Posts tagged Jews
Posts tagged Jews
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Study completes genetic map of N. African Jews
A just-published, “definitive” study of Jews of North African origin has set their place on the genetic map of the Jewish Diasporas. This completes research of contemporary Jewish populations following previous work on Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrahi Jews who originated in Europe and the Middle East.
The study – led by Prof. Harry Ostrer of the departments of pathology, genetics and pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at New York’s Yeshiva University, was just published online in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of 509 Jews from 15 populations compared with genetic data on 114 individuals from seven North African non-Jewish populations.
North African Jews are the second largest Jewish Diaspora group. Until now, how they are related to each other, to other Diaspora groups and to their non-Jewish North African neighbors had not been well defined.
The study also included members of Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Yemen and Georgia.
The findings support the historical record of Middle Eastern Jews settling in North Africa during classical antiquity, converting non-Jews to Judaism and marrying local populations, thereby forming distinct populations that stayed largely intact for more than two millennia.
“Our new findings define North African Jews, complete the overall population structure for the various groups of the Jewish Diaspora and enhance the case for a biological basis for Jewishness,” said Ostrer, an Einstein physician who is director of genetic and genomic testing for the division of clinical pathology at nearby Montefiore Medical Center. Ostrer noted that obtaining a comprehensive genetic fingerprint of various Jewish subpopulations can help reveal genetic links to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other common diseases.
In a previous genetic analysis, the researchers showed that modern-day Sephardi (Greek and Turkish), Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Mizrahi (Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian) Jews originating in Europe and the Middle East are more related to each other than to their contemporary non-Jewish neighbors, with each group forming its own cluster within the larger Jewish population.
In addition, each group showed Middle-Eastern ancestry and varying degrees of mixing with surrounding populations.
Two of the major Jewish populations – Middle Eastern and European Jews – were found in the Einstein study to have diverged from each other about 2,500 years ago.
North African Jews exhibited a high degree of endogamy – a term that refers to marriage within their own religious and cultural group – in accordance with their community’s custom.
Two major subgroups within this overall population were identified – Moroccan/Algerian Jews and Djerban (Tunisian)/Libyan Jews. The two subgroups varied in their degree of European mixture, with Moroccan/Algerian Jews tending to be more related to Europeans, which most likely resulted from the expulsion of Sephardi Jews from Spain during the Inquisition starting in 1492.
Ethiopian and Yemenite Jewish populations also formed distinctive genetically linked clusters, as did Georgian Jews.
The Jerusalem Post asked for comments on the paper from Prof. Karl Skorecki, a leading genetics researcher and nephrologist – kidney care specialist –at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center who has done pathfinding work on the ancient links of the Priestly Tribe and Y chromosomes.
“This Einstein-led research is definitive,” said Skorecki, a modern- Orthodox Jew who said he is closely familiar with the paper and the “superb researchers” involved in it.
“One of its great strengths is the interdisciplinary collaboration, including among other experts such as historians. The context of historical expertise greatly enhances the ability to understand and draw inferences from the genetic analysis,” Skorecki said.
“This paper continues the team’s excellent work in the past few years on DNA markers across the entire genome. The second largest Diaspora community, from North Africa, was missing. The various Jewish communities share with each other and have a great deal of overlap.”
Skorecki said he did not work with the team this time, but has before. “A monopoly is not good,” he said. “It’s better for many different groups from different parts of the world to work independently and even competitively perform similar research, as it adds to credibility and confidence.”
Jews who were forced out of Spain and Portugal in the late 15th century moved eastward to Bulgaria, Turkey and Saloniki, but also to Morocco in North Africa.
“This is clear. There is very interesting genetic consistency and a confirmation of history that we have obtained from archival historical records. Using genetics can also be a historical tool,” the Rambam expert said.
“When one looks for geneticbased predisposition to diseases, it’s important to know to what other population the given group is genetically related, in this case, the non-Jews in the same area. The new findings show that there was not much Jewish admixture with the local non-Jewish population in North Africa. Compared to the variation of the worldwide population, Jewish communities were quite different. They mostly married among themselves, with not enough mixing with the non- Jewish group to make it possible to separate the DNA.
