web analytics
October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

My Gaza Roots

            January’s Operation Cast Lead, launched against Hamas terrorists in Gaza, was made necessary by the earlier unilateral withdrawal from Gaza when the entire Jewish community there was forcibly evicted by the Kadima government of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.
 
That attempt at appeasement has resulted in thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians inside the pre-1967 Israeli Green Line. When Jewish settlers were evicted, the Israeli government marketed the “deal” to the country by insisting over and over again that Gaza is not part of the Land of Israel and is devoid of Jewish roots and heritage.
 
There’s an old joke that has the Lone Ranger asking his sidekick Tonto, “How can we can escape this charge of attacking Sioux warriors?” Responded Tonto, “What do you mean we, paleface?”
 
Whenever I hear someone insisting that we Jews have no roots in Gaza, I am always tempted to respond similarly: “What do you mean we, paleface?”
 
My family has roots in Gaza. We were there a century ago.
 
OK, technically it is my wife’s family. I am married to the granddaughter of Nissim Ohana, the rabbi of Gaza City.
 
But let’s back up a bit here.
 
In Genesis, Gaza is explicitly listed as part of the Land of Israel promised to the Jews. It was conquered by the tribe of Judah during the era of the Judges, though it was later recaptured by the Philistines. It was captured again by the Jews during the time of the Maccabees, only to be seized by the Romans, who handed it over to King Herod.
 
Gaza had a small Jewish community during the era of the Talmud. A synagogue was erected near the Gaza waterfront in 508 CE. A survey of the town in 1481 found about 60 Jewish households there, many producing wine. Later, quite a few followers of Shabbtai Zvi lived there, including the famous Natan of Gaza. There was a thriving Jewish community in Gaza when Napoleon arrived in 1799 via Egypt, but a plague followed his troops and the Jews abandoned the city.
 
The modern Jewish community of Gaza got its start in 1885. The initiator of the community was Zeev Wissotzky, scion of the Wissotzky tea company (founded in 1849 in Moscow and still to this day Israel’s largest tea producer).
 
In 1907 a young rabbi named Nissim Ohana, educated in the Sephardic yeshivas of Old Jerusalem, arrived in Gaza. He set up a school in Gaza named Talmud Torah whose language of instruction was exclusively Hebrew, an unusual and controversial decision at the time.
 
           Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the initiator of the use of Hebrew as the language of communication in the pre-state yishuv, was so impressed that he paid the school a personal visit.
 
           In those days, Muslim-Jewish relations in Gaza were cordial, even warm. Rabbi Ohana maintained a close relationship with the local mufti, Sheikh Abdallah al-’Almi. The rabbi was well versed not only in Judaic sources but also in the Koran and the New Testament, and occasionally the mufti would consult with him concerning judicial questions arising in Islamic law.
 
The mufti was particularly worried at the time about the influence of Christian missionaries on local Muslims and he asked Rabbi Ohana for help in countering the missionaries’ claims. Later, Rabbi Ohana compiled his anti-missionary arguments in a book titled Know How to Respond to an Apikores, still one of the best such volumes.
 
When World War I broke out, the ruling Ottomans ordered all “foreigners” to leave their territories. Rabbi Ohana had a French passport (his father having been born in Algeria) and was forced to leave. Rabbi Ohana served for a while as the rabbi of Malta, then as rabbi at a small Syrian synagogue in Manhattan. He went on to head the rabbinical court in Cairo before moving to Haifa, after Israel became a state, to serve as chief Sephardic rabbi of Haifa.
 
The Gaza Jewish community was destroyed by rioting Arabs in 1929, with surviving Jews fleeing to other towns in what would become Israel. Jews returned to the area after the Six-Day War, but when Israel adopted the Oslo “peace process” as national policy, Gaza terrorism exploded and the Jews in the renewed Gaza communities faced mortal danger. Their actual eviction, however – the third ethnic cleansing of Gaza Jews in less than a century – was perpetrated by the government of Ariel Sharon, years after the collapse of Oslo.
 
But back to Rabbi Ohana of Gaza. In the early 1980s, one of his granddaughters met an American who was teaching at the Technion. Convinced that American men were far too goofy for her to have any romantic interest in any of them, she agreed to go on a date with him only so that she could tell him about her available single American girlfriend.
 
But she never got around to introducing the American to her girlfriend. And while her opinion about the goofiness of American men is undeniably correct, she married me anyway in 1985.
 

            One last strange twist: A grandson of the mufti of Gaza is today a leading Hamas terrorist, and has served as the Hamas representative in Damascus. Some of Rabbi Ohana’s grandchildren in Israel are in possession of manuscripts written by the mufti. It is their hope that once Hamas is finally defeated and peace is established, the manuscripts will be turned over to the descendents of the mufti, Rabbi Ohana’s close friend.

 

 

Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “My Gaza Roots”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with US President Barack Obama at the White House, Oct. 1, 2014.
Netanyahu, Obama Focus on Different Priorities in White House Talk
Latest Indepth Stories

There is not even a hint of recognition that Hamas deliberately fires rockets at civilian targets in Israel while storing arms and rocket launchers among its own civilians in Gaza.

No one with any sanity would dream of rationalizing or justifying the depredations perpetrated on the Arab world by ISIS.

With $2 billion on hand the Islamic State is an extremely well-funded terrorist group that may pose a major international crisis for the U.S. and the world. Learn about their rise to power and the toll they’ve taken thus far.

In the recent Gaza war and its aftermath, we saw a totally illogical reaction from the world.

A., a teacher: “I do not know a single Gazan who is pro-Hamas at the moment, except for those on its payroll.”

Is the global community clear in its response to these extremist groups?

Like our fabled character, Don Quixote, President Obama has constantly spawned his own reality.

Boroujerdi was informed that “the pressures and tortures will increase until he has been destroyed.”

Fatah: Hamas stole relief aid for Gaza and distributed it amongst its followers in mosques.

Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?

Washington remains ignorant of the need to dismantle alliances with various Muslim countries.

Defeating IS requires bombing its strongholds and recognizing the violent nature of Islam.

Abbas again used the UN to attack Israel, distort history, and undermine prospects for peace.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot even agree to move their clocks back on the same day.

More Articles from Steven Plaut
brant

“Jewish Voices for Peace,” a Hamas lobby created by Jewish anti-Semites.

The same by any name

The real enemy of Israel is not Arab fascism but Jewish leftism.

Neo-Nazis claim that Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is in fact a Mossad agent named Elliot Shimon

One grey night it happened, Bibi caved no more
& Poof that Foggy Bottomer, he vanished from our sight

It’s six K, five K, four K, Graft !
(Daylight come and da jail’s his new home)

In 2012, an initiative was begun in the Knesset led by David Rotem (from the Yisrael Beitenu party), to cut the stipends and pensions paid to convicted murderers and terrorists by 50 percent.

When the Temple was in existence, Jews were religiously obligated to eat roast meat at least once a year.

I have frequently drawn up lists of what I love most about Israel, and Arik Einstein has ranked high.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/my-gaza-roots/2009/05/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: