Saturday December 16, 2017

Torn between Dignity and Despair: The Last Jews of Tunisia

Hundreds of Jews who moved away over the past five decades have taken their relatives' remains with them, leaving only these slabs of Hebrew-inscribed marble behind

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Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Djerba, Tunisia, August 22, 2016: Behind the Great Synagogue that anchors this tiny Tunisian Jewish community, cracked tombstones litter the perimeter of the cemetery but it was not vandals who broke them.

Hundreds of Jews who moved away over the past five decades have taken their relatives’ remains with them, leaving only these slabs of Hebrew-inscribed marble behind.

“There are bones that are 80, 90 years old. When you lift them up, they can break,” said Yossif Sabbagh. The 42-year-old local help exhume about a dozen bodies each year for transport to Israel, where the majority of Tunisian-born Jews have moved, and where they want their ancestors to move, too.

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The flight of the dead seems to portend a bleak future for the Jews of Djerba, who trace arrival on this island to more than two millennia ago, after the sacking of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C. More Jews arrived after the Spanish Inquisition and from Morocco, Algeria, and Libya.

They were once the traditional, observant branch of a vibrant Jewish community that numbered 100,000 across Tunisia. But the 1,100 Jews in Djerba are nearly all that are left after most others fled persecution between the 1940s and ’60s.

Jewish Money changer in Tunisia. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Jewish Money changer in Tunisia. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Those who remained have been rewarded with new growth thanks in part to an emphasis on large families and patriarchal values. But the community now faces another challenge: Jewish women chafe at their restrictions and men suffer from the battered Tunisian economy. Moving to Israel, whereas Jews they are entitled to automatic citizenship, could resolve both issues but could also bring an end to one of the last Jewish societies in the Arab world.

Point Of Pride

In late May, crowds filled the ornate white-and-blue tiled Ghriba synagogue in Hara Sghira, the smaller of two Jewish enclaves in Djerba, as part of the annual pilgrimage that has long attracted outsiders to the island.

Pilgrims lit candles in the sanctuary and placed eggs covered with handwritten wishes in a cave dug into the synagogue’s floor. Across a cobbled street, revellers sang songs, ate couscous with fish, and drank fig brandy and beer in a sunny courtyard strung with red Tunisian flags.

The event marking the Lag BaOmer feast, which honours the second-century Jewish mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, was clearly a point of Tunisian pride.

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The event had been cancelled in 2011 amid the tumult of the Tunisian revolution that ousted dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, a protector of the country’s Jewish population.

It was restored under the country’s current government, which prizes the community as a symbol of stability. But three major terrorist attacks since the beginning of 2015, along with an infiltration by the extremist group Islamic State just an hour’s drive south of Djerba, raised security concerns and harmed tourism.

Participants and observers at this year’s event appeared unfazed, however.

On the first day of the pilgrimage, Abdelfattah Mourou, deputy speaker of parliament and vice president of the moderate Islamic Ennahda party, embraced Tunisia’s chief rabbi and Djerba resident, Haim Bittan, outside the Ghriba synagogue.

“Tunisia protects its Jews,” Mourou said. “What leads to radicalism is having only one culture. Having many cultures allows us to accept one another.” (BBG DIRECT)

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World’s Oldest Board Game Backgammon Being Used by Jerusalem Double to unite Jews and Arabs

Backgammon is acting as a peace maker between Israelis and Palestinians. Every one in Middle-East irrespective of one's religion has an attachment with this game.

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Backgammon- An ancient board game that is acting as a bond to unify Jews and Arabs.
Backgammon- An ancient board game that is acting as a bond to unify Jews and Arabs. Pixabay.
  • An ancient game turning out to be a peace maker between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem
  • Backgammon is a deeply rooted game in the Middle-East, which is uniting segregated neighbors
  • Backgammon is one of the oldest board games in the world

Jerusalem, September 11, 2017: No one had ever imagined the power of Backgammon. And about how this ancient game could act as a game changer in the Middle-East.

Backgammon is one of the world’s oldest board games that is currently being used to bring back peace in the Middle-East.