One can see that there is shared Jewish ancestry of Near East origin among Ashkenazim and other Jews who had been separated for thousands of years.”
Skorecki, who is also at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, noted that new studies, such as a major one a few weeks ago from University College London researchers in the American Journal of Human Genetics, have shown that the general population in Ethiopia has the most diverse structure in the world.
“There was a great deal of diversification, so it’s a great place to study genetics,” said Skorecki.
“Many researchers,” he continued, “believe that humans originated in more than one place, but contemporary humans probably descend mostly from humans from northeast Africa, such as Ethiopia.
“I, like them, think that they were dark skinned, and as they moved, their skin color evolved to adapt to their environment,” said Skorecki.
His own research group at Rambam and others are currently involved in studying the whole genome of three billion letters.
Now Jewish samples are being studied for whole genome sequences – every single letter of the bases making up pairs in the DNA – which will provide even more insight on human health.
Skorecki believes the non-Jewish academic world is interested in Jewish genetics as scholars of history. Probably, the Jewish connection to the Bible also interests them, he said.
There is similar international interest in the people of Iceland and their diseases, just as there is in the Druse who often marry their first cousins, and Ashkenazi Jews who married among themselves for many centuries.
“One can understand their genetic structure and then learn a lot about health. Everything is headed towards whole genome studies,” said Skorecki.
A “personalized medicine initiative” based at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and coordinated by Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, also of the Technion, is using modern technologies to get samples and understand genomes and proteins,” said the Rambam researcher.
Having two adult children who married Sephardi Jews, Skorecki said there is currently a “|window of opportunity” to do Jewish genetic research as Jewish/non-Jewish and Sephardi/ Ashkenazi intermarriage occurs. Assimilation in the US is high, but “in Israel, we welcome the coming together of descendants of separate Jewish communities and their marriage in Israel. Scientists in my grandchildren’s generation will say they are just Jews.”
Rosh Hashanah cards in Yiddish from Poland. These are undated, but certainly predate WWII.
Livana Ramez: This is the end of Jewish life in Egypt.
Alexandria synagogue to hold high holiday services
Jewish community leader denies claims authorities canceled Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur prayers citing security concerns.
A member of the Jewish community of Alexandria on Monday denied reports that Egyptian authorities had canceled Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers in the city – citing security concerns – saying he would personally lead the services during the High Holidays.
Youssef Gaon, the caretaker of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, was quoted by a Jewish official as saying prayers will be held at the 180-year-old house of worship this year, albeit without an ordained rabbi or cantor.
“The only difference is a rabbi and cantor who usually lead the services were denied entry to the country,” Gaon, who is in close contact with the remaining Jews in the country, told The Jerusalem Post.
Earlier on Monday reports claiming the government in Cairo had canceled Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers in Alexandria emerged in Israel and Egypt.
“This is the end of Jewish life in Egypt,” Livana Ramez, identified as the president of the international association of Egyptian Jews in Israel, was quoted as saying.
However, “Gaon said he would lead the services together with other members of the community [in Alexandria]. Prayers at the synagogue in Cairo will be held as usual. The rabbi who flies in every year was given a visa,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous not to jeopardize ties with Egyptian authorities.
The vast majority of the historic and once numerous Jewish community of Egypt left or were forced to leave in the decades following the creation of the State of Israel.
From a peak of about 80,000 in 1922 only a few dozen mostly elderly members currently remain in Alexandria and Cairo where they live low-key lives.
Last January a Jewish pilgrimage to the tomb of a Jewish sage in the Nile Delta was canceled due to security concerns. Nonetheless, the source who spoke to Gaon said he had not noticed a perceptible change in policy by the government towards the Jewish community since the election of an Islamist government and president earlier this year.
“From conversations with Jews in Egypt and my visits there I have not seen anything different,” the official said. “Even at the height of protests the Jewish community was left alone.”
The Chofetz Chaim - El Jofetz Jaim
90 cm X 70 cm
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Turning a lens on Shanghai’s Jewish refugees
Between 1933 and June 22, 1941, when Germany declared war against the Soviet Union, roughly 20,000-25,000 Jewish refugees escaped Nazi persecution and the coming Holocaust by fleeing to the Far Eastern port city of Shanghai.
