Month: July 2017

Journalist ‘had no idea’ about Jews from Arab countries

Remember Hunter Stuart? He was the journalist who arrived in Israel as a pro-Palestinian and soon found that reality did not match his preconceived prejudices. He wrote a piece in the Jerusalem Post explaining how the scales had fallen from his eyes during his eighteen months based in Jerusalem.

Meeting Jews from Arab countries seems to have been central to Stuart’s about-turn.

Smadar was one of the people who helped change Stuart’s views. A staunch defender of Israel in her 50s, Smadar and her family had been forced out of Morocco. She and Stuart had long talks together. Overcoming his initial suspicions, Hunter and Smadar became good friends, albeit coming in from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Later Hunter Stuart met Jews from Iraq and Iran. He had thought all Israelis were ‘white Ashkenazim.’

Julie Hazan with Hunter Stuart during the podcast interview.

Before arriving in Israel Stuart had ‘no idea that a whole Jewish refugee crisis was created when Israel was established in 1948’.

“It was one of the pieces of history either not available in my reading, or it hadn’t fitted into my narrative,” he confesses.

 The two Israelis interviewing Stuart for HonestReporting and StandwithUs drive home the point that Jews have roots in the Middle East: Julie Hazan is from Morocco, Shahar Azani from Yemen. Shahar Azani mentions that neither he nor Julie could satisfy the late Helen Thomas, who told Jews in Israel to ‘go back to Germany and Poland’. If they returned they would be allowed no semblance of Jewish life in Arab countries, difficulties Jews shared with other minorities, Shahar Azani tells Stuart.

You can listen to this segment on Jews from Arab lands from 10:30 minutes into the podcast.

Tisha B’Ab falls tomorrow

The fast of Tisha b’Ab (9th Av), falls tomorrow. It  is the darkest day of the Jewish calendar. It is a day of
mourning commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples
in Jerusalem, and other misfortunes that have befallen

the Jewish

Yemenite chanting on Tisha B’Ab at the Western wall in Jerusalem.

It is customary for mourners to read the Book of Lamentations. Among Jews of Aleppo the portion of the law read on Shabbat Ekha, just before the Fast, is sung to Maqam Hijaz. “There is consensus among ALL sources to apply Hijaz; this maqam (octave scale) is reserved to express sadness”, says the blog Pizmonim Project.

On a lighter note, here is what the late Suzy Vidal, in her memoirs The Jasmine Necklace, had to say about 9th Av, and its significance for the Jews of Egypt:

My mother was born on July 23, which happened to be 9 Av, the
destruction of Solomon’s Temple and also the date of the Expulsion of
Jews from Spain. Everyone called it Yom Ekha. Anyone who knows his Jewish calendar could easily guess which year Yom Ekha happened to be on July 23. But people were not te-ill el dam, heavy-blooded, and were not going to complicate their lives or waste time with such futilities.

“Yom Ekha
is a very bad day in our calendar. It is not the day to sign an
important contract, getting engaged or married. Sexual relations are
forbidden. You cannot go the swimming pool or have a swim in the sea;
you just sit around, pray and wait for Yom Ekha to pass away.

expressions are attached to that day. It is an expression of disbelief.
If someone says,” I’ll do this or that,” you can answer “Oh yes, Yom Ekha”. It is the same as saying we’ll never see that. Of someone who is not resourceful you could say Ekha aleh or Ekha aleha. Aleh means on him and aleha on her.

“My mother was convinced that being born on Yom Ekha
she was bound to be unlucky: fall off her beloved ladder, burn her hand
with boiling oil or have money stolen from her bag when shopping. All
the misfortunes that happened to her were because she was born on July
23, which in the year of her birth happened to be Yom Ekha.”

Why don’t Jews remember their Sephardi heroes?

 We need to  restore Sephardi heroes to Jewish history, argues Ben Judah in the Jewish Chronicle. Heroes like the Baghdadi Jew General Jacob, who was both Indian military hero and diplomat:

 General JFR Jacob, pictured at a Kolkata rally in 2012.

There are many unsung heroes of the Jewish people. I just feel most
of them are Sephardic. The further south and east you go from the shtetl
in our collective memory the less the warrior-queens, rabbis,
commanders of amazing deeds are remembered.

Sephardic history is
not properly taught in Jewish schools. It is given little respect in our
yeshivas. Even in Israel, when designs for new banknotes were proposed
in 2013, they omitted any Sephardic heroes — even though Jews whose
roots lie in North Africa and the Middle East make up nearly half of
Israeli Jews.

Sephardic Jews are not without heroes. Ignoring
them leaves us poorer. Our story is so much richer — and unexpected. Who
remembers General J.F.R. Jacob? Outside of India, Pakistan and
Bangladesh — no small place — the story of one of the greatest Jewish
generals of the 20th century is practically unknown. It was the tactical
genius of a Jew that liberated Muslim Bangladesh. Yet Israel and the
Diaspora barely took notice of him as he did it.

Born in Calcutta
in 1924, at the heart of the Baghdadi Jewish community, streets away
from my grandfather, Jacob Farj Rafael (“J.F.R.”) Jacob signed-up in the
Second World War when news of Holocaust first reached him. The Jacob
family, which like the Judah family, left Iraq for India in the 18th
century, sheltered Ashkenazi refugees in Calcutta in 1942. Their stories
from Germany and Poland spurred the young man into the war against

Devoted to the British Indian Army, which in 1947 became
the army of the new India, J.F.R. was the mastermind of the Indian
invasion, which liberated the 65m Muslims of what was then known as East
Pakistan and later became Bangladesh.

Convinced that victory lay
in fighting through the monsoon and in circling the big Bangladeshi
cities, Jacob spread his forces through the marshes and riverine swamps
which form the Ganges delta and secured a total victory. The 93,000
Pakistan forces surrendering to him in Dhaka marked the largest military
surrender since the Second World War.

Across India, Pakistan and
Bangladesh, General Jacob is seen to this day as a military hero and a
Jew unflinching in his devotion to India. Why have we done so little to
remember his memory for ourselves?

Read article in full

More about General Jacob

Rare book on the Jews of Lebanon reviewed

Writing in Raseef 22, Wissam Saade reviews one the few books written about the Jews of Lebanon. According to author Tomer Levi, the community – an accumulation of migrations –  was not organised until the early 20th century, the Alliance Israelite Universelle school was not as influential as in other Arab countries, and the Jews were denied political representation in the Lebanese parliament. (With thanks: Boruch)

The restored Maghen Avraham synagogue in Beirut has remained closed

Despite the interest around Lebanese Jews in media, literature, and cinema, there is not much scholarship on the history of this community. Tomer Levi, a young Israeli scholar, took on the task of writing a book, which he entitled The Jews of Beirut: The Rise of a Levantine Community, 1860s-1930s, published in 2012.

The book hasn’t yet made its way to the Lebanese circle, not even with a review or a translated excerpt. The book does not only address the history of the community, but also the rise of Beirut during the late Ottoman era.

Levi writes in his introduction that he was motivated to do this research when his mother showed him the Lebanese Identification card of his grandmother. Edmond Safra, the Lebanese-Brazilian Jewish businessman, funded Levi’s research through the International Sephardic Education Foundation. Safra is the son of Yaacoub Safra, the first man in their family of bankers, who had arrived in Beirut from Aleppo right after World War I.

The waves of migration tell us much about the dilemma of Beirut’s Jews- the community came to be formed “out of nowhere” in modern times- an accumulation of different migrations across the Ottoman empire between late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.

Levi finds this history to be a “unique Middle Eastern experience of Jewish presence,” that came about during the rise and expansion of Beirut as a port city at the time.

From 100 Jews in 1800 to 3500 in 1920. Steamboats had brought life to trading in the Eastern Mediterranean region, at the expense of freight transport. The Suez Canal was opened in 1869, bringing more trading into the region. Port cities prospered, becoming architectural landscapes where freight transport and sea trading come apart and connect.

Read article in full

Imam: Muslims saved traitorious Jews from Europe

From a mosque in California comes a dangerous falsehood: Between the 20th century World Wars Muslims welcomed into their homes Jews fleeing antisemitism. These would subsequently betray their hosts by seizing Palestine. Syrian-American Sheikh Mahmoud Harmoush only betrays his ignorance: the vast majority of Jews were living in the Middle East and North Africa for close on 3,000 years, well before Islam. And antisemitism was not solely a European problem. See MEMRI clip (with thanks: Lily):

Sheikh Mahmoud Harmoush:
“Between World War I and World War II, so much of the immigration that
came from Europe toward the Islamic world, whether North Africa or the
Mediterranean area – Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and all of this…
Muslims were opening their homes and saying: Those are our brethren,
persecuted by the Christians in Europe. The Jews were coming from
Germany, Poland, Italy, and everywhere else, and [the Muslims] would
give them rooms, shelter them, and help them out, not knowing that there
was a plan. Within the thirty years between the two incidents, until
1948 and the British occupation, everything was plotted to take over
that beautiful land, in the way that we all know – with killing, crime,
and massacres.”

Full transcript here 


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.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.