Month: March 2018

How Jews from Egypt marked the feast of freedom

Some 25,000 Jews were forced to leave Egypt after the Suez crisis of 1956. Here is  the late Teddy Nahmias’s account of Seder night aboard the ship taking him to freedom in his new home of Italy. Jewish Renaissance carried the story:

 Following the unfortunate events of 1956 and the Suez Canal crisis, hundreds of Jewish families packed their belongings and left Egypt, most boarding ships sailing from Alexandria , bound for 26 European Mediterranean ports.My family chose Italy, my father’s dream land. As a Corfiot he felt Venice was his cultural home, so we were on our way to Venice and Trieste. The vessel was the S/S Enoiria, a smaller version of the famous S/S Esperia of Adriatica fame, those white luxury liners that rode the Mediterranean with the Lion of Venice watching over from the yellow chimneys.

Egyptian-Jewish  refugees leaving Port Said

We took the lift down from our fifth floor flat in Mazarita for the last time. Some of our neighbours opened their front doors and stood in silence on the landings to watch us go. Mohammed, our imposing Sudanese (porter), was sobbing like a child. There was no coming back. The emotion was high and my mother could not stop her tears. Dad became tense as we went through customs and police clearance, but felt more comfortable as he walked the steps to the deck. After all, he was already on Italian soil.

 As for myself, I was in a daze, feeling that something irreversible was taking place, but too young to realise the implications. I was probably hoping to find another group of youngsters at the other end that would recreate the rock ‘n’ roll fun-loving crowd I had left behind.

As the ship started to move away from the dock and head for the high seas, we all waved goodbye, and slowly turned our heads from the land that we were not to see again for perhaps half a century.

I noticed a few young people around my age and naturally was drawn to them. My parents by now were in conversation with other Jews who were on their way to Canada. Others were due to catch a ship from Trieste to Australia.

Suddenly someone said,” but tomorrow night is Pesach night.

Shouldn’t we mark the occasion somehow?” A charming and understanding officer decided we could use a section of the dining room, and I recall about 25 of us sitting around a number of tables assembled to form a long table. To top it all, as a gift from the Captain, a beautiful cake was placed in the centre of the table with the compliments of the Chef, the crew and the officers. How embarrassing: no matzah but instead a massive torta to celebrate the festival of the unleavened bread.

I remember my father laughing and I also remember a discussion on who would officiate. A Haggada was found. I cannot remember whether or not the cake was eaten. We were Jews leaving Egypt, celebrating Jews leaving Egypt. Had we fallen into a mysterious time warp? Although not realising it at the time, we had gone through a unique experience never to be repeated. This time the bread had risen.

 Read article in full

Wishing all readers Hag Pesah Sameah or a Happy Easter!

Posts about Passover

Ben Porat produces proof of Baghdad bombers

Who threw the Baghdad bombs? For decades an accusing finger has been pointed at the Zionists in Iraq, and their leader, Mordechai Ben Porat. More evidence that the nationalist Istiqlal party was responsible has come to light in Ben Porat’s recently-published autobiography, From the Land of Birth to a Homeland. Review (roughly translated from Hebrew) by Zvi Gabay:

Mordechai Ben-Porat, now in his nineties

After the throwing of a hand grenade at the Masuda Shem Tov synagogue on January 14, 1951, during the registration of the Jews of Iraq to immigrate to Israel, three people were killed, six were seriously injured and 19 were lightly injured. Since the Iraqi government was not quick to publicize its findings, a malicious rumor spread that the Zionist movement had done the utmost to expedite the departure of the Jews from Iraq.The accusation of serious misconduct in the Zionist movement harmed its members and its head, Mordechai Ben-Porat. For years he fought to clear the name of the Zionist movement and his own name, including in a libel suit in court, and hoped to expose the truth about the affair.

Mordechai Ben-Porat’s autobiographical book, “From the Land of Birth to a Homeland” (published by Teper), now has new evidence about the grenade shells lobbed at  the synagogue and a cafe where young Jews used to gather. The testimony is included in the book “History of the Zionist Movement in Iraq and Its Role in the Immigration of Jews in 1950-1951“, published in Iraq in 2013, which includes the research of the historian Shamel Abd al-Qader.The study includes a video of the culprit and his partner saying that they threw the grenades, directed by the national poet Adnan al-Ravi, a leader of the nationalist Al-Istiqlal party, which worked to expel the Jews from Iraq.

Thus, Mordechai Ben-Porat, when he reached a ripe old age, received direct testimony from the perpetrators of the crime, who of course were not punished. Today the Jews of Iraq are happy not to live in bloodied Iraq, where they lived since they were exiled to it with the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. The highlight of Mordechai Ben-Porat’s public activity is, of course, his secret mission to Baghdad and the organization of Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, together with Shlomo Hillel, in which some 110,000 Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel.The huge operation was conducted without a hitch, until the hand grenade was thrown at the synagogue, which was the last stop on the way to the airport.

The path of Mordechai Ben-Porat passes through sensitive intersections of modern Israeli history. He immigrated to Israel in 1945 and after the establishment of the State of Israel became the first officer of the IDF officers’ course. During his mission in Iraq, he was arrested by the Iraqi secret police and a step away from execution. He escaped from his detention and escaped on one of the immigrant planes to Israel.In Israel he enlisted to assist in the absorption of immigrants in the tent camps and became the founding father of Or Yehuda and of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center.He was a disciple of David Ben-Gurion who appointed him, along with others, to the executors of his will. In his search for the challenges of public activity, he was elected to the Knesset and became minister in the governments of Yitzhak Shamir. He worked tirelessly to achieve national reconciliation and to establish a national unity government.

Mordechai Ben-Porat reveals new details about central personalities in Israeli politics, including Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin. Prime Minister Menachem Begin appointed him to head the ministerial committee to formulate a solution to the Arab refugee problem. The committee’s recommendations are still relevant and are presented in the book.

He worked tirelessly to integrate the Sephardim in society and fought for the Jews of Arab lands and to achieve justice for them.In 1974, he initiated the establishment of the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, which organized international conferences and raised the claims of Jews from Arab lands for justice.Under his influence, Moshe Dayan, when he was foreign minister, raised the issue at the United Nations General Assembly and demanded equal treatment with the issue of Arab refugees.It’s a shame that foreign ministers have not followed through.

Mordechai Ben-Porat’s book tells a fascinating life story of a man of great deeds who worked secretly and openly for the state and the community.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Read Google translation in full

Tom Segev on the Baghdad bombings

US Sephardim thank King of Morocco

At a presentation on the Jews of Cape Verde, a US Sephardic synagogue thanked the King of Morocco for investing in the restoration of hundreds of Jewish sites. Without his help, Jewish heritage will be crumbling and cemeteries left derelict. The North Africa Post reports: (With thanks: Malca):

A mosaic Menorah testifies to an ancient Jewish presence in the Cape Verde Islands (photo: Cape Verde Heritage project) 

The Sephardic Synagogue Magen David in Washington expressed its gratitude to King Mohammed VI for launching a restoration project of cemeteries of Moroccan-born Jews.

A ceremony was organized by the Synagogue during which participants lauded the lofty actions of the King to preserve the Moroccan Jewish heritage at home and abroad.

 The event was attended by Chairwoman of “Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project (CVJFP), Carol Castiel who told the press that “without this contribution in 2011, this project would never have been possible.”

 Castiel also recalled that in June 2015, a Jews delegation from Cape Verde made a trip to the country of their ancestors, Morocco, on the initiative of the ministry of Moroccans living abroad and Migration Affairs.

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Syrian envoy accuses Israelis of Jobar looting

The Syrian ambassador to the UN has complained that Israeli and Turkish intelligence operators have removed precious artefacts from what is left of the Jobar synagogue near Damascus. It is not clear how much of the site survived a bombing in 2013. Rumours have since circulated that theSyrian army or the Islamist rebelshad looted the synagogue. The Israeli ambassador to the UN has accused the Syrians of trying to divert attention from the civil war. Story in the Jerusalem Post: (with thanks: Yoel)

What’s left of the Jobar synagogue after its bombing in 2013

In a formal complaint sent to the United Nations Security Council, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari accused the two countries of cooperating with “terrorist groups” to remove valuable items from the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, also known as the Jobar Synagogue.

The Jobar synagogue as it was

“[My] government wishes to transmit highly credible intelligence to the effect that the terrorist groups that are active in the area of Jobar, near Damascus, cooperated with the Turkish and Israeli intelligence services to loot artifacts and manuscripts from the ancient synagogue there,” Ja’afari said. 

The Syrian ambassador went on to write, “The items were then smuggled through local and foreign intermediaries to Istanbul, where they were received by antiquities experts who certified that they were extremely valuable antique objects. The items were subsequently smuggled to New York.”

In a response provided exclusively to The Jerusalem Post, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called the letter a distraction aimed at drawing the world’s attention away from the Syrian civil war, which has left more than 500,000 people dead over the past seven years. 

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Moshe Kahlon tells it like it is, in Arabic

Israel’s finance minister Moshe Kahlon is of Libyan origin, but he’s not quite the bridge-builder with the Palestinians that Haaretz would like him to be. He speaks basic Arabic but has some honest things to say in the language: he tells his Palestinian interlocutors  that he is the minister from the refugee camp – the ma’abara where his mother still lives. And declaring ‘Rahat al-Quds!’ (‘You’ve lost Jerusalem’) is his way of speaking truth to power, albeit with a smile.

The tension of the days of rage that followed America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
remains palpable. The Palestinians have totally cut themselves off from
the Trump administration. A peace deal seems further away than ever.
And into the Muqata in Ramallah marched a senior Israeli minister who,
with a broad smile on his face, declared in Arabic, “Rahat a-Quds!”
(“You’ve lost Jerusalem!”)

another place and time, this certainly could have been a casus belli,
but in this story, which took place at the end of last month, those
present responded with forgiving amusement and shook the hand of their
guest – finance minister and security cabinet member Moshe Kahlon.

wasn’t Kahlon’s first visit to Ramallah, nor was it his first meeting
with senior Palestinian Authority officials. His remark was accepted
forgivingly because they are familiar with Kahlon’s direct but endearing
style. Since he became finance minister, the former Likud member who
now heads a party, Kulanu, which doesn’t have a clear diplomatic agenda,
has succeeded in developing a quiet channel with the Palestinian
leadership. First it was on the basis of economic cooperation and
coordination under the auspices of the defense establishment, while
later on other issues were added, spurred by an American bear hug. In
essence, since the Palestinians declared that they will not come to the negotiating table if Washington is the mediator, Kahlon is currently the only active diplomatic channel.

Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon at the Knesset on March 5, 2018.

Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon at the Knesset on March 5, 2018.(Photo: Olivier Fitoussi)

Palestinian officials refer to him sarcastically as the minister from
the refugee camp, because during one of his meetings he told them of his
difficult childhood in the projects in Givat Olga. His conversations
are sprinkled with the Arabic he learned from his Tripolitan parents.
This detail has attracted the attention of foreign news outlets, which
have labeled him “the Arabic speaker who could lead Israel.” Only Kahlon
really understands Arabic, people familiar with these meetings told
Haaretz, in a barb clearly aimed at Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman,
but they hasten to add that Kahlon’s Arabic is very basic and his
conversations with PA officials are conducted with the help of
interpreters or in English.

these meetings were never really a secret, even if all the details
aren’t known, the Kulanu chairman tries very hard to conceal this aspect
of his work. On all his very lively social networks, among the hundreds
of announcements about new financial benefits and pictures of his
elderly mother (who still lives in Givat Olga), you will find only a
handful of references to diplomatic or security affairs in general and
to his ties with Ramallah in particular. That’s no coincidence, of
course. Kahlon is proud of his work in this area, but he is also afraid
to undercut his right-wing image.

connection began when he took over the Finance Ministry in 2015, with a
telephone call from his Palestinian counterpart Shukri Bishara, which
led to a meeting at which they were joined by PA Minister for Civilian
Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh. This wasn’t an unusual gesture or a
demonstration of good will. Under the Paris Protocol governing economic
relations between Israel and the PA – which was even updated in 2012 by
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said then this was aimed at
“supporting Palestinian society and strengthening its economy” – Israel
is obligated to coordinate various economic moves with the PA, including
the transfer of taxes collected by Israel on the PA’s behalf.

the years Israeli governments have at various times held these
Palestinian funds hostage, delaying or freezing their transfer as a form
of pressure or punishment. This being the case, even a decision to
regulate the transfer of funds becomes a significant diplomatic
decision, as is a decision on what level of official comes to the
meetings. Kahlon’s associates note that the previous finance minister,
Yair Lapid, had also met with Bishara under these circumstances, but the
relationship never developed in the same way and the debts could not be
worked out.

In 2017 Kahlon also started meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah,
with Netanyahu’s knowledge and blessing. The two have met three times
in Ramallah and are expected to hold another meeting in Jerusalem. The
pair, along with members of their staffs, also connect by phone. These
meetings are attended by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the
Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, whose responsibility includes
the financial and security coordination mechanisms. Sometimes
Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj has also attended.

some Palestinian officials aren’t so enthusiastic. They say the
relationship with Kahlon is totally businesslike and stems from the need
to manage economic agreements with Israel. The senior PA officials have
no partiality toward whoever is managing the contacts with them, as
long as he is not a settler, they stress. There are those in the
Palestinian “street” who would prefer to cut off all contact with
Israel, but they don’t understand that the PA can’t do that because it
has obligations, they say.

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