Scenes of utter devastation greeted Algerian Jews on 12 December 1960, after a crowd had forced its way into the Great Synagogue of Algiers, reports Morial, the Association of Jews from Algeria (with thanks: Leon).
The Ark was no more. Torah scrolls and books had been torn to shreds, soiled and scattered on the floor. Memorial plaques, erected in the names of Jews who had died for France in the two World Wars, had been ripped from the walls. The synagogue had been stripped of its marble, chandeliers and anything of value. The grafitti reads: “Long live Abbas!”. Ferhat Abbas was one of the leaders of the Algerian campaign for independence against the French and became the country’s first Prime Minister in 1962.
The Thursday of that week was declared a day of mourning. The Torah scrolls were buried in the Jewish cemetery alongside the community’s deceased rabbis and judges.
The Great synagogue had been built in grand Moorish style in 1865. It had a unique, monumental organ, although this was not played on Shabbat. Its treasures included manuscripts by famous Spanish rabbis, brought to Algeria with exiles from Spain after the Inquisition.
The ransacking of the synagogue was a seminal moment for the Jews of Algeria. It convinced them that they had no future in the country once it became independent.
The building was turned into a mosque in 1962 and a minaret added. Ironically, it was given the name, Jamaat le Ihood – ‘mosque of the Jews.’
The great synagogue in the city of Oran was also converted into a mosque. Many of Algeria’s churches were also turned into mosques. The great cathedral of Algiers, once a Muslim house of prayer when the French invaded in 1830, reverted to being a mosque.