Friday, April 17, 2015

Israeli journalist who visited Iran accused of spying

An Israeli journalist who recently visited Iran has been accused of being a spy by an Iranian MP, and has clearly embarrassed the authorities. Orly Azoulay travelled on an American passport with a delegation from the New York Times, but did not conceal her identity. Report in Y-Net News: (with thanks: Ahuva)

Orly Azoulay's recent reports of her visit to Iran have caused quite a stir in the Islamic Republic, which has come out against Ynet's print-publication Yediot Ahronoth's "Zionist emissary who managed to enter the country under the noses of the authorities."

Armed with a visa issued by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and without making any efforts to conceal her identity, Azoulay went to Iran as part of a delegation organized by the New York Times - and was warmly welcomed by her hosts.

Orly Azoulay in Iran (Photo courtesy of Orly Azoulay)
Orly Azoulay in Iran (Photo courtesy of Orly Azoulay)

After leaving the country, she described her visit in a report published over the Passover holidays, telling of her time in Tehran, her visits to a synagogue in Isfahan and the tomb of Queen Esther in Hamedan, and various other experiences in the country.

The report has now sparked an outcry in Iran, with the media and social networks filled with discussions on how and why Azoulay received permission to visit the country.

The members of the Jewish community of Isfahan won't discuss Netanyahu's speech to Congress and are adamant in their loyalty to the state. 'We don't talk politics,' they say. On Tuesday, the Lenziran video website published an extensive report on the subject of the "Zionist journalist," charging that Azoulay's reports are false.

"She has no business here other than espionage," said one Iranian member of parliament who appeared in the Lenziran report. "The question is: where is our intelligence system?"

The report also described how the various Iranian government ministries are trying to blame one another for the "oversight." And according to the report's presenter, "Azoulay's entry into Iran is like a virus entering the human body."

 Orly Azoulay finds herself watching Netanyahu's Congress speech from the lobby of an Iranian hotel, and encounters a country desperate for a deal that will free it from crippling sanctions.

In response to Azoulay's article, the spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Hossein Nooshabadi, said she had "entered Iran on an American passport, she didn't have a press card and came in as a tourist, an American resident with an American group – the Foreign Ministry and intelligence services must therefore provide an answer."

Read article in full 

Video (Hebrew) shows Orly Azoulay visiting the tomb of Esther in Hamadan where 15 Jews remain, and the synagogue in Isfahan where one member sings a song wishing for peace between the peoples of Iran and Israel.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The lessons of Bergen-Belsen remain unlearnt

It is not widely known that Jews were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from Libya. Barely three years later, the Jewish community of Libya was ethnically cleansed. The lessons of Bergen-Belsen were not learned in 1945, and still have not been today, with the proliferation of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish Islamist groups. Lyn Julius writes in the Jerusalem Post:

Holocaust survivors returning from Bergen-Belsen to Libya

On April 15, the world marked  the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

More than 50,000 prisoners, mainly Jews, died there – of starvation, overwork, disease or following gruesome medical experiments. Anne Frank was probably the most famous victim. She and her sister perished of typhus in the camp just one month before liberation.

Among the prisoners liberated on that glorious day in April were several hundred Libyan Jews, deported to Bergen-Belsen via Italy. A photo exists of these survivors, dangling their legs out of a railway carriage on which they had scrawled, “Going home” and “Back to Tripoli.”

According to The Jews of Libya by Professor Maurice Roumani, some 870 out of the 2,000 Jews in Libya with British passports were deported to Italy as part of the “sfollamento” policy to send away foreign nationals. Members of the same family could be dispersed to Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria – then under pro-Nazi, Vichy French control.

Two transports of 300 Jews, and another 120, were shipped from Libya to Naples on cargo trains to Bergen-Belsen and arrived on May 25, 1944. Jews arriving from Libya in Bologna were taken by train to Innsbruck- Reichenau, part of the Dachau camp system, in July 1943.

Reaching Bergen-Belsen relatively late in the war, the Libyan Jews survived. Some were exchanged for German POWs. They received packages from the Red Cross and obtained some relief in their working conditions. They even managed to keep kosher, exchanging cooked food for dry bread. One Jew, Zion Labi from Benghazi, started a school.

The deportation of Jews from Libya to the northern shores of the Mediterranean gives the lie to the widespread misconception that the Holocaust touched only European Jews.

Although their suffering cannot be compared to the horrors inflicted on the Jews of Eastern Europe, Jews in North Africa were not spared the impact of the war. Some 2,500 Libyan Jews were shipped by the Italian Fascist regime to the notorious Giado labor camp. One fifth died of typhus or starvation.

Neighboring Tunisia came under direct Nazi control for six months. Some 2, 000 Tunisian Jewish men, wearing the obligatory yellow star, were frog-marched into labor camps. Jews were used as slave labor in Algerian and Moroccan work camps. And all the while, thousands of Jews died in aerial bombardments as the Allied and German armies wrestled for control.

Arguably, North African states, having not yet achieved independence, were not responsible for the anti-Jewish measures adopted by the Vichy regime and the Italian fascists. But apart from individuals who saved Jews, the sympathies of the Arab masses broadly lay with the Germans.

Iraq, independent since 1932, was the scene of a pro-Nazi coup in 1941, leading inexorably to the Farhud, the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht. In this two-day orgy of murder, rape, mutilation and looting, up to 600 Jews were killed, according to British archival records. The exact figure will never be known.

The Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem played a central role in plotting the pro-Nazi coup in Iraq. In exile in Berlin from November 1941 until the end of the war, he broadcast anti-Jewish propaganda to the Arab world.

He proved more zealous than the Nazis in promoting the “final solution” to the Jewish question. The mufti is thought to have been directly responsible for 20,000 European Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.

At the end of WWII, the mufti should have been tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg.

He was indicted, judged and convicted by Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity, arising from his pivotal role in the Handschar and Skandeberg SS divisions which deported Balkan Jews from Kosovo, Macedonia and Thrace. But the Allies shrank from offending the Arabs. The mufti remained a hero for tens of thousands.

Nazi Germany lavished money and propaganda on the Arab world in the hopes of fomenting an anti-colonial uprising. It funded the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Egypt in 1928. Its founder, Hassan al-Banna, made the Nazi concept of the Jew as the epitome of all-embracing evil, overlaid with traditional anti-Jewish Koranic prejudice, the core of the Brotherhood’s ideology. By the war’s end, the Brotherhood had a million members.

Shortly after the Belsen survivors had returned to Libya, the Jews of Tripoli and outlying villages suffered a vicious threeday pogrom, which claimed the lives of 130 and made thousands of Jews homeless.

How was this possible barely six months after news of the terrible extermination of the Jews of Europe had reached the Arab world? The November 1945 Libyan riots were a spillover from disturbances in Egypt in which five Jews were murdered. While some blame the clash of Zionism and Arab nationalism, historians report that the rioters in Libya did not shout anti-Zionist slogans. The mob did not even know what Zionism was, a Jewish Agency report stated. It is noteworthy that the Egyptian rioters, incited by the Muslim Brotherhood, targeted Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic institutions as well as Jews.

It is common to view the mass exodus and spoliation of a million Jews from the Arab world as revenge for the displacement of Palestinian Arabs in 1948. A more plausible explanation is that Nazi-inspired blood-andsoil nationalism, and xenophobic Islamism, which had entrenched themselves in the Arab world over the preceding decade, aimed to destroy, or at best, exclude non-Muslim minorities from public and political life.

In 1947 the Arab League drafted a plan to treat their Jewish citizens as enemy aliens, before a single Palestinian Arab had fled.

Barely three years after the end of WWII, Arab League member states emulated Nazism with their Nuremberg-style laws, criminalizing Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas, imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. Violence and the threat of violence did the rest. The result was ethnic cleansing of age-old Jewish communities in a single generation.

The ghost of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish bigotry was never exorcised: after WWII, the Arab world gave safe haven to Nazi war criminals on the run. They became military advisers and spin-doctors of Jew-hatred.

Adolph Eichmann, Nazi architect of the “final solution,” hoped his “Arab friends” would continue his battle against the Jews, who were always the “principal war criminals” and “principal aggressors.” He hadn’t managed to complete his task of “total annihilation,” but the Muslims could still complete it for him.

Not only has the virus of Nazi anti-Semitism never left the Arab and Muslim world, it has grown exponentially. Muslim immigrants have carried the virus of Jew-hatred back into European countries. Saudi petrodollars have financed the spread of Islamism, with its implicit anti-Semitism, worldwide.

Eichmann would have been pleased to see that the Arab world is effectively judenrein: there are no Jews in Libya, and no more than 4,000 in the rest of the Arab world today. The Muslim Brotherhood, and its local Palestinian branch Hamas, al-Qaida, Islamic State and assorted Islamist groups still carry the torch for an ideology born in the Nazi era.

Read article in full

Cross-posted at Harry's Place

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

'Righteous' candidate did not risk life

 Why have more Arabs not been nominated as 'Righteous Gentiles'? the answer, at least in Khaled Abdul Wahab's case during the Nazi occupation of Tunisia, is that Jews were sheltered with the knowledge of the Nazis and involved no personal risk to him. The Times of Israel reports:

Abdul Wahab (pictured) was twice nominated to Yad Vashem for the honor, in 2007 and 2010, and twice rejected.

According to Robert Satloff, author of the landmark 2006 book, “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands,” it is a “sordid story of Yad Vashem applying criteria to this case that it has failed to apply in other cases. Regrettably this is not Yad Vashem’s finest hour.”

“Among the Righteous” opens with the simple question, “Did any Arabs save any Jews during the Holocaust?” The book and a follow-up 2010 PBS documentary reflect Satloff’s scholarly and personal journey in searching for Arab involvement in the Holocaust — Arab villains, heroes, and those in between.

Robert Satloff, author of the landmark 2006 book 'Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands' (courtesy)

Robert Satloff, author of the landmark 2006 book ‘Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands’ (courtesy)

“In the course of research for this book, I came to the sad conclusion that there are two main reasons that no Arabs have been included among the list of the ‘righteous’ — first, many Arabs (or their heirs) didn’t want to be found, and second, Jews didn’t look too hard,” wrote Satloff.

Abdul Wahab’s wartime deeds are recounted in “Among the Righteous” by the Jewish Middle East historian after he heard testimony from Weisel’s sister, Anny Boukris, who was also hidden by Abdul Wahab at age 11.

In conversation with The Times of Israel Tuesday, Satloff said he is “always impressed by how many Arabs ask me about” Abdul Wahab. Many have difficulty understanding why he has been honored by other Jewish organizations, but not by Israel.

Abdul Wahab’s daughter Faiza, who only heard of her father’s wartime experiences after the publication of Satloff’s book, said in a 2010 Ynet interview, “My father opened his home to Jews and Yad Vashem did not open their home to us.”

Head of the Righteous Among the Nations department Steinfeldt explained that part of the criteria for deciding who is eligible for the title relates to the question of whether the nominee saved a Jew from deportation or threat of death under risk of death or imprisonment, with altruistic motivations. All this must be affirmed through detailed Jewish witness testimony or, in rare cases, other documentation, such as police records of arrests.

Most are nominated by those rescued or their children, and Steinfeldt’s multi-lingual staff of 10 begin the process of verifying their eligibility. The file is prepared, which takes on average a year, and given to the Yad Vashem commission, which is headed by a Supreme Court judge, for debate.

In the case of the North African countries, said Steinfeldt, during the “German conquest, the occupation was so short there wasn’t time to implement the Final Solution.”

Therefore, she explained, there is a smaller likelihood that there would be Righteous Arabs from these parts, “not because the people were different, but because the circumstances were different.”

Families didn’t have to hide, said Steinfeldt, and though some Jews stayed with Muslim countrymen, it was done in full knowledge of the Nazis.

“Jewish families were thrown out of their homes and hosted by local Arabs. They were not hiding, but hosted,” she said. “The hosts didn’t do anything illegal.”

In the case of Abdul Wahab, Yad Vashem’s Steinfeldt said, “as much as his deeds were admirable” in hosting Jews at his farm, he broke no law and the Germans knew of their stay.

Additionally, according to testimony Yad Vashem received from Satloff’s source Boukris, “the men continued their forced labor service under German supervision, and on Thursdays, to prepare for Shabbat, the family would join the other Jews of Mahdia who had been evicted from the town and concentrated on a Jewish-owned farm in Sidi Alouan,” close to Abdul Wahab’s estate.
As explained by a Yad Vashem spokesperson, the element of personal risk is a clear criteria for the Righteous Among the Nations status.

“If the Germans knew about – and checked on – the Jews who were staying with him, the element of extraordinary risk is clearly lacking,” she said.

The Muslims in Europe were a different case, said Steinfeldt. For example
, Yad Vashem has granted the title of Righteous Among the Nations to many Muslims from Albania, the only European country that ended WWII with more Jews than it began with due to its famous protection of the up to 1,800 Jewish refugees who joined the country’s indigenous Jewish population of 200.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A wartime childhood in Benghazi

 This is the story of Benjamin Doron, whose childhood was shattered by WWll. His mother died of typhus, his father was imprisoned as a 'British collaborator' for four years till the end of the war, and an uncle died in the notorious Jado (Giado) camp in the Libyan desert. Doron was one of five Jews allowed an immigration certificate into Palestine in 1946. Here is his deposition at Yad Vashem (with thanks: Nitza):

My name is Benjamin Doron. My father’s name was Morchai or Mordechai Dadosh.

My mother’s name was Diamantina; her nickname was Mantina.
Let me tell you about my grandmother, who played a central role in my childhood. Her name was Henriquette or Regita Arbib (Nadjari). She was my mother’s mother. She was born in Saloniki, and from there she went to Alexandria in Egypt to visit her brothers.

She met my grandfather who was there on business. Later they married and came back to live in Benghazi.

I feel more connected to the name I adopted when I came to Israel after the War of Independence, which is Doron. When I was living with my parents, my name was Dadosh.

Father was a worker at the port of Benghazi. He worked there until the first occupation of the British. We weren’t rich, but we were not poor either. My mother was a housewife. We were three children, my brother Amos, my sister Rachel and I. I was the eldest.

Benjamin Doron aged ten and (right) as he is today
My grandmother lived in the Eastern part of the city, which bordered on the Muslim quarter, and we lived in the Italian quarter of Benghazi, on the third floor of an apartment building. Our toilets were inside the building, but where Grandmother lived, the buildings were older - from Turkish times - and all the facilities were outside. She lived there with her son, Herzl, my uncle, who was 17. She had to work to make a living to look after herself and her unmarried son. She ironed shirts. Most of the Jews lived in the new city and a few from the older generation lived in the old part where my grandmother lived. There was no Jewish ghetto. Grandmother had Jewish and non-Jewish friends. Some of her friends came from Greece, and Malta. In the synagogue everyone was the same. There were four synagogues and everyone prayed in the Sephardic tradition.

The Jewish children went to the Italian Jewish school, where there were three classes. Some non-Jewish Italian-speaking pupils also went to our school. I started to go to school when I was 7, but at the age of ten and a half, the Second World War started and the school closed. I don’t recall or know of any specific anti-Semitic incidents at school. After school some of the children went to learn limudei kodesh (religious studies), at the Talmud Torah. I went at the beginning, but discontinued later, I don’t really know why.
The promenade in Benghazi, Libya, 1939, called Lungomare Mussolini 
The promenade in Benghazi, Libya, 1939, called Lungomare Mussolini
Part of our curriculum in January, February and March 1940, was to learn about fascism! We even wore the black or grey uniform of the Fascist Youth movement and sang Fascist songs. I remember when Mussolini visited Benghazi in 1935. He arrived in the main square on his horse and met with officials.(...)
There were about 3,000 Jews in Benghazi at this time. After 1938, with the advent of the Racial Laws, all Jewish-owned shops and our school had to be open on Shabbat. The Chief Rabbi told us not to go to school and we asked non-Jewish people to open the Jewish-owned shops on Shabbat.

During WWII
My last school report was from April 1940 and this was the end of our schooling and the beginning of the trouble. Regular schooling for all children in Benghazi ended in April.

The first British occupation began at the end of 1940 but life continued more or less normally. There were no changes in the daily family routine. Receiving the British army was a cause for rejoicing. As children, we use to get small additions in food like jam, and bread but we weren’t hungry at this point. There were a lot of bombings, and my uncles had no work.

Now according to grandmother’s story, the British authorities tracked my father down as someone who had worked in the port and since they wanted to operate the port, they got him to get things moving in the port for them. He got the other workers to report for work. Boats began to dock and nothing was missing at home. My uncles, who were tailors, had a more difficult time since they were not receiving many orders, but I don’t think that they were missing the basic commodities.

We lived on the third floor of a long block of flats with four or five entrances, and when there were bombings we went down to the shelters. One could run across the roof of the whole long building and descend to the street from the last steps in the building, but more of that later in the war.

In the spring of 1941, the Afrika Korps (German expeditionary force), led by General Rommel, arrived and pushed the British army out, ending the first British occupation. There were some Italian soldiers attached to Rommel’s army as well. This was the beginning of a much harder period for us. Firstly someone informed on my father to the Italian judicial authority as having collaborated with the British in helping to open the port for their use. He was tried in an Italian court and sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment for aiding the enemy. During this entire period it was impossible for us to see him or visit him.

When the Germans entered the city, it resulted in looting and hooligan behavior on the part of the Italians against Jewish shops and I remember this clearly. I saw it from the windows of the flat on the third floor - Italians rampaging down in the streets.

We never saw father again until after the war. He was never prepared to talk about this period. He did tell my brother that he suffered during this period and he saw difficult things but he never elaborated on this general statement. He was taken to Tripoli and from there transferred to Italy on a troop carrier, and jailed there.

Our mother fell ill with typhus and died and we remained with our grandmother who looked after us as orphans. She moved into our apartment with Herzl our uncle, because it was on the third floor and therefore safer than the ground floor where she lived. We would use the water hole that she had in her courtyard because of water shortages, and it became my responsibility to walk to her home to fetch water for use in our flat. Life became harder, the city was very dirty and lice became a problem to be dealt with. Food wasn’t as plentiful as before but I don’t remember actually feeling starved. You could get basic foodstuffs. We stayed at home most of the time and the only time I went out of the house was to fetch water and to go to synagogue on Friday night and Saturday morning.
Grandmother sold off her private jewelry from time to time in order to support us, and it appears that this was sufficient for us to buy food.

You must remember that there were also aerial bombardments so we did not move around a lot. When there were bombings at night, and it was too dark to go out, and there were no alarms to warn us of the incoming bombs, I remember that my grandmother would tell us to each stand in a corner, and to say “Shema Yisrael”[1], and to just wait. It was war for us, meaning limited movement, some hardships, fear but nothing unbearable. The Jews remained within their community and didn’t experience anything really bad at this stage except for the racial laws.

At the end of 1941, beginning of 1942, the British pushed the Germans out and we received the British army again with rejoicing. However this period didn’t last too long. During this period we met some soldiers from Palestine who were serving in the British Army, but not many.

Again in 1942, the Germans returned for the second time and Mussolini ordered the Jews to be expelled from certain areas in Libya, and they had to congregate in Benghazi. The German governor together with the Italian governor demanded the creation of lists of all the Jews in Benghazi that the Rabbi and the community leaders refused to supply. We didn‘t know where they were being sent. And then a Jew called Docha made the lists for the Germans and these lists were posted in the synagogue. The Jews listed had to appear at a certain meeting point on a certain date, from which they were taken away in trucks.

We knew nothing about the fate of the Jews elsewhere although at this time, some Jewish refugees from Europe arrived in Benghazi and the Jewish community helped them with the basics, such as bread, beans and water from the well etc., but shortly afterwards they were sent back to Europe and I don’t know what happened to them.

So every few weeks, a few trucks with Jews were loaded up and taken away and we didn’t know to where. For some reason, we were at the end of the list, although some of my uncles from my father’s side were trucked out in the first convoy.
Page of Testimony of Mordekhai Burbea, a Lybian Jew sent to Bergen Belsen 
Page of Testimony of Mordekhai Burbea, a Libyan Jew sent to Bergen Belsen
Slowly Benghazi became a ghost city with only about 250 Jews left. This was a very difficult period because the city had emptied out and it was very difficult to find provisions. Non-Jewish French and British citizens began to leave and return to their countries, and Jews of French nationality first went to Tripoli and were sent to Tunisia, and those of British nationality were sent to Italy and from there some were sent to Bergen Belsen.

At this point we began to suffer from starvation. I became responsible for gathering food, even from the German army, like remains of jam from tins, but it wasn’t enough.

Most of the houses and shops belonging to Jews had been broken into. Grandmother then had an idea that I should go into broken-down houses and look for food, which I began to do, and I succeeded in finding enough food to keep us afloat: beans, tomatoes etc.

Only once do I remember that German soldiers shooed me away from near their head- quarters.

Concerning bodily ablutions, I was responsible for emptying out the buckets, cleaning and bringing water back from Grandma’s well near the sea. I was the only one who left the house of the five of us. Twice a day, morning and night I did this.

One day, around August or September, we finally had to leave on one of the trucks. Grandma prepared a load for each one to carry – a little food, blankets. When we reached the main road to Tripoli, a German roadblock stopped us and returned us to the city. We were told to get off the trucks and we headed for Grandma’s house near the sea. When we got there, her Arab neighbor said it was better for us to stay only one night and to leave the area of the city for a certain village further out, probably because of the aerial bombings. He had already sent his own family there. So the next day we started out and my sister and I remember resting and sleeping in the Jewish cemetery on the way out of the city.

By evening, after walking the whole day, we arrived in the small village made up of mud huts with all the activity centered around the watering well. The Arab neighbor accompanied us to the village since his own family was there and we remained there until the end of the war. We were given a small single room wooden hut and subsisted on the basics that the Arab neighbor would bring to Grandma every so often, such as bread, beans, water from the well. As before, her manner of paying for his keeping us alive was with a piece of her jewelry from time to time.

We were the only Jewish family in the vicinity and were under his protection, until the beginning of 1943 when Grandma told us to gather our belongings, and we returned to Benghazi to both houses, which had been broken into.
Life after WWII
The British army was now back with soldiers from India and New Zealand and they were generous in what they gave us to eat, to keep us alive, such as jam, yellow cheese, and tea. We settled into the third floor flat.

My uncle, who was seven years older than me, took over the reins.
This is where the soldiers from the "Jewish Brigade" of the British army arrived, speaking Hebrew and looking for the Jews. The Jewish soldiers guarded us, giving us food, and they organized a school for us, one class with forty, or fifty kids until the remnants of the Jado (Giado) camp[2] started returning. And then they started opening extra classes. You have to imagine that what days before had been a ghost town was now transformed under the British influence and especially the Jewish soldiers into a different reality with education restarting, books, pencils, blackboards and everything being held in Hebrew. The school was called a Talmud Torah and this way the British had no problem in allowing ‘religious instruction’. They were all in soldiers’ garb and amongst other things were teaching Zionist ideas with songs. I remember the stamps of the Keren Kayemet with pictures of Ein Harod and other kibbutzim and clearly this was part of imparting ideas about Israel. We began to speak in Hebrew, and I spoke Hebrew with my brother, and learned arithmetic in Hebrew. Some of the soldiers remained illegally to continue teaching us but a young man called Skolnick had started training local people to take over the brunt of the educational endeavor.

There was also the phenomenon of fictitious marriages between soldiers and local girls so that they could enter Palestine ‘legally’ and some local youths who were even dressed in British uniforms with the army ‘pass’ of Jewish soldiers who remained behind in Benghazi. Some of the Jewish soldiers met and married Jewish girls from Benghazi.

One of my uncles, my father’s brother, named Benjamin Dadosh, was the second Jew to die in the Jado Camp. (See Page of Testimony). My uncles told me that people died there from starvation and disease. There wasn’t a family who didn’t have someone who had died in the camp.

Emigrating to Palestine
Document issued by the British Military Administration in Cyrenaica, Libya, in lieu of a passport, to Benjamin, in 1946, to allow him to immigrate to Palestine by boat.  The back of the document shows the stamps by the Government of Palestine, Department of Migration, when Benjamin arrived in Haifa on July 31, 1946. 

Document issued by the British Military Administration in Cyrenaica, Libya, in lieu of a passport, to Benjamin, in 1946, to allow him to immigrate to Palestine by boat. The back of the document shows the stamps by the Government of Palestine, Department of Migration, when Benjamin arrived in Haifa on July 31, 1946.
In 1946, five entry certificates arrived from Palestine to school in Libya. I was one of the students given a certificate. I still have a copy of it. I don’t know if there was a draw, or how I got one, but they said they took good students from the higher classes. Around the same time, a boat containing cows arrived from Palestine. The boat was called “Aliza”.

In 1946, I sailed to Palestine on the Aliza, with the cows, and began my new life. The five of us from Benghazi went to the Youth Village in Ben Shemen. The other people there looked at us strangely as they had never seen Jews from North Africa before. All the staff came from Germany, and they didn't know who we were, and didn't know how to look after us. Soon they saw we were polite, and we spoke Hebrew. They decided to send us immediately to agricultural school and integrate us as soon as possible.

 We didn't know anything about physics or chemistry, but after three months, we sat and learned everything: physics, chemistry, mathematics. We had a problem with music, especially classical music, as we hadn't heard music for three years, all throughout the war. We also didn’t know anything about art; we had never heard that pictures could “speak” to you.

Read article in full 

When the Jewish Brigade came to Benghazi (Doron's account of the Jewish school )

Monday, April 13, 2015

When the Jewish Brigade came to Benghazi

Benjamin Doron's story, with a photo showing the children performing at the wartime school in Benghazi. Below: the children in their Purim costumes

Nitza Sarner's father Moshe Zeiri was a Palestinian Jew who fought in the Jewish Brigade in North Africa during WWll.  In 1943 he helped found a school for the few Jewish children whose families had not fled the constant fighting and aerial bombardment in Benghazi, Libya. Later, Zeiri opened a teacher-training college for women. Nitza was thrilled to discover this account of the school's establishment by Benjamin Doron (Dadosh), who was then aged 10. (With thanks: Nitza)

It was January 1943.  As was my daily habit, I stood in the square near the municipality, near a group of English soldiers that had just conquered the town for the third time. I was looking for food and collected empty discarded food tins for scraps.  Suddenly I heard voices, and I thought they came from heaven: ‘Shalom, Shalom Jews!’.  Was I having hallucinations? Or was  I day-dreaming?  

On the vehicles they drove into the square I saw a painted Star of David. A few others came to look.  I got closer, and from the little Hebrew I knew, I realised I was not dreaming.  People were hugging each other, shouting for joy.  Ya'akov Guata, who knew Hebrew well, was one of the first to meet the soldiers.  He called to us: ‘come! Come! Jews from Eretz Israel have come to town!’  These were Jewish soldiers who had volunteered to serve in the British Army and fought to bring about the final defeat of the Germans.

The city of Benghazi changed hands five times, and was destroyed by bombing from sea and air.  During the war the town was almost empty.  The foreign residents were told to return to their countries.  Most of our small Jewish community was sent to Giado concentration camp in the middle of the Libyan desert.  Families with British citizenship were sent to Italy, and then to Bergen Belsen in Germany and Innsbruck in Austria.  In the town itself there remained only a handful of Jews that the Fascist authorities did not manage to send abroad.  These Jews came out of their hiding places.  They were sad, emaciated from hunger and completely penniless.  Their bombed houses had been looted by the Arabs.  

 Suddenly, when they saw the soldiers’uniforms had 'Palestine' written on the shoulders, and the Star of David on their trucks, they stood erect and declaimed the blessing: Baruch Shecheyanu… ('Blessed he who kept us alive to this day…’).
Soldier Ben-Ami, who stayed in Benghazi  for two years, wrote:  "Our transport company W.T. 462 was one of the first to reach Benghazi at the beginning of 1943.  As soon as we reached the town I went out to look for Jews.  The town was deserted, almost no one there.  I asked a passer-by in Hebrew: ‘Jew, Jew?’ and, to my immense surprise, the man answered in perfect Hebrew.  This was Ya’akov Guata.  From that moment we developed a strong and wondrous friendship that contributed to our success in the activities undertaken by  the Hebrew soldiers to help the few remaining Jews in the town."
Soldier A. Ben-Yosef (W.T. 405) wrote in his diary: "It was the beginning of 1943, about two weeks after the fateful battle of Al –Alamein that defeated the German Army.  We took Benghazi.  The longest-serving of us were here twice before, and they told us about the town and the Jewish community.  We were ready to meet them, but we also knew of the bombardment and that the Germans were here too.  We found only a few Jews, who told us about the deportation of the Jews: only the ones who hid were left.  Other transport and engineering companies (W.T 468, 148, 178) arrived too.  They distributed food, water and clothing  collected from the soldiers.  I particularly remember the biscuits and sweet jam that made us forget for a minute the bitterness and privation we suffered.  "

 The soldiers reached their peak of activity  when the Engineers Company arrived with a few people who were educators at home.   At the end of the exciting meeting between the soldiers and the head of the community – Renato Teshuva - they decided immediately to start Hebrew education for the children, and also to rehabilitate the remaining small community.

The first task was for the soldiers to collect the children (about 40) of all ages in one class. They started playing games and teaching them songs from Eretz Israel.  In parallel, they started fixing the old school house –  the ‘Talmud Tora’.  The British governor didn’t view this activity with favour, but after many entreaties from the head of community, he was persuaded that it might be a good thing.  

 This obstacle removed,  the soldiers resolved to recreate a proper Hebrew school.  All the units helped in this mission and each released one or two soldiers to do the teaching.  In the spring of 1943, the school was opened in the reconstructed building.  An officer called Reifenberg who was previously a lecturer at the (Hebrew) University in Jerusalem planned the curriculum.  We received textbooks, writing material and furniture from Palestine.  The first headmaster was the soldier Ezra Zeif, then Avner Yerakhmiel Shkornik, and helping him the Hebrew teacher and 'choir-master' Ya’akov Ben-Ami.  He was also the go-between the community and the national institutions in Palestine.  These institutions endowed us with money and anything we needed to run the school and help the community.

From a letter written by  the Hebrew soldier Moshe Mosinsohn to his daughter Debora (later the writer Debora Omer) in 1943:  "

 I mentioned in my previous letter that we opened a school in the town.  (Benghazi).  Every unit sent one man to teach.  Four teachers opened the school – something very precious and wonderful.  Children who were scared, melancholic and frightened were assembled by the teachers after three years of no schooling.
And now, after three weeks, we arranged a Purim play, to which we were all invited.  The performance took place in the hall of a Fascist bank. It was filled  to the rafters.  The head of the community blessed us, as did the British Colonel. At the end, a 14-year- old boy came on stage and said: “The children of the Benghazi school will perform a Purim play for the Hebrew soldiers.  After three years of absence of Torah, our school opened again, and today we celebrate three weeks of learning.  That is why our programme will be short and modest!  But the soldiers must know that this little effort is presented to them with love and appreciation.  A Purim present to the Hebrew soldiers from the Hebrew youth of Benghazi.”*

The curtain was raised and for a moment I thought I was in Kibbutz Na’an, watching a performance of the children at home.
The show finished with “We came to build the land and be built ourselves!"
The audience of hundreds of soldiers stood up and sang with the children with excitement and holiness: “We will be coming to the land to build it and be built”…  A truly soul- elevating moment.  When the lights came on, many were ashamed to lift their eyes as they were full of tears…
The program went on and on, children and soldiers alternating.  In the end all the children went on stage opposite the soldiers and ‘Hatikvah’ burst out from every mouth - loud and clear and with enthusiasm.  When did I ever sing like that?
Taken from the book:” Letters from the Desert”. (Hakibbutz Hameuchad edition 1943)

*It is customary to give Purim presents – usually food

Benjamin Doron's story : A wartime childhood in Benghazi

Yemen Jews: 'we never felt welcome'

 Eight Jewish families remain in Amram province, in northern Yemen. Ten Jewish families live in a guarded compound in the capital Sana'a. But they cannot, or will not, leave.

