Three ministries in the Israeli government have united to organise a two-hour global online event on 30 November, the day to remember the exodus of 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. Communities all over the world are marking this day with special events. All are online this year owing to the global pandemic. The 30 November, being the anniversary of the outbreak of riots in the Arab world the day after the UN Partition plan was passed, was designated as the annual date in the calendar by a Knesset law approved in 2014.
The accent will be on honouring the contribution of Eastern Jewry to the establishment and prosperity of the state of Israel.
A spectacular one-time musical show will take place in the heart of Jerusalem. It aims to share the story of communities which fled Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Iran.
The star-studded line-up of singers and musicians with Sephardi/ Mizrahi roots includes Sarit Haddad and the band Subliminal.
There will be 10 Hebrew-language community rooms. Three international ZOOM rooms, in English, French and Arabic, will open up half-an-hour before the show at 5:30 Israel time.
Update: 15,000 institutions and individuals signed up to the Mass Kaddish this year, a record.
This weekend, many synagogues around the world will be recitingkaddish for Jews buried in inaccessible cemeteries in Arab lands. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Ashley Perry describes how the initiative was born, and its unlikely link with a 1947 beauty queen:
Jewish cemetery, Sadr city, Baghdad
Many will remember how in 2017 Miss Iraq Sarah Idan was forced out of her country after sharing a photograph on social media of her posing at that year’s Miss Universe contest in Las Vegas with Israel’s representative. Idan was ostracized in her country but became an international cause célèbre, invited to speak by many Jewish and Zionist organizations, including at the United Nations.
However, this unique turn of events had many other ramifications that could not be foreseen.
As a result of this episode, the person (whose name cannot be published due to death threats) who ran the Miss Iraq contest lost their government funding and sponsorships and went looking for other sources of revenue. He learned that the first-ever Miss Iraq was a Jewish woman named Renée Dangoor, who was crowned in 1947 in Baghdad, and her son, David Dangoor, is a prominent philanthropist and businessman living in London.
Reaching out to the global Jewish Iraqi community around the Diaspora looking for Renée’s son, the pageant owner stumbled upon Sass Peress, an Iraqi Jew who lives in Montreal and a relative of Dangoor’s. Peress agreed to help but asked him for a favor in return for the contact.
Peress asked if he knew a certain cemetery in Baghdad where his paternal grandfather was buried, although lacking the exact location.
Within 72 hours, Peress was sent a picture of his grandfather’s grave in Sadr City. When he saw that the grave and others in the cemetery were in such dire condition, he asked the Iraqi to record for posterity as many of the names on other graves as possible.
Then came the sad realization that Peress would probably never be able to stand over his ancestors’ graves and recite the mourners’ Kaddish.
Not just him, but few of the almost one million Jews, and their descendants, who fled or were pushed out of Arab countries during the last century would be able to visit or tend to their family’s graves.
Peress decided that he would organize a few local synagogues to say a mass Kaddish prayer on the Shabbat closest to November 30, which due to a law passed in the Knesset in 2014, is officially the Day of Commemoration to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran.
He found that many Jews from the Middle East and North Africa had similar stories to his – and worse – with many cemeteries in the region either completely destroyed or in a high level of neglect and disrepair.
A sad reminder that a peace agreement does not necessarily mean an end to popular hostility and ostracism. The victim here is Egyptian actor Mohamed Ramadan, who found himself under fire for taking a photo with Israeli singer Omer Adam in the United Arab Emirates. The Times of Israel reports:
Egyptian actor Mohamed Ramadan with his arm around Israeli singer Omer Adam
Egyptian actor Mohamed Ramadan came under fire over the weekend after an Emirati journalist posted a photo of the star embracing Israeli singer Omer Adam during a trip to the United Arab Emirates.
The picture gained further traction when it was retweeted by the State of Israel’s Arabic Twitter account under the caption “Art brings us together”.
According to reports, the photo was initially posted by Emirati journalist Hamad Al Mazrouei on his Twitter account, captioning the shot: “The most famous artist in Egypt with the most famous artist in Israel, Dubai brings us together.”
However he later deleted the picture as outrage grew.
It is well known that Beirut had a small population of Ashkenazi Jews in the late 19th century. One such family was the Rosenthals. How and why they ended up in Lebanon remains a mystery, writes Dr Daniel Rosenthal. He himself was known as the ‘German’ doctor treating prisoners and illegal immigrants in Beirut’s roughest districts. He now lives in the USA :(with thanks: Nagi Gergi Zeidan)
I was born on 2 July 1935 at the “Hôpital de la communauté Israelite d’Alexandrie” in Egypt. I was delivered by a midwife, Mme Kroushkin, one year before Fārūq the First became Egypt’s king.
I spent seven years in Beirut(1953-1960), the duration of the French Medical Curriculum. I spent the last four years of my training as an intern in various hospitals including a year at the (government-run) Quarantina Hospital, situated near the Beirut slaughter houses ( )في المسالخ ). Taxis from the “Place des Cannons” refused to drive there after 9-10 pm.
It was 1958 and a civil war was raging in Beirut. Camille Chamoun was the President and the Muslim population wanted him out. The US Marines landed in Beirut.
At the Quarantina Hospital I was known as the Hakim al-Almani. They never mentioned that I was a Jew! Working for the government I also handled medical problems at the Beirut prisons (Habs El Qal’a and Habs el Raml) when the doctors assigned to said prisons refused to go there fearing for their lives.
It was left to the “German Doctor ” to make the calls!
I also had some great moments dealing and treating “Arabs” living in the ghettos surrounding the hospital. Most worked in the slaughter house and were illegals in Lebanon. The Beirut police, incidentally, never entered the ghettos.
When I arrived in Beirut in 1953 to start medical school the following aunts were there to greet me: Rebecca married to Nessim Tayar, a very well-to-do grain merchant whose partner was the Muslim Sinno family. Nessim Tayar wa born in Tetuan, then Spanish Morocco, hence his Spanish nationality and close friendship with Signor Sidi Y Del Burgo, chancellor of the Spanish Embassy in Beirut. ( How a Sephardic Jew got that position and kept it, in spite of the Lebanese authorities’ objections, is another, great, story).
My aunt Rachel was married to Shlomo Krouk who came from Poland. He had a small but very well-stocked food store in Bab Idriss. He had another small ‘workshop’ where he made wonderful butter, cream and other dairy products. My aunt Liza, who suffered from a severe neurological problem yet possessed the clearest and most penetrating intellect, lived with Rebecca. My aunt Betty already lived in Israel, and so did uncle Joseph.
How did the Rosenthals end up in Beirut?
While most of their story is verifiable, some of it, I think, belongs to the realm of family legend.
My father claimed he was born in Safed in Galilee (northern Palestine) at a time when the Holy Land was politically no more than a sleepy, poor, dry and dusty little parcel of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. He was born on Monday 13 Sivan 5650 (15 February 1890). His Hebrew name was Lev (‘heart’); in the world at large he was called Leon.
His father Asher Rosenthal was a bookbinder, He was the first of eight children born to his mother Sarah (nee Leibowits).
What brought the Rosenthal family to Galilee is a mystery. Where they came from is another one. Rosenthal is a German surname, but I have met Rumanian, Russian, Polish and Austrian Rosenthals.
One thing I am quite sure about is that somewhere between the Rhine and the Volga a Yid surnamed Rosenthal decided to go to Eretz Israel for better or for worse. He probably did so in the mid 1800s. Why did I pick that time frame? Because in Safed, Asher’s father Yehuda and his grandfather Joshua are buried in the old cemetery: the line seems to stop there.
Family lore tells that Joshua was a learned man, a rabbi. Did he go to Safed to be with Rabbi Isaac Luria ‘s latter-day disciples and walk out in the fields on Friday evening to welcome the Sabbath bride, or was he simply reluctant to remain the victim of the anti-Semitism that pervaded Europe in the 1850s?
My grandfather’s mother was Hanna Mendel, and that is all I know about her. My father’s mother Sarah Leibowits was born in Balta in the Ukraine near the Moldavian border, a city visited by a vicious pogrom in 1882 where over 1200 Jews were slaughtered. The Jewish Encyclopedia (Keter, ed. 1971) teaches that after the atrocity Balta became a center of Zionist activity. Could it be that Sarah escaped the massacre and her and her family went to Palestine to escape further pogroms? How, why, and when did Sarah go to Safed and ultimately marry my grandfather? It’s a mystery. Sarah died in Beirut, Lebanon of influenza during the great epidemic of 1918.
How did the Safed Rosenthals end up in Beirut? The story goes that by the turn of the century, Palestine, a backwater province of the Ottoman Empire, probably had little need for bookbinders. My grandfather and his family were, according to reliable sources, close to starvation, when rumors reached Safed that a mighty new American school had just moved from Damascus to Beirut.
The American University of Beirut, formerly the Protestant Mission to the Near East.
The next thing I know, my grandfather is working as a bookbinder in Beirut for the “Protestant Mission to the Near East”.
That Mission, later to become the American University of Beirut, was originally located in Damascus, Syria. Missionary efforts to convert the local Muslim population met not only with poor results but also with overt hostility from the authorities and the local sheikhs.
The Mission wisely transferred its activity to Beirut. There, in spite of the fact that Lebanon was also under Turkish Muslim rule, the Ottomans left the Americans do their thing, provided that they stayed away from the true believers and devoted their energy to making better Christians of the Greeks, Melkites, Assyrians, Armenians, Maronites, Catholics, etc.
Needless to say the Mission found strong political and some doctrinal opposition from all the well-entrenched Christian sects, but the Americans handled them with ease. All it took is probably some baksheesh to the Wali (Turkish local ruler) and his minions. They could not care less whether the potential “better Christians” ultimately believed in predestination, double predestination, or anything else for that matter, as long as they all accepted their Dhimmi ( non Muslim “submitted” people) status and paid their taxes.
Around 1904, my grandfather, fearful that his oldest son Leon would be forcibly drafted by the Turks to go and fight the infidels in some forsaken corner of the Empire, gave him two gold pieces, bid him goodbye, and arranged his semi-clandestine departure on a boat carrying melons destined for Alexandria, Egypt.
After a short stopover in Jaffa, my father landed in Egypt and went to live in Alexandria with his uncle Joseph Rosenthal who was already an established “downtown “jeweler. It is somewhat unclear to this day whether Uncle Joseph was truly an uncle, or in fact an older cousin deferentially called uncle.
How, why, when and from where did Joseph arrive in Egypt is a mystery to me. One important fact is that Egypt since 1882 was under British control and for many Jews and Middle Eastern Christians escaping Turkish rule, Egypt was a safe haven.
My father went to work as a clerk in a general store owned by a burly old Russian who revered the Czar, despised Jews and appreciated vodka.
As the day to remember the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries approaches (30 November) James Sinkinson writes in Israel National News that the ethnic cleansing has to be acknowledged (with thanks: Imre, Yoram):
The crux of this conflict—and the reluctance of media and international bodies to address it—has always been about recognizing the Jews as a nation who reconstituted national sovereignty in their indigenous and ancestral homeland.
The attacks and ethnic cleansing of Jews in Arab countries was one of the most egregious examples of the violent rejectionism of Jewish human rights by Arab leaders.
While some measures—like the Clinton Parameters, guidelines for an end to the conflict presented by then-President Bill Clinton in 2000—did refer to an international fund for both Arab and Jewish refugees displaced by the conflict, the issue remains on the sidelines.
Ideas such as an international compensation fund, or one funded by Arab countries that expelled the Jews, or the proposal for one refugee crisis to annul the other, have all been raised at one point or another.
Regardless, in order for the Israel-Arab conflict—including the Israel-Palestinian conflict—to be resolved, the crime of ethnic cleansing of Jews has to be acknowledged. Then generous redress must be demanded and granted.
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.