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Valensi, Alfred

(258 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Alfred Valensi, the founder of the first Zionist organization in Tunisia,was born in 1878 in Tunis. He studied law at the University of Montpellier in France, writing his thesis on French divorce law. Influenced while in school by Jeshua Bouchmil, he became a follower of Max Nordau, who worked with Theodor Herzl. After graduating from the university in 1905, Valensi returned to Tunis, where he founded  Agudat Ṣion, the first Zionist organization in Tunisia. He wrote an incisive defense of the Zionist movement in response to the criticisms of the French social reformer Alfred Naquetin   La …

Yoshevet Ṣiyyon Society (Tunis)

(247 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Founded in 1914,Yoshevet Ṣiyyon (Isaiah 12:6) was a Zionist organization that was active in Tunis. Jules Bonan, one of its founders, explained that its aims were to spread Hebrew studies by modern methods. The founders considered Yoshevet Ṣiyyon to be ideologically affiliated to Mizrachi, the Religious Zionist party. They founded it after splitting off from the Agudat Ṣiyyon society, the first Zionist organization in Tunis, founded three years earlier. The main difference between the two organizations had to do with religion. In the view of the found…

Perez, Victor (“Young Perez”)

(268 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Victor Perez was a Jewish boxer who won the world flyweight championship in 1931 at the age of twenty-one, becoming the first Jewish fighter from North Africa to win a world title. Born in 1911 in Tunis, where he boxed as an amateur,  he moved to France and became a professional boxer under the name “Young Perez,” to distinguish him from his brother  Benjamin, also a boxer, who was known as “Kid Perez.” He fought his first professional match on February 4, 1928, against an Italian fighter whom he beat by only a few points. His first title win was the French…

Matmata

(428 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Matmata (Ar.-Berb. Māṭmāṭa), is the name of a Berber tribe and a mountainous region in southeastern Tunisia. It is also the name of a mountain town in the region that is distinguished by its underground (troglodyte) dwelling caves. The architecture of each house is the same: a large sunken courtyard in the center, surrounded by rooms opening into it (a Matmatan hotel of this type in nearby Tataouine was made famous as Luke Skywalker’s home in the motion picture Star Wars). The village of Matmata is situated in the hills at the eastern edge of the Sahara desert. After they o…

Monastir (Tunisia)

(420 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Monastir (Ar. al-Munastīr) is a small coastal town on the Gulf of Hammamet about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) south of Sousse. Known in antiquity as Ruspina, Monastir, like many of the port towns on the Tunisian coast, was originally a Punic–Roman city upon whose ruins the medieval and modern cities were built. The Romanian Jewish traveler Benjamin II (J. J. Benjamin), who visited Tunisia in 1853 to 1854, mentioned Monastir as a having a Jewish community, but he did not visit the town. Under the French protectorate (1881–1956), Monastir remained a …

Tunis Riots (1967)

(517 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
The riots in Tunis at the beginning of June 1967 were a reaction to the Six-Day War in the Middle East. They were a turning point in the history of the Tunisian Jewish community. A major consequence of the unrest was that most of the Jews who had remained after Tunisian independence in 1956 left the country. Just before noon, on June 5, 1967, a Muslim mob set the British Library in Tunis afire. That afternoon the mob moved on to the American Library, the offices of Trans World Airlines (TWA), and the American embassy. After that, the mob began to attack Jewish property, mainly automobil…

Comité de Recrutement de la Main-d'Oeuvre Juive

(336 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
The Comité de Recrutement de la Main-d’Oeuvre Juive (Committee for the Recruitment of Jewish Manpower) was established by the Jewish leadership in Tunisia during the German occupation (November 1942–May 1943). Since it was responsible for all aspects of recruiting and organizing a labor force in accordance with German demands, its function was somewhat parallel to that of the  Judenrat in Central and Eastern Europe. The members of the committee were Paul Ghez, Léon Moatti, George Krief, and Victor Bismut. The committee had a secretariat, a recruiting office (which…

Tunisia

(7,943 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Tunisia, located on the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, lies between the modern-day nations of Algeria and Libya. The northern part of the country, between the Atlas Mountains to the west, which rise to nearly 800 meters (2,625 feet), and the sea to the north and east, is semi-arid, but rather fertile. The northern region boasts important agricultural areas, such as Cap Bon and the Medjerda Valley, famed for its grain and olive oil. The southern part of Tunisia is more arid and dominate…

Tozeur

(370 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Tozeur (Ar. Tūzar) is an oasis town in southwestern Tunisia near the Algerian frontier and the great salt flat, the Shaṭṭ al-Jarīd. It is a fertile oasis well known for its palm trees and agricultural produce. Since ancient times, Tozeur has been a way station for caravans on the road from the Tunisian coast to the Sahara desert. The beginning of the Jewish community in Tozeuris not known, but there were Jews living in the region in ancient times, as well as in the early Islamic period, and some of the local Muslim population (the  Awlād al-Hādif) claimed Jewish origin. Reference is also …

Sports, Jews in (Tunisia)

(506 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Jewish sports activities in Tunisia began during the French Protectorate period (1881–1956). For many Jews, athletic activities and organized sports were an expression of modernity and of assimilating European influence. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Tunisian Jewish athletes were at the pinnacle of achievement. They competed successfully not just in Tunisia, but throughout North Africa and in Europe.       The participation of Tunisian Jews in sports was the result of several influences. Most important, perhaps, the French protectorate regime, though its D…

Brami, Joseph

(283 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Joseph Brami was born in the Jewish quarter (Ar. ḥārat al-yahūd) of Tunis in 1888. He was an outstanding student at Solomon Dana’s yeshiva Ḥevrat Limmud ha-Talmud (Association for the Teaching of the Talmud), but at the same time attended the Alliance Israélite Universelle school and learned French. Thus, he was exposed to French culture and at the same time led a traditional Jewish life. Brami became a teacher of Hebrew in Tunis, giving lessons to groups or at the Zionist club, and tutoring privately outside Tunis. He was, in addition, a correspondent for Haṣefira( Hazefira), a Haskala …

Djedeïda, Ferme-École de

(383 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Established by the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) in 1895, the Ferme-École de Djédeïda, 21 kilometers (13 miles) northwest of Tunis, was an agricultural school for boys. The goal of the school was to teach farming to Jewish urban youth from the Mediterranean countries, a venture embodying the AIU ideology that a “return to the soil” was central to the “regeneration” of the Jewish people. The AIU’s first agricultural school, Mikve Israel near Jaffa, was established in 1870. It had other farm s…

Maarek, Henri

(269 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Henri Maarek was born in Tunis in 1893. His father, Messod(1861–1941), was one of the best and most talented modern Hebrew scholars of the Tunisian Haskala (Hebrew Enlightenment) and the editor of the Judeo-Arabic newspapers al-Bustān (1888–1906) and al-Naḥla (1892–1895). Maarek was educated at a kuttāb (Jewish elementary school), the Alliance Israélite Universelle school, and a yeshiva. Upon completing his education, he became a teacher in the Alliance school. Between 1930 and 1934, Maarek was a member of a committee charged with improving education in the Jewis…

Taïeb, Zizi

(156 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Zizi (Léon Youda) Taïeb was one of Tunisia’s finest Jewish competitive swimmers. Born in Tunis on September 19, 1916, he belonged to the Maccabi sports club. He swam all styles—butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, crawl—and during the 1930s and 1940s participated in almost every swimming competition held in Tunisia and North Africa. His most outstanding achievement was his 1934 victory in the 100-meter crawl to become the champion of France. He qualified for the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the 400-meter freestyle.  His coach in Tunisia was the famous Henry Schaeffer. Taïeb’s brother, Gi…

Cohen-Hadria, Victor

(370 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Victor Cohen-Hadria was born in Tunis in 1891. His father, a native Tunisian who worked as a bank clerk and later as an olive oil merchant, died in 1901. His mother was a French citizen born in Algeria. Cohen-Hadria was educated at the Lycée Carnot in Tunis and then went to France to study law in Aix-en-Provence. After graduation he was employed as a clerk in an attorney’s office, and worked nights at a newspaper to help support his family. Cohen-Hadria became a famous lawyer and very early in his career was made a judge ( juge de paix). He also taught at the Centre d’études de droit de Tunis, mai…

Ghez, Paul

(329 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Paul Ghez was born in Sousse, Tunisia, in 1898. At the age of eighteen, he was wounded while serving as a volunteer in a French artillery unit during World War I. After studying law in France, he became a lawyer and joined the group around La Justice , a newspaper that supported the assimilation of Tunisian Jews into French culture. He was also a member of the Jewish council and head of the veteran’s organization Les Anciens Combattants. Ghez volunteered again for the French army during World War II. From 1942 to 1943, when Tunisia was occupied by the Nazis, he was the chairman of the Comité de Recr…

Cohen-Hadria, Elie

(423 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Elie Cohen-Hadria was born in Tunis in 1898, but in 1921 was granted French citizenship because his mother, although born in Algeria, was a French citizen. He was educated in France and studied medicine in Lyons, specializing in the treatment of skin diseases. In 1924 he returned to Tunisia where, in addition to practicing medicine, he joined the Freemasons and became politically active. Elected secretary-general of the Tunisian Fédération Socialiste (SFIO), he served the party from the 1920s until Tunisian independence in 1956. He was also a columnist for the journal Tunis Socialiste.…

Béja

(414 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Béja (Ar. Bāja) is a town in the north of Tunisia about 97 kilometers (60 miles) west of Tunis in the fertile Medjerda Valley.  In ancient times, it was the site of a Roman colony called Vaga, and was the central wheat-growing region and breadbasket of Tunisia; hence its appellation throughout the medieval period was Bājat al-Qamḥ (Ar. Béja of Grain).  In the modern period, the French built a new residential quarter for French settlers who worked on large farms in the area.             Jews likely first came to the town in the seventeenth century, mostly from Algeria. One of t…

Gafsa

(931 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Gafsa(Ar. Qafsa) is a small town on the site of Roman Capsa in southwestern Tunisia. It is situated to the north of the seasonal salt lake Chott el-Djerid on the eastern edge of the Sahara Desert, 360 kilometers (224 miles) southwest of Tunis. Gafsa derived its importance from its strategic location as a stopping place for merchants and caravans on the route between the Mediterranean ports and trans-Saharan trading posts and also from its date palm cultivation. The town’s fortifications were able to withstand attacks by Saharan tribes. Today, the area surrounding Gafsa…

Saadoun, Yaakov

(242 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Yaakov Saadoun, the son of a shoemaker, was born in 1928 in the Tunisian city of Sfax, where his family lived in Picvill, a new quarter built by the French. Saadoun attended the Alliance Israélite Universelle school until World War II, then went on to a French commercial school and became a clerk in a shipping company. Deeply affected by the German occupation of Sfax (November 1942 to April 1943), he joined  Tséiré Ohavé Tsion (Heb. Ṣeʿire Ohave Ṣiyyon), a local Zionist organization, when he was eighteen. He soon became one of its leaders and the editor of its newsp…
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