Month: March 2015

Moroccan ‘diversity’ good, Sweden bad

Jonathan Paul Katz writing in the Forward must work for the Moroccan Tourist Board, so  complimentary is he towards the place. Scandinavia, he finds, is more antisemitic (clearly his tour bypassed Morocco’s local extremists).   Morocco has rid itself of all but one percent of its Jewish population but is praised for its ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity’, while others excoriate Israel, with 20 percent of its citizens who are Arab, as ‘apartheid’. Bizarrely, Katz sees everything western (Ashkenazi) as worthy of criticism. 

Image of the Moroccan sage Baba Sali, whose hilula (pilgrimage to his tomb) takes place yearly

A number of times, I was told — by everyone from
taxi drivers to a high-ranking Moroccan government official — of the
country’s immense diversity. “We have Arabic-speakers and
Berber-speakers, Muslims and Jews and Christians, secular people and
niqab-wearers,” one person told me. A taxi driver originally from the
town of Taroudant in Morocco’s south told me that “though the Jews and
the French of our town have left, we still miss them.”

I would reveal that I’m Jewish — it is my dream, after all, to someday
attend one of Morocco’s iconic Jewish pilgrimages, a hiloula. This
admission was met with one of three responses: an urging to come back
and go to the great hiloula of Ouazarzate; an apology or regret for the
treatment and exodus of Moroccan Jews in the 1950s and 1960s; or, most
frequently, a narration of the Jewish facilities still available in
Morocco today. These stories were occasionally punctuated by mentions of
the Jews they had met — locals, French, Israelis — or of the
Moroccan-Jewish singer Neta Elkayam.

Nowadays, Morocco has roughly
5,000 Jews (more like 2,500 – ed), and thousands of Israelis and other Jews of Moroccan
descent visit every year. But in the 1950s and 1960s, many Moroccan Jews
did face great difficulty (my emphasis),
and freedom of Jewish practice was only
strengthened in the recent constitution (Islamists banned ‘Jewish’ in the constitution, however, and the word Hebraic was substituted  – ed). Morocco’s human rights record
leaves much to be desired, and fundamentalists continue to seek (and
have harmed) the Kingdom. Yet I was struck by the openness of Moroccans
to their Jewish brethren — and to the very idea of their existence. (Why not? Jews preceded Muslims in Morocco and do not have to plead for acceptance  – ed)

struck me most is a celebration of diversity that we often do not see
in Europe. We are always told to engage with Germany, with Sweden, and
with the Netherlands — “safe countries” that look like secular-Ashkenazi
Israel, with “Western” values and tolerance of Jews. Yet I, a survivor
of anti-Semitic violence, have never felt so threatened as a Jew than I
did when walking the streets of Lund, Southern Sweden’s university city,
in January. In one day, I spotted and heard more anti-Semitism — in
graffiti and conversations — than I did in a week in Morocco. But
somehow we’re still told that Sweden and Denmark are “clean and safe”
(like Israel), whereas Morocco is “dangerous and dirty” for Jews. We
celebrate the Jews who return to Berlin, city of Hitler, but not those
who return to Tunisia or Morocco.

The very idea that Jews could be
and are Moroccans seemed so natural to many locals — in fact, I was
told by my host in Casablanca that their grandchildren are “100%
Moroccan” — even before they knew I was Jewish. (“And I thought you were
Catholic!”) Yet in Sweden and the Netherlands and Norway, the very
ability of Jews to integrate is again up for debate. We celebrate
without full consideration the countries that Ashkenazim enjoy, yet the
countries of Mizrahim and Sephardim somehow remain beyond the pale.

from Morocco, what I would like to say is this: Tolerance is not the
province of Western white people alone. I saw a greater acknowledgment
for the intersection of different identities — Moroccan and Jewish,
Berber and Muslim, Arab and francophone — than I have ever seen in much
of the West.

Yes, Morocco may have safety issues. Yes, the exodus
of Morocco’s Jewry looms large. Yes, Morocco’s support (alongside many
Jews’ support) for the Palestinian cause leaves some pro-Israel Jews
queasy. But Morocco is in the midst of achieving something that many
European countries have not yet started: the idea of a Jew as part and
parcel of the country’s heritage.

Read article in full 

Tunisians turn Ashkenormative Judaism upside down (Forward – see comments)

A video tour of Jewish Baghdad

 Update: Sir Sassoon Hskels house was demolished in August 2016

Click here to see the video 

 When 140, 000 Jews left Iraq, whatever happened to the property they left behind?

This report on the Hona Baghdad Channel (Arabic) has been stirring Jewish memories on social media. It begins with a visit to the home of Sasson Heskel, modern Iraq’s first Finance Minister, now an arts centre. The programme’s presenter then takes us to see the Watania primary school which
was located near Qunbar-Ali. The principal was the Arabist Ezra Hadad.

