Month: May 2020

A Jewish dynasty in a changing China

Michael Kadoorie, second from left

The Kadoorie family,  represented  today by Michael, grandson of Iraqi-Jewish founder Sir Elly, first established themselves in China in 1880. They have maintained links with the regime through the decades. Will the relationship survive the current Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong? Jonathan Kaufman writes in the Wall St Journal (With thanks: Dan,Carole; Philip):

Since 1880, when an Iraqi Jewish refugee named Elly Kadoorie arrived in Hong Kong, China has gone through a series of revolutions—from domination by Western powers to independence, from Nationalist to Communist rule, from colonialism to capitalism to communism.

Through it all, the Kadoorie family have been a barometer of the country’s openness to the world, rising to become the richest Western family in China. Leaders have been seeking their advice for generations, drawn by their combination of business skills and political acumen. Now, as China cracks down on dissent in Hong Kong and defiant protesters again take to the streets, the problem facing the family—like other companies and governments seeking to deal with a more repressive and nationalistic regime—is whether China will continue to welcome them.

The Kadoories built their first fortune in Shanghai between the world wars, when the city became a global crossroads. When the communists took over in 1949 and expelled foreigners, they lost almost everything, fleeing to British-ruled Hong Kong to make a new start. Over the next 25 years they grew richer than ever, amassing an $18 billion portfolio that includes China Light and Power, which provides electricity to 80% of Hong Kong’s residents, and the luxury Peninsula hotel chain.

When the People’s Republic began to open up in 1972, after President Nixon’s visit, one of the first calls the communist leadership made was to the Kadoories, seeking their help in building a nuclear power plant. The Kadoories, who remain British citizens, became one of the country’s biggest foreign investors, returning to Shanghai triumphantly to build a new Peninsula Hotel. Today they meet regularly with top Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping.

 It has been a steep ascent since Elly Kadoorie landed in Hong Kong at the age of 18. He had been recruited to work for a major trading firm owned by the Sassoons, another Jewish family that had come to China from Baghdad 35 years earlier, just after the Opium Wars. But Elly soon struck out on his own, steering clear of opium, one of the main commodities the Sassoons transported between India and China. Instead he invested in hotels, land and utilities, building the infrastructure for the growing city of Shanghai as it became the “Paris of the East.” In time he built the grandest mansion in the city—43 rooms for just three people—and entertained celebrities like Charles Lindbergh. The Kadoories’ hotels hosted the world’s elites, including the wedding of Chiang Kai-shek.

 The Kadoories were what Americans would call Reform Jews; they attended High Holiday services and spoke about religion in terms of Jewish history and values. Privately, many British businessmen disparaged the Kadoories with anti-Semitic slurs, mocking them as “hook nosed,” members of the “Jew boys club.” But in the early 20th century, as China opened up to Western ideas and students and officials began to travel abroad, many Chinese intellectuals developed a fascination with Jewish culture. Sun Yat-sen, the first president of the Republic of China, wrote to Elly Kadoorie that the Jews were a “wonderful and historic nation, which has contributed so much to the civilization of the world.” Kadoorie, an active Zionist, helped persuade him to endorse the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which laid the groundwork for the founding of the state of Israel.

Like the Jews, the Chinese knew what it meant to be powerless and lose control over their homeland.

During World War II, the elderly Elly Kadoorie was imprisoned in a Japanese camp, and he died in captivity in 1944. Soon after the war ended, the Chinese communists swept through Shanghai, seizing the family’s buildings and art collection. Most Westerners in China, including the Sassoons, fled to Europe, Australia or the Americas.

But Elly’s grown sons, Lawrence and Horace, stayed close by, moving to the family’s hotel in Hong Kong. “If we sit down and worry, not only will no progress be made but everything will get worse,” Lawrence wrote to Horace in 1946. “If we go ahead optimistically, and in the belief that Hong Kong has a great future before it…we shall recover our losses and progress.” Hong Kong, Lawrence declared, “may become another Shanghai.”

He turned out to be spectacularly correct. Over the next 70 years, through the Cold War and China’s economic rise, the Kadoories rebuilt their fortune in Hong Kong.


Read article in full

Iraqi Jews made Hong Kong

Why do Jewish virtue-signallers ignore the F-word?

Fringe Jewish groups like Jewish Voices for Peace obsess about the Palestinian Nakba, but studiously avoid using the F-word. Why are they being so polite? F is for Farhud, writes Rabbi Andrea Zanardo  in the Times of Israel –  and it refers to the cataclysmic massacre of Iraqi Jews which occurred 79 years ago. 

Don’t you dare to say the F-word. It’s rude. We just don’t do it. You’ll end up in the most terrible company if you say the F-word. You’ll become an outcast, a pariah. The F-word must not be said.

 You know (I hope): the series of assaults and violence against Jews and their properties all over Iraq, on 1st June 1941. More than 180 Jews were murdered, plus several hundred, unidentified, were buried in common graves; thousands of Jews were injured; more than 900 houses and buildings were looted.  The massacres had been instigated by Radio Berlin, which broadcasted anti-Semitic slogans in Arabic for months. Jewish owned shops were marked by nationalist youth, so that they could be identified and assaulted by the Arab mobs (Muslim owned shops were equally marked, and escaped the fury).

Rabbi Andrea Zanardo

This was the Farhud, the beginning of the end of the one thousand year long history of Iraqi Jews. Since 2015 the tragedy is now commemorated at the United Nations, every year on 1st June, and this year is no exception, and this is the reason why I am writing this piece.  Like many other Jews in the world, Sephardi or not, I will commemorate the Farhud.  But there are those who plainly ignore the tragedy.

 See for example the web site of Jewish Voices for Peace, the American organisation committed to “achieve lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis based on equality, human rights, and freedom”. They “believe that a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only happen through acknowledgement of the Nakba of 1947-9, which led to the creation of millions of Palestinian refugees”. On the whole of their web site, there is no acknowledgement of the Farhud. Clearly, the 1947 refugees enjoy a high place in the hierarchy of priorities of Jewish Voices for Peace. But those who suffered six years before, in 1941, do not. There must be an expiration date somewhere.

 The tragedy is absent from the web site of the British equivalent of Jewish Voices for Peace, Na’amod. They aim to take a stand against the moral crises caused by those British Jewish institutions that support the occupation of the West Bank “directly and indirectly, through distorted words as well as deceptive silences”.  Speaking of deceptive silence, I would really like to know why at Na’amod they prefer not to mention the Farhud. It is strange for an organisation that proclaims to be founded on “fundamental Jewish values of equality and human dignity”.

Perhaps Iraqi Jews, being non-Ashkenazi, are less entitled to human dignity?

One could point out that both Jewish Voices for Peace and Na’amod are fringe groups, which are either anti-Zionists or openly welcoming anti-Zionists. Everybody knows that anti-Zionists do not like to talk about anti-Semitism in Arab lands: ie the project of depriving the Jewish people of a shelter seems far less noble if one considers the difficult parts of the Arab-Jewish relations in the Middle East.

Read article in full

More about the Farhud

A tale of two converts for Shavuot

Shavuot is the festival when the Book of Ruth is read. Ruth, a Moabite, pledges loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi and joins the Jewish people.  Although Judaism does not encourage proselytism, it does accept bona fide converts. Here is the story by Ronnie Perelis  in HaSefaradi of two converts in the history of Sephardi Jewry: 

The 12th-century Andalusian-Egyptian polymath, Maimonides received a query from a convert named Obadiya who felt that because he could not trace his lineage back to the forefathers of the Jewish people he could not invoke their names in his prayers. We know a little about this intrepid religious searcher from documents uncovered in the Cairo Geniza.

 Maimonides tells Obadiya the convert that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are his fathers because he follows their teachings. Obadiya left his family and home behind in search of religious truth just like Abraham who left behind all that was familiar to follow God’s voice. Maimonides identifies the convert’s commitment to the right ideals and sacrifice on behalf of those ideals as the mark of inclusion in the group. By discounting the power of blood, Maimonides welcomes this outsider in:

 He writes:

 שֶׁנִּכְנַסְתָּ תַּחַת כַּנְפֵי הַשְּׁכִינָה וְנִלְוֵיתָ עַל ייי אֵין כָּאן הֶפְרֵשׂ בֵּינֵינוּ וּבֵינְךָ, וְכָל הַנָּסִים שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ כְּאִלּוּ לָנוּ וּלְךָ נַעֲשׂוּ. הֲרֵי הוּא אוֹמֵר בִּישַׁעְיָהוּ [נ:ו] וְאַל־יֹאמַ֣ר בֶּן־הַנֵּכָ֗ר הַנִּלְוָ֤ה אֶל־יְהוָה֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הַבְדֵּ֧ל יַבְדִּילַ֛נִי יְהוָ֖ה מֵעַ֣ל עַמּ֑וֹ אֵין שָׁם הֶפְרֵשׁ כְּלָל בֵּינֵינוּ וּבֵינֶיךָ לְכֹל דָּבָר. וּוַדַּאי יֵשׁ לְךְ לְבָרֵךְ ‘אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בָּנוּ’ וַ’אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָנוּ’ וַ’אֲשֶׁר הִבְדִּלֵנוּ,’ שֶׁכְּבָר בָּחַר בְּךָ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, וְהִבְדִּלְךָ מִן הָאֻמּוֹת, וְנָתַן לְךָ הַתּוֹרָה.

 Because since you have come under the wings of the Divine Presence and confessed the Lord, no difference exists between you and us, and all miracles done to us have been done as it were to us and to you. Thus is said in the Book of Isaiah, “Neither let the son of the stranger, that has joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, ‘The Lord has utterly separated me from His people’” (Is. 56:3). There is no difference whatever between you and us. You shall certainly say the blessing, “Who has chosen us,” “Who has given us,” and “Who has separated us”: for the Creator, may He be extolled, has indeed chosen you and separated you from the nations and given you the Tora.

 Belief in the One God, sacrifice, and commitment to Divine Law is what secures Obadiya the convert’s place within his new community. His foreignness, his gentile blood, is no longer relevant because he has embraced the ideals of his new community and thus has forged his place within their fold. Maimonides is unable to provide a robust family network for this foreigner but he can assure him a spiritual space among his religious brethren.

How can it be that I—who descend from such vicious Jew-haters have a place beneath the wings of the Divine Presence?

In the early modern period we find another example of an outsider, tormented by the weight of his foreign blood, with all that it conjures up in the racially charged Atlantic world of the 17th century. Manuel Cardoso de Macedo was born into a well-to-do Old Christian 5 family in the Azores and through a surprising series of religious transformations—he first embraces Calvinism while living in England and then discovers Judaism during his time in the prisons of the Lisbon Inquisition—he found his way to the Jewish community of Amsterdam where after a formal conversion he lived out the rest of his life as a devout Jew.

 Cardoso de Macedo adopts the Jewish name of Abraham Pelegrino Guer—Abraham the convert, the pilgrim, the wanderer. He wrote an eloquent spiritual autobiography about his religious journey that he begins with a fundamental question: How can it be that I—who descend from such vicious Jew-haters have a place beneath the wings of the Divine Presence?7
He talks about how deeply his father and his whole Portuguese society sought to destroy all vestiges of Judaism. He says that for his father “there would not be enough wood to burn all of the Jews”! Confronted with the weight of his blood, Cardoso seeks to retrace his steps towards the Law of Moses and the people of Israel in his autobiography and somehow write his way into the Jewish fold.

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Celebrate Shavuot without cheesecake!

For thefestival of Shavuot which starts tonight, many Jews will be eating cheesecake and other dairy foods. This tradition marks the giving of the laws on kashrut alongside the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. But not all Mizrahi Jews eat dairy foods, some put the accent on fruit, cereals and grain – as Shavuot also celebrates the harvest and the first fruits. Mocha Juden has a useful round-up: 

Jews of Persia: In her book, “Jewish Cooking from Boston to Baghdad,” Malvin W. Liebman uncovered some interesting research about Persian Jewish eating on Shavuot. She writes that the holiday symbolized the marriage of God and the people of Israel to the Jews of Persia, so they prepare for it like a wedding, serving grain and cereal dishes, fruits and sweets.

 Iraqi Jews: Kahee, a food made from a dough which has been rolled flat, buttered, folded into squares and fried then sprinkled with sugar on top, is eaten for Shavuot by Iraqi Jews.

 Tunisian/Moroccan/Libyan Jews: Some Tunisian and Moroccan Jews eat a seven-layer cake called sieta cielos (seven heavens) for Shavuot. It represents the seven spheres of God, passed in order to present the Torah to Moses. Jews from Tripoli make various shaped wafers for Shavuot. Some like a ladder, others like a hand and others like two tablets.

Moroccan Jews recite the Kiddush on Shavuot eve they take a few pieces of Matza that they saved from Passover and break them into small pieces. They then make a mixture of honey and milk. Immediately after, they blend the Matza pieces into the mix. Everyone gets their own portion, savoring the taste of this Shavuot treat.

Syrian cheese-filled pancakes

 Syrian Jews: Atayef, a filled cheese pancake, and ruz ib asal, a baked rice pudding with honey and rose water, are traditional for Shavuot.

 Kurdistan Jews:For Shavuot, Jews from Kurdistan prepare a ground wheat dish, cooked in sour milk and served with butter and flour dumplings.

 Greek /Turkish/Balkan Jews: Greek and other Sephardic communities serve cheese pastries and pies and delicacies based on cheese, eggs, milk and yogurt for their main meals during Shavuot. They also bake special breads with symbols on the surface of the bread such as a mountain like Mount Sinai, tablets of law, a scroll with pointing hands, Jacob’s ladder, a well in the desert or a serpent. Roscas, sweet yeast bread rings, sometimes braided, called tsoureki in Greek, are also served with cheeses for Shavuot, along with bougatsa, a cheese-filled phyllo pastry.

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More about Shavuot

The West has fed the ‘right of return’ for decades

The War of Return has just hit the bookstalls. Its authors, ex-Knesset member
Einat Wilf and journalist Adi Schwartz,show conclusively that the Palestinian objective
– a  ‘right of return’  for Palestinian wartime refugees has not
changed since 1948. While this book casts the spotlight on Arab rejectionism of Israel, Lyn Julius in JNS News is disappointed that Jewish refugees from Arab countries do not figure more prominently:

Count Bernadotte: Arab rejection of Zionism was immutable

To further their objective, the Palestinian leadership is not 
using guns or tanks – all that has been tried and failed. It is to
subvert the character of the Jewish state by overwhelming Israel
with hordes of returning refugees.

The book shows how the West, whether by accident or by design,
has fed this fantasy over the decades.

Although he was assassinated soon afterwards, the Swedish UN
mediator Count Bernadotte, Schwartz and Wilf contend, has much to
answer for. He was the first to accept that the Arab objection to
Zionism was an immutable fact of nature. Instead of letting Arab
states solve the  Palestinian refugee problem, he devolved
responsibility to the UN . Article 11 of UN resolution 194 of
December 1948, oft quoted as the legal basis for the ‘right of
return’, was based on Bernadotte’s own plan to use the
Arab-Israeli conflict as a means of asserting western control.

 Thereafter Arab states managed to thwart every attempt to wind up
the  exclusively Palestinian  UN agency  UNWRA, with its
ever-growing tally of registered Palestinian ‘refugees’, and
eventually used it as breeding ground for terrorist violence.
Arafat cruised through the Oslo years with a double discourse,
paying lip-service to recognition of Israel, while  not deviating
from the ultimate, subversive goal of Palestinian return.

The Palestinian objective embodied in the ‘right of return’ is
not bound by time. The Arabs took centuries to dislodge the
Crusaders from the Middle East.  So will it be with the Zionists.

There is a precedent – the demand of 10 ethnic Germans to return
to what is now Poland. But they never gained political support and
were integrated into postwar Germany with full  citizenship.

The Arab League is complicit with the Palestinian leadership,
having never repealed  the 1959 resolution 1457,  banning refugees
from enjoying citizenship in Arab host countries. However, the
authors do acknowledge that Jordan, where 40 percent of
Palestinian ‘refugees’ reside,, is the only country to grant them

The ‘right of return’ has been hiding in plain sight. But western
diplomats and media pundits have steadfastly refused to take it

It is a political weapon, overriding a humanitarian solution for
the refugees through rehabilitation or resettlement. In one
starting example, Palestinians razed to the ground Musa Alami’s
experimental farm near Jericho, designed to improve the lot of his
refugee brethren.

Arab refugees from Palestine and Jewish refugees from Arab
countries fleeing to Israel exchanged places in roughly equal
numbers. Disappointingly, the book only makes two cursory mentions
of the Jewish refugees, seemingly making more of Bhutanese
refugees from Nepal. In fact, several schemes for the exchange of
peoples and property were floated.  Indeed in July 1949, the Iraqi
prime minister, Nuri al-Said, was first to suggest that more than
100,000  Iraqi Jews could be transferred to Israel  in exchange
for the same number of Palestinians. (Ultimately only 14,000
Palestinians arrived in Iraq.) There  was also a plan for Israel
to buy 100,000 dunams of land in Libya  for resettling
17,000 Palestinian refugees. The authors only mention a similar
plan for Gaza.

The omissions  are surprising,  given that the Jewish refugees
were the subject of the translator  Eylon Levy’s PhD thesis.

Adi Schwartz has also written extensively about the Jewish
refugees, pointing out a ‘Marshall Plan for refugees’ in the early
fifties. American aid was to have been split evenly between Israel
and the Arab states, with each side receiving $50 million to build
infrastructure to absorb refugees.The money to resettle the Arab
refugees was handed over to the UN,  and the Americans gave Arab
countries another $53 million for “technical cooperation”. In
effect, the Arab side received double the money given to Israel
even though Israel took in more refugees, including Jews from Arab

It is likely that the authors did not want to deviate from a
polemic designed to persuade the West – UNWRA’s main supporters –
to dismantle this organisation. But linkage with the Jewish
refugees  puts the flight of Palestinian refugees in context. They
serve as a contemporary model for successful resettlement.

However, this book performs a useful service, by cutting through
the thicket of false claims  and misleading terminology
surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The War of Return 
casts the spotlight where it needs to be – on the underlying
anitsemitism driving Arab rejection of the existence of Israel.

Read article in full


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.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.