BENEDETTO: I was an orphan at about 3 years of age. My mother died early, died of childbirth of my younger brother. My brothers were older than I. I went to Italian schools, finished schools, Italian schools, we lived in a section outside the center, outside the Hara, we lived near the Military Hospital of Tripoli. We did not live in the Hara. We had the synagogue of the [H]grandfather [I] of my father, Slat dal Kushana, [A]in the big Hara. [I] My father, may he rest in peace, used to take us to synagogue Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur because it was far, 4 kilometers each way, Kippur you could not go by car so 8 kilometers was difficult, in our section there were no synagogues; thus we learned only in Italian schools.
Interviewer: Were the schools mixed, Arabs, Jews...
BENEDETTO: No, no, the Italian school was not mixed, there were no Arabs just Jews and Catholics. Just outside of the city there was a school called Scuola Trieste we went there but to learn they wanted to force us to go to school on Saturday and my father said no. To the Pietro Verri in the center of the Hara, so everyday I used to go from the neighborhood of Porto Veneto till the Hara to learn and at noon, when school was over, I went to my aunt, my mother's sister, who almost raised me, (I apologize, I had an accident so it is difficult for me to speak) [we paused to put the microphone on].
Interviewer: Why did you not move closer to the Hara if distance was difficult?
My brothers all got older, they all had Christian friends in the area, and even when the priest walked by to throw the holy water, my brothers since they were with their friends who were older, went even to kiss the crucifix of the priest. We were all there, I never went to kiss the cross, I was always distant from these things, but we did get close to these young men, we all knew each other.
Interviewer: So the Italian school was in the Hara?
BENEDETTO: The Italian school Pietro Verri was in the middle of the Hara, and there is where I went everyday. I clocked it with a car when I got older, it was 4 kilometers each direction I went to learn. When school was over I went to my aunt to eat lunch, then I would return home.
Interviewer: Did you have Talmud Torah after school?
BENEDETTO: No, there was no Talmud Torah after school. All these things when I began frequenting my great grandfather's synagogue that is when we started to tie ourselves with Judaism. My older brothers did learn Judaism, but I learned nothing.
Interviewer: Where did the older brothers learn?
BENEDETTO: My older brothers used to go to study ...I was little when they did this, so I do not remember where they went, because of the difference in age between my brothers and me. My brothers did go to Talmud Torah, but when I was born there were no more near where we lived. I had a sister, may her soul rest in peace, who had an Italian thread, she even wanted me to become a fascist. She wanted me to go to the Director of the school, she wanted me to become Balilla, she had a strong Italian thread.
Interviewer: The Jews did this?
BENEDETTO: My uncle was in Benghazi, Raffaello Arbib, my father's brother, Raffaello Arbib he was written up...[he was a member of the Balilla]. No, there were not really too many Jews who became Balilla, in our area not many. Then when I went to the Director, I even brought money, to tell him that my sister wanted me to become..., he said you are indigenous, it is not possible for you, so I distanced myself from this and did not think about it anymore. Then I got older, I started working, and my father was not in a good position financially and I started working, I became a driver, I went to Cyrenaica when World War started, I worked in an automobile agency where they were all mobilized and they sent us to Benghazi, I stayed four months in Derna, I worked in Tobruk, Bardia, I even met Italian childhood friends from the same neighborhood, I met them as military in Tobruk, they were soldiers and I a driver, we met as a group in Tobruk, I and my brother were there and they showed us where Italo Balbo's airplane crashed. The ship San Girogio which is at the port of Tobruk was the ship that hit the plane of Balbo. And I began to work there. Then when I returned I began my profession. We had to work in the same agency, we could not leave work, so for eight months I worked in Cyrenaica, without my family, we could not abandon the job. The agency was not Jewish. All the employees of the agency were mobilized to work with the army, so we could not leave the job while there was war. I worked in this agency and then a Jew bought it by the name of Alfonso Barda, he was the director of a driver's agency, he took me with him, to work with him, then when the war ended, the we collected all the cars for Alfonso Barda and we put all the cars in the Green Hill where the family lived, they had a big piece of property, and then Alfonso Barda came and told me 23 January 1943 the British came to Tripoli and they blocked all the circulation of automobile vehicles, one could only use bicycles and carts, so Alfonso Barda came to me and said we have a request from the community of Tripoli to live in Giado when the concentration camp was liberated. He said do you know that place? I said of course I worked there when they built Giado, the Italians built the concentration camp for the war against the French, this concentration camp where they took the Jews of Benghazi and they put them in Giado, was in fact an Italian military camp not far from the French border, the Tunisian border. I worked there when
I was 15/16 years of age, I worked all the jobs. When Alfonso Barda came he said: "Benedetto, we need to go to bring food from Tripoli to Giado", they had just liberated the concentration camp, the English had not yet arrived. I arrived there when still the Italian police were commanding at Giado, the concentration camp. They sent with me two Jews of Benghazi, Dusa BuAron, may his memory be with blessing, owner of a cinema in Benghazi, and Shlomo ... [H] I do not remember the family name, so they sent them with me and we stayed [I] we were in Corso Sicilia [H] and I stood by the car and the [I] and we loaded the cars with food and on the cabin of the truck there was [H] what they call [I] the Imperiale [upper deck], they put two big flasks on top...I began to drive, Thursday afternoon, we went the three of us in the cabin and it started pouring, 215 Kilometers from Tripoli to Giado, toward Tunisia, it started pouring all night, there was an embankment that goes to Ifrin, and I heard the car go down, I felt that the car was going into the earth, I got out to see what happened, then I saw that the car went down, it was a bridge that the Italians blew up before the British came, and Australians came, no white South Africans not blacks, they came with tractors, etc. and they filled this bridge but it was still soft, in that area the ground was very soft, I know this kind of ground even from the Negev, the earth is called "caulin" so when it rained hard, so all that "caulin" fell. So what were we to do, they were with me, but they did not know anything of what happened, how can we continue, so I told them, you stay here in the car, I knew the way very well, I said to all you stay in the car, I will go by foot till Giado, till Ifrin, which was a little Tripolitanian village of Jews, I arrive there I will find population, so at dawn I started walking to get to a place, so I saw a red flag, I walk towards there, then I see the white South African soldiers, I started signaling to them with my hands, so they said come with us so they brought with them several resources and they pulled me out. So I told the Jews with me do you have something to open? They said we have lots of jugs of Arak, they drank them and marvelous.
Interviewer: Who was with you in the car?
BENEDETTO: Dusa BuAron was the owner of a cinema in Benghazi. They came with me because their families were in Giado, they wanted to help, [DAVID, it was 315 not 215 Km, BENEDETTO: it was 215 Km] so Qufra is near buAghela, [H] Ifrin you get to it from two directions one from the way of Azazia from the right, in the direction of Alup and then from there to Ifrin, from Ifrin you can go to Giado, or from Gherian, straight, two ways, I know, give me a map and I will show it to you, I know those ways. [A] So they got me out and I proceeded, [H] now my friends parked with me, two with me, one was shivering, we took him in a bakery, we left him there, I thought I would go to Giado and come back, they threw on him mattresses and we all left, all of us under pouring rain, as we drove in the direction of Giado another flood on the road [A] so [I] as I arrived to Giado, the people from Benghazi that knew me came to greet me, there was also a cousin of mine from the family of Teshuba, they all came to hug me. Then a police marshal (Italian) and gives me a slap, he made me drop ...
BENEDETTO: Maybe he was unhappy that I brought food, but I fell, I had no longer any strength from the mud and the way. The English did not get to Giado yet, they heard that they were liberated but the Italian police saw a Jew bring them ...[A] he made me fall [H] I had no strength, then they took the things and we returned. [I] No, they did not steal any food, they [organizers] took all the food...
DAVID: [H] when did they give you the job to move the Jews from Giado to Benghazi?
BENEDETTO: when we came back, when I came back, I started working then, they told me you must bring back a group of people, Jews, from Giado to Benghazi, what became clear was that the British brought them from Giado to Gherian [H] another [I] camp
DAVID: they already took them out of the concentration camps, and they took them to Gherian which is a Jewish community well...
BENEDETTO: a camp, a military camp.
DAVID: a military camp outside of the caves, in the cave there are the Jews
BENEDETTO: then we built seven poles [power] from Gherian till Benghazi, it took us 3/4 days on the road, and then we returned with English military who then occupied Tunisia,
DAVID: so they were involved in two services, they returned the Jews of Benghazi from Giado/Gherian to Benghazi and from there they filled up the cars with British soldiers and took them to the border of Tunisia, so he was the head of these convoy
BENEDETTO: no, one of the, we were four Jewish drivers and there were two Catholics and one Arab, so there were seven cars, from there I met Pio Nahum
DAVID: who founded here [Israel] Via di Pitani so he told him before you come to Israel come to us, then BENEDETTO came here and he ran into the son of Pio Nahum and they founded the agency...
BENEDETTO: no, Pio bought the firm, Pio Nahum bought an agency of Trucchi, who was the owner of an automobile agency that was the biggest in Libya, they became partners, then Trucchi sent cars to Venezuela and from Venezuela they sent them to Israel, we went to disembark them from the port of Haifa.
Interviewer: Let's return to Libya. How did you feel as a Jew?
BENEDETTO: We did not go to synagogue on Shabbat, we did not do much, we were friends of Catholics, of Arabs, but of course we maintained our Judaism, my father, may he rest in peace, put on his tallit every morning, but not my brothers, they were given the liberty to go by car near my father,
Interviewer: on Shabbat?
DAVID: no, not on Shabbat
BENEDETTO: [H] Yes, on Shabbat, yes and even I when I got older.
DAVID: he did not live in the Hara, they went out because the Hara was really very strict, those who managed and could live outside of the Hara
BENEDETTO: David, sorry, I have to go call.
DAVID: I want to add to what BENEDETTO said and mentioned the fact that they were outside the city and in fact they frequented the synagogue less, and
BENEDETTO: I was in circle Maccabee
DAVID: yes, in the circle Maccabee, but he admitted that even his brothers traveled on Shabbat.
Interviewer: Did they cook on Shabbat?
BENEDETTO: No, no let's not confuse things, just driving
Interviewer: and tuned on lights?
BENEDETTO: And Lights.
DAVID: But these in reality they were [H] Harighim (irregular, deviators) [I] in other words not main stream, very few came to the point where they did not maintain the Shabbat as it should be, because in Tripoli all the communities of Tripolitania were truly very very religious and the Shabbat was something that was supersanta, there were women who were outside of the homes, in the street, because there was not much room inside the house, they dressed in 'zdad' they were sitting on Shabbat and were [A] peeling the 'kloob' or whatever, we are talking about Tripoli, Tripoli, and then if and a boy walked by and they threw a stone that landed on the 'zdad' [H] they call it 'me'al haRadid', they call the "zdad" [I] the woman would stay sitting there until the end of Shabbat,
BENEDETTO: in order not to throw the stone
DAVID: to give you an idea how was the sensibility for the religion, in other words, what Benedetto described to us is already
BENEDETTO: outside the league,
DAVID: outside the league, not regular, you can count these families on two fingers.
Interviewer: And how was the community with this?
BENEDETTO: My uncle, my father's brother, was on the charity committee of the community of Tripoli, he was a fascist too,
DAVID: he was in the fascist party, but the fact is that without any doubt a big part of the community [H] the "kehilla" (community) [I] that knew that they were [H] desecrating the Shabbat [I] would not have any contact with them, remember [H] even [I] in bicycles they did not go, they yes, we no. Let's understand each other well, this was the occasion to show you where began the let's say...
DAVID: No, I do not know if it is civilization, let's pick a correct word, there is where we see the melting of the Libyan, traditional, Judaism of 2700 years, how it began to become less, thanks to the Italians, yes, when the Italians came in 1911 in Libya and I think in 1918 or 1920 they wanted to open up Hebrew schools all, but all the rabbis ad all the Jews of all the cities, not of Benghazi...[BENEDETTO: "I have to go].
DAVID: I was telling you, the story of the family BENEDETTO, that of the drivers, they did not have roots, roots let's say religious in Judaism...
people did not forgive this kind of behavior.
Interviewer: But they lived well.
DAVID: yes, they lived well, shalom, that's it but they were not it was not the Libyan Jewishness as one should sense it.
Interviewer: Yes but it is important to hear this part of the very few Jews.
DAVID: but it is not only very few, but it is a tiny point of Harig (deviant) of the Jewish community. Tripoli was let's say like the modern capital, if you go four Km from Tripoli at Amros you find a more closed world, with different customs, [A] you o from there to Zanzun [H] true [I] true it is a community of 200 people, but 200 people who have lived for hundreds of years together with those long outfits, like the Arabs,
Interviewer: the Jews?
DAVID: yes, [A] Amros and Homs, even in Tripoli [H] even Tripoli. [I] In Tripoli those who dared put on trousers, shirts, we called that [A] he is dressed a la Italian [I] what is [A] he is dressed a la Italian [I] before the Italians who came to Libya no one wore these modern cloths etc. [A] you can see them together there [H] pictures [I] of traditional garb, like the Tarbush (hat), but when they started wearing the tarbush it was already modern, but the others, Amros, Msellata, and Sebrata, [H] women went with a big 'zdad' red and black colors and white and they had in their ears earring that are as big as six centimeters, no, [I] a diameter of 15 centimeters in the ears, [A] and necklaces [H] they call it [I] necklaces made of [H] Kesef [I] silver till the stomach, covering all, and the arms [H] with wide bracelets [I] with these [A] how do you call them [H] yes [A] bracelets [I] no but they are wide [H] wide bracelets [I] that are of 10/15 centimeters, and even on the legs
Interviewer: they wore all their jewelry
DAVID: yes, but Jewelry that weighed a lot, and they go with this 'zdad'.
Interviewer: The difference between the Arab and Jewish women is that the Arab women covered their faces, so you could always tell the difference.
DAVID: Correct, but there is always a difference, the Jewish women were something special, they had something special I am talking about the ones in the villages, but there are other types, big communities Tripoli, Homs, Zletin, Zuara, that modernity proceeded, women were more advanced, dressed with a beautiful 'zdad' , how do you say 'zdad' in Italian?
DAVID: yes, baraccano, but the baraccani are of silk, beautiful colors, and they put it with a pin [A] pin that they tie from here, and the woman wore a blouse of chifon, [H] what is this [A] blouse of chifon? [I] that is that material that is in reality transparent, and what do we see, we see all the beauty of the [H] breast [I] breast of the woman,
DAVID: Yes, of course, [A] the thing like this [H] that's how they were dressed, [I] again they also wore a [A] vest, [I] trimmed in silver, and even sometimes of gold, and they wore it over the chifon, and one who came by saw all these things [H] so it looked very nice, when the Italians came they said [I] it was the most stately dress we have ever seen [H] about the woman of Tripoli. And they wore a nice kerchief there are those who tied it this way and that way and there were those who made it in a way that was very sexy, with hair. The girls went without till the marriage, but the woman with because they were more modest, now they did not go out like that, when they wanted to go out, the woman put over this dress [I] overcoat a beautiful white silk tunic called 'zdad lHaf' with strips of white, and they put it on as an overcoat, it is called [A] 'zdad lHaf', which means to go, [H] to go out, also, [I] that is they have the overcoat, the coat. [H] very nice, but ours, the Arabs did not dress thus. Now the clothes for men [I] that is the men's clothes were [A] shirt and pants, [I] that is a shirt that arrived roughly to the knees a little more a little less, and trousers of white cotton, from top to bottom, the shirts over the pants, the rich wore the shirts with [H] cufflinks, [I] how do you call them cufflinks, of gold or silver, but the poor, poor things, but the rich, and the clothes are finer, and the shoes they wore, the richest, the more advanced, the powerful they bought [A] 'sabat lastico' [I] what is it, it is a boot with elastic rubber on the left and right, and the socks longer, white of course so they go directly to..., but still this was not all, and on top of this they wore a [A] vest, [I] there was also a [A] belt, [H] belt [I] again the richer have rich, nice belts, the poorer wear a piece of rope/tie, now, the overcoat [H] the coat [I] black, the richer of silk, the poor not even that, but after they wore that they wore the [A] the hat o Asmalli, [A] the Turkish hat, [I] red or brown. Every Friday I remember my father would send me with 3/4 hats to the [A] small Hara [I] where there was a man who put these hats on a form and the form was warm on the fire, and I bring him back a nice pressed hat from them. This was the dress that they wore till more than 20 years of Italian occupancy, from 1911, till 1925 or 30 that the Jews went with [A] Italian dress.
Interviewer: [I] was it easy for the Jews to adapt to different dress?
DAVID: No, it was not easy, no not initially, [H] it was a sin initially [I] at first it was against religion, even when they started opening State schools there was a lot of commotion, scuola in Hebrew means esh' cula', [A] 'mashi scula' [going to scula], [H] esh cula: [I] that is it is all fire against religion. There was the Rabbi Zion Cohen, Rabbi Zion Vigian all know...This did not happen in Benghazi, only in Tripolitania, even in Derna and Barce like Tripoli but in Benghazi, the Jewish community of Benghazi was more open to the Italian modernism, much more open because it was close to Egypt. Let's face it, we should look at Egypt as a very modern center, leave aside that they are Arabs, etc. but Egypt, Alexandria and Cairo and other very important places there were hundreds of thousands of Italians, English, and even the Copts who are non-Islamic, were more progressive, more advanced than the Arabs and it was a center of modernism, well before the Italians came to Libya, in other words the link between the community of Benghazi, Jewish, with Egypt, with the Jews, it was a big community of hundreds of thousands and even if we mention that Aida they made in Egypt, they can't make this type of thing without, so when the Italians came to Benghazi they found a community very used to and close, so they advanced very quickly toward the dress, there were many who were dressed like the true Tripolitanians, but many also were dressed right away, ten years before Tripoli, they went to Italian schools .. so you can see that the people of Benghazi speak Italian better than the people from Tripoli even among themselves, this is the point... anyway
Interviewer: How many Jews were there in Libya, total?
DAVID: When the Italians came or since the Israeli immigration?
Interviewer: From the beginning?
DAVID: from the beginning, we are talking about the first 100 years of Christ.
Interviewer: Jews were in Libya since then?
DAVID: Naturally, even before. They came as merchants with the Phoenicians, they came as merchants Phoenicians at the time of King Shlomo and even before, so in the colonies, how did they create this empire, equally of Phoenicians or the Roman empire, right away they created centers, in those centers the Jews always found respect from all because they were educated, they could write, and sell and buy well, and they were loyal, they were very loyal, therefore, there were even Jewish soldiers in Egypt, the General of Cleopatra, of the armed forces [H] was a Jew. [I] In Egypt there was a large Jewish community that built the Jewish Temple, Bet haMikdash Honio, [H] they call it [I] on the Elephantine Island they were Jews who guarded the frontiers of Egypt, in other words, soldiers, in fact Egypt was always as a defense for the State of Israel [H] Erets Israel [I] even thanks to the Jewish Generals. [H] Mikdash Honio, Hananiah [I] was general. In fact this community, these Jews that were there even before, came with the Phoenicians to do business, then they took their families and remained in these centers, so let's get to Libya, let's leave Egypt that were [H] those who did not hear or see a synagogue in Alexandria he did not see a synagogue of comparable beauty in his life, [I] thus it is written in Jewish history who did not see the synagogue of Alexandria..., it has to do before the revolt of Bar Kohba, 100 after Christ, or 120, they talk about the synagogue of Alexandria that when the Hazan says [H]'Baruch Ata Adoshem" (blessed are You G-d), [I] and all have to respond, [H] Baruh hu uBaruh Shemo (blessed is He and blessed is His name) [I] the Shammas had two flags, white and blue, for them to answer, they were so far that they could not hear, so he had to elevate the white flag and all responded [H] Baruh Hu u Baruh Shemo, and then for amen, so the temple was so big that one could not hear, we are talking about 100 or 200 thousand people.
DAVID: Men and women in the places...it had to be more than one million Jews were in Egypt at that time, while when they went further down, toward the coast, Gaza, Egypt, etc. to Tripolitania, we see Jews at buAghila, then at Sirte, then in Misurata, all along the sea cost[A] along the sea coast, Misurata, Sletin Homs, Tripoli, Zuara. [H] we stay always at the shore or a little more from there now [I] thus they remained there still the first 100, that is the second temple of Solomon was built in 70 AC, and these Jews were dispersed with others, but many went with the Phoenicians because the Phoenicians were very very, had a lot of affection toward the Jews because they knew that they were nice, intelligent, clever, and loyal, so we went, left with the Phoenicians, the Phoenicians put themselves in the zone, listen well, they arrived in the zone that we in Italian we call Oea. There was a beer once called Oea, in fact, Tripoli, in the times of the Phoenicians, that is until the year 5 of the first, second century, that is 35 after Christ till 5/9, the Phoenicians were there, before Christ 200 or 300 years, so they went the entire coast then if we went toward Zuara, etc. we go toward Tunisia, Tunisia is Cartage that is, there is also Cartage in Spain called Tarshis, all this, and the war between the Romans and Hannibal and all the Phoenicians influenced Jewish life, in fact, there in the zone of Tripoli they are called "Ayat" Tripoli, it is called "Ayat" then there is another city that is very interesting that from there they bring wheat [H] flour, wheat, shever (wheat)[I] in Hebrew shever [H] Lishbor Shever (buy wheat)[I] that is bringing the wheat, even the Jews of Egypt Jacob went to Egypt [H] lishbor shever bemitzrayim (in Egypt) [I] that is, and how do we call this city? Shibrata, sbrata, that is the economic center of wheat and all ... Shibrata, then there is another city, a triangle of cities Ayat, Shibrata, a center that is a center logical, a logical center to bring soldiers, to bring the wheat, to bring other things from other countries, what is it called, Mesillata, Mesilla is a street, that is how do you call the railroad [H] Misillat Barzel (railroad track) [I] the railway, railroad track, [I] that is the center of transportation, and these three cities were a center very important, very interesting, and very economic of the Phoenicians, and who could do well enough to run these centers, it was the Jews, they were the largest employees, but not only employees, they were already heads of warehouses, and they were a community that arrive in 105 more than 50,000 Jews in Tripoli, in those times, that 50,000 is a lot because all of Libya had 300,000 or 200,000, and these stayed and we see all these people that even became guards, or military officials or as accompanying convoys, they were good soldiers, not only today in 1998 that we have, [H] thank G-d [I] a good army but they were the best soldiers that they could have and since also loyal and good, they created their Jewish life already, they put up their synagogues, and they were in governmental offices, office of police, office of military, everything and so they lived very well but the war with the Romans was very hard, in fact he Romans were already in the coast of Libya even before the 70s. Before the destruction of the temple, in fact, near Homs, they build the first Roman city Liptis Magna, why did they called it Liptis, [H] Leved (felt)[I] because before it was the zone of the Phoenicians, and they called the zone [A] Lebda [I] it was first Phoenician, Lebda, how do you say Bad, fabric, Leved, that is there, in the city of Homs there is a big zone of [H] Agavot (agave) [I] that plant that you make fabric and the...in America you have a lot, they are big then they become strings, in fact it was the zone of Leved, of fabric, and when the Phoenicians arrived there and wanted to put up a big city to gather the fabric, they called it Leba, leved is the Aramaic word, in fact when the Romans succeeded in sending further away the Phoenicians, that is the Romans were already in Benghazi before, another thing that put the Romans and the people from Benghazi more devoted to accepting the Roman language etc. it is from that time, it was a very small community but there were a few, in fact, they called it Liptis Magna, Liptis Big, and it was a big city with all the Italian forum and statues, etc. there was also a Jewish community in Leptis Magna and those remained with the Romans, and they became good soldiers, good police, good merchants, good officials, good employees, etc. etc. but when the Romans succeeded in sending out from Tripoli the Phoenicians, they did not want to change anything, they changed only one thing, they changed the name of Ayat, it was called Ayat, according to scholars, when those who were in the city near Jericho in the first war of Yehoshua son of Nun and they went against Yehoshua, when they returned and saw that the city was burned, they went ahead toward the coasts and they remained there till that time and they called it Iat, could be Ay, they feel themselves more Jewish than the other because they came from there and the Romans called Tripoli, tri polis, three cities, that is Tripoli, the three cities, and they left the Jews there, now you are at 110 after Christ, 106, 105, at that time, the Jews became more powerful
in Rome there was always the turbulent political life and there was Elios Adrianos who succeeded in becoming the Emperor in other words there were not tranquil times in Rome, the Jews who were so powerful decided to declare independence of the Jewish State in Libya, and they declared a Jewish State in Libya 115 AC, and there they created money, certificates, police, taxes etc. all in Tripoli, Tri Polis, no Tripoli, as a center, 50,000 of powerful...Rome, as Rome cannot accept in this great Empire that some [A] shelfaha [I] how do you say it, cockroaches, some [A] duda [I] ant [H] would scratch it, [I] and they sent soldiers to impose some order but they met up with powerful soldiers, and they fought with great fervor and all the soldiers that arrived died, we are talking about 10,000 so the great Generals, they were Basilios, and Scipione the African the famous, they sent a complete legion, the third Roman legion that is comprised of soldiers of foreign peoples who became Roman, and what did they tell them, all that you get to, take and take the money, in other words, there isn't like concentrate the stuff that, take all, in fact half a million soldiers arrived and another part of the 10th legion that was in Jerusalem came to fight against these 50,000 Jews in fact they were 15,000 soldiers and in the Roman history where you find these documents, in the Archives of the Vatican, the Romans were very honest in writing the history, the good and the bad, in his history it was written that 15,000 Jewish soldiers were successful in killing 225,000 Roman soldiers.
Interviewer: Did someone go to the Vatican Archives to do research on this?
DAVID: Yes, the Historian Yacov Haggiag was the one who concerned himself with this, he is our historian who studies all these things and he showed me a book where these facts were written.
Interviewer: Do you remember the title of the book?
DAVID: The, the... [H] Milhemet haYehudim Neged haRomanim [I] The War of the Jews against the Romans. He has the book, once he stayed with me 2-3 months and he showed it to me. In fact the Romans could never accept that kind of situation so they succeeded to exterminate the entire Jewish community in Libya where they were they killed them and persecuted them until tens or a few hundred succeeded in escaping from the coasts toward the desert. The Romans were nasty enough why, because since there is nothing to gain from the Jews, why not just let them go, after 15-20 kilometers of desert, these Jews went toward the mountains, now you understand what gave rise to these little villages of few Jews. So when they went toward the mountains first you go this way then to the right to Nalut, Ifrin, Gