My philanthropically-inclined Citizens! We interrupt My regularly-scheduled travelogue of recipes to share an urgent plea of assistance for the decimated city of Derna, Libya! I am certain you have been reading the horrific news surrounding a tragedy of EPIC proportions, one where tens of thousands of people drowned in an instant. I will not place blame or point fingers – many others are doing that already for Me – but today’s recipe for Libyan Jewish stuffed cabbage is in honor of both Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) and Libya itself!
This (excerpted) article from Reuters sums the tragedy up succinctly:
DERNA, Libya, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Sabreen Blil was on her hands and knees atop the rubble of her brother’s house, the wind beating at her black robe as she clawed with her bare hands at the flattened masonry in hope of somehow digging to the family buried below.
She recited their names as she wept.
“Taym, Yazan, Luqman, Salmah, Tumador, Hakim and his wife. Oh my God. My family, where are you?” she wailed. “Oh God. Even just one – my God – just let me find even one body.” A week after the flood that swept the centre of the Libyan city of Derna into the sea, families are still coping with the unbearable losses of their dead – and haunted by the unknown fates of the missing.
The centre of Derna is a wasteland, with stray dogs standing listlessly on muddy mounds where buildings once stood. Other buildings still somehow stand precariously above bottom floors that were mostly washed away. The legs of a store mannequin in dusty trousers stick out of the rubble in a ruined shopfront.
Dams above the city burst in a storm a week ago that sent a huge torrent down a seasonal riverbed running through the centre of the Mediterranean city of 120,000 people.
Thousands are dead and thousands more missing. Officials using different methodologies have given widely varying figures of the tolls so far; the mayor estimates over 20,000 people were lost. The World Health Organization has confirmed 3,922 deaths.
A total of 283 bodies have been recovered from the sea since searches began and there are many left to find, a search team source told Reuters on Monday. But the teams are increasingly finding only parts of bodies as they disintegrate.
The people of this decimated city need ALL the help they can get right now – and I do NOT recommend sending money to major charities like the Red Cross – your money will never reach the recipients, it will just go to the Charity’s overhead. Instead, I recommend small, reputable charities with “feet on the street” who will ensure the money reaches those most in need and not use it to pay some executive’s salary. This charity passes my “sniff test” and I hope you will give generously!
This recipe serves a dual purpose – not only to draw attention to the suffering of the Libyan people, but also to serve as my Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) recipe! You may not be aware that Libya has – or rather, HAD – an ancient and thriving Jewish population for thousands of years. Today, there are the grand total of…
The history of the Jews in Libya stretches back to the 3rd century BCE, when Cyrenaica was under Greek rule. The Jewish population of Libya, a part of the Sephardi-Maghrebi Jewish community continued to populate the area continuously until the modern times. During World War II, Libya’s Jewish population was subjected to antisemitic laws by the Fascist Italian regime and deportations by Nazi German troops.
After the war, anti-Jewish violence caused many Jews to leave the country, principally for Israel, though significant numbers moved to Italy and North America. Under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled the country from 1969 to 2011, the situation deteriorated further, eventually leading to the emigration of the remaining Jewish population. The last Jew in Libya, 80-year-old Rina Debach, left the country in 2003.
The oldest trace of a Jewish existence in Libya appears in Sirte, which some archaeological surveys made on the “Barion” region there dated its synagogue to the 10th century BCE, during King Solomon’s reign.
Major Jewish settlement of Libya took place in the 4th century BCE. Ptolemaic Egypt had gained a large Jewish population after Ptolemy I Soter’s invasion of Judea, during which many Jews were carried off as war captives before later being freed, as well as voluntary Jewish emigration to Egypt for economic reasons and Ptolemy’s tolerant policies which followed afterward. In 312 BCE, Ptolemy settled many Jews in Cyrenaica to strengthen his kingdom.
There is evidence of Jews living in Benghazi from 13 BCE. They were considered citizens, but were ruled by a Jewish archon unlike the rest of the Jews in that area. In 146 BCE inscriptions found at Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya, give details about wealthy, well established and organized Jewish communities.
During the Greco-Roman period, Libya corresponded approximately with Cyrene and the territory belonging to it. Jews lived there, including many that moved there from Egypt; Augustus granted Cyrene’s Jewish population certain privileges through Flavius, the governor of the province. At the time, they maintained close contact with the Jews in Jerusalem.
In 73 CE, during the First Jewish–Roman War in Judea, there was also a revolt by the Jewish community in Cyrene led by Jonathan the Weaver, which was quickly suppressed by the governor Catullus. Jonathan was denounced to the governor of Pentapolis. In vengeance, the Romans killed him and many wealthy Jews in Cyrene.
Several Libyan Jews from around this period are known today, such as Jason of Cyrene, whose work is the source of the Second Book of Maccabees, and Simon of Cyrene, who is believed to have carried the cross of Jesus as he was taken to his crucifixion. In 115 CE, another Jewish revolt, known as Kitos War, broke out not only in Cyrene, but also in Egypt and Cyprus.
According to Jewish tradition, after the Bar-Kokhba revolt of 132-135 AD, the Romans deported twelve boatloads of Jews from Judea to Cyrenaica. Approximately half a million Jews are thought to have already been living there at the time. Most lived in farming villages while those by the sea were often sailors. Many others were potters, stonemasons, weavers, and merchants.
The Spaniards, who conquered Libya in 1510 and held it for a brief period, drove some of the Jews to the mountain areas of Gharian and Tajura. Others were taken as prisoners and tortured under the laws of the inquisition, whilst others were taken to Naples and sold as slaves. During the Ottoman period, Jewish families from Tripoli were attracted to Benghazi. This period gave new life and impetus to the Libyan Jewish community.
In 1745 epidemics and poverty drove out the inhabitants, but around 1,750 members of the previous Jewish community returned and reconstructed the community, which began to flourish with the arrival of Jewish families from Italy. In the 18th and 19th centuries Benghazi had 400 Jewish families divided into two groups, those of the town and the surrounding region and those who were born in Tripoli and Italy, they both recognized the authority of one rabbi, but each had its own synagogue.
The Muslim brotherhood of the Sanusiya was well-disposed toward the Jews of Benghazi, appreciating their economic-mercantile contributions and their peaceful attitude. The community enjoyed a complete freedom, and were not forced to live in a special quarter. Because of their commercial activity the town became an important trading center for Europe and Africa.
In 1903, the records of the Alliance Israelite Universelle show 14,000 Jews living in Tripoli and 2,000 in Benghazi. In comparison to Zionist activities in other Arab countries, Zionism started early in Libya and was extensive, it followed by many activities such as exchanging of letters concerning Zionism matters between Benghazi and Tripoli during the period 1900–1904.
In 1911, Libya was colonized by Italy. By 1931, there were 21,000 Jews living in the country (4% of the total population of 550,000), mostly in Tripoli. The situation for the Jews was generally good. But, in the late 1939, the Fascist Italian regime began passing anti-Semitic laws.
Data from 1931 indicates that spoken Italian was relatively widespread across the Jewish population. In Benghazi, 67.1 percent of Jewish men and 40.8 percent of Jewish women spoke Italian, compared to 34.5 percent of Arab males and 1.6 percent of females. In the late 1930s, Fascist anti-Jewish laws were gradually enforced, and Jews were subject to terrible repression.
Until 1936, life under Italian rule proceeded peacefully for the Jews. In 1936, however, the Italians began to enforce fascist legislation, aimed at modernizing social and economic structures, based on conditions current in Italy. With the implementation of anti-Jewish racial legislation in late 1938, Jews were removed from municipal councils, public offices, and state schools and their papers stamped with the words “Jewish race.”
German influence in Libya had been felt since 1938. However, Germany’s direct involvement in the colonial authorities’ affairs and management did not completely materialize until 1941. It was only when Italy entered the war in 1940 that Libya became subjected to direct Fascist-Nazi collaboration and “Nazi-Style” deportations.
Despite this repression, 25% of the population of Tripoli was still Jewish in 1941 and 44 synagogues were maintained in the city. In 1942, German troops fighting the Allies in North Africa occupied the Jewish quarter of Benghazi, plundering shops and deporting more than 2,000 Jews across the desert. Sent to work in labor camps, more than one-fifth of this group of Jews perished. Jews were concentrated in the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, with small communities in Bayda and Misrata.
The worst experience for Libyan Jews in the war was the internment of Cyrenaican Jews in Giado, a concentration camp located 235 kilometers from Tripoli. In January 1942, the Italian authorities began to apply Mussolini’s “Sfollamento” (evacuation) order to Libyan Jews. Mussolini ordered the Jews of Benghazi, Derna, Tobruk, Barce, Susa and other towns in the region to be sent to a concentration camp in Gharian in retaliation.
An eyewitness described these horrifying moments: “In the synagogue they started hanging up lists every day of 20-30 families that had to leave…They took Jews from Benghazi and from the vicinity: Derna, Brace, Tobruk…The journey took five days. We travelled about 2,000 km. from Benghazi to Giado. They took us like animals to the slaughter house. Forty people in each truck and each truck had two Italian policemen. They took only Jews. According to the rumor it was the Germans who gave the order”.
In June 1942, the execution of Mussolini’s orders was completed and all Cyrenaican Jews were transferred to Giado. The living conditions in the camp were deplorable, bringing about infection and illness and, consequently, plagues that killed numerous people in the camp. They were buried on a valley nearby that used to be a burial place of Jews hundreds of years ago.
In addition to the camp’s poor conditions, the behavior of the Italian officers did not spare any type of humiliation, oppression and abuse especially on Friday nights when the Maresciallo patrolled the buildings and saw the special food of the Sabbath, he used to kick it and spill it on the floor or urinate on it and thus a few families remained without food for the whole Sabbath.
On January 24, 1943, the British liberated the camp and immediately undertook emergency measures to control the plague of typhus and lice that already killed 562 of its inhabitants. The British military decided to evacuate Giado between the spring and summer of 1943.
The Jews were first evacuated from the camp to better housing in the vicinity, to receive medical care and be properly fed. Then gradually each week, a number of families was selected to be put on trucks and sent back to their homes. The expenses for transport of these Jews back to Cyrenaica and the initial assistance were financed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Upon the establishment of British rule on January 23, 1943, the Jewish community was in a deplorable economic, social and psychological state. The demeaning effects of the Italian racial laws, war and concentration camps took a heavy toll on the Jewish community. The British also boosted the spirits of the Jews with promises to repatriate them to their homes in Benghazi, and giving them the chance to rehabilitate their lives.
Some of the worst anti-Jewish violence occurred in the years following the liberation of North Africa by Allied troops. From 5 to 7 November 1945, more than 140 Jews were killed and many more injured in a pogrom in Tripolitania.
The rioters looted nearly all of the city’s synagogues and destroyed five of them, along with hundreds of homes and businesses. In June 1948, anti-Jewish rioters killed another 12 Jews and destroyed 280 Jewish homes. This time, however, the Libyan Jewish community had prepared to defend itself. Jewish self-defense units fought back against the rioters, preventing more deaths.
Both in November 1945 and June 1948 the Jews of Benghazi did not suffer anti-Jewish pogroms at the hands of Arabs similar to the Jews of Tripoli, though small-scale incidents did occur. Thus, several Jews were beaten up in mid-June 1948, a shop was looted, and a fire broke out in a synagogue, but the local police introduced order and there was no need for the British Army to intervene.
Once emigration to Israel was permitted in early 1949, the majority of the community of 2,500 Jews in Benghazi emigrated to Israel through the end of 1951. The general environment during the years after the emigration to Israel, was generally positive, no special events, riots or pogrom occurred during this period between 1949 and 1967 and it estimated that 200 Jews lived in Benghazi during that time.
In the late 1940s, some 40,000 Jews lived in Libya. The Libyan Jewish community suffered great insecurity during this period. The founding of Israel in 1948, as well as Libya’s independence from Italy in 1951 and subsequent admission into the Arab League, led many Jews to emigrate. From 1948 to 1951, and especially after emigration became legal in 1949, 30,972 Jews moved to Israel.
On 31 December 1958, the Jewish Community Council was dissolved by law. In 1961, a new law was passed requiring a special permit to prove true Libyan citizenship, which was, however, denied to all but six Jewish inhabitants of the country. Additional laws were enacted allowing the seizure of property and assets of Libyan Jews who had immigrated to Israel.
By 1967, the Jewish population of Libya had decreased to 7,000. After the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours, Libyan Jews were once again the target of anti-Jewish riots. During these attacks, rioters killed 18 people and more were injured.
Leaders of the Jewish community then asked King Idris I to allow the entire Jewish population to “temporarily” leave the country; he consented, even urging them to leave. Through an airlift and the aid of several ships, the Italian Navy helped evacuate more than 6,000 Jews to Rome in one month. A few scores of Jews remained in Libya.
The evacuees were forced to leave their homes, their businesses and most of their possessions behind. Of those evacuated to Italy, about 1,300 immigrated to Israel, 2,200 stayed in Italy, and most of the rest went to the United States. The Libyan Jews who remained in Italy primarily stayed in Rome, becoming an influential part of the local Jewish community.
By the time Colonel Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969, roughly 100 Jews remained in Libya. Under his rule, all Jewish property was confiscated, and all debts to Jews were cancelled. In 1970, the Libyan government declared the Day of Revenge, which celebrated the expulsion of Jews and Italians from Libya, a national holiday. Despite emigration being prohibited, most of the remaining Jews succeeded in escaping the country and by 1974, only 20 Jews remained in Libya.
In 2002, the last known Jew in Libya, Esmeralda Meghnagi, died. In the same year, however, it was discovered that Rina Debach, a then 80-year-old Jewish woman who was born and raised in Tripoli but thought to be dead by her family in Rome, was still living in a nursing home in the country. With her ensuing departure for Rome, there were no more Jews in the country.
In 2004, Gaddafi indicated that the Libyan government would compensate Jews who were forced to leave the country and stripped of their possessions. In October of that year he met with representatives of Jewish organizations to discuss compensation.
He did, however, insist that Jews who moved to Israel would not be compensated. Some suspected these moves were motivated by his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was considered to be the likely successor of his father. In the same year, Saif had invited Libyan Jews living in Israel back to Libya, saying that they are Libyans, and that they should “leave the land they took from the Palestinians.”
On 9 December, Gaddafi also extended an invitation to Moshe Kahlon, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and son of Libyan immigrants, to Tripoli, purportedly to discuss Jewish property in Libya. In 2010, it was claimed that Gaddafi had Jewish ancestry. Two Israeli women of Libyan-Jewish origin, a grandmother and granddaughter, came forward claiming to be relatives of Gaddafi.
The grandmother claimed to be Gaddafi’s second cousin. According to her, her grandmother had a sister who was married to a Jewish man, but ran away after he mistreated her, then converted to Islam and married Gaddafi’s grandfather, a Muslim sheikh. The daughter of this marriage was Gaddafi’s mother.
In 2011, elements opposed to Gaddafi demonstrated a distinct divide in their stance toward Libyan Jews. NBC News correspondent Richard Engel, covering the conflict, estimated that as many as one in five of the rebel fighters had taken up arms against Gaddafi out of the belief that the Libyan strongman was secretly Jewish.
However, National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil invited Libyan Jewish representative David Gerbi to meet with him after the World Organization of Libyan Jews designated him the group’s official delegate to the governing body. Gerbi was reportedly warmly received by Berber rebels in the Nafusa Mountains in August 2011, and an Amazigh NTC official was quoted as saying, “We want to create closer relations between Muslims and Jews. Without Jews we will never be a strong country.”
On 1 October 2011, Gerbi returned to Tripoli after 44 years of exile. With the help of a U.S. security contractor and the permission of NTC fighters and three local sheikhs, Gerbi hammered down a brick wall erected to block the entrance to the city’s historic Dar Bishi Synagogue. He declared it a “historic day” for Libya and told the crowd gathered there, “This is for all those who suffered under Gaddafi.”
However, some residents remained wary of Gerbi’s intentions and were quoted by a CNN reporter as expressing distrust for Jews. Gerbi’s work on the synagogue ended abruptly after two days when the terms of permission fell into dispute.
As you can see – the entirety of the Jewish population in Libya is extinct and virtually all Libyan Jews today live in Israel, Italy and the United States – an ignoble end to thousands of years of history. Mercifully, the Libyan Jews are thriving in exile and their cuisine is enjoyed throughout Israel today, including this delicious stuffed cabbage recipe that is VERY different from the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) stuffed cabbage tradition exemplified by the recipe handed down to Me from My grandmother Sylvia of blessed memory.
Abraq kronb malfuf (spicy stuffed cabbage) is very popular throughout North African and the Middle East, with each country having a different riff on the baseline recipe. The Libyan version is well-spiced with bzaar, the classic Libyan spice blend that I have raised to new heights of glory thanks to the spicing sorcery that is MINE ALONE to command! :D. I have also combined it with bokharat, Libyan 7-spice blend to give transcendence to My specific version of this unique flavoring blend! It is INDEED a lavish version of the classic recipe!
It is traditionally served alongside makmoura, a spiced vegetable blend, and bread and uses a wide range of spices and ingredients (many of which you already have!). The ones you may not include mahlab, dried spearmint leaves, my preferred brand of rosewater, pomegranate molasses, and peppadew peppers (an optional but delicious addition to the recipe courtesy of TFD!).
This is not a simple recipe to make, My Citizens – but it is GLORIOUS and well worth the effort you’ll put into it, I assure you! The surprising addition of a healthy amount of dill gives this a hybrid Eastern European / Middle East vibe (the dill is quite traditional in this recipe, never fear!) that i find both compelling and addicting! Few dishes are more crave-worthy at an Arab or Jewish meal and I hope that this dish serves as a reminder of peaceful co-existence that ALL of us need to take to heart!
My Citizens – I wish you shana tova (Happy New Year!) and ask that you please remember the suffering people of Libya. While the Libyans in recent memory have ill-treated the Jews of their homeland, this does not mean an ‘eye for an eye’ – it means all of us must rise to the occasion and show why the Jews remain a chosen people amongst the nations and proud to remain a light unto the world!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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