This Rosh Hashana, Niran Bassoon-Timan received an unexpected message. She had been voted one of the 100 top influencers in Iraq.
The message came from Merry G Stevan, an Armenian-Iraqi who publishes the fashion magazine Baghdad Style Street.
“This is impressive, and if it indicates anything” Stevan wrote, ” it is the extent of the impact of this wonderful human being and her great message in the service of her countrymen, which stripped her of official papers, but the homeland remained clinging to her heart and conscience, and re-planted this love in the hearts of many, and love still exists and hope exists. Congratulations, my lady, for this wonderful achievement, from the bottom of my heart.”
Baghdad Style Street, which describes itself as a global fashion photography magazine based in Amman and Baghdad, was launched in 2019 and has over 90,000 readers.
Niran’s accolade is all the more remarkable because she is Jewish. She has not lived in Iraq since the 1970s. What’s more, she has close links with Israel.
Niran has a reputation for building bridges (see her Youtube channel which has over 11,500 subscribers and over 1.25 million viewings). She runs the Awlad al Taraf group based in London which brings together Iraqi Jews and Muslims.
In 2013, she went back to Iraq for a five-day conference. Although the meeting was held in Kurdistan, in the north of Iraq, Niran reported:’ being with so many interesting people, the way we were treated and how everyone felt so comfortable in our presence, was fantastic.”
The Jewish community of Dubai have raised their heads above the parapet as the Gulf states celebrate their ‘tolerance’ to religious diversity. Ynet News reports:
On the occasion of the historic arrival of Pope Francis in the
United Arab Emirates – the first visit by a Catholic pope to the Arabian
Peninsula – the country is also publishing the book “Celebrating
Tolerance,” which mentions all of the UAE’s religions – Muslims,
Armenians, Buddhists, Copts, Hindus and Jews.
The book’s preface was penned by UAE Minister of Tolerance Nahyan bin
Mubarak Al Nahyan, effectively giving a government sanction to the
recognition of local Judaism.
In Abu Dhabi, the Pope attended a conference promoting moderate
Islam, to which 150 religious leaders from all over the world were
Among the invitees was Rabbi Mark Schneier, head of the Jewish-Muslim
Interfaith Foundation in the US. Schneier is a common sight in the
palaces of the Persian Gulf, and serves as advisor to kings and princes
of the region. He was also among the writers of the newly released book.
Rabbi Marc Schneier with the book he helped write
During the visit, Rabbi Schneier met for the first time with
the Jewish community in Dubai, which has until now operated under the
radar. “They meet every Shabbat in a synagogue that is located in a
private house, with an ark and a Torah scroll, and they perform
kiddush,” said Schneier. “They have a chairman but not a rabbi. But now
thanks to the official recognition, there are talks about establishing a
proper synagogue, a kosher and even a mikveh (ritual bath).”
According to Schneier, there is a thriving Jewish community already in existence in the Persian Gulf.
“The community includes Jews who live here, alongside Jews who have
arrived because they are involved in business and commerce in Dubai and
Abu Dhabi. No one really knows how many Jews live here, and now they can
have a census. I have heard numbers ranging from 150 families to
2,000-3,000 people,” he said.
One wonders at the wisdom of a London rabbi visiting a town in Lebanon, now mostly controlled by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah and ethnically cleansed of all Jews, to discuss ‘interfaith relations’. Rabbi Goldberg’s visit, here reported in the Jewish Chronicle, took place under the auspices of the Lokahi Foundation, which takes its name from the Hawaiian word for ‘harmony’. (With thanks: Andrew)
It is not every day the Grand Mufti of Tripoli, Lebanon – where
security forces have clashed with Islamist militants in recent years –
meets with a rabbi from London.
It is not every day he admits to doing so on social media.
Selfie taken by Rabbi Goldberg with the Alawite Mufti Malek Shaar
after meeting Rabbi Alex Goldberg – the first rabbi to travel to the
city since the 1970s – Mufti Sheikh Malek Shaar went on Facebook to
speak positively about his meeting with “Muslims, Christians, Sikhs,
Jews and Baha’is”.
As well as the risk Rabbi Goldberg faced
in travelling to a city the Foreign Office warns against visiting, there
is also a risk for Muslim leaders to admit publicly to meeting someone
The visit, which took place earlier this month, was an
opportunity for Rabbi Goldberg, a Surrey University Chaplain and chief
executive of the Carob Tree Project, to find out more about
how Catholic, Orthodox, Druze, Sunni and Alawite leaders are working
together in the city.
