The Benghazi Seder of 1943

April 3 2018

Libya, controlled by Italy at the beginning of World War II, was the scene of intense fighting for the war’s first few years. By the end of 1942, the city of Benghazi, which had changed hands several times, was firmly under British control. The following spring, soldiers from the Jewish Brigade—a unit made up mostly of soldiers from the yishuv fighting under British command—found itself celebrating Passover in Benghazi alongside local Jews, many of whom had been in concentration camps. Rabbi Ephraim E. Urbach, who later became a leading Israeli scholar of ancient Judaism, and who presided over the seder in his role as a military chaplain, described it in his diary—which has survived along with the Haggadah made for the occasion. Chen Malul writes:

Many of the 600 participants of the seder came from far away. During the fighting, the Germans banished the Jews of Benghazi to Tripoli; they only started to return after the British had completely conquered Libya. Jewish Brigade soldiers, [as well as] Canadian, American, British, and Australian soldiers serving in the area, came to celebrate along with the Jewish community.

There were major logistical issues that occurred during the preparations for a war-time seder, the biggest among them being printing enough Haggadot for all the participants. To resolve this issue, the writers and editors confiscated telegrams and other letterheads from the offices of the Libyan authorities. On the backs of these scraps of paper they typed out the [custom-made] text of the Haggadah and copied it with a mimeograph machine. . . .

[T]he [Benghazi] Haggadah ties the historical exodus from Egypt with the Holocaust taking place in Europe, ending in a Zionist declaration. . . . One unique aspect of the Haggadah, in addition to the foreword written by the Jewish soldiers, were the illustrations they added to it. Under the famous line, “Pour out Your wrath upon the nations who do not know You,” the soldiers added an illustration of a fighter plane dropping bombs on an unidentified target. No doubt this was symbolic of the future defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

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More about: Haggadah, Libya, Libyan Jewry, Religion & Holidays, World War II

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics