Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Antisemitism pushes French leader to move to Israel

 Pierre Besnainou moved to Israel as a result of antisemitism in France (photo: Gloria Deutsch)

When the former president of the European Jewish Congress and a leading light in the Paris Jewish community makes aliya and speaks of anti-Semitism in his native country, it is time to sit up and take notice. Gloria Deutsch reports in the Jerusalem Post:
Pierre Besnainou moved here with his family in April 2014 and took up permanent residence in the house in Herzliya Pituah which, until then, had been a holiday home only. He still has two daughters living in Paris but hopes they will soon follow him to Israel.

“Yes, unfortunately, there is anti-Semitism in France and during the past year it has increased a lot,” says the successful businessman, who was born in Tunisia in 1954. For many years, as co-chairman of the Anti-Semitism Task Force of the Jewish Agency, he actively fought anti-Semitism. He is also a member of the board of governors of that organization.

“The terrorism started with the events in Toulouse [the attack at a Jewish school in 2012] and continued with the whole Charlie Hebdo affair,” he says. “Unfortunately the Muslim population originating in North Africa has been brainwashed.”

This is particularly painful for Besnainou, who spent a happy childhood in Tunisia and remembers the peaceful coexistence between the Jews and Arabs of his home country.

“My children grew up in Tunis,” he says. “During the summer holidays, many French Jews went to Eilat, but we always went to Tunis and my kids had many friends there,” he recalls. He also dealt with Tunis in his first business venture and says he encountered anti-Semitism for the first time in France and not in his birthplace.

“Now it feels like a war, and the Jews of France are on the front line in this war,” he says. “However, the French government is very active in the fight against anti-Semitism and is determined to combat it with strong laws; that is a fact it’s very important not to forget.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

From Alexandria to a transit camp

 Yitzhak Gormezano Goren's novel " Alexandrian Summer", just released in English, recaptures the cosmopolitan ambience of Alexandria, 50 years before Tel Aviv. His writing is also a reaction to the pompous and self-righteous works of Amos Oz, David Grossman and others. Feature in Haaretz:

The 200-page volume depicting Gormezano Goren childhood in cosmopolitan Alexandria is also garnering renewed attention due to the growing interest among American Jewry to learn more about the culture of the Mizrahim (Jews with origins in North African of Middle Eastern countries). Moreover, in the wake of the book’s success abroad, Am Oved decided to publish a new Hebrew edition of it as well, as the original edition had long ago become a collector’s item.

Now American readers can also come to know the harsh criticism that Gormezano Goren expresses toward the Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) hegemony. Starting in the 1970s – decades before the interest in Mizrahi culture became trendy in Israel and led to, among other things, the literary revolution provoked by Ars Poetica, a group of young Mizrahi poets whose works are aimed at reclaiming the Mizrahi voice and cultural heritage, while foregrounding the discrimination against minorities in Israel – Gormezano Goren was writing novels, radio sketches and plays that covered topics ranging from his cosmopolitan Egyptian childhood to his adolescence in an Israel rife with the sabra ethos.

In addition, together with his wife, Shosha Goren, and playwright Rafael Aharon, Gormezano Goren founded the Bimat Kedem Theater (which he ran from its inception in 1982 until his retirement in 2011). He also founded the Bimat Kedem publishing house in 1988 and, in 2000, the literary and cultural journal Hakivun Mizrah.

“I come from a family of Spanish descent,” he tells me as we sit in the small living room of his home in Kfar Kish, a moshav in the Lower Galilee (he divides his time between here and an apartment in Tel Aviv); the walls are covered with pictures of his three children and 13 grandchildren.

“My parents were born in Turkey near the Greek border, and in the early 20th century, they immigrated to Alexandria, which was considered the city of boundless possibilities. If you were a foreigner – and not a native-born Arab – it was easy to do well. After she had already had three children, my mother had me when she was 33, which in those days was considered fairly old. I came to Israel with my family in 1951. My brothers and my sister have all passed away now. I’m the lone survivor of the nuclear family.”

In the opening scene of the documentary “’66 Was a Good Year for Tourism,” your brother Haim-Victor (father of the film’s director, Amit Goren) visits Alexandria after 40 years of living in Israel and the United States, and introduces himself as an Egyptian. How do you define yourself: Egyptian? Israeli? Both?

“I dedicated the new translation of ‘Alexandrian Summer’ to my brother, who left Israel and lived most of his life in America and always liked to say that he was a ‘citizen of the world.’ But the 13-year gap between us made all the difference. I came to Israel at age 10, and so it was easy for me to integrate into the society. You have to understand that I came from a cosmopolitan city that was a European-American bubble.

“I came from the future, and so I was an alien: Alexandria of the ‘40s looked like Tel Aviv of the ‘90s. There was rampant and hedonistic capitalism there. In Egypt, most of the children went to the French or Scottish school, but when I was a kid, I insisted on going to the Jewish school, which was excellent but less snobby. I had four hours a week of Hebrew, but when I got to Israel, about all I knew was the children’s song ‘Tu, Tu, Tu Bishvat.’”

Was immigration a traumatic experience for you?

“No, they put us in the Gilam ma’abara in Shfaram, which was mostly cabins. It was a strange situation: On the one hand, there was no electricity or running water. On the other hand, we managed to turn our hut into a nice place. My father and sister both found white-collar jobs – my father at Ford and my sister at Zim – and we lived on their two salaries. Really, financially speaking, we were much better off than a lot of the people who lived in the housing projects. We were in the ma’abara for four-and-a-half years, and at least twice a month I would go to Haifa to the Bat Galim swimming pool and afterward to a movie. When we moved, later, into a housing project, our economic situation worsened because we started to pay bills and a mortgage.”

Although the word “ma’abara” has become associated in Israeli discourse with a stormy debate over ethnic discrimination and subjugation, and a disregard for the needs of the immigrants from the Arab countries, the short documentary “Prince of the Transit Camp,” directed by Gormezano Goren in 2002, paints a more complex picture: The film opens with a shot of the pastoral woods that have grown over the site where the Shfaram facility once stood, and it continues with a voice-over describing how the immigrants from Egypt managed to preserve their cultural habits, including ballroom dancing on Fridays and card games – even in the new Israeli environment and in the unbearable heat, without basic infrastructure or electricity.

Following the publication of the English translation of your book, you wrote an article in which you argued that Israeli literature has an obsession with the Holocaust, the Palestinians and the kibbutzim.” Why do you think other kinds of content were so sorely lacking?

“I feel that Israeli literature is very limited. It’s very self-aware and wordy. I can’t read the author [i.e., Amos Oz] who’s considered a perpetual Nobel Prize candidate; his novels are so wearying. When these writers – Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Yehoshua Kenaz, even David Grossman – speak, there’s always this feeling that they’re righteous prophets delivering an address to the world.”

So is “Alexandrian Summer” a reaction to Ashkenazi literature?

“I’d say it offers an alternative to the pompous style that was common in the 1970s. As a young man, I started writing in Hebrew and I wrote about Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It never occurred to me that I could write about Alexandria. It was only after I went to America to study theater for a few years that I was able to get enough distance from the Israeli bubble and the ethos of the great melting pot and the trend toward dismissing the Diaspora: The Ashkenazim decided to disown their Diaspora, and they disowned mine as well in order to create a monolithic culture. It took me many years to realize there was a value to writing about my childhood in Egypt.”

Read article in full

Monday, October 05, 2015

Spain grants citizenship to 4,302 Sephardim

Spain has granted citizenship to some 4,302 people who have identified themselves as descendants of Sephardi Jews. Most applicants are from Venezuela, Morocco and Turkey. The Forward reports:

 The citizenships were approved on Friday, the Associated Press reported, following the Spanish parliament’s adoption earlier this year of a law granting citizenship to the descendants of Jews who fled or were expelled from Spain ahead of and during the Spanish Inquisition.

A day before the approval, a decree making the law official was approved. The decree allowed applicants to maintain dual citizenship with another country. Under the law approved in June, applicants need not travel to Spain, as proposed in previous amendments that did not pass, but must hire a Spanish notary and pass tests on the Spanish language and history.

Portugal passed and implemented a similar law with fewer stipulations last year.

The first approved candidate is expected to be announced in the coming days. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, or FCJE, which vets applications in Spain under the law in its capacity as consultant and partner of the government on matters concerning the so-called Jewish law of return to Spain, said the majority of applicants were citizens of Venezuela, Morocco and Turkey.

Read article in full

Spanish citizenship creates huge interest

Sunday, October 04, 2015

In Egypt, Judaism practised with liberal values

The Succot holiday draws to a close. In Egypt, the festival was taken seriously, with succot (temporary booths) popping up everywhere to recall life in the wilderness for the Biblical Children of  Israel. Growing up in Cairo,  Levana Zamir remembers that even Christian and Muslim friends came to experience life in a succah. Interview with Rachel Avraham on Jerusalemonline (with thanks: ASF):

The Succah at the El-Hanan synagogue in Cairo (Photo: International association of Jews from Egypt)

Her memories of celebrating Sukkot in Cairo were even more vivid than they were for Yom Kippur: “All over the streets of Cairo, even in mixed areas, everywhere there were balconies that became sukkahs.   They brought in palm trees and put them on the balcony with white sheets.  My friends loved it for it was fun and nice to be in the balcony with us.  We had Christian and Muslim friends who were also aristocratic.   It was good.”

“Then, politics are politics and one day, all of this disappeared,” Zamir noted.  “The Muslim Brotherhood came to put bombs in the Jewish Quarter and all of this disappeared for we were afraid of what they could do to us.  Today, there are no more Jews in Cairo.  Only eight old women and one man in Egypt.  They have a president of a non-existing community.  It is very sad.  There is no more Jewish life not only in Egypt but also in all of the Arab countries.  There were a million Jews in Arab countries.”

“Until today in Cairo, the El Hanan Synagogue courtyard has the remains of a very big sukkah,” Zamir described.  “In every synagogue, they had a very big sukkah.  After the prayers, they went there for the Kiddush and the nice food.  You can see it is very old.    It was important to not only eat three meals in the sukkah but also the men and boys had to sleep in the sukkah.  It had to be very big.   We had a house in a suburb of Cairo and had a very big garden.  We had a large sukkah.  My father had to sleep there with the two elder boys.”

According to Zamir, the idea of sleeping in the Sukkah is a Mizrahi custom that is not practiced by most Israelis today: “In Israel, people mostly do not sleep in the sukkah.  I remember my mother told me that her father was living in the sukkah the whole time, like the people of Israel did in the Exodus.  They did not just eat in the sukkah.  It was their house.  They did the right thing, not like today.  We are building a sukkah for the children, not for us.  I am not talking about the religious people who do it based on those principles.  My husband always every year built a sukkah for the children.  When they left home, it finished.  We did not build a sukkah anymore.  It is a big difference.  There, we did it because it was part of our life as Jews.   That’s the difference between what it was there and what it is here.”

However, unlike Sukkot, where she feels that the way Egyptian Jews celebrated it in Cairo in the past was superior, Zamir believes that the experience of commemorating Yom Kippur in Israel is better than what it was in Cairo: “I like very much Yom Kippur here.  In the Diaspora, it was a normal day.  In Israel, all of the streets are empty and everyone is quiet.  It is something that is very special for Israel.  For me, it is very moving.  I knew it was not like that.   Egypt is part of the Diaspora.  My roots are there.  I was born there.  My character is more Mizrahi and Oriental.   Here in Israel, Yom Kippur is very moving.  I know that it is my place.   We need this.”

According to Zamir, Egyptian Jewish culture combined a strong commitment to Judaism with liberal values.   One day, she related that a group of Egyptian Jewish students asked a great rabbi if they could go to the cinema on Shabbat.   He replied that they could so long as they bought their tickets in advance.   Some of the Jews drove on the holidays, while others rode in special oriental carts or had chauffeurs.     Many Jews were forced to work or go to school on Shabbat because the day off was Sunday.   However, religious Jews used to try to work for Jewish companies so that they could keep Shabbat. 

Read article in full

Friday, October 02, 2015

'Septembers of Shiraz':a review of the novel

 Salma Hayek and Adrian Brody play Farnaz and Isaac Amin in Septembers of Shiraz, now a film

With thanks: Jennifer B

You might have  heard the story about the sign above Goebbels Propaganda ministry: " the misery of Germany is due to Jews and cyclists". The reader wonders: "why cyclists?"

Just as absurd - why Jews?

 Transpose the story to Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and substitute pianists for cyclists. As under most forms of totalitarianism, the Jews remain a soft target, although they have been in the country since before Cyrus the Great.

Dalia Sofer's novel The Septembers of Shiraz captures the full horror of the Ayatollahs' reign of terror. A pianist who played for the deposed Shah's friends is arrested. He is imprisoned and shot by firing squad.

The Ayatollahs wage a cultural war against western influence. Under strict Shi'ism, music is forbidden. Pianists have no future, especially those associated with the Shah. However, the new order is a also chance for the have-nots to settle private scores with the haves, to take collective revenge on them. The communists are not spared either, for their revolution against the Shah has been commandeered by the ruthless, Koran-wielding Revolutionary Guards.

Isaac Amin, a wealthy gemstone dealer, is arrested, both because he is a Jew, and because he made his fortune under the old order. Based on her own father's experiences, Dalia Sofer's exquisitely-written novel tells Isaac' s anguished tale of torture and survival. Will he be executed like the wretched pianist, this time on the false charge that he worked for the Mossad?

Sofer  tells her story through the eyes of the four members of the Amin family:  Isaac himself and Farnaz, Isaac's wife, who abandons her life of frivolity to search frantically for her husband. (Longstanding relationships disintegrate. Can Farnaz still trust her housekeeper, or has she turned informer ?) The Amins' nine-year-old daughter plays her small but risky part in stemming the tide of unstoppable arrests. The student son is safe in New York but is cut off from news of his family as his money runs out. The ultra-orthodox Jewish community sheltering him in Brooklyn is at once understanding of his lonely plight, and alien to a secular Jew from Persia. Happiness with the daughter of his Haredi landlord is out of reach.

Farnaz takes stock of her marriage, which began with a romantic encounter with Isaac one September in Shiraz. It is September once more when Isaac, who has bought himself his freedom,  puts his family's life in the hands of smugglers, and they embark on the dangerous journey out of Iran through Turkey.

 Septembers of Shiraz, published in 2007, has been turned into a film starring Adrian Brody and Salma Hayek. It was released in September of course. The film has been panned by some critics. But no matter its shortcomings, the film will have performed a useful function: to familiarise a mass western audience with the ways of a cruel and fanatical regime on the threshold of becoming a nuclear power.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Cynthia Shamash: Strangers in a new land

Cynthia Shamash Kaplan was eight years old when she fled persecution in Iraq. She has put up a spirited case for Iraq to return Jewish documents and books to the community. Her new book, The Strangers we became, deals with the alienation of refugees in their new land. Review  by Rachel Sara Rosenthal:

Shamash infuses her tale with emotion but never loses the facts of her experience in the whirlwind of her flight to Turkey, reunion with family in Israel, isolation in the Netherlands, education in England, and finally the possibility of a new beginning in New York. The anecdotes from Shamash’s Iraqi childhood are unique and touching, but the good cannot outweigh the discrimination and hostility toward Jews that eventually touch her family through her father’s forced resignation from his job with a major accounting firm and the family’s struggle to leave Iraq that at one point lands them all in jail.

Finally free, outside Iraq, such nostalgia is insufficient to sustain them as a family, and—as the title suggests—they become strangers in a new land. Shamash struggles with isolation and confusion in school; her parents contend with caseworkers who help yet judge their differences and language barriers that block possibilities for advancement in a culturally liberated Western society.

Shamash’s writing beautifully communicates the confusion, imagination, and resilience that she experienced as a child from the trauma, displacement, and possibility of immigration, all caused by anti-Semitism. She weaves her story so well that the reader truly feels what the author has lived. It is only at the end of her tale that one must reckon with the impacts of poverty and instability on Shamash and her family and acknowledge the courage they all have shown in building new lives in unfamiliar places. The story moves quickly, so that there is much for a reader to absorb—perhaps too much—but then Shamash holds the events and the emotion so expertly in sync that the power of the story is enhanced rather than lessened by the fast pace.

Read article in full

Iraqi Jews fight for their memorabilia

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

No return to Egypt for Irene

From Left: Professor Julien Bauer, Ziv Nevo Kulman, Israeli consul in Montreal, Irene Buenavida and Professor David Bensoussan at the launch of  Irene's book at Congregation Hechal Shlomo in Montreal. (Photo: E. Levy)

Irene Buenavida's memoir Depart sans retour (English: No Return) has just been published by Editions du Marais. It's a vibrant tribute to the thousands of Egyptian Jews who were forced into exile after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. From a piece by Elias Levy in Canadian Jewish News:

"In this poignant and captivating autobiographical work, Irene Buenavida traced the history of her family, dispersed today to the four corners of the earth, and with nostalgia evokes the happy years she spent on the banks of the Nile.

"The story of the Second Exodus of the Jews of Egypt is very close to my heart. In writing Depart sans retour, I wanted to play my part in immortalising the wonderful heritage of the Jews of Egypt by telling the story of my family - another memoir to add to those accounts already written by Egyptian Jews living in the diaspora. It is essential to preserve and transmit to the younger generation the memory of what our life was like in our country of birth, from whence we were expelled more than six decades ago," said a very emotional Irene Buenavida at the launch of her book.
For copies of Depart sans retour contact Irene Buenavida on 514-342-0033.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Burying a Jew in Cairo with Google's help

To ensure Carmen Weinstein,  the president of the Jewish community, a dignified Jewish burial, Seth Wikas had to look up Jewish burial practices on Google. Amazing story in The Forward of how Wikas, who arrived in Cairo to work at the US embassy in 2012, became the tiny local community's religious adviser.

 Burial of former Jewish leader Carmen Weinstein at the Bassatine cemetery in Cairo

"Have you ever prepared a Jewish body for burial?” It was Saturday morning, April 13, 2013. The person on the line had called me hours earlier to let me know that Carmen Weinstein, leader of Cairo’s Jewish community, had died.

I had arrived in Cairo nearly eight months earlier to work at the U.S. Embassy, and Weinstein was one of the first people I met. She was in her early 80s, the “Iron Lady” of Cairo’s Jewish community. She had seen the community dwindle in her lifetime to less than two dozen mostly octogenarian ladies from more than 70,000. Weinstein’s mission was simple: Religious festivals would be celebrated, and people would come — from old ladies to expat Jews. I became her trusted American adviser to make sure butts were in the seats for Hanukkah, Purim and Passover. She regaled me with tales of Cairo’s religiously pluralistic pre-1948 past, when Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together relatively harmoniously.
“Seth, can you do it?”

“I’ve never done that before, Magy, but I can find out how.”

Magda Tania Haroun Silvera (known to me as Magy) had called me earlier that morning to tell me about Weinstein. Magy and her sister, Nadia, became my Jewish mothers after a chance meeting at a Hanukkah celebration, when I was surprised to learn that Egyptian Jews younger than 60 existed, and that they lived around the block from me. The sisters never hesitated to ply me with food, tea, coffee, sweets and stories of the olden days.

With that call I became Cairo’s chevra kadisha, after quickly Googling “ chevra kadisha ” and finding the Park Slope Jewish Center’s guide. Magy and Nadia picked me up, and we made our way to the Italian Hospital in the Abbasiya section of Cairo. Magy, Nadia and an orderly looked to me for direction as we stood over Weinstein’s body. I asked for the buckets of water and the sterile sheets, and gave directions regarding the washing, purification and wrapping. It was an emotionally exhausting day — not just because it was my first experience preparing a Jewish body for burial, but also because it was a changing of the guard. Weinstein was no more; Magy (the new president) and Nadia (the new vice president) were now in charge.

Magy and Nadia did a masterful job of organizing a dignified funeral and burial. To foreshadow the new character of Cairo’s Jewish community, they publicly announced that the first day of shiva would be held at the central Adly Street synagogue, Sha’ar Hashmayim.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mahmoud Abbas follows in the Mufti's footsteps

Over the Jewish Holydays this year, Mahmoud Abbas attempted to spark an intifada by spreading  rumours that the Jews were plotting to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. This strategy is not new, but dates back to the time of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Then the accusation was that the Jews were plotting to take over the Arab world. Dr Edy Cohen explains on i24 News:

Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa mosque where Palestinians had stored stones and rocks for throwing on Jewish worshippers at the western wall

In fact when Herbert Samuel appointed al-Husseini to the position of mufti in 1921, the latter set himself the goal of the expulsion of Jews from Palestine and preventing them from reaching it, but he did not have the powers to deal with thousands of Jews or the implications of the Balfour Declaration and the British aid to Jews. The mufti's position was weak and his allies conflicted and isolated.

Surrounding Arab countries were weakened, each busy with problems with the colonial powers. Politically and economically it was not a good time to organize a strike or buy weapons. The mufti therefore concluded that he must enlist the aid of the Arab and Muslim world, and unite them and bring them to the Palestinian issue with the aim to get the help of millions of Muslims around the world. How did the mufti go about this?

Like Abbas, the mufti sought to convince the Arab world that Jews plan to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and establish the Third Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock, before conquering the rest of the Arab world. "Palestine does not satisfy the Jews, because the aim is to take over the rest of the Arab countries, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and the region of Khaybar in Saudi Arabia, under the pretext that this city was the homeland of the Jewish tribes in the seventh century." Thus the mufti of Jerusalem said again and again.

The mufti's propaganda methods were varied, but the most effective one was sending envoys to Arab leaders. These messengers carried "evidence" of the intention of the Jews to "defile" the holy places of Islam, invoices and receipts supposedly attesting to the payments made on behalf of Jewish religious institutions. The leaflets were illustrated with paintings of the Western Wall and Temple Mount. These illustrations were decorated with Jewish religious symbols.

The materials caused anxiety among Muslim leaders in the Arab world. Moreover, the fact that Jews see the Western Wall as a holy site and a relic of the Temple worked up the Muslims' anxiety, and they rushed to the mufti's aid.
Much like the mufti, Abbas sees the al-Aqsa mosque as an instrument in his struggle and a means to enlist supporters in the Arab world and the international community to the Palestinian issue, which they already fed up with. But the ruse of crying that "al-Aqsa is in danger" and calls to come and defend the mosque through self-sacrifice and bloodshed, succeeded this time in the same way that it did last year – the question is how many more times will the world fall into the trap before everyone sees through it?

Read article in full

Sunday, September 27, 2015

An Iraqi piyyut for the Feast of Tabernacles

With thanks: Rachel A

On the eve of Succot, the Feast of Tabernacles, I am posting this video of a traditional Iraqi piyyut, Succat Ve'Lulav. Succot recalls the sojourn of the Children of Israel in the wilderness before they entered the promised land.

Jews are enjoined to eat their meals in a hut open to the stars for seven days.

Introduced by the actor and storyteller Yossi Alfi, this psalm calls for God to spread his tabernacle
 over the people of Israel. The musicians, who play traditional Iraqi instruments, include the famous violinist Yair Dalal.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jews are buying Moroccan 'etrogim'

Morocco is supplying the Jewish demand for etrogim (the correct plural), the citron prized by Jews observing the Succot holiday, which begins tomorrow evening. Jews apparently began etrog production in the mountainous Berber region near Marrakesh, and the locals still grow them. Interesting JTA article :(With thanks: ASF)

 Mohammed Douch grows etrogim for the Jewish market (Ben Sales)

“I don’t know exactly why Jewish people are coming to take this product,” said Douch, who like many Moroccans is Berber, through a translator. “Maybe it is that this product is used by Jewish people in worship.”

Douch and his grove are part of southern Morocco’s small and unlikely etrog industry, which has popped up here each summer for centuries. Almost no Jews live in Morocco, but a few dozen Jewish merchants support the industry, sending etrogs — called citrons in English — to Jewish communities on three continents for Sukkot. On the fall harvest holiday, Jews are commanded to pray with a fragrant, colorful collection of four plants, including the etrog.

And even though Morocco does not have formal relations with Israel, the etrogs make it there, too. Because 5775 was a “shmita, or sabbatical year, when Jewish law prohibits agricultural activity in Israel, demand for etrogs grown in Morocco is especially high this season.

“The etrogs from the mountains have a special shape, and they have a beauty we don’t find in other places,” said Naftali Levy, a French etrog merchant. “The color and form, the protrusions are very nice.”

Crouched on a narrow dirt path last week, Douch surveyed his small etrog grove through intense eyes lined with deep wrinkles. The trees’ branches grew only a few feet high, sloping down an uneven embankment in tangles of large, oblong leaves. The bright green etrogs hung just inches from the rocky soil. Beyond the grove were sandy brown mountains covered in palm trees.

“We are attached to our town, and it’s obligatory to visit our original town,” Douch said. “We cannot leave our town because it’s a part of our body. The process I use for this plant is a heritage from my grandfathers.”

Jews were the first Moroccans to plants etrogs — near Marrakesh as far back as 2,000 years ago — said Hebrew University agriculture professor Eliezer Goldschmidt. Their Berber neighbors adopted the crop and continued to grow a small number of etrogs after the Jews left for Israel starting in 1948. Jews have bought the yellow fruits from Berbers for Sukkot ever since.

There are no statistics on the etrog industry in Morocco, but up to hundreds of thousands of etrogs leave the country each year. Merchants said most of the fruits go to Europe, the United States and Canada. Israel began importing etrogs from Morocco in 2013 with a first shipment of 1,500.

Read article in full

Friday, September 25, 2015

When Israel was one large refugee camp

The current refugee crisis in Europe has evoked memories among Jews in particular. More often than not, the comparison is made with Jews desperate to flee the Holocaust. Overlooked is the fact that in Israel's early years, refugees, mostly from Muslim countries, outnumbered residents. Lyn Julius writes in the Huffington Post:

 Israel itself was one large refugee camp in the 1950s and 1960s. The sight of row after row of tents filling our TV screens recalls the ma'abarot, hastily erected "transit" camps of fabric tents, wooden or tin huts. These were conceived by Levi Eshkol of the Jewish Agency to provide temporary housing and jobs. The first ma'abara was established in May 1950 in Kesalon in Judea.

In 1964 1.3 million Israelis went to see the cinema box office hit Sallah Shabati -- a satire about a bearded Yemenite immigrant who has just arrived in the promised land with his seven children and pregnant wife. Sallah -- played by Topol, who would later achieve global fame as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof -- uses all his wiles to try and make money and move into better housing. His name is a pun on words: "Sorry I came".

The EU as a whole, with a population of over 300 million, is taking in as many immigrants today as Israel, a country of half a million, absorbed in the early 1950s. As well as 100,000 Holocaust survivors, the tiny struggling country took in 580,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries. By the 1960s, the refugees had tripled the country 's population.

Children playing in a ma'abara

These Jews were destitute, escaping violence and persecution in Arab countries with nothing but a small suitcase and the shirts on their backs, having been stripped of their livelihoods and property. They had often left behind flourishing businesses and comfortable homes. There was no question of a "right of return" to countries where mobs went on the rampage shouting "Itbach al-Yahud" ("Slaughter the Jews"), money was extorted from them and they could be arrested on the slightest suspicion of being a "Zionist spy". The UN did nothing to ease the burden, and still today, the world remains oblivious to these refugees' existence.

The size of Israel's endeavor was staggering. A nation of 650,000 absorbed 685,000 newcomers, some arriving with trachoma and TB. During the first years of statehood, roughly two-thirds came from Muslim countries.

Conditions were deplorable. Too hot in summer, too cold in winter, exposed to the wind and the rain. Everything from food to detergent was rationed. Refugees had to line up to collect water from central faucets. The water had to be boiled before it could be drunk. The public showers and toilets were rudimentary.
The 113 ma'abarot housed a quarter of a million people in 1950. Slowly the ma'abarot turned into permanent towns. Some residents stayed in the camps for up to 13 years.

Often the newcomers had no say where they were resettled. Large numbers, especially North African immigrants, ended up on the country's periphery in dusty development towns in the Negev desert or on the Lebanese border. Western immigrants secured housing in the cities of the coastal plain, food and jobs through personal contacts which the immigrants from Muslim lands lacked. Yiddish speakers were given preference over the easterners when it came to employment. Such was the shortage of jobs that some Moroccan refugees were made to cart grass from a neighboring kibbutz to Ashdod beach.*

In spite of lingering resentments, the absorption of one of the largest numbers of refugees in proportion to the host population has been an astonishing success. Later, Ethiopian refugees and a million Soviet Jews brought their own challenges. By then, however, the country was a great deal more prosperous, and the refugees were sent directly to absorption centers. They were encouraged to attend total immersion courses in Hebrew and given money to help them afford a permanent home.

Sallah Shabati captures the culture clash between the petty Ashkenazi (western) bureaucrats and the eastern refugees. Political parties come to the ma'abara to court people who have never lived in a democracy for their votes. Sallah himself has to climb a steep learning curve. The refugees press on and build new lives for themselves. Sallah's children fall in love with Ashkenazi kibbutzniks next door, prefiguring the 25 percent intermarriage rate in Israel today. It's a story with a happy ending: no matter the tribulations, Sallah is not sorry he came.

Read article in full 

Cross-posted at Harry's Place

Same article in Algemeiner

*Simon Skira in documentary Les Destins Contraries

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Egypt's shunned playwright Ali Salem dies

 'Normalisation' between Egypt and Israel has lost one of its champions: the Egyptian playwright Ali Salem.

AP - Ali Salem, a famed Egyptian satirical writer whose works include one of the Arab world's most popular comedic plays, died Tuesday in his home in Cairo of natural causes, Egypt's state-run Middle East News Agency said. He was 79.

Salem's writings include 15 books and 25 plays. His most famous work was "School of the Troublemakers," a 1971 comedic play about a class of riotous teenagers reformed by a female teacher.

Salem courted controversy by visiting Israel in 1994, traveling by himself without even telling his wife or three daughters. He drove a car across the border after Israel and the Palestinians signed the 1993 Oslo peace agreements. He said he had been thinking about visiting the country since late President Anwar Sadat made the trip in 1977, leading to Egypt's becoming the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979.

Salem's book "A Drive to Israel" sold more than 60,000 copies, a best-seller by Egyptian standards. But he was shunned in Egypt for the visit and fellow writers labeled him a sellout or collaborator.

Salem's calls for peace and normalization with Israel eventually caused him to be expelled from the Writers Syndicate, a move that was overturned by an Egyptian court. Immediately after the court ruling, he resigned from the syndicate, saying he only went to court to prove a point.

In 2008, Salem won the Civil Courage Prize from the U.S.-based Train Foundation, which said he was a "voice for peace and reason in the Middle East." The ceremony was co-sponsored by London-based Chatham House.

In later years Salem became a public critic of former President Hosni Mubarak. Salem spoke in support of the protest movements against Mubarak years before the 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak's 29-year rule.

Read article in Full 

 Egyptian intellectuals curious about Israel shunned 

Egypt nervous of Israeli culture

Meet Cairo's last Jews

As the daughter of a communist, Magda Haroun, leader of Cairo's Jewish 'community' - eight elderly ladies - resents the creation of Israel which she sees as partly to blame for the extinction of her community. But those 'Egyptian patriots' who refused to leave were victimised as well. In  the next breath, the article mentions that the Copts, who have no Israel to resent - were also persecuted. Somewhat lazy article in Time magazine by Jared Malsin:
Magda Haroun: performing funerals
Despite their invisibility today, as recently as the mid-1940s, Egypt’s Jews made up a diverse and vibrant community that at its peak numbered more than 80,000 people. Egyptian Jews were writers, film directors, business figures and political activists.

They were also icons of a long-gone cosmopolitan era in Egyptian culture. Jewish-born singer and actress Laila Murad was a towering figure in midcentury Egyptian film and music. One of Murad’s associates was Togo Mizrahi, an Alexandrian Jew of Italian lineage and who was considered one of the founding fathers of Egyptian cinema. Mizrahi who directed films like Cocaine a 1930s tale of murder and drug abuse.

That cultural flourishing ended soon after the 1948 war that birthed the neighboring state of Israel. Coinciding with a surge in Egyptian nationalism in the 1950s, in the years following the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser began a mass expulsion of Egyptian Jews, sending many to Europe, Israel, and the US. Some settled in places like Paris, Cyprus, and the San Francisco Bay area.

The expulsion continued for years, draining the community. In the 1950s, some Jews were issued one-way travel documents called “laisser-passer,” while others were stripped of their property. By the end of subsequent wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973, only a few hundred Egyptian Jews remained in the country, doing their best to continue daily life in a community now a fraction of its former size.

Madga Haroun’s family is one of those that chose to remain. Her father was a communist who worked in an intellectual property firm, aiding patent and trademark applications. After attending university in Cairo, she eventually took over the family business. One of her sisters later moved to Europe, but she decided to stay. (I could find no proof of the existence of this sister - ed)

Following the Rosh Hashanah service, the congregation moves to an attached building for a reception. In addition to apples and honey, the traditional Rosh Hashanah snack, the spread includes red wine in small plastic cups, pomegranate seeds and dates—“a symbol of Egypt,” says Haroun. (These foods are eaten as part of the Sephardi Seder, not just by Egyptian Jews - ed)

And Egypt is Haroun’s country. After the reception she sits smoking a cigarette and sitting on the stone steps of the Synagogue courtyard. The yard is dimly lit and guarded by a permanent police checkpoint. “I had my first love here. I had my first boyfriend, my first deception.” She laughs with a smoker’s rasp. “It’s my home, why should I leave? And my father felt the same.”

As she speaks, a young Cairene couple walk in from the street, strangers come to wish her well on the holiday.

Haroun sees the Egyptian Jewish community as an accidental victim of regional politics. “I myself am resentful to the state of Israel. Because is if we are like this today, it is part because of the establishment of the state of Israel, and part the politics of the Arab countries, which contributed to the idea of Israel.”

In Haroun’s view, the creation of Israel upended regional politics and led to a backlash in Arab states, which then moved to outright expel or pressure their Jewish minorities. The simmering conflict between Israel and nationalist Arab regimes left some Middle Eastern Jews with an impossible choice: their religious affiliation or their homelands.

Many of the Jews who remained in Egypt refused that choice, instead insisting on the their place in Egypt’s culture and history, even as the accepted notion of what it meant to be Egyptian narrowed, excluding the Jews. Haroun only has Egyptian citizenship, and like all Egyptians, her religion is printed on her national ID card, a fact that sometimes elicits disbelief—many Egyptians simply can’t believe that there are Jewish Egyptians. “Sometimes at the bank, they say, ‘We have to have the permission of the embassy.’ I said, which embassy? I didn’t know that Egypt has an Egyptian embassy!”

Jews are not the only religious minority to have faced persecution in Egypt. The country’s Coptic Christians say they are regarded as second-class citizens, barred de facto from the top ranks of the military, harassed by the security forces and menaced in some parts of the country by jihadists. Egypt’s Bahai’s and Shia communities have also long struggled for rights under a state that refuses to recognize them.

Haroun says the Egyptian government no longer threatens the few remaining Egyptian Jews with expulsion or other punitive measures, but little can be done to reverse the community’s impending extinction. That extends to her own family. Haroun’s first husband was a Muslim, and so is her daughter. Her current husband is Italian and a Catholic. “We are the only house in Egypt where the three religions are living under one roof,” she says.

Magda Haroun feels burdened with the task of presiding over the last days of her community. “I’m sick of it,” she says. “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’m crying. Because I don’t know what will happen. When the phone rings, I don’t know who died, who is sick. It’s very hard to explain. It’s very heavy. It’s very sad. It’s very frightening.”

Yet she is still intent on proclaiming the legacy of Egypt’s Jews even to their dying days. When the previous leader of the Cairo Jewish community, Carmen Weinstein, died in 2013, Haroun labored to make the funeral an event attended by local and foreign officials, along with a rabbi flown in from Paris. Haroun’s sister and the deputy leader of the community died in 2014, and Haroun again helped organize a major funeral with a police escort. “I made a point,” she said. “We are going, but we have to go in glamour.”

“Unfortunately it’s a funeral. We won’t have weddings, but we will be acknowledged, and I will fight until the end that our presence is acknowledged in history.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Leila Mourad sings 'El nora alila'

With thanks: Ahuva and Sylvia

Sylvia writes:

"With Yom Kippur beginning this evening here is a rare recording of Laila Mourad singing El Nora Alila, before her conversion to Islam.

" This prayer was written by Spanish philosopher and poet Moses Ibn Ezra (c. 1055-c.1138). It is part of the “Ne’ilah”, the closing of Yom Kippur prayers. It has been adopted in Ashkenazi rituals.

"Adon Haselihot, an ancient Sephardi prayer (possibly dating from the days of the Geonim) is sung during the days of Awe and on Yom Kippur. It is now widely known in Israel and abroad and has been popularised.
It is here sung by Avihu Medina.

"Kol Nidre always gives me goose bumps. It is also a very ancient prayer in Aramaic aimed at releasing vows not fulfilled during the year in those days when people did not write contracts. Later its intention is limited to Jews meant who were forced to convert.

"Here is the Sephardi Kol Nidre with the introductory prayer -Avinu Malkeinu. It is recited on Yom Kippur. Here is my favorite by baritone David Serero."

Monday, September 21, 2015

Film on the Jews of Egypt has happy ending

With thanks: Jeremy
Interviewee Maurice Mizrahi

 The title could have been : 'The Golden Age of Egyptian Jewry' or 'The Polyglot Paradise', or even 'My Beautiful Beach hut'. Instead, Milan-based Elliot Malki decided to call his film 'Starting Over'. (Film no longer available on Youtube)

For the 80,000-member Jewish community - now reduced to fewer than 15 - did not dwell on its brutal expulsion and displacement. It rolled up its sleeves and 'started over'.

 In a mixture of languages which reflected the muti-ethnic hotchpotch that was 1930s and 40s Egypt, Malki's interviewees dwell on the tolerance in the country - a product of culture, not education, as one patrician Muslim exile put it.

 One story stands out in particular: Ada Aharoni 's family took in a Muslim boy named Mabrouk. He lived with them for six years, but protested when he could not accompany them into exile: Aharoni's father was stripped of his work permit and the family were forced to leave for Israel in 1948. Her father gave the boy a sum of money and bid him spend it on his engineering studies. Much later, after the signing of 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty , Ada tracked down Mabrouk. He was delighted to see her; he had become an engineer, and was now the mukhtar of his village.

The film seems to blame anti-colonialism for the downturn in the Jews' fortunes, when General Naguib and the Free Officers overthrew the pro-British and corrupt monarchy in 1952. But even as French and British passport-holders were expelled after Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez canal in 1956, Armenians, Italians and Greeks were not expelled - only the Jews.

Discriminatory nationality laws had already rendered a large proportion of Egyptian Jews stateless.

 One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that the younger generation managed to adapt to exile so much better than the old. One father was astonished when his son got himself a job after answering a newspaper advertisement instead of in the time-honoured way of his father pulling strings.

The film ends on an upbeat note - exile has led to undreamed-of opportunity: this refugee became an aeronautics expert, that refugee a senior engineer, this one a writer, that one a businessman. They bear out the story (in another film) about a Jew who insisted on laying flowers on Nasser's grave. The accompanying message read:" thank you Nasser for kicking us out of Egypt, for if you had not done so, I would never have become a millionaire!"

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Cairo-born chansonnier Guy Beart dies

With thanks: Veronique

One of France's best known singer-songwriters, Guy Beart, has died at the age of 85. A contemporary of Serge Gainsbourg - with whom he clashed - Beart told 'Actualite juive'that he was a 'joyful pessimist'. His mother had taught him Jewish rituals and the Bible influenced his lyrics. In Lebanon between 1939 and 1947, he felt the effects of Nazism. "There were refugees from all over the world there, including men in beards and 'pe'ot'" he said. One of his two daughters is Emmanuelle Beart,the actor. The Guardian has this obituary:

Béart was born Guy Béhart-Hasson, in Cairo, the son of an accountant and business consultant whose work took the Jewish family to Greece, Italy, the US, France, Mexico and Lebanon. At 17, Guy left Beirut for Paris to study at the prestigious Lycée Henri‑IV and later the Ecole Nationale de Musique.

His love of music – he studied the violin and the guitar – was matched by his passion for mathematics, and he also obtained a degree in engineering from the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. While taking a variety of jobs, including as a mathematics teacher, to support his family after the death of his father, he did the rounds as a singer in Parisian cabaret clubs and wrote songs for Juliette Gréco, Yves Montand, Maurice Chevalier and others.

 Guy Beart in 1967

He recorded his first album in 1957, and the following year the Academy of French Records awarded him its Grand Prix. But his biggest success came with title soundtrack of François Villiers’ film L’Eau Vive (Girl and the River, 1958), a song regarded as a classic example of French chanson.

This homegrown musical genre, as personified by Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour and Charles Trenet, took a blow with the advent of Anglo-American rock and pop, which became known as chanson yéyé and turned Johnny Hallyday into a national icon. One of Hallyday’s early records was a version of Let’s Twist Again, by Chubby Checker; the celebrated “twist” that Béart lamented nudged him, with his poetic, often melancholic songs, into the shade.

Béart, however, remained true to the music he saw as a high art form. This led to a clash with Gainsbourg in 1986 on a popular television show where Gainsbourg insisted songwriting was a “minor art”. When Béart challenged this view, the infamously outspoken Gainsbourg lewdly called him a connard.

 Read article in full 

Back to Alexandria with Georges

Why helping Syrian refugees leaves me uneasy

 Helping Syrian refugees is the right thing to do, but the thought that they may be the descendants of those rioters who smashed up the synagogue in Aleppo and forced the great majority of Jews to flee in 1947 does not make Lynette Nusbacher feel any less uneasy. Read her blog in The Times of Israel (with thanks: Michelle):

 Courtyard of the Great synagogue in Aleppo, partly destroyed in 1947

As the kids made their posters for the collection, I was not entirely happy. I was thinking about other Syrian refugees. I was thinking in particular about the Jewish population of Aleppo who were hounded out of their homes in 1947.

There had been a Jewish community in Aleppo almost as long as there have been Jews (as long as, according to local legend, the time when the locals drank milk from Abraham’s goats, giving the city its name). In the 1490s, Aleppo had received large numbers of Sephardic refugees from Spain and Portugal (whose descendants maintained the tradition of a ninth Chanukkah candle to commemorate their acceptance by the Aleppo community), but remarkably maintained a separate synagogue service that preserved the pre-Sephardic rite of the congregation.

The Jews of Syria became increasingly uncomfortable during and after the period of direct rule from Vichy and later by the Free French. It is estimated that 4,500 Jews moved from the ancient Syrian communities to British Palestine between 1942 and 1947.

The excuse for the organized mob violence in 1947 was the United Nations vote at Lake Success, New York, to partition the western coastal strip of Palestine between a Jewish state and an Arab state. It is very likely, however, that the pogrom was a deliberate part of the “Arabization” policy that the Syrian state had been pursuing over the year since the French evacuated the territory of their expired Syria mandate. The pogrom in Aleppo may have been worse than the one in Damascus because the ‘Alawis of Aleppo might have felt the need to show themselves to be just as Arab as their more orthodox Muslim neighbors.

A large proportion of Aleppo’s prewar Jewish population of 10,000 fled the violence and destruction of communal institutions and personal property. The remainder were effectively internally displaced and ransomed by private Canadian funds over the ensuing decades. The Assad regime ended the prohibition on Jewish emigration in 1992 under pressure from the United States. By that time very few remained.

Almost none of the refugees from Aleppo and Damascus was resettled in Europe. The largest number were resettled in Israel and the United States, with most of the remainder in Mexico, Panama and Brazil. The one place in Europe where Syrian refugees found a home in any numbers was among the Sephardic Jews of Manchester.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Future of Iraqi-Jewish archive still not secure

Latest instalment in the saga of the Iraqi-Jewish archive, shipped from Baghdad for restoration in the US, but still being claimed back by the Iraqi government as its rightful property. The archive exhibit of 24 items is now on view at the Richard Nixon Library in California, but more obvious venues have turned the exhibit down as not relevant enough to the 'American-Jewish experience'. Tom Tugend reports in Jewish Journal:

On Sept. 4, an exhibition including 23 of the recovered items, along with videos of the painstaking restoration effort, will open at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda.

The 2,000-square-foot exhibition, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage,” will continue through Nov. 15 at the Orange County site.
Among the show’s highlights are a Hebrew Bible with commentaries published in 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793, a hand-lettered and decorated haggadah, and a lunar calendar in Hebrew and Arabic.

One section of the exhibition shows how the moldy mass of material was saved by the National Archives experts. “Every page had to be vacuumed, freeze-dried, preserved and digitized,” (archivist Doris) Hamburg said. On the Sept. 4 opening day, Hamburg will give a free public lecture at 10 a.m. at the Nixon Library.

After restoration: Passover Haggadah from Vienna, 1930. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

The exhibition is of particular significance to the roughly 3,000 Jews of Iraqi descent in Los Angeles, who make up the largest concentration among the estimated 18,000 to 20,000 Iraqi Jews in the United States. Other sizable communities are in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Arizona; Connecticut; Florida; and New Jersey.

The spiritual center of the Los Angeles community is Congregation Kahal Joseph, a Sephardic synagogue on the city’s Westside. It has a membership of some 400 families, about 90 percent of which are of Iraqi descent, with the remainder from Burma, Indonesia, India and Singapore.

After a number of years without a spiritual leader, Kahal Joseph welcomed Rabbi Raif Melhado to its pulpit last month.

The congregation’s former president and current chairman of the board is Joseph Dabby, who said he lobbied intensively to bring the exhibition to Los Angeles after it had been shown in New York;, Washington, D.C.; and Kansas City, Mo.
Asked why the exhibition venue would be located in Yorba Linda rather than at a central Jewish site in Los Angeles, Dabby said he had asked the Skirball Cultural Center and the Museum of Tolerance of the Simon Wiesenthal Center to host the show but was turned down by both.

Skirball museum director Robert Kirschner explained, “Of the many exhibitions proposed to us, unfortunately we can present very few. The museum gave this exhibition serious consideration several years ago, and I subsequently went to see it in in New York City. While it is a worthy exhibition, our decision was that it did not resonate closely with the Skirball’s mission, which focuses on the American-Jewish experience.”

At the Museum of Tolerance, director Liebe Geft stated that no one at the museum had been contacted about the exhibition.

She added that potential exhibits are judged on whether the subject matter and content are consistent with the museum’s mission, as well as with the logistics and available space. Currently, she said, the new Anne Frank installation is occupying all available space.

Dabby’s greatest concern, however, is whether the thousands of books, documents and artifacts will remain in the United States or be returned to the government in Baghdad, as was stipulated in the initial agreement allowing the transfers to the U.S. National Archives.

Given the unsettled conditions in Iraq and the presence of the Islamic State, with its penchant for destroying ancient monuments and historical religious artifacts, Dabby asked how anyone could guarantee the survival of the Iraqi-Jewish collection. His question was echoed by Maurice Shohet, the Washington-based president of the World Organization of Jews From Iraq.

“All the books and documents were taken forcibly from the Jewish community by Saddam Hussein’s regime, and they still belong to us,” Shohet said. “I don’t know what the State Department plans to do, but at this time, it seems to be postponing any decision.”

The Journal asked the State Department for its view, and the same day received a lengthy response from spokesman Michael Lavallee, who made the following points:

As agreed to by the Iraqi government, the Iraqi Jewish Archive (IJA) is in the temporary custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for conservation, preservation, digitization and exhibition in the United States.

In May 2014, the Iraqi government extended IJA’s stay in the United States to allow its exhibition in more cities. After its Nixon Library display, the exhibit is due at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach in December.

There are no definite plans for subsequent exhibits, but the United States “remains committed to the return of the IJA to Iraq, as per prior agreement,” Lavallee stated.

To the Journal’s question regarding the security of the IJA material should it be returned to Iraq, Lavallee responded diplomatically: “We will continue to partner with the Government of Iraq in countering the threat that [Islamic State] poses to the Iraqi people and heritage. Iraqi forces continue to make progress against [Islamic State] and it is impossible to speculate what the security situation would be at the point in the future when the collection would return to Iraq.”

Read article in full

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Muslim pedigree for 'dirty Jew'

Mahmoud Abbas: Jews have filthy feet

 “Al-Aqsa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.”

Thus has the official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa quoted the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, complaining that Israelis were trying to assure equal access for Jews and Muslims to holy sites in Jerusalem.

 Of the many insults and epithets launched at the Jews through the ages, none has quite the cultural pedigree of "dirty Jew".

 "Dirty Jew" has been a common expression of anti-Jewish antipathy throughout the centuries in Christian Europe. It was heard during the Dreyfus Affair in France, the Kishinev Pogrom in Russia, and  during the rise of Nazism in Germany.

But how widespread is it in the Muslim world? In referring to 'filthy feet', Abbas seemed to be quoting a hadith:

"You must clean your courtyards and do not follow in the footsteps of the Jews" - who keep themselves unclean.

Paradoxically in Moroccan Arab folklore, Jews were thought to have special powers over the elements, according to anthropologist Aomar Boum, but it was because they 'smelled bad':

"Jews were also thought of as rainmakers who could bring a good harvest by guaranteeing the fertility of the soil. Folk narratives of Arab and Berber tribes throughout North Africa stated that the Prophet Mohammed and his companions prayed for rain after a severe drought and only met with success when an old Jew went to a grave, took a bone, and started praying with his fellow Jews: In the middle of their prayers rain began to fall. Arabs and Berbers alike attributed this power to the fact that Jews smelled bad, and so, therefore, God granted their wish for rain showers—but nevertheless, in times of drought, Jews were called upon to pray for rain, even though they were typically not allowed to get close to the village spring, out of fear that they might desecrate it."

Jewish 'dirt'  was taken to its logical extreme in Sh'ia tradition, where the Jew was Najas, or impure: To wine and other spirits, dogs, swine, dead animals that were not ritually slaughtered, blood, excrement, and the milk of animals whose meat Muslims are not allowed to eat Shi’a jurists traditionally add dead bodies and non-believers.

Thus Jews in Iran were not allowed to handle fruit and vegetables in the market, lest they contaminate them, and Jews were even known to have been executed in 19th century Persia for brushing up against Muslims in the rain, thus rendering them impure.

As recently as  2006, Mohamed Ali  Ramin, an adviser to president Ahmadinejad of Iran, said: "Jews are a dirty people. That is why one has accused them throughout history of spreading deadly diseases and plagues*."

 *Judeophobia and the denial of the Holocaust in Iran by M. Kuntzel (p 250)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Jewish refugees must have congressional hearings

Reactive and defensive. That's one way of describing Israel's failure to put its case. To help Israel go on the offensive, the rights of Jewish refugees play a major part in the 'narrative'. The refugees  must have congressional hearings in the US. Rabbi Professor Dov Fischer explains in Arutz Sheva:

Two boys running in a ma'abara transit camp for Jewish refugees from Arab lands (photo: JDC)

We Need Our Friends in Washington to Initiate Congressional Hearings on Reparations for Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands. On the “refugee question,” similarly, we have to go beyond playing defense.  If there are refugees, then there were 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands who lost everything when the Arab world uprooted them in the 1940s and drove them out from lands where they had lived half a millennium, even as those Arab countries confiscated their landed property.

Today they and their descendants number in the many millions.  So, if the 400,000 or 500,000 Arabs who departed from Israel during that parallel period, mostly voluntarily, now number in the millions of UNRWA “refugees,” it is time to demand justice for the even-more-millions of Jewish refugees who truly were forced into diaspora on pain of death.  Demand legislative hearings in Washington, lots of hearings by lots of different pertinent Senate and House committees, in America’s capital on restoration of property and reparations for Jewish refugees.

That is how issues become issues in America.  One law student, Sandra Fluke, testified before a “mock legislative committee,” and the entire nation began debating whether the government should be required to pay for every American woman’s contraceptives.  So we need hearings on the restoration of losses sustained by the Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands.  Then, with the issue explained and the American public educated, we need to demand freezes on Arab governmental assets in America for court-ordered seizures and for transfer to American families among the Edot HaMizrach (North African Jewish) victims to compensate and restore refugee property – just as we have been doing for Holocaust victims who today are recovering damages for stolen Nazi-era property, for unpaid wages during their enslavement, and for insurance benefits they were owed but never paid after having paid their life-insurance and commercial-property premiums in Europe during the years of the Holocaust.
Now for the second period or the fourth inning, or for the next set of downs — pick your metaphor — because the game is just getting started:

5.  We Americans Must Stop Funding UNRWA.  Demand a complete end to all American funding for the UNRWA, the United Nations agency that promotes anti-Jewish hatred throughout Gaza and in Judea and Samaria, as they accede to the myth of “Palestinian refugees in Palestine.”  We are so accustomed to playing defense that we never even ask:  “How in the world can people who were not even alive in the 1940s be called ‘refugees’ from somewhere they never fled?  And even if they were ‘refugees,’ how can they still be deemed as ‘refugees’ now that they are living in their supposed homeland?”  When people “return home,” they no longer are “refugees.”  Period.  End of story. Under any conceivable definition or scenario, how can there be “Palestinian refugee camps” in Jenin or Gaza?  Are there “Katrina refugee camps” in Baton Rouge?  “Hurricane Sandy refugee camps” in the Bronx?

The UNRWA needs to close down in Gaza, in Jenin, and elsewhere – and America needs to stop funding it.  Most American citizens have no idea that the United States funds more than one-fourth of the UNRWA’s annual $550 million core budget, while most Arab countries contribute a pittance.  Last year, the United States gave $130 million to the UNRWA core program, and the European Union gave $120 million, while Saudi Arabia gave $2 million, Kuwait gave $2 million, Qatar gave only one million, and Egypt gave fifteen thousand dollars, while Iraq and Libya gave nothing. In today’s economic environment, there will be many in Washington who will be delighted to see this aspect of an offensive approach to Zionism once they are educated to this incredible anomaly.  The money saved might even be redirected to bolster the economy of Ukrainian freedom advocates.  The European Union can redirect the money to its financially tottering constituents know as PIGS: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain.

Read article in full 

Let's reframe the Israel debate

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mizrahi music still appeals mainly to Mizrahim

Nowadays Mizrahi music is dominating Israeli popular culture - but people still prefer to listen to the music they were brought up with, writes Elad Massuri in Jewish Journal.

Eyal Golan: popular with Jews with Mizrahi roots

I interviewed Shlomi Shabat, one of the most famous Israeli singers to come to L.A. in recent months.

If we want to compare him to American singers, Shlomi Shabat is our Stevie Wonder.

He is a “soul singer” in that his songs are an inseparable part of the Israeli music and his music is widespread in the different sectors of the Israeli society.

With excitement, Shlomi told me of his experience performing in front of Israeli audiences, and he shared with me that during his concert, he saw different kinds of people from different ethnicities in the audience — religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi.

The audience variety at his concert exists because Shabat, a Jewish Israeli with Turkish roots, found during his career a certain formula for songwriting that draws influence from different Jewish cultures.

In his songs are some European elements that came from the Ashkenazi diaspora, some elements from the Mizrahi diaspora, and from Israel and from the Middle East.

While I was talking with him, I was trying to understand what exactly is “Israeli music.” Does it even exist? After all, Israeli Jews are a mix of Jewish people from all over the world.

In the past five years, Israeli music went over a few speed bumps.

The Ashkenazi music, which dominated for a few decades in Israeli mainstream music, had played on radio stations almost exclusively.

But in the past five years, things changed and Ashkenazi music lost its popularity — it became much less played on the radio, and it no longer dictated the agenda of the Israeli music.

At the same time, after years of social isolation, when Mizrahi music was not played on the radio and the singers worked only at small events such as weddings and bar mitzvahs to make a living, Mizrahi music suddenly became more popular.

Today, Mizrahi singers are dominating the Israeli music scene and they earn a lot of money from concerts in Israel and worldwide.

There still isn’t a nice way to say it: You are more likely to find a Mizrahi audience at Mizrahi singers’ concerts and an Ashkenazi audience at the Ashkenazi singers’ concerts.

This division is not because of an aversion to certain singers’ roots.

Music is a product of culture, and people who grew up in a certain culture learn to know and love the music that was played around them.

We connect with music that reminds us of home, with melodies that were played during our childhoods and with lyrics that talk about familiar topics.

That is what’s happening, naturally, in synagogues in Israel and Los Angelesmost Mizrahi Jews will want to go to Mizrahi synagogues so they can pray in their own familiar way, and it is exactly the same for Ashkenazi Jews.

It is impossible to turn back the clock and change the cultural influences that each generation is steeped in; the faith and music of one's childhood is inextricably linked to their parents and their synagogues. They will probably influence their own children the same way by imparting their own tastes onto the next generation's psyches.

It is important for us, the Jewish public, to be exposed to a variety of Jewish music so that we won’t lose parts of our culture.

The music that the Jewish and the Israeli communities in Los Angeles are exposed to today will become the music of tomorrow.

A Jewish-American kid with Mizrahi roots who is exposed to the music of Golan, and at the same time to the music of Kleinstein, will not be able to distinguish between them, and, to that kid, both will be “Israeli music.”

This way we could remove the barriers between the two cultures and we could create a single Israeli music that tells of our different cultures — for example, as is being done by artists such as Boaz Sharabi, who uses melodies from the Yemen-Jewish diaspora but also Western musical instruments such as piano and violin, and whose lyrics address topics that every Israeli can feel connected to.

The same principle exists with Shlomi Shabat, who wrote songs that became Israeli anthems, and Idan Raichel, who combines world music with ancient, almost biblical Hebrew words.

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rouhani wishes Jews L'shana tova

 In keeping with the regime's official distinction between Jews and Zionists, and in order to project an image of tolerance,  Iran's president Rouhani tweeted a Happy New Year to the Jewish people (whether he Tweeted greetings last year is a matter of controversy) . There are thought to be only 8, 500 Jews in Iran out of a 1979 community of 100, 000. The Times of Israel reports:

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei may be urging the Jewish state’s extinction and anticipating its demise, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani still took time Sunday to wish the Jewish people a happy new year, just in time for the Rosh Hashanah holiday.
Iran's president Rouhani: tweeting (Photo: AP)

 In a message on his official Twitter account, Rouhani wrote: “May our shared Abrahamic roots deepen respect and mutual understanding. L’Shanah Tovah. #RoshHashanah”

 The message was accompanied by a 2006 Reuters image of Jews praying in Yousefabad Synagogue in Tehran.

L’Shanah Tovah is Hebrew for, May it be a good year. Iran had between 80, 000 and 100, 000 Jews before the 1979 Islamic revolution but most have since fled, mainly to the United States, Israel and Europe.

There are now only about 8, 500, mostly in Tehran but also in Isfahan and Shiraz, major cities south of the capital.

This is not the first time that a Rosh Hashanah greeting has been attributed to Rouhani. In 2013, a message claiming to be from Rouhani was posted on Twitter, reading “As the sun is about to set here in Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.”

Read article in full

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Sephardim who went to North America

On 23 August 2015, an important conference was held in Montreal, Canada by the Dahan Center, based at Bar Ilan university in Israel.

The conference looked at Sephardi communities from North Africa and the Middle East who settled in North America. It is no accident that Montreal was chosen as the venue: as one of the speakers explained, half the Jewish community was Sephardi (mainly Moroccan); as it was growing faster and was more religious, there was every expectation it would become dominant.

Here is the video of the speeches at the opening dinner, introduced by Dr Shimon Ohayon of the Dahan Center. At 40 minutes into the clip, the seven Moroccan musicians get an opportunity to play music from the Judeo-Arabic Andalusian tradition. The band leader explains that this style of music predates the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from 15th century Spain, and goes back as far as the 9th century. In the 16th century, there were 200-member orchestras playing to audiences of 1, 000.


Point of No Return hopes to upload more videos of this conference as we get them.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Selichot prayer

With Thanks: Rachel A


Here is Yaniv Ben Mashiah Pticha singing a Selichot prayer entitled : "I got up at an early hour: why are you sleeping, Man? "

Selichot are penitential prayers said before and during the High Holy Days and other fast days throughout the year. But the term first appears as a reference to the biblical verses that were added to the Yom Kippur liturgy.

 Eventually, the holiday prayers were combined with general prayers of repentance. The prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, from the 9th century, for example, includes a collection of these poetic writings and meditations.

While these prayers were initially only recited during the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the custom developed to use them in the days beforehand as well.

In Hebrew, selichot translates to “forgiveness,” and indeed there is an emphasis in these prayers on the merciful attributes with which God is said to govern the world. In many ways, the prayers which make up the Selichot service mirror what we find on the Day of Atonement which follows soon after.

 - See article in full