Jewish Arabs: finally making a comeback in the region?

Published March 27th, 2013 - 15:09 GMT

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Yemeni jews
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Image 1 of 9: Pushed into modern day ghettos by the Yemeni government, the Jews of Yemen have faced an almost impossible life over the past fifty years. While most have emigrated, a few proudly remain trying to fight for their rights despite the prejudice.

morocco Old Jewish quarters in Essaouira
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Image 1 of 9: Morocco has roughly 5 thousand Jewish inhabitants, and synagogues to show for the community, concentrated in Casablanca. Down from 250, 000 and 10% of the population in their heyday, a lot of them were Sephardi Jews of Spain. The country hosts the only Jewish museum in the Arab world and Casablanca has 2 Jewish schools, attended by Muslim & Jew.

Tunisia jews
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Image 1 of 9: Judaism was one of the first religions in north Africa, with Tunisia home to 100,000 Jews, but numbers have now dropped to just 1,500. Post-revolution, hardline Islamists have struck fear in the heart of the tiny community, following a spate of attacks, including the destruction of a Jewish graveyard.

Lebanon Syngogue
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Image 1 of 9: With the unpopular ‘Orthodox Law’ winding its way through parliament, the good people of Lebanon who didn’t want to vote on sectarian lines, looked to Judaism as a solution. The newly renovated Beirut Abraham Synagogue reported requests for conversions and an influx of interest in the now almost obsolete religion, numbering some 200 members.

jews of Egypt movie
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Image 1 of 9: Cairo’s synagogue is more tourist attraction than functioning place of worship but that doesn’t mean the Jews of Egypt are no more. This week one filmmaker’s documentary on the minority will be coming out, despite the best efforts of the censorship board to ban it.

Syria jews
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Image 1 of 9: Only twenty or so Jews remain in the war-torn nation of Syria, with all of them stationed in the capital, although with the battle still raging, exact numbers are impossible to find. With the 1948 decision to create Israel, most went to the U.S. and are now cooking Kibbeh to their heart’s content in Brooklyn, New York.

Algeria jews
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Image 1 of 9: Jews in Algeria have faced persecution for centuries, with few left in the country. The remaining symbols of Jewish life are slowly disappearing, synagogues have been turned into car parks and there is little in the way of a community. Last year’s Jewish exodus marked 50 years of Algerian Jews being denied citizenship.

Iraqi synagogue
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Image 1 of 9: According to Wikileaks, only 7 Jews now live in Iraq: a far cry from the 1920s when the religion made up nearly half of the capital’s population. At a meeting on sects in Iraq chaired by the Iraqi president in December last year, writer Nabil al-Hadairi urged the government to let Iraqi Jews come back to their homeland.

Saudi Arabia Jews
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Image 1 of 9: In the Ottoman era, authorities brought a number of Iraqi Jews to fill administrative and financial posts in Saudi’s oil rich al-Ihsaa region. While these Jews used to hold important positions in the eastern province, they are now remembered only by a small Jewish cemetery, which may well be the kingdom’s last vestige of Jewish life.

Far from the European faces of Israel and the ongoing struggle for Palestine, the Middle East’s Jews are starting to make a comeback. With the creation of Israel more than half a century ago, communities that had been thriving in places like Morocco and Syria were forced to make a hasty exit before their Muslim and Christian countrymen turned on them.

But there are signs of hope for a return of Arab Jews to their homelands, with Iraqi Jews making public pleas to their government and the ‘Jews of Egypt’ documentary finally getting past the film censorship board. Synagogues are being renovated and even if just as a nod to heritage, things could be looking up for the remaining faithful or returnee residents.

At the other end of the spectrum, Arab Spring nations like Tunisia are finding that a hardline Salafi presence is worsening life for its few remaining Jews and those dozen or so left in Syria face the bombings alongside any other religion.

So, with much change across the region, we catch up with the Middle East’s most unlikely minority to see how the Arab Jews have fared in such hostile conditions.

 

Share your thoughts on the Jewish community in the Arab world and the prospect of a return or 'reverse Aliyah' back to the Arab homelands. 

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