survived the brutality.

The Slonim baby lived because after being struck in the head with an
axe, he lost consciousness and was covered by the dead bodies of his
slain parents. His four-year old brother and grandparents were also

In all, 24 of the 67 Jews butchered in Hebron that day died in the
Slonim house. People hid there because it was thought to be the safest
place, given the close relations Shlomo’s father had with the Arab
neighbors who had promised him protection.

But none were spared.

Read article in full 

Lessons of Hebron massacre for coexistence

Jews were part of Kuwait’s history

Kuwaiti columnist Nasser Bader Al-‘Eidan published an article in the daily Al-Rai
titled “The Jews in Kuwait”. He called to document the Jewish history in
Kuwait, which he claims is an inseparable part of the country’s history,
and praised the religious tolerance that typified Kuwaitis in the past
but no long exists even “among members of the same faith, same homeland,
and same destiny.”Via MEMRI (with thanks: Lily)

Nasser Bader Al-‘Eidan (image:

“The first religious police in the Gulf was established in Kuwait during the time of the late Sheikh Salim Al-Mubarak[2]
to [combat] the public drunkenness and lewdness that were common in
those days. The Kuwaiti Jews excelled in wine production in that period.
The history of the Jews in Kuwait is important, but most of our
generation knows nothing about it, and our textbooks ignore it. It is
part of Kuwait’s modern history, whether we like it or not, due to [the
Jews’] contributions to trade and art, and secientific integrity
requires us to document it.

“The presence of Jews in Kuwait began in the late
18th century. Most of them came from Iraq because of the Ottoman regime,
which imposed the [jizya] poll [tax] upon them and undermined their
trade activity. Kuwait did not behave the same as the Ottomans, and [the
Jews] saw it as a safe place to settle. They numbered between 50 and
800 – historians are divided on this. They had good relations with the
late Sheikh Mubarak the Great,[3]
who saw ties with the Jews as a factor stimulating successful trade.
However, these relations chilled during [the reign] of Salim Al-Mubarak,
who was known to be devout, and because the Jews produced wine.

“In the study I am relying on, Kuwaiti researcher
Yousef Al-Mutairi [of Kuwait University] interviewed Anwar Cohen, the
last Jew to emigrate from Kuwait. Cohen says that many Jews left Kuwait
for Iraq and other countries for various reasons, chief among them [the
atmosphere in Kuwait following] the founding of the State of Israel.
Cohen [himself] emigrated from Kuwait in 1953 due to an article written
by Dr. Ahmad Al-Khatib, who claimed that Cohen’s presence in Kuwait
contradicted pan-Arab honor and solidarity with Israel-occupied

“We do not forget that some Kuwaiti Jews were
businessmen who partnered with [Muslim] Kuwaiti businessmen, such as the
[Jewish] businessman Saleh Mahlab, who was friends with Sheikh Mubarak
[likely Mubarak The Great], and the Yehezkel family, who held the
franchise to supply electricity to Kuwait for 35 years during the time
of the late Sheikh Ahmad Al-Jaber.[5]
The Jews also contributed to the arts. For instance, Kuwaiti musician
Saleh Al-Kuwaiti and his brother Daoud, who have a street named for them
in Tel-Aviv as a gesture of appreciation for their work.[6]

“This was a brief review of the history of Kuwaiti
Jews and the openness shown by the Kuwaiti people, who accepted them at
that time. Kuwaitis of old were a shining model of interfaith
coexistence and tolerance. Nowadays such tolerance doesn’t exist [even]
among members of the same faith, same homeland, and same destiny.”

Read article in full

The hard-scrabble Sephardim of Sarcelles

  Rioting in Sarcelles in July 2014

It’s the economy, stupid. Or a social trend to combat globalisation, and its agents the Jews. That’s one good reason for Paris’s summer of antisemitic rioting, argues Robert Wistrich. But in this response in Mosaic by Neil Rogochevsky, the economy is part of a toxic brew of reasons why life for the predominantly Sephardi Jews of the working class district of Sarcelles is becoming a real struggle.

In the course of recent trips to France, I was fortunate to spend
time in and around the heavily Jewish, heavily Muslim, all-working-class
Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, site of some of the worst anti-Jewish
riots this summer. Developed in the 1950s to house French-Algerian pieds-noirs,
both Jews and Gentiles,seeking refuge from the raging civil war, the
town later absorbed waves of Jews expelled from Morocco and Tunisia.
Respectable, safe, and comfortable if not exactly prosperous, Sarcelles
began to decline in the 1980s. It is now a seething banlieue where a shrinking and aging Jewish community lives amid increasingly restive, hostile newcomers.

Many younger Jews do escape from Sarcelles—social mobility is still
not completely dead in France, and there is always the tantalizing
prospect of Israel. But the ones who stay are caught in a difficult
situation with little opportunity for employment, dreary marital
prospects, and few avenues of self-improvement. The kind of Jews one
meets here, as one might expect, are hard-scrabble—the ones I know are
cab drivers and boxers. For the less ambitious or less fortunate,
there’s always the unemployment line.

In short, this is the kind of Jewish community one hasn’t seen much
of in America for many decades. Even before this summer’s riots, Jews of
Sarcelles faced a humiliating run of vandalism, anti-Jewish graffiti,
insults, intimidation, and occasionally worse. One shudders to think
what would happen if gendarmes bearing automatic weapons didn’t keep the
Sarcelles synagogue under constant protection.

Needless to say, the Jews of Sarcelles are far more representative of
the Jews of France today than my dinner companions. Mostly Sephardi,
often working-class, and traditional if not strictly observant in their
religious practice, they either do not know or do not care about the
previously unwritten rule that one is expected to be quiet about one’s
Judaism in public. Besides, even if they wanted to, their many enemies
would never let them get away with it. So why deny it?

It is for such Jews, asRobert Wistrich’s essayacutely demonstrates,
that daily life is becoming a real struggle. To the moribund economy,
and the hapless governing class, add the now-frequent episodes of
barbaric anti-Jewish violence, and you have a positively toxic brew. And
so a more accurate sense of the actual situation than the one at the
dinner party came to me from a prominent Parisian rabbi who admitted
frankly that there seemed no way to stop the decline in the numbers of
French Jews—and he wondered whether it was even worth trying.  A large
part of his current task, he said, involved nurturing the already strong
Zionist impulses of the younger generation, of whom nearly 5,000 are
now departing for Israel annually (where, unlike in the case of previous
French waves, they seem largely intent on staying).

Read article in full

How many Jews lived in Egypt?

 With thanks: Levana

 Mark Cohen leaves Egypt

How many Jews lived in Egypt in the 20th century? Conventional estimates put the numbers at 75, 000 – 80, 000, but there there could have been as many as 100, 000. According to a map produced by Sir Martin Gilbert, there were 89, 525 Egyptian Jews.

More than 45, 000 fled to Israel. But some academic estimates put the number even higher – at 50, 000. Yoel Rapel’s book (Ben-Zvi institute) “Bamahteret Me-Artzot Ha-Islam” says
on page 158: “In 1948-1950,  14, 299
Jews from Egypt immigrated to Israel”.

Brakha’s book “Waves of my Life” – Brakha worked in Egypt for the Mossad  in
1951 – features a letter from Shimon Peres, thanking Eliyahu Brakha for his
successful mission. Brakha smuggled more than 13, 000  Jews out of Egypt
(most with a temporary Spanish visa he managed to obtain), when Jews were forbidden to leave Egypt, unless they were expelled.

Michael Laskier’s book “The Jews of Egypt 1920-1970″ says on page 267: “From November 1956 to 31 October 1957, Israel admitted nearly 13, 500 Egyptian refugees via European airports.” 

All this makes a total of 40,799. There were many other waves of Aliyah (immigration): between 1967-1970  more than 10, 000 came to Israel. That implies that more  than 50, 000
Jews from Egypt made Aliya.

number is corroborated by other research:
France absorbed 10, 000 Egyptian Jews (according to Dr. Racheline Barda’s research –
Australia), the USA 10, 000 – Brazil 10, 000 – Australia 2,000 – England
5, 000 – other European countries (Italy, Belgium etc): some 8, 000 or more.

All in all,  some 95, 000 Jews were living in Egypt at the time (or
perhaps 100, 000 – because Jewish births were not registered with the Ministry of Interior, but with the religious authorities (Rabbanut). These communal registers are today out of reach. 

From the
22,000 claims lodged at the Israeli Ministry of Justice, 7, 000 are from
Egyptian Jewish families: this represents at least 35, 000 persons, and we know
that fewer than 50% of families presented their claims. 


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