Month: September 2017

‘El Nora Alila’ is sung as Yom Kippur ends

Yom Kippur the most solemn of Jewish festivals, begins tonight. Here’s a spirited rendition by the Mediterranean Andalusian Orchestra of the piyut which closes the Yom Kippur service, El Nora Alila. 


Wishing all those who are fasting Gmar Hatima Tova.


From Wikipedia:


Refrain: El nora alila, El nora alila,

Ha-m’tzi lanu m’chilah, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

M’tei mis’par k’ru’im, l’cha ayin nos’im,

u-m’sal’dim b’chila, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

Shof’chim l’cha naf’sham, m’cheh pish’am ve-chach’sham,

ve-ham’tzi’em m’chila, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

Heyeh lahem l’sit’ra, ve-hatzilem mi-m’era,

ve-chot’mem l’hod u-l’gila, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

Chon otam ve-rachem, ve-chol lochetz ve-lochem,

Oseh ba-hem p’lila, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

Z’chor tzid’kat avihem, ve-chadesh et y’meihem,

k’kedem u-t’chila, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

K’ra na sh’nat ratzon, ve-hashev sh’ar ha-tzon,

l’oholiva v’ohola, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

Tiz’ku l’shanim rabot, ha-banim ve-ha-avot,

b’ditza u-v’tzohola, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

Micha’el sar yis’rael, eliyahu ve-gav’ri’el,

Bas’ru na ha-g’ulah, bi-sh’at ha-ne’ilah.

Refrain: God of awe, God of might, God of awe, God of might,

Grant us pardon in this hour, As Thy gates are closed this night.

We who few have been from yore, Raise our eyes to heaven’s height,

Trembling, fearful in our prayer, As Thy gates are closed this night.

Pouring out our soul we pray That the sentence Thou will write

Shall be one of pardoned sin, As Thy gates are closed this night.

God, our refuge strong and sure, Rescue us from dreadful plight;

Seal our destiny for joy, As Thy gates are closed this night.

Grant us favor, show us grace; But of all who wrest the right

And oppress, be Thou the judge, As Thy gates are closed this night.

Generations of our sires Strong in faith walked in Thy light.

As of old, renew our days, As Thy gates are closed this night.

Gather Judah’s scattered flock Unto Zion’s rebuilt site.

Bless this year with grace divine, As Thy are closed this night.

May we all, both old and young, Look for gladness and delight

In the many years to come, As Thy gates are closed this night.

Michael, Prince of Israel, Gabriel, Thy angels bright,

With Elijah, come, redeem, As Thy gates are closed this night.

Traditional Moroccan ‘Kol Nidre’, the prayer which begins Yom Kippur (with thanks: Sylvia)

Leila Mourad sings ‘El Nora Alila’

Return archive to Israel, says MK Berko

An Israeli parliamentarian has called for the Iraqi-Jewish archives to be sent to the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center at Or Yehuda, Israel.

MK Anat Berko: her parents escaped Iraq


Knesset member  Dr. Anat Berko  sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, demanding that the Iraqi-Jewish archives not be returned to Iraq.

The move comes after the US State Department had confirmed that the Iraqi-Jewish archives would go back to Iraq about a year from now.  In 2003, the National Archives and Records administration had signed an agreement with the CPA, then Iraq’s government, promising that the waterlogged trove, seized from Jewish individuals and institutions and found in the basement of the Iraqi secret police headquarters, would go back to Iraq after restoration.

In her letter, MK Berko, who is playing an active part campaigning for Jewish refugees from Arab countries,  describes how her parents had to escape from Iraq as refugees, after they were stripped of their Iraqi citizenship and left destitute. She asks Netanyahu to put pressure on the American authorities to revoke their promise to return the Archives to Iraq.

 She demands that the archives be returned where they belong, to the Babylonian Museum in Israel.
A copy of the letter was also sent to the Ministry of Education and to the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Have you signed the petition yet? 

Berko to Greenblatt: give us compensation 

Djerba Jews face uncertain future

In this lavishly-illustrated piece, JTA takes a realistic look at the Jewish community of Djerba, one of the few surviving bastions of Jewish life in the Arab world. Antisemitism is a threat, but the tipping point comes when a Jew cannot find a partner or make a living. (In other news, the announcement that Tunisian women are legally allowed to marry non-Muslims (without them needing to convert to Islam) is a major positive development for minority rights). (With thanks: Imre, Lily)

A Lag Ba’Omer pilgrim at the al-Ghriba synagogue in Djerba (Photo: Reuters/Anis Mili)

Belonging to one of the Arab world’s few active Jewish congregations,
their patience reflects a determination to preserve their ancient
tradition in a tight-knit community of 1,000. Many members feel
duty-bound to remain on the island even though they can envisage no
future here for their children.

thought about leaving, myself included,” says Ben Zion Dee’ie, a
30-year-old yeshiva teacher who walked four miles to the El Ghriba
Synagogue from his parents’ home in Hara Kebira, where nearly all Djerba
Jews live. “The economy’s bad, the currency’s plummeting, tourism’s
suffering because of terrorism and jobs are scarce and not well paying.
It’s not perfect.”

But leaving “would be very
difficult,” adds Dee’ie, who comes each year with other congregants to
make sure El Ghriba has a minyan. “It feels wrong to leave where my
ancestors lived for so many years.”

various factors, including state-tolerated violence against Jews
following Israel’s victory over its neighbors in the 1967 Six-Day War,
have gradually almost emptied Tunisia of the 110,000 Jews who lived here
before 1970. A few dozen families left following the 2011 revolution
that briefly installed an Islamist and anti-Israel party in power.

bout of instability was the latest chapter in the story that led to the
near-total disappearance of centuries-long Jewish life from the Arab
world amid hostility and poverty.

Jews on
Djerba have also experienced these problems, not least in the explosion
that al-Qaida terrorists set off outside the El Ghriba Synagogue in 2002
in which 20 people died, including 14 German tourists.

explosion occurred three weeks before the Jewish holiday of Lag b’Omer,
when hundreds of tourists, including some from Israel, gather at the El
Ghriba for a pilgrimage that is particularly popular among Jews of
Tunisian descent.

the only time of the year that we can count on having a minyan,” Dee’ie
said at the synagogue, where the sounds of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah
blended with the Muslim call to prayer and the chiming of church bells.(…)

“It’s a very good thing
the police are here, they protect us, just like they protect you in
Israel,” Dee’ie, who studied at a religious seminary in Israel in 2007.
He returned to Hara Kebira but moved away last year to Zarzis, where his
wife was born and he teaches a classroom of 15 children from that
city’s Jewish community of 130 members.(…)

But in Tunisia, expressions of anti-Semitism, often featuring
anti-Israel vitriol, continue to occur, reminding the country’s
remaining 1,700 Jews “that the Arab, he is very easy to incite,” Dee’ie

A recent example came when Tunisia joined
several other countries in banning the film “Wonder Woman,” apparently
because its lead character is portrayed by the Israeli film star Gal
Gadot. The Jewish-French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who is not
Israeli, was greeted during a 2014 visit to Tunisia by dozens of
Islamists carrying signs calling on “Levy the Zionist” to leave.

invitation to a Tunisian festival in July of the Jewish comedian Michel Boujenah provoked protests in Tunisia that local anti-racism activists
said were anti-Semitic. Tunisia has several pending bills, introduced by
Islamist and secular nationalists, proposing a blanket boycott on
Israel and a ban on any Israelis from entering the country.

