Month: March 2021

Expelled Yemeni Jews arrive in Cairo

Expelled by the Iranian-backed Houthis,  13 Jews of Yemen departed for Cairo, Egypt, according to the Times of Israel. This leaves just six Jews in Yemen, including the jailed  Levi Salem Marhabi.The press has speculated that the Jews consented to leave as part of a deal to free Marhabi, but there is no guarantee that he will be released. See my comment below:

The 13 Jews received an offer to go to Israel by way of the port city of Aden, which is controlled by the United Arab Emirates’ proxy in the war-torn country, the Southern Transitional Council. But they refused.

 “They reached an agreement with the Houthi leadership to go to Cairo. They wanted at first to go to the United Arab Emirates, but that proved impossible, so they went to Cairo. 

In Cairo, they have family there,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. 

 Several Yemeni Jewish families have been resettled in the Emirates in recent months. The families were given what the official termed “very good financial conditions,” including housing units.

Read article in full

According to the Jerusalem Post:

The three families arrived in Egypt and are considering whether to immigrate to the UAE or make aliyah to Israel, according to KAN news. Some of the family members are reportedly interested in moving to Israel, but one of the family members is reportedly opposed.

According to KAN news, six Jews remained behind in Yemen, including Marhabi who is still imprisoned, despite the Asharq Al-Awsat report that he would be released if the families left. His conditions in prison have reportedly been improved since the families agreed to leave.

My comment: The departure of the 13 Jews marks the end of the 3,000-year-old community. There are six Jews left, including the jailed Marhabi: an old woman, her crazed brother and three others in Amram province.  (It is estimated that there are also  Jewish women married to Muslims). For reasons unspecified, the thirteen were not able to move to the UAE, which took in three Jewish families from Yemenin recent months. It is highly unlikely that the Yemenite Jews would have family in Egypt, where the community consists of six elderly ladies, all widows or married to Christians or Muslims. The newcomers will not find a Jewish community in Egypt to speak of. It is likely that the ‘influential  member’ opposed to their aliya to Israel is Rabbi Yahya Youssef, who headed the group of Jews living in a government compound in Sana’a before the Houthis took control of the city.  Yahya unsuccessfully fought for Jewish rights in Yemen.

Rabbi Yahya Youssef

Saudi report: Last Yemenite Jews are to be expelled 

Tobie Nathan captures mysticism of Cairo Jewish quarter

Tobie Nathan is the author of a dozen novels and numerous psychoanalytic studies. Born to a Jewish family in Cairo in 1948, Nathan had to flee his country with his family in 1957. Educated in France, Nathan is a pioneering practitioner of ethno-psychiatry: 

Alexandria is not Egypt’, says Tobie Nathan. ” It’s next to Egypt.’ 

What does Nathan mean? It is to say that Alexandria in the 20th century was home to a cosmopolitan mix of nationalities, many of them recent arrivals, drawn by the port city’s thriving commercial life.

The real Egypt is to be found in Cairo, where Nathan was born. Indeed he comes from a long line of native Jews. The family house was in Haret El-Yahud, the Jewish quarter. The quarter had a gate which the Jews themselves locked in order to protect themselves. In fact the gate to the quarter (now removed) was also the gate to the large Nathan family house.

The Nathans were stateless, as were 40 percent of Jews. Only some five percent held Egyptian nationality, a privileged class with connections to the elite. 

Nathan  is the author of several books. The most recent is a novel, ‘La Societé des Belles Personnes’. It is a tale of revenge based on real events. (See Akadem Interview in  French with thanks: Viviane).

The book is the sequel to ‘A Land like You’. Here is an extract from a review by Jean Naggar  for the Jewish Book Council: 

 In his latest novel, A Land Like You (short-listed for the Prix Goncourt in 2015),  Tobie Nathan has written a beautiful and immersive novel, plunging readers headlong into Egypt’s unique history and extraordinary variety of cultures. Nathan interweaves the worlds of the voluble Jews from Haret el Yahud—the Cairo Jewish Quarter — with those of the Muslims of Bab El Zuweyla, along with the complex international communities that connect and divide them. 

Propelled forward by vivid, unforgettable characters, the layers of political, historic, and mystical Egypt tumble together into a rich mosaic, encompassing a period of great change from 1918 to the 1950s.
Within the crowded Haret El Yahud, Esther, an orphaned child, suffers a traumatic accident that reshapes her future. The trauma leaves Esther’s relatives, and the larger community, convinced she is possessed by alien spirits and demons.

 Beautiful, wild, and ungovernable, Esther clearly marches to the beat of her own drum. Her intimacy with unseen forces commands consternation and respect, distinguishing her in the often claustrophobic community of Jews who inhabit the twisted paths and teeming dwellings of the Haret El Yahud. For Jews and Arabs alike, religious mysticism and close contact with the spirit world imbues their daily lives with wonder and drama.

 Urged on by a multitude of anxious relatives, Esther marries at fourteen, and finds deep love and happiness with Motty, an older man, blind from birth. Sadly, the love between them produces no child in seven years of marriage. Her quest for motherhood eventually results in a son, Zohar, but she has no milk with which to feed him, so she seeks out a woman in the Muslim quarter who has recently given birth to a daugher, Masreya.

Read review in full

Saudi report: last Yemenite Jews are to be expelled (updated)

Update: The American Sephardi Federation has independently verified the report, and confirms that the Iranian-backed Houthis have indeed made refugees of 13 Yemenite Jews. There is no guarantee that Levi Salem Marhabi should be released from jail as a quid pro quo. Six other Jews remain in the country, according to the ASF.

According to a Saudi press report, the last remaining Jews in Yemen are to be expelled and are waiting for the UN refugee agency to find them a country other than Israel or the US which would grant them asylum. Last summer, a Jewish family arrived in Abu Dhabi from Amran province in Yemen and two more familiesfollowed in January 2021. The 13 Jews from three families to be expelled would have been living in a Sana’a compound, originally under government protection but at the mercy of the Iranian-backed Houthis since their takeover of the capital in 2014. The departure of the 13  is a condition for the release from jail of  Levi Salem Marhabi, following pressure from the US. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Some of the Jews living in the Sana’a compound

The last three Jewish families in Yemen were deported by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, leaving only four elderly Jews in the country, after heavy pressure by the Houthis, the London-based Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported over the weekend. 

The families, totalling 13 people, told Asharq Al-Awsat that they were now searching for a new home. The families had resisted leaving their home, but finally agreed to leave after the Houthis made their departure a condition for the release of Levi Salem Marhabi, a Jew who was captured by the Houthis about six years ago. 

 “They gave us a choice between staying in the midst of harassment and keeping Salem a prisoner or leaving and having him released,” one of the deported Jews told Asharq Al-Awsat. “History will remember us as the last of Yemeni Jews who were still clinging to their homeland until the last moment.” 

 Marhabi was arrested by the Houthis for helping a Yemeni Jewish family move an old Torah scrollout of the country. Despite a court ruling that he was innocent and should be released, he was reportedly held as a bargaining chip, according to the daily.
Similar reports have been denied as false in the past.

 In July of last year, Iranian-backed Houthis were said to be rounding up Yemeni Jews and pressuring them to leave, according to Egyptian reports. 

The Israeli Foreign Ministry denied the reports, as did Yemeni and international sources. 

Read article in full

Times of Israel


Sing ‘Ma Nishtana’, Iraqi-style

With thanks: Sandra

A traditional Iraqi-Jewish seder table (photo: New York Times)

As Jewish families the world over sit down to their Passover ceremonial meal or Seder to recall the Biblical exodus, here is a rendition of MaNishtana, Why is this Night Different from all other Nights? This is the first of four questions, usually  recited by the youngest member of the family.

Here is a version familiar to Iraqi Jews. It is recited in Hebrew, and then in Judeo-Arabic. The children carry on their shoulders  a piece of matza  wrapped in a napkin: they knock at the door. The guests call out: ‘Where are you coming from?’  ‘Mitsrayim’, they reply. ‘Where are you going? ”Yerushalayim’ they shout.

Audiofile of Ma Nishtana

May we celebrate Passover using Zoom?

Are we permitted to celebrate Pesah using Zoom ? The question arose last year when the coronavirus pandemic broke, separating families who would otherwise have gathered around the Seder table. Fourteen rabbis from the Association of North African Sages in the land of Israel ruled that it was permissible to use Zoom in order to lessen the impact on mental and emotional health. However, a fierce backlash to the ruling came from other rabbis. Dr Arie Tepper of the American Sephardi Federation writes:

Although the ruling received a large amount of publicity, in strictly legal terms there was nothing really extraordinary about it. 

Consider the “hot-topic” issue of using electricity on Yom Tov (holidays). It’s well-known that many Moroccan Hakhamim (sages) have ruled that the use of electricity—in plainest terms, the ability to turn on and off a light —is permissible on Yom Tov, as did the first Rishon Le’Tsiyon, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of the State of Israel, Hakham Rabbi Ben Zion Meir Hai Ouziel (1880-1953). 

Most recently, the Moroccan-born Rabbi David Chelouche (1920-2016), a student of R’Ouziel’s and the Chief Rabbi of Netanya for 63 years, devoted an entire year to studying the intricacies of electricity with expert scientists and engineers. 

He then composed a forty-page ruling in which he reaffirmed that it is, indeed, permissible to use electricity on Yom Tov.

Nevertheless, the new ruling was viciously attacked in rabbinic quarters. 

Some Ashkenazi rabbis rejected the ruling by attacking the scholarly credentials of the signatories without bothering to investigate the merits of their arguments, or even acknowledging that a great 20th century Gadol like Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank also ruled that using electricity on Yom Tov was permissible. 

 Read article in full

No matter how you choose to mark the festival,  wishing our readers Hag Pesah Sameah.


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