Belying the impression that BDS only targets Israelis, not Jews, two French-Jewish scouts were excluded from a recent international meeting in Tunisia, ironically intended to further ‘interfaith dialogue’. The Times of Israel reports:
Jewish French community leaders have complained after organizers
of an interfaith meeting in Tunisia for members of the Scouts movement
rescinded an invitation to French Jewish delegates following pressure by
promoters of boycotts against Israel.
The two delegates of the International Forum of Jewish Scouts
were excluded from the meeting held last week in the resort town of
Hammamet for members of the youth movement from around the world. Titled
“Interfaith Dialogue Ambassadors,” the event brought together 150
participants from 24 countries.
Over 1,500 Jews from around the world gathered last summer at the tomb of Rabbi Hayim Pinto, Essaouira’s most illustrious rabbi. The pilgrimage is one of several Jewish cultural events encouraged by Andre Azoulay,’the most powerful Jew in the Muslim world’, in his capacity as de facto foreign minister to the king of Morocco. Azoulay and the activists of the Jewish-Muslim group Mimouna vaunt the long tradition of Jewish-Muslim coexistence . Yet Armin Rosen, writing in Tablet, is troubled by the local Jewish community’s near-total absence.
Andre Azoulay, adviser to King Mohamed VI
National myths only work if other countervailing narratives can be
sufficiently ignored. During his talk, Azoulay motioned towards the idea
that he understood Muslim Moroccans better than they understood him.
One wonders what Moroccan subjects think of their king or the Jews a
couple towns up the road from Essaouira, or even within Essaouira
itself. One also wonders why hundreds of thousands of Jews would leave a
country where they were apparently so appreciated, and what Morocco
might have permanently lost when its Jews decided to leave.
These are questions Moroccans themselves have asked. Also present at
the Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Coalition forum was El Mehdi Boudra, the
founder and president of Mimouna, an organization dedicated to
sustaining the memory of Morocco’s Jewish community. Like most of
Mimouna’s officers, Boudra, who holds a master’s degree from Brandeis
University’s Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies program, is not
Jewish, although he says he is “Jewish by culture—it’s part of the
Moroccan plural identity.” The organization wasn’t founded by political
operators in Rabat or Casablanca, but by students at Al Akhawayn
University in Ifrane, a midsize town in the country’s interior. As one
of its first events in 2007, Mimouna “turned the campus Jewish for a
day,” Boudra said, bringing in exhibits from Casablanca’s Jewish museum,
posting Hebrew signs, and holding performances of Moroccan Jewish
music. Today, Mimouna has organized Arabic-language Holocaust education
curricula, held numerous conferences, and helped send non-Jewish
Moroccans to build ties with the sizable Moroccan Jewish community in
Israel. “Our work is not preserving heritage but keeping memory,” says
Boudra. “For me, preservation is not enough.”
When Azoulay dies, Jewish historical memory in Morocco will be the
responsibility of young and motivated non-Jews like Boudra. He
contrasted “the old generation that talked with nostalgia about Jews and
a new generation that knows nothing.” Still, he believes that Arabs are
curious about the Jews who left or were forced out of their societies.
“We are the silent majority in the Arab world,” he said.
In Essaouira, the Jews are largely present through cultural events,
the occasional interfaith forum, the annual Pinto pilgrimage, the
rebuilt melah, and Azoulay’s existence. For the rest of the
year, the Jews are names on memorial lamps in empty synagogues. There is
no getting around the community’s near total absence, even if Morocco’s
Jews self-deported under happier circumstances than their counterparts
in Egypt or Spain.
For some Moroccan-descended Jews, the dissonance is impossible to
avoid. Rachel Benaim, the young writer who started the Muslim-Jewish
Interfaith Coalition, found her great grandfather’s name inscribed
somewhere in the city’s Slat Lkahal shul, and she knows exactly where
he’s buried in Essaouira’s Jewish cemetery. When she visited the
cemetery for the first time a few months before the conference, she was
“struck with this deep sense of there not being peace, that there was
something that was waiting to happen here. I didn’t know what it meant. …
I sat down in a corner and cried for a long time.”
The forum, and the process of organizing an intensive weeklong
interfaith event in the city that her father’s family eventually left,
answered certain questions for her while raising others that could never
really be answered. “I think the unease is still there,” she said. “I
don’t know if that discomfort is from stepping into somewhere so
simultaneously familiar and foreign.”
This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.
Point of No Return
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.