Recreating Online the Lost Jewish Sites of the Muslim World

Describing a virtual visit to a no-longer-extant Damascus synagogue, Dara Horn writes:

I’m standing inside a jewel box. The small room is illuminated by dozens of elaborate beaded chandeliers; its walls are covered with thick red velvet draperies, its stone floor with richly patterned carpets. In front of me is a large flat stone topped with a golden menorah: here, an inscription informs me, the Hebrew prophet Elijah anointed his successor Elisha, as described in the biblical book of Kings.

For a place that drew Jewish pilgrims for centuries, it is remarkably well preserved—and startlingly intimate. There are no “pews” here; instead, there are low cushioned couches facing each other, as though this were a sacred living room. A raised marble platform in the center has a draped table for public Torah readings; at the room’s far end is an ornate wooden cabinet filled with ancient Torah scrolls, their parchments concealed inside magnificent silver cases. On the walls are framed Hebrew inscriptions, featuring the same prayers my son is currently mastering for his bar mitzvah in New Jersey.

Horn’s online tour of the synagogue is made possible by Diarna, an organization dedicated to creating painstaking digital reconstructions of Jewish locales, and details of Jewish life, in the Middle East and North Africa.

In some places, abandoned synagogues have been transformed into mosques; in others, tombs of Jewish religious figures or other sacred spaces are still being maintained, or even revered, by non-Jewish locals. More often, especially in poor rural areas where land is worth little and demolition costs money, abandoned Jewish sites are simply left to decay.

Mapping sites in this environment can require enormous courage—the hatred that prompted the Jews’ flight has long outlived their departure. Libya is one of many societies where Jews were violently rejected. Tripoli was more than 25-percent Jewish before World War II, but in 1945 more than a 100 Jews in the city were murdered and hundreds more wounded in massive pogroms, prompting the Jewish community’s flight. Later, the dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi expelled all remaining Jews and confiscated their assets. In 2011, after Qaddafi’s ouster, a single Libyan Jew who returned and attempted to remove trash from the wreckage of the city’s Dar Bishi Synagogue was hounded out of the country by angry mobs waving signs reading “No Jews in Libya”; apparently one was too many.

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Read more at Smithsonian

More about: Anti-Semitism, Libyan Jewry, Mizrahi Jewry, Museums, Synagogues, Syrian Jewry

 

As Vladimir Putin Sidles Up to the Mullahs, the Threat to the U.S. and Israel Grows

On Tuesday, Russia launched an Iranian surveillance satellite into space, which the Islamic Republic will undoubtedly use to increase the precision of its military operations against its enemies. The launch is one of many indications that the longstanding alliance between Moscow and Tehran has been growing stronger and deeper since the Kremlin’s escalation in Ukraine in February. Nicholas Carl, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Katherine Lawlor write:

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi have spoken at least four times since the invasion began—more than either individual has engaged most other world leaders. Putin visited Tehran in July 2022, marking his first foreign travel outside the territory of the former Soviet Union since the war began. These interactions reflect a deepening and potentially more balanced relationship wherein Russia is no longer the dominant party. This partnership will likely challenge U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe.

Tehran has traditionally sought to purchase military technologies from Moscow rather than the inverse. The Kremlin fielding Iranian drones in Ukraine will showcase these platforms to other potential international buyers, further benefitting Iran. Furthermore, Russia has previously tried to limit Iranian influence in Syria but is now enabling its expansion.

Deepening Russo-Iranian ties will almost certainly threaten U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe. Iranian material support to Russia may help the Kremlin achieve some of its military objectives in Ukraine and eastern Europe. Russian support of Iran’s nascent military space program and air force could improve Iranian targeting and increase the threat it poses to the U.S. and its partners in the Middle East. Growing Iranian control and influence in Syria will enable the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [to use its forces in that country] to threaten U.S. military bases in the Middle East and our regional partners, such as Israel and Turkey, more effectively. Finally, Moscow and Tehran will likely leverage their deepening economic ties to mitigate U.S. sanctions.

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Read more at Critical Threats

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Russia, U.S. Security, Vladimir Putin