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Jews in Lebanon - An old Community Fades Away

 

 
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Jews in Lebanon - An old Community Fades Away
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The Jews in Lebanon - An old Community Fades Away

Can one be a Jew in Lebanon? The question may surprise. But if we look back into the history of the religious communities in Lebanon, we discover that the Jews were once an integral part of the social web. But by degrees, with the creation of the state of Israel, the Israeli-Arab wars, and finally the war fought on Lebanese soil, the Jewish population has diminished. At present there are only about a hundred Jews scattered over Lebanese territory.

Some figures
The population of Lebanon is composed of nineteen communities, of which the Jewish, officially and better called “Israelite”, is the eighteenth in order. In 1830 the Consul of France divided the population of Beirut as follows: 7,000 Muslims, 3,500 Maronites and Greek Catholics, 4,000 Greek Orthodox, 200 Jews and 400 Europeans.
In 1974 there were 1,800 Jews in Lebanon. In 1976 an American source estimated their number at 500.


By its Constitution, the people of Lebanon form nineteen recognized communities, of which as we have just said the Jews, or Israelites, are the eighteenth. In principal they should have one representative in Parliament, but at present this member represents the various small minorities in Beirut. Up till the nineteen-fifties the various political parties sought the votes of this community, promising it a seat in Parliament. At that time the Jews were a minority that could influence elections. At the present time there are nine hundred of them inscribed in the electoral rolls, and strangely enough between 1992 and 1996 these individuals, mostly deceased or abroad were able to “vote” for one or other of the local political factions, though obviously this meant there was some fraud. In 2005 there was a ballot box for the Jews of Deir Al-Qamar, although only one hundred were registered. One individual only presented himself on election day, putting a blank paper as an expression of protest.

History

The Jewish community in Lebanon knew the height of its prosperity and development under the French mandate. There were for example newspapers such as Le Monde israëlite and Le Commerce du Levant, which then belonged to Toufiq Mizrahi. There was also a bank, Safra Bank, now Banque de crédit national.

With the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the Arab-Israeli wars and internal conflicts, there remained only 1,800 Jews in Lebanon, living mostly in Wadi Abu Jamil in Central Beirut. In December 1976, an American source put their number at 500. At present there are said to be only one hundred, in a city that once had sixteen synagogues, of which the last one remaining, Maguen Abraham, is in a state of total decay.

The Jewish religion is no more practiced in Lebanon, except perhaps in private. The eve of Yom Kippur, the families visit the tombs of their deceased relatives for the one “religious outing” of the year. The representative of the community refuses to meet the press.

The Maguen Abraham Synagogue

Making a report on this place is no easy task. We have tried everything possible to take some photographs of the Jewish cemetery at Sodeco. A person in charge answered us vaguely, telling us that we would have to wait for his colleague, who was away, in order to satisfy certain formalities, and so on. However, we managed to take a few shots from outside the cemetery, which lies on the former demarcation line in the capital and gives an idea of the former condition of the Jewish families in Beirut. One of the tombs contains the remains of someone who passed away in 1999. The monuments are all inscribed in the Hebrew language.
Working through the internet brings us to a Facebook site with the title Beirut Magen Abraham Synagogue, with 2,234 names inscribed. These represent a group of friends of the last synagogue remaining in downtown Beirut, ones who are scattered around the world. The central synagogue Magen Abraham stands near the Serail, the Government Building. Its façade still bears the columns on which are engraved the Magen David. Magen David used to show the former vitality of the Jewish community. Now it has lost its roof and the state of the synagogue is a reflection of the state of the community, only vestiges remaining. The information on the website indicates that the synagogue is to be renovated in a way preserving the original structure. One may also read there a televised interview recalling the former Jewish school, the Alliance, situated near the synagogue.

Wadi Abu Jamil

The Jews of Lebanon were mostly to be found in Wadi Abu Jamil, a district in downtown Beirut, in Sidon (Saïda), Deir Al-Qamar and in Akkar, where there are still some Jews, according to W.S., political expert and specialist in Jewish studies.
According to Solly Levy, a Lebanese of Jewish origin, born in 1951 and now settled in London, “Wadi Abu Jamil Street stretched from the Arlequin pastry shop to Souk Al-Haddidine, just before Bab Ed-Drisse, and this is where most Jews lived. The synagogues and retail shops bordered the street and one also saw the barrows of the Kurdish vendors who sold fruit and vegetables.” This describes the Wadi Abu Jamil of the ‘sixties, well before the outbreak of the Lebanese war. About the communities living in Wadi Abu Jamil, Solly answers that it was not a sort of Jewish ghetto. “There were also Christians, Muslims and Kurds, and we never had any problems. In the Wadi there was also every social class to be found.” Solly recalls that he had a good life in Lebanon before emigrating. The Jews of Wadi Abu Jamil spent the summer at Aley or Bhamdoun, where synagogues still stand, though in a state of decay.

