With roots going back to the 7th and 15th centuries, many Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition settled in Lebanon. By the early 1700s, more Jews who had earlier fled to North Africa and the Middle East followed and settled in Lebanon’s Shouf Mountains, according to British Historian Kristen Schultz. But in recent years, this small Jewish community has been decreasing even further, numbering less than a hundred. Once boasting a population as high as 14,000 in 1958, the number of Lebanese Jews has shrunk in the wake of conflict: the short-lived civil war of 1958, the 15-year 1975 war, as well as the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The fascination in the dwindling numbers within this community has especially enraptured news media. The late Liza Srour (she was identified by Liza Nahmoud in an article by Habib Battah for Al Jazeera), who passed away in 2014, was dubbed “the last Jew in Lebanon” in a recent article for Vice. Following the attacks on Jewish shops and homes in Beirut after the 1967 war, her family had emigrated to Cyprus in 1969 and later to Israel. Srour, 21 at the time, ran away from home to remain in Wadi Abu Jamil, where she would stay for the rest of her life, turning away offers from Israeli officers to travel back with them to Israel. Srour, who indeed was probably one of the last residents of Beirut’s Jewish Quarter, expressed no desire to leave: “I love Lebanon; my soul hangs in. I am Lebanese from my father and grandfather.” She described her reason for staying, telling Vice, “It was love, my heart… love.” Now, following her death, Lebanon’s Jewish population continues to grow smaller and smaller each year. Although Lebanon’s “last Jew” has passed on, her words remain: even if they aren’t visible, there are still Jews living in Lebanon, quietly and out of sight.
“Lebanese Jewry: Once Part of the Country’s Confessional Map, Now Vanished,” by Naomi Pham, is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 23, No. 77, 2019.
Copyright © 2019 by Al Jadid