Because of its extra-territorial status prior to Japanese occupation in 1941, Shanghai was one of the few places in the world that would accept Jewish refugees without requiring hard-to-get immigration visas. Read more.
Asl al-Yahud: An arabic website changing perceptions about Jews and Judaism
Arabic website changing perceptions about Jews and Judaism
On my mind: Gabbai is passionate about maintaining the culture and traditions of Jews from Arab countries.
Ephraim Gabbai is exuberant. The New York-based rabbi is describing an email conversation in Arabic he just concluded with someone in war-torn Damascus.
Gabbai is confident he has had a positive impact in toning down his interlocutor’s initial hostility toward, and misunderstanding of, Judaism.
Similar exchanges with other Arabic speakers have led to additional questions and more extensive online conversations.
“There is a thirst for information, knowledge about Jews,” says Gabbai.
An Arab journalist who writes for one of Yemen’s top papers wrote to Gabbai about a neglected Jewish graveyard in Aden. They corresponded frequently, discussing, among other topics, the rich history of what was once the largest Jewish community in the Arab world.
The nexus is Asl al-Yahud (Origins of the Jews), an Arabic- language website Gabbai created under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee four years ago. Asl al-Yahud – www.aslalyahud.com – is a growing resource in print, photographs and video about Judaism, and the history of Jewish communities in Arab countries.
“The website is advancing understanding of Judaism for Arabic speakers,” says Gabbai. He single-handedly manages the site’s content, and also runs a related Facebook page, in Arabic, where much of the conversation occurs.
Gabbai is passionate about maintaining the culture and traditions of Jews from Arab countries. His parents are active members of the aging Iraqi Jewish community in Israel. His mother’s family came from Iraq, and his father was one of the last Jews to leave Egypt. Gabbai was born in Israel, and after growing up in New York and New Jersey, he attended Yeshiva University.
The Arabic website project is a synergy of Gabbai’s personal mission and AJC’s pioneering inter-religious work, addressing one of the greatest interfaith challenges of the 21st century – Jewish-Muslim relations. Asl al-Yahud is purposely apolitical. It does not take on the contentious, divisive political issues that dominate discourse about the region, nor does it offer specific guidance on advancing Muslim-Jewish relations.
But recalling the historical interactions of Jews and Muslims over the centuries is a key to deepening understanding of Judaism among Arabs across the Middle East.
“Islamic sacred texts sometimes lend themselves to negative interpretations of Judaism,” says Gabbai. Given the views of Jews that may permeate mosques and school curricula in Arab countries, the Asl al-Yahud journey faces enormous roadblocks. “This website is not expecting visitors to have positive attitudes. We have to overcome initial assumptions.”
Gabbai believes it is important to explain Judaism through the use of Arabic-language sources and the teachings of renowned Jews who lived in Arab lands. He excerpts on Asl al-Yahud the works of Sa’adya ben Joseph al-Fayyumi, the 10th century Egyptian-Baghdadian scholar who translated the Hebrew Bible into Arabic, Maimonides, and other legendary rabbinical scholars and thinkers. “We are explaining Judaism from a Middle East vantage point,” says Gabbai.
Online conversations with inquisitive Arabs – whom he is unlikely ever to meet in person – occupy some of Gabbai’s time most working days, but he finds each encounter intriguing and energizing.
During the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan, visitors from Egypt and Saudi Arabia accounted for some 36 percent of the web traffic. “Saudis tend to have more informed questions,” says Gabbai. Some Saudis access the site to check on what they are taught in their own schools in the kingdom.
The Arabic website offers detailed historical information on lost or extant Jewish communities in Iraq, Kurdistan and Saudi Arabia, and soon will include sections on Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen.
“Videos are vitally important to conveying the story and explaining Jewish rituals and religion,” says Gabbai. Before Passover, he made a short film with Arabic narration on making matzo. A Yemeni Jewish woman described the ingredients and process as she produced the unleavened bread. The famed Ben-Ezra synagogue, home of the Cairo Geniza, was featured in an informational video on the design and rituals of synagogues in the Arab world.
Separate but related to Asl al-Yahud, Gabbai also leads a congregation in New York City, some of whose members are Arabic-speaking Jews. On a recent evening, he helped coordinate an Iftar dinner attended by 100 Jews and Muslims, another initiative to create a place where adherents of the two religions can share and learn from each other. “If we respect each other we will build a better future,” says Gabbai.
He is innately hopeful and optimistic, key attributes for any inter-religious work, and even more so regarding Muslim attitudes towards Jews. And, that is important. For what Gabbai and Asl al-Yahud are doing can potentially, over the long term, change some Arab perceptions of Judaism and Jews. It’s a long, arduous journey that Gabbai has embarked on. But each day the online conversations give him more incentive to proceed.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.
The Jews Of Libya
We visited a small exhibition held at the Netanya City Museum on the Jews of Libya. Why Libyan Jews in Netanya? Because soon after the founding of Israel the Jews from Libya were a majority of immigrants in Netanya. This is their story.
During WWII the Libyan Arabs collaborated with the Germans and aided them in rounding up Jews. After the war in 1946 there was a massacre of Jews in Libya, and clearly it was impossible for them to stay there. The Jewish Agency sent an emissary named Duvdevani (cherry) to rescue them. In 1948, when the State was founded, there were ca. 36,000 Jews in Libya. Most of them were in the cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, but they were also spread around into the countryside. The Jews from the country were very religious and quite primitive, but those in the cities were modernized and influenced by Italian culture. Duvdevani gathered them into the ports and they gave up or sold everything. They were very happy to take boats and sail for Israel via Italy, sometimes at great risk. They were the only Jewish community that made aliyah almost in its entirety.
Half of them, ca. 14,000, settled in Netanya, more than doubling its population in 1948. There were two reason why they settled here, first because it was by the sea and reminded them of the cities they had left. Second, by coincidence, a Palestinian Jew named Menachem Arkin had been a volunteer in the British Army in N. Africa and as a Major had been in charge of Tripoli. After the war when he returned to what became Israel, his job was the Manager of the city of Netanya. He knew many of the Tripolitanian Jews personally from having dealt with them when he was in Libya and he welcomed them to settle in Netanya. At first they lived in tent camps, called ma’abarot, that dotted the countryside soon after independence when the immigrants from Europe and the Arab world flooded in. Eventually they became part of the population and can no longer be distinguished.
The exhibition is entitled “My mother’s gold,” but this refers not to the gold that they brought with them, but more to the advice and guidance that their mothers particularly gave them. Of course they could bring little with them, only what they could carry and hide. They sold their gold bracelets and other trinkets in order to give their children an education. The women also did embroidery and sold this to keep them from poverty. Now, of course, this is their history. Examples of their gold and embroidery are shown in the exhibits. Also shown are quotes from Libyan Jews who became Israelis and remembered their mother’s advice and sacrifices.
We were shown around the exhibition by Chava Appel who is the Manager of the Netanya Museum. At present this is a one story small building, restored from what had been the first city hall of Netanya. This includes the office of the first Mayor, Oved Ben Ami, who was the visionary who in the 1920′s found the site of what is now Netanya when it was completely barren, saw the potential and collected money to build a resort city here. Needless to say he was successful, Netanya now has a population approaching 200,000. In about 2 years a new larger building will be renovated to constitute the enlarged Netanya City Museum with a permanent exhibition. Part of this will memorialize the role Libyan Jewry played in its development.
To update the current situation in Libya, during the uprising against Qaddafi one of the leaders of the revolution invited Libyan Jews to return to Libya. One former Libyan Jew, David Gerbi, took him up on the invitation and went to try to restore a ruined synagogue in Tripoli. He was surrounded by a menacing crowd, then arrested, beaten and expelled. The National Transitional Council issued a statement saying that Gerbi did not have permission to restore the synagogue. Last week a Jewish businessman, Raphael Luzon, went to Tripoli to see if he could arrange a deal. He was also arrested, held for 4 days and then expelled. The message is clear, that post-revoutionary Libya cannot tolerate even a single Jew.