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.
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Sunday, 4 June 2017
Tale of a Jewish community torn between Israel and India
Novelist Sethu mixes fact, fiction, myth and legend to create a compelling narrative about a community unsure of whether to uproot itself
Friday, 2 June 2017
Friday, June 02, 2017
Refugee issue could swing support for a peace deal
Thursday, 1 June 2017
Times of Israel reports about ‘Biafran Jews’ on its front Cover
The “Times of Israel” for the first time has carried news concerning ‘Biafran Jews’ on its Front Cover.
The Times of Israel is an Israeli-based news website launched in 2012. It was co-founded by journalist David Horovitz, who is also the founding editor, and US hedge fund manager Seth Klarman. The online English website covers “developments in Israel, the Middle East and around the Jewish world,” according to the site’s nameplate. It also covers news related to the American Jewish community. The website also publishes Arabic, French, Chinese and Persian editions.
In its article concerning Biafra, The times of Israel reported ”Nigeria on Tuesday marks 50 years since the declaration of an independent Republic of Biafra plunged the country into a civil war, amid renewed tensions and fresh calls for a separate state.
The main pro-independence groups — the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) — have called for a day of reflection.
Among the IPOB are one of the largest ethnic groups in the central African nation, the Igbo people, and among them is a small minority of practicing Jews, who believe they are descended from the tribes of Israel.
During the last 30 years or so, many Igbo Jews have moved to match their tradition of Jewish descent with the practice of rabbinic Judaism, the learning of Hebrew, observance of kosher dietary laws and observance of Jewish holidays. Many Igbo Jews are passionately Zionist.
In 1970, after nearly three years of fighting, Biafran soldiers, who were outnumbered 10 to one by federal troops and under-equipped, laid down their arms.
The conflict caused an estimated million deaths, many of them by starvation after the secessionist region was blockaded.
With surrender went their dreams of a separate state for the Igbo people, who are the majority in the southeast.
Half a century later, Biafra remains an extremely sensitive subject in Nigeria.
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Brought up by his widowed mother in the old Baghdad quarter of Tatran, Fattal provided a corrective in his memoir, In the Alleys of Baghdad, to the nostalgia of Jews from prosperous families. His autobiography records a childhood of deprivation and tragedy. Fattal joined the Iraqi communist party but had to leave Iraq owing to persecution. In his later years, Fattal devoted much energy to fighting revisionist accountsof Jewish-Arab coexistence which downplayed antisemitism in Arab countries 'to flatter'.
Fattal's uncle Meir, together with his business partner Nahum, were murdered on the first day of the pogrom on Shavuot 1941. Their bodies were never found. Giving his testimony in 2016 on the 75th anniversary of the Farhud, Fattal choked back his tears when he recalled his mother's words: Only when I arrived in Israel could I talk about Meir without crying."
In the 1960s Fattal interviewed 100 survivors for a TV documentary series he made on the Farhud. In 2016 he recorded this clip for JIMENA on the causes of the 1941 Farhud.
One arrival in Israel, he found work as an Arabic-speaking radio announcer, but his communist past caught up with him and he lost the job. He tried several other career paths, and each time he was fired for his past political beliefs.
“I came to the conclusion it’s better to work in a laboratory with mice,” he told a Jewish News of northern California reporter.
In time he earned a degree in biology and a master’s degree in Islamic civilisation and Arabic literature. In 1962 he returned to Arabic-language broadcasting, first in radio and later in TV.
As director of Israel's Arabic broadcasting service, Fattal had to fill three hours of airtime a day. On Fridays, he instituted the Arabic movie, screening bootlegged copies of Egyptian films. The slot became extremely popular, not just among Arab viewers, but Jewish Israelis. In 1968 he created a show called “Sammy & Susu,” one of the most watched Arabic children’s programmes of the time. He also acquired programs from the BBC and American networks, all subtitled in Hebrew and Arabic.
But the defining event of his life remained the Farhud, which he vividly recalled as a boy of 11 in his memoirs. His family decided to bribe a policeman to protect them from the mob.
"We could see them right under our noses and if they had decided to attack us then, no one could have stopped them as it was very easy for the rioters to move from roof to roof. So we called our armed policeman from outside and begged him to fire a few bullets in the air to scare them away. Our policeman insisted on more payment and my Uncle Naim argued that we had already paid him generously. But our policeman kept repeating: 'How much will you pay?' while our situation was getting more and more threatening by the minute. Finally they agreed upon half a dinar per bullet. Had he refused, we would have taken his gun. The policeman fired two shots and paused and then two more shots, until he saw the rioters move away."
Salim Fattal's funeral will take place on 1 June at 13:00 Israel time at the Nes Harim cemetery. Israel 's Channel 10 will show episodes of Farhud Stories by Salim Fattal at 14.15 on 2 June, on Motzae Shabbat on 3 June and on 10 June.
June 1 and 2 this year mark the 70th anniversary of what became known as the Farhud ( "violent dispossession" in Arabic). As significant as Kristallnacht, the pogrom sounded the death-knell for the oldest community in the diaspora and was a clear demonstration of the hatred exported to the Middle East by Hitler. The Farhud brought to an end 2,600 years of Jewish settlement, yet little has been written about it, very little is taught in Holocaust studies about it, and the British role has never been fully investigated, although many survivors still bear a lifelong distrust of Britain.
The Jews of Iraq had been living peacefully for millennia in Baghdad since the time of Babylon and by 1941 numbered around 150,000, over a third of the population. Professor Heskel Haddad, now an ophthalmologist in Manhattan, was 11-years- old at the time and recalls a happy and secure early childhood. "We had many Jewish and Arab Muslim neighbours and we were very friendly with them. I was Jewish in religion but I felt very much Iraqi. I loved Iraq and I loved the people, whether Muslim or Jew."
One month before the Farhud a violent coup brought a rabidly pro-Nazi lawyer, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, to power, forcing the country's regent, a friend of the Jews, to seek British protection. Rashid Ali brought to his side the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a man with strong ties to the Third Reich who had fled from Palestine. Together, they indoctrinated the country with Nazi propaganda; children in Iraqi schools were taught to praise Hitler and that Jews were the internal enemy; Radio Berlin began regular broadcasts in Arabic. Their aim was to rid Iraq of the British presence and turn the country's oil reserves over to the Germans.
The regent's return was announced two days later, to the relief of the Jews celebrating Shavuot. Their joy turned to horror however when the Muslims mistook their celebrations to be the result of the country's downfall at the hands of the British. A huge mob gathered, armed with knives, swords and guns, chanting "Ketaal al yehud" ("Slaughter the Jews"). Eleven-year-old Haddad was with his family having a festive meal. "Suddenly we heard screams, 'Allah Allah', and shots were fired," he recalls. "We went out to the roof to see what was happening - we saw fires, we saw people on the roofs screaming, begging God to help them. There was a guy across the street from our house screaming: 'Help me! Give me water!' and my father didn't let me give him water because he was afraid that I might be killed by the gangs. The voice of this man ended an hour or two later when I guess he died."
Salim Fattal was also 11, living with his family in the Jewish quarter of Tatran. Like everyone, they were completely unprepared for the violence that hit the city. "We were hiding with all the children and women in the cellar listening to the whistling of bullets around our house," he says. "We had no weapons and there were four men trying to defend 21 women and children with just some sticks and knives. We knew we couldn't defend the house against these armed invaders. It was terrifying."
Taken by surprise and with no protection, Jews either defended themselves with whatever they could find or else bribed Iraqi policemen to protect them. Fattal's mother found one near their alley and approached him with a parcel of money. The policeman agreed to stay with them until midnight.
The violence worsened during the night and the mob was soon in its tens of thousands, targeting every Jewish home in the city. The task was easy as a red hamsa - a traditional hand symbol - had been painted on the exteriors.
"We could hear screams from our neighbours which was a horrifying sound," continues Fattal, even now crying at the memory. "All of them all started to shout and scream and it would last for two minutes or so, and then the sound died. Then the same sound would renew from other directions. These voices have never left me. They were so strong, so close and so clear."
By the second day, Fattal could see from his balcony that the mob was attacking his neighbour's house. "We could see them right under our noses and if they had decided to attack us then, no one could have stopped them as it was very easy for the rioters to move from roof to roof. So we called our armed policeman from outside and begged him to fire a few bullets in the air to scare them away. Our policeman insisted on more payment and my Uncle Naim argued that we had already paid him generously. But our policeman kept repeating: 'How much will you pay?' while our situation was getting more and more threatening by the minute. Finally they agreed upon half a dinar per bullet. Had he refused, we would have taken his gun. The policeman fired two shots and paused and then two more shots, until he saw the rioters move away."
There were also accounts of Muslims acting heroically to save their Jewish neighbours. Steve Acre was nine at the time, living with his widowed mother and eight siblings in their landlord's house. "Our landlord was a devout Muslim called Hajji who wore a green turban, and when the mob came, he sat in front of them and told them that there were orphans in his house and that if they wanted to kill us, they would have to kill him first. So they moved on across the street."
Acre, who has been living in Montreal for over 50 years, sees Iraqi Nazism as the direct cause of the Farhud, but also blames the British for not having stopped it when it was within their power. (...)
Tony Rocca, who researched and co-wrote Memories of Eden with a survivor of the Farhud, Violette Shamash, agrees. "To Britain's shame, the army was stood down while hundreds of Jews were killed in rioting that raged over two days with damage estimated at £13 million by today's values. Archive material points to one man who deliberately kept the troops out. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain's ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct contradiction to express orders from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety."
The violence was stopped only when it appeared the rioters were getting carried away and entering Muslim areas. A curfew was called, and Iraqi troops began shooting looters. But the death toll of around 800 and thousands more injured is a memory Acre can never forget. "When you hear yelling and screaming of women and children, it stays with you forever."
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More about the Farhud