Photo: Nadia al-Sakkaf, the Media Line

In the run-up to Passover,   International Business News wrote:

As Yemen's few remaining Jews proceed with Passover customs this week – preparing to slaughter a lamb for a feast, buying new clothes – a looming fear hangs over them. Their numbers are rapidly dwindling, and for the 70 Jews estimated to remain in Yemen, Passover preparations have been particularly rough this year.

Read article in full

This article, from the Media Line, fleshes out the problems of isolation and poverty among the remaining Jews:

[Sana’a, Yemen] Yahya Yaqoub swallows in fear every time he comes across the Houthi slogan –“Damnation to the Jews” — which has been plastered throughout northern Yemen since gunmen belonging to theShiite group took over the Northern areas of Yemen including the capital in last September.Yaqoub is the last Hebrew teacher in the only Jewish school in Raidah-Amran, around 33 miles northwest Sana’a, where Yemen’s final remaining Jewish community lives in isolation in the new-market area of the district.

The current political and security instability in the country following the closure of foreign embassies and diplomatic missions in Sana’a has added to the Jewish community’s concern that if the Houthis decide to strike — and with the absence of a state — there is no refuge. Many Jewish men and boys hide their “payot” or side locks, under a cap like those worn by Yemeni men in order not to be noticed and picked on. Hebrew teacher Yaqoub, who runs the only Jewish school from a room in his house where he lives with his wife and one of his four children, does this as well. He used to have tens of students, butnow seven boys and ten girls are his only pupils.

“We never really felt welcome in our own country in recent history, but to be haunted by a cursing threat wherever you go and knowing that the men behind it are serious, is too much,” he explained to The Media Line as his eyes wearily searched around the street, as if looking for answers.

The teacher was originally a blacksmith who “made lots of money,” he says, because of his skill. He used to have a shop where he worked with his son, Ismail, but claims that the Muslims stole his money, leaving him to seek charitable assistance from philanthropists and to teach Jewish children for token fees.

“I am owner of at least three houses but every time I try to sell them the buyers try to cheat me off the price since I am a minority. I managed to send three of my children to Israel and the US and I don’t want them to come back.Now I live with my youngest son, Yaqoub, who is 13 years old,” he said.

Today, there are only eight Yemeni Jewish families left in Amran, with a total of forty members mostly children, women and elderly. The youth have left the country through various opportunities seeking a better life elsewhere: mostly in Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom.

There is also a Jewish presence in Sana’a comprised of no more than ten families who used to live in Sa’ada, in the north of Yemen, before they were moved and placed in a residential compound near the US Embassy. The Sa’ada community has been threatened by the Shiite Houthis who demanded that they convert to Islam, leave or die. For their safety, upon the rise of the Shiite Houthi movement in Sa’ada, former president Saleh reallocated all the Jewish families living there into a closed protected residential compound in the capital Sana’a. Today, there are only 46 Yemeni Jews living in the compound.

Jews in Raidah were less fortunate and the community dissipated in 2008 after the murder of one of its members.

Rabbi Yousif Habib, in his late thirties, left his home in Sa’ada in 2007 to come and live with the rest of the fleeing Jews. “I had to shave off my side locks. I feel sad about it, because it is a part of my culture and religion, but I had to do it to avoid harassment,” he said sadly. Yousif said that no one comes back. If Yemeni Jews leave they will not come back until and unless Yemen becomes a better country and this seems far away.

Read article in full

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Hoopa Hetzroni! Mimouna forgives you

 With thanks: Ahuva

The last person you might expect to see at a Mimouna celebration in Israel is Professor Amir Hetzroni. The same Hetzroni who just a couple of weeks ago created a national scandal when he was thrown off a TV studio for insulting his Moroccan interlocutor.

 Miss Buzaglo and her family should never have been allowed into Israel, he ranted. The country should have been more selective with whom it admitted in the 50s and 60s. The Buzaglos should have rotted in Morocco.

Pinch yourself awake and rub your eyes! This video clip has not been photoshopped. It shows the professor, not only being applauded by the Moroccans he despises, but cheered and carried on their shoulders like a football hero.

Let bygones be bygones. Such is the power to reconcile former enemies of the Mimouna, the celebration which concludes the Passover week.

Update: here is the full TV report of Hetzroni's  Mimouna experience. We think he enjoyed it....

Muslims recruited to German army


Rare footage has emerged of the Free Arab Legion, to which the Nazis began recruiting Muslim soldiers in 1941. It proved a dismal failure, although its soldiers were used as non-combatants in Nazi-occupied Tunisia. The pro-Nazi coup in Iraq led by the Mufti of Jerusalem in May 1941( leading to the Farhud) was the only serious attempt to foment a pro-Nazi uprising against the Allies. It too failed. Report in Ynet News (with thanks: Rudi):
The Nazis recruited Muslim soldiers to the Wehrmacht during World War II, but did not trust the Free Arab Legion with any major tasks, according to Stefan Petke of the Technical University of Berlin, who says the Arab units did not participate in the extermination of Jews, or guard the labor camps in North Africa*.

Petke uncovered rare footage which documents the Nazi army's Arab units, which, he says, were a complete failure in the battlefields of Tunisia in 1943, leading the Nazis to take their weapons and using them as "working soldiers," away from the frontlines.

Ynet spoke to Petke about the role the Free Arab Legion played in World War II and the newly uncovered footage.

*  Robert Satloff  in his book 'Among the Righteous': does, however, state  that Arab guards were employed in Moroccan labour camps (p 80 - 81)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tasty Moroccan Seder omits rice

 A Moroccan Passover seder makes up for the absence of rice with an abundance of rich dishes. The seder plate would be spun over the heads of the participants and a young single girl spills wine leftover from the Ten Plagues ritual as a blessing to help her get married. Rachel Avraham writes in United for Israel:

 All the most expensive foods would be served at a Moroccan seder

There is no matzah ball soup and no gefilte fish at a Moroccan Seder. However, unlike many other members of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities, Leah Avraham did not grow up eating rice during the Passover Seder, just like the vast majority of Ashkenazi Jews.

Instead, at her Seder, she recalls that her mother would prepare 15 to 20 different kinds of salad, a potato dish with meat inside known as pastallim, pashtida (which is similar to kugal), lamb served with dried fruits, Moroccan fish, a special soup with Middle Eastern cooked broad beans (ful), tongue, an expensive variety of mushroom known as truffle (it cost 1,000 NIS per kilo), and numerous other vegetables. All of the most expensive foods were served during Passover, according to Leah.

Any one who is familiar with the Moroccan kitchen will be able to explain how tasty and special the Moroccan salads are. They include beet salad, fried eggplant salad, baked eggplant salad (which is usually served with tahina), spicy pepper salad, spicy tomato salad, preserved olives, green cabbage salad, purple cabbage salad, potato with olives salad, cucumber salad, egg salad, etc. Leah claimed that no one would walk away from her family’s Seders hungry. The various meats, vegetables and salads were so filling that no one felt that they actually needed chametz (bread products).

In addition to the meal, Moroccan Jews would also eat marror (bitter herbs) and charotzet (sweet paste to recall bricks and mortar). However, their charotzet was different from Iraqi Jews in the sense that they served date paste balls rather than date paste by itself. Each person at a Moroccan Seder would eat one of these charotzet balls. However, their marror was lettuce, just like many other Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities. Wonderful matzah would be served as well, which Leah claimed that Leah’s mother made themselves from scratch with the help of relatives. Back in Morocco, Leah had a relative whose job was to make matzah and sell it to other members of the Jewish community.

Leah describes how beautiful the Moroccan Seder table was in her family. Her mother always covered the table with a gorgeous tablecloth and used the best china dishes, which were reserved only for Passover. Seders in her family included about 10 people, eight children plus two parents. They did not include the extended family at their Seders, since their family was enormous and they wanted to be able to do the Seder exquisitely, a task harder to accomplish if there are too many people. The salads and other foods would be arranged nicely onto the table.

The Seder ceremony itself in Leah’s family would be read in a mixture of French and Hebrew. Even though they were from Morocco, the Seder was not read in Moroccan Arabic, thus demonstrating how heavily Moroccan Jews of Leah’s era was influenced by French culture. Like other Mizrahi and Sephardic Seders, no one searched for the hidden afokomin. Yet, the Moroccan Jews possess a unique tradition of taking a Seder plate full of eggs, lamb shanks, marror, charotzet and other items, and spinning it over the Seder participants heads, while proclaiming, “In a hurry we left from Egypt.” The women of the Seder would then shout the traditional Middle Eastern coo la loo. Additionally, Leah asserted that Moroccan Jewish women would have a tradition of taking a young girl at the Seder who hasn’t found a lover yet to spill the leftover wine outside that wasn’t utilized for the Ten Plagues ritual, which was viewed as a blessing that would help her get married.

Read article in full

Thursday, April 09, 2015

How Morocco's Jews became shadows

Jews comprised three percent of Morocco's five million inhabitants before 1948. Now there are 2, 500 or fewer, their fate tied to that of the 'protective' royal family; their community is a shadow of its former self. Here is a timeline showing the main stages in a period of dramatic decline.

 The Bet El synagogue in Casablanca (Photo: dlisbona/Flickr)

1912 Fez pogrom. 45 Jews killed.

1912 Establishment of French protectorate signals end of dhimmi status of 230, 000 Jews, but they are denied French citizenship, with few exceptions

1930s Antisemitism mounts from the French far-right and Moroccan nationalists

1934 Grand vizir asks French authorities to ban Jews moving in alongside Muslims in New Medina (Habou quarter) and new central districts of Casablanca

1936 rumour that Jewish girls are having a bad influence on Muslim girls leads to 1937 'pogrom': In Meknes, nationalists ransack 40 Jewish shops. Jews counter with a call for a boycott of German goods.

3 Oct 1940  First Vichy statute expels Jews of French nationality from public service, education, law, medecine and media.

31 Oct 1940 the sultan signs anti-Jewish dahir. Jewish schools and administrative committees remain unaffected; Journals are banned. Converts to Islam exempt.

Nov 1940 Muslim girl servants in Jewish homes banned 

1941:  sultan declares his disapproval of antisemitic laws to a Jewish delegation.
Sultan delays, but still signs, five more dahirs in August 1941 banning Jews from banking, finance, property, law. Jews must declare their assets. Numerus clausus in public schools.

1942: "There are no Jews, only Moroccans," the sultan declares.

1944 Jews sent back from city European districts to mellahs.

1948 Riots in Oujda and Djerada. 44 Jews murdered. 10 percent of Morocco's Jews leave for Israel

1948 - 49:  22, 900 Jews leave for Israel.1949 - 57: 110, 000 Jews leave Morocco.

1953 Four Jews die in Oujda disturbances

1954 Petit Jean massacre: seven Jews die

1955: 1,700 Jews escape to the European city of Mazagan after large number of houses in the Jewish Quarter were set on fire and burned to the ground ; 200 Jews left homeless

1955: Wadi Zem: family of five and two other Jews murdered.

1956. Morocco declares independence. Dr Leon Benzaquen named Minister of Postal services. Five Jews named to national consultative council.

Sept 1956 Independent Morocco imposes emigration ban to Israel. Nevertheless 29, 472 Jews leave secretly with help from the Misgueret.

1958 Morocco joins Arab League: arabisation. Postal links to Israel cut.

Jan 1961:President Nasser of Egypt visits. Jews roughed up. Jewesses forcibly converted amid nationalist resurgence.

Jan 1961 Shipwreck of illegal Pisces. 42 Jewish emigrants and one crewman drown.

1961 Operation Yakhnin evacuates  87, 707 Jews to Israel. Morocco receives 'ransom' of $20 million.

1948 - 67: 237, 813 Moroccan Jews arrive in Israel.

After 1967: 40, 000 Moroccan Jews move to France.

 16 August 1972: attempted coup against King Hassan II fails

1972 30, 000 Jews remain

2003 Less than 5, 000 Jews live in Morocco.

With acknowledgements to 'Mohamed V et ses juifs' by Guillaume Jobin (Information juive Fev/Mars 2015), 'Il etait une fois le Maroc' by David Bensoussan; Yigal Ben Nun in 'La fin du Judaisme en terres d'Islam', ed. Shmuel Trigano.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Iranian Shah flirted with Nazis in 1930s

 Reza Shah I...sympathised with Germany

The Holocaust cartoon contest announced by the Iranian regime is symbolic of the Ayatollahs' antisemitism. But it is not widely know that pro-Nazi sympathies were widespread in 1930s Iran, to the point that Shah Reza Pahlavi I changed the country's name from Persia in order to stress his nation's 'aryan' character. Britain and the Soviet Union feared that, with its immense oil reserves, Iran was so close to falling into German hands that they invaded it in 1941 and unseated the Shah.  Here is an article in The Independent Sentinel explaining the origins of the name 'Iran':

Since the time of Zoroaster (circa 1000 BC), Iranians have called their country “Aryānām” (the equivalent of “Iran” in the proto-Iranian language). Iran was the name used by its native people. It means “Land of the Aryans” in Persian.
In the early 1900’s and on, Iran aligned itself with various foreign governments to balance the influence exerted by the British and Russians. They increasingly came under the influence of Germany who played on their identity as Aryans to form an alliance.

Aryan race became almost solely defined by racialist thought with the rise of Adolf Hitler who espoused the belief that Germanic peoples were superior racially. This concept was promoted among Iranians during this period.
In 1933, the year Hitler came to power,  the Third Reich began to publish a racist magazine titled lran-e Bastan (The Ancient Iran). The journal was financed by Siemens-Schukken and pro-Nazi Iranian intellectuals. It referred to Hitler as “one of the greatest men in the world.” It depicted him as the man who ended the alleged 200 year old plot by Jews against the nationalities of the world, especially the Aryans.

The journal also claimed that the swastika was a symbol of Iranians from 2000 years before Christ and they rejoiced over its use as a symbol of German pride and of unity between the Iranian and German peoples.

In 1935, Reza Shah asked foreign delegates to refer to Persia as Iran. The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs then requested that all foreign embassies in Tehran refer to the country as Iran and they obliged.

The suggestion for the change of the country’s official name to Iran is said to have come from the Iranian ambassador to Germany, who came under the influence of the Nazis.

German friends of the ambassador convinced him that the name change would free his country from the past influences of the British and Russians. It would be a new beginning as an Aryan nation.

Many Persian elites and intellectuals nurtured the idea of Aryan superiority.
“Germany was our age-old and natural ally, Love of Germany was synonymous with love for Iran. The sound of German officers’ footsteps was heard on the shores of the Nile. Swastika flags were flying from the outskirts of Moscow to the peaks of the Caucasus Mts. Iranian patriots eagerly awaited the arrival of their old allies. My friend and I would spin tales about the grandeur of the superior race. We considered Germany the chosen representative of this race in Europe and Iran its representative in Asia. The right to life and role was ours. Others had no choice but submission and slavery. We discarded the old maps and remade Iran into a country larger than what it was in Achaemenian times.”
-Reza Shah
Advocating the common Aryan ancestry of ‘the two Nations’ … the Reich Cabinet issued a special decree [in 1936] exempting Iranians from the restrictions of the Nuremberg Racial Laws on the grounds that they were ‘pure blooded Aryans.'”

In 1939, the Nazis provided Persians with what they called a German Scientific Library. The library contained over 7.500 books carefully selected “to convince lranian readers…of the kinship between the National Socialist Reich and the “Aryan culture” of Iran.”  In various pro-Nazi publications, lectures, speeches, and ceremonies, parallels were drawn between the Shah of Iran and Hitler, and praise the charisma and virtue of the Fuhrerprinzip [Fuhrerprinzip is the principle that the führer’s word is above all written law].
Hitler became a national Iranian hero as he talked about their mutually oppressed Aryan peoples.

By 1939 Germany surpassed Russia as Iran’s major trading partner. There were rumors that there were large German enclaves in Iran. Reza Shah openly admired Hitler’s Aryan race propaganda. Those forces gave the Russians and British a reason to invade Iran on the 25th of August 1941.

After the allied invasion of Iran in 1941 and later, after Iran nationalized the oil industry, the country gained fame and the name Iran stuck, Persia was rarely used.

A failed attempt to turn it back to Persia was made by the Shah in 1959.

Read article in full 

Encyclopaedia Iranica

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

'The Jews are making the flies fly sideways'

Natalie Nougareyde of The Guardian has conducted an interesting inquiry into the impact of antisemitism on Jews in Europe. Here are just two case studies, from Turkey and Italy. The Turkish-Jewish community is probably the worst affected of all. According to this report, some 30 percent of Sephardi applicants to be fast-tracked for Spanish nationality are Turkish Jews.

Karen Şarhon, 56, Istanbul, linguist and academic who founded Turkey’s first Sephardic music group

'I’m not very optimistic about the future of this community': Karen Gerson Sarhon.

‘I’m not very optimistic about the future of this community’: Karen Gerson Sarhon. Photograph: Holly Pickett/Observer
The atmosphere for Jews in Turkey is very negative. Every day you see right-wing newspapers writing lots of bullshit. “The flies are flying sideways – it’s because of the Jews”, that sort of thing. People ask about my name – Karen is not a Turkish name – so I say I’m Jewish and they say: “Oh – you don’t look Jewish.” My husband, who’s in the business world, has experienced more antisemitism than me. After Gaza [last summer], he sold some beauty salon machines and the first question was: “Where do they come from? If they come from Israel we won’t buy them.”

Animosity on social media is growing as people are being fed lies all the time by the media – especially by fundamentalist writers and preachers, who say we are the cursed people. Most of the Jewish community’s budget is spent on security, because we have to have guards and metal detectors everywhere – at synagogues, the Jewish museum, the Jewish school. It didn’t used to be like that 20 years ago, but it’s becoming worse, with the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, criticising Israel so openly. The government kindles the animosity. Erdogan is always talking about Israel and not distinguishing between the Jews in Israel and the Jews here. You always ask yourself: “What are they going to do?” It’s in our genes to ask: “Are we going to be kicked out?”

Unless the political situation changes, I’m not very optimistic about the future of this community. If things get worse, people will have no choice but to leave. I say if – at the moment we’re not there yet. It’s very difficult to leave a country you were born and raised in. We love this country. It’s a beautiful country and the people who have not been brainwashed are very nice, but the political situation is not very pleasant.

Roger Abravanel, 68, Milan, retired management consultant and author who grew up in Libya

Roger Abravanel

‘After Gaddafi came to power, my family fled, losing everything. I’ve been lucky in Italy’: Roger Abravanel. Photograph: Mattia Balsamini/Luz
When I hear about antisemitic incidents, I get the same feeling that I had in Libya, where I grew up. My father, who started out a poor man, made a fortune. He was the only Jew invited to sit alongside the king. There had always been antisemitism in Libya, but it exploded with Israel’s independence and its wars. You can’t imagine how often I was discriminated against. As a kid going to school, I was beaten up. I’d never been to Israel, I had a Libyan passport, and here were these guys coming at me just because I was a Jew.

When I was 16, my father said: “This is no place for you”, and I went to study in Milan. After Gaddafi came to power, my family fled. My sister was smuggled to the airport in the boot of a car. We lost everything. In my book, Meritocrazia [Meritocracy], I thanked Gaddafi – because of him I had to achieve everything by myself. I’ve been lucky in Italy, others less so. A million Jews were kicked out of Arab countries – a little-mentioned exodus. I fear this may be happening again, but in Europe, where Muslim antisemitism has added to traditional European antisemitism.

I’m an Italian. I love this country. I owe it a lot, and I’ve always tried to give back – I did military service, which I could have avoided; I’ve paid a lot in Italian taxes, and I’m currently working pro bono for the government. I’m a great supporter of the national soccer team, and of Juventus. I have personally never encountered serious antisemitism among Italians. Well, maybe something like: “You guys” – meaning Jews – “are better at handling money.” But prejudices exist, mostly among less-educated people. One Italian in four says they wouldn’t like to dine with a Jew.

Read article in full

Monday, April 06, 2015

Alliance school comes top in French rankings

 With thanks: Sylvia
Children at the AIU school in Fez, Morocco

 The best school in France is a Jewish school in the Paris suburb of Pavillons-sous-Bois run by the Alliance Israelite Universelle, the schools network founded in 1860 to educate the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world.

According to the school league tables for 2015, the 800-pupil AIU school scored a  100% success rate in the Baccalaureat exam.

The school outclassed the prestigious Louis Le Grand, Henri lV and Hoche lycees. Louis Le Grand, the alma mater of  Hugo, Voltaire, Robespierre and Diderot, Sartre, Durkheim and the French presidents Chirac and Pompidou, among other luminaries, was ranked fourteenth.

The AIU school principal, Dominique Dahan, said she was 'pleasantly surprised' at the results. The school has, for the last six years, achieved exceptional results, but this was the first time it had come top. Some 70 percent of the AIU pupils, most of whose families originate in North Africa, get scholarships to attend the privately-run school. Many come from eastern Paris by school bus. About 40 percent of school-leavers go on to study medicine.

In its heyday, the Alliance educated a million Jewish children in the Muslim world, combining Jewish studies with a secular curriculum and the teaching of English, French and Arabic. With the postwar exodus of the Arab and Muslim world's Jewish population,  all the AIU schools have closed their doors, except in Morocco where a AIU school still operates  in Casablanca. Nowadays, the AIU focuses its endeavours on educating Jewish children in France, Canada, Switzerland and Israel.

The Pavillions-sous-Bois school's success comes as the AIU's year celebrates 155 years since its foundation.

Point of No Return commenter Sylvia adds:
"As a beneficiary of that education during the tenures of Rene Cassin and Emmanuel Levinas at the AIU, I am proud and delighted, but not surprised.

"It is the more impressive that in addition to the French regular curriculum, the students at that school follow a solid Jewish largely Sephardic cursus.

"At a time when as a group we are being defined as amulet kissers, Baba Sali worshippers and muffleta eaters, it is nice to be reminded of that legacy of excellence. "

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Mimouna is a national celebration in Israel

The North African Jewish festival of Mimouna, a 24-hour food-centered celebration, begins right after the week of Passover ends. It has become a national celebration for Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds, so much so that bosses are required to give their staff unpaid leave on Mimouna Day. Rabbi Allen S Maller writes in Morocco World News:

 Baked goods prepared for the Mimouna celebration

For many centuries Moroccan Jewish homes were emptied of leavened bread and flour during the week of Passover. At the end of the week of Passover, Jews could eat leavened bread and pastry again, but they had no ordinary flour at all in their homes to bake with. Ashdod resident Shaul Ben-Simhon, who immigrated to Israel in 1948 at age 18, said that in Morocco the holiday brought Jews and Muslims together each year. “Our home was open to everyone, including Arabs,” he said. Ben-Simhon recalled the tradition of Arab neighbors bringing flour to his home, so his mother and grandmother could make baked goods.

Often this was the same flour that Jews had given to their Muslim neighbors a day prior to the start of Passover, so Jews could rid their homes of leavened flour, prior to Passover. When, after the end of Passover, Muslims came to Jewish homes to return the flour, they were always invited to stay for a few hours and enjoy the soon to be baked goodies. Thus, Jewish homes were filled with neighbors, friends and family exchanging traditional Arabic blessings of good luck and success while awaiting the laden trays of delicious Mimouna baked goods. The celebration often was repeated the next day with even more pastry and joy.

In Israel unfortunately, for the first two decades of statehood, the festival was hardly observed at all. “In the early days of the state, we Moroccans were busy with absorption and working hard, often in construction. We didn’t have the energy or self-confidence to celebrate Mimouna,” said Ashdod resident Shaul Ben-Simhon. That changed in 1968, when Ben-Simhon, at age 38 and a high-ranking official at the Histadrut, Israel’s trade union alliance, organized a Mimouna celebration in Lod in a bid to help the integration of Moroccan immigrants into Israeli society. His effort to raise the community’s morale attracted 300 participants. The next year, Ben-Simhon moved the celebration to Jerusalem, got then-mayor Teddy Kollek’s support, and managed to draw a crowd of 5,000. This grew into a major celebration in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park that today draws over 100, 000 people. This event inspired the revival of Mimouna all across Israel.

Across the country, Moroccan Jews and Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds flock to smaller public and private celebrations. A special law even requires bosses to grant employees unpaid leave on the day of Mimouna if they want to carry on celebrations from the previous evening. Unfortunately, the Orthodox Rabbinical bureaucracy has arraigned for a formal “sale” of all the leavened flour in a city to a few Arab Muslims or Christians, so the much more personal, private transfer to one’s Arab neighbors rarely takes place today in Israel. Perhaps, a restoration of this part of the Passover tradition will help bring Jews and Arabs in Israel closer together. Ben-Simhon believes that Mimouna promotes unity between families and neighbors. (In Morocco, it was a day when people would visit each other to bury grudges.)

Friday, April 03, 2015

Joe Schemtob's 'Kachagh' trail to freedom: Part 2

 Joe Schemtob was a pioneer of the Kachagh smugglers' route out of Iraq taken by thousands of desperate Jews after 1970. After Part 1, here is the second part of his story.

Part 2: we embark on our dangerous and dramatic mission

On 27 July at 20.00, we left on mules on our way to Iran. We were very happy and excited. We prayed that God Almighty would save us from the Iraqi tyranny.

As Doudi’s back was still poorly, he was unable to ride a mule. The smugglers suggested putting a rice sack on each side of the mule and then laying a mattress over the sacks. Doudi would then be tied onto it. the journey traversed steep mountainous paths with streams flowing across, normally suited only to the fit and well.

Now the drama of our journey started. On the crest of the hill, suddenly the caravan stopped. Shecho said that they only wanted to rest. We& noticed that suddenly an argument had broken out amongst the smugglers. None of us could understand Kurdish but we felt uneasy. I asked Shecho what was wrong, but he assured me not to worry. Rahman suddenly turned his horse back and headed back towards Zena. Within a few minutes, all the smugglers including Shecho had followed Rahman. They had left us strandedon the top of the mountain.

 We had no other choice but to go down the mountain, back to Kurdistan. On the main road, luckily, a taxi passed by and took us back to Darband. A person from the Iraqi Government occupied one of the hotel rooms, but the other two were vacant so we took them. Did those smugglers want to kill us and take our belongings, or did they just want our belongings and to leave us on the mountain to make our own way? We will never know, but we must thank God and Rahman for reporting to Major Shakeeb that we were stranded on the mountain near Zena.

From this point on, Major Shakeeb personally looked after us. We heard voices outside. I looked out and saw five or six Pesh Merga with their guns, and Shecho handcuffed, with his head down so as not to be seen.

I knew that we had been found out. I was not so worried about the Pesh Merga, about the guest next door who was a member of the Iraqi government.

I approached a smartly-dressed man amongst the Pesh Merga and asked if he spoke English. I did not want to alert the Iraqi government official, whom I hoped wouldn’t understand English, to our predicament. The person introduced himself in English as Major Shakeeb of the Pesh Merga.

He knew that we were Jews that were trying to escape to Iran. I took him to Doudi’s room and asked him how he knew. He said that he found a Hebrew prayer book amongst our belongings. I asked him whether I could see Mr Zaid Othman, the Foreign Minister of Barzani's Kurdish goverment who lived only a stone's throw away from the hotel in Darband. He told me that Mr Othman was in Baghdad and enquired how I knew him. I replied that he was a friend and a tennis colleague.

He asked what our reason was for going to Iran. We confessed that it was principally ; to escape the atrocities of the Iraqi Government. Doudi needed an operation on his back impossible to arrange in Baghdad. Our plan was to go to Iran and from there to England for the operation. We begged him to help us by not telling the Iraqi authorities. To our surprise,the Major said that he would be pleased to help us.

Darband was a dangerous place and he wished to take us immediately somewhere safer He called us two taxis at 12.30 am and took us to a house to sleep. The occupants were ordered to leave. He would return in the morning.

Fahima went to bed first. She saw something metal under her pillow. It was a gun. I took it from her and put it somewhere safe. I had faith in Major Shakeeb. Poor Doudi was sceptical and worried what the next hour would bring. Major Shakeeb could not tell us much, apart from assuring us that everything was going to plan.

 On 28th July 1970, Shakeeb brought two Land Rovers and took us to a safer place called Chooman where no ordinary cars could pass. There were only two semi- detached houses and he said that we should remain here until we could travel to Iran. We simply had to believe him. In Chooman, our kind neighbours brought us more than enough to eat: a samovar to make tea, cream, fresh baked bread baked in the Tannoor oven, eggs, jam and milk. They were incredibly kind and we were grateful for their hospitality.

 We stayed in Chooman until 5th August. At around 20.00  hours, I saw a light coming towards us, perhaps the headlights of a car. Major Shakeeb came out. He announced "tonight you will be going to Iran." We could not believe it. We were so happy. We quickly packed all our belongings and squeezed ourselves into one Rover car. Major Shakeeb was not coming with us: someone ranked much higher would be looking after us.

We bid him farewell and thanked him for all he had done for us. He refused to take our 'present'. In 20 minutes we had reached a house in Haj Omran .None other than Masuad Barzani, the Kurdish leader, came to the room and introduced himself.

Mr Barzani was a gentleman He asked if there were more people who wanted to leave Iraq illegally to Iran. He said that he would be willing to help them cross the border.

I suggested going back to Baghdad by myself to bring my brother Djamil and his family and other friends. However, Doudi was not in favour of this idea as it would be too dangerous. I agreed but my conscience wanted to save them.

We drew up a list of over twenty people who would be interested in leaving Iraq. The list was to be handed to my brother Djamil, and he would inform the others. Unfortunately the list was given to Nissim Shina. Not only did he himself cross the border with his friends, but the list never reached Djamil or the others who wanted to escape.

We hugged Mr Barzani and thanked him for what he had done for us. He provided us with two cars to take us to Iran. He added, that at Khana (the border), an Israeli agent would be contacting us.

The Israeli agent visited us in our hotel. The next evening we took the train to Teheran. On our arrival , to our surprise, the Sofer and the Chitayat families were waiting for us at the station. They rented a flat for us and drove us straight there.

We had a wonderful time in Teheran with our friends and the happiness of leaving Iraq contributed to our joy. On 10th August, we left Teheran for Israel. We met friends and had a very good time.

I left for London on 21st of August 1970, and it was a great joy to reunite with Foufou and David after exactly six years. On 3rd September 1971, we were very glad to have Ronnie, our second son. This is our long and dangerous story, which ended well.

I am glad people made it the same way; others made it in different ways. I am sorry that some had a hard time, like (my brother) Djamil and (sister) Rachel who were caught on the way to Iran. It could have been easier if they had received the list.

 What I did was a very dangerous thing. I did not do it because I was brave. I did it because I had to, with God’s help. He gave me the courage to undertake such a responsible and dangerous mission - we could have easily lost our lives. Thank God, a million times - He helped us all the way.

 Just before we left Teheran, Morris Khalastchi and his family came to Iran, also Khachagh. He told me that my father Heskel Schemtob had made the Aliya of 120, 000 people to Israel possible, and now twenty years later, I had blazed the trail.

 “It was great work done by both of you.”

 I do not, however, believe that I had done even one percent of what my father achieved.
Heskel Shemtob, Joe's father

Crossposted at the Jerusalem Post

Not without my grandmother