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(303 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Zawiya lies on the Mediterranean coast 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Tripoli, Libya. The town surrounds a Sufi compound (Ar. zāwiya) which became a commercial center for the region’s nomads.When the ancient Jewish community in nearby Sorman was destroyed in 1150 by the Almohads, the survivors settled in Zawiya, protected by local tribes. The community grew in the seventeenth century, but relations with the Muslims deteriorated in the late eighteenth century. The town’s Jews were prevented from building a new synagogue to replace the one, which had collapsed. A century lat…


(3,004 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The Arabic term kuttāb is the common designation for a traditional elementary school for boys. As such it was often also used by Jews in Islamic lands, although in some regions other terms were used: ṣlā (Mor. Jud.-Ar. synagogue) in Morocco, or knishta (Neo-Aram. by women) in Kurdistan, kanīs (also Yem. Jud.-Ar. knīs, or kenīs, synagogue or assembly), al-kanīs al-ẓighayreh (Yem. Jud.-Ar. little synagogue) in Yemen, maʿalma (Ar. place of learning), midrash (Afghanistan), molahi (Afghanistan), and ustādh (Ar. master) in Iraq. The term ḥeder (Heb.) came into use in Morocco in the…

Attal, Robert (Hatal, Avraham)

(565 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Robert Attal (1927–2011) was the librarian of the Ben-Zvi Institute, a bibliographer, and a scholar of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews. His collection of over 1,400 items, mostly in Judeo-Arabic, was acquired by the National Library of Israel. His publications include bibliographies on the Jewries of North Africa and Greece, and on Judeo-Arabic literature in Tunisia, as well as poetry, memoirs, and numerous articles on topics related to North African Jewry.Robert Attal (Avraham Hatal, 1927–2011) was the librarian of the Jerusalem-based Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study o…

Khalfon, Abraham

(345 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Rabbi Abraham Khalfon (1735–1819) was an author, poet, historian, and communal leader in Tripoli, Libya, who served twice as the head of the community (1778–1781 and 1792–1795). He had close relations with Rabbi Ḥayyim David Azulay (Rav Ḥida; 1724–1806), whom he visited in Livorno (Leghorn) in 1804–1805. In 1806, Khalfon moved to Safed, where he died.Khalfon’s many poems and eulogies include information about him and his contemporaries. Most of his writings are still in manuscript. The Hebrew poem Mi Kamokha (Who Is Like unto Thee?) describes the suffering in Tripoli durin…

Printing and Printers

(5,924 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Printing began in Germany in 1445. Hebrew letters and words were sometimes inserted in books printed in Latin script, but since printing was the exclusive right of Christian guilds, Jews could not engage in printing until it spread outside Germany. The first dated Hebrew book was printed in Italy in 1475. From there Hebrew printing spread to Spain and Portugal, and through Jews from those three countries to the Ottoman Empire and Morocco. In fact, Jewish printers of Hebrew books pioneered printing in the Islamic world. In some areas Hebrew printing was long the only pr…

Giado Concentration Camp

(387 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
On February 7, 1942, following the second British retreat from Libya to Egypt during World War II, Benito Mussolini, the leader of Italy, ordered the Jews living in Cyrenaica to be moved out of the war zone to prevent them from collaborating with the British. Between May and late October 1942, some twenty-six hundred were transferred in convoys of eight to ten trucks, traveling for five days, to an internment camp at Giado, an isolated military post enclosed by barbed-wire fences on the high plateau 235 kilometers (146 miles) south of Tripoli. Italians administer…


(399 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
 Misrata lies in a large palm oasis 220 kilometers (124 miles) east of Tripoli, Libya.  The town bears the name of a Berber tribe, the Miṣrāta (or Misrāta).  In modern times consisted of two quarters,  Matin, built in  the Ottoman period, and the older village of Yidder.   Its ancient Jewish community was persecuted in 1150 by the Almohad dynasty. The poet Abraham ibn Ezra asks God, in his elegy to the victims of the Almohads: “And the stricken community of Misrata hast Thou forgotten / Whose suffering was so great, and whose tongues are weary with lament…


(389 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Mislata (Mesallata, Qusabat) is 225 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Tripoli, Libya. It had an ancient Jewish community which was persecuted under the Almohad dynasty in 1150 and had to temporarily move to the island of Jerba (as mentioned in the addition to Ibn Ezra’s famous lament for communities that suffered under the Almohads). From then on the Jews kept their homes closed to foreign visitors during the first two days of Passover and the two days of the New Year. Following another tradition, Jewish men rode…

Nhaisi, Elia

(340 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Elia Nhaisi was a Tripolitanian photo-journalist and reporter for the Italian Jewish periodicals La Settimane Israelitica and Israel . In 1912, he established the first Zionist organization in Tripoli, Ora ve-Simḥa (Heb. Light and Joy), which was short-lived due to apathy, lack of support, personal rivalries, and fear of Italian government opposition. Rabbi Dario Disegni from Verona, who visited Tripoli in March 1914, supported Nhaisi and suggested that he focus on educational activities in order to promote Zionism. In June 1914, Nhaisi establishe…


(233 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Amrus, known as Sūq al-Jumʿa (Ar. Friday Market), is situated on the Mediterranean coast 6 kilometers (slightly less than 4 miles) northeast of Tripoli in Libya. According to tradition, Jews from Gharian settled in Amrus in the sixteenth century, followed by refugees from Tunis in the eighteenth. In the twentieth century somewhere between a thousand and fifteen hundred Jews lived in Amrus, most of whom were merchants, moneylenders, and blacksmiths providing agricultural equipment and services to…

