‘To find the Jewish quarter of Sidon, follow the swastikas’

The erasure of the Jewish heritage of Sidon in Lebanon proceeds apace: it is as if Jews never existed here. A keen Lebanese amateur historian of the Jewish community of Lebanon, Nagi Georges Zeidan revisited the city. Here are his findings, as told by Isaac Choua in HaSepharadi:

The Jews of
Sidon believe that their community dates back to the first arrival of
Israelites ; roughly 1000 BCE)
and their synagogue to the Second Temple period (Josephus, Jewish Wars
1:422). They even have a tradition that the tomb of Zeḇulun the son of
Yaʿaqoḇ (yes, one of the members of the twelve tribes) is buried there
and a mausoleum stands in his honor. “Zebulun shall dwell by the
seashore; He shall be a haven for ships, and his flank shall rest on
Sidon.”

When the Jews lived in Sidon, they kept only one day of yom ṭoḇ
because of its close proximity to Jerusalem. Though only a small amount
of information exists, Sidon probably had a small Jewish community at
the time of the Muslim conquest in the seventh century. In the twelfth
century, Spanish traveler Benjamin of Tudela mentions that twenty Jews
(perhaps twenty families) lived in Sidon, which he called a large
city.”

 In the nineteenth century as Beirut became more metropolitan, many of the Jews spread throughout Lebanon flocked to Beirut.

Nagi Georges Zeidan, an amateur historian on Lebanese Jewry, posted on his Facebook page (followed by many of the Lebanese Jews around the world) on April 23rd, 2018:Though there is nothing inherently wrong with the term “el-Quds” (one of Jerusalem’s names in Arabic), the erasing of the Haret el-Yahoud” is strictly political. This is not the only change going on in Sidon: on April 20th, 2018 Nagi reported that the “west wall of the cemetery that separates the old seaside is completely demolished by excavators.” “These machines are well inside
the Jewish cemetery, in fact they… damaged and partially destroyed tombs.”

In 2016, Nagi (who has been collecting everything he can find on the Jewish community in Lebanon since 1996) returned to revisit the remains of the Jewish community. When Nagi could not locate the Jewish Quarter,
he was advised to ‘follow the swastikas’ in order to find the location – the place had been renamed from Haret el-Yahoud” to Haret el-Ghaza.”

This is not the first time the Lebanese government has demolished the Jewish
community and their physical history. In Deir el-Qamar, the Jewish
community lived amongst Druze Prince Fakhr-al-Din ibn Maan and were
permitted to build a synagogue in 1638. My family helped build it.
Sadly, instead of being preserved as a museum by the Générale des
Antiquités (General Directorate of Antiquities) it has been destroyed in
order to be turned into a dance studio.

Play being staged in the former synagogue of Deir el-Qamar (Photo from November 2017)

A friend of mine visited Lebanon in the summer of 2017 and reported
back to me the shock he found in the place that was once my family’s
synagogue: “they had no idea it was a synagogue… it was terribly heartbreaking… I would
not have thought that this was it if three old ladies hadn’t insisted
so, and if it didn’t match the photos you sent earlier… they have erased
any trace of what this place was.”

Star of David seen in 2012 on the wall in the Deir al-Qamar synagogue, now a dance studio and theatre

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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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