Lebanese Jews in New York: Longing for Home

Posted on By Dalal Mawad April 16, 2012 As her brother drove her through the streets of downtown Beirut on a balmy January day, 76-year-old Suzette Sasson felt like a stranger in her own city. Captivated by the new places and unfamiliar faces, she failed to notice they had reached Wadi Abou Jamil, the neighborhood she had longed to return to for years. But when her brother stopped the car and pointed to a four-story building, Sasson was shaken out of her limbo. She stared, drowning in silence. “Go up mama,” said her 40-year-old son Raymond, sitting behind her. “But what should I say?” she muttered nervously. When a woman opened the door of the apartment on the third floor, Sasson told her in Arabic: “I grew up here, can I see the house?” She walked slowly around what has now become an office space, years weighing heavily on her steps. When she reached the balcony, she stopped, shaking. The melancholia of a beautiful youth came blowing in her face. An image of her mother watering the Arabian jasmine pots around the veranda brought back the child in her. “When my mother died, the jasmine died with her,” she told Raymond, “You know we were happy, we lived happily here.” Tears came out of her eyes. Sasson is a Lebanese Jew, born and raised in Beirut. She left Lebanon with her husband and children in 1972 and settled in Brooklyn, New York. She was not expelled nor persecuted. She chose to leave because of political instability and a feeling of insecurity as a member of the Jewish community. The civil war prevented her from returning to Lebanon. When the conflict stopped, she said she was no longer welcomed in her own country. It was only in 2008, after her husband’s death, that she decided to go back to finalize some paperwork. Today, the Lebanese Jewish council, a body managing the remaining Jewish community’s affairs in Lebanon, estimates the number of Jews still living in Lebanon to be less than 200. Identifying most of them is almost impossible, as they tend to hide their identity. The Unknown Other Many of Lebanon’s younger generation know little about the country’s Jews. Some are even surprised to find out that Jews were once a thriving community living in the heart of Beirut. It is only in the past three years, with the renovation of the Magen Abraham synagogue in Beirut, that an interest in the Jewish community has resurfaced in Lebanon. Kirsten Shultz, a historian at the London School of Economics and author of one of the few books on Lebanon’s Jews, explained the little attention given to the Jews in the history of Lebanon by the relatively small size of the community, estimated at a maximum of 14,000 in the mid-50s, as well as Lebanon’s preoccupation with its Christian-Muslim divide and civil strife, in which the Jews did not take part. Aaron Beydoun, a Lebanese-American serving as the online media officer for the Lebanese Jewish council, has another explanation. “We as Lebanese are ignorant of our own history in general,” said Beydoun, who is actually a Muslim. “They were part of this country and we managed to erase them from our collective memory. What prevents that from happening to other minorities in Lebanon?” added Beydoun. But he said the ignorance is not just on the Lebanese side. “There is a conscious decision from the Jewish right-wing to erase that part of Lebanon’s history.” When he first started his blog about Lebanon’s Jews in 2006, Beydoun was appalled to read a post by a Jewish blogger saying that there was only two or three Jews left in Lebanon. “This is intentional ignorance,” he said, explaining that some people do not want to recognize the fact that Jews lived well in Lebanon and that some of them, had even decided to stay. “Some people want to stick to one narrative of history, Jews were killed by the Arabs – that’s it, that’s what makes sense,” he explained. “That’s what they write about and anything else is invalid.” The Community Through History According to Shultz’s book, “The Jews of Lebanon,” the first Jews came to the region that is now Lebanon around 1,000 BCE. They settled mainly in the ancient cities of Tyre and Saida. Under the Ottoman Empire, Jews gained autonomy in the management of their affairs. A large number of Spanish Jews fleeing the country’s Inquisition came to the area in 1710, moving to the Chouf Mountains and working in silk production and agriculture. But the war of 1860 between the Maronites and the Druze, caused many Jews to leave the area, settling in the cities of Saida, Hasbaya, Tripoli, and Beirut. In Beirut, most Jews settled in the area of Wadi Abou Jamil, later known as the Jewish neighborhood of Beirut. Lebanon’s Jews were Arabic-speaking and French-educated and had surnames in common with other Lebanese families – a significant indication of how intertwined the community was with its fellow compatriots. Srour, Sayegh, Haddad, Hamadani, and Majdalani are family names common among Christians, Muslims, and Jews. According to Shultz, the Alliance Israelite Universelle established its first schools in Beirut at the end of the 19th century. Two synagogues were built in the mountain resorts of Aley and Bhamdoun and a third in the southern city of Saida. In Beirut, the Magen Abraham synagogue was built in 1926. Lebanese Jews celebrated their religious holidays and shared them with Muslims and Christians. “For the Jewish Passover, the government used to send high level officials to attend the ceremony in the synagogue,” recalled Suzette Sasson. “For Christmas or Ramadan, we used to send greeting cards to our friends and neighbors.” By 1932, the population census of Lebanon indicated there were 3,588 Jews living in Lebanon. With independence in 1943, a National Pact institutionalizing a power-sharing agreement between the different religious groups was signed by the country’s powerful elites. Jews along with other smaller groups were given a minority seat in parliament. According to accounts from Lebanese Jews and to Shultz, most Jews did not leave Lebanon when Israel was created in 1948. Though most of them welcomed the creation of the state of Israel, they were not expelled or persecuted. And despite a series of explosions that hit Wadi Abu Jamil in January of 1948 and anti-Jewish demonstrations that broke out in various regions, Jews stayed. Lebanon was seen as a tolerant country compared to the rest of the Arab world. Many Syrian and Iraqi Jews, fleeing persecution in their own countries, sought asylum in the country, including Suzette Sasson’s husband. The Jewish community maintained good relations with both Christians and Muslims. “We never interfered in politics or spoke about Israel,” said Sasson, “They would think we were spies if we did.” In fact, the issue of espionage surfaced in 1959. “Fifteen Jews were arrested in Lebanon and charged with spying,” mentioned Shultz. But they were not all Lebanese and after appearing in front of a military tribunal all were acquitted. The only Jew residing in Lebanon convicted and sentenced for spying was Shula Kishek Cohen. She was a South American Jew who came to Lebanon at the age of 16 and married a Lebanese man. By 1958, the community was estimated to have increased to 14,000. But the onset of the first Lebanese Civil War that year created the beginning of an atmosphere of unease and instability. The Arab-Israeli war of 1967 marked the turning point in the history of Lebanon’s Jews. Though Lebanon stayed out of the conflict, the war’s impact changed the country’s political landscape. A large number of Palestinian refugees entered the country and Palestinian armed groups were now frequently launching resistance operations from Lebanon against Israel. Many Jews feared perpetual instability and started leaving the country. According to an article published in the Lebanese paper An-Nahar in 1995, the community was down to 4,000 by 1971. The Sasson family was among those that remained in Beirut. With the outbreak of the second civil war in 1975, the Jewish quarter of Wadi Abu Jamil was caught on the green line – the front line dividing Beirut between east and west. The majority of the remaining Jews left the country, not because of anti-Semitism but because of warfare. With Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and its continued occupation of south after 1984, the situation of the Jewish community deteriorated considerably. Jews were associated with Israel, Zionism and treason, and like leaders in other religious communities many jewish community leaders were kidnapped and killed. The Jews that stayed after 1984, less than 200, had to live undercover. A Difficult Departure Back in Sasson’s New York apartment, she served homemade Lebanese sweets, and poured Lebanese-made Turkish coffee. During the conversation, she kept filling the plate with food and fruits, a trait typical of Lebanese grandmothers who cook with their hearts and insist on filling your belly with their love. “We came here, but we never became Americans,” she said, “our heart was always in Lebanon.” “My husband suffered a lot when we moved here,” she added, “he always wanted to go back. He was a principal at a school in Beirut but here he became a stock boy.” Adjusting to the American lifestyle and culture was difficult, Sasson explained. She spoke some English but her husband spoke neither English or Hebrew. Berth Srour is Sasson’s sister. She is in her late seventies. Sasson helped her get into the US when she left Beirut in 1976. Srour lived in an apartment on Rue de France in Beirut with her husband and two boys. Srour said that men suffered the most when they left Lebanon, as they had established jobs and a laidback social life. “My husband had a lot of non-Jewish friends, the Safi family and the Chammoun family,” she said smiling with her pintsize eyes. “Neighbors used to come down and play chess on our balcony every evening, Christians, Muslims, Armenians.” She then looked at Sasson and sighed, “oh Bhamdoun, beautiful Bhamdoun,” referring to a Lebanese summer resort in the mountains, “do you remember, Suzette, our walks in Bhamdoun after the sunset?” Sasson explained how the political situation had drastically changed after 1967, “we felt a war coming, and we felt insecure.” Srour said she had to leave because of the civil war, “we tried to stay till 1976, but things got worse and Jews were under pressure.” According to Sasson, only a tiny fraction of the Lebanese Jews left to go to Israel, “We had the choice to go there, but we didn’t, why would we? People are very different there,” she said. People usually went where they had families or businesses, she explained, those that did go to Israel did so because they already had someone there. The Identity Question – Arab, Lebanese? All Lebanese Jews interviewed defined themselves as Lebanese foremost. Judaism was their religion, but only a part of their identity, and not their national identity. “Lebanese is my culture and Jewish is my religion and one doesn’t negate or exclude or even compete with the other,” said Raymond Sasson. “They complement each other.” Being Lebanese, he explained is what unites him with Muslim and Christian Lebanese. “I feel like they get me, they understand me, they understand how my parents would see things, just like my sister or my brother would.” While Christian Lebanese have difficulties