Thursday, 22 June 2017
Any serious student of Jewish history and tradition knows that the only authentic Sephardim are the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. They went on to settle in Western Europe including England, Holland, Denmark, North Western Germany, colonial America, the Caribbean and Brazil as well as in lands dominated by Islam, throughout North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans and across the Levant. There are thus many Sephardi Jews who have always lived in Europe and many Jewish communities around the world composed of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, who lived together and intermarried, notably in Italy, Egypt, Syria and Bulgaria, where later Ashkenazi immigrants arrived and were welcome by Sephardi residents. This has also been true in the Caribbean, South America and modern Israel.
Kurdish Jews being airlifted to Israel
Just as America's Afro-American population has gone through several self-designations indicating a search for their authentic identity ranging from Black to Colored to Negro and then Afro-American and for some, back to Black (originally a term of disparagement used by whites), Israel's Jews of Afro-Asian origin have shifted from Sephardi to Mizrachi (Oriental). For religious purposes, "Sephardi" describes the nusach ("litugical tradition") used by most non-Ashkenazi Jews in the Siddur (prayer book).
In reality, there are also many Jews who are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi. These include the Jews of Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, the Caucasus region (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia), all of whom are recognized as being of Afro-Asian origin yet have nothing to do with the original Sephardim. They are the descendants of the Jews who fled into exile following the Assyrian, Babylonian and Roman conquests of ancient Israel. No doubt, they were later joined by numerous converts who were attracted to the high moral and ethical principles that distinguished Judaism in ancient times from pagan and polytheistic religions.
There is indeed a serious social and geo-cultural cleavage in Israel's diverse Jewish population groups, precisely because all the four divisions overlap to a considerable degree. Most of the Jews from Africa and Asia arrived in Israel after 1948 and being relative newcomers had to adjust to difficult conditions. Most of them arrived destitute and unlike many of the Ashkenazim never received any reparations for their confiscated property.
They still tend to have larger families and as a rule are much more religiously observant than the Ashkenazim who established the secular norms and institutions of the Zionist movement and later of the State of Israel. It is only human nature that the new arrivals from Asia and Africa resented the more established veteran European settlers and those new immigrants from Europe who immediately found more personal connections and sympathy with the veteran Ashkenazi settlers through a common knowledge of Yiddish and shared political and social backgrounds.
A list of new army recruits will probably reveal names like de Leon, Toledano, Castro, Franco, Mizrahi, Dayan, Gabbai, Abulafia, Kimhi, Shar'abi, Sassoon, Azulay, Kadouri, Marziano, Ohana, Aflalo and Hasson, as often or more than Schwartz, Goldberg, Wolf, Guttmann, Rabinowitz, Berdichevsky, Kaplan or Finkelstein. So how then can they then be one people? They are, because history, traditions and their faith (whether they are orthodox observant or secular) have instilled in them the idea of sharing a common peoplehood.
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Tuesday, 13 June 2017
The choir at Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria
What wasn’t—what isn’t—forgivable, even looking back 50 years later, was how residents of those countries chose to vent their rage: By turning it against the Jews in their midst, most of who were studiously apolitical and had nothing to do with the war, its outbreak or its outcome.
Even in those countries that were, as some of us like to say, “nice to the Jews”—such as Tunisia, where fairly sizable Jewish communities were left in 1967—there were terrifying demonstrations and expressions of hatred and venom. Jews from Morocco left in exodus. In countries like Libya, murderous assaults took place that prompted an emergency evacuation of hundreds of Jews.
Egypt, where I was born and spent my early childhood, engaged in especially tawdry behavior. My family had left in 1963, following tens of thousands of other Jews out of the country. We did so reluctantly: My father didn’t want to go and it took pressure from my siblings to convince him. He simply couldn’t bear the thought of life outside of Egypt.
That was the case with a lot of Egyptian Jews. While they loved Israel too, they saw themselves as Egyptian. I can still hear Dad’s cries on the boat out of Alexandria harbor: “Ragaouna Masr”—Take Us Back to Cairo.
But our little boat kept chugging along.It wouldn’t turn back. It has taken me years to realize—sort of, as I still love Egypt passionately: Lucky us.
In 1967, there were an estimated 2,500-3,000 Jews still left between Cairo and Alexandria, down from a high of 80,000 in 1948.
On that week in ’67, the Egyptian government began rounding up Jewish men, to send to jails and prison camps. By accounts of the time, as many as 400 or 500 Jews were imprisoned.
While they gallantly left girls and women alone, authorities picked up Jewish men young and old. Even the Chief Rabbi of Alexandria was arrested. Enraged about their failure to defeat the Jewish state, the Egyptians turned their wrath on Jews whose crime, as far as I can tell, was that they were living in Egypt.
Nor did the aftermath of the war lead to the prisoners’ swift release. It is true some were in jail a mere couple of weeks until some foreign embassies helped get them out. But others lingered for months, even years, as Egypt released Jewish prisoners in painful dribs and drabs.
Albert Gabbai, rabbi of the venerable Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, was 18 and still in school in Cairo that June. He and his three older brothers and two sisters lived with their widowed mother. Their father, once a shirt-maker to King Farouk, had died years earlier and the brothers managed his clothing business along with their mom. Four other brothers had made it to America and the plan, he recalled, was to join them.
Rabbi Gabbai still remembers how the authorities first dragged his two older brothers to prison that week in June. Then some weeks later they came for him and another brother. They carried machine guns, yet were exquisitely polite, he recalls, inviting him to come with them as if they were going out for coffee. The four Gabbai brothers remained prisoners for three years, till June 1970.
There were other Jewish victims across the Middle East. While in Tunis researching a book on Jews of the Arab lands, I met with elderly Jews who vividly remembered that week in ’67, when a country that had treated them exceedingly well became simply unrecognizable.
They recalled how mobs took to the streets, targeting Jewish shops for destruction. They attacked the magnificent Grande Synagogue, whose enormous towering Jewish star was a testament to how tolerant Tunisian culture once had been.
The marauders turned their wrath on, of all places, the Kosher butcher shops on the Avenue de Paris, attacking them with odd ferocity and dragging carcasses of meat from the stores to the sidewalks. It was, I was told, a particularly gruesome sight.
Many Tunisian Jews left then and there, abandoning all they owned—homes, furniture, clothing. The expression I heard was “la clef dans la verouille“—they had left their key in the lock.
And Libya—yes, even Libya once had an important Jewish presence—was especially brutal to its Jews that week, who tried to barricade themselves in their homes to avoid the angry mobs. “Jewish stores, homes, synagogues were burned and destroyed. People were violated and killed,” and two families were murdered (except for one survivor who wasn’t there), said Vivienne Roumani, a Libyan Jew who made the 2007 film, The Last Jews of Libya. Later that month many of the Libyan Jews were evacuated to Italy. It was no longer possible for them to remain safe in Libya.
And that is how a Jewish presence that dated back 2,500 years, effectively ended, says Roumani, a native of Benghazi who left Libya in 1962.
Perhaps that is why, whenever a supporter of the BDS movement targeting Israel insists they are “only” anti-Israel not anti-Jewish, I cast a cold eye, recalling how bogus that distinction turned out to be for Jews of Arab countries. It is as false now as it was 50 years back.
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Last Thursday’s election was a turning point in Scottish politics.
Across Scotland the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party vote nearly doubled and, in our best result since 1983, a total of 13 constituencies – from the Borders to Banffshire – returned Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament.
I am enormously proud of the campaign we fought and each and every one of the MPs we returned will be local champions for their constituencies.
I want to thank the thousands of Scottish Conservatives activists who were the engine of our campaign and everyone in Scotland who put their faith in us – we will not let you down.
But Thursday’s election has a much greater significance. It was the day on which people across Scotland delivered their verdict on the SNP’s drive for another independence referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon said independence was ‘at the heart’ of the SNP’s campaign. And in ballot boxes the length and breadth of the country, Scotland said ‘No’ to another referendum.
It could not be any clearer. A majority of people in Scotland don’t want another referendum, they have spoken and it is time Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP finally accepted it.
Instead, we need to focus on the challenges we face on education, on NHS funding, on the new tax and welfare powers coming to Scotland – as well as the huge challenge of Brexit.
So that is the work that my new team of Scottish Conservative and Unionist MPs will be getting down to, and what my group of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament will be focusing on over the months to come.
Our promise is to deliver for Scotland, not to divide – and to show how the Union can work for all of us.
It’s time to put the divisions of the past behind us and work for a better future for everyone in Scotland.
Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party
Thursday, 8 June 2017
Prior to 1967 part of the western wall was used as a toilet by local Arab residents of Jerusalem's Old City. One wonders, since we hear from groups that the Wall is also an Islamic holy site called "al-Buraq" why would one build a toilet at it?
We always hear these stories about "coexistence" in Ottoman Palestine before the arrival of Zionists in the 19th century.
But what was this coexistence? Toilets next to holy sites, purposely placed there because the residents knew it was holy to someone else. Let's see, also slaughterhouses and other stench next to the Jewish quarter. Part of the "coexistence" of putting latrines and animal blood next to the religion you "coexist" with?
The reality of "coexistence" in the Middle East is that there was no real coexistence in most places. There was second and third class status for minorities, whichever those minorities happened to be. If they accepted that status then they were allowed to "exist" not truly coexistence, except on rare occasions.
That means when you "coexist" with people you constantly harass them through dominance; you build religious buildings purposely next to the holy sites of others, or you dump trash and animal parts and human waste next to the houses of worship and holy sites of others.
Even today for instance in the village of Artas in the West Bank the residents just "happen" to dump trash at the entrance to a Catholic Monastery. Surely it's a coincidence.
There never was coexistence in most of the Middle East or Europe. It is one of the greatest lies. There was sometimes mutual existence; side by side, even times when minorities did well; but never was there truly any sense of equality and real respect and deference to others.
Today of course we can see the region suffering under even greater intolerance precisely because of the past low level symbolic intolerance.