Remembering Lebanon’s 17th community
Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/10/2006
I’ve been wanting to write an article for some time now on the Lebanese Jewish community, its growth in the 1940s, its decline in the 1960s, and its near disappearance in the 1980s. But I’ve never found the time to finish researching the topic and to initiate the writing process.
While working on the preceding post, I was wondering if something positive can come out of this joint suffering of the Mizrahi Jews and the Palestinians. One should also add that of the Lebanese Shiites who were dragged into a conflict that wasn’t theirs eversince their homes and villages became one of its main battlefields.
This joint suffering could create empathy, but at first the grievances should be expressed publicly.
In Lebanon, the Jewish community has ceased to exist. Probably less than a hundred Jews still dwell in Lebanon with no Rabbi, no open Synagogue, no Religious Tribunal… The most active Jewish institution is certainly the cemetery, for those who remain are ageing.
Those who remain have chosen transparency. In this multi-religious society, their voice is never heard. I wonder if there’s a way to make it audible again. To acheive that, they should be made comfortable about it. They should be publicly acknowledge as being part of the nation, encouraged to come back, like all the other Lebanese who have emigrated. To say that in Lebanon, the State never persecuted or discriminated against the Jews is not enough. What the State actually did was erase their presence from the public sphere.
Lebanon has since the 1940s been defining itself as a Christian-Muslim country. Where does that leave the Jewish community? The constitution talks about parity between Christians and Muslims. What about the Jews? There are no official Jewish holidays (even public holidays in Lebanon follow the parity rule: they’re split evenly between Christians and Muslims). Hezbollah and the programs its television airs confuse very readily Jewish and Israeli, although the law protects the Jewish faith and the Jewish community from defamation. But the government has done nothing about it.
There is a shared belief in Lebanon that defending Jews means siding with Israel in the Israeli-Arab conflict (or what remains of it). I wonder how this belief can be changed, through what actions.