sometimes identifying themselves as Arabs, the Lebanese Jews interviewed fully embraced their Arab identity. “I am Arab in culture and Jewish in religion,” said Rabbi Eli Abbadi as we toured the Safra Synagogue in Manhattan, whose constituency is majority Lebanese and Syrian. “There are Christian Arabs, Jewish Arabs, it’s all the same.” Abbadi left Lebanon with his family in 1971 and moved to Mexico before coming to New York. “I am Lebanese in my food, my language, and even in my prayers,” he explained, “it’s who I am, my Lebanese identity gives me pride.” Shabbats at the Safra Synagogue embodies the complementarity of the Arab and Jewish identities. Prayers in Hebrew are mixed with melodies from Lebanese and Egyptian singers Fairouz, Umm Kulthum, and Farid Al Atrash as “it gives us inspiration,” said Abbadi. In his preaching the rabbi also used old Arabic proverbs and sayings to address the crowd. Israel While he reminisced about his childhood in Lebanon, the rabbi talked about his allegiance to Lebanon and his belief in Israel. “It is not a contradiction to be a citizen of one country and have an affinity to another country,” he said, “the only problem is that the two countries are at war.” Raymond Sasson believed in the land of Israel as mentioned in the Bible. “Israel in our book is not necessarily the state of Israel,” he explained, “you could be a devout Jew and not believe in the state of Israel.” But, most Lebanese Jews sympathized with Israel as a state for the Jews, “we are happy that there is a country that will welcome us no matter what,” said Berth Srour. But none of them considered it as their home. “Their loyalty to Israel is not any different from a Shia’s loyalty to Iran or a Sunni’s loyalty to Saudi Arabia,” explained the Lebanese Jewish council’s Aaron Beydoun. As to Israel and Lebanon’s conflict, most Lebanese Jews defined Hezbollah as Israel’s main enemy and not Lebanon, and defended Israel’s right to retaliate against Hezbollah. But Israel’s wars were never just with Hezbollah. Israel has invaded Lebanon three times since its creation (1978, 1982 and 2006), and occupied its south until 2000. Civilians were often the victims of Israel’s attacks and infrastructure was always recklessly destroyed. In the last Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, UNICEF estimated that 30 percent of civilians killed were children, while the war cost Lebanon more than US$3.5 billion in direct costs. So how did they feel when Lebanon is bombed by Israel ? “I feel bad, very bad,” said Raymond Sasson, “it is my country being bombed after all.” But whose side were they on? None of them would take sides. “You are so torn, you want to stop watching the news,” said Lea Srour, “in these cases you don’t have a loyalty toward one side, you just can’t choose, and it is very hard.” A Lebanese Jew Goes Back to Lebanon Raymond Sasson stopped at a small grocery shop in Beirut’s once Jewish quarter of Wadi Abou Jamil. He needed water. As he took the money out of his pocket to pay, the shop owner, a man in his mid-50s, looked at him and said, “I know you.” Sasson winced. Was he going to be discovered? “How do you know me? Are you from Brooklyn?” The man replied assuredly, “no but I know your face.” Sasson first hesitated then told him he lived in the neighborhood, years ago. “I knew your father,” said the shop owner, “wasn’t he a school principal?” Sasson looked back stunned, “yes he was.” The man smiled and said, “you look like him, my father had a bakery here and your father used to come to bake his bread.” Sasson’s striking blue eyes twinkled with emotions, “I was home,” he thought. That was Raymond Sasson’s first visit to Lebanon in 2008, 33 years after leaving the city at the age of three. “I grew up knowing Lebanon through stories, Beirut was until I went there, this magical, mystical place,” said Sasson. During his recent trip last summer, Sasson hung out with people he had met through a Facebook group dedicated to the renovation of Beirut’s Magen Abraham synagogue. The effort to renovate the synagogue was initiated in 2006 by Aaron Beydoun with the support of Jewish and non-Jewish Lebanese in Lebanon. “I was very nervous at the beginning,” said beydoun. “I got attacked by right-wing Jews saying I was a Hezbollah agent, then that I was paid by Prime Minister Hariri.” But surprisingly he said, the Lebanese reacted positively to his effort. Solidere, a private real estate company that reconstructed post-war Beirut, donated US$150,000 to the renovation, the exact amount it had donated to other religious communities renovating their buildings. Hezbollah made a positive statement regarding the renovation, saying that there problem was with Israel and Zionists and not with Jews. “It would be great if the Lebanese Jews living in Lebanon can wake up on Saturday, get dressed and go to the synagogue to pray without having to worry whether someone would hurt them or attack them,” said Sasson. “I met amazing people in Lebanon who embraced me,” added Sasson, “I chose sometimes not to reveal my Jewish identity,” he explained, “but not one told me not to, whenever it came out that I was a Jew. I don’t remember anyone making me feel that I’m not Lebanese, it was more like ‘we have never met a Lebanese Jew before.’” Sasson plans to go back to visit Lebanon soon, “I can’t get enough, I want to go back, know more about the place, the people,” he said proudly, “I am very proud that I went, I did something to promote dialogue, and this awareness of each other’s existence;all these walls that have been put around us, stopped us from knowing each other.”%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

By Dalal Mawad April 16, 2012 As her brother drove her through the streets of downtown Beirut on a balmy January day, 76-year-old Suzette Sasson felt like a stranger in her own city. Captivated by the new places and unfamiliar faces, she failed to notice they had reached Wadi Abou Jamil, the neighborhood she had […]

Read more

A Jewish synagogue makes a comeback in Lebanon

Posted on The last remaining synagogue in Beirut is undergoing restoration, and will soon host its first rabbi in nearly 40 years. Only 150 members of the Jewish community remain in Lebanon. BY NICHOLAS BLANFORD March 29, 2012 Amid the new tower blocks that are changing this city’s skyline rises a newly restored symbol of Beirut’s multireligious society. The Magen Abraham synagogue is the last Jewish place of worship to survive in Beirut, a lone reminder that a few decades ago a thriving Jewish community lived in the city center. The Jewish faith is one of the 18 officially recognized sects that exist in Lebanon. When the synagogue was built in 1920 there were some 12,000 Jews in Lebanon. But the Arab-Israeli conflict and Lebanon’s devastating 1975-90 civil war spurred Jews to emigrate, and today there are only around 150 left here. The last rabbi departed in 1975, and the synagogue fell into disrepair. Much of the structural damage was inflicted, ironically, by shelling from Israeli gunboats in 1982. Restoration began two years ago and was funded by donations from Lebanese Jews both in Lebanon and overseas. The interior has been restored to its original décor with sky-blue walls, arched windows, and whitewashed columns with small brown painted streaks that mimic the fossilized shells in the original limestone columns. Work is expected to be completed by summer, and the first rabbi in nearly four decades is expected to arrive soon. “Once the rabbi is here, we will be able to hold weddings again,” says a Jewish Council member in Lebanon who oversaw the restoration. He declines to allow his name to be quoted, illustrating that Lebanese Jews still prefer to maintain a low profile.%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

The last remaining synagogue in Beirut is undergoing restoration, and will soon host its first rabbi in nearly 40 years. Only 150 members of the Jewish community remain in Lebanon. BY NICHOLAS BLANFORD March 29, 2012 Amid the new tower blocks that are changing this city’s skyline rises a newly restored symbol of Beirut’s multireligious […]

Read more

Lebanon’s Jews: Loyalty to Whom? BBC Documentary Tracks Vanished Community

Posted on HUFFINGTON POST September 26, 2010 BY MAGDA ABU-FADIL First came the book, then the documentary, on Lebanon's Jews who pine for their birthplace, singers Fairouz, Sabah and Wadih El Safi, and recall their life before heading to Israel and beyond. "Most of Lebanon's Jews left quietly in stages to Israel and other countries; some returning as occupying troops during Israel's onslaught in 1982," Nada Abdelsamad narrates the opening scene of her BBC documentary "Lebanon's Jews: Loyalty to Whom?" on a community that remembers its days there with fondness. Some, like Elie Bassal, even kept their identity cards and officer uniforms in Lebanon's security forces where they served with distinction. Bassal's son Jacques, who still has his own Lebanese ID card and driver's license, shows off his father's 65-year-old braided costume to a reporter with pride. Bassal had refused to move to Israel, instead choosing Canada as his destination. For former neighbors and friends, there's quizzical nostalgia about whether the Jews they knew in their youth were alive, and questions about what had become of their families -- all set against the reality of the festering Arab-Israeli conflict and how it had torn them apart. Nanogenarian Moukhtar Itani said Beirut's abbatoir was overseen by a rabbi called Salamon, and doctor Nassim Chams, dubbed "healer of the poor," tended the sick. Itani's wife remembers how the Jewish neighbors she played with as a child suddenly disappeared and their house locked up, after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. "We sat at their doorstep and cried," she said. Another older Beirut woman shows the picture of her former playmate whose family decided to go to Israel. The Jewish girl had asked her friend not tell anyone of the family's destination, and like other families in the quarter, were missed by their neighbors. The juxtaposed scenes from Lebanon and Israel enveloped in romantic Arabic music in the 47-minute film, are based on Abdelsamad's book on Wadi Abu Jamil http://www.huffingtonpost.com/magda-abufadil/wadi-abou-jamil-stories-a_b_452242.html, Beirut's pre-Civil War Jewish quarter. The camera pans across remnants of civil war era pock-marked buildings in that neighborhood of the Lebanese capital where Jewish businesses and schools once stood, and where gentrification and stratospheric real estate prices have become the norm. "I'm not Lebanese but I was born in Beirut, and raised in Beirut, and grew up in Beirut. Beirut made me," said a Jewish man choking on his words. "I'm very emotional about it." He recalled how he left Lebanon on a one-way ticket with a "laissez passer," travel papers. He and countless other Jews were from families that settled in Lebanon from Iran, Iraq and Syria after 1948, but who, increasingly, felt uncomfortable amidst growing Arab resentment at Israel's displacement of Palestinians to create a Jewish state. During her research, Abdelsamad, a veteran BBC correspondent in charge of the Beirut bureau's Arabic service, met Zach, a Jew who had left Lebanon following Israel's Six-Day War in 1967 against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and had returned later in peacetime on a European passport. But Beirut-born Marco Mizrahi, -- whose father Salim was Jewish and mother Marie was Christian, and had left as a teenager -- returned as a soldier with the IDF when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, partly searching for his old stomping grounds. "They called up the reserves from day one," Mizrahi remembers in his Tel Aviv apartment. He told his commanding officer he had no qualms about killing a Lebanese soldier, if it were a matter of life or death, even if he knew the enemy from his youth. But as a fresh conscript in the early 1970s, Mizrahi admitted he hesitated to join Israel's intelligence service Mossad that tried to recruit him for spying missions in Lebanon because of his knowledge of the language and country. The Mizrahis with five girls and two boys had left, according to a former neighbor, because Jewish tradition required they provide their daughters with dowries, which they couldn't afford. Alain Abadi also left for Israel on his father's advice when Wadi Abou Jamil became a major battleground of warring factions in Lebanon, although he'd secured visas for Canada and France. "Nobody likes war. I want them (Arabs and Israelis) to agree, and have open borders," he said, adding he regularly watches Lebanese satellite channels LBC and Future TV. An older neighbor remembers Abadi as a raucous youth with a pleasant voice who played guitar and sang on his Beirut balcony. He had performed in a number of Beirut clubs and participated in talent shows on state-run Télé-Liban before disappearing. "One dark night, he and his mother just left for Israel," she said. "They never said goodbye." Jacques Bassal said he always participated in Jewish high holidays at Beirut's Magen Abraham Synagogue, the spirit of which he missed even after 40 years of life in Canada. Lebanon's southern port of Sidon also had a quarter where Jewish traders were known to sell on credit in the city's old section. Residents there remember lighting their Jewish neighbors' gas stoves on the Sabbath. A derelict synagogue may not be visible in the bazaar, but a Jewish cemetery is accessible on the city outskirts. Nostalgia apart, older Wadi Abou Jamil residents in Beirut also remember the beautiful Shola Cohen a/k/a The Pearl, who ran a spy ring for Israel, was arrested in 1961, sentenced to 20 years in jail, and later swapped for four Lebanese soldiers captured by Israel. The documentary, predictably, drew mixed reactions at its Beirut premiere this week. It played to a packed audience that spilled over into the aisles in two adjoining theaters. "There was a group of Jews in the hall, but they left very discreetly at the end," Abdelsamad said. "One young man with a Lebanese accent who identified himself as Emmanuel said in hushed tones he was from the community and that he enjoyed it." But someone in the audience was overheard accusing Abdelsamad of being an Israeli agent for having produced the film. Lebanese authorities have arrested scores of Lebanese charged with spying for Israel in recent months. "I'm very sad I sympathized with them (Jews) when I saw the film," said a Shiite woman perturbed that it had stirred compassion in her. "I shouldn't have, given that they've killed our people and occupied our land." Abdelsamad had to explain she had not traveled to Israel to shoot footage - it's illegal for Lebanese to visit Israel since Lebanon is technically at war with the Jewish state - but that the BBC's Israel bureau had provided the sequences featuring Lebanese Jews.%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

HUFFINGTON POST September 26, 2010 BY MAGDA ABU-FADIL First came the book, then the documentary, on Lebanon’s Jews who pine for their birthplace, singers Fairouz, Sabah and Wadih El Safi, and recall their life before heading to Israel and beyond. “Most of Lebanon’s Jews left quietly in stages to Israel and other countries; some returning […]

Read more

LEBANON: Documentary film examines country’s Jewish history, evokes memories

Posted on LA TIMES BY ALEXANDRA SANDELS October 9, 2010 Many left in silence, hastily packing their belongings. From one day to the next, the Jews of Lebanon were gone. "We sat down and cried on the doorstep of the house," said one elderly Lebanese woman in a new film about Lebanon's now-destroyed Jewish community. The 45-minute Arabic-language documentary, "The Jews of Lebanon: Loyalty to Whom?" by BBC journalist Nada Abdelsamad, tracks the lives of Lebanese Jews before, during and after their departure. It is based on accounts from Lebanese Jews, who fled or migrated to other countries, and memories from their old neighbors and friends and the residents of former Jewish neighborhoods in Beirut and Sidon. The 1948 establishment of Israel, the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflict and warfare between Israel and Lebanon triggered exoduses of Lebanese Jews to Israel and other countries around the world. It is estimated that only a few hundred or so Lebanese Jews are left in the country, compared with well over 20,000 in 1948. The film begins with scenes of the Beirut seaside juxtaposed with images of Israel as soft Arabic music is playing the background. The camera then turns to a couple of old buildings, some of them riddled by bullet holes from Lebanon's 15-year-long civil war, in Wadi Abu Jamil, the neighborhood near downtown Beirut that in earlier days used be the city's Jewish quarter. One older Lebanese woman in the movie takes out a black-and-white photo of her Jewish friend Gamalo that her friend gave her 60 years ago. Gamalo was leaving the country with her family and wanted her friend to keep a memory of their friendship. "She told me her goodbyes and said 'I'm traveling and we might not see each other again.' ... Don’t tell anyone, but I’m leaving with my family to Israel,''' the woman recounted. Many years have passed since Lebanon's Jews left, but nostalgia for the old days still appears to be there, according to the film. Former neighbors and acquaintances interviewed still wonder what happened to their Jewish friends, where they went, and about their families. "Of course I think of them," one Lebanese woman said in the film. "I ask myself whether they're still alive, doing well, or if they are dead. I don't know. I think of them so much." During tearful goodbyes, some of those who left assured their friends in Beirut that they would come back one day. The movie is filled with bittersweet ironies. Marco Mizrahi, born to a Jewish father and Christian mother in Beirut, returned to Lebanon in the early 1980s -- as a soldier with the Israeli army during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. He said he never felt accepted by Lebanese, but that Israelis were suspicious of him too. His commander quizzed him about his loyalty to the Israeli Defense Forces and the Jewish state, he said. Would Mizrahi have a problem killing a Lebanese soldier or someone from a Muslim militant group, if it turned out he knew them from his childhood? If it were a matter of life and death, Mizrahi answered, "I prefer that it's him who dies and not me." The film is based on Abdelsamad's book on Lebanon's Jews, "Wadi Abu Jamil" , with which she made headlines in Lebanon earlier this year. A couple of weeks ago, the lines ran long at one of Beirut’s theaters for the screening of her film. Not many remnants are left in the area of those days, except for the Maghen-Abraham synagogue, which is being rebuilt. Posh new residential communities are in the planning while slick new high-rises dot the skyline nearby. The film has stirred emotions among some, and Abdelsamad said most of feedback she's received has been positive. Though a small number of Lebanese Jews attended the screening, the days of Lebanon's thriving Jewish community are a long gone era. "All there is left is some photos and stories and some names in official records," the Lebanese journalist says in the closing scene of the film, as the camera closes in on old pictures and personal belongings.%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

LA TIMES BY ALEXANDRA SANDELS October 9, 2010 Many left in silence, hastily packing their belongings. From one day to the next, the Jews of Lebanon were gone. “We sat down and cried on the doorstep of the house,” said one elderly Lebanese woman in a new film about Lebanon’s now-destroyed Jewish community. The 45-minute […]

Read more

Lebanon and the Jews

Posted on Root Space Online BY FATIMA FARHAT June 4, 2009 Lebanon is famous for its religious diversity, with 18 sects living within its 10,425 km². However, one of its most controversial sects is witnessing its decline unless their rights are restored. It is known that Lisa Khodor Nahmoud is not the last native Jew in Lebanon, however dozens of them who live in Mount Lebanon and some Christian neighbourhoods refuse to declare their religious views due to political and security concerns. She might not be the ideal one to represent the Lebanese Jews, but she is the only one that accepts to speak publicly to the media. Lisa lives in Hayy el Yahoud (nowadays Wadi Abu Jmil), a poor neighborhood amongst the fancy buildings of downtown Beirut. She lives in an old building and shares her home with her cats. "Habibi, why are you mad? Are you starving habibi." Two things would hit your mind when you see and talk to Lisa: her lovely face and her accent. She puts on a lot of make-up and tints her hair monthly, and her accent clearly has Syrian flavor. Lisa never got married. She once fell in love to a man whose sect differed from hers, which upset her family. Then, the civil war broke out: "there was no place for love then!" During the war she was afraid of being kidnapped. She burned all her belongings, especially those which showed her religion. "I had nothing from the past, and I preferred nothing could prove that I am a Jew. After the Lebanese state omitted the religious statue from identity cards, I made one!" She refuses to go to Israel: "I am not Israeli, and I won't go to Israel in my life. Here I was brought up and here I shall die," Lisa said. She feels annoyed when someone describes her as "the last Israeli in Wadi Abu Jmil". In Lebanon, where there is insignificant information about the Jews, most people think that there is no difference between a Jew and Israeli. "I never heard of any existence of a Jewish community in Lebanon, but I think we have to deal carefully with them," said Nader Saleh, a 32-year-old engineer. Despite their concerns, however, the Jews are not the only ones stereotyped according to their beliefs, with each sect considered an ally of particular foreign countries. Jews are considered affiliated with Israel as Shiite are affiliated with Iran and the Sunni to Saudi Arabia. But like all stereotypes, they are largely false. The Jewish community in Lebanon is much older than the State of Israel. "The Jewish community in Lebanon didn't decrease as it has been mentioned in different media outlets" said Dr. Kirsten Schulze, specialized in Political Science and the Arab-Israel conflict in London School of Economics and Political Science. "After 1948, the number of Jews [in Lebanon] increased through Syrian and Iraqi Jewish refugees, since Syria and Iraq adopted anti-Jewish policies after the creation of Israel. Many they fled to Lebanon where the state had no anti-Jewish policies and there were no inter-communal tensions." In her book: "The Jews of Lebanon: Between Coexistence and Conflict", Schulze predicts that the number of Jews changed during the 1920s and the 1980s for different reasons: "Before the establishment of the State of Israel there were around 8,000 Lebanese Jews. The community reached its height right before the 1958 civil war at around 14,000. After the war, the Iraqi and Syrian Jews left Lebanon because of the instability but the Lebanese Jews stayed and the community was again around 7-8,000. Then between August 1967 and 1970 around 3,000 Lebanese Jews left as they saw Lebanon change with the influx of Palestinian refugees and then guerrillas. They were worried about the increasing Christian-Muslim tensions. Most of them left in 1975-76 when the second civil war broke out." The Jewish community had three synagogues in Lebanon: Beirut, Deir el Qamar, and Sidon. The most famous one is Magen Abraham synagogue located in Beirut Central District. "The synagogue was not destroyed by the Israelis,” said Schulze. “It is still there. It took a hit during one of the Israeli air raids in 1982 and part of the roof collapsed." Efforts to reconstruct the synagogue face financial problems. The Jewish community in Lebanon is responsible for looking after the needs of the community, but the community is small. Isaac Arazi, the head of the community in Lebanon, could not be reached for this story, which is not surprising considering how disconnected they are. Published in arabic in the newspaper distributed with An-Nahar and Al-Akhbar on Thursday June 4th, 2009%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Root Space Online BY FATIMA FARHAT June 4, 2009 Lebanon is famous for its religious diversity, with 18 sects living within its 10,425 km². However, one of its most controversial sects is witnessing its decline unless their rights are restored. It is known that Lisa Khodor Nahmoud is not the last native Jew in Lebanon, […]

Read more

(العربية) طلاب فلسطينيون يزورون أوشفيتز، و يتعرضون للهجوم

Posted on

Sorry, this entry is only available in العربية.

