Exploring the remnants of Algeria’s Jewish past

Although there are no links between this North African country and Israel, Nathan Alfred’s ambition was to ‘Rock the Casbah’ *in Algeria and find traces of its ancient, but now extinct, Jewish community with his friend Nicolas. This year Nicolas,  the descendant of Algerian Jews,  decided to make the trip on his own. This armchair travelogue  in the Times of Israel is illustrated with Nicolas’s photos and the lyrics of songs which made Algerian cities famous. 

The grave of musician’Sheikh’ Raymond Leyris, whose murder sparked a mass exodus of Jews from Algeria (Photo: Nicolas)

Today, no Jewish communities exists in Algeria, and just a handful of Jews are thought to remain. The North African country is not part of the Abraham Accords, and indeed remains hostile to them, in particular to the participation of neighboring Morocco. At a time when Moroccan King Mohammed VI has recognized his country’s Jewish community as “a component of the rich Moroccan culture,” the contrast is stark with Algeria. Don’t expect flights from Tel Aviv to Algiers opening up any time soon.

Back in 2014 my friend Nicolas and I (both then living in Luxembourg) began planning a trip to Algeria. Nicolas grew up outside Paris and was interested in exploring his Jewish family roots – his great-great-grandfather left Algiers at the end of the 19th century. For me I was happy to accompany him and have an adventure. Clearly there were reasons why people didn’t go to Algeria and were warned against going there, but I hoped that my British passport would provoke less hostility than a French one. And neither of us had obviously Jewish surnames, which might help. But unfortunately for one reason or another, life got in the way and our plans to Rock the Casbah never came to fruition.

This year, Nicolas decided to take the plunge. He traveled alone to Algeria. Rabbis are not vicars, but vicariously I was able to enjoy the trip too, through his frequent updates and photographs. He spent time in Algeria’s three largest cities: Algiers, Constantine, and Oran, and in each place explored the remnants of the country’s Jewish past.

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*Famous 1980s song by the punk band The Clash




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