This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Mohammed's Synagogue

"The story I knew was that the Jews were happy to leave the Arab countries the moment they were given the opportunity to do so. We were not told anything about the Jews’ deep connection with Arab culture, for example. It was only later that I learned that Jewish writers were the foundation of Iraqi literature. And that in mid-19th-century Egypt, the man who invented the nationalist slogan ‘Egypt for the Egyptians,’ and was known as ‘the Egyptian Molière,’ was a Jew named Jacob Sanua."
"In the course of my research I found out that the story we had been told – that the Jews left the Arab countries because they were Zionists – was for the most part wrong. True, they had an affinity for the Land of Israel – that is certainly correct – but the organized Zionist movement was very weak in the Arab countries. The great mass of Jews left under duress. They were expelled. They were subjected to such enormous pressure that they had no choice but to leave."
"This is the story of a tragedy, of the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Mizrahi Jews, who were torn cruelly from their homes and homelands. Whole communities of Jews, who had always resided in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, underwent expulsion, persecution and malicious liquidations… Nevertheless, this drama remains unknown and it has been denied for a lengthy period."
Nathan Weinstock, 70, historian, Nice, France  -- author of A Very Long Presence: How the Arab World Lost Its Jews, 1947-1967

Jihad Al-Mohammed in his home in Saida. When he moved in, the centuries-old building was abandoned, but it used to be a Jewish synagogue. Credit: Rebecca Collard

"But it was filled with rats and garbage [when he first moved into his house]. So I cleaned it up."
"And then tourists started coming by and asking to see my home. That's when I realized what this was."
"They came [from the U.S., Canada and Europe] and prayed here."
Jihad Al-Mohammed, Sidon, Lebanon
He was looking for a place to live and  he found an old abandoned building located in south Lebanon, in the old city of Sidon. This was in 1990, when the Lebanese civil war had ended and the Palestinian refugees who had taken shelter in the venerable structure had departed. The garbage and rats that Mohammed discovered the building full of, resulted from the shelter use that had been made of the structure by the Palestinian squatters.

Jihad Al-Mohammed came to Lebanon from Syria, looking for employment, searching for a place to live. When he saw the building he wasn't impressed. There were many other buildings in the old city that looked similar to this one, with high domed ceilings and arches and marble floors. But he moved in, he cleaned it up, and he apparently didn't focus on the Jewish stars on the walls. Someone had evidently painted over the Hebrew letters.

The marble floors are now covered with carpets, but above them on the walls, high up, are those Stars of David. "This used to be a place of Jewish worship", Mr. Mohammed tells a visitor. He lived in the building for ten years before he came to the tardy realization that he was living in a synagogue. Some residents living nearby spoke of the area as "Haret al-Yahud", the Jewish Quarter. But it wasn't until tourists started showing up, looking to see the building, that it occurred to him it was a synagogue.

Jihad Al-Mohammed in his kitchen. He has a flat screen TV and a WiFi router where the synagogue used keep its Torah scrolls.  Photo: Rebecca Collard
The building has been divided by him into different chambers resulting in bedrooms for his children, another for him and his wife, and a kitchen and living room where once faithful congregants gathered to worship in what was for them the main area of the synagogue. Now, a flat-screen television and Wi-Fi router sits where the Torah scrolls were kept, once. Cables cross the arches, in a pattern. Paint covers the wall's Hebrew lettering.

A Jewish school was located a few streets away from Mohammed's home. A man by the name of Nagi Georges Zeidan researched the history of the Jews of Lebanon and is in the process of writing a book detailing that history where Sidon once had a thriving Jewish community for over two thousand years. "In 1974, there were still 1,500 Jews living in Saida [Sidon], said Mr. Zeidan.
The synagogue of Saida, circa 1970. The city used to have a thriving Jewish population.
Courtesy of Nagi Georges Zeidan

When the civil war broke out and violence ensued, the last of the remaining Jewish families fled. Mr. Zeidan points to a two-story stone building, on the edge of the old city, nearby the sea. "That was the Levy house", he said, where the Levy family, the last Jewish family in Sidon had lived. They left the only land they knew early in 1980 and it was then that the synagogue was abandoned, after millennia of Jewish history.

People still often knock on the door of Mohammed's synagogue, his home. The ancient house of worship is in the process of decay. Bits of the walls and ceiling detach and fall continually; the blue paint hiding the Hebrew characters on the walls is peeling. But Mohammed doesn't think of leaving. His plans are to remain as long as he is permitted to. And while he's there, inhabiting his synagogue, visitors are welcome to come around, he says.
Two rabbis visited Jihad al-Mohammed's home in 2012, and prayed there.
Courtesy of Jihad al-Mohammed

One parting thought: parse that name: Jihad al-Mohammed

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