Jerusalem Double project is a series of Backgammon tournament that takes place in Jerusalem. It is an inter cultural initiative by Jerusalem Foundation to create more interaction between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel is the only Jewish state in the world which is located just at the east of Mediterranean Sea. Jew is a word used for those people who profess Judaism irrespective of the place they live in.

Palestinians consist of the Arab population that hails from the land which is now controlled by Israel. They want to establish a state by the name “Palestine” on all or part of the land, which is currently controlled by Israel.

“We wanted to bring Jews and Arabs together beyond the daily grind. We wanted to create a joint cultural event in which everyone can share and we wanted to create cross over between neighborhoods that for generations have been completely segregated”, believes Zaki Djemal from Jerusalem Foundation.

Jerusalem Double chose Backgammon as a medium to break the walls between the Jews and Arabs because Backgammon is deeply rooted in the Middle-east. It is highly accessible and inclusive.

Initially, the project Jerusalem Double had faced a lot of resistance from both the communities. But, they went against the wind and left no stone unturned to make this project work. As a result, the Backgammon proved to be a catalyst towards a positive change.

In 2106, when the first Backgammon championship had happened, only 150 people showed up. But this time, 250 people participated in the tournament and competed for a cash prize of 6,000 USD.

Play can create empathy between strangers and apparent enemies and it can give us the confidence that we need to trust in each other and in the world we have been slighted, even after we have experienced pain, suffering, and fear said Zaik Djemal.

Backgammon is an outstanding initiative towards a peaceful morning in the Middle-East.

-prepared by Shivani Chowdhary of NewsGram. Twitter handle: @cshivani31

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Listening for Well-being : Arun Maira Talks About a Democracy in Crisis, Unsafe Social Media and More in his Latest Book

Maira asserts that we must learn to listen more deeply to 'people who are not like us' in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race.

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Arun Maira
Arun Maira (extreme left), during a public event in 2009. Wikimedia
  • Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira’s latest book is titled ‘Listening for Well-Being’
  • Maira observes that physical and verbal violence in the world and on social media is continuously growing
  • He also highlights the importance of ‘hearing each other’ in order to create truly inclusive and democratic societies

New Delhi, September 5, 2017 : Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira contends that “physical violence” in the real world and “verbal violence” on social media against people whom “we do not approve of” are increasing today. With such trends on the rise, the very idea of democracy finds itself in a crisis.

The solution?

“We need to listen more deeply to people who are not like us,” said the much-respected management consultant, talking of his latest book, “Listening for Well-Being”, and sharing his perspective on a wide range of issues that he deals with.

“Violence by people against those they dislike, for whatever reason, is increasing. It has become dangerous to post a personal view on any matter on social media. Responses are abusive. There is no respect for another’s dignity. People are also repeatedly threatened with physical violence.”

He said that gangs of trolls go after their victims viciously. “Social media has become a very violent space. Like the streets of a run-down city at night… not a safe space to roam around in.”

At the same time, streets in the physical world are becoming less safe too. “Any car or truck on the road can suddenly become a weapon of mass destruction in a ‘civilised’ country: in London, Berlin, Nice, or Barcelona,” Maira told IANS in an interview.

Maira said that with the rise of right-wing parties that are racist and anti-immigrant, there is great concern in the Western democratic world — in the US, the UK and Europe — that democracy is in a crisis.

In the US, for example, supporters of Donald Trump, Maira said, believe only what Trump says and watch only the news channels that share a similar ideology. On the other side are large numbers of US citizens who don’t believe what Trump says but they too have their own preferred news sources.

“They should listen to each other, and understand each other’s concerns. Only then can the country be inclusive. And also truly democratic — which means that everyone has an equal stake and an equal voice,” he noted.

In “Listening for Well-Being” (Rupa/Rs 500/182 Pages), Arun Maira shows his readers ways to use the power of listening. He analyses the causes for the decline in listening and proposes solutions to increase its depth in private and public discourse.

Drawing from his extensive experience as a leading strategist, he emphasises that by listening deeply, especially to people who are not like us, we can create a more inclusive, just, harmonious and sustainable world for everyone.

But it would be wrong to say that the decline in listening is only restricted to the Western world.

“We have the same issues in India too. We are a country with many diverse people. We are proud of our diversity. However, for our country to be truly democratic, all people must feel they are equal citizens.

“The need for citizens to listen to each other is much greater in India than in any other country because we are the most diverse country, and we want to be democratic. So, we must learn to listen more deeply to ‘people who are not like us’ in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race,” he maintained.

Maira also said that India is a country with a very long and rich history. And within the present boundaries of India are diverse people, with different cultures, different religions, and of different races.

“So, we cannot put too sharp a definition on who is an ‘Indian’ — the language they must speak, the religion they must follow, or the customs they must adopt. Because, then we will exclude many who do not have the same profiles, and say they are not Indians. Thus we can falsely, and dangerously, divide the country into ‘real Indians’ and those who are supposedly non-Indians. Indeed, such forces are rising in India,” he added.

Maira, 74, hoped that all his readers will appreciate that listening is essential to improve the world for everyone. He also maintained that it is not a complete solution to any of the world’s complex problems but by listening to other points of view, we can prevent conflict and also devise better solutions.

Born in Lahore, Arun Maira received his M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Physics from Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College. He has also authored two bestselling books previously, “Aeroplane While Flying: Reforming Institutions” and “Upstart in Government: Journeys of Change and Learning”. (IANS)

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Nazi Protests in American Soil and Obsession with Jews: “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville (US) suffuses with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Black Racism Logic

This Saturday, However, was not like the usual Saturdays. In the world outside, Swastikas were being displayed and slogans were being shouted

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Anti Semitism and white supremacy
A man holding up a sign reading "Deplorables and Alt-Right Unite". Wikimedia
  • “Unite the Right” rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia was about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee
  • The rally soon suffused with anti-black racism and anti-Semitism
  • President Trump blamed both the sides for the violence 

New Delhi, August 23, 2017: The “Unite the Right” rally On Saturday, August 12, in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was seemingly about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee, spreading the message of white supremacy, was soon suffused with anti-black racism and anti-Semitism.

Saturday evening in a Jewish home is a sight to watch. Some look forward to restart their work, others pleased to use their cell phones again. Whatever it be, the end of Sabbath is an auspicious time when the holiness leaves, giving way to the regular week again. One makes the best of this time, to be able to deliver the approaching week happily, the reason why people at this time wish each other a “Shauva Tov,” or a good week.

This Saturday, However, was not like the usual Saturdays. In the world outside, Swastikas were being displayed and slogans were being shouted.

“I was in Israel and as I breathed the spices our sages teach us to comfort our soul while we lose our Shabbat spirits, this ritual barely prepared me for the news that was waiting on the other side. I turned my phone on, only to learn that a rally of White Supremacists and neo-Nazis took place in Charlottesville, Virginia and that those in attendance were shouting that ‘Jews will not replace us’ I realized immediately that it was not, in fact, going to be a shavua tov,” Said Jessica Spengler in a report published in Manhattan Jewish Experience website.

President Trump, two days later, blamed both the sides for the violence in Charlottesville. “I think there is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now,” He said, according to The New York Times report.

In a reaction to which, “Our president not only held counter-protesters to the same moral deficiency as the Nazis themselves but also claimed that not all people at the Unite The Right rally were antisemites. That might technically be true but not the kind of unequivocal condemnation of racism and bigotry we need to hear from the top,” Jessica mentioned.

ALSO READ: Jewish cemetery becomes the fresh hunt of rising Antisemitism in US

“I rarely speak of Israel as a safe haven also since America has been a safe option for Jews for as long as I’ve been alive. The 1800’s saw large waves of immigration to the land of Israel due to the pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe. The rising anti-Semitism reinforced in Europe by 20th century Fascism brought, even more, refugees to what would eventually become the Jewish State. But here’s the kicker: as a Jewish American, I never had to put myself in their shoes. After all, we live in America! But the images of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching with swastikas in America in 2017 jolted me and got me thinking…maybe Israel is still needed as a safe haven even for us?” Jessica who’s herself a Jew living in America added.

Jessica believes it’s our responsibility to confront racism and all forms of bigotry, particularly anti-Semitism. She finds it important to speak against the bigotry in America but holds, that to continue to strengthen Israel is equally essential.

– prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha