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

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war