Tag: Alliance Israelite Universelle

70 years since Beirut Alliance school bombed

With thanks: Ariel

In January 1950, the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Beirut was bombed. Two died when the roof collapsed – the headmistress Esther Penso and a member of the house staff.

At first it was announced that the school had collapsed as a result of a violent storm. A military expert quoted in L’Orient confirmed that the cause of the damage was the bombing. In Paris  AIU officials did not make great play of the incident. Two of the Beirut school governors, Rene L Farhi and Ezra E Farhi wrote a confidential note to AIU chairman Rene Cassin, confirming that the bombing was a Palestinian terrorist attack. They criticised the community council for wishing to suppress the incident.

There were emotional scenes at Mme Penso’s funeral, which was attended by pupils, local Jewish charities, school staff and many friends.

The Beirut AIU school reopened in 1951 and did not finally shut its doors until the 1970s.



The photos (from top) show the bomb damage. Two were killed in the incident, including the school headmistress, whose funeral was attended by hundreds of pupils staff, officials and personal friends. One year later, the school re-opened.



More information here (French)

Remembering Solaiman Haiim, Farsi dictonary pioneer

The author of what is widely considered the best English-Farsi dictionary yet produced died 50 years ago. Iranian Jews still revere the memory of Solaiman Haiim, while the Iranian regime has erased his legacy. Karmel Melamed writes in JNS News: 

As most Americans focused on Super Bowl Sunday last month, nearly 600 Iranian Jews gathered at the West Hollywood Temple Beth El to mark 50 years since the death of Solaiman Haiim, one of their community’s greatest scholars.

The name Haiim may not mean much to Americans or even most American Jews, but in Iran he was a legend, respected by Jews and non-Jews alike for creating the first English to Farsi and Farsi to English dictionaries. At the start of the 20th century, when Iran was modernizing and many Iranians were gaining higher education overseas, Haiim’s comprehensive two-volume dictionary was an invaluable resource, helping hundreds of thousands of students overcome the language barrier.

Solaiman Haiim: legacy erased by the regime

 While Haiim is still remembered and honored in Iranian Jewish circles, however, the Iranian regime has done everything in its power to erase his legacy. Haiim’s life story is something that must be kept alive for the new generation of Iranians.

 Haiim was born in 1887 in the poverty-stricken Jewish ghetto in Tehran to a religious Jewish family. His early education was in the maktab, or a grade school, but he later attended the Etehad High School in Tehran, established by the French Jewish non-profit organization “Alliance Israélite Universelle.”

The Alliance was created in 1860 by affluent Jewish philanthropists in Europe to provide a Western education to Jews living in Muslim lands.

It was not until 1898 that the Alliance was permitted by the Iranian Qajar dynasty to establish their schools in Iran. Indeed, Haiim was one of the first beneficiaries of the Alliance school in Tehran, later enrolling himself in the American College of Tehran to complete his education and learn English.

After graduating from the college in 1915, Haiim became a full-time teacher at the college and single-handedly began work on an English-Farsi dictionary.

His first, smaller dictionary received praise from students and scholars, but beginning in the 1920s, it became obvious there was a need for a more comprehensive work due to Western governments’ business and diplomatic activities in the country. Haiim worked nearly 18 continuous hours per day to complete this more comprehensive English to Farsi dictionary, finally completing it in 1929. It was published in two expansive volumes.

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Dictionaries of Judeo-Arabic

How education evolved for Jews in Beirut

In April 1856, the Austrian-Jewish writer Ludwig Auguste Frankl stayed in the old Jewish quarter of Beirut. He describes seeing a small room in  the  synagogue where 70 students were learning to read and write Hebrew and study the Bible. The rabbi was Aaron Yedid-Levy.

According to Nagi Georges Zeidan, a Lebanese researcher with a special interest in the Jewish community, this institution was the forerunner of the Talmud Torah school in Beirut. In 1922,
the Jewish newspaper of Lebanon announced that  the Talmud Torah school in Beirut  had celebrated its 42th anniversary.

When the school was founded in 1880, it was only attended by boys. It was located on Philip El Khazen Street,  later known as Wadi Abu Jamil.

A letter in Hebrew (left) dated 12 July 1920  was sent from the Torah Mizrahi in Beirut to notify the Central Committee in  Jerusalem of the school’s change of name.

According to Zeidan, the Maghen Avraham synagogue was built on the site of the school which was moved to the rear of the building and renamed Selim Tarrab school.


The Maghen Avraham synagogue prior to its restoration


A classroom in the Selim Tarrab school, 1960s (courtesy Charles Khodri)

The Selim Tarrab school acted as a primary feeder school for the Alliance Israélite Universelle*.  It took in mostly needy children and was the second largest Jewish school in Lebanon. The school’s director until 1970 was Joseph Khodri. The Selim Tarrab school was closed in that year and demolished in 2003. Khodri went on to become deputy head at the Alliance Israelite until he left for Mexico in 1974. The Alliance school closed a year or two later.

Joseph Khodri, director of the Selim Tarrab school until 1970 (Courtesy Charles Khodri)


*A second high school called the Ecole Commerciale, taught practical skills  such as shorthand typing, to less academic pupils

UK Jewish charity aided 1956 refugees from Egypt

 Jewish refugees arriving from Egypt by ship

The year 1956 disgorged two refugee communities – 20,000 Hungarian Jews fleeing the Revolution, and 25,000 Egyptian Jews expelled by Nasser.

The inflow of refugees presented a challenge to the Central British Fund, the main body for resettling Jewish refugees in Britain (now known as World Jewish Relief). A JTA articlepoints out the differences between the two sets of refugees: for example, the Hungarian women immediately put their skills to good use, while upper class Jewish women arriving from Egypt ‘ had never worked in their lives’.

The 26th Annual Report of the CBF, uncovered by researcher Liran Morav, reveals that  some 622 families representing 1,937 individuals had registered with the Jewish Refugees Committee. Of those, 338 families had British nationality, although most had never set foot in the country, still less spoken the language. As British subjects, however, they were eligible for help from the Anglo-British Resettlement Board, established in 1957 to deal with British expellees. The first arrival to join the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation was Joseph Savdie, chairman of the Cairo Stock Exchange.

The refugees, says the report, ‘needed every kind of assistance’ – including housing and furnishing grants. They received ex-gratia loans against personal  and business assets left behind in Egypt, on a sliding scale. These loans amounted to about half the losses suffered. The maximum a refugee could receive was £10, 000 for lost assets of £20,000 or more.

Some 284 families (930 people) were ineligible for help, being stateless or of other nationalities. The Jewish Refugees Committee stepped in to help supply funds for rehousing, in addition to supplementing inadequate family incomes. It also subsidised students.

Another 44 cases, or 118 individuals immigrated into Britain that year. All were sponsored by a guarantee from relatives that they would not be a charge on public funds.

One of the more startling findings of the CBF report is the aid given to Moroccan Jews, then the largest Jewish community in the Arab world. Some 30 percent received help from the American Joint, with which the CBF collaborated closely. “The living standards of most of the Jewish population of Morocco are very low and basic needs correspondingly great”, states the report.

The Joint had to step in to fund the schooling of 40,000 children when the Moroccan government (Morocco became independent in 1956) froze its subsidy at the 1957 level, leaving the Alliance (AIU), which educated 30,000 Jewish children, with a large deficit.

Harking back to the lost roots of Mimouna

Prime minister Netanyahu celebrates Mimouna: a chance for politicians to press the flesh 



As many Israelis prepare to celebrate Mimouna, the traditional Moroccan festival which concludes Passover, Ben Hartman in the Jerusalem Post asks why this nostalgia persists despite the fact that out of a population of over 250,000 Jews in Morocco prior to the founding of Israel in 1948, only some 2,500 remain.

 Everyone’s seen the pictures before – a politician wearing a fez, sitting in front of a pile of mufletot pastries, as well-wishers, perhaps a belly dancer or two, hover around bearing trays of sweets and mint tea in a development town somewhere in Israel.

 The Mimouna, a traditional North African Jewish holiday marking the end of Passover, stopped being a holiday mainly for Maghrebi Jews years ago, becoming a sort of pan-Israeli Jewish occasion for partying and binging on sugary sweets.

Along the way, Israeli politicians seized upon the holiday as a can’t-miss opportunity to press the flesh, and win hearts and minds among traditional Sephardi and Mizrahi voters. To put it differently, on the morning after Mimouna, it’s a safe bet you’re going to see a picture of Shimon Peres in a fez.

 The stereotypes surrounding the Mimouna in Israel today are a stark departure from their North African traditions, according to Dr. Yehuda Maimran, CEO of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and a member of an Education Ministry committee, headed by Israel Prize laureate poet Erez Biton, that intends to strengthen Mizrahi identity in Israeli culture.

“Back in Morocco it was a Jewish holiday that Jews and Arabs would celebrate together. I was too young to remember but my parents would tell me about how everyone would open their houses and their Muslim neighbors would come bearing food and gifts. For us it was a holiday of love and opening your house to everyone.”

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