Abandoned Jewish places across the Arab world

Published July 14th, 2016 - 13:50 GMT

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Far from today’s reality, the Arab world of only a century ago was home to multicultural communities of Jews dating back millennia.  From the Jews of cosmopolitan Baghdad, who spoke their own distinctive dialect of Arabic, to the Jewish villagers who lived and worshipped alongside their Berber neighbors in rural Libya, the Arab world’s perhaps most controversial religious group made its cultural mark on the region in ways that are now largely forgotten. 

A few traces of Jewish life still remain active in places like Tunisia, where the El Ghriba synagogue still stands as the site of an annual pilgrimage, and in urban Egypt, where a couple synagogues remain as reminders of once-thriving Jewish neighborhoods.

Still, the establishment of Israel and subsequent migration of most of the Arab World’s Jews – known as mizrahim - to the then newly-founded Jewish state means most remaining monuments to the region’s Jewish life lie abandoned, in disrepair, or altogether destroyed. Even the few Jews who still live in Arab countries are mostly too old to emigrate elsewhere, too afraid to live publicly as Jews, or simply too small in number to reverse their rapidly dwindling numbers.

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Once a thriving community, Baghdad’s Jews now number only a handful.  Most left for Israel in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, abandoning a rich cultural heritage of over 2,000 years for its own dialect of Arabic. This pic shows an Iraqi Jew in 2003 with his prayer book. (AFP/Newscom/Awad Awad)
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Image 1 of 9:  1 / 9Once a thriving community, Baghdad’s Jews now number only a handful. Most left for Israel in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, abandoning a rich cultural heritage of over 2,000 years for its own dialect of Arabic. This pic shows an Iraqi Jew in 2003 with his prayer book. (AFP/Newscom/Awad Awad)

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Some remnants of Baghdad’s Jewish community stand today, including the Meir Tweg Synagogue, which is reportedly still active.  Other synagogues sit abandoned by time and Jewish flight from Iraq, including this shuttered synagogue in Baghdad’s Sadr City, shown here in 2003. (AFP/Sabah Arar)
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Image 2 of 9:  2 / 9Some remnants of Baghdad’s Jewish community stand today, including the Meir Tweg Synagogue, which is reportedly still active. Other synagogues sit abandoned by time and Jewish flight from Iraq, including this shuttered synagogue in Baghdad’s Sadr City, shown here in 2003. (AFP/Sabah Arar)

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 An abandoned synagogue that served Lebanon’s once vibrant Jewish community in the southern city Sidon now stands reborn as a makeshift home for destitute Palestinian and Syrian families (AFP/File)
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Image 3 of 9:  3 / 9 An abandoned synagogue that served Lebanon’s once vibrant Jewish community in the southern city Sidon now stands reborn as a makeshift home for destitute Palestinian and Syrian families (AFP/File)

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The former synagogue’s unlikely tenants set up house in 1990, decades after most of Lebanon’s Jews left the country.  Today, only about 200 Jews remain in Lebanon, where a single tightly-guarded synagogue – Maghen Abraham shown in this picture – continues operations in Beirut. (Facebook/Lebanese Jewish Community Council)
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Image 4 of 9:  4 / 9The former synagogue’s unlikely tenants set up house in 1990, decades after most of Lebanon’s Jews left the country. Today, only about 200 Jews remain in Lebanon, where a single tightly-guarded synagogue – Maghen Abraham shown in this picture – continues operations in Beirut. (Facebook/Lebanese Jewish Community Council)

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In Yafran, Libya, Jews once shared a relatively peaceful 2,000-plus-year history with their Berber neighbors in mountainous Yafran. Locals have fought to leave their former neighbors’ synagogues standing as a testament to the lost community. The city is now known for being a hotspot in the Libyan civil war, shown here. (AFP/Colin Summers)
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Image 5 of 9:  5 / 9In Yafran, Libya, Jews once shared a relatively peaceful 2,000-plus-year history with their Berber neighbors in mountainous Yafran. Locals have fought to leave their former neighbors’ synagogues standing as a testament to the lost community. The city is now known for being a hotspot in the Libyan civil war, shown here. (AFP/Colin Summers)

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And in the Libyan capital Tripoli, many Jews stayed into the 1960’s, until those remaining fled abroad when the Six Day War prompted attacks against them.  Tripoli’s once thriving Dar al-Bishi Synagogue now sits abandoned. Here, Libyan Jew returnee David Gerbi attempts to renovate it. (AFP/Mahmud Turkia)
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Image 6 of 9:  6 / 9And in the Libyan capital Tripoli, many Jews stayed into the 1960’s, until those remaining fled abroad when the Six Day War prompted attacks against them. Tripoli’s once thriving Dar al-Bishi Synagogue now sits abandoned. Here, Libyan Jew returnee David Gerbi attempts to renovate it. (AFP/Mahmud Turkia)

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Damascus’ medieval-era Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue, aka Jobar Synaogue was flattened by Syrian regime forces in 2014, destroying priceless Jewish artifacts within its walls.  Once the holiest site for Syrian Jews, it was largely abandoned when harassment drove its flock out of Syria after the founding of Israel. (YouTube/Jobar Revo)
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Image 7 of 9:  7 / 9Damascus’ medieval-era Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue, aka Jobar Synaogue was flattened by Syrian regime forces in 2014, destroying priceless Jewish artifacts within its walls. Once the holiest site for Syrian Jews, it was largely abandoned when harassment drove its flock out of Syria after the founding of Israel. (YouTube/Jobar Revo)

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Few living reminders of Syrian Jewish life remain in the war-ravaged country today.  A community that once numbered in the tens of thousands has now dwindled to an estimated 18 Jews in the entire country, ever since one of the last Jewish families of Aleppo-its synagogue pictured here- was rescued from Syria in 2015. (Wikipedia Commons)
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Image 8 of 9:  8 / 9Few living reminders of Syrian Jewish life remain in the war-ravaged country today. A community that once numbered in the tens of thousands has now dwindled to an estimated 18 Jews in the entire country, ever since one of the last Jewish families of Aleppo-its synagogue pictured here- was rescued from Syria in 2015. (Wikipedia Commons)

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In Yemen, where civil war has torn the country apart, only a handful of Jews remain after 17 were airlifted to Israel in March this year.  They leave behind a 3,000-year presence in the country, where their homes and synagogues have been abandoned for safety elsewhere. This Aden synagogue has been inactive since 1947. (WIkipedia Commons)
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Image 9 of 9:  9 / 9In Yemen, where civil war has torn the country apart, only a handful of Jews remain after 17 were airlifted to Israel in March this year. They leave behind a 3,000-year presence in the country, where their homes and synagogues have been abandoned for safety elsewhere. This Aden synagogue has been inactive since 1947. (WIkipedia Commons)

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Once a thriving community, Baghdad’s Jews now number only a handful.  Most left for Israel in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, abandoning a rich cultural heritage of over 2,000 years for its own dialect of Arabic. This pic shows an Iraqi Jew in 2003 with his prayer book. (AFP/Newscom/Awad Awad)

Image 1 of 9Once a thriving community, Baghdad’s Jews now number only a handful. Most left for Israel in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, abandoning a rich cultural heritage of over 2,000 years for its own dialect of Arabic. This pic shows an Iraqi Jew in 2003 with his prayer book. (AFP/Newscom/Awad Awad)

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Some remnants of Baghdad’s Jewish community stand today, including the Meir Tweg Synagogue, which is reportedly still active.  Other synagogues sit abandoned by time and Jewish flight from Iraq, including this shuttered synagogue in Baghdad’s Sadr City, shown here in 2003. (AFP/Sabah Arar)

Image 2 of 9Some remnants of Baghdad’s Jewish community stand today, including the Meir Tweg Synagogue, which is reportedly still active. Other synagogues sit abandoned by time and Jewish flight from Iraq, including this shuttered synagogue in Baghdad’s Sadr City, shown here in 2003. (AFP/Sabah Arar)

3

 An abandoned synagogue that served Lebanon’s once vibrant Jewish community in the southern city Sidon now stands reborn as a makeshift home for destitute Palestinian and Syrian families (AFP/File)

Image 3 of 9 An abandoned synagogue that served Lebanon’s once vibrant Jewish community in the southern city Sidon now stands reborn as a makeshift home for destitute Palestinian and Syrian families (AFP/File)

4

The former synagogue’s unlikely tenants set up house in 1990, decades after most of Lebanon’s Jews left the country.  Today, only about 200 Jews remain in Lebanon, where a single tightly-guarded synagogue – Maghen Abraham shown in this picture – continues operations in Beirut. (Facebook/Lebanese Jewish Community Council)

Image 4 of 9The former synagogue’s unlikely tenants set up house in 1990, decades after most of Lebanon’s Jews left the country. Today, only about 200 Jews remain in Lebanon, where a single tightly-guarded synagogue – Maghen Abraham shown in this picture – continues operations in Beirut. (Facebook/Lebanese Jewish Community Council)

5

In Yafran, Libya, Jews once shared a relatively peaceful 2,000-plus-year history with their Berber neighbors in mountainous Yafran. Locals have fought to leave their former neighbors’ synagogues standing as a testament to the lost community. The city is now known for being a hotspot in the Libyan civil war, shown here. (AFP/Colin Summers)

Image 5 of 9In Yafran, Libya, Jews once shared a relatively peaceful 2,000-plus-year history with their Berber neighbors in mountainous Yafran. Locals have fought to leave their former neighbors’ synagogues standing as a testament to the lost community. The city is now known for being a hotspot in the Libyan civil war, shown here. (AFP/Colin Summers)

6

And in the Libyan capital Tripoli, many Jews stayed into the 1960’s, until those remaining fled abroad when the Six Day War prompted attacks against them.  Tripoli’s once thriving Dar al-Bishi Synagogue now sits abandoned. Here, Libyan Jew returnee David Gerbi attempts to renovate it. (AFP/Mahmud Turkia)

Image 6 of 9And in the Libyan capital Tripoli, many Jews stayed into the 1960’s, until those remaining fled abroad when the Six Day War prompted attacks against them. Tripoli’s once thriving Dar al-Bishi Synagogue now sits abandoned. Here, Libyan Jew returnee David Gerbi attempts to renovate it. (AFP/Mahmud Turkia)

7

Damascus’ medieval-era Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue, aka Jobar Synaogue was flattened by Syrian regime forces in 2014, destroying priceless Jewish artifacts within its walls.  Once the holiest site for Syrian Jews, it was largely abandoned when harassment drove its flock out of Syria after the founding of Israel. (YouTube/Jobar Revo)

Image 7 of 9Damascus’ medieval-era Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue, aka Jobar Synaogue was flattened by Syrian regime forces in 2014, destroying priceless Jewish artifacts within its walls. Once the holiest site for Syrian Jews, it was largely abandoned when harassment drove its flock out of Syria after the founding of Israel. (YouTube/Jobar Revo)

8

Few living reminders of Syrian Jewish life remain in the war-ravaged country today.  A community that once numbered in the tens of thousands has now dwindled to an estimated 18 Jews in the entire country, ever since one of the last Jewish families of Aleppo-its synagogue pictured here- was rescued from Syria in 2015. (Wikipedia Commons)

Image 8 of 9Few living reminders of Syrian Jewish life remain in the war-ravaged country today. A community that once numbered in the tens of thousands has now dwindled to an estimated 18 Jews in the entire country, ever since one of the last Jewish families of Aleppo-its synagogue pictured here- was rescued from Syria in 2015. (Wikipedia Commons)

9

In Yemen, where civil war has torn the country apart, only a handful of Jews remain after 17 were airlifted to Israel in March this year.  They leave behind a 3,000-year presence in the country, where their homes and synagogues have been abandoned for safety elsewhere. This Aden synagogue has been inactive since 1947. (WIkipedia Commons)

Image 9 of 9In Yemen, where civil war has torn the country apart, only a handful of Jews remain after 17 were airlifted to Israel in March this year. They leave behind a 3,000-year presence in the country, where their homes and synagogues have been abandoned for safety elsewhere. This Aden synagogue has been inactive since 1947. (WIkipedia Commons)

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