Algerian-born singer Daniel Lévi dies

French Jews are mourning the passing of singer-songwriter Daniel Lévi from colon cancer aged 60. (With thanks: Véronique)

Daniel Lévi z”l

Daniel Lévi starred in several musicals. His most famous role was in 2000 as Moses in Les Dix Commandements, written by Elie Chouraqui and Pascal Obispo. There he sang the song which made his name, L’Envie d’amour’ (The Great Reward) – a song he performed in a duet with the Canadian singer Céline Dion. He also worked with Gloria Gaynor and Michel Legrand.

Born in Constantine, Algeria, in 1961, Lévi was the youngest of seven. He represented a strand of traditional Judaism, refusing to perform on Friday nights and Shabbat.

Lévi had three children from a first marriage. Barely three weeks before his death, he popped up on Instagram to announce the birth of his fourth child.

The last Jew of the Marrakesh mellah

The last Jew in the Marrakesh mellah is a cloth salesman, Mushi Halioua. La Prensa Latina met him:

Mushi Halioua with a bolt of cloth in his shop

Halioua’s shop as become popular with tourists, who exchange a few words with him in Hebrew.

He has even received the chief of the Israeli General Staff, who included his shop in his official visit to Morocco at the end of July. “I’m the only one, there’s no one else,” he says.

Halioua remembers growing up among many Jews in Zagora, but they all left in the 1960s, he says.

“All these stores that you see around here belonged to Jews. In the neighborhood there were no Arabs before,” he says, sitting at a table surrounded by colored fabrics that are sold by the meter in a country where many people still make their clothes in dressmakers and tailors.

He remembers how the Jewish quarter, a crossroads of streets in the ancient city, was closed every Friday and reopened on Saturday night for Shabbat. “There was a wall and the Muslims did not enter.”

Halioua says he does not want to go live in Israel, where he had already tried living in the 70s. “It didn’t go well and I came back, I work very well here,” he says.

His relationship with his neighbors is very good. “I don’t work with the Jews, but with the Arabs,” he adds.

Halioua, who lives with his wife on the top floor of his store, remembers how in Marrakech “there were many synagogues and there are only two left.”

One of these is Alazmah, located a few blocks away from Halioua’s shop. It was built by the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, earning it the nickname of ‘the synagogue of the deportees’.

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Tisha b’Ab falls this weekend

Orthodox Jews around the world are preparing to observe Tisha B’Ab (Hebrew: תשעה באב or ט׳ באב, “the Ninth of Ab,”) this weekend. It is an annual fast day in Judaism, named for the ninth day (Tisha) of the month of Ab in the Hebrew calendar. The fast commemorates the destruction of both the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred about 655 years apart,  and other disasters to befall the Jewish people, such as the Expulsion from Spain in 1492. Tisha B’Ab is never observed on Shabbat. If the 9th of Ab falls on a Saturday, the fast is postponed until the 10th of Ab.

Here is what the late Suzy Vidal, in her memoirs The Jasmine Necklace, had to say about 9th Av, and its significance for the Jews of Egypt:

My mother was born on July 23, which happened to be 9 Av, the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and also the date of the Expulsion of Jews from Spain. Everyone called it Yom Ekha. Anyone who knows his Jewish calendar could easily guess which year Yom Ekha happened to be on July 23. But people were not te-ill el dam, heavy-blooded, and were not going to complicate their lives or waste time with such futilities.

“Yom Ekha is a very bad day in our calendar. It is not the day to sign an important contract, getting engaged or married. Sexual relations are forbidden. You cannot go the swimming pool or have a swim in the sea;you just sit around, pray and wait for Yom Ekha to pass away.

“Several expressions are attached to that day. It is an expression of disbelief.
If someone says,” I’ll do this or that,” you can answer “Oh yes, Yom Ekha”. It is the same as saying we’ll never see that. Of someone who is not resourceful you could say Ekha aleh or Ekha alehaAleh means on him and aleha on her.

“My mother was convinced that being born on Yom Ekha she was bound to be unlucky: fall off her beloved ladder, burn her hand with boiling oil or have money stolen from her bag when shopping. All the misfortunes that happened to her were because she was born on July
23, which in the year of her birth happened to be Yom Ekha.”

Here is a recording of kinot (lamentations) for Tish B’Ab traditionally sung according to the Algerian rite. It was made in 2021 in France.

More about Tisha B’ab

A witness to the Constantine pogrom of 1934

It was a hot August day almost exactly 88 years ago that some 25 Jews were killed in  a pogrom in Constantine, Algeria. Josy Adida-Goldberg was too young to be told what was happening, but sensed that things were not right. Here is her account, from Morial, the Association representing Algerian jews in France. (With thanks: Leon)

The city of Constantine, built across a steep gorge

In my childhood, there was that terrible day of August 5, 1934.

I was five and a half years old. It was a hot summer day. We were all gathered at my grandfather’s house and Bouchareb, our trusted servant, did the shopping alone, so dangerous was it to go out into town.

Our customary car ride had been cancelled. At the time, I didn’t understand why. To the questions that we children asked – we  who were gathered at my grandfather’s house – there was only one answer: “you are too young to understand.”

When we were allowed to play, we felt we had to do it quietly. On August 5, 1934, things puzzled me. What was going on? The front door was never locked: it could  be opened only by turning the latch. It was now locked and the iron bar in place. The phone often rang in the hallway. At times, by straining our ears, we managed to catch snippets of adult conversation: basin, blood, throat cut.

Later, when I was old enough to understand, the tragedy was explained to me at length: Jewish families had been slaughtered by Arab rioters. The French government had done nothing to stop the massacre. I had been particularly struck by the murder of an entire friendly family, with the exception of an eleven-year-old child, hidden by his father in the attic of their house. Crouching  and dazed in the attic, he witnessed the killing without crying out.

Read article in full (French)

More about the Constantine pogrom

Memories of the 1958 Iraqi revolution

Not many Jews have recorded their memories of the 14 July 1958 revolution in Iraq, when a bloody army coup d’état led by Abdul Karim Qasim overthrew the Hashemite monarchy. Tamara Ruben interviewed her aunt Amy, a young woman at the time, to record her memories of this period as part of Tamara’s efforts to raise awareness of the plight of Jews from Arab countries.  The events she lived through were so traumatic that  her aunt Amy, who now lives in England, resolved to depart from Iraq, even if it meant leaving her parents behind – an act that demanded much courage. These are her aunt’s words (With thanks: Nancy):

The young King Faisal II, murdered in the 1958 revolution aged 18

The revolution in Iraq of 1958 took me back to one of the scariest and most agonizing times of my life. This is because the Iraqi masses believed that killing and abusing Jews would be a safe bet at a time when the new military government was busy consolidating its power and grip on the country.

The Jews had their telephones cut off, Jewish government officials were fired (if there were any left after the establishment of Israel), and several Jewish homes, including ours, were raided.  We waited in fear for them to take us and throw us in jail. Some prominent Jews were left to rot in prison. Six soldiers armed with rifles raided our house. It was three storeys high. They searched every corner. One soldier asked my father to sit at the table and sign a document. My father, horrified and grey-faced, was ready to sign. When I mustered enough courage to ask the soldier what document he was signing, the soldier replied, “We couldn’t find any spy equipment.” After they left, I told my father that I was leaving Iraq and that he had to leave too. He refused because of his age and my mother’s various illnesses.

I was told that the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad was so concerned that he complained to the leader of the revolution, Abdul Karim Qasim, who had pledged to protect the Jews. Qasim tried to keep his promise until he was assassinated in his office in the Ministry of Defence.* This was the counter-revolution of  February 1963. Power was passed to his assistant and revolutionary collaborator,ʿAbd al-Salam ʿArif, who died three years later in what they believed to be a ‘planned’ helicopter accident….

In the 1958 revolution, the entire royal family was put to death.

The body of the young King Faisal II was secretly exhumed and buried when the junta realised that there would be a rebellion if it was known that the body of the beloved young king had been dragged through the streets. I don’t think  that the British dared to intervene because Iraq had remained under their influence while it was supposedly independent!

The hated crown prince, Abdel Il-llah, whom the mob thought was the agent of the British colonialists, was tied up, murdered and his body dragged through the streets of Baghdad.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Said escaped, but was caught the next day, disguised in a woman’s abaya, and was shot immediately.

The next day, I got up to go to work as usual when I discovered that our front gate was blocked by a tank. Martial music blared on all radio stations. I left on July 14, 1959:  it took me one year to get a passport.

My parents stayed another year and left in 1960 via Turkey to join the rest of the family already in Israel”.

*In fact he was given a short trial and was executed by shooting.

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