Tag: Jews of Algeria

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.

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

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




The terrible summer of 1962: an Algerian Jew’s story

Josette Sicsic was enjoying a carefree childhood after moving with her Algerian-Jewish family from Beni Saf to Hyères in the south of France in the 1950s. But the war of independence raging in Algeria continued to haunt her, with tragic consequences for her relatives still in the country. The summer of 1962 was supposed to mark the end of the war, but led to a series of life-changing traumas. In the latest of a series of testimonies to the forced exodus of Jews from Algeria 60 years ago, here is an extract from a memoir Josette wrote for her daughter, uploaded to the Morial website. (With thanks: Leon)

Josette: haunted by the war

I loved leaving Algeria and the prison it had been for me, arriving in the France of the ‘Trente Glorieuses’, the postwar years when the factories were running at full capacity,  unemployment did not exist, mothers gave birth to loads of baby boomers, holidaymakers took advantage of their paid holidays, driving in their little 4 CVs  to local campsites. We firmly believed that the future would be brilliant and that each generation would live better than the previous one.   I was all the more easily convinced that the future was upon us when our father bought a television.

It was an  innovation which not only opened the doors to knowledge with all kinds of great shows like Lecture pour tous and Cinq colonnes a la Une but enhanced enormously my popularity in the neighbourhood because I could now invite my friends and girlfriends to come and watch Jean Nohain and Rintintin on a Thursday afternoon!

But Algeria had not disappeared  – either from the news or from my life, nor that of my family. The events in Algeria kept happening and not a week passed by without my hearing about massacres, attacks and other violence victimising Algerians and French. Everyone in France had had enough. The bad news flowed on, despite poor communications – only the mail was reliable.  Algeria had always made me feel bad and my parents tried in vain to reassure me. I heard them whispering to each other about stories big and small. The one I was composing in my head  derived from a few expressions such as “Charonne metro”, ‘Red Seine’, ‘barricades,’ ‘battles of Algiers’, ‘bombers’, ‘OAS’,  ‘generals’ putsches, ‘repressions’ and then  one day – the word … “abduction”.

… There are words and moments in life that remain forever etched in memory. It was April 27, 1962, probably a Saturday afternoon.  I was in sixth grade and had new little girlfriends. One was  Claudine. She invited me to spend the afternoon at her place. She was a very good student and had become my rival. She was an only child, had a nice house and no doubt children’s games and toys that I envied.  That  afternoon, several of us went to play at her house. It was the beginning of spring, the sun and the first gentle breezes warmed the air of the heavenly place where we lived. As usual, I had to go home on foot, although Claudine’s home was very far from mine.

What time was it when I returned? Who, apart from my parents, were at home? I don’t recall; but what I do remember is their crestfallen faces. They were obviously afflicted by a drama that at first they tried to keep from me and then ended up revealing to me while trying to play it down: “Tonton  (Uncle ) Georges was kidnapped! »

The bomb had been dropped, it was exploding in our dining room thousands of miles away and in my little child’s head. I,  who naively believed that she was done with drama!

Uncle Georges! Kidnapped! On a  Friday night! And my aunt, my very dear Tata Mimi, our model aunt, the one who played the piano, drove a Dauphine, sent us records by Brassens and Charles Aznavour as well as state-of-the-art parkas, was a wreck. Tata Mimi, who travelled to Spain and Italy and invited my sister to accompany her on his travels. She made a nice couple with Georges, her husband, a doctor – tall, burly, smiling, rarely intimidating, with whom she had had two children – twins, twins!  My dear cousins,  about six months younger than me,  my main playmates in Beni Saf.

For a long time I probably stood petrified, trying to understand what this term “cursed” meant, which had brutally turned my life into a drama I believed I had escaped. “Abduction”, the term was relatively new in the vocabulary of this endless war and even if it
seemed less cruel and definitive than the term “death”, I  sensed that it was not trivial. I probably witnessed this that evening  –  in whispers, an unleashing of sighs of  despair and tears, many tears,  especially as my mother went to our neighbours to telephone her sister in order to learn a little more about the circumstances. Kidnapping was soon going  to  become the model for a frenzy of revenge by members of the FLN, animated by the signing of the Evian Accords since, officially, the war was over.

France was going to withdraw from Algeria, leaving it to the Algerians to ensure their own safety and prepare for  the long-awaited referendum on independence. Except that at the time, I did not did not know all that. I kept imagining that everything was hunkydory –  the
world was going to settle down, my family was going to come back to spend the holidays in Hyères and  we would go from time to time to Beni Saf to huddle under my father’s comforting parasol.

The days passed in a feverish atmosphere that no words of understanding could relieve. In our immediate surroundings, it did not seem that we had better understood the drama that was being played out. The neighbours were asking questions. What answers should we give them? Especially since the radio and the newspapers did not mention this type of tragedy which, it must be said, did not fit into the classic codes of  war. Deep down in all of us, kidnapping or disappearance were words leaving a little room for another term:” hope “. Maybe Tonton Georges was coming back?

Maybe my aunt would find him? Maybe a ransom, as in classic kidnappings, could get him released? So we began to wait for his release. But it was not a classic kidnapping. Every day, fake news kept us hovering around the mailbox and Madame Pucci ‘s ‘phone: she  had generously and patiently left us to call and receive calls from Beni Saf. I heard that  my uncle had been seen in the mountains,  in a village, in a field… I heard that my aunt had run to the mountains accompanied by a representative of the Red Cross International to try to have him released because the French army did not lift a finger. It did  nothing. This was confirmed to me much later by one of my cousins ​​who lived there. I heard whispers of conflicting news, fluctuating between hope and despair. At night when I went to bed, I started praying again. as my friend Minette had taught me. She told me that a modest intervention with the Almighty might deliver my uncle!

But it did not. We were in June. The debacle was gathering momentum. The Europeans, caught between the OAS and FLN firestorms, fled as best they could: in boats, in planes, in trawlers fitted out by Spanish fishermen…some went to Spain, notably to Alicante, where the Franco dictatorship did not care where the immigrants came from. Some were ghosts from the fifteenth century expulsion who still spoke Judeo-Spanish, like my grandmother.

My family were also packing their bags, looking desperately for ‘office workers’ (that was the term used) to move their  furniture and bring their children to safety. Only my Aunt Mimi and my grandmother appeared not to move. There was no way  they would abandon my uncle who we naively hoped was alive. Years later, when tongues were wagging, we learned that he had undoubtedly  been killed the very evening of his abduction, in such a brutal and savage way that I prefer not to say. For what reason? No one will ever know. He was a doctor, he treated everyone, he was close to the Algerians and probably also to the Communist Party. Was eliminating him a means to unleash a wind of panic and trigger the escape of a million “pieds noirs”  – abandoned to their fate, people which the French army had orders not to protect?

The history of the Algerian war is tragic. That of the last year is even more so. A population made up of petty employees, craftsmen, traders, mostly born there, were called to leave their native land in the greatest chaos and the worst insecurity. No one was protecting  them anymore.  General de Gaulle had been given full power to liquidate the Algerian problem when the war was won and peace talks were possible. In any case, sixty years later, this is what I read –  what we finally dared to say and write – but it was far too discreet for the message to be heard by
all. I mean by the majority of the population for whom the Algerian war of independence was  a legitimate war waged by an oppressed population against their oppressors.

And then, the month of June arrived. It was the end of school. Soon it  would be summer. I had finished my school year brilliantly with a prize for excellence. I had been moved up a class without a problem. So I was allowed to go and spend the afternoon at my friend Claudine’s, as usual. She was celebrating her birthday. The afternoon was joyful, we probably drank lemonade and ate candy and chocolate cake. Then I left, on foot as always. The path was long. I strolled along with another girlfriend and got home late in the afternoon in the sweetness of these first days of summer and holidays which  lasted three months at the time. No sooner had I arrived that  I understood that a new tragedy had struck us. My mother ‘s eyes were red with tears. My father was dark and mute. I still don’t remember if my brother and sister were there. In any case, I had to be told the horrible news.

This time, it was my uncle Jean Jacques, my father’s brother – younger, attractive, cheerful, charming – who had been kidnapped.  He was on the road leading from Beni Saf to Oran, trying to get boat tickets to leave Algeria. He was with a cousin or friend, I never really knew. I was stunned. Thus, each time I went to play at Claudine’s,  terrible news awaited me. I decided not to go there anymore. But, to what end? Although I have never been tempted by superstition, the coincidence haunted me for a long time and I still can’t stop thinking about it every time I see this friend.

The meal was probably horribly silent. The radio said nothing about the new drama. Neither did the television, so keen was France to get rid of the Algerian problem. Turning a blind eye to the disappeared ones,  she also forbade her army and her police to deal with the issue.  Fo her, the war was over. We were fobbed off with  TV news reports of the miserable hordes of men, women and children who poured into Marseilles, all crying as they clutched their meagre luggage. There were a million of them. It was nice to be in full Trente Glorieuses period,  but it was not going to be easy to resettle so many. But all of that eluded me at the time. What I wanted was to see my liberated uncles docking in Marseilles, holding by the hand their wives and children, my cousins!

The miracle never happened. Worse, two days later, another tragedy knocked on our door. More painful than the first two. Unspeakable. Terrible. A bolt of lightning. A telegram, one  those horrible little blue papers with white bands of  laconic text. We were handed it by the postman: the bell rang unexpectedly which startled the whole household. The postman handed over the telegram.

My mother did not want to open it and in turn handed it to my father who, with his usual methodical care, unfolded it slowly as he began to read it. I then saw his face darken and his lips tremble. The telegrams were never bearers of good news. Nor was the doorbell.  This is why I continue to jump fifty years later every time someone knocks on my door unexpectedly. My father folded up the blue paper, taking his time to announce the  drama that had struck my family again: Colette, the wife of my uncle Jean Jacques, his father and his mother, as well as  another cousin who had  gone in search of the missing,  had not come back! This brought to seven the members of my family who had disappeared! It was June 27 or 28, 1962.

Epilogue: Josette’s Aunt Mimi and her grandmother did finally manage to leave Algeria and join the family in France.

Read account in full (French)

After Sheikh Raymond’s murder, departure was inevitable

My silent departure from Algeria







Zemmour makes Jew’s death a French national ssue

Algerian-Jewish Eric Zemmour ‘s revisionist whitewashing of France’s role in the Holocaust sowed doubts in some French Jews’ minds about voting for him, a far-right candidate in the French elections. It could have been a ploy to attract French Catholic voters.  Now that he is trailing in the polls, is  Zemmour  nailing his colours to the Jewish mast? Times of Israel (via JTA) reports:

Campaign posters in France of Eric Zemmour and Marie Le Pen, the far right candidates (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

PARIS, France (JTA) — It’s been six months since Éric Zemmour quit his job as a journalist to run as a far-right candidate in France’s presidential elections. But this week Zemmour, who is Jewish, landed likely the biggest scoop of his career.

On Tuesday, just days before Sunday’s first round in the presidential race, the right-wing Zemmour broke on social and mainstream media the story of Jérémie Cohen, a 31-year-old disabled Jewish man whose death in February police now suspect may have been the indirect result of violence, which some believe was antisemitic.

Zemmour, a 63-year-old former television pundit whose chances of becoming president are slim, has helped focus national attention on the incident in the midst of a campaign in which antisemitic violence, the rule of law and politicized Islam are central themes.

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Did Jérémy Cohen die because of an antisemitic attack – or a traffic accident?


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