mardi 20 mars 2018


Not very far from where I stay, my sisters home in Miami, there is a small tree shaded collection of shops: TJMaxx, Uniform Store, A supermarket, a coffee shop, a sandwich shop, two beauty salons, a Dollar tree store, some sundry stores as well, including a Thai Restaurant. Most of the shops have been there for a long time, considering that in Miami ten years in the same place is considered a long time.
Few months ago, I was looking at the baskets of goodies for hair and skin, nicely packaged and I was thinking of taking one of them as a gift to one of my medical students.
Do you speak English, asked a character of undetermined nationality, with a face that betrayed Middle Eastern origin? He had spoken to me in Spanish, which is normal in Miami. Yes I do speak English I said as I looked at his Levantine face, most possibly an Arab from the Levant or Maghreb. To aggravate him, which is a joking fashion with me, I asked him, do you speak Arabic? Yes, I do he replied, concretizing my thoughts about his geographical origin, I was to proven wrong with the next sentence.
 What other language do you speak? He asked, while still smiling, explaining that the baskets are a great bargain. Just to see his reaction, I answered: I speak Hebrew.
I am a Jew too, he exclaimed and hugged me!
Thus began my pleasant friendship with Mr. AB of Rishon Le Zion in Israel. But his story is not that straight forward.
He was born in the SUDAN, to Egyptian/Iraqi parents and were forced to leave as the Islamists came into power. Jews had lived in the Sudan for at least 100 years before then. He has since lived in Greece, Israel, Switzerland and finally in Miami.
We became friends; he wanted me to carry a small facsimile of Zohar in my person for good luck and success, during my travels and work around the world. He was the first ever Sudanese Jew I had met.

On this first day of spring he invited me to have lunch and at the same time had organized for me to get a haircut. When I wanted to settle the bill he said, it is all been taken care of. I want you to remember that whenever you are in Miami, you have a family here.
This is what I call Am Israel Chai!
Those made me think of the far-flung Jews of this world who had clung on to their faith through thick and thin throughout the centuries and millennia.
Here I do not include groups of people who have recently recognized something about themselves and connect it physically with Jewish immigrants.
I have been very lucky to visit some of these Jewish communities or make acquaintance with some others.
If you know the history of Jewish traders from Baghdad, you would end up in Bombay, Calcutta, Rangoon, Hong Kong and Singapore. You can follow traders from Aden, Yemen and you would end up in many parts of Africa; if you follow the Moroccan Jews, you can read their names in the cemeteries of Iquitos, Peru or Cienfuegos, Cuba.
There had been communities of interest in Kabul (Zablon SimanTov is the only Jew left in Afghanistan).
Two Jewish communities stand out, who can authenticate their origins and more importantly the continuity of their Jewish existence for hundreds of years: The Malabari Jews of Cochin and the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan. (Sarita Hadad the Israeli singer is of Mountain Jewish origin and you can hear the strains of her ancestral music in her songs).
There are living historic Jewish communities all around the world, which are less exotic: Argentina, Temuco, Chile, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. As well as Iran, Turkey.

I have visited the Jewish cemeteries and synagogues if extant in Iquitos Peru (no synagogue but a large cemetery), Curacao, Kingston, Jamaica, Penang and of course the neglected cemeteries of the Malabari Jews in Cochin, Chendamangalam and Mala (wonderful synagogue being refurbished by the Last Jew of Cochin).

 It is a shame that the descendants of Jews from those cities have left the cemeteries where their ancestors are buried to such rack and ruin (many Jews from Arab countries cannot visit the cemeteries of their ancestors but Malabari Jews can!)
Coming back to my friend, the Jew from Sudan, we had lunch together and had a pleasant time. I am glad to have met him and made this connection.
(a jewish family get together in Khartoum, The Anglo Egyptian Sudan)