A year before my graduation in 2009, I have joined a group of students and instructors to establish a newspaper empowered by youth. The main aim was to create a new media outlet unlike the mainstream media that are affiliated to political parties. It is supposed to be unbiased and powered by diversified editorial board. It was issued the week prior to the 2009 parliamentary elections in Lebanon.
We discussed ideas. My idea was to highlight the minorities in Lebanon and whom they are going to vote for.
I was interested in minorities and their rights. But I was interested strongly in the Jewish community, that once resided in Lebanon, before the civil war. My knowledge on this issue was too little and insignificant; and I assume it is the same as my counterparts fellows.
Anyway, I am posting my article down here.
However, I will be writing another post on my experience in this issue …
Lebanon is famous for its religious diversity, with 18 sects living within its 10,425 km². However, one of its most controversial sects is witnessing its decline unless their rights are restored.
It is known that Lisa Khodor Nahmoud is not the last native Jew in Lebanon, however dozens of them who live in Mount Lebanon and some Christian neighborhoods refuse to declare their religious views due to political and security concerns. She might not be the ideal one to represent the Lebanese Jews, but she is the only one that accepts to speak publicly to the media.
Lisa lives in Hayy el Yahoud (nowadays Wadi Abu Jmil), a poor neighborhood amongst the fancy buildings of downtown Beirut. She lives in an old building and shares her home with her cats.
“Habibi, why are you mad? Are you starving, habibi?” She talks to her cats.
Two things would hit your mind when you see and talk to Lisa: her lovely face and her accent. She puts on a lot of make-up and tints her hair monthly, and her accent clearly has a Syrian flavor.
Lisa never got married. She once fell in love with a man whose sect differs from hers, but her family was very upset. Then, the civil war broke out: “there was no place for love then!”
During the war she was afraid of being kidnapped. She burned all her belongings, especially those which showed her religion. “I had nothing from the past, and I preferred nothing could prove that I am a Jew. After the Lebanese state omitted the religious status from identity cards, I made one!”
She refuses to go to Israel: “I am not Israeli, and I won’t go to Israel in my life. Here I was brought up and here I shall die,” Lisa said. She feels annoyed when someone describes her as “the last Israeli in Wadi Abu Jmil”.
In Lebanon, where there is insignificant information about the Jews, most people think that there is no difference between a Jew and Israeli. “I never heard of any existence of a Jewish community in Lebanon, but I think we have to deal carefully with them,” said Nader Saleh, a 32-year-old engineer.
Despite their concerns, however, the Jews are not the only ones stereotyped according to their beliefs, with each sect considered an ally of particular foreign countries. Jews are considered affiliated with Israel as Shiite are affiliated with Iran and the Sunni with Saudi Arabia. But like all stereotypes, they are largely false.
The Jewish community in Lebanon is much older than the State of Israel. “The Jewish community in Lebanon didn’t decrease as it has been mentioned in different media outlets” said Dr. Kirsten Schulze, specialized in Political Science and the Arab-Israel conflict in London School of Economics and Political Science.
“After 1948, the number of Jews [in Lebanon] increased through Syrian and Iraqi Jewish refugees, since Syria and Iraq adopted anti-Jewish policies after the creation of Israel. Many of them fled to Lebanon where the state had no anti-Jewish policies and there were no inter-communal tensions.”
In her book: “The Jews of Lebanon: Between Coexistence and Conflict”, Schulze takes the position that the number of Jews changed during the 1920s and the 1980s for different reasons: “Before the establishment of the State of Israel there were around 8,000 Lebanese Jews. The community reached its height right before the 1958 civil war at around 14,000. After the war, the Iraqi and Syrian Jews left Lebanon because of the instability, but the Lebanese Jews stayed and the community was again around 7-8,000. Then between August 1967 and 1970 around 3,000 Lebanese Jews left as they saw Lebanon change with the influx of Palestinian refugees and then guerrillas. They were worried about the increasing Christian-Muslim tensions. Most of the rest left in 1975-76 when the second civil war broke out.”
The Jewish community had three synagogues in Lebanon: Beirut, Deir el Qamar, and Sidon. The most famous one is Magen Abraham synagogue located in Beirut Central District.
“The synagogue was not destroyed by the Israelis,” said Schulze. “It is still there. It took a hit during one of the Israeli air raids in 1982 and part of the roof collapsed.”
Efforts to reconstruct the synagogue face financial problems. The Jewish community in Lebanon is responsible for looking after the needs of the community, but the community is small. Isaac Arazi, the head of the community in Lebanon, could not be reached for this story, which is not surprising considering how disconnected they are.