Karaites are an ancient Jewish sect who reject the Babylonian Talmud, the foundation of rabbinic Judaism. The Tablet has this long but interesting feature exploring what it is like for Karaites in the US to be a minority, within a minority (Sephardim), within a minority (US Jews).
Karaites prostrate themselves on the floor of their synagogue
Comprising mostly Egyptian-Karaite Jews who fled or were expelled
from Egypt in the 1950s and ’60s, after the creation of the State of
Israel and then the Six-Day War, they found their way to the Bay Area,
today the heart of the American Karaite presence. At first, the
community would gather in each other’s homes to pray, and then in 1991,
the Karaite Jews of America bought a house and established the Daly City
synagogue, today the only independent Karaite synagogue in the country.
A network held together by familial relations and connections from back
in Egypt, they also held regular get-togethers and social events in
addition to holiday and Shabbat celebrations. But for the most part, the
community has existed outside the structure of the established American
This lack of awareness by the broader Jewish community is partly due
to small numbers—there are about 250 Karaite families in the Bay Area,
only several hundred more families in New York, Boston, and around the
United States—and partly because the community itself has long kept a
low profile. Most Karaites have a story or two about being rejected and
mocked by other Jews, and the older generation especially felt no need
to advertise their complicated status within the Jewish world, as
immigrants being welcomed and aided by those very Jewish organizations.
But now, nearly half a century after their traumatic expulsion from
their Egyptian homeland and already established in the United States,
the Karaite Jews of America have seen a surge of interest from Jews and
non-Jews alike. And as the historic generation of Egyptian Karaites
grows older, there is new urgency to ensure the Karaite way of life
continues here. The concern is not whether Karaite practice will die out
all together: The stronghold of Karaism undoubtedly lies in Israel,
where a community is said to be about 40,000 strong, comprising the bulk
of practicing Karaites in the world, and on which the Daly City
community relies for religious guidance and instruction. But in America,
the future of the movement lies not with those who have cultural ties
to Karaism, but those who, somewhere in life’s journey, become convinced
of its truth.
The widow of Joe Abdel Wahed z”l (pictured), the co-founder of JIMENA, the California-based organisation advocating for the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, is calling for donations to the Joseph Wahed Memorial Library at the Karaite Cultural Center, San Francisco. To make a gift in Joe’s memory, go to www.Karaites.org.