Friday, October 21, 2016

NYT 's unflattering portrait of 'Macarthyist' Miri Regev

Never shy to bash Israel's right-wing, Ruth Margalit in the New York Times paints this somewhat unflattering portrait of Miri Regev, culture minister in the curent Netanyahu government.But Regev is more than a minister, she is leading a cultural war against Israel's highbrow Ashkenazi elite. It is a war where the NYT is firmly on the side of the elitists. See my comment below (with thanks: Henry):

 The Tel Aviv Museum of art is a somber slab of concrete built in the no-fuss brutalist style of the late ’60s. The architect who planned the museum also designed Israel’s nuclear reactor; such is the overlap between culture and political exigency in the country.

One Sunday in March, a throng of artists, actors and writers clustered in the museum’s main auditorium. They were awaiting the arrival of Miri Regev, Israel’s culture and sports minister, of the ruling Likud Party. A year earlier, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister and the chairman of Likud, secured a fourth term in office and swore in his ministers, a coalition widely regarded as the most right-wing in Israeli history. In that time, Regev has done just about everything she can to alienate and enrage those she considers the elites, or the “cultural junta,” of Israel. Leftists. Secularists. Tel Avivians. Ashkenazim — Jews of European origin. People who, as she told me recently, think that “classical music is better than the Andalusian music” of Morocco, or that “Chekhov is more important than Maimonides.”

 Miri Regev, culture warrior (photo: Uri Sinai)

Regev, who is 51, grew up in Kiryat Gat, a development town in Israel’s south, which — like many other towns in Israel’s peripheria, or periphery, the areas outside the country’s urban center — was set up in the 1950s to house the influx of Jewish immigrants from Muslim countries. In person she is warm; after two minutes of conversation she will call you kapara (“sweetheart” in Jewish Moroccan dialect) or neshama (“soul” in Hebrew). Yet in public life she comes across as crass and hotheaded.

 That afternoon in the museum, she was venturing into hostile territory. She had agreed to speak at an arts-and-culture conference organized by the liberal newspaper Haaretz to address the interplay of state funding and cultural production. Many of those in attendance wondered if Regev had come to make amends: Shortly after her appointment, at a meeting with stage actors and guild representatives, Regev all but acknowledged being driven by a sense of political vendetta. “We got 30 seats” — in the Knesset — “you got only 20,” she told those present. She later gave an interview in which she called the Israeli creative class “tight-assed” and “ungrateful.”

 When at last Regev materialized, wearing an all-black ensemble and crimson lipstick, a murmur swept through the auditorium. She is a striking, fiery presence with wide-set eyes, prominent lips and dark hair streaked with reddish highlights. Standing in front of the audience, her expression set between a smirk and a scowl, she clutched the lectern with one hand. “I was always told to start a speech with a quote; it makes for a cultured impression,” she began. “So here goes. As the famed Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once put it” — she switched to accented English — “Cut the bullshit! Cut the bullshit!”

  Read article in full

  My comment: The article's title: the Commissar of Culture" tells you all you need to know about Miri Regev. Vulgar, unsophisticated, she is a stalinist and a populist, an opportunist who would have joined any party just to gain power. She rose through the ranks of the military as a censor. Her role as culture minister is therefore 'Macarthyist censorship' - politicising the funding of art in order to promote her own pro-settler, anti-Arab, 'right-wing' agenda. The NYT can no longer brand theMizrahim as the victims of the Ashkenazi establishment.Suddenly, they are the establishment.  One would have expected the leftist New York Times to support Regev's anti-elitist revolution: but no, the reporter sees her as reactionary and anti-Palestinian. There is little attempt to understand how her Mizrahi background has shaped her views. She is seen fraternising with the wrong kind of Arab - not the 'moderate' MK Ayman Odeh, for whom Shimon Peres was not enough of a peacemaker for Odeh to turn up at his funeral - but the kind who are willing to reach an accommodation with the Zionist state.

Moroccan Miri's revenge

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pink pages blacken Israel over Yemenite affair

The august pink pages of the Financial Times have been carrying a long feature on the Yemenite Children Affair, hinting at an institutional cover-up of kidnappings, or children said to be dead but actually forcibly removed from their parents in the early days of the state. But in the absence of firm evidence, is the FT's purpose simply to use innuendo to blacken Israel's name? (When did it last run a feature about social engineering in Australia?) See my comment below(with thanks: Gina):

Naomi Giat, 92 (photo:Tom Ifrach)

Naomi Giat may be 92 but she speaks of her flight from Yemen nearly seven decades ago with the wide-eyed urgency of a young woman recounting events that happened the other day. A seamstress, Naomi married her husband Yehiel, a jeweller, aged 13. In 1949, as life in Yemen became increasingly untenable for its ancient Jewish community, the young couple trekked from Sana’a to a transit camp near Aden to take part in Operation Magic Carpet, a massive airlift of Jews to the new state of Israel. The Jews had to put their jewellery in a box before boarding: it might weigh the plane down, an official told her. She never saw her silver necklace or bracelets again.

“Heaven,” she says, when asked how she imagined life in the new land would be. Because Naomi was breastfeeding her infant son Yosef, aged one, the couple spent just one night at the camp before being fast-tracked on to a flight. But the trip, Naomi’s first on a plane, was nerve-wracking;" When the plane landed in Lod in central Israel, it was dark, cold and hailing. As Naomi reached the tarmac at the bottom of the stairs, a waiting nurse told her she needed to take Yosef. Naomi protested but the nurse insisted, saying the baby was ill and needed tests. It was the last she saw of her son. Later the nurse came to their tent and told them that Yosef had been taken to another transit camp; two months later, Naomi and Yehiel were told he had died. There was no death certificate or grave. Naomi pined for Yosef, keeping and washing his nightgown for years. She still lights a candle on Friday evenings in his memory.

“I just want to know what happened to him,” she says in lilting, Arabic-accented Hebrew. She is not alone. Many families, mostly Yemenites or other Mizrachi (“eastern”) Jews from the Middle East, reported babies missing from hospital after sudden or suspicious deaths in the tumultuous years following Israel’s creation in 1948. Most parents believe — and in a handful of cases it has been proven, through DNA tests or paper trails — that their children were taken from hospitals or refugee camps and given to childless Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis of east European descent, including Holocaust survivors. Israel is now promising a full accounting of this alleged scandal, dubbed the Yemenite Children Affair because so many stories come from that community. Families from north Africa, Iraq and other countries have also reported children missing, as did some Ashkenazim from Balkan or other European nations. Suspicions first stirred on a widespread scale in the 1960s, when many parents began to receive military draft notices for their deceased children in the post. These suggested that the state was unaware the children were dead — or, the parents say, actively knew that they were alive.

 The Yemenite Children Affair has been the subject of three Israeli official inquiries already, resurfacing every decade or two like a recurrent fever dream. The most recent state probe, in 2001, examined more than 1,000 cases and concluded that most of the children in question had died natural deaths. While it said that some of the remaining ones were probably adopted — and did not reach conclusions in a number of cases — it found no evidence of kidnapping or an organised conspiracy. However, the committee ordered the files in the inquiry sealed until 2071, prompting families who lost children — and the activists advocating for them — to accuse the state of a cover-up.

Read article in full

My comment: why does a respectable newspaper of international repute run a long -very long - feature about a domestic controversy in Israel that supposedly occured nearly 70 years ago ? As minister without portfolio Tsachi Hanegbi pours over files that might not be accessible till 2017, why did the journalist John Reed not wait till the end of October 2016 to learn of Hanegbi's recommendations to declassify the documents, or not, instead of indulging in speculation that the Yemenite Children Affair might have been a government cover-up? The case studies of the families who lost babies are desperately sad, but experts, including the historian Tom Segev, affirm that 90 percent of the lost children died of natural causes. However, the lingering impression to the average reader is of Israel as a force for evil. From the very first paragraph, Israel is demonised and assertions of 'crimes against humanity' - 'something that can't be separated from the Zionist project' linger in the mind. They steal jewellery, don't they? why would they not steal children? Well-worn cliches about 1950s European elitism, even racism, and the  'Sephardi-Ashkenazi' divide are trotted out, although the reporter admits that families from the Balkans and other European countries also lost children. Then there is the obligatory, derogatory quote from Ben Gurion, although he also said some complimentary things about Mizrahim.

More about the Yemenite children

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Syrian Jews: "suddenly, you leave everything behind."

It's a hair-raising tale of escape, fraught with danger, but Jews from Syria and Iraq were so desperate to leave in the 1970s and 80s that they were prepared to trust their lives to smugglers. Two brothers, born in Damascus, who later had successful careers in Israeli military intelligence, tell Israel Hayom their story. (With thanks: Lily)

Jewish Agency representatives equipped the father will all the documents he would be required to show to Syrian intelligence officials about his European vacation and sent him back with the guarantee that a few days later, an agent would come to his house and smuggle him and his family out of Syria.

As a way of identifying the agent, the Jewish Agency people took a Syrian coin, which had three holes, and tore a banknote in two, half of which they gave the father, and the other half of which they stuck into one of the holes in the coin. "

When he returned home, he didn't tell anyone about his plans. There were plenty of Jews at the synagogue who informed to the regime in exchange for protection of one kind or another, so only his two other brothers, who wanted to make aliyah, were privy to the secret," M. says.

 But a few weeks after their father returned to Syria, the First Lebanon War broke out, and the plan was shelved. The agent never arrived, and the father put his dream aside and went on with his life.

But three years later, a man entered his shop and asked the father for a glass of water. When he received it, he presented the coin with the half-banknote in it to the astonished father. "He asked the agent, 'When?' and he answered 'Tomorrow morning.'

In the meantime, one of the brothers had gotten engaged, and they had both opened a successful business together, so he asked [the agent] for a few hours to talk to his brothers, and they agreed to meet again that evening," A. says. Running around crazed, the father asked his brothers if the plan was still on.

"They didn't hesitate for a second and told him this was their only chance. You have to understand that it was a very dangerous scheme, with an unknown outcome, and that other than the dream, no one really knew what awaited them in Israel. He didn't want them to blame him if something went wrong. 'It's their choice,' he said, but they insisted it was what they wanted."

 The agent was actually a local collaborator who knew the smuggling routes to the border with Israel and life out in the open. Three days after the meeting in the shop, on Tisha B'Av 1985, A. and M., their father and mother, their uncles, and the fiancée and her uncle set out for a bordering country, from which they would continue on to Israel. The family told their relatives that they were headed for the resort town of Latakia. So as not to arouse suspicion, each brother left from a different point in the city.

 "Since it was a total secret, [our father] didn't tell us and his brothers didn't tell the fiancée," A. says. "One word out of place, and it would have put all our lives in danger. But I -- a 15-year-old -- knew. I felt the excitement in the air. I saw my father talking with my mother and even though I didn't hear what they were saying, I saw my mother packing food and when I left school, I knew that it was for the last time. I was euphoric, like the moment I'd been waiting for my whole life was finally here.

When we left, my father bid his employees goodbye and said he would see them a few days later. That's how careful he had to be. Suddenly, out of the blue, you leave everything behind. Your business, your property, your house, your friends, and your family. Everything you built in your life, and go out to build a new life," A. remembers.

Read article in full

Monday, October 17, 2016

'Moroccan king helped Mossad' is old hat

The news that the Moroccan King Hassan II allowed the Mossad to listen in on conversations at the Arab League summit in Casablanca in 1965, thus 'helping Israel to win the Six-Day War, is in fact an old story. The 'revelations' by Shlomo Gazit, ex-chief of Military Intelligence, broken by Yediot Aharonot and carried by other news media have been common knowledge for decades.

The Economist carried this obituary for King Hassan, who died in July 1999. It called him a 'ruthless manipulator':

Queen Elizabeth on her official visit to Morocco: king Hassan was an hour late to dinner (Photo:Hilton)

"He was less polite to European monarchs, perhaps because they have little power, and turned up nearly an hour late to dine with Queen Elizabeth when she visited Morocco in 1980. But where he considered it mattered, King Hassan was a dab hand at manipulating western opinion.

On independence from France in 1956, Morocco had 350,000 Jews, a large and influential minority. Within two decades nearly all had been exported*, most to Israel, under covert agreement with that country. King Hassan used the few Jews who remained to sell his kingdom as an oasis of pluralism amid the climate of Arab intolerance, a fancy lapped up by pro-Israel lobbies in Washington and Paris. Having earned trust in Israel, he was often able to act as a go-between for other Arab countries.

 European dignitaries, plus a present and past American president, came to his funeral to hail him as a peacemaker. But his relationship with Israel was less about peace than the elimination of mutual foes. Israel's secret service, the Mossad, helped the king to abduct his former maths teacher and leftist opponent, Mehdi Ben Barka, in a Paris café in 1965, and subsequently kill him.

 Israel and the United States supplied the tanks to crush the Polisario Front, a guerrilla force struggling for independence in Western Sahara. United Nations officials say the defensive sand walls in Western Sahara bear remarkable similarity to the Bar Lev line the Israelis once constructed to keep Egypt at bay. The king let the Mossad set up a base in Morocco in 1964, and eavesdrop on an Arab summit called to discuss a united military command on the eve of the 1967 six-day war.

In domestic affairs, King Hassan fiddled continually with the constitution to secure power while retaining a whiff of democracy. His amendments of 1970 banned parliament from debating royal decrees, since that was tantamount to challenging the will of God. The king retained control of internal security, foreign policy and defence.

 Moroccan law still forbids inquiry into the king's finances. In the mid-1970s, having expropriated the property of French settlers, the king was reported to own a fifth of the country's arable land. The mining of phosphates (Morocco is the world's largest exporter) remains a royal concern. By the time of his death, the king had built at least ten golf courses for his private use, including one in Fez, floodlit for nighttime rounds."

*'driven out' is possibly a more appropriate term: the atmosphere was one of virulent antisemitic nationalism and repression, despite King Hassan's philosemitism, and the remaining Jews of Morocco left amid the heightened tensions following the 1967 war.

My return to Morocco

'Succah ve'Lulav', sung Iraqi-style

Today is the first day of Succot, the Feast of Tabernacles. Jews recall the Biblical time when the Children of Israel  built makeshift huts in the desert on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Enjoy this Iraqi-style medley  sung at this time of year.

Wishing all readers who are celebrating this Feast Hag Sameah.

More posts about Succot

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Mizrahi education could unite religious and secular

Erez Biton hands his report to education minister Naftali Bennett (Flash 90)

In  commissioning the Biton Report, was education minister Naftali Bennett making a play for the Mizrahi electorate - slightly less cynical than using a sports star ? (Or was it the result of 
years of lobbying by organisations representing Jews from Arab countries?). Either way, Arye Tepper, writing in The Tower sees the promotion of Mizrahi heritage as a means to unite religious and secular Jews in Israel. 

The inexplicable manner in which the heritage of Mizrahim—Jews from Arab and Islamic lands—is elided in Israeli schools was recently put on display with the release of the 360-page Biton Committee Report. Formed in March 2016 at the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and led by the critically-acclaimed Algerian-born Israeli poet Erez Biton, the committee assessed the manner in which Mizrahi heritage is taught (or isn’t taught) in the Israeli educational system.

 The Biton Committee divided its work into nine subcommittees. The subcommittees were manned by 80 academics and experts who met weekly or biweekly in order to address different aspects of the Mizrahi story. Aside from a brief introductory synopsis, the report is, essentially, a summary of the work done by the different subcommittees. Unsurprisingly, the report calls for increasing the amount of Mizrahi history taught in grades 1-12. With regard to literature, the report notes, “At present a high school student studying in the state school system can complete his or her study…without having been exposed to the Mizrahi voice except for the poets of the Golden Age of Spain.” This, too, is supposed to change.

 Specifically, the report recommends studying “the young generation of (Israeli) poets and musicians that has exploded on to the Israeli scene,” with an eye toward the working-class, southern development towns where many of these artists grew up and Mizrahi Jews were originally settled by the government. “This is another important perspective for studying the Land of Israel.” The committee also recommends utilizing the period around November 30th, designated Mizrahi Heritage Day by the Knesset in 2014 in order to commemorate the flight of Jews from Arab and Islamic lands, for teaching students about Mizrahi history and culture.

  Read article in full

Friday, October 14, 2016

Libyan Jew: "Exile broke my father"

The story of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries is often described as a success - people who have managed to rebuild their lives and create a better future for themselves and their children. But as this heart-rending portrait by Raphael Luzon of his father shows, the human cost of exile is too often overlooked:   
The site of Raphael Luzon's father's office in Benghazi (photo: RL for the Jewish Chronicle)

"Exile broke him. The economic and social decline, the polarity of life between Libya and Italy, demolished his existence. The mourning for a lost life never left him, so he remained what he had always been - a Libyan Jew. He took good care of us, and he worked hard to give us a good life and a future. I felt that the man I had admired all these years had left his soul in Benghazi, and I would never see the same spirit again.

"In Italy he haggled over goods as he used to in Libya, but locals would mock him as he tried to be funny. The jokes he cracked fell on deaf ears and would rarely receive so much as a giggle. All his time was spent with Libyans, both Jews and Muslims.

 "Every time  he heard someone had arrived in Rome from Libya, he was filled  with an incomprehensible expectation and happiness. He would try every possible way to get in touch with them so that he could hear about the siutation in Libya. Not even once had he expressed his rancour or revenge towards the Libyans: h felt that fate was the culprit, responsible for everything. The situation eventually changed into degradation and  then to depression. After his soul surrendered, his body followed and he became ill with kidney failure. Apart from a brief stint in employment, he refused to work. One a man of wealth, he never would have thought about standing in line at the soup kitchen with charity coupons to get meals for himself and his family. My mother urged him to fight back, but her words fell on deaf ears. He had long ago lost the will to live. "

From Libyan Twilight, by Raphael Luzon (pages 26 - 27)

Reviews of Libyan Twilight 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why Jew-hatred is at the centre of Islamism

The extermination of the Jews became the centrepiece of jihadist ideology in the 1930s and 40s.  Haj Amin-al-Husseini, The Mufti of Jerusalem, was the lynchpin connecting Nazis, Jihadists and Jew-hatred. Important ISGAP piece by Professor David Patterson:

The Mufti: lynchpin between Nazism, Jihad and Jew-hatred
With onset of the war in Europe the Brotherhood became even more avid supporters of the Nazis. By 1945 they had become a hybrid of Nazism and Islam to form Islamic Jihadism, making the extermination of the Jews not just a political or territorial aim but a defining element of their worldview: one cannot be part of the Brotherhood or any other Islamic Jihadist group, just as one cannot be a Nazi, without espousing the extermination of the Jews. When on 20 June 1946 King Farouk granted asylum to al-Husseini, now wanted as a Nazi war criminal, al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood - ed) applauded the decision, declaring that “in Berlin he [al-Husseini] had been purely and simply carrying out jihad [just as the Nazis had done].”[3] The Mufti thus became a source of inspiration to the Jihadists for his devotion to the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews. In al-Husseini, then, we have an important key to the connections that bind together Nazis, Jihadists, and Jew hatred.

On 8 May 1921 British Mandate Governor Herbert Samuel appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Two months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 al-Husseini had his first meeting with German General Consul Heinrich Wolff in Jerusalem. Al-Husseini’s Arab Revolt “took place against the background of the swastika: Arab leaflets and signs on walls were prominently marked with this Nazi symbol; youth organizations… paraded as ‘Nazi-scouts,’ and Arab children greeted each other with the Nazi salute.”[4] 

 On 2 October 1937 al-Husseini met with Adolf Eichmann in Palestine. On 13 October, he fled Palestine, wanted for inciting insurrection against the British Mandate government. Two years later, now on the payroll of Nazi Germany, he set up his base of operations in Baghdad. In a memorandum dated 5 February 1941 the Wehrmacht High Command assured al-Husseini that Germany could promise “everything they [the Arabs] wanted on ‘the solution of the Jewish question in Palestine.’”[5]

 On 3 April 1941 al-Husseini orchestrated a Nazi-backed coup against the Iraqi government, whereupon he incited the slaughter of 600 Jews in Baghdad; 911 houses were destroyed and 586 businesses ransacked.[6] The coup failed, however, and a few weeks later the Mufti turned up in Berlin.

After his initial meeting with the Führer on 28 November 1941, he recorded in his diary Hitler’s insistence that the Nazis and the Arabs are engaged in the same struggle, namely, to exterminate the Jews.[7] The Nazis gave al-Hussein six radio stations to spread their propaganda to the Arab world. In his broadcasts he repeatedly urged Muslims to kill Jews everywhere. On 11 December 1942 he issued a call to “martyrdom” as allies with Germany in the war against the English and the Jews. “The spilled blood of martyrs,” he cried, “is the water of life.” And: If England and her allies should win the war, “Israel would rule the whole world”; if the Nazis should win, “the Jewish danger” would be defeated.[8]

Of course, he did more than radio broadcasts: as early as January 1941 al-Husseini had gone to Bosnia to convince Muslim leaders that a Muslim SS division would bring glory to Islam. Dalin and Rothman estimate that he recruited as many as 100, 000 Muslims to fight for the Nazis.[9] The largest of the Muslim killing units was the 13th Handschar Division of 21,065 men. They went into action in February 1944.[10] After the war “his association with the Axis had enhanced rather than shattered his halo” in the Muslim world.[11] In 1946 he embraced Yasser Arafat, future head of the PLO, as his protégé and brought in a former Nazi officer for Arafat’s military training.

Read article in full

Monday, October 10, 2016

On Yom Kippur, heed Nahum's message

On Yom Kippur, which begins this evening, Jews are reminded of the story of Jonah, who was commanded by God to warn the people of Nineveh in Assyria that He would destroy them within 40 days unless they repented their evil ways. But we also need to hear the message of the underrated prophet Nahum - that repentance is useless without a commitment to good behaviour,  argues Michael (Nahum) Schwartz in Mosaic.

Hazzem Farraj, a Palestinian-American who converted to Christianity, shot this video of the neglected tomb of the Prophet Nahum at al-Kosh in September 2016 in a bid to alert the world to the destruction of Jewish and Christian heritage in Iraq

"And that brings us back, finally, to the placement of Nahum’s book within the order of the twelve minor prophets and to its connection with Jonah. An ancient tradition evidently positioned the two books together, with Jonah first; that is how they appear in the Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Bible from a now-lost Hebrew text that long antedates the earliest surviving manuscript of the Tanakh we use today. In today’s ordering, the book of Micah comes between them. But whether cheek-to-cheek or one apart, it is hard to resist the inference that we are expected to encounter the two books—both addressing the divine encounter with Assyria, but with very different messages—in tandem. Reading Nahum in isolation is, I think, untrue to the reason why his book was preserved in the first place.

"In Jonah, the reluctant prophet warns Nineveh that divine destruction is only 40 days away. The book then carefully details the acts of repentance undertaken by the alarmed Ninevites: the king himself removes his royal robes, puts on sackcloth, and sits in ashes, ordering his people (and their animals!) to fast, wear sackcloth, and “turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” When God sees “their deeds in that they turned from their evil way,” He relents and spares all.
Nahum, for his part, enlightens us to what is about to befall that same city and kingdom at the hands of that same God—after Nineveh has exploited its divine reprieve to oppress Israel and nearly extinguish it. When one reads Nahum in conjunction with Jonah, and with alertness to the ugly and violent deeds of a Nineveh that has reverted to its pre-Jonah ways, a familiar, even orthodox lesson emerges: repentance by itself, however fully its forms are observed and with whatever momentary sincerity, is not enough to keep God’s favor. Ultimately, if proper ritual behavior isn’t matched by actual good behavior, divine destruction follows. For teaching this lesson, and with such searing clarity, Nahum deserves to be brought in from the cold and to be read and appreciated not in isolation but “among the prophets,” particularly Jonah."

Read article in full

Medieval Spain was no Golden Age

 The Moorish palace at Granada, the last city to fall to the Reconquista

Dario Fernandez-Morera is a brave man. in his book, The Myth of the Andalusian paradise, he has taken on the formidable task  of exploding the myth of interfaith harmony in medieval Muslim Spain. But was what followed much better? asks Lyn Julius in Standpoint magazine. 

In 2008 France was rocked by a fierce controversy when a medievalist academic named Sylvain Gouguenheim published an essay. Contrary to majority opinion, “Aristotle at St Michael’s Mount” argued that Muslim Spain in the Middle Ages had not acted as a conduit for the transmission of classical Greek texts to the West. Syriac Christians, rather than Arab Muslims with barely a knowledge of Greek, he contended, had ensured the preservation of Greek civilisation.

Hundreds signed petitions and letters to the press, rounding on Gouguenheim and accusing him of Islamophobia. Few academics came out in his defence. His ideas fell foul of the politically-driven agenda to promote “Golden Age” Spain as a brilliant period of interfaith coexistence. The witchhunt demonstrated the dangers of attempting to dislodge prevailing myths.

Darío Fernández-Morera, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University, must be commended for daring to wade into this hazardous arena. He has come well-armed: his The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise has 95 pages of notes, and the lionisers of political correctness will not find it easy to penetrate chinks in his bibliographical armour of primary and secondary sources, many not published in English.

In an exhilarating and unput-downable read, Fernández-Morera debunks the fashionable myth that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together (convivencia) under “tolerant” Muslim rule. He prefaces each chapter with a quote by scholars, politicians and respected publications extolling the Andalusian paradise. World-class academics — hailing from Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Princeton, London, Oxford — look like fools in their apologetics for jihad: the violent Muslim conquest of Spain euphemistically described as a “gentle migratory wave”.

The very renaming of Spain (from the Latin Hispania) as al-Andalus in order to avoid offending non-Christians is one of several “hegemonic manoeuvres” to disguise a dystopia built on slavery and Islam’s “imperialist system” of strict separation and subordination for non-Muslims. According to Fernández-Morera, coexistence was never more than precarious. Jews and Christians lived as subaltern dhimmis who paid a jizya tax to live under Muslim protection. But, the author claims, the dhimmi system was never other than a Mafia-style protection racket.

To ensure their survival, non-Muslim communities built a wall of exclusionary practices “for fear of the Other”. Strict rules ensured that no heresy could be tolerated. Thus the Karaites of Spanish Judaism died out.

Throughout the six centuries that Islam ruled Spain, it was always under external pressure from the Christian Reconquista. Insurrections by muladis, Christian converts to Islam (in the notorious Massacre of the Ditch, 5,000 muladis were beheaded and crucified), plagued the “paradise of al-Andalus”. Gradually the Christians clawed back every inch of Muslim Spain (from which Christians had been systematically expelled). Only the city of Granada was beyond their reach until it was retaken in 1492.

The Maliki school of jurisprudence prevalent in Spain was conservative and intolerant: the much-vaunted age of Ummayad “tolerance” was characterised by persecution, beheadings and crucifixion. In true colonialist style, the Muslim conquerors did their best to erase local place names and languages. They ruthlessly destroyed churches and built mosques on top of them.

Naturally, Fernández-Morera echoes Gouguenheim’s theory that Byzantine monks were already translating Greek texts into Latin. It was “baseless” to say that Islam preserved classical knowledge and passed it on to Europe. In fact Islam slowed down the exchange of science, art and poetry. Many of the so-called Muslim luminaries of the Golden Age turn out to be of non-Muslim or non-Arab ancestry, if not themselves Christians and Jews.

More controversially, Fernández-Morera contends that the pre-Islamic Visigoths have received an unfairly bad rap: they had already laid medieval Spain’s rich cultural foundations. The Visigothic anti-Jewish restrictions, designed to lead to the disappearance of Judaism, were often worse than the dhimmi regime’s, causing Jews to side with the Muslim conquerors, but Fernández-Morera claims that the Visigothic anti-Jewish rules were often ignored.

If it were not for the Reconquista, Spain would have become a “ham and drink-free” zone. Western civilisation would have stopped at the Pyrenees. It took several centuries for Christian Spain to achieve its own literary Golden Age.

But this was also the age of the Spanish Inquisition, and so many of the glorious literary figures cited by the author are conversos from Judaism, or have Jewish ancestry, that Fernández-Morera’s concluding paragraphs are a whitewash. The Spanish Christian Golden Age seems only to have replaced one cruel and intolerant system by one even worse — at least as far as Spain’s Jews were concerned.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

How French Jews are reviving Tel Aviv synagogues

Jewish immigrants to Israel from France are reviving Tel Aviv synagogues and their parents' North African traditions. Long but interesting piece in Haaretz by Noa Amiel Lavie:

French renaissance: The restored Zion Synagogue in Neve Tsedek, Tel Aviv. (Photo: Moti Milrod)

(Dr. Yitzhak) Dahan ( from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan) adds, the young French person who lives and works in Tel Aviv needs a community base like he needs air to breathe. “Just like the average worshipper at Synagogue des Tournelles in Paris, who even though he is traditional, makes an effort to go [after services] by car to Place de la Bastille to socialize with the Jews who came from Oran and Constantine and speak his ‘language’ a little. I am talking about more than the purely linguistic level: I mean the language of culture [i.e., tradition and rituals from North Africa]. And when they come here, they bring their communalism.”

A particularly interesting phenomenon is apparent among French immigrants whose roots lie in North Africa. According to Dahan, the immigrants of the 1950s and ‘60s were pressured not only to leave the world of religion, but also to abandon their North African heritage. But those who are arriving today from France now are restoring the heritage of North Africa – of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

A case in point is a French-speaking synagogue of Tunisians that was reopened half a year ago in a rear top-floor apartment at 155 Ben Yehuda Street. The Chemama family, who were looking for a venue to uphold their Tunisian customs, made contact with the person in charge, and started to hold Shabbat services in the synagogue. There is also a lesson in reading the Torah once a week. According to the family, the building has existed for 100 years.

It’s plain in the post-service kiddush on Shabbat that this is a small, family-based synagogue. Possibly it’s the simple curtain that separates the men’s and women’s sections, or the straw hats worn by the older women. A boutique synagogue. After the kiddush, everyone makes sure that I eat something. Those who don’t eat, drink (boha, a traditional Tunisian arak), and those who don’t drink, sweep the floor. I notice two brothers, the only native-born Israelis here, originally from Herzliya, for whom this is the first Shabbat service in the synagogue. They look pleased. We observe the French immigrants from the side. “There is a very good atmosphere of tradition and lovely people,” the two agree.

Jeremy Chemama, 24, tells me that he is the cantor who led the service on the Selihot evening I attended at Yehezkel Synagogue. I feel like a member of the guild. “We opened this place because we were looking for something that’s more in the direction of the French community. We know how the French love to go to synagogue, they are people who love religion and are close to it,” he explains. “In France, synagogue is a social thing, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Read article in full (subscription required)

Friday, October 07, 2016

How Mashadi Jews preserved their culture

The story of the 1839 forced conversion of the Jews of Mashad to Islam is one of the darker episodes in the history of Persia.  The vast majority of their descendants have fled to the West, where Jews no longer need to practise in secret, or arrange marriages between their children to preserve their Judaism. In researching this profile of Mashadi Jews in Britain for Jewish Renaissance, Michelle Huberman stumbles upon the Cinderella-like tale of Vicky Cohen, who broke with tradition and married a US serviceman.

The Imam Reza mosque in Mashad, Iran's holiest city 

Once a month - at the top of Kinloss synagogue in Finchley - a group of senior ladies gather together around wooden tables to play cards, eat cake and talk about the old times. But their memories are not stories of East End market stalls, meeting boys on Commercial Road, but life as secret Jews living in Persia as Muslims.

Not that many of these ladies can remember Mashad in the north-east of Iran, as most came as children to Stamford Hill in the 1920s - but their parents passed on their personal memories - which all families have imprinted in their DNA. As was often the case, the men came first - trading mostly in rugs and diamonds - and once they had settled they called for their wives and children. The Mashadi community were very different from their Jewish neighbours - most of whom were Ashkenazi who had fled Latvia and Lithuania in the 1880s and had now moved up from the East End to Stamford Hill. These families had experienced a totally different life and stuck together within their community and initially created synagogues in their own homes.

Life in the West was a major shock for these women used to a strict Muslim culture. Leon Meyer told me how his grandmother Miriam Agadjanoff (nee Nehmed) first came to Europe sometime in 1925 wearing an Islamic chador and was shocked that women went outside with their heads uncovered and wore shapely dresses.

In Mashad the Jews lived a life as crypto-Jews - outwardly practising Islam with their Muslim neighbours but secretly practising Judaism in their homes. Hendon resident Matti Haron tells me: my grandfather Matatya and his family from Mashad were forced to convert to Islam. To show the community that he was a good Muslimhe travelled the long journey by horse to Mecca on Haj. On his return he passed through Jerusalem - and was amazed that Jews lived freely and worshipped openly in the holy city, unlike his hometown. 

As soon as he returned to Mashad, he sold up and returned with his family to Jerusalem and set up home in the Bokharian quarter, where I was later born. During the Great War the family were evicted to Alexandria, Egypt. Fleeing violence again in 1947 they moved back to Israel and thence to London where he settled in Hendon with his wife Jaffa.

When WWII broke out the whole Stamford Hill community moved en masse to the seaside town of Torquay in Devon to escape the London bombings.  Pauline Aminoff - one of the matriarchs of the community and now in her nineties - explained that women and children installed themselves in the boarding houses, went to local schools and that their fathers remained in London to work.  

They would come down every Friday afternoon for Shabbat and bring kosher food with them for all the community. We had a wonderful time and it was good to be away from the bombings in London. There were lots of Jewish servicemen stationed nearby - many from from America and Canada - and we decided to set up a Jewish service men's club for them which became the focus for all of us.

One of my friends was Vicky Cohen, she told me.She was very beautiful and a big dreamer, but had a very hard life as her mother died shortly after she was born and she spent her first eight years in an orphanage in Palestine. Her father and step-mother were very strict and even abusive toward her, and forbade her to go out, wear nice clothes, etc. As was common in Mashadi families, her father had arranged a marriage for her, but with someone she disliked. She used to sneak out without permission to come to the club with us.

At the Jewish service men's club Vicky met a US serviceman stationed in Torquay - Roy Travis. “They began dating and fell in love. He proposed to her before he left, and arranged for her transportation to Los Angeles. Vicky had to elope in secret and fly alone to Los Angeles, where they were married.” 

I caught up with her son Gabriel Travis from California, who explained: She was always afraid that her father would come in secret and take her back to London. Her marriage with Roy was a good one, and they made a happy life for themselves in Los Angeles. They had three children: my sister Naomi, my brother Adam, and me.  Later in life she reconciled with her father.  She was close to her half-brother, Nathan, who is living now in Colorado. Vicky and Roy died within a few weeks of each other in 2013.  Her children are alive and living in California. 

Vicky and Roy were the exception. Most of the older generation of Mashadis married their cousins. Customs from Persia die hard in the community, as they had to protect themselves from intermarriage. If a Muslim suitor approached them for their daughter, they could claim that she was either married or had already been spoken for, even aged nine or ten. This way they kept marriages among themselves and eliminated the risk of being discovered. Until very recently, this practice of marrying young was the norm. However, now most of the marriages are within the wider Sephardi community and to the occasional Ashkenazi.

Most of Londons Mashadi Jews have left Stamford Hill and live in and around Finchley. The rest of the community live mostly in Israel, New York, Hamburg or Milan. One of the most remarkable facts about the Mashadis is how they have retained their unique culture through the centuries.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Raphael Luzon: an innocent in Libya

Raphael Luzon was forced to leave his native Benghazi after the Six-Day War. Yet Libya still exerts a fascination for him - and he has paid three return visits there. On the last, he was lucky to escape Libya with his life. Here are two reviews of his short, personal memoir.

Libyan Twilight by Ralph N Luzon, translated from Italian by Gaia Luzon (Darf Publishers, 2016 – £8.99). 

 Lyn Julius writes in the Times of Israel:

Raphael Luzon sits in a hot and stinking Benghazi prison cell. He has escaped a lynch mob and been abducted by a militia. He has recently had a kidney transplant and his medication has been seized from him, along with his possessions. He  is not sure that he will get out of Libya alive. Until the Italian consul comes along to whisk him out to safety and back to London.
Raphael Luzon (left) visited Libya as a guest of Colonel Gaddafi
This is the dramatic opening chapter of Libyan Twilight, a short but vivid and well-written autobiography made up of snapshots of Raphael’s life, interspersed with memories of religious rituals and  festivals joyously celebrated during his childhood. Born in Benghazi, Raphael is one of a community of 38, 000 Libyan Jews forced to leave Libya. Today not one of them remains. Libya is judenrein.

In 1967, everyone — from the cleaning lady to the barber’s assistant — predicted that Jews would be targeted by a raging mob in the aftermath of Israel’s Six Day War victory. The schoolboy Raphael had to flee the hall where he was sitting exams, scooping up his sisters on the way home. The family were evacuated to a military base and thence to Italy. The Jewish boys in his Rome school were unfriendly. Exile took its toll on his broken father. Raphael’s later life was scarred by ill health and the death of his first wife from a brain tumor.

Yet Libya still exerts a fascination for Raphael, so much so that he paid three return visits there, twice at the invitation of colonel Gaddafi, and the last in 2012 in the full flush of the “Arab Spring.”

What drives a man, especially one who has family responsibilities in London and is not exactly in the pink of health, to risk his life by returning to his country of birth? A clue can be found in Libyan Twilight’s introduction by Roberto Saviano (an Italian journalist with a Jewish mother): “A deep desire for reconciliation and dialogue between different religions, a dialogue that relies on equality.”

The book carries the subtitle: “The story of an Arab Jew.” This too is a clue. Running a North West London “salon” for Libyans in exile,  Raphael has reconstructed himself as a Libyan nationalist of the Jewish faith, no different from a Muslim or a Christian. He wants justice but not revenge. He wants to reclaim his rights as a Jew in Libya: his grandfather fought alongside nationalists in Misrata.

But when brought face to face with Gaddafi, his demands are modest. He is not after compensation for seized property — that is for other Jewish leaders to demand. He wants Gaddafi to erect a plaque identifying the old Jewish cemetery. He wants a plaque on the mass grave where lie eight of his Tripoli relatives, shot by an errant army officer in 1967. And he wants a memorial service for them. No wonder Gaddafi readily agrees.
Demonstrators call for the expulsion of David Gerbi after he tried to open a Tripoli synagogue
Raphael is not the only Jew gripped with the urge to help rebuild a new, democratic, pluralistic and tolerant Libya in the wake of the Arab Spring. David Gerbi returned to his native Tripoli with the modest aim of re-opening the Dar al-Bishi synagogue — an act which Raphael has described as ‘a provocation’. Like Raphael Luzon, Gerbi was bundled out of the country by the Italian authorities before a lynch mob could tear him to pieces.

The lesson both these naive idealists ought to derive from their brushes with death is that no Libyan Jew is advised to demand their rights in their country of birth when their very existence as Jews is considered a provocation.

Read article in full


Andrew Rosemarine reviews the book in the Jewish Chronicle: 

This short, nostalgic memoir is a highly personal view of the destruction of Libyan Jewry in 1967 and the permanent danger to all Jews from fanatical enemies.

Jews settled there over a thousand years before Islam, and numbered almost 40,000 before 1948. But Libya is now Judenrein, and will remain so as long as Jew and Arab fight over Israel.

Peoples who treat their Jewish minority badly usually treat other groups badly, too. This led to civil war in today's Libya. Numberless victims were murdered, many others tortured. Messrs Cameron and Sarkozy intervened to destroy Qaddafi but they had no realistic plans for the post-Qaddafi period. Why did they not learn from Blair's mistakes in Iraq? Why did they desert Qaddafi, after he, alone of all dictators, voluntarily gave up his nuclear weapons' programme under Western supervision? Luzon does not ask these questions. He limits himself to his own family's experiences. The style of the book is that of an innocent idealist, often surrounded by enemies, yet nobly dreaming of reconciliation between Muslim and Jew. It reads well, with personal flashbacks immersed in Jewish ritual and Arab political culture.

Qaddafi, though a killer of many of his own people, and supporter of the Palestinian cause, courted the Libyan Jewish diaspora, and tantalisingly offered the prospect of compensation. But only when he needed Western support. Luzon was involved in the discussion, and provides some insight.

He could have told us much about divisions among the colourful characters of Libyan Jewry in Rome, which sadly enabled Qaddafi to give them all nothing. Jews should hang together, if they don't want to be hung out to dry.

Read article in full

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Surge of interest in Karaites, minority within a minority

Karaites are an ancient Jewish sect who reject the Babylonian Talmud, the foundation of rabbinic Judaism. The Tablet has this long but interesting feature exploring what it is like for Karaites in the US to be a minority, within a minority (Sephardim), within a minority (US Jews).

Karaites prostrate themselves on the floor of their synagogue
Comprising mostly Egyptian-Karaite Jews who fled or were expelled from Egypt in the 1950s and ’60s, after the creation of the State of Israel and then the Six-Day War, they found their way to the Bay Area, today the heart of the American Karaite presence. At first, the community would gather in each other’s homes to pray, and then in 1991, the Karaite Jews of America bought a house and established the Daly City synagogue, today the only independent Karaite synagogue in the country. A network held together by familial relations and connections from back in Egypt, they also held regular get-togethers and social events in addition to holiday and Shabbat celebrations. But for the most part, the community has existed outside the structure of the established American Jewish community.

This lack of awareness by the broader Jewish community is partly due to small numbers—there are about 250 Karaite families in the Bay Area, only several hundred more families in New York, Boston, and around the United States—and partly because the community itself has long kept a low profile. Most Karaites have a story or two about being rejected and mocked by other Jews, and the older generation especially felt no need to advertise their complicated status within the Jewish world, as immigrants being welcomed and aided by those very Jewish organizations.

But now, nearly half a century after their traumatic expulsion from their Egyptian homeland and already established in the United States, the Karaite Jews of America have seen a surge of interest from Jews and non-Jews alike. And as the historic generation of Egyptian Karaites grows older, there is new urgency to ensure the Karaite way of life continues here. The concern is not whether Karaite practice will die out all together: The stronghold of Karaism undoubtedly lies in Israel, where a community is said to be about 40,000 strong, comprising the bulk of practicing Karaites in the world, and on which the Daly City community relies for religious guidance and instruction. But in America, the future of the movement lies not with those who have cultural ties to Karaism, but those who, somewhere in life’s journey, become convinced of its truth.

Read article in full 

The widow of Joe Abdel Wahed z"l (pictured), the co-founder of JIMENA, the California-based organisation advocating for the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, is calling for donations to the Joseph Wahed Memorial Library at the Karaite Cultural Center, San Francisco. To make a gift in Joe's memory, go to

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Moroccan changed the face of Israel's foreign service

The man who changed the face of Israel's foreign service, according to the Jerusalem Post, is Moroccan-born Yitzhak Eldan, who rose to become chief of protocol for 41 years. Eldan only achieved acceptance at his kibbutz when he became a star basketball player. 
Yitzhak Eldan: shame at his Moroccan identity

When Eldan recalls his native Morocco, he remembers Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser on the radio. He remembers being frightened as Nasser spoke against Israel after Operation Sabcha, a November 1955 IDF operation carried out in against Egyptian military positions in the border region. But he also remembers how much he still wanted to come to Israel.

“I believed the sky was blue and so close that you could touch it,” he said.

When just 12 years old, Eldan begged his parents to allow him to make aliya.

They gave in only with the stipulation that his older brother, Shlomo, should come as well. With help from Youth Aliya, Eldan his brother and a group of Moroccan boys arrived in Israel in 1956, where they were promptly sent to Tirat Zvi, a religious kibbutz. The kibbutz put the boys to work almost immediately, and after short while the other boys, including Eldan’s brother, requested to be transferred to Mazkeret Batya. “They left me alone,” he said.

By himself and considered an outsider, life in Tirat Zvi was not easy.

“I was not a boy from the kibbutz; I was an outsider. Anywhere is hard, but especially in such a close society as a Kibbutz. It was very difficult,” he said.

“Think about it this way: you are Moroccan, you are not like them, you don’t speak Hebrew. You are different. I attracted a lot of negative comment,” he went on.

Eldan’s early years in the kibbutz were some of the most difficult, and it is a time in his life that he speaks about with an uncharacteristic rancor. That time was marked by sense of shame with his Moroccan identity.

“I remember once meeting with [David] Ben-Gurion, and I told him that I wanted to go to university, but I didn’t have money to study. My parents had eight children. Ben Gurion reacted by asking ‘Are you Moroccan?’ To me it was a big compliment because I didn’t look Moroccan.

“It was so difficult, walking into the dining room at the kibbutz and hearing people say such awful things about Moroccans.

You don’t want to be Moroccan, you want to be one of them. You want to be accepted,” he said.

“But I surmounted it.” He pushed through by biting his lip, holding in the desire to retaliate. “I remember becoming stronger. I remember sitting in class when one of the boys wanted to say something about me. I held it in. I said I will be strong.”

Things generally stayed difficult in the kibbutz until Eldan started playing basketball.

“Through basketball I finally became Hebrew. Through basketball, I became one of the leaders instead of someone that was a target for remarks.

“But I never forgot it. It shaped me in such a way that in the 1970s, some years later, when I was student, I joined the Black Panthers [protest movement].”

Read article in full

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Rare footage released of shofar blown in Baghdad

To mark the Jewish New Year 5777, the American Sephardi Federation has released rare footage from a Rosh Hashana service in a Baghdad synagogue, which it has digitised and published for the first time. 

 The video was recorded in the last functioning synagogue in Baghdad, Meir Tweig, in the 1990s by a UN official posted to Baghdad to monitor Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. (The official is heard fretting that she might run out of batteries for her camera). At the time, less than 100 Jews still lived in Baghdad out of a 1948 community of 140,000.

 The ASF says: " the tapes were in storage until just recently and time was taking its toll as the film degraded. If we did not digitize this footage immediately, these last video vestiges of Iraq’s last Jews would have vanished, just like Jewish communities throughout Iraq."

As well as the blowing of the shofar, the video features the singing of the Hon Tahon piyyut, a standard part of Sephardi liturgy.

The younger man on the far left of the video is Emad Levy. Emad served as 'Jewish community spokesman' after the 2003 US invasion, and was the last Jew in Iraq who could read Hebrew. Following his father Ezra, he made aliya to Israel. Ezra died in 2016.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Moroccan newspaper mentions mass conversion of Fez Jews

Zamane, a Moroccan newspaper, has made a rare reference to the mass conversion of the Jews of Fez in the 15th century. It is a little known episode in the history of Morocco. (With thanks: Michelle)

 Jewish homes with their distinctive balconies in the Mellah of Fez

An official of the French protectorate who was involved in collecting testimony on behalf of  Mohamed V in 1953, tells how the Jews of Fez, the "Muhajirin", had to convert to Islam, giving rise to great Fassi families that are thought to have always been Muslim. 

One Marcel Vallat stumbled on  an old  manuscript recounting this episode. The unknown author describes an event itself little known in the history of Morocco. The text tells how, in fact, in the thirteenth century (sic : actually 15th c - ed), many Fez Jews  converted to Islam. They abandoned their faith after a great massacre that decimated part of their community in Fez and opened the way to a mass conversion to Islam.

The document was part of  a collection, or Mejmoue, belonging to an old Alawite from Rabat, Moulay Abderrahmane, better known under the name "Moulay El Kebir".  

Vallat translated the title as "History of Muhajirs", using the modern word for 'citizens'. The manuscript was due to be offered to Mohammed Ben Abderrahman, Sultan Mohammed IV (1859-1873) who was the father of Moulay Hassan, the future Hassan I (1873- 1894). The document dates from the second half of the nineteenth century. After the death of  Hassan I it fell into the hands of the famous "Moulay El Kebir" who had agreed to lend it to the young Vallat.  

The Arabic text is archived in the Royal Library. It was studied first by the Fqih El Manouni and medievalist historian by Mohamed Fatha (this scholarly analysis was published by Bouregreg  in 2004).  

As for Marcel Vallat, he went  back to France after Morocco became independent in 1956 and withdrew completely from public life, cutting all ties with Morocco, where he had made virtually  his entire administrative career.

Read article in full (French)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Seder for Rosh Hashana

The Jewish New Year begins on Sunday evening with blessings for a sweet New Year. Jews of Sephardi and Mizrahi origin will do more than eat apple and honey: they will have a whole range of different foods. 

WISHING all Blog Readers SHANA TOVA 5777!

The following is based on an article by Chabad:
On both nights of Rosh Hashanah, a number of foods are eaten and a blessing recited over them to symbolize our prayers and hopes for a sweet new year. Many of these foods were specifically chosen because their Hebrew names are related to other Hebrew words that convey our wishes for the coming year. You will need:
  • Dates
  • French beans
  • Leeks
  • Beets
  • Gourd or Marrow
  • Pomegranate
  • Apple (cooked in sugar) and honey, sometimes spiced
  • Head of a ram (or a fish)
After chanting kiddush, washing, and breaking bread, the following foods are eaten:
Dates. Related to the word תם—to end.
Take a date and recite:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.
After eating the date, take another one and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּתַּמּוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us.
Small beans. Related to the words, רב—many, and לב—heart.
(The following blessing over vegetables is only recited if one has not recited the blessing over bread:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.)
Take some white beans and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּרְבּוּ זָכִיּוֹתֵינוּ וּתְלַבְּבֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that our merits shall increase and that You hearten us.
Leek. Related to the word כרת—to cut.
Take a leek and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּכָּרְתוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters, and those who wish evil upon us shall be cut down.
Beets. Related to the word סלק—to depart. (Spinach (Selk in Arabic) is also used - ed)
Take a beet and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּסְתַּלְּקוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us shall depart.
Gourd. Related to the word קרע—to rip apart, and also קרא—to announce.
Take a gourd and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתִּקְרַע רוֹעַ גְּזַר דִּינֵנוּ, וְיִקָּרְאוּ לְפָנֶיךָ זָכִיּוֹתֵינוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that the evil of our verdicts be ripped, and that our merits be announced before you.
Take the pomegranate and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה מְלֵאִים מִצְוֹת כָּרִמּוֹן
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that we be filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate [is filled with seeds].
תפוח בדבש
Apple and Honey.
Dip an apple in honey – some have the custom of using an apple cooked with sugar – and say:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה כַּדְּבָשׁ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that You renew for us a year good and sweet like honey.
ראש כבש
Ram's Head (or the head of another kosher animal or fish).
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה לְרֹאשׁ וְלֹא לְזָנָב
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that we be a head and not a tail.
(The following is added only over the head of a ram:
וְתִזְכֹּר לָנוּ עֲקֵדָתוֹ וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל יִצְחָק אָבִינוּ בֶּן אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עַלֵיהֶם הַשָּׁלוֹם
…And You shall remember for us the binding and the ram of our forefather Isaac, the son of our forefather Abraham, peace be onto them.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kurds hold 'funeral' for Shimon Peres z""l

One of the more surprising tributes to the Israel statesman Shimon Peres has come from Kurdistan, according to Kurdistan 24 News:
Shimon Peres, who died on 28 September 2016
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – Kurds held a funeral on Wednesday for Shimon Peres, former President and Prime Minister of Israel, in a show of respect for his support for Kurds.

The founding father of Israel, who is also a Nobel Peace Prize winner, died on Wednesday morning, after weeks of suffering from a major stroke.

Kurds in the Province of Duhok held a funeral for Peres, sending condolences to his family.

Kurds’ respect for Peres came after his meeting with the US President Barack Obama in 2014.

Peres advised the United States to support the Kurds and the creation of a Kurdish state, praising the democracy practiced in the Kurdistan Region.

“The Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic. One of the signs of a democracy is the granting of equality to women,” Peres told Obama in 2014.

Jews lend legitimacy to Moroccan claim

An online video showing  Jews in Morocco dancing around a giant photograph of King Mohamed VI has been attracting over 450, 000 views in a single day. The Jews are singing a song about the 1975 Green March into Western Sahara and serve to lend legitimacy to the Moroccan claim to the disputed territory. Morocco World News reports:

The video also shows the presence of Muslims in the crowd and government officials, clapping while the Moroccan Jews gather in the center around the photo of the king dancing and hopping.

The song they danced to, ‘Sawt Al Hassan’ (which means “The Call of Hassan” in English), is a particularly important song for Moroccans. It records the memorable historical moment of the ‘Green March’ when King Hassan II inspired Moroccans march to the Moroccan Sahara to free it from the Spanish colonize (sic) continued dancing.

The Moroccan Jews have been an important component of the Moroccan population. Moroccan Jews have lived in Morocco for over 2,000 years. Between 1961 and 1964, however, around 97,000 Moroccan Jews immigrated to Israel through Operation Yakhin conducted by the Israeli Mossad.