Tag: Jewish refugees/Algeria

Jewish pilgrims banned, but still visit Algeria

 The tomb of the 15th century rabbi Ephraim Alnaqa (also known as Encawa) remains off-limits to Jewish visitors to Algeria, the largest group of tourists to the country. The last hilloula, or pilgrimage, was in 2005. (If the Algerians were to emulate the
Moroccan and Tunisian government, they could be reaping the dividends
from Jewish tourism.) Jewish visitors still come to visit their properties, however. Illuminating article by Reem Hayat Chayef in Raseef22 (with thanks: Boruch):

This lithograph depicting the tombs of the rabbis of Algeria shows rabbi Alnaqa riding a lion with a snake in its mouth (for the origin of the legend see here). The item was sold  for $144 at auction (with thanks: Boruch) 

The site of Alnaqua’s burial in Tlemcen made it to be revered as a holy land over generations of Jews, whereby the mausoleum marked a point of pilgrimage in May of every year. After the Algerian independence from French colonialism, the pilgrims were banned from entering.

Reviving the Pilgrimage

After the independence of Algeria, Jews were forbidden from pilgrimage to most of the holy sites in North Africa. In 2003, under the rule of current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a plan was set, in collaboration between France and Algeria, to reopen the Jewish synagogues and burial sites in Algeria.

In 2006, the Algerian parliament passed a law guaranteeing freedom of religion, which led to the authorization of an official Jewish association in Algeria.

Moreover, in 2005, in response to a request from France, the Algerian authorities permitted the relaunching of the pilgrimage season for Jewish delegations from Europe. Jewish delegations began pouring in to visit the various historical and religious sites, and to perform the pilgrimage to the mausoleum of Ephraim Alnaqua.

Inside the Rabb synagogue in Tlemcen

Those would mark the last of the publicized pilgrimages, as Algeria once again suspended them during the Israeli war on Gaza in 2006. In the meantime, the locals in Tlemcen had not taken well to the initial decision to allow Jewish visitors in. Instead, they organized large marches in protest, and threatened to burn the remaining Jewish properties in the city.

Prior to the resumption of the ban, the Jewish pilgrims and visitors recorded the largest touristic group to visit independent Algeria. The visit lasted for eight days, during which they celebrated their rituals in front of Rabbi Ephraim Alnaqua’s mausoleum, including performing the ritual circumambulations around it and spraying it with water and salt.

Belbachir Jalloul, a former professor at the Faculty of the Arts, tells Raseef22: “I was there for the Hilloula rites held by the Jewish delegation in Tlemcen. They walked from the graves to the end of the synagogue, chanting words from the holy book.”

Visitations Continue

“Every year, a number of Jews travel to Algeria to visit their properties here. I worked as a tour guide with a convoy of Jewish tourists in 2011, and they visited a number of places marked with the Star of David here in Tlemcen,” Shawi Boudaghn says.

“However, they weren’t able to visit the mausoleum of Ephraim Alnaqua, since their visit coincided with the declaration of Tlemcen as a capital of Islamic culture, and the wali was not there to grant them an entry permit.”

She adds, “during the visit, I could hear many of them exclaiming that this was someone’s home once, or that was someone’s father’s shop.”

In 2014, Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Eissa declared his intent to reopen the closed Jewish synagogues. Against the outcry by Salafis, who considered this an act of provocation, he affirmed that the Algerian constitution guarantees the freedom of belief, and that the authorities would provide security protection to these areas. He later backtracked, stating that there was no clear timeline for reopening the synagogues, and claiming that the Jewish representatives themselves were not enthusiastic about the reopening, as they feared potential tensions.

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Algeria will not honour Jewish restitution claims

Israel’s new initiative to set up a ministerial office to collate Jewish claims, reported in YnetNews among others, has raised a storm of controversy and alarm in the Arab media. Algeria is among the first to say it will not honour any Jewish claims for restitution:

The article published in Yedioth Ahronoth covering the Ministry of Pensioners’ Affairs initiative to sue Arab states for the restitution of property and assets left behind by Jews fleeing the countries to Israel has resonated in the Arab world. Algeria, in particular, has said that it will not honor a request for restitution.

Dozens of Arab newspapers and websites ran the article prominently. The Ministry for Pensioners’ Affairs recently called upon about one million immigrants from Arab countries to fill out letters of claim in preparation for a lawsuit the ministry is preparing in order to return their property. The ministry also raised the possibility of holding indirect negotiations with the relevant countries as a means of establishing compensation.

According to the plan, which was initiated by Deputy Minister Lea Nass, a department will be formed within the ministry to handle the claims.

The Yedioth article was widely run in a number of newspapers and was cited in many Arab websites. Among the news outlets that ran the article are: Egypt‘s al-Akhbar, the Palestinian News Agency, the website Syria News, and Egyptian el-Fagr, and others. “The media coverage throughout the Arab world proves that the citizens of the Arab countries are also aware of the injustice done to Jews from Arab and Islamic countries,” said Deputy Minister Nass.

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Algerian Jews demand compensation

The French-Israeli news agency Guysen reports that Algeria’s 120,000 Jews, who left the country in 1962 when it ceased to be a French colony, are demanding compensation of 144 million dollars from the Algerian government for the assets they were forced to abandon.

Link here


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.

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