Month: September 2015

No return to Egypt for Irene

From Left: Professor Julien Bauer, Ziv Nevo Kulman, Israeli consul in Montreal, Irene Buenavida and Professor David Bensoussan at the launch of  Irene’s book at Congregation Hechal Shlomo in Montreal. (Photo: E. Levy)

Irene Buenavida’s memoir Depart sans retour (English: No Return) has just been published by Editions du Marais. It’s a vibrant tribute to the thousands of Egyptian Jews who were forced into exile after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. From a piece by Elias Levy in Canadian Jewish News:

“In this poignant and captivating autobiographical work, Irene Buenavida traced the history of her family, dispersed today to the four corners of the earth, and with nostalgia evokes the happy years she spent on the banks of the Nile.

“The story of the Second Exodus of the Jews of Egypt is very close to my heart. In writing Depart sans retour, I wanted to play my part in immortalising the wonderful heritage of the Jews of Egypt by telling the story of my family – another memoir to add to those accounts already written by Egyptian Jews living in the diaspora. It is essential to preserve and transmit to the younger generation the memory of what our life was like in our country of birth, from whence we were expelled more than six decades ago,” said a very emotional Irene Buenavida at the launch of her book.

For copies of Depart sans retour contact Irene Buenavida on 514-342-0033.

Burying a Jew in Cairo with Google’s help

To ensure Carmen Weinstein,  the president of the Jewish community, a dignified Jewish burial, Seth Wikas had to look up Jewish burial practices on Google. Amazing story in The Forward of how Wikas, who arrived in Cairo to work at the US embassy in 2012, became the tiny local community’s religious adviser.

 Burial of former Jewish leader Carmen Weinstein at the Bassatine cemetery in Cairo

“Have you ever prepared a Jewish body for burial?” It was Saturday
morning, April 13, 2013. The person on the line had called me hours
earlier to let me know that Carmen Weinstein, leader of Cairo’s Jewish
community, had died.

I had arrived in Cairo nearly eight months earlier to work at the
U.S. Embassy, and Weinstein was one of the first people I met. She was
in her early 80s, the “Iron Lady” of Cairo’s Jewish community. She had
seen the community dwindle in her lifetime to less than two dozen mostly
octogenarian ladies from more than 70,000. Weinstein’s mission was
simple: Religious festivals would be celebrated, and people would come —
from old ladies to expat Jews. I became her trusted American adviser to
make sure butts were in the seats for Hanukkah, Purim and Passover. She
regaled me with tales of Cairo’s religiously pluralistic pre-1948 past,
when Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together relatively

“Seth, can you do it?”

“I’ve never done that before, Magy, but I can find out how.”

Magda Tania Haroun Silvera (known to me as Magy) had called me
earlier that morning to tell me about Weinstein. Magy and her sister,
Nadia, became my Jewish mothers after a chance meeting at a Hanukkah
celebration, when I was surprised to learn that Egyptian Jews younger
than 60 existed, and that they lived around the block from me. The
sisters never hesitated to ply me with food, tea, coffee, sweets and
stories of the olden days.

With that call I became Cairo’s
chevra kadisha,
after quickly Googling “ chevra kadisha
” and finding the Park Slope Jewish Center’s guide. Magy and Nadia
picked me up, and we made our way to the Italian Hospital in the
Abbasiya section of Cairo. Magy, Nadia and an orderly looked to me for
direction as we stood over Weinstein’s body. I asked for the buckets of
water and the sterile sheets, and gave directions regarding the washing,
purification and wrapping. It was an emotionally exhausting day — not
just because it was my first experience preparing a Jewish body for
burial, but also because it was a changing of the guard. Weinstein was
no more; Magy (the new president) and Nadia (the new vice president)
were now in charge.

Magy and Nadia did a masterful job of organizing a dignified funeral
and burial. To foreshadow the new character of Cairo’s Jewish community,
they publicly announced that the first day of
would be held at the central Adly Street synagogue, Sha’ar Hashmayim.

Read article in full

Mahmoud Abbas follows in the Mufti’s footsteps

Over the Jewish Holydays this year, Mahmoud Abbas attempted to spark an intifada by spreading  rumours that the Jews were plotting to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. This strategy is not new, but dates back to the time of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Then the accusation was that the Jews were plotting to take over the Arab world. Dr Edy Cohen explains on i24 News:

Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa mosque where Palestinians had stored stones and rocks for throwing on Jewish worshippers at the western wall

In fact when Herbert Samuel appointed al-Husseini to the position of
mufti in 1921, the latter set himself the goal of the expulsion of Jews
from Palestine and preventing them from reaching it, but he did not have
the powers to deal with thousands of Jews or the implications of the
Balfour Declaration and the British aid to Jews. The mufti’s position
was weak and his allies conflicted and isolated.

Surrounding Arab
countries were weakened, each busy with problems with the colonial
powers. Politically and economically it was not a good time to organize a
strike or buy weapons. The mufti therefore concluded that he must
enlist the aid of the Arab and Muslim world, and unite them and bring
them to the Palestinian issue with the aim to get the help of millions
of Muslims around the world. How did the mufti go about this?

Like Abbas, the mufti sought to convince the Arab world that Jews
plan to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and establish the Third Temple on the
site of the Dome of the Rock, before conquering the rest of the Arab
world. “Palestine does not satisfy the Jews, because the aim is to take
over the rest of the Arab countries, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and the
region of Khaybar in Saudi Arabia, under the pretext that this city was
the homeland of the Jewish tribes in the seventh century.” Thus the
mufti of Jerusalem said again and again.

The mufti’s propaganda methods were varied, but the most effective
one was sending envoys to Arab leaders. These messengers carried
“evidence” of the intention of the Jews to “defile” the holy places of
Islam, invoices and receipts supposedly attesting to the payments made
on behalf of Jewish religious institutions. The leaflets were
illustrated with paintings of the Western Wall and Temple Mount. These
illustrations were decorated with Jewish religious symbols.

materials caused anxiety among Muslim leaders in the Arab world.
Moreover, the fact that Jews see the Western Wall as a holy site and a
relic of the Temple worked up the Muslims’ anxiety, and they rushed to
the mufti’s aid.

Much like the mufti, Abbas sees the al-Aqsa mosque as an instrument
in his struggle and a means to enlist supporters in the Arab world and
the international community to the Palestinian issue, which they already
fed up with. But the ruse of crying that “al-Aqsa is in danger” and
calls to come and defend the mosque through self-sacrifice and
bloodshed, succeeded this time in the same way that it did last year –
the question is how many more times will the world fall into the trap
before everyone sees through it?

Read article in full

An Iraqi piyyut for the Feast of Tabernacles

With thanks: Rachel A


On the eve of Succot, the Feast of Tabernacles, I am posting this video of a traditional Iraqi piyyut, Succat Ve’Lulav. Succot recalls the sojourn of the Children of Israel in the wilderness before they entered the promised land.

Jews are enjoined to eat their meals in a hut open to the stars for seven days.

Introduced by the actor and storyteller Yossi Alfi, this psalm calls for God to spread his tabernacle

 over the people of Israel. The musicians, who play traditional Iraqi instruments, include the famous violinist Yair Dalal.


Jews are buying Moroccan ‘etrogim’

Morocco is supplying the Jewish demand for etrogim (the correct plural), the citron prized by Jews observing the Succot holiday, which begins tomorrow evening. Jews apparently began etrog production in the mountainous Berber region near Marrakesh, and the locals still grow them. Interesting JTA article :(With thanks: ASF)

 Mohammed Douch grows etrogim for the Jewish market (Ben Sales)

“I don’t know exactly why Jewish people are coming to take this
product,” said Douch, who like many Moroccans is Berber, through a
translator. “Maybe it is that this product is used by Jewish people in

Douch and his grove are part of southern Morocco’s small and unlikely
etrog industry, which has popped up here each summer for centuries.
Almost no Jews live in Morocco,
but a few dozen Jewish merchants support the industry, sending etrogs —
called citrons in English — to Jewish communities on three continents
for Sukkot. On the fall harvest holiday, Jews are commanded to pray with
a fragrant, colorful collection of four plants, including the etrog.

And even though Morocco does not have formal relations with Israel, the etrogs make it there, too. Because 5775 was a “shmita, or sabbatical year, when Jewish law prohibits agricultural activity in Israel, demand for etrogs grown in Morocco is especially high this season.

“The etrogs from the mountains have a special shape, and they have a
beauty we don’t find in other places,” said Naftali Levy, a French etrog
merchant. “The color and form, the protrusions are very nice.”

Crouched on a narrow dirt path last week, Douch surveyed his small
etrog grove through intense eyes lined with deep wrinkles. The trees’
branches grew only a few feet high, sloping down an uneven embankment in
tangles of large, oblong leaves. The bright green etrogs hung just
inches from the rocky soil. Beyond the grove were sandy brown mountains
covered in palm trees.

“We are attached to our town, and it’s obligatory to visit our
original town,” Douch said. “We cannot leave our town because it’s a
part of our body. The process I use for this plant is a heritage from my

Jews were the first Moroccans to plants etrogs — near Marrakesh as
far back as 2,000 years ago — said Hebrew University agriculture
professor Eliezer Goldschmidt. Their Berber neighbors adopted the crop
and continued to grow a small number of etrogs after the Jews left for
Israel starting in 1948. Jews have bought the yellow fruits from Berbers
for Sukkot ever since.

There are no statistics on the etrog industry in Morocco, but up to
hundreds of thousands of etrogs leave the country each year. Merchants
said most of the fruits go to Europe, the United States and Canada.
Israel began importing etrogs from Morocco in 2013 with a first shipment
of 1,500.

Read article in full


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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.