Ecoles Franco-Israélites

(200 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The Ecoles Franco-Israélites were public schools for Jews established in 1916/17 by the education department of the French protectorate in Morocco, parallel to the Muslim state educational network, in order to develop a French-controlled school system and limit the influence of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. In 1921 there were twenty-seven EFI schools, which by 1926 had around five thousand students. By comparison the AIU had seventeen schools with 4,683  students. The EFI schools were tuition-free, placed no financial obligations …


(369 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Khoms (Ar. al-Khums), built by the Ottomans in 1871, is a port town on the Mediterranean coast of Libya 120 kilometers  (75 miles) east of Tripoli. Jews lived in nearby Leptis Magna (medieval Islamic Lebda) from the Roman period until the late twelfth century. Documents from the Cairo Geniza mention a number of people with the family name Lebdī. Jews returned to the area in the nineteenth century when Khoms became a center for processing esparto grass, used in the production of quality paper. Mainly under the management of Jews who moved there from Tripoli because of t…

Ben Yehuda Society

(259 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The Ben Yehuda Society for the promotion of spoken Hebrew, headed by Jacob Fargion and Sion Saul Adadi, was established in Tripoli, Libya, in 1931 by young Zionist men eager to read Hebrew periodicals from Palestine in order to deepen their knowledge of events there and in the Zionist world. Self-taught in modern Hebrew, they set out to make Hebrew the spoken language of the whole community. They started Hebrew courses for adults followed by afternoon classes for children in the Ha-Tiqva school; in both cases, classes were gender-based. The number of children increased from …


(294 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Zliten lies on the Mediterranean coast about 93 miles (150 kilometers) east of Tripoli, Libya. Little is known about the town’s Jewish community before the eighteenth century, but it numbered more than seven hundred in the twentieth. Most of the local Jews were craftsmen, peddlers, and small merchants, but there were a few wealthy traders and moneylenders. In the late nineteenth century Zliten’s Jews were involved in the processing and exporting of esparto grass for paper production.Zliten is famous for the Bu-Shayf synagogue, the focus of numerous miracle tales and a pilgri…

Jewish Journals in the Islamic World

(17,657 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
ADENAdenNiv Geʾulah; Hebrew; 1949; Organ of the Geʾulah emigrants’ camp.ALGERIAAlgiersAdziri; See: L’Israélite AlgérienAnnuaire du Judaïsme Nord-Africain; French; 1953; single issue; Informative publication of the Jewish Algerian Committee for Social Studies (single issue).L’Anticlérical Juif; French; 1898; monthly; Political monthly, edited by Henry Tubiana.L’Appel; French; 1947–1948; bimonthly; Political, social and literary independent.Bamaavak = Ba-Maʾavaq; French; 1950; single issue; Zionist journal of the Halutz “Dror” movement.Besorot Yisraʾel; See:…
Date: 2021-04-06

Jebel Nafusa

(1,281 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The oldest Jewish settlements in Libya were in Jebel Nafusa (Nafusa Mountain), also known as al-Jabal al-Gharbī (Ar. Western Mountain) and Adrar n Infusen (Ber.). The region extends some 170 kilometers (106 miles) southwest of Tripoli to the Tunisian border, and includes the areas around Yefren, Gharian, and Nalut. It is a mountainous desert plateau interspersed with deep valleys and fertile oases. Due to its rough terrain, governments located in the coastal areas historically found Jebel Nafusa…

Tripolitania Riots (1945 and 1948)

(667 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
From November 4 to 7, 1945 Arab mobs attacked the Jews of Tripoli and its environs in British-occupied Libya. The violence erupted one day after two days of anti-Zionist mass demonstrations and rioting in Egypt that began on November 2 (Balfour Declaration Day). Unlike the Egyptian disturbances, the Tripolitanian riots had no overt political coloration, although some of the provocateurs may have had political motivations. Security forces of the British Military Administration (1943-1951) were slow to intervene, and as a result 130 Jews were killed, hundreds more …

Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden

(470 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden (Heb. Ḥevrat ha-‛Ezra li-Yehude Germanya) was established in 1901 in Berlin to alleviate the cultural, social, and political conditions of Jews in the Levant and Eastern Europe. Its operations in the “Orient” (i.e., the Ottoman Empire and especially Palestine) ceased by the end of World War I, and it was officially dissolved in 1939. Its welfare activities centered on Russia and Romania, but some took place in Ottoman lands and the Balkans, mainly during the Balkan War (1912) and World War I.Most of the Hilfsverein’s educational operations cent…


(595 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Fezzan (Ar. Fazzān; Lat. Fasania/Fazania) is the southwestern region of Libya, covering some 700,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles), bordering Tripolitania on the north, Cyrenaica and Sudan on the east, the Tibesti massif of Chad on the south, and the Hoggar massif and the Grand Erg Oriental of Algeria on the west. It is mostly a desert with large sand dunes (ergs) and includes mountains, dry river valleys, and oases. It is crossed by Wadi al-Shati in the north, Wadi Irawan in the west…

Arbib family

(340 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
The Arbib family of Libya included wealthy communal leaders, public figures, entrepreneurs, industrialists, merchants, owners of real estate, publishers, and journalists, mainly in Tripoli, Zawiya, Tajura, Benghazi, and Barce, many of whom became Italian or British citizens under Ottoman rule (ending 1911). The Arbibs were active in introducing modern industry to Libya. In 1881, the family was the first to use a hydraulic press for processing esparto, a grass used in cordage, paper manufacture, and shoes. Eugenio Arbib (1847–1915) owned one of the four companies that pr…
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