Tunisia’s government is showcasing its Jewish heritage sites, including
Djerba, whose ancient synagogue is on Tunis’ list this year for locales
put forth for recognition as world heritage sites by the United Nations. The government has made several statements about the positive
role of its Jewish citizens, invested considerable resources in
renovating sites of worship and is considering allocating two seats in
parliament for representatives of the Jewish community.

in parallel, authorities in Tunisia are “quietly confiscating” Jewish
antiques, including a 15th-century Torah scrollwhose whereabouts the
government is refusing to disclose, according to an expose published
last month by the French news site Dreuz.

effects of anti-Semitism in Tunisia may be “unpleasant at times, but
they are not a threat to the survival of this community,” said Dee’ie,
who was ready to immigrate to Israel last year with his wife because
they could not find an affordable apartment to their liking in Zarzis.

things matter: Whether Jews can find a Jewish partner, make a living
and live a comfortable life,” he added. “I grew up here, but I don’t
know if this is the place where my children will grow up.”

Read article in full

Testimonies of last Iraqi Jews to be filmed

A new project to capture urgently on film the testimonies of Iraqi Jews recorded in the book Iraq’s Last Jews has been launched in the US: the Iraqi Jewish Voices Project aims to counter the Eurocentrism of modern Jewish history. Report in the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):

NEW YORK — Although Oded Halahmy left Iraq in 1951, Iraq has never left him.

“Every aspect of my life has been influenced by my first home,
the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ I remember from my childhood. Palm and
pomegranate trees dance in the wind,” said Halahmy, 79. “I can visualize
the narrow alleyways, the houses built of ancient stones with
beautifully sculpted doors, circular windows of exquisitely colored
glass. My memories of Iraq are real and alive, and my attachment to Iraq
is very strong. My Baghdad is the most beautiful place on earth, the
Garden of Eden.”

was 13 when he, his parents, his siblings as well as hundreds of other
relatives left for Israel. Now, as his generation ages, first-person
stories like Halahmy’s are slipping into the shadows of history.

“These are the very last years to capture firsthand accounts of
Jewish life in Iraq. There will be no witnesses left and so there is an
urgency to get the stories. It’s a last grasp. Mizrahi Jews account for
half the world’s Jewry, yet their stories remain virtually untold,” said
Tamar Morad, a writer and editor living in Israel.

That’s where The Iraqi Jewish Voices Project, IJVP, comes in. Using
black and white portraits, interviews, and scanned historical documents,
the multi-media project records the stories of the last Jews of Iraq
and what it was like for them to immigrate to Israel, France, the United
States and beyond.

Oded Halahmy for the Iraqi Jewish Voices Project. (Liam Sharp)

The project aims to shift the meta-narrative of world Jewry in the
20th Century, which has almost always revolved around the history of
European Jewry. The bold initiative might just be the thread that
stitches the Jews of the Mideast’s past to the future.

Morad, who grew up in Boston, is of Ashkenazi descent. Her husband’s
family came from Iraq. In no time she realized the more she asked her
father-in-law, as well as her husband’s 105-year-old grandfather, about
what life was like in Iraq before they left, the more she wanted to

She found others wanted to share their stories as well. “You see the
eagerness of people to tell their stories. It’s the first time some of
them have told their stories in full,” Morad said. “It’s time the world
should know it. To progress we need to be educated about the past.”

Morad co-manages the project with Henry Green, executive director of
the NGO Sephardi Voices, and professor of Judaic and Religious Studies
at the University of Miami.

Morad is basing the project on the book, “Iraq’s Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Modern Babylon
— an oral history collection co-edited by Morad with Dennis and Robert
Shasha — and plans to revisit and expand on some of the people and
places featured in it.

The Iraqi Jewish Voices Project comes under the auspices of the
nonprofit Sephardi Voices (SV), which aims to collect thousands of
interviews of Jews who lived in Arab and Muslim lands. It wants to do
for the Jews of Arab lands what the Shoah Foundation did for Holocaust
survivors in collecting and preserving their testimony about life
before, during and after World War II, Green said.

