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Sects And The City: The Forgotten Sect of Lebanon

August 15, 2010

Magen Abraham Synagogue, Beirut, Lebanon

We all know about the “Sectarian Issue” of Lebanon. What else is new. But I wanted to take this chance to “shed light” on a forgotten sect of Lebanon, not many around the world know, or hear, of.  I met an AWESOME group of people at Semsom one night, and we have definitely been keeping in touch. I asked one of them, if it would be okay to “interview them” via e-mail for this post, and of course, I got a yes.  This is my Virtual Interview with a Lebanese Jew:

Name: Fares Hallak

Location: Beirut, Lebanon

Family Origin: Beirut, Lebanon. There are Lebanese Jews in Sidon, Tyre, Tripoli, and all over the Chouf. Alot of them moved to Beirut throughout the years though. Our family are originally Beiruti. We now live in Western Beirut, but my grandparents and thier grandparents lived in Wadi Bu Jamil.

Can you tell me about the Lebanese Jews? Some History?: Like I said earlier, there are Jews in many areas of Lebanon. Some of them I listed above, but some are also present in much smaller towns. I know some Lebanese Jews from Zahle, your hometown, and even smaller towns like Marjjeyoun in the South. Our community has been in Lebanon for thousands of years, we are proud of our Arab origin, and our Lebanese history. It’s who we are. When Palestine was mandated by the British, Lebanese Jews refused to leave to what was the “New Jewish Homeland of the Jews”…Israel. Why should they have left, we had a strong, happy, growing population in Lebanon. Almost 25 thousand of us lived here. Many don’t know, but also found on our site*, that Lebanese Jews continued to grow in Lebanon,  while other Arab Jewish populations in the Middle East began to shrink, Turkey and Syria being a few to name. We never really wanted to leave Lebanon, we lived side by side with our fellow Lebanese brothers. During the civil war, however, our safety was not guaranteed. A lot of us took refuge in the mountain towns, as I was born in the Metn, and only after the civil war returned to Beirut. We were targeted for being Jewish, even though we were Lebanese before anything else. However, this does not mean that everyone targeted us. Many of the Lebanese Jews have family members who were rescued and taken to safety by Muslims (Sunni and Shiite alike) and Christians. Because of the civil war, many did leave Lebanon, although refusing to move to Israel, many have settled in Paris and Montreal. Take this, for example, taken from “The Press” section of Lebanese Jewish Community Website:

In 1983, Isaac Arazi and his wife were caught in sectarian fighting during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. A Shiite Muslim militiaman helped the couple escape.

And today?: Today our population reaches about 2000 people. We mostly are located in Beirut and small amount are still present in the Chouf Mountains, specifically Deir el Qamar where we have a Synagogue as well. We don’t have a center of worship in Beirut however, all of the them (around 18) that were located in Beirut were destroyed by shelling and artillery. But that’s behind us. We are working hard, with Muslim and Christian groups, to re-build the Magen Avraham Synagogue. The results have so far been rewarding. I know a lot of the funding is coming from Future Movement, and to many people’s surprise, Hezballah, but a lot of the fellow Libnaniyyi who hear about this effort have donated quite a lot, and for that we are grateful. We are trying to re-build ourselves and again and be an active part of Lebanese society… after all we are Lebanese!

Many wonder what Language is spoken at home, or inside the Lebanese Jewish community, myself included. Hebrew?: Well we are Lebanese, and we speak Lebanese at home, in public, and anytime we get together. We aren’t a group of people with Lebanese citizenship who have our own distinct language, like our Armenian brothers and sisters for example. But being “Eastern Jews”, we are called Mizrahi by Israelis or Edot HaMizrach (Communities of the East), and thats where the confusion of having a separate language comes from. You can tell by our last names here in Lebanon that we are proud of being Lebanese, and having our Jewish faith. Some last names include Hallak, Rahal, Farhat, Bassal, Aintabi, Srour, Mizrahi, Baakline, Ades, Tarrab, Chreim, Attiyeh, Abadie, Safra, Raffoul, Naaman, and so on.  Majority of these last names are shared by our fellow Muslim, Christian, and Druze brothers. Come’on look at my name, Fares Hallak… doesn’t get more Lebanese than that!

Does being a Jew in Lebanon cause problems for you? If so, can you provide an example?: Well, being Lebanese and Jewish isn’t really… common, in simplest terms. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t welcome. I eventually bump into a bonehead once in a while, who will tell me off or call me a spy, but thats a small amount of people. Beirut in specific has always been a hub of coexistence, putting the Civil War aside of course. I have friends from all religions, and it has never gotten in the way of our friendship. I fast in Ramadan, and during Lent too, while they fast along side me on Yom Kippour and Asara B’Tevet. Its great. The younger generations, we have put that silly war stuff behind us. At the end of the day we are all Lebanese. Who cares when we fast, what day we go to the house of God, and how we pray. At the end of the day we are one in this country… and it’s great to know the younger generation of all these sects are growing past it. It gives  hope of the Lebanon we had prior to the Civil War.

Lets get political. We know that Lebanon’s political system is based on the Taif Accord? Where do Lebanese Jews stand here? If they are not present, who do they vote for?: Lebanese Jews do not have a seat in the Lebanese government today. And we really never did. The highest ranking Jew in Lebanese a government run facility was Elie Bassal. He was the highest ranking Jew in the LAF. This was in the 50’s during the time of President Bechara el Khoury and Prime Minister Riad el Solh. Today, during elections our votes are actually split. My family votes in favor of the Mowalet, however my uncle votes Mo3arada. This is present in our community, everyone votes for one or the other.

As a Lebanese Jew, what is Beirut to you?: Beirut is the mother. She is the all welcoming, all wise, and every beautiful bride of the Mediteranean. It’s home. It’s the only home we have, and the only home we want. Arab, or Eastern Jews, arent treated well in Israel as we are placed in settlements close to the Lebanese border (a place hit so constant by war), and we dont want to live in a Western Society like that of the USA or Paris. We love it here, we want to stay here, and we want to grow here.

If you could send a message to all the Lebanese in the world, what would it be?: To work together akid. Our country comes before anything or anyone. We are loyal to this country, some of us have died fighting against Israeli IDF in Chwayfeit, and in Beirut. We are proud of our country, proud of our history, and past. Most of all we are proud of the Lebanese, specifically the younger Lebanese generations who, like I said earlier, really want change in this country, want to move forward, and live together peacefully.  Only by working together in one hand can the 18 sects of Lebanon make a difference. Love all. I also want to thank everyone for helping re-build the Magen Avraham Synagogue, and for helping the Jewish community actually complete the Safra Community Center and Synagogue. Thanks a lot. Ni7na ekhwe, wa ma3 ba3od la7 nibni mousta2bal la hal watan.

A huge thanks to my friend Fares Hallak for his contribution here. It means a lot to have you answer some of those questions, and really taking the time from your studies to do so. A big thanks bro. THIS IS LEBANON!  Here is the site on Lebanese Jews, which Fares and Lebanese Jews worldwide created to help preserve and focus on the importance of their Lebanese culture. Check out the renovations of the Avraham Magen Synagogue, the Safra Community Center and the photo album of Jews in Lebanon throughout history. Enjoy! [ http://www.thejewsoflebanonproject.org/ ]

To contribute towards the historic renovation of the Maghan Abraham Synagogue in Beirut (like I did) this is the information. It changes from time to time apparently, so double check when contacting the bank. Remember, this is a part of our nation’s history, and a house of God to fellow Lebanese. Help out!:

National Bank (ALLENBY BRANCH)

20126004 Allenby Street

Beirut Central District P.O. BOX 110435

Beirut, Lebanon

Telephone: 01 977 040

Swift Code: FINKLBBE

Account Name: Conseil Communal Israélite du Liban

Account Number: 0012-134159-008

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2010 10:09 pm

    Jackpot! great post, this should be highlighted more often, what we are, what we stand for, the values we’ve been taught by our parents and grew up with, the real face of Lebanon that keeps on being hidden for many silly reasons.

    Good job on this one A.

