The Rise of a Levantine Community, 1860s-1930s
1 Jewish Communities in Levantine Port Cities 23
CHAPTER ONE Jewish Communities in Levantine Port Cities During the course of the nineteenth century, Beirut transformed from a small insignificant town into not only the most important port city on the Syrian coast but also a major commercial center in the eastern Mediterranean. A decade of enlightened Egyptian rule (1831–1841), a concentration of an increasing number of foreign consulates, an ex- pansion of commercial activity in the eastern Mediterranean, and, af- ter 1888, its position as the administrative center all contributed to Beirut’s revival.1 As a consequence, thousands of people from the eastern Mediterranean, particularly from Mount Lebanon and the Syr- ian interior, migrated to the city which offered security, economic, and educational opportunities. Among the many migrants, Beirut attracted numerous Jews from across the region. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, approx- imately one hundred Jews lived in Beirut. By 1920, their number had swelled to thirty-five hundred. As I will demonstrate in Chapter Three, the expanding community necessitated the creation and organ- ization of new institutions. Prior to the nineteenth century, Beirut had a meager Jewish population, unlike that of Izmir. The community or- ganized itself largely between 1908 and 1918. It continued to benefit from Beirut’s growth under the French Mandate, which contributed greatly to the shaping of a service-based economy in Lebanon.2 In sum, the growth and organization of Beirut’s Jewish community proved closely linked to the city’s rise during the mid-nineteenth cen- tury and until the period of the French Mandate. However,...
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