%A %B %e%q, %Y
No Comments

Sorry, this entry is only available in العربية.

Read more

الحب المستحيل: العرب واليهوديات، اليهود والعربيات

Posted on

الواقع الجنوني والمستحيل للحياة في إسرائيل يستدعي قصصًا رومانسية عابرة للهوية الدينية والقومية. فإذا كان الشباب العرب

والفتيات اليهوديات يخفون قصص حبّهم في الماضي، فيمكننا اليوم أن نجدهم في برامج التلفزيون

تستدعي الحياة المختلطة لليهود والعرب في دولة إسرائيل الكثير من اللقاءات غير الاعتيادية وغير المتوقعة. إذ، ينشئ نسيج الحياة المشتركة، التي يعيش فيها العرب واليهوديات، اليهود والعربيات سويّة، ويعملون ويقضون أوقاتًا معًا؛ حالة تكون فيها علاقة الحب بين شريكين من كلا الطرفين ظاهرة طبيعية وضرورية. وتشيع الظاهرة بشكل خاصّ في المدن المختلطة حيث فرص الاحتكاك بين الشعبين مرتفعة بشكل خاصّ.

ولكن، تعمل الجهات المحافظة من كلا الطرفين بكلّ ما في وسعها من أجل إحباط علاقات الحبّ بين زوجين من العرب واليهود، وخصوصًا بين الفتيات اليهوديات والرجال العرب. وفقًا للتقديرات، فهناك عشرات الأزواج المختلطين الذين يعيشون في إسرائيل. إنهم يعيشون معًا ويبقون في ظلّ جميع الاضطرابات السياسية التي تمرّ بها المنطقة، ويحاولون أن يثبتوا بأنّ الحبّ أقوى من كلّ شيء. ولكن في معظم الحالات، فإنّ الآراء المسبقة التي تحيط بهم تمنعهم من إظهار حبّهم إظهارًا صريحًا.

إبراهيم من لواء جفعاتي

فمثال على ذلك، هو إبراهيم، شاب من أحد الأحياء العربية في القدس والذي لا يمكن الكشف عن اسمه كاملا. فقد درس في مدرسة يهودية، تحدّث العبرية بطلاقة، عمل مع شبّان يهود وتعرّف أيضًا إلى الكثير من الفتيات الإسرائيليات. ولقد تدرّب في صالة رياضية في حيّ يهودي في القدس قرب مكان سكنه، وتعرّف هناك على كيرن (اسم مستعار)، وهي فتاة من أصل يهودي تعيش في نفس الحيّ.

أحبّ إبراهيم وكيرن بعضهما بعضًا سريعًا. وحقيقة أنّها فتاة يهودية، وأنّه شابّ عربي، لم تزعج أيّا منهما. ولكن، كانت المسألة أكثر تعقيدًا بالنسبة لعائلتيهما؛ فقد فضّل والدا إبراهيم أن يرتبط فقط مع فتيات عربيات من حيّه، حيث يمكنه الزواج منهنّ وفق الشريعة الإسلامية.

بالمقابل، أراد والدا كيرن أن تتعرف على شاب يهودي فقط. وكان لدى إبراهيم حلّ؛ حين التقى مع أسرة كيرن فقد عرض نفسه ببساطة باعتباره "آفي" - وهو اسم إسرائيلي، ولإضافة المصداقية قال إنّه خدم في الجيش الإسرائيلي في لواء "جفعاتي". "أنا آفي من جفعاتي"، هكذا قدّم نفسه.

درويش وريتا

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 1.33.42 PM

ومن المعروف أنّ الشاعر الوطني الفلسطيني محمود درويش أيضًا كانت لديه علاقة رومانسية مع امرأة يهودية، والتي تخلّدتْ  في قصيدته التي تبدأ بـ "بين ريتا وعيوني.. بندقية". وظلّ السؤال إذا ما كانت "ريتا" نفسها هي امرأة حقيقية دون جواب لفترة طويلة.

في الواقع فإنّ "ريتا" في القصيدة  حياة خاصّة بها، بعضها حقيقي وبعضها خيالي، ولكن لا شك أن هناك شيء حقيقي في القصة. حين سُئل محمود درويش عن ذلك، أجاب: "إذا كان يريحك أن أعترف بأن هذه المرأة موجودة، فهي موجودة أو كانت موجودة. تلك كانت قصة حقيقية محفورة عميقًا في جسدي…".

إنّ شرح درويش لعلاقته مع المرأة اليهودية يفسّر شيئًا عن العلاقة بين الصراع العربي اليهودي، الذي كان يجري على مستوى الأمة، وبين علاقة اليهودية والعربي في الغرفة الخاصة المغلقة: "في الغرفة كنا متحررين من الأسماء، ومن الهويّات القوميّة ومن الفوارق، ولكن تحت الشرفة هناك حرب بين الشعبين" (الكرمل، ع ‏52‏، ‏1997‏. ص ‏220‏).

هكذا الأمر أيضًا بالنسبة لإبراهيم وكيرن؛ لم تكن هناك حاجة للهويّة القوميّة، الدينية أو أي هوية اجتماعية أخرى في العلاقة بينهما، ولكن في الخارج كان على إبراهيم أن يغلّف نفسه بهوية مستعارة، من أجل الإعلان عن حبّهما.

الشرعية العامة 

ولكن إذا كان الأزواج المختلطون في الماضي مضطرين للاختباء في الظلام، ففي أيامنا صعد بعض هؤلاء الأزواج إلى خشبة المسرح، وقدّموا تعبيرًا علنيّا عن علاقتهم بشكل ينشئ شرعية متنامية للعلاقات بين شريكين من كلا الطرفين. في برنامج الرياليتي الشعبي "السباق نحو المليون"، الذي فاز بنسب مشاهدة عالية بشكل خاصّ عند الإسرائيليين، تألّق زوجان من قوميتين مختلفتين من المتسابقين: فراس حليحل وشيرا دهان.

ولكن مع ظهور فراس وشيرا المشترك فورًا، سُمعت صرخة ضدّهما. طالب احتجاج في شبكة الفيس بوك بمقاطعة البرنامج الذي يعرض زوجين من قوميتين مختلفتين باعتباره أمرًا شرعيّا: "شعبنا ليس غبيّا ونحن لسنا مستعدّين للانجرار إلى الأماكن المنخفضة التي يجذبوننا إليها"، هكذا كُتب في الاحتجاج.



تمسكت الشبكة التي تبثّ البرنامج الشعبي برأيها، وأعلنت أنّ "السباق نحو المليون" يفخر بكونه برنامجًا يستهدف الإسرائيليين حول العالم، وعلى هذا النحو فهو يمثّل سكان إسرائيل، على أنواعهم". واصل فراس وشيرا التمسّك بحبّهما، بل وانتقلا للعيش معًا في مدينة تل أبيب.

وتنتشر ظاهرة الأزواج المختلطين أيضًا في أوساط المشاهير الإسرائيليين. فعلى سبيل المثال، أحبّت الممثّلة والمبدعة دانا مودان خلال تصوير أحد المسلسلات الممثّل قيس ناشف، وحوّل الاثنان الحبّ على الشاشة إلى حبّ حقيقي. أيضًا الممثّل العربي القدير يوسف سويد متزوّج للمخرجة اليهودية ياعيل رونن، ولديهما طفل. لدى سويد رأي سلبي شديد تجاه العرب الذين يحاولون انتحال شخصية يهودي من أجل كسب الفتيات: "إخوتي المنتحلين، أنا أحثّكم، حافظوا على الطابع العربي"، هذا ما كتبه سويد لموقع "والاه" الإسرائيلي، وأكمل: "ارفعوه عاليًا واحملوه بفخر".

ثمة مثال  آخر وهو الممثّل الراحل جوليانو مار خميس، والذي هو بنفسه ثمرة مختلطة كهذه؛ لحبّ صليبا خميس العربي من الناصرة وأورنا مار اليهودية. بل إنّ مار خميس قد دفع ثمنًا باهظا بسبب أصله المختلط وقُتل من قبل مسلّحين فلسطينيين في مدينة جنين، حيث أدار هناك المسرح المحلّي.

مقارنةً بمار خميس الذي كانت أصوله المختلطة معروفة، فإنّ الكاتبة الإسرائيلية كارين أرد، التي وُلدت لأم عربية وأب يهودي، أخفت أصولها وخجلت منها. "حين كان الناس يسألونني عن أصولي كنت أغيّر الموضوع. لم أتحدّث عن طفولتي إطلاقًا. لم يعرف أحدٌ والديّ"، قالت أرد.

ولكن رغم الحرج، كشفت أرد عن سرّها، بشكل قد يشجّع الأزواج المختلطين من اليهود والعرب للكشف عن هويّتهم، وهويّة أبنائهم ثمرة حبّهم. لا يعتبر الأزواج المختلطون في إسرائيل اليوم ظاهرة منتشرة، ولكنهم يتزايدون ويحتلّون المكانة التي تليق بهم في المجتمَع الإسرائيلي.

%A %B %e%q, %Y
No Comments

al-masdar الواقع الجنوني والمستحيل للحياة في إسرائيل يستدعي قصصًا رومانسية عابرة للهوية الدينية والقومية. فإذا كان الشباب العرب والفتيات اليهوديات يخفون قصص حبّهم في الماضي، فيمكننا اليوم أن نجدهم في برامج التلفزيون تستدعي الحياة المختلطة لليهود والعرب في دولة إسرائيل الكثير من اللقاءات غير الاعتيادية وغير المتوقعة. إذ، ينشئ نسيج الحياة المشتركة، التي يعيش فيها […]

Read more