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The Jews of Beirut

The Rise of a Levantine Community, 1860s-1930s


Tomer Levi

The Jews of Beirut: The Rise of a Levantine Community, 1860s-1930s is the first study to investigate the emergence of an organized and vibrant Jewish community in Beirut in the late Ottoman and French period. Viewed in the context of port city revival, the author explores how and why the Jewish community changed during this time in its social cohesion, organizational structure, and ideological affiliations. Tomer Levi defines the Jewish community as a «Levantine» creation of late-nineteenth-century port city revival, characterized by cultural and social diversity, centralized administration, efficient organization, and a merchant class engaged in commerce and philanthropy. In addition, the author shows how the position of the Jewish community in the unique multi-community structure of Lebanese society affected internal developments within the Jewish community.


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2 The Rise of Beirut’s Jewish Community 71


CHAPTER TWO The Rise of Beirut’s Jewish Community In 1879, Sydney Montagu Samuel, a Jewish British author and com- munal worker, journeyed to the Levant to explore the moral and physical condition of the Jews. He recounted the results of this voyage in his book, Jewish Life in the East.1 Samuel’s account of the Jews of Bei- rut begins with his impressions of the journey from Jaffa to Beirut and his arrival in the city. Next, he mentions in passing the existence of a synagogue and comments that many Beiruti Jews are well-to-do and the rich have synagogues in their houses. He then introduces the focal point of his account: “Of educational or other institutions, for the gen- eral poor, there are none, but the well-directed efforts in the cause of education of Mr. Zaki Cohen deserve more than a passing notice.”2 Indeed, the rest of Samuel’s account, some two pages, describes Co- hen’s boarding school—Tiferet Israel (The Glory of Israel). Forty years later, in February 1919, two Jewish emissaries made a similar trip from Palestine to Beirut. Like Sydney Montagu Samuel, they also came to learn about the condition of the local Jews. Unlike the private journey of Samuel, the Zionist Committee in Palestine sent the two men, Ben-Tsion Uziel and Jack Mosseri,3 on this trip. Uziel and Mosseri’s account is slightly longer than that of Samuel, but its content is markedly different. It begins with an itinerary of their visit: In the afternoon we had...

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