    • BeirutiAdventures permalink
      August 15, 2010 10:14 pm

      Thanks! It was great to get this virtual interview up, and share it with everyone! It really is the real Lebanon! Thanks again for your insights my friend! 🙂

  2. August 16, 2010 12:03 am

    One of the most interesting posts or articles I have read in a very long time. Thank you for thinking of writing about the topic and thank you Fares Hallak for such priceless insight. 🙂

  3. August 16, 2010 12:17 am

    Ace ACE post. Very interesting and very informative. Except for the fact that they existed, I didn’t know anything about the Jewish community in Lebanon. Thanks for shedding some light. My favorite line: “We are proud of our Arab origin, and our Lebanese history.” Kudos to Seif and Fares.

  4. August 16, 2010 12:26 am

    Great read, thank you for the insights really.

    “At the end of the day we are one in this country… and it’s great to know the younger generation of all these sects are growing past it. It gives hope of the Lebanon we had prior to the Civil War”

  5. BeirutiAdventures permalink
    August 16, 2010 12:48 am

    Thanks to all of you very much for your comments. It’s remarkable that this Lebanese community was such a big part of Lebanon and Beirut, but left unknown. The real hero for this post is Fares, for an unbelievable explanation of Lebanese Jewish past, present, and very hopeful future.
    God bless 🙂

  6. August 16, 2010 12:54 am

    Great post, thank you so much for sharing it with us!

    By the way, I bought a book for Nada Abdul Samad that might be of your interest, called وادي ابو جميل ، قصص عن يهود بيروت it’s from Dar Annahar.

    I’ve had it for a while now, but haven’t read it, but it’s in the queue 🙂

  7. August 16, 2010 12:54 am

    Sorry I forgot to attach an article about the book, here it is:

    http://www.al-akhbar.com/ar/node/169924

    • BeirutiAdventures permalink
      August 16, 2010 1:00 am

      Hey thanks! I’d love to check it out! If you read it before I get a chance, let me know what you think! 🙂

  8. Najla permalink
    August 16, 2010 1:43 am

    What a great post. 3anjad I had no idea. Only you would find the interest,take the time to interview and write this post. Your blog has turned into an educational tool for me. Keep shining like a star Ali.

  9. Fares Hallak permalink
    August 16, 2010 2:47 am

    Bonjour! Thanks everyone for the great interest in this post, and what I talked about. It’s really great to know Lebanese and Arabs from all over are interested in the information I had to offer 😀
    We are all one, and together we will prosper!

  10. Fares Hallak permalink
    August 16, 2010 2:51 am

    Oh and a huge thanks to you Seif, for providing me with this chance and opportunity. God bless you 😀

  11. meinlebanon permalink
    August 16, 2010 5:12 am

    You are on a role my friend. Excellent post..the best kind in fact..informative, emotional, relevant…just excellent all around..I admire you for being able to write about Lebanon when you are so far away. You are teaching people who live in Lebanon about Lebanon, and that in and of itself, is remarkable! Keep up the good work dude..Look forward to meeting you!

  12. August 16, 2010 8:47 am

    Great post seif, thanks for shedding light on this and thanks for Fares for this really good built background.

  13. Jana permalink
    October 3, 2010 6:12 am

    excellent post, great material. I always wondered what happened to the jewish lebanese community and how they live and are treated in lebanon, i get irritated when some people judge the jewish lebanese community or treat them as 3oumala or israelis, always take the time to try to clarify to one tht is speaking this way tht this is not the case and tht one shouldnt be speaking in such a way, this article sheds a lot of light on the subject, thnk you for writing it and thk you fares hallak for sharing the information 🙂
    Ps, fares loved what you said “Beirut is the mother. She is the all welcoming, all wise, and every beautiful bride of the Mediteranean. It’s home.” couldnt agree more, hope one day we’ll all coexist peacefully in our beirut, home of all.

Trackbacks

  1. A Shattered Mirror? « Seif and his Beiruti Adventures
  2. Sects And The City: Another Forgotten Group Of Lebanon « Seif and his Beiruti Adventures

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