Month: February 2017

Gerbi: ‘Include Jews in Libyan Constitution’

Fifty years after the last Jews were driven from Libya,  Dr David Gerbi, representing the World Organisation of Libyan Jews, calls for justice and the rights of Libyan Jews to be included in a new constitution. The right to return is one of them. (Gerbi famously was thrown out of the country after trying to re-opem a Tripoli synagogue. ) Article in Libyan Express (with thanks: Gideon):

David Gerbi praying in the Dar al Bishi synagogue, Tripoli before he was driven out of Libya

Representative of World Organisation of Libyan Jews (WOLJ) Dr. David
Gerbi urges the international community on the issue of Libyan Jews.

The WOLJ call the authorities of the GNA, the Parliament, the leader
of Benghazi governments, to respect the rights and heritage of Libyan
Jews and how they should be secured by the new constitution on the issue
of Libyan Jews that has been forgotten for fifty years (1967 – 2017).

We call for our rights that has been violated for 50 years. We call for the respect of our rights as Libyan Jews.

Libyan Jews have the right to return to their ancestors’ hometowns in
Libya to visit and to pray for their dear one and to receive back their
properties and to demand their compensation of the private and public
property that has been confiscated since 1967, when the last 5000 Libyan
Jews became refugees in Italy, USA England and other countries.

We call US, UN, Italy, France, England and the three governments to recognize the rights of Libyan Jews.

We Demand justice by the International Courts: We call to the UN for the importance of the respect of universal human rights and the freedom of religion.

Today there are no Jews in Libya because of the persecution, the
pogroms, the intolerance and the racism that force the Jewish community
to leave the country in 1967 when because of the six days’ war between
Israel and Arab countries, the last 5000 Jews has been forced to leave
to Italy Israel USA and England in order to save their lives.

1967-2017 fifty years pass and the historical unresolved conflict is
still not addressed nor is it resolved by the international community
and by Libyan government and we have become the forgotten refugee that
lost everything but not the right to fight for justice, the faith and
the dignity.

We started from below zero and today thanks G.D and our resilience we
rebuilt our life with honesty and we live with dignity in democratic
countries that respect the human rights and the freedom of religion. But
we still want justice and reconciliation through the apologies and the
compensation of our property and for the fifty years of suffering.

We are still committed to support the respect of universal human
rights and the respect of freedom of religion also in Libya. We are
still committed to fight against discrimination, racism and antisemitism
also through the education of the young people that has been
brainwashed through the culture of hate and racism.

We ask that the legacy and the interest of the Libyan Jewish refugee
be remembered as it happen in july 2016 between Mr Kobler and Dr Gerbi
in Tunis in UNSMIL office.

We have museums of Libyan Jews and we have personal testimonies of
Jews from Libya, we did it in order in order to preserve our history and
heritage.

We have a museum to offer information and documentation on Jewish
refugees from Libya, we conduct public education programs that provide
historical perspective, in the pursuit of truth, justice and
reconciliation.

The return is not a requirement and demands but it is a fateful and
humanistic right. We have Jews that live in peace in Morocco, in
Tunisia, in Egypt, in Iran. They can choose to live there or to leave
their country where they were born. There is a freedom of choice and we
seek this basic freedom.

The Libyan draft proposal Constitution should prioritize the Libyan
Jews account. We have to raise the important segment of the Libyan Jews
and their rights, through the history, we have the roots that stretch
back to thousands of years, and additional to the issues mentioned
above. We ask officially and strongly that the Libyan Parliament, all
three Prime ministers, the concerning Ministries and “The Constitution
Foundation” to accept and assist in our case, and the idea of the rights
of the Libyan Jews in the draft proposal of the Libyan Constitution.

Read article in full 

More about David Gerbi

Will derelict Tunis synagogue be preserved?

 A Tunisian journalist has called for the last synagogue standing in the Hafsia neighbourhood of the Tunis ghetto or Hara to be turned into a museum of Judaism.

Work is already in progress to convert the basement, which houses a mikveh, into a cafe.

Already an airconditioning unit has disfigured the building, but Hatem Bourial would like to see its original features preserved – such as the cadelabras or menorot on the front door and Hebrew inscriptions on the walls.

 The front door adorned with menorot. (Photos: Lost in Tunis .com)

The Or Thora Synagogue was built in the early 1930s, prior to World War II, and designed by architects Aimé Krief and Jean Valensi, their names still recorded on the graffiti’d outside wall. It’s been abandoned for more than 30 years; torn prayerbooks litter the delapidated interior. (See photos here).

Marc Knobel, a French writer whose mother was a Tunisian Jewess, has applauded Hatem Bourial’s suggestion for a museum in this emotional article in the HuffPost Maghreb.

An orthodox anti-Zionist in Iran

Yakov Rabkin is a professor at Montreal University. An apologist for the Iranian regime, it is no wonder that  the Iranians love his book about Jewish opposition to Zionism and that his travelogue in Iran was posted on the anti-Zionist blog Mondoweiss. Nonetheless, Rabkin’s account is worth reading for its description of Iranian Judaism from an orthodox perspective. (With thanks: Andrew)


 A tank drawn on a wall in Palestine St in Tehran is accompanied by the slogan ‘Israel will be omitted from the world’. The author claims that the quote’s meaning has been mistranslated and manipulated.

In Isfahan I often heard that the city had been
founded by Jews exiled from the Holy Land in the First Exile. The city used to
be called Dar al-Yahud. No wonder that I went to explore the old Jewish
quarter Jubaré. As I wandered, I saw a small Star of David hand-painted on a
gate. I pushed it and found myself in front of two elderly women. I tried to
explain to them that I was Jewish but they remained in doubt. I tried to speak
with them in Hebrew, again no avail. Finally, I uttered Torah tsiva lanu
Moshe
, and they joyfully responded morasha kehilat Yaakov. This is
traditionally the first verse of the Torah taught to a child: “Moshe commanded
us the Torah, the inheritance of the community of Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 33:4)
The contact was made, and they promptly put me on Skype with a relative who
spoke Hebrew. Apparently, she was in Israel but insisted she was in America. 

 

Soon a young man with a kipa showed up in the
street. I uttered tefilat minha, “afternoon prayer”, and he led
me to a synagogue clearly marked in Hebrew and Persian above the front door.
The synagogue was small and cozy, at least a century old. It was decorated with
quotes from the Psalms, parts of prayer. Men sat in one corner and women in the
other. I was invited to lead the services, and was afterward treated to fruit
and cookies in memory of a deceased congregant, whose anniversary happened on
that day. 

 A synagogue in Iran (photos: Yakov Rabkin)

When we left the synagogue, a familiar scene took
place, even though I did not understand what was being said. It was Thursday
night, and several people argued who would invite me for the Sabbath meals. I
gave up all attempts to influence the events, and it was only on Friday night
that I was actually led to the home of the parents of the young man with the
kipa, who inhabit a spacious home not far from Palestine Square where the main
synagogue is located.

Besides the young man and his parents, there were
two of his sisters as well as a man who spoke English since he had spent a few
years in Queens. We all sat on the carpet, making a Kiddush, partaking of fruit
and vegetables prior to breaking bread in order to augment the number of
blessings. We ate mostly with hands. 

After a while I was asked to say a few
words of Torah, and, inspired by a weekly broadcast from Akadem, I spoke about
the two names of the tabernacle, mishkan and mikdash, which teach
us about the pitfalls of excessive closeness and possessiveness. The man from
Queens interpreted, and the “audience” applauded. They applauded again when I
told them that before a public lecture in Tehran, in response the Islamic
invocation bismillah, “in the name of God”, I said in Hebrew be-ezrat
ha-shem ve-yeshuato
, “with the aid of God and his salvation”. The
atmosphere was joyful throughout the evening, and I left close to midnight to
walk to my hotel.  On the way, I crossed the park Hasht behesht, full
of couples and groups of teenagers visibly having a good time. 

The next morning I walked to Jubaré in search of
the synagogue where my host for the second meal was to meet me. I got lost and
walked into another synagogue, where nine men were anxiously awaiting the tenth
one. Under the circumstances I had to stay. The floor was covered with
blankets, rather than carpets, and the synagogue looked poorer. An old man
asked me to lead the services, and once again, here I was reciting prayers
before members of the oldest community in the world. It was moving to pray in
the minuscule synagogue, surrounded by verses and old ornaments. 

After the services, the old man who was commanded
respect in the synagogue took his bicycle and headed home. Then I saw another
Jew on a bicycle, which I had never seen among observant Jews. I would later
find that Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909), a major authority in Jewish law from
Baghdad, authorized the use of the bicycle under certain conditions.

My host easily found me since everyone knows each
other in Jubaré. I was hosted for lunch by a family: the parents and a son in
his 30s. Trained as an engineer, he sells clothes at a relative’s store,
earning significantly more than he would in his profession. Later I met a
mathematician who was selling carpets in the city’s famous bazaar. These are
signs of demodernization, partly caused by Western sanctions meant to stop the
non-existing nuclear weapons program in Iran. 

