A Newly Published List of Surnames Reveals the Diversity of Alexandria’s Vanished Jewish Community

June 24 2021

The Egyptian city of Alexandria was until the 20th century home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Diaspora—and for a long time one of the most important. Jews first settled there not long after it was founded by the Greeks under Alexander the Great in 332 BCE; by the beginning of the Common Era Jews comprised over a third of its population, making it likely the largest concentration of Jews anywhere. During the early medieval period Alexandrian Jewry experienced another efflorescence. Jacob Rosen, who once served as Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, has compiled a comprehensive list of Jewish surnames from the city. Benjamin Weinthal writes:

The former ambassador, who is fluent in Arabic, wrote: “The community in Alexandria grew from only a few thousand souls at the end of the 19th century to a vibrant community of approximately 40,000 members by the time it peaked in 1948.”

Some of the more famous Jews born in Alexandria include Haim Saban, the Israeli-American businessman; André Aciman, the professor of literature and novelist; and the Egyptian-French singer-songwriter Georges Moustaki (born Giuseppe Mustacchi).

A key source of information was the “ledger of circumcisions,” which contained more than 3,000 names. [It was kept by] the mohel, Maatuk Dabby [and] “details the name of the father, the maiden name of the mother, and the name of her father,” [wrote Rosen]. “Although he was not the only mohel in the city, he left a mine of vital data.”

Rosen’s list of over 1,000 surnames testifies to the diversity of Alexandrian Jewry, and includes typical North African and Levantine names like Abadi, Ben-Dahan, and Habib; those of probable European Sephardi origin like Gallico; Italian names like Ottolenghi; and Ashkenazi names like Abramovitch, Eisenberg, and Zimmerman.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Egypt, Jewish history, Mizrahim

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria