Tag: Jews of Tunisia

Tunisian Jew wins right to monthly Holocaust reparations

A Tunisian Holocaust survivor will finally be receiving monthly reparations following the passing in the Knesset of an amendment to an Israeli law on 2 June 2024. 

Jews being marched off to forced labour camps following the Nazi invasion of Tunisian in November 1942

The amendment corrects an anomaly in the law and marks the culmination of decades of battles in the Israeli courts.

Yitzhak Smadar was a baby during World War II. He had two brothers. Their mother sent the three boys to a monastery in Tunis and later France. Yitzhak Smadar and his brothers never saw her again.

He moved to Israel, in 1951. According to a 1957 law, survivors who moved to Israel before 1953 could receive payment from Germany and other governments via a department of the Israeli Finance Ministry responsible for Israeli Holocaust survivors. But it would not be for 60 years that Tunisian Jews won the right to reparations, after prolonged court battles.

The Tel Aviv court finally ruled, in 2008, that Tunisian Jews could receive monthly stipends . Even so, survivors under 15, like Yitzhak Smadar, did not become eligible for reparations until 2000, when the law was amended.

Once he had paid his debts, Smadar found that Israel would not renew his reparations payments. He began a long, drawn-out battle in the courts. Each time, his case was rejected.

It has taken 66 years to see the law amended. Smadar has paid tribute to Professor Yitschak Kerem, ‘ a dear and kind-hearted man’, who has championed his case over the decades. ‘Matters are moving in favour of Holocaust survivors who see the light at the end of the tunnel only thanks to you,’ he wrote.

Tunisian Jews survived six months of Nazi control in 1942 – 5,000 men were sent to 32 forced labour camps. Some died of typhus and several were shot by sadistic guards. At the end of the occupation in May 1943, 17 Jews were deported to Europe, never to return.

Jerusalem Post article

Only a dozen attend Djerba pilgrimage

Only a dozen pilgrims attended the annual Al-Ghriba Lag Ba’Omer pilgrimage on Djerba yesterday, leaving it to diplomats to express their condolences for the victims of last year’s shooting of  Jewish pilgrims. The Times of Israel reports  (via AP):

The al-Ghriba synagogue, site of the annual Lag Ba’ Omer pilgrimage

DJERBA, Tunisia — Diplomats from the United States and France visited the Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s Djerba island on Sunday to commemorate the victims of a deadly attack there last year, as security fears kept many Jews away from an annual pilgrimage there.

French Ambassador Anne Gueguen and Natasha Franceschi, the US deputy chief of mission in Tunisia, lit candles and placed flowers inside the synagogue, Africa’s oldest.

They both declined to be interviewed by AFP, and members of their teams said the event was too emotional for them to speak.

Read article in full

This year’s Djerba pilgrimage is cancelled

After news that it was to be scaled back, the annual Lag Ba’ Omer pilgrimage on the island of Djerba has now been cancelled,  National News reports. This is a major  blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry but is also likely to be an admission that the Tunisian government cannot ensure visitors’ security.

Traditionally, the Djerba pilgrimage would attract thousands of tourists

The organisers of an annual Jewish pilgrimage in Tunisia have cancelled its and accompanying celebrations because of the Israel-Gaza war.

Perez Trabelsi, head of committee of the Ghriba Grand Synagogue, announced on Friday that the pilgrimage to the temple on Djerba island will be limited to the basic rituals conducted inside the temple.

No public celebrations around the island are going to take place.

“How do we celebrate when people die every day,” Mr Trabelsi told Reuters.

The pilgrimage to Africa’s oldest synagogue draws hundreds of Jews from Europe, the US and Israel to Djerba, a major holiday resort off Tunisia’s south, about 500km from the capital, Tunis.

It is also attended by the local Jewish community, estimated to number 1,500 and one of the largest remaining Jewish populations in North Africa.

Since the beginning of the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 people so far (according to Hamas – ed) , Tunisian activists have been calling on authorities to ensure that this year’s Ghriba pilgrimage would only be attended by the local Jewish community members.

However, both Tunisian authorities and the pilgrimage organising committee have not said whether non-Tunisians and those holding dual Tunisian-Israeli citizenship would be granted entrance to the country.

The dispute over the annual religious ceremony comes only a year after a naval national guard member shot dead five people – two civilians and three security personnel – near the synagogue on the island of Djerba.

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More about Djerba

 

Fire breaks out at Sfax synagogue, Tunisia

Was a synagogue in Sfax, Tunisia, set on fire on 25 February 2024 ? The latest news on Facebook is that the fire broke out among the palm trees beside the synagogue.

Why was the fire not put out before it became serious? There was a fire station almost next to the synagogue, we are told.

The jury is out as to whether the fire was arson or accidental – probably caused by a cigarette end.

Photos show the Bet El synagogue was untouched by the fire, but the palm trees look badly burnt.

In October 2023, the the tomb of kabbalist Rabbi Yosef Ma’aravi  at Al-Hamma was burnt down by a mob after a rumour spread that the Israelis had bombed the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza.

There are no Jews left in Sfax and the synagogue where the fire broke out was closed.

The synagogue in Sfax looks untouched by the fire

Celebrating Tu b’Shevat with a warming stew

Today is Tu b’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for Trees. For Allison Abraham, Tu b’Shevat is the time when her husband’s large Iraqi family gather to enjoy a warming stew called Hareesa. This is cooked with wheat, one of the seven species associated with the holiday. Article by Vered Guttman and recipe at Aish.com (with thanks: Edna):

The dish immigrated to Spain with the Muslims

Hareesa, also known as harees, is a wheat-based stew made throughout the Middle East, Armenia, and even India and can be translated in English to mash or “beaten wheat and meat.” It can be found in cookbooks dating back to the 10th century, and poetry was written in Iraq about the beloved stew as early as the 13th century. Variations of the dish involve lamb, meat, and chicken, all with a wheat base. While it started as a humble communal dish, it eventually evolved and has become traditional in some communities and homes for holidays like Ramadan, Armenian Easter, and of course…the Ben Israel family Iraqi Tu B’Shvat.

As my father-in-law pointed out, Tu B’Shvat is always in the winter when it’s cold…so why not include a hot comforting stew to warm up? But there are other possible explanations for this tasty dish on the holiday as well. Wheat is often associated with Tu B’Shvat because it’s one of the seven species mentioned in the Torah, which could be one explanation for why this stew became associated with the holiday. In some older communities, hareesa was prepared in the week leading up to Tu B’Shvat because of its proximity to Parshat B’Shalach, the Torah reading in which the Israelites received manna from heaven, which the book of Psalms refers to as wheat.

Making Hareesa

Many, many years ago, it used to be Safta Farha, my husband’s grandmother, who made a large batch of chicken hareesa for the whole family on Tu B’Shvat, a tradition she learned from her husband’s family in Iraq. My mother-in-law recalled how Farha would keep an eye out for how many bowls were eaten, all for the satisfaction of feeding her family. But as time went on and Farha grew older, she no longer had the energy to prepare the stew, so instead, she chose to pass on the task to the next generation.

Farha individually taught her daughters and daughters-in-law how to make her hareesa, and now each one of them shows up to the annual Tu B’Shvat gathering with a big pot of it.

A Tunisian version: ingredients

  • ¼ cup neutral oil
  • 2 yellow onions halved and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  •  cups wheat or freekeh, farro or spelt, or a combination
  • 4 chicken quarters thigh and drumsticks, or a whole chicken, cut
  • 6 cups boiling water
  • 6 eggs washed well
  • 6 koukla patties optional

For the koukla patties (optional)

  • 6 oz. beef or chicken fat or a fatty beef cut or corn oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • ¾ cups farina
  • 3 slices of 2-days-old bread or challah soaked in water, then squeezed

    Instructions

    • Put oil in a large over-proof pot over medium-high heat, add sliced onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown. Lower heat as needed. Add brown sugar and sauté for 5 minutes longer, until nicely caramelized.

    • While the onion is sautéed, Make the koukla. Finely chop beef fat or beef cut, and place in a bowl. Mix in egg, paprika, turmeric, cilantro, salt, farina and bread. Mix well and set aside.

    • When onions are ready, transfer about a quarter of them into the koukla bowl and mix well. If mixture seems dry, add a couple tablespoons water and mix again.

    • To the onions add tomato paste, paprika, turmeric and 1 tablespoon salt, cook for another minute and remove from heat.

    • Mix wheat into the onion mixture in the pot. Top wheat with chicken pieces and cover with 6 cups of boiling water. Chicken should be completely covered with water, about an inch more. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, skim any foam and continue to simmer.

    • Form 6-8 large flat patties of the koukla mixture and arrange in the simmering water on one side of the pot. Arrange eggs on the other side, next to the koukla patties. Bring to boil again, lower heat to medium-low, cover with lid and continue to simmer until oven is warm.

    • Turn oven to 225°F. Check the pot, the water should reach almost the top of the koukla patties. Cover with lid. If the pot is not tightly sealed, wrap it with 2 layers of aluminum foil to make sure it’s sealed well. Transfer to oven and let cook overnight. When ready to serve, remove from oven, let stand for 10 minutes (the rest of the liquid will be absorbed at this point) and serve.

    Read article in full

More about Tu b’Shevat

 

France’s prime minister Attal has Tunisian-Jewish roots

Who is Gabriel Attal, who was recently appointed French prime minister by President Ennamuel Macron? Attal, 34, is the descendant of Tunisian and Alsatian Jews on his father’s side; his mother’s side are aristocratic White Russians. Tribune Juive delves into his family tree:

Gabriel Attal

Gabriel Attal is the son of Yves, a brilliant filmmaker and lawyer. His grandfather Claude was the first to make a name for himself: a senior paediatrician, he was born in the medina of Tunis before leaving the country and settling in Paris. A Tunisian Jew, he married Jeanine Weil, also from a Jewish family, but from Alsace. Jeanine was not just anybody,  she was the cousin of the heiresses of the Galeries Lafayette group. The Attals had been French since 1937 when grandfather Elie was naturalised. He was a lawyer by profession. His earlier ancestry is more difficult to find:  Haïm was born in 1858 in Tunis; Elias was a merchant; Nissim was born around 1780, also a merchant ;  further back, Caïd Eliahu did business with the Bey,  and finally, Soliman was born around 1720.

The ‘Porte de France’ in Tunis

We know more about the Weils, who were named Aron until the Revolution decreed that  all the Jews of France had to choose a permanent family name. They had always been middle class,  at least  since Simon (1809-1859), a schoolteacher and language professor, born in Mutzig, was the first to leave his region to settle in Paris. Via the Weil branch, the families intermarry and the same surnames crop up in all Jewish family trees: Weil, Levy, Bloch, Meyer, Lion, Schwob, Woog, Geismar.

All these families come from a collection of small villages located in Sundgau, all the way to the south and not far from the border with Germany: Dürmenach, Hégenheim, Phalsbourg, Ribeauvillé, Wintzenheim, Rixheim, spreading  towards the river Moselle near Metz. They practise traditional Jewish trades as cattle and horse dealers, butchers and innkeepers. There are  several generations of rabbis and moneylenders or officials.

Marie de Couriss, Gabriel’s mother, is Orthodox Christian. She has varied aristocratic origins. Her paternal grandparents were Alexandre, musician and tutor, and Maria Yourievna de Meyendorff, who bore the title of Baroness.  They were what we called  “White Russians” from Kiev. These were the Russians who had not accepted the Bolshevik takeover at the beginning of the 20th century. They had settled on the Côte d’Azur as many other immigrants had done, the most recent wave arriving in the early  21st century.

Read article in full (French)

 

 

 

Tunisian Jews ponder their future

The festive inauguration of a new Sepher Torah over Succot has given way to depression and uncertainty among the 1,500 Jews of Djerba. A violent backlash to the Israel-Hamas war has led to the community wondering if they had a future on the island. Long feature by Gianluca Pacchiani in The Times of Israel:

The al-Ghriba synagogue, focus of the annual Lag Ba’Omer pilgrimage to Djerba

After a deadly May terror attack at the historic Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba during the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer, the 1,500-strong community didn’t feel secure enough to restart communal prayer in the island’s main temple until the recent Sukkot holiday in October.

That feeling of security was short-lived.

Violent protests in the majority-Muslim country against Israel’s war with Hamas following the terror group’s murderous incursion into Israel on October 7 are now forcing the millennia-old Jewish community to rethink whether it has a future in the country.

Rivka (not her real name), a local Jewish woman who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, said that the Djerba community has been on edge since the deadly Hamas onslaught.

“After October 7, whenever we hear a loud noise, someone shouting, or our children come home late, we always assume the worst. We are always afraid. We won’t stay out late,” she said.

Read article in full

David Gerbi: the holiday is over  for Djerba’s Jews

 

David Gerbi: The holiday is over for Djerba’s Jews

During the festival of Succoth David Gerbi, psychologist and Jungian psychoanalyst born in Libya and now based in Rome, was invited to the inauguration of a Sepher Torah on the Tunisia island of Djerba, where about 1,500 Jews still live. He found a fearful community, still smarting from the murder of two Jews during the Lag Ba’Omer pilgrimage in May 2023. But rising antisemitism  and the razing  of the El Hamma synagogue  in Gabès following the  7 October massacre in Israel has been the last straw. It has prompted several Djerbian Jews to decide to leave Tunisia. Here is Gerbi’s account of his stay in HaMoked: 

Rioters set fire to the El Hamma synagogue in retaliation for the bombing of the Al Ahli Arab synagogue in Gaza, which they falsely blamed on Israel

I was recently invited to Djerba for the feast of Succoth, during which a new Sefer Torah was inaugurated in memory of a  rabbi who was very important for the local Jews. A humble, thoughtful, reserved person with integrity, the rabbi had only one purpose: to serve G-d and the community. He loved educating children about the Torah, teaching them for free. His name was Rabbi Hanina Bughid Saadon. Rabbi Saadon was the uncle of Zachino Haddok, a young Tunisian originally from Djerba who now lives in Rome. Zachino brought his religious contribution to the Rome Jewish community through kashrut, halakha, liturgy, tradition, habits and customs which closely resemble those of the Jews of Libya. A great Torah expert – he knows all the parashot by heart – Zachino frequents the two synagogues of Libyan rite in Piazza Bologna. And it is near Piazza Bologna that Zachino has opened a kosher supermarket to serve the Jewish community in the area, offering foods, products and spices  reminiscent of the colours and tastes of the Libyan Jewish tradition.

I arrived on the evening of 3 rd October, Hol Hamoed, at Djerba airport, and before even checking in to the hotel I went to the inauguration party of the Sefer Torah: a fantastic scene attended by all the members of the community full of joy. They opened their homes to welcome the Sefer and offered a wide variety of foods to all of us. Happy children were walking around the street, women dressed to the nines, men happy to enjoy a little joy after the ugly affair  of the 2023 Lag Ba’omer attack in which two Jews were murdered by a Tunisian soldier –  he  who should have been responsible for  their safety.

Many came to the Ghriba synagogue not only from Djerba but also from other parts of the world. I was last in Djerba on Lag Ba’omer in 2022, when I accompanied a group from Italy on the Ziara (pilgrimage) to the Ghriba synagogue, also a sacred site for many Libyan Jews. In this place there is a stone from the Temple of Jerusalem that was brought by the Cohanim  (High priests) after the destruction of the Temple. Djerba’s Jewish community is the largest in North Africa: the island is full of Cohanim and Torah scholars. In Israel there is a Yeshiva called Kisse Rahamim named for Rabbi Rahamim Hai Huetto HaCoen, originally from Djerba. The habits and customs of Djerba are also preserved in a synagogue in Marseille.

Read Part 1 in full (Italian)

The new Sefer Torah was then taken to the home of the relatives of the two victims of this year’s attack, to give them some relief and consolation. The next morning in the hotel, after prayers, while I was under the Succah, I asked one of the 250 people who had come from France to celebrate Succoth why he had brought his children to a place that proved so dangerous (and which is still bloodstained), especially considering the anti-Zionist tendencies of the new Tunisian president Kaïs Saïed. Saied  takes every opportunity to accuse Israel of all sorts of misdeeds. He even held Israel  responsible for   Cyclone Daniel which devastated Libya and other Mediterranean countries between 4 and 12 September. “Do you experience this situation as a paradox?”, I asked the young Frenchman. “I have to think about it,” he replied.  I believe that this type of reaction is widespread  for us Jews: we always live with nostalgia for the places where we and our parents were born, beloved places to which we are often not allowed to return.

That evening it was confirmed to me that for the first time in 2,000 years neither Rosh Hashana nor Yom Kippur were celebrated in the Ghirba synagogue –  for safety reasons and because the May trauma was still fresh. A teacher explained to me that for this entire new year there will be no prayers at Ghirba because the Jews do not trust the current president. They don’t fear him, but they don’t trust him either.

For the last night, however, the Jews of Djerba were happy. It is imperative that people be happy during the inauguration of a Sefer Torah  (see Samanta be Hagheha). I saw children on the street playing, singing, and playing the darbuka (drum). I saw tables heaving with  delicious food for  all guests in homes that hosted the Sefer Torah. I saw the women dressed very elegantly and colourfully, and the men singing with devotion and faith. In the street in front of the yeshiva,  people also celebrated by eating kebab skewers, pizza and sweets on the street. My friends invited me to their house because they preferred to have their meal in the Succah.

David Gerbi carrying the new Sepher Torah

I then asked organizer René Trabelsi, former Tunisian tourism minister, who arranged for the group of French Jews and even some Americans to visit, how they had overcome their fear of coming to Djerba. He replied that  the tragedy of  Lag Ba’omer could have been worse:  a single armed soldier had killed three soldiers and two Jews. He tells me that Jews are not afraid of civilians. But yes, they are afraid of the soldiers who ought to be defending them, because they could turn their weapons against defenseless civilians out of  fanaticism and hatred for them and Israel.

Tonight is the eve of  Hoshana Rabba: the people of Djerba pray all  night in the synagogues. We will stay in the hotel: under the large Succah we will listen to the rabbi’s sermon and pray. Since the news of the 7 October massacre in Israel broke, people here have been very tense and worried.

At breakfast in a low voice, his young children and wife at his side, a new friend tells me that the holiday is over. The wife remains silent, many have breakfast in the room. Many will not return, for fear of putting their lives and those of their children at risk. Another friend tells me: “but why do the 1,500 Djerbians continue to stay here?” The waiter, who is Muslim, replies: “Love for their roots and the land overcomes fear.”

Despite everything, we “celebrated” Simcha Torah with children and babies, with young people, adults and the elderly. Many danced. But in the evening the restaurant was almost empty, many ate in their rooms.

That evening I learned that the Minister of the Interior had withdrawn  weapons from the soldiers on Djerba because the government fears that the soldiers themselves could enter the Jewish Hara and carry out a massacre. Now the situation has significantly worsened and Jews live in fear. A fear, however, also accompanied by faith and hope. Tension is rising  due to the conflict in the Middle East. But this year much misfortune has befallen  Djerba: a Jewish goldsmith was falsely accused of smuggling gold. He was taken to the police on this pretext. Shopkeepers in the Hour Souk closed their shops in protest to have him released.

President Kaïs Saïed has declared that those who have contact with Israel will be considered Israeli spies and jailed for a minimum of five years. Thanks to international pressure, he seems to have taken a step back. The president has openly spoken out against Israel several times, increasing fear among Tunisian Jews. Jews who continue to hope to soon be able to emigrate to Israel. Someone told me that he prefers to die in Israel rather than in Tunisia.

Read Part 2  in full (Italian)

In Djerba the three religions lived in peace, but due to this latest conflict things have changed and the danger for the Jewish population is real. They tell me that it is not easy to change your life and emigrate to Israel, where the cost of living is very high, where there is war, and with elderly people who struggle to adapt to a new reality that is as loved as it is difficult. But perhaps this is, in the end, the best choice. We Libyan Jews thought it was a disgrace to leave Libya in 1967: today everyone considers that day the day of liberation and rebirth, in Italy and in Israel.
Before my departure I had planned a visit to the El Hamma synagogue in Gabes (mainland Tunisia) where the great Rabbi Marabi is buried. I had already made arrangements with the driver to go there on Monday 9 October. Following the massacre in Israel I was forced to stay in the hotel instead – I was the last guest. So in the evening I went to greet my friends from the Hara, the Jewish neighborhood of Djerba. The climate was completely different from that of the day I arrived. All dark, dark, deserted streets and a great silence that was both terrifying and deafening. They were all locked in the house. After saying goodbye, I took a taxi back to the hotel. A few days later I read the following news on Nova News.
“In Tunisia, the synagogue in the oasis city of El Hamma, about thirty kilometers west of Gabes, in the south-east of the North African country, was desecrated, set on fire and destroyed by hundreds of rioters on the night between 17 and 18 October .
“The local radio station Elyssa FM reported that some young people attacked the place of worship to protest against the alleged Israeli bombing of the Baptist Hospital in Gaza, hoisting the Palestinian flag on the roof of the burning synagogue. The Facebook page ‘Tunigate’, which has around 88, 000  members, also published a video of the attack and so did Radio Bousalem,  which is followed by
83, 000 listeners: the vast majority of comments on these videos welcomed such acts.
The building was almost completely razed to the ground. At the moment there is no official reaction from the Tunisian authorities. It is worth remembering that the day after the attack on 9 May 2023 in Djerba which caused five victims, including two French Jewish pilgrims killed in front of the Ghriba synagogue, the authorities had denied the anti-Semitic character of the attack.”
I was recently told that some Jews were forced to raise the Palestinian flag. Once I returned to Rome I was contacted by some friends from Djerba who asked me for help in emigrating discreetly via Italy. I replied that I was available. We remain in contact and, depending on developments, we are ready to act.

Only in mid-November was I given the good news that some families from Djerba will soon leave for Israel forever. In North Africa, Jews remain only in Morocco and Tunisia. In Libya and Algeria there are no longer any Jews, in Egypt there are very few. We must wish much success to those who, despite their age and difficulty, are trying to sell a house in Djerba to buy one in Israel. But they tell me that moving to Israel is their dream.
Bashana Haba’a  Be Yerushalayim!
Read Part 3 in full (Italian) 

 

Ceremony marks round-up of Tunisian Jews during WWII

On 10 December 2023 in Paris, a ceremony will be held to mark the round-up by the SS of Tunisian Jews on 9 December 1942. Nearly 5,000 Jews were sent to forced labour camps. This year also commemorates 80 years since the liberation of Tunisia by the Allies in May 1943. Here is an extract from an article for France 24 by Stephanie Trouillard about the significance of 9 December. (With thanks: Véronique)

British troops enter Tunis in May 1943 to liberate the country from Nazi rule

“While the leader of the SS shouts, I mentally take stock of the situation. We are a very small group in front of a colossal force being unleashed. I look to my right at the pitiful group of gloomy and silent prisoners. I can see the beard of the ‘officiant’, I see a child shivering with fear.” On December 9, 1942, Paul Guez, head of the Jewish community of Tunis, proved powerless. While the German occupier carried out a raid in the Tunisian capital, he could not offer any resistance. Nearly 5,000 Jews were sent to forced labor in several camps.

This date marks a turning point. Until then, the Jews of Tunisia, around 90,000 people, had not suffered such persecution. Since the establishment of the Vichy regime, however, they were the object of anti-Semitic measures, the Statut des juifs promulgated in mainland France in October 1940. “According to this statute, article 9  stipulates that it is applicable in the countries of the protectorate”, explains historian Claude Nataf, president of the Historical Society of the Jews of Tunisia (SHJT). “But for a text to be applicable in Tunisia, it must have the seal of the bey (the Tunisian sovereign – Ed),” he specifies.

At the time, Ahmed II Bey governed the country. “He is an old man who will die two years later. He is more concerned about his end and what he will leave to his children. He does not want to come into conflict with the Resident General of France, especially for a question which concerns the Jews”, specifies Claude Nataf. The statute was therefore introduced on November 30, 1940 and excluded Jews from  public service and professions relating to the press, radio, theater and cinema. However, it turns out to be “more moderate” than in mainland France, according to the historian, since the ascendants and descendants of those killed for France and war widows benefit, for example, from exemptions. A second statute which reinforces professional exclusions was promulgated in June 1941.

When the bey died in June 1942, his cousin Moncef succeeded him. The latter publicly expressed his condemnation of official anti-Semitism by declaring: “Jews, like Muslims, are my children”, but, like his predecessor, he signed decrees enacting racial measures, in particular “to eliminate Jewish influence in the Tunisian economy”.

Read article in full (French)

More about Claude Nataf and the Tunis round-up

 

Observing a feminist tradition at Hanucah

Today is the first day of Hanucah, the Festival of Lights. For North African Jews, Hanucah is also the time to celebrate Hag Habanot (Eid al-banat),  a holiday celebrated by Mizrahi communities on Rosh Hodesh of the Jewish month of Tevet. The festival takes place on Hanucah to honour the story of the Jewish heroine Judith and the important role of women in Jewish life. It is customary to sing, dance, and light the night’s menorah candle in honour of women.We reprint this JTA piece by Cnaan Liphshiz:

JTA — As a child growing up in Tunisia, Peggy Cidor and her sister would count the days to Hanukkah.

But the traditional lighting of the menorah and the eating of fried foods was only part of the excitement.

The other part was Rosh Chodesh el Benat, or “head of the month of daughters,” a holiday that North African Jews would celebrate on the sixth day of Hanukkah, the first day of the Hebrew month of Tevet.

Sometimes called by its Arabic name Aid al Benat, the holiday celebrates daughters, who would be gifted exquisite pastries and expensive gifts by their families.

In Cidor’s case, the gifts came from her father’s jewelry shop in the capital, Tunis.fter her family immigrated to Israel when Cidor was 10, the holiday was mostly abandoned, as it was by many North African Jewish families after they immigrated to Israel. But in recent years, Cidor has made an effort to bring it back.

“We do it on and off for now,” said Cidor, 69, a journalist and mother of three who lives in Jerusalem.

“But we finally have a granddaughter in the family and it’s coming back.”

Cidor is not alone in seeking to revive a tradition that is scarcely observed anymore even among Jews living in Tunisia, its country of origin. The World Federation of Tunisian Jewry in Israel has celebrated the day for the past 15 years, producing a festive event for about 200 participants that culminates with an homage to prominent female members of the community.

Read article in full

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