A Snapshot of Jewish Salonica before Its Destruction

On the eve of World War II, Jews accounted for some 40 percent of the population of Salonica; in earlier times, they had constituted an absolute majority of the city’s inhabitants. Most of Salonica’s Jews were Sephardi and Ladino-speaking, descended from exiles from Spain who came to the Ottoman empire in the 16th century. In her recent book, Sarah Abrevaya Stein reconstructs the lives of a Salonican Jewish family named Levy in the 19th and 20th centuries, based on their correspondence and other papers. Like most of the other Jews of that city, almost the entire family was murdered in the Holocaust. Stein here shares a vignette of one of her subjects:

As a young man, . . . David a-Levi left the family business of printing to become a student of law, a high-ranking official in the Ottoman bureaucracy, and, in time, the head of Salonica’s Jewish community. These prestigious positions earned him a new name, Daout Effendi, Daout being a Turkish version of his given name, David, and effendi being an Ottoman honorific for a distinguished, well-educated man. Daout Effendi represented the Ottoman Passport Office as Sultan Abdülhamid II [tried to transform his] empire into a modern state. Later, Daout Effendi presided over the official Jewish community of Salonica when the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 resulted in the Ottomans’ loss of the city—territory the empire had held for centuries—[to Greece].

[David] helped the Jewish community meet the new demands of state and, in time, manage the chaos of World War I and the population exchanges between Turkey and Greece that followed. Salonica’s refugee population burgeoned [at this time] and poverty became the norm. “Each day the poor knock on the door,” . . . Daout Effendi wrote his son, “and it is I alone who must respond and comfort them.”

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

More about: Greece, Ottoman Empire, Sephardim, Thessaloniki, World War I

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia