Algerian Jews Visit Former Home

Over 100 Algerian Jews returned to Paris last week from a 10-day pilgrimage to their former home. It is the first time since the European mass exodus from Algeria in 1962 that Jews have returned, even if only for a brief visit, to what is one of the most extremist Arab states.

The visit was organized by a Jewish organization of Jews from Oran which said the Algerian authorities “asked no questions” about the participants and “welcomed us all.” The Algerian government extended to the visitors all possible facilities and several of the Algerian Jews said upon their return that they were “surprised by the warm and even enthusiastic welcome” they received.

The Jews, most of whom stem from the province of Oran, spent most of their time at the tomb of Rabbi Ephraim Aln-Kaua in Tlemcen. They also visited Oran, Siddi El Abbes and other major cities. They said that the former Tlemcen synagogue had been converted into an Algerian cultural club after the Jewish mass exodus 16 years ago, but that the rabbi’s tomb has remained unchanged and seemed to be well taken care of. The Algerian authorities set up a temporary synagogue for the pilgrims in the city’s main hotel, “The Zianides,” where they also found a strictly kosher kitchen and accommodations.

The Jews said they were surprised by the warm welcome they received. They said upon their return to Paris that literally hundreds of their former Moslem neighbors showed up at the hotel in the hope of meeting former friends. “People kept inviting us to their homes and arranging festive meals and receptions for us. Dozens of Moslems walked with us up to the rabbi’s tomb to show their good sentiments and their friendship,” the pilgrims said.

Local Arabs said and kept repeating to the visitors: “We (the Arabs) even want peace with Israel. What more can you expect after (President Anwar) Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem? Now it is up to Israel to show its good will and peaceful intentions. As for us (Algerian Jews and Arabs) let us be brothers like in the old days.”

Most of the visitors said they were told that it Algerian Jews now living in Israel want to return on a visit to Algeria they will be allowed in, an condition that they travel with a collective passport delivered in France “so that we don’t have to know officially who they are–this is, until peace with Israel is signed.” Jews have traditionally been able to visit Tunisia and Morocco where many continue to operate businesses while officially living in France.

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