Read article in full

Israel is only state to support Kurdish independence

 Kurds wave an Israeli flag at a pro-independence demonstration in Erbil (Photo: Ivor Pricket, New York Times)

Today, Iraqi Kurds vote in a non-binding referendum on whether the region should declare independence from Iraq. Saladin, who employed Maimonides as his physician, would have been proud, declares David Halbfinger in Haaretz. To-date, Israel is the only state to have come out in support of independence, in recognition of Kurdish help to evacuate Jews from Iraq and a military alliance that goes back to the 1960s. (With thanks: Lily)

In the modern era, Kurdish Jews departed en masse for Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948, leaving Kurdish civil society so bereft that some recall its leaders still lamenting the Jewish exodus decades later.

Ties between the two have only grown warmer and more vital since the 1960s, as Israel and the Kurds — both minorities in an inhospitable region and ever in need of international allies — have repeatedly come to each other’s aid. The Kurds have long patterned their lobbying efforts in Washington on those of Israel’s supporters.

And while Kurdish leaders have not publicly embraced Israel in the run-up to the referendum, for fear of antagonizing the Arab world, the Israeli flag can routinely be seen at Kurdish rallies in Erbil and across Europe.

The Kurds in turn have friends and supporters all across Israel, including some 200,000 Kurdish Jews. But 83-year-old Tzuri Sagi, a retired brigadier general, has more reason than most Israelis to root for Kurdish independence.

“I became a patriotic Kurd,” says Mr. Sagi, now 83 and a retired brigadier general, who worked as an Israeli military adviser to Kurdish fighters.

In the winter of 1966, Mr. Sagi’s commanders sent him on a secret mission, via Israel’s then-ally, Iran, to aid Mullah Mustafa Barzani and his pesh merga rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan. Six Iraqi army brigades were standing by to overwhelm the Kurds when the snow melted. Mr. Sagi, a lieutenant colonel, drew up defenses for Barzani’s lightly armed fighters. When those collapsed, Mr. Sagi advised the Kurds to allow the best of the Iraqi brigades to break out — right into an ambush.

The 5,000-man Iraqi brigade was wiped out, and the battle, on Mount Handrin, became a landmark in Kurdish history. Mr. Sagi recalls Iraqi officers driving up in two jeeps waving white flags.

“They said to the Kurds, ‘What do you want?’” he recalled.

Over the years, Israeli doctors set up a field hospital for the Kurds, its soldiers trained the pesh merga fighters and the Mossad helped arm them.

After Israel’s defeat of its Arab neighbors in 1967 and the Baathist coup in Iraq a year later, Iraq became inhospitable to its dwindling Jewish population. Then it was the Barzanis’ turn to help.

After nine Jews were hanged in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square in 1969, Iraqi Jews were desperate to flee. The Kurds helped some 1,000 of them escape, over land to Iran and then by plane to Israel.

“They were going on donkeys, through the mountains,” said Ofra Bengio, a pre-eminent historian of the Kurds and professor emerita at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center.

One of the escapees was Zamir Shemtov, 63, now a dentist in Herzliya, who was a teenager in 1970 when his parents and extended family made their first attempt to flee Iraq. Arrested and locked up for a month, they tried again, but this time they were blackmailed, robbed, caught by the army and sent back to Baghdad, where his father was brutally interrogated, Mr. Shemtov said. Released two months later, they tried to get out a third time. This time, a Kurdish taxi driver ushered them to a safe meeting point where a young uniformed Kurdish fighter loaded them in his jeep and ferried them across the border into Iran.

Mr. Shemtov said that near the end of the drive, his father offered the fighter his gold watch in gratitude.

“The young man answered, ‘I am Masoud Barzani, son of Mullah Barzani, and if Mullah would hear that I took a watch, he would hang me!’” Mr. Shemtov recalled. “‘Instead, all I ask as thanks is that you remember us well in the future.’”

Read article in full

Joe Shemtob’s escape from Baghdad 


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