After a visit to Sook Hanoon, we are taken to the imposing entrances of Jewish homes in Abu Nawas St in Bataween, a new district of Baghdad built along the Tigris in the 1930s.

Emile Cohen in London makes periodic appearances on Skype. He describes how the last desperate Jews of Iraq escaped from their homes leaving the television switched on, so that no one would suspect they would be gone for good.

Most of the houses had been sequestrated by the government. There was no chance of the Jews getting restitution – the Jews were considered ‘the enemy’.

The overall impression is of neglected sites badly in need of repair, with graffiti on the walls and rubbish strewn all around.   Few Jews would recognise their homes, schools and markets in Baghdad today.

PS The video ends with a view of Baghdad’s new Jewish cemetery, with its 2, 000 graves. The land was donated by the Daniel family after the government destroyed the original Baghdad cemetery in 1958.

Blind Algerian-born poet wins Israel prize

 Algerian-born poet Erez Biton is the first Mizrahi to be awarded the Israel Prize for Literature. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Erez Biton has been blind since childhood

Biton, who has been blind since childhood, was born in Algeria and is
the first poet of Mizrahi descent to win the Israel Prize in

His well-known works include 1976’s Mincha Marokait
(Moroccan Gift); 1979’s Sefer Hanana (Book of Mint); 1989’s Tzipor Ben
Yabashot (Bird between Continents); and 2009’s Timbisert, A Moroccan

“The five books of poetry he published… are the epitome
of courageous dealings,” wrote the Israel Prize committee, “sensitive
and deep with a wide range of personal and collective experiences
centered around the pain of migration, planting roots in the country
and the reestablishment of the Mizrahi identity as an integral part of
the overall Israeli portrait.”

Read article in full

Prosor to UN: save Middle East’s minorities

According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor has called on the Security Council 
to “break its silence” on the “plague” of persecution of minorities in
the Middle East. At last Israel’s public policy is putting the exodus of Jews from Arab lands in its true context. (With thanks: Lily)

Prosor cited the upcoming Passover holiday and
the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, saying persecution
continues “without interruption and under the nose of the
international community.”

In a meeting of the 15-nation council
on minorities in the region, Prosor warned that millions of Christians,
Kurds, Yazidis, Baha’is and Jews still face persecution.

doesn’t matter where you come from, what faith you belong to, or what
politics you preach, no decent human being can ignore the calamity
facing minorities in the Middle East,” he said.

Israel is as a haven in the region for minorities, he said.

is the one place in the Middle East where minorities have the freedom
to practice their faith, to change faiths, or to practice no faith at
all – and that is Israel,” the ambassador said.

Israel is home
to a pluralistic society where people of various faiths are represented
in the upper echelons of society, Prosor stressed. He noted the
freedoms exercised by those who face persecution in much of the rest of
the region, including members of the Baha’i, Jewish and Christian

Christians living under Hamas rule in Gaza do not have
the same political freedoms as those in Israel, the ambassador
underscored. After the Islamist group took control of the Strip in
2007, half of the Christian community fled, Prosor said.

He also
spoke of the Christian population under the Palestinian Authority,
saying Bethlehem’s Christian population fell by 70 percent since the PA
assumed control in 1995.

Referring to a variant of an Arab
proverb that relates to Jews and Christians, Prosor said radical
Islamists having a saying: “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday

“Having driven out the vast majority of Jews out of the Arab lands, extremists have turned on the Christians,” he said.

Read article in full

A-wa: yes, Yemenites rock!

Yemenite rain song, performed by the three Haim sisters 

 Three sisters of Yemenite descent from Israel’s southern Arava desert have been taking the Arabic music world by storm. The Times of Israel has their story:

Here’s a sound that hasn’t been heard before. The guttural trills of Yemeni Arabic, couched in the text of a traditional women’s song, filtered through the harmonies of American musicals and the stylized rhythms of hip-hop and reggae.

It’s the sound of A-Wa (pronounced Ay Wah, and Arabic for “yes”), a trio of sisters who are about to release their first single, “Habib Galbi,” based on the music they’ve been hearing since birth.

 “It’s like we ransacked everything,” said Tair Haim, 31, the eldest, and smallest, of the three. “We’re sisters, and we’re three sisters, we’re Yemenite, we’re from this tiny place down south, and we’re adding hip-hop and reggae to traditional Yemenite music.”

 Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim, 31, 29 and 25, are perched close together on an old black leather couch in the Kaboom studio, on the edge of Tel Aviv’s Florentin. They just completed a rehearsal for next week’s gig at Barby, Tel Aviv’s club for local rockers.

The three are the oldest of their parents’ six children, raised on Shaharut, a remote southern farming community in the Arava where they learned to rely on one another.

 It was Tair Haim who was first bitten by the performance bug. She got up on a makeshift stage at her seventh birthday party and announced an upcoming performance, to which she graciously invited Liron, the next in line.

 Read article in full



Another popular Israeli group blending Yemenite rythms and modern rock: Yemen Blues, led by Ravid Kalahani


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