The burly head of the family, with a few teeth
missing in his mouth, spoke some French, since he had once studied at the
Alliance school in his neighborhood. He was hospitable, albeit not always
punctilious of the Sabbath observance, and his wife had to discipline him from
time to time. A one-gallon whiskey bottle full of homemade wine dominated the
table full of meats, stews and vegetables. The host told me that the bottle was
a vestige of pre-revolutionary times.

 The lunch was copious, and included, to
my surprise, Salade Olivier, which, thanks to Russian influence, became
quite popular in Iran. By then I knew that hosts often offer their guests
spacious shalvar, cotton pants that one uses to sit at the meal and, if
needed, to take a nap afterwards. This turned out to be the case, and after the
nap I changed back to my clothes and went out to explore the city. Returning to
the neighborhood, I was greeted Shabbat shalom by a Jew who had keys to
a few more synagogues, which he kindly showed to me. They are open only on
Shabbat. 

Friends in Isfahan introduced me to Mr. Sasson,
artist, architect and owner of the gallery where we met him.  He is also
the only Jew to work as an official building assessor in the city. As one
enters the gallery, one sees an ornate picture of Jerusalem with the biblical
verse in Hebrew “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her
cunning” (Psalm 137:5). He remains committed to Judaic practice and mentioned
that he had seen me in the synagogue.  His son teaches Iranian music. An
amiable refined man, Sasson extended me a warm welcome and patiently answered
all of my questions about the Jewish community, gave me advice about travel in
the country as well as a few contacts. 

He has taken part in over 40 exhibits,
traveled around the world, while his gallery is situated on the ground floor of
the house that used to belong to his parents, a few hundred meters from the
main synagogue. Like several intellectuals I have met, he resigned from his
position of professor of architecture during the years of Ahmadinejad, when
universities reportedly experienced a sharp decline. At the same time, he
believes Khomeini did a lot of good to the Jews, repeatedly referring to them
as equal and “pure” Iranians. 

Several non-Jewish Iranians, including business
people, mentioned to me that Jews have an excellent reputation for honesty and
reliability. Their word is as good as a written contract. This image appears at
variance with the European image of the Jew, often considered “cheap”,
“dishonest” and “rapacious”. One Jewish businessman, a carpet dealer, came to
see me in the hotel and spoke with me in Hebrew without lowering his voice or
feeling otherwise uncomfortable. He effusively greeted me shalom as he
was leaving and was not in the least embarrassed to do so. In fact, Iranian salam
often sounds very much like Israeli shalom. 

I met Sion Mahgerefte,  the head of the Jewish
community of Isfahan, in the lobby of Hotel Kowsar, one of the most prestigious
in the city. The New Year decorations were splendid, and we found a quiet
corner nearby. A friend interpreted as he spoke only Persian. He told me that
most Jews work in the clothing industry, usually in retail. There are a few
professionals and intellectuals but most earn a living in business, often
inherited from father to son. Sion has a company of safety equipment (helmets
etc) but his children study to be professionals. 

Read article in full 

In
Isfahan I often heard that the city had been founded by Jews exiled
from the Holy Land in the First Exile. The city used to be called Dar al-Yahud. No
wonder that I went to explore the old Jewish quarter Jubaré. As I
wandered, I saw a small Star of David hand-painted on a gate. I pushed
it and found myself in front of two elderly women. I tried to explain to
them that I was Jewish but they remained in doubt. I tried to speak
with them in Hebrew, again no avail. Finally, I uttered Torah tsiva lanu Moshe, and they joyfully responded morasha kehilat Yaakov. This
is traditionally the first verse of the Torah taught to a child: “Moshe
commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the community of Jacob.”
(Deuteronomy 33:4)
The contact was made, and they promptly put me on Skype with a relative
who spoke Hebrew. Apparently, she was in Israel but insisted she was in
America.

Soon a young man with a kipa showed up in the street. I uttered tefilat minha, “afternoon prayer”, and
he led me to a synagogue clearly marked in Hebrew and Persian above the
front door. The synagogue was small and cozy, at least a century old.
It was decorated with quotes from the Psalms, parts of prayer. Men sat
in one corner and women in the other. I was invited to lead the
services, and was afterward treated to fruit and cookies in memory of a
deceased congregant, whose anniversary happened on that day.

When we left the synagogue, a
familiar scene took place, even though I did not understand what was
being said. It was Thursday night, and several people argued who would
invite me for the Sabbath meals. I gave up all attempts to influence the
events, and it was only on Friday night that I was actually led to the
home of the parents of the young man with the kipa, who inhabit a
spacious home not far from Palestine Square where the main synagogue is
located
.

Besides the young man and his
parents, there were two of his sisters as well as a man who spoke
English since he had spent a few years in Queens. We all sat on the
carpet, making a Kiddush, partaking of fruit and vegetables prior to
breaking bread in order to augment the number of blessings. We ate
mostly with hands. After a while I was asked to say a few words of
Torah, and, inspired by a weekly broadcast from Akadem, I spoke about
the two names of the tabernacle, mishkan and mikdash, which
teach us about the pitfalls of excessive closeness and possessiveness.
The man from Queens interpreted, and the “audience” applauded. They
applauded again when I told them that before a public lecture in Tehran,
in response the Islamic invocation bismillah, “in the name of God”, I said in Hebrew be-ezrat ha-shem ve-yeshuato, “with the aid of God and his salvation”. The atmosphere was joyful throughout the evening, and I left close to midnight to walk to my hotel.  On the way, I crossed the park Hasht behesht, full of couples and groups of teenagers visibly having a good time.

The next morning I walked to
Jubaré in search of the synagogue where my host for the second meal was
to meet me. I got lost and walked into another synagogue, where nine men
were anxiously awaiting the tenth one. Under the circumstances I had to
stay. The floor was covered with blankets, rather than carpets, and the
synagogue looked poorer. An old man asked me to lead the services, and
once again, here I was reciting prayers before members of the oldest
community in the world. It was moving to pray in the minuscule
synagogue, surrounded by verses and old ornaments.

After the services, the old man
who was commanded respect in the synagogue took his bicycle and headed
home. Then I saw another Jew on a bicycle, which I had never seen among
observant Jews. I would later find that Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909), a major
authority in Jewish law from Baghdad, authorized the use of the bicycle
under certain conditions.

My host easily found me since
everyone knows each other in Jubaré. I was hosted for lunch by a family:
the parents and a son in his 30s. Trained as an engineer, he sells
clothes at a relative’s store, earning significantly more than he would
in his profession. Later I met a mathematician who was selling carpets
in the city’s famous bazaar. These are signs of demodernization, partly
caused by Western sanctions meant to stop the non-existing nuclear
weapons program in Iran.

The burly head of the family,
with a few teeth missing in his mouth, spoke some French, since he had
once studied at the Alliance school in his neighborhood. He was
hospitable, albeit not always punctilious of the Sabbath observance, and
his wife had to discipline him from time to time. A one-gallon whiskey
bottle full of homemade wine dominated the table full of meats, stews
and vegetables. The host told me that the bottle was a vestige of
pre-revolutionary times. The lunch was copious, and included, to my
surprise, Salade Olivier, which, thanks to Russian influence, became quite popular in Iran. By then I knew that hosts often offer their guests spacious shalvar,
cotton pants that one uses to sit at the meal and, if needed, to take a
nap afterwards. This turned out to be the case, and after the nap I
changed back to my clothes and went out to explore the city. Returning
to the neighborhood, I was greeted Shabbat shalom by a Jew who had keys to a few more synagogues, which he kindly showed to me. They are open only on Shabbat.

Friends in Isfahan introduced me to Mr. Sasson, artist, architect and owner of the gallery where we met him.  He
is also the only Jew to work as an official building assessor in the
city. As one enters the gallery, one sees an ornate picture of Jerusalem
with the biblical verse in Hebrew “
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm 137:5). He remains committed to Judaic practice and mentioned that he had seen me in the synagogue.  His son teaches Iranian music. An
amiable refined man, Sasson extended me a warm welcome and patiently
answered all of my questions about the Jewish community, gave me advice
about travel in the country as well as a few contacts. He has taken part
in over 40 exhibits, traveled around the world, while his gallery is
situated on the ground floor of the house that used to belong to his
parents, a few hundred meters from the main synagogue. Like several
intellectuals I have met, he resigned from his position of professor of
architecture during the years of Ahmadinejad, when universities
reportedly experienced a sharp decline.
At the
same time, he believes Khomeini did a lot of good to the Jews,
repeatedly referring to them as equal and “pure” Iranians.

Several non-Jewish Iranians,
including business people, mentioned to me that Jews have an excellent
reputation for honesty and reliability. Their word is as good as a
written contract. This image appears at variance with the European image
of the Jew, often considered “cheap”, “dishonest” and “rapacious”. One
Jewish businessman, a carpet dealer, came to see me in the hotel and
spoke with me in Hebrew without lowering his voice or feeling otherwise
uncomfortable. He effusively greeted me shalom as he was leaving and was not in the least embarrassed to do so. In fact, Iranian salam often sounds very much like Israeli shalom.

I met Sion Mahgerefte,  the
head of the Jewish community of Isfahan, in the lobby of Hotel Kowsar,
one of the most prestigious in the city. The New Year decorations were
splendid, and we found a quiet corner nearby. A friend interpreted as he
spoke only Persian. He told me that most Jews work in the clothing
industry, usually in retail. There are a few professionals and
intellectuals but most earn a living in business, often inherited from
father to son. Sion has a company of safety equipment (helmets etc) but
his children study to be professionals. 

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/02/jews-iran-travelogue/#sthash.OzraomEQ.dpuf

In
Isfahan I often heard that the city had been founded by Jews exiled
from the Holy Land in the First Exile. The city used to be called Dar al-Yahud. No
wonder that I went to explore the old Jewish quarter Jubaré. As I
wandered, I saw a small Star of David hand-painted on a gate. I pushed
it and found myself in front of two elderly women. I tried to explain to
them that I was Jewish but they remained in doubt. I tried to speak
with them in Hebrew, again no avail. Finally, I uttered Torah tsiva lanu Moshe, and they joyfully responded morasha kehilat Yaakov. This
is traditionally the first verse of the Torah taught to a child: “Moshe
commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the community of Jacob.”
(Deuteronomy 33:4)
The contact was made, and they promptly put me on Skype with a relative
who spoke Hebrew. Apparently, she was in Israel but insisted she was in
America.

Soon a young man with a kipa showed up in the street. I uttered tefilat minha, “afternoon prayer”, and
he led me to a synagogue clearly marked in Hebrew and Persian above the
front door. The synagogue was small and cozy, at least a century old.
It was decorated with quotes from the Psalms, parts of prayer. Men sat
in one corner and women in the other. I was invited to lead the
services, and was afterward treated to fruit and cookies in memory of a
deceased congregant, whose anniversary happened on that day.

When we left the synagogue, a
familiar scene took place, even though I did not understand what was
being said. It was Thursday night, and several people argued who would
invite me for the Sabbath meals. I gave up all attempts to influence the
events, and it was only on Friday night that I was actually led to the
home of the parents of the young man with the kipa, who inhabit a
spacious home not far from Palestine Square where the main synagogue is
located
.

Besides the young man and his
parents, there were two of his sisters as well as a man who spoke
English since he had spent a few years in Queens. We all sat on the
carpet, making a Kiddush, partaking of fruit and vegetables prior to
breaking bread in order to augment the number of blessings. We ate
mostly with hands. After a while I was asked to say a few words of
Torah, and, inspired by a weekly broadcast from Akadem, I spoke about
the two names of the tabernacle, mishkan and mikdash, which
teach us about the pitfalls of excessive closeness and possessiveness.
The man from Queens interpreted, and the “audience” applauded. They
applauded again when I told them that before a public lecture in Tehran,
in response the Islamic invocation bismillah, “in the name of God”, I said in Hebrew be-ezrat ha-shem ve-yeshuato, “with the aid of God and his salvation”. The atmosphere was joyful throughout the evening, and I left close to midnight to walk to my hotel.  On the way, I crossed the park Hasht behesht, full of couples and groups of teenagers visibly having a good time.

The next morning I walked to
Jubaré in search of the synagogue where my host for the second meal was
to meet me. I got lost and walked into another synagogue, where nine men
were anxiously awaiting the tenth one. Under the circumstances I had to
stay. The floor was covered with blankets, rather than carpets, and the
synagogue looked poorer. An old man asked me to lead the services, and
once again, here I was reciting prayers before members of the oldest
community in the world. It was moving to pray in the minuscule
synagogue, surrounded by verses and old ornaments.

After the services, the old man
who was commanded respect in the synagogue took his bicycle and headed
home. Then I saw another Jew on a bicycle, which I had never seen among
observant Jews. I would later find that Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909), a major
authority in Jewish law from Baghdad, authorized the use of the bicycle
under certain conditions.

My host easily found me since
everyone knows each other in Jubaré. I was hosted for lunch by a family:
the parents and a son in his 30s. Trained as an engineer, he sells
clothes at a relative’s store, earning significantly more than he would
in his profession. Later I met a mathematician who was selling carpets
in the city’s famous bazaar. These are signs of demodernization, partly
caused by Western sanctions meant to stop the non-existing nuclear
weapons program in Iran.

The burly head of the family,
with a few teeth missing in his mouth, spoke some French, since he had
once studied at the Alliance school in his neighborhood. He was
hospitable, albeit not always punctilious of the Sabbath observance, and
his wife had to discipline him from time to time. A one-gallon whiskey
bottle full of homemade wine dominated the table full of meats, stews
and vegetables. The host told me that the bottle was a vestige of
pre-revolutionary times. The lunch was copious, and included, to my
surprise, Salade Olivier, which, thanks to Russian influence, became quite popular in Iran. By then I knew that hosts often offer their guests spacious shalvar,
cotton pants that one uses to sit at the meal and, if needed, to take a
nap afterwards. This turned out to be the case, and after the nap I
changed back to my clothes and went out to explore the city. Returning
to the neighborhood, I was greeted Shabbat shalom by a Jew who had keys to a few more synagogues, which he kindly showed to me. They are open only on Shabbat.

Friends in Isfahan introduced me to Mr. Sasson, artist, architect and owner of the gallery where we met him.  He
is also the only Jew to work as an official building assessor in the
city. As one enters the gallery, one sees an ornate picture of Jerusalem
with the biblical verse in Hebrew “
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm 137:5). He remains committed to Judaic practice and mentioned that he had seen me in the synagogue.  His son teaches Iranian music. An
amiable refined man, Sasson extended me a warm welcome and patiently
answered all of my questions about the Jewish community, gave me advice
about travel in the country as well as a few contacts. He has taken part
in over 40 exhibits, traveled around the world, while his gallery is
situated on the ground floor of the house that used to belong to his
parents, a few hundred meters from the main synagogue. Like several
intellectuals I have met, he resigned from his position of professor of
architecture during the years of Ahmadinejad, when universities
reportedly experienced a sharp decline.
At the
same time, he believes Khomeini did a lot of good to the Jews,
repeatedly referring to them as equal and “pure” Iranians.

Several non-Jewish Iranians,
including business people, mentioned to me that Jews have an excellent
reputation for honesty and reliability. Their word is as good as a
written contract. This image appears at variance with the European image
of the Jew, often considered “cheap”, “dishonest” and “rapacious”. One
Jewish businessman, a carpet dealer, came to see me in the hotel and
spoke with me in Hebrew without lowering his voice or feeling otherwise
uncomfortable. He effusively greeted me shalom as he was leaving and was not in the least embarrassed to do so. In fact, Iranian salam often sounds very much like Israeli shalom.

I met Sion Mahgerefte,  the
head of the Jewish community of Isfahan, in the lobby of Hotel Kowsar,
one of the most prestigious in the city. The New Year decorations were
splendid, and we found a quiet corner nearby. A friend interpreted as he
spoke only Persian. He told me that most Jews work in the clothing
industry, usually in retail. There are a few professionals and
intellectuals but most earn a living in business, often inherited from
father to son. Sion has a company of safety equipment (helmets etc) but
his children study to be professionals. 

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/02/jews-iran-travelogue/#sthash.OzraomEQ.dpuf

In
Isfahan I often heard that the city had been founded by Jews exiled
from the Holy Land in the First Exile. The city used to be called Dar al-Yahud. No
wonder that I went to explore the old Jewish quarter Jubaré. As I
wandered, I saw a small Star of David hand-painted on a gate. I pushed
it and found myself in front of two elderly women. I tried to explain to
them that I was Jewish but they remained in doubt. I tried to speak
with them in Hebrew, again no avail. Finally, I uttered Torah tsiva lanu Moshe, and they joyfully responded morasha kehilat Yaakov. This
is traditionally the first verse of the Torah taught to a child: “Moshe
commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the community of Jacob.”
(Deuteronomy 33:4)
The contact was made, and they promptly put me on Skype with a relative
who spoke Hebrew. Apparently, she was in Israel but insisted she was in
America.

Soon a young man with a kipa showed up in the street. I uttered tefilat minha, “afternoon prayer”, and
he led me to a synagogue clearly marked in Hebrew and Persian above the
front door. The synagogue was small and cozy, at least a century old.
It was decorated with quotes from the Psalms, parts of prayer. Men sat
in one corner and women in the other. I was invited to lead the
services, and was afterward treated to fruit and cookies in memory of a
deceased congregant, whose anniversary happened on that day.

When we left the synagogue, a
familiar scene took place, even though I did not understand what was
being said. It was Thursday night, and several people argued who would
invite me for the Sabbath meals. I gave up all attempts to influence the
events, and it was only on Friday night that I was actually led to the
home of the parents of the young man with the kipa, who inhabit a
spacious home not far from Palestine Square where the main synagogue is
located
.

Besides the young man and his
parents, there were two of his sisters as well as a man who spoke
English since he had spent a few years in Queens. We all sat on the
carpet, making a Kiddush, partaking of fruit and vegetables prior to
breaking bread in order to augment the number of blessings. We ate
mostly with hands. After a while I was asked to say a few words of
Torah, and, inspired by a weekly broadcast from Akadem, I spoke about
the two names of the tabernacle, mishkan and mikdash, which
teach us about the pitfalls of excessive closeness and possessiveness.
The man from Queens interpreted, and the “audience” applauded. They
applauded again when I told them that before a public lecture in Tehran,
in response the Islamic invocation bismillah, “in the name of God”, I said in Hebrew be-ezrat ha-shem ve-yeshuato, “with the aid of God and his salvation”. The atmosphere was joyful throughout the evening, and I left close to midnight to walk to my hotel.  On the way, I crossed the park Hasht behesht, full of couples and groups of teenagers visibly having a good time.

The next morning I walked to
Jubaré in search of the synagogue where my host for the second meal was
to meet me. I got lost and walked into another synagogue, where nine men
were anxiously awaiting the tenth one. Under the circumstances I had to
stay. The floor was covered with blankets, rather than carpets, and the
synagogue looked poorer. An old man asked me to lead the services, and
once again, here I was reciting prayers before members of the oldest
community in the world. It was moving to pray in the minuscule
synagogue, surrounded by verses and old ornaments.

After the services, the old man
who was commanded respect in the synagogue took his bicycle and headed
home. Then I saw another Jew on a bicycle, which I had never seen among
observant Jews. I would later find that Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909), a major
authority in Jewish law from Baghdad, authorized the use of the bicycle
under certain conditions.

My host easily found me since
everyone knows each other in Jubaré. I was hosted for lunch by a family:
the parents and a son in his 30s. Trained as an engineer, he sells
clothes at a relative’s store, earning significantly more than he would
in his profession. Later I met a mathematician who was selling carpets
in the city’s famous bazaar. These are signs of demodernization, partly
caused by Western sanctions meant to stop the non-existing nuclear
weapons program in Iran.

The burly head of the family,
with a few teeth missing in his mouth, spoke some French, since he had
once studied at the Alliance school in his neighborhood. He was
hospitable, albeit not always punctilious of the Sabbath observance, and
his wife had to discipline him from time to time. A one-gallon whiskey
bottle full of homemade wine dominated the table full of meats, stews
and vegetables. The host told me that the bottle was a vestige of
pre-revolutionary times. The lunch was copious, and included, to my
surprise, Salade Olivier, which, thanks to Russian influence, became quite popular in Iran. By then I knew that hosts often offer their guests spacious shalvar,
cotton pants that one uses to sit at the meal and, if needed, to take a
nap afterwards. This turned out to be the case, and after the nap I
changed back to my clothes and went out to explore the city. Returning
to the neighborhood, I was greeted Shabbat shalom by a Jew who had keys to a few more synagogues, which he kindly showed to me. They are open only on Shabbat.

Friends in Isfahan introduced me to Mr. Sasson, artist, architect and owner of the gallery where we met him.  He
is also the only Jew to work as an official building assessor in the
city. As one enters the gallery, one sees an ornate picture of Jerusalem
with the biblical verse in Hebrew “
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm 137:5). He remains committed to Judaic practice and mentioned that he had seen me in the synagogue.  His son teaches Iranian music. An
amiable refined man, Sasson extended me a warm welcome and patiently
answered all of my questions about the Jewish community, gave me advice
about travel in the country as well as a few contacts. He has taken part
in over 40 exhibits, traveled around the world, while his gallery is
situated on the ground floor of the house that used to belong to his
parents, a few hundred meters from the main synagogue. Like several
intellectuals I have met, he resigned from his position of professor of
architecture during the years of Ahmadinejad, when universities
reportedly experienced a sharp decline.
At the
same time, he believes Khomeini did a lot of good to the Jews,
repeatedly referring to them as equal and “pure” Iranians.

Several non-Jewish Iranians,
including business people, mentioned to me that Jews have an excellent
reputation for honesty and reliability. Their word is as good as a
written contract. This image appears at variance with the European image
of the Jew, often considered “cheap”, “dishonest” and “rapacious”. One
Jewish businessman, a carpet dealer, came to see me in the hotel and
spoke with me in Hebrew without lowering his voice or feeling otherwise
uncomfortable. He effusively greeted me shalom as he was leaving and was not in the least embarrassed to do so. In fact, Iranian salam often sounds very much like Israeli shalom.

I met Sion Mahgerefte,  the
head of the Jewish community of Isfahan, in the lobby of Hotel Kowsar,
one of the most prestigious in the city. The New Year decorations were
splendid, and we found a quiet corner nearby. A friend interpreted as he
spoke only Persian. He told me that most Jews work in the clothing
industry, usually in retail. There are a few professionals and
intellectuals but most earn a living in business, often inherited from
father to son. Sion has a company of safety equipment (helmets etc) but
his children study to be professionals. 

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/02/jews-iran-travelogue/#sthash.OzraomEQ.dpuf

Egyptian-born scholar almost deported from US

It seems that the US authorities are being stricter about whom they are letting into the country, following Donald Trump’s 90-day ban on travellers from seven Muslim states. But the detention for 10 hours at Houston airport of a French-Jewish academic born in Egypt is baffling – not least because Egypt is not one of the seven states. JTA reports (with thanks: Michelle): 

Henry Rousso: mistaken for an ‘illegal alien’

WASHINGTON (JTA) – U.S.
authorities came close to deporting an Egyptian-born French Jewish
Holocaust-era scholar on his way to speak at a symposium at Texas
A&M University.

Henry Rousso was detained for ten hours starting Wednesday evening in
Houston. The university enlisted one of its law professors who
specializes in immigrant rights to intervene, The Eagle, a news site
covering the Bryan-College Station area, where the university is
located, reported on Saturday.

The newspaper reported that there was a “misunderstanding” regarding
Rousso’s visa, leading authorities to classify him as an illegal alien.

Rousso confirmed his ordeal on Twitter.

Read article in full 

BBC report 

Guardian article 

Mizrahi cash prize is divided between three winners (updated)

 Update: these photos of the award ceremony on 27 February 2017 show minister Gila Gamliel addressing the audience. (Middle) The three winners (from left) were Moshe Gavra, Levana Zamir and Shimon Ohayon. (Bottom) Levana Zamir with her daughter and grandchildren pose with minister of defence Avigdor Liberman (Photos: Lily Shor; Levana Zamir)

The Israel Prime
Minister’s Award for encouraging and empowering the study of
communities from Arab countries and Iran will be awarded on Monday to
three winners – the Dahan Center at Bar Ilan University, Dr. Moshe Gavra, who has researched
the Jews of Yemen, and Levana Zamir, who heads the Organizations of
Jews from Arab countries and Iran,  for her studies on the Jews of Egypt. Arutz Sheva reports on a radio interview given by minister Gamliel: 

Minister Gila Gamliel: Mizrahi history is missing

Minister for social equality Gila Gamliel
explained that the award,
for the sum of 150 thousand shekels to be divided between the three winners, “is designed to encourage and enhance the
study of Eastern Jewry….The only version of the history of the Jews we see is of European
Jews – Mizrahi (Eastern) Jewry is missing. We realized that the subject is
not taught, that not much of significance was written about it, and we want to uncover
the stories of communities in all the countries – how they adapted, how they kept Judaism, who were the rabbis and leaders there, how they got along with
the neighbours, what riots were there, what caused the immigration to Israel, who was
expelled, and so on. This story needs to be told to all the people of Israel. Even internationally, it is important to tell this story, now that the Arab
countries are almost empty of Jews. “(…)

 

The award winners are:

The Dahan Center
at Bar Ilan University: “The Dahan Center for Culture, social and
educational heritage of Sephardic and Oriental Studies named after Aharon and Rachel
Dahan at Bar-Ilan University was established for the purpose of fostering
and preserving  awareness of the
cultural wealth of Spain and the Mizrahi communities in Israel’s heritage.

Dr. Moshe Gavra:  from Bar Ilan University, Department of Talmud.
Engaged in decades of study of Yemenite Jewry, Dr Gavra is a senior lecturer  at Ashkelon College. Dr. Gavra gets the prize for his research on “Mass
immigration from Yemen.”

Levana Zamir: Born in Egypt.
Since 2015, she has been Chairman of the organizations of Jews from Arab countries
and Iran, chairman of the Egyptian-Israeli Friendship Association.
 
Mrs. Zamir receives the award for her research on “The Golden Age of
the Jews of Egypt – and the option of the Mediterranean union between the
peoples of the region”.

 

Read article in full (Hebrew)

 News item in Israel Hayom

About

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.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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