Year: 2020

Trading stories from Aden

Aden is the former British trading post at the tip of  the Arabian peninsula. Today, no Jews from an 8,000-member community are left, but there is a lasting memorial to their heritage in Tel Aviv. Sarah Ansbacher has written a book about it. Lyn Julius reviews Passage from Aden in Jewish News:

Walk along Lilienblum St, in the Neve Tsedek quarter of Tel Aviv,  and you come to a large modern block. The upper storey is an Adeni synagogue; the lower floor was once used as a bomb shelter. But today it is the Aden Jewry Heritage  museum, one of Tel Aviv’s best kept secrets.

A new immigrant from London, Sarah Ansbacher first visited the Aden museum  to do some research for a novel. Six months later, she was offered a job as  the museum guide and manager. So began a love affair with this ‘magical’ place,  culminating in Sarah’s  2020 book ‘Passage from Aden’.

At its height the Aden Jewish community numbered 8, 000.  A trading post at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, Aden became a British protectorate in 1839. Jews who moved there from neighbouring Yemen could escape second-class dhimmi status, but with their British links, Adenis are eager to emphasise that they are not Yemenite Jews. Cosmopolitan Aden was  also settled  by Jews from other parts of the Middle East.

Sarah’s passion for the Aden community comes through in ‘Passage from Aden’s succession of short anecdotes. The book is like a colourful meal composed not only of vignettes about Aden’s Jews, the museum’s exhibits, its visitors, but also Israel and its people. Like all good dishes, they tickle the palate and leave us wanting more.

Meeting the many tourists who visit the museum, Sarah feels it is her responsibility to dispel ignorance and misunderstandings. She is moved by philosemitic Germans and Poles and connects with curious Muslims, Japanese, and even a Scottish football supporter. She listens to stories of non-Jews who find Israel is not what they imagined, some falling in love with the place.

Adeni Jews themselves come to study the gallery of photographs,  recognising people they know.  In one heartwarming tale, a Yemenite  disguised himself as a woman in order not to be separated from his fiancée on the first airlift to Israel reserved for women and children. Iraqi Jews recount their adventures, thankful to have made new lives in Israel. 

Tragically, a visiting woman’s’s father survived the gruelling trek from Yemen to Israel only to be killed by a  ma’abara tent collapsing under the weight of snow.  More than one vignette dwells on the 1947 riots, which sounded the death knell of the Aden community, an event which the museum marks with a yearly Haskara for the 87 dead. An Adeni Muslim sends his heartfelt apology.

  Israel is not short of fascinating characters, such as the over-qualified street sweeper from Estonia or the under-educated Yemenite who ends up with a PhD. Sarah Ansbacher delights in meeting new people and making connections.  She has a gift for bringing their stories to life. Ultimately ‘Passage from Aden’   affirms one’s faith in human nature – and life.

Read article in full

Virtual tour of Aden Jewry Heritage Museum

PoNR Review of the Year 2020

It’s that time of the year again – time to review the highlights and lowlights of 2020.

In the 15 years since Point of No Return has been collecting information on Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, there have been 5,940 posts. This year achieved 426,000 views.

This year will be remembered as the year of COVID-19. It was certainly not the first time that plagueshave swept through the Middle East. This year’s plague took a heavy toll of Jewish communities (see here and here).

This year gave Iraqi Jews an excuse to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their airlift to Israel.

But the highpoint of 2020 must be surely the historic peace accords achieved with four Arab countries: the UAE,Bahrain,  Sudan and Morocco.This is a teachable moment – to educate about Jewish refugeesfrom the Arab world and Iran. (Some Arabs have already absorbed the lesson. )

 For the first time, the rights of Jewish refugees were explicitly mentioned in the Trump Middle East peace plan announced in January. Unfortunately, the media still refuse to give the issue  the coverage it deserves.

Numbers of Jews continued to dwindle in Arab countries, except in Dubai, which holds out the promise of an expanding Jewish community, serviced by three rabbis. It was a good year for one particular Jewish family from Yemen,who were given refuge in the UAE.

As for Jewish heritage, Morocco led the way in memorialising Jewish culture and history `at Bayt Dhakira,a converted  Essaouira synagogue. It was a bad year for Jewish memory in Aden, where the cemetery has been razedfor urban development. As for Ezekiel’s shrine, we received  reports of the ongoing erosion of its Jewish character, with a trellis being erected around the prophet’s tomb and the adjoining synagogue dismantled. It was not a good year for the shrine of Rabbi Abuhatseira at Damanhour  in the Nile Delta, which was stripped of its protected status.  An Egyptian court banned Jewish pilgrims from visiting it.

However, for 180 Jewish visitors, the high point of the year was the February inauguration of the Nebi Daniel synagoguein Alexandria, Egypt, restored at a cost of $4 million. Sadly, the community in Egypt is on the verge of extinction and the synagogue will not be more than atourist attraction.

Deaths: the Iraqi-Jewish community went down to four with the passing of Sitt Marcelle,who administered the community’s assets. Lebanese-born bankerJoseph Safra passed away in Brazil.  Egyptian-born Esther Webman of Tel Aviv University is mourned by researchers into Middle East politics. Leftwing Tunisian-born  lawyer Gisèle Halimipassed away in France. But the greatest loss to the Sephardi/Mizrahi community was arguably the death of the great thinker and author Albert Memmi, six months short of his 100th birthday.

Best articles of the year:

Some Arabs long for Jews to return

Iraqi-born Jew profiled as father of the drone

Pfizer head is Sephardi Jew born in Thessaloniki

How Libyan Jews were deported during WW2.

From persecution to freedom: one Iranian-Jewish family’s  story 

Baron de Menasce offered to buy the Western Wall.

Iraqi Jew tells of Nazi plan to deport Jews

What happened on 20 August 1955?

Remembering the beggars of Morocco

Reviews of Past Years










Pfizer head is Sephardi Jew born in Thessaloniki

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has become a household name as  a manufacturer of the  COVID-19 vaccine. But how many know that its CEO is a Sephardi Jew, Albert Bourla? The Jewish Voice reports (with thanks: Ambrosine):

Albert Bourla

As the announcement
of a vaccine that is 90% effective in preventing the
novel coronavirus has dominated the headlines and
given hope to people in every corner of the globe, we
pause at this juncture to pay tribute to Albert
Bourla, the chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical giant

Founded in 1849 in
New York City by Charles Pfizer, the eponymously named
pharmaceutical company is one of the world’s largest
of its kind and it ranked 57 on the 2018 Fortune 500
list of the largest United States corporations by
total revenue. Pfizer develops and produces medicines
and vaccines for a wide range of medical disciplines,
including immunology, oncology, cardiology,
endocrinology, and neurology. Its products include the
blockbuster drug Lipitor (atorvastatin), used to lower
LDL blood cholesterol; Lyrica (pregabalin) for
neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia; Diflucan
(fluconazole), an oral antifungal medication;
Zithromax (azithromycin), an antibiotic; Viagra
(sildenafil) for erectile dysfunction; and Celebrex
(also Celebra, celecoxib), an anti-inflammatory drug.

Currently, Pfizer
is under the dynamic and innovative leadership of a
man who came from humble beginnings and who rose to
prominence in the medical field through his remarkable
diligence and his tireless desire to help people.

Born in October of
1961 in Thessaloniki, Greece, Albert Bourla was raised
in a Sephardic Jewish family. Bourla is a Doctor of
Veterinary Medicine and holds a Ph.D. in the
Biotechnology of Reproduction from the Veterinary
School of Aristotle University. He left Greece with
his wife when he was 34 and since then he has lived in
seven different cities, in four different countries.

In 2020, he was
ranked as America’s top CEO in the Pharmaceuticals
sector by Institutional Investor magazine. He is on
the executive committee of The Partnership for New
York City, a director on multiple boards – Pfizer,
Inc., The Pfizer Foundation, PhRMA, and Catalyst – and
a Trustee of the United States Council for
International Business. In addition, Bourla is a
member of the Business Roundtable and the Business

Bourla began his
career at Pfizer in 1993 in the Animal Health Division
as Technical Director of Greece. He held positions of
increasing responsibility within Animal Health across
Europe, before moving to Pfizer’s New York Global
Headquarters in 2001. From there, Bourla went on to
assume a succession of leadership roles within the
Animal Health Division, including US Group Marketing
Director (2001-2004), Vice President of Business
Development and New Products Marketing (2004-2006),
and Area President of Animal Health Europe, Africa and
the Middle East (2006-2009). In 2009, he assumed
additional responsibilities for the Asia and Pacific

From 2010-2013,
Bourla was President and General Manager of Pfizer’s
Established Products business from 2010-2013, leading
the development and implementation of strategies and
tactics related to Pfizer’s off-patent portfolio,
(including legacy brands and generics).

From January 2014
to January 2016, Bourla served as Group President of
Pfizer’s Global Vaccines, Oncology, and Consumer
Healthcare business, where he was instrumental in
building a strong and competitive position in oncology
and expanding the Company’s leadership in vaccines.

Previously, from
February 2016 to December 2017, Bourla served as Group
President of Pfizer Innovative Health, which comprised
the Consumer Healthcare, Inflammation &
Immunology, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Rare Disease
and Vaccines business groups. In addition, he created
the Patient and Health Impact Group, dedicated to
developing solutions for increasing patient access,
demonstrating the value of Pfizer’s medicines, and
ensuring broader business model innovation.

Bourla became
Pfizer’s chief operating officer (COO) on January 1,
2018, overseeing the company’s drug development,
manufacturing, sales, and strategy, as stated in a
Wikipedia profile. He restructured Pfizer and spun-off
the consumer health care business during his tenure as
COO. He was promoted to the chief executive officer
(CEO) role in October 2018, effective January 1, 2019,
succeeding Ian Read.

Read article in full

Moderna’s chief medical officer Tal Zaks is Jewish too (Atlanta Jewish Times)

Tunisian condemned for singing with Israeli

Update: Noamane Chaarihas received death threats and been sacked from his job.

A Tunisian composer and singer who recorded a song with an Israeli has been lambasted by journalists, political figures and social media users. Although the song, ‘Peace between neighbours’ by Noamane Chaari and ZivYeheskel, was viewed over 1.5 million times, it seems that Tunisia is not yet ready to ‘normalise’ with Israel. In fact Chaari’s career may well suffer. See MEMRI report (with thanks: Lily)



 During Chaari’s December 12 interview with the Tunisian radio station Mosaïque FM, the interviewer, well-known media figure Hadi Za’eem, asserted that performing alongside an Israeli constituted “a major provocation of Tunisians, Arabs, and Muslims,” and asked Chaari if he felt he was criminally liable. 

 When Chaari replied in the negative, the interviewer noted that the Yemeni lyricist had remained anonymous “because they knew the poem he wrote would get his head chopped off,” and then asked rhetorically, “So what shall be done with the head of the one who sang it?

On December 18, 2020, Chaari appeared on Channel 9’s nighttime talk show “For Night Owls Only,” and was lambasted by the host and panel members, who accused him of offending Tunisians and betraying the Palestinian cause, and even of abetting Israel’s murder of Palestinians.

Chaari, for his part, rejected the accusations and stood by his actions. 

After he refused to comply with the host’s repeated demands to apologize for the song, the host threatened Chaari that all Tunisian artists would from now on boycott him. 

Read article in full

President Roosevelt delayed repealing anti-Jewish laws

It took 10 months following the liberation of North Africa by the Allies during WW2 for President Roosevelt to repeal anti-Jewish measures. Rafael Medoff describes this disgraceful chapter in history in Israel National News (with thanks: Imre): 

Ibn Dahan synagogue, Morocco
The normalization of relations between Israel and Morocco and the U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara have stirred interest in the history of Morocco’s Jews, including during the Holocaust years.Unfortunately some pundits, in their enthusiasm over these developments, have misleadingly portrayed the Allied liberation of North Africa in 1942 as the simultaneous liberation of the region’s Jews from their Nazi and Vichyite persecutors.

That narrative papers over the harsh reality of what happened after the Allies’ victory. 

The full story of how President Franklin D. Roosevelt treated the Jews in Morocco and elsewhere in North Africa is a deeply troubling chapter in his administration’s history.

On November 8, 1942, American and British forces launched “Operation Torch,” the invasion of German-occupied Algeria and Morocco. In just eight days, the Allies defeated the Nazis and their Vichy French partners in the region.

American Jews expected that the liberation of North Africa would also mean liberation for the 330,000 Jews there.

In 1870, the French colonial authorities in Algeria had issued the Cremieux Decree, which granted equal rights to that country’s Jews after centuries of mistreatment by Arab rulers (although it did not affect the Jews in neighboring Morocco).

 When the Vichyites took over North Africa in 1940, they abolished Cremieux and subjected all of the region’s Jews to a range of abuses, including restrictions on admission of Jews to many schools and professions, seizures of Jewish property and occasional pogroms by local Muslims that were tolerated by the government.

In 1941–1942, American Jewish newspapers carried disturbing reports that the Vichyites had built “huge concentration camps” in Morocco and Algeria which housed thousands of Jewish slave laborers. 

The prisoners endured backbreaking work, random beatings by the guards, extreme overcrowding, poor sanitation, near-starvation and little or no medical care.According to one report, 150 Jews scheduled to be taken to the camps were so fearful of the conditions there that they resisted arrest and were executed en masse.

With the Allied victory, North African Jews — and their American coreligionists —expected the prisoners to be released and the Cremieux Decree reinstated for Jews living throughout the region. The American Jewish Congress optimistically predicted that the repeal of the Vichy-era anti-Jewish laws would follow the Allied occupation of North Africa “as the day follows the night. 

 But President Roosevelt had other plans.

Read article in full


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