Algeria Jewish History and Culture

Source: JIMEMA– @ New York Jewish Guide.com

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The Jewish people have been present in Algeria since the destruction of the First Temple nearly 2,600 years ago. The first major transition in the Algerian Jewish population resulted from Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. This made for a considerable increase in the Jewish population in Algeria. Jews thrived as merchants and formed communities in port towns like Oran and Algiers. They were mostly able to conserve their Ladino language and flourished financially throughout the Ottoman period.

In 1830 the French attacked Algeria and began colonizing the region, eventually reconstructing the Ottoman Empire and putting an end to the mistreatment of Jews. By 1841 Algeria Jewish courts were abolished and French Jews were appointed as chief Rabbis and told to teach obedience to French laws and loyalty to France. Under pressure from the French Jewish community, in 1870 the French government granted Algerian Jews citizenship under the décrets Crémieux of 1870. Algerian Jews began to learn the French language, customs, and culture, primarily by enrolling in the French school system.

Prior to WWII in the late 1930’s, there were roughly 120,000 Jews living in Algeria. Provoked by events occurring in Nazi Germany, a group of Algerian Muslims rioted in 1934, killing 25 Jews and injuring many more. As a colony of France, the Jews of Algeria were subjected to the same Anti-Semitic Vichy policies as French Jews. During WWII, the French Vichy government cancelled the citizenship of Algerian Jews, forbade them from working in numerous professions, and confiscated Jewish property.

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In 1962 when Algeria gained independence, the government only granted citizenship to residents whose father or paternal grandfather were Muslims. Additionally, Algeria’s Supreme Court Justice announced that Jews were not protected under the law. No longer feeling safe and protected in their country, nearly 140,000 Algerian Jews immigrated to France, while smaller numbers fled to Israel, and to North and South America.

Between 1948 and present times, roughly 26,000 Algerian Jews immigrated to Israel. Although substantially diminished in size, the Jews in Algeria were again threatened in 1994 when the terrorist Armed Islamic Group stated its objective to eliminate the Jewish community from Algeria altogether. Even though no attacks were reported, the announcement caused many Jews to leave, abandoning the only remaining synagogue in the country. Today no Jews remain living in Algeria.

Culture

Jews have lived in Algeria for over 2,000 years, evolving into a community deeply shaped by Sephardic and French culture. In 1492 many high-profile Jewish refugees fled Spain to Algeria, bringing with them their Ladino language, Sephardic spiritual traditions, and a rich culinary culture that survives today. In 1830, as France colonized Algeria, most Jews clung tightly to their indigenous culture, yet by 1865, Jews were granted French citizenship and began adopting French culture as their own. Regardless of national affiliation, Algerian Jews have greatly contributed to the fields of music, philosophy, economics and film.

Mh- New York Jewish Guide.com

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