The Case of Esther

One of the tales we have been able to pick up goes back two generations. Hani, 27, relates how his Polish Jewish grandmother fled Poland because of Hitler’s reign of terror there and with others of the Lehmann family decided to settle in Wadi Abu Jamil. One evening the daughter Esther, aged 16, went to a party organized by the Brothers of Gemmayzeh and there met Saad, a young Sunni Muslim from Ras Beirut. The two fell in love and Saad resolved to marry Esther. At first Saad’s family would not accept the young Jewish girl. Saad therefore decided to convert her to Islam, which Esther agreed to first out of love and then by conviction. After the war Esther’s parents decided to return to Europe. Being jealous and possessive, Saad confiscated all the letters that Esther’s family had sent her. Esther’s Jewishness was long considered a disgrace and Saad wished to avoid their children being laughed at on this account. For the neighbors, the fact that Esther was European meant that she was Christian. It was not till much later that the children learnt that their mother was Jewish. Her sole companion was a Spanish Jewish lady living in Moussaitbeh. This woman had married one of Saad’s cousins, but unlike Esther she enjoyed quite an easy life as her husband was rich.

After the great exodus from Beirut following the events of 1975, few Jews remained in Lebanon. However very few who had lived in Beirut went to Israel as most preferred to go to Europe or the Americas.

The Jewish Families

Historically speaking, Levantine Jewry was centered on Aleppo, Damascus, Safad and Jerusalem. In the 17th century Safad was the Jews’ religious center, with a university that gave instruction according to the precepts of the Cabala.

Lebanon was not a center of thye Jewish faith as was Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt or Iraq, but gave hospitality to a community formed of Mizrahim – that is to say Jews of Arab or Spanish origin called Sepharadim – and included the families Aradi, Addisi, Ajami, Alwan, Attiyeh, Azar, Baghdadi, Cohen, Shaheen, Dahhaneh, Haddad, Hadid, Hamadani, Jammal, Jamous, Khayyat, Mizrahi, Moussali, Lati, Levy, Rabih, Saad, Safra, Sakal, Sayegh, Stambouli, Srour, Tabbakh, Tarrab, Yedid, Zarrouk and Zeitoun.

Lebanon also had a community of Ashkenazi, that is to say European, Jews, coming from Germany and Central and Eastern Europe, fleeing the pogroms and the concentration camps. The families settling in Lebanon included the Adleers, the Golds, the Goldbergs, the Goldmans, the Greens, the Krouks, the Lichtmans, the Moises, the Romanos, the Turkiehs, and the Weinbergs.
According to W.S. the present situation of the property of the Israelite community is not clear. One cannot say whether or not the members have passed their possessions to others. W.S. notes that the Margen Abraham synagogue still stands but restoring it might expose it to acts of vandalism. The Jewish community has a symbolic presence in Lebanon but has been in a difficult situation since the creation of Israel and its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The unfortunate confusion between Israeli and Israelite has struck the community a severe blow.

Jihane Farhat - Translation from the French: K.J. Mortimer
Tue Oct 20, 2009 11:15 am View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
AndréAndrés



Joined: 29 Oct 2009
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Post Can one be a Jew in Lebanon? Reply with quote
Can one be a Jew in Lebanon? YES, Numéro 34 et Ezéchiel 47 différentes mais ont similaires limites fixées pour la "terre d'Israël» EN TERMES D'ENTITÉ RELIGIEUX, PAS D’OCCUPATION MILITAIRE. Ces limites comprennent tout le Liban aujourd'hui, la Cisjordanie et la bande de Gaza et Israël, à l'exception du sud du Néguev et Eilat. Sont également incluses les petites parties de la Syrie. Je le répète: la religion juive entière comme la Terre Sainte AVEC MUSULMANS ET CHRÉTIENS, et non (pas d’)occupation militaire ... moi chrétien... Shocked

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Lebanon is Arab but at the same time it provides many other aspects. Lebanon cannot be only Arab! Lebanon is: Arabs, Modern Phoenicians, Armenians, Kurds, Jews etc
Sun Nov 01, 2009 5:06 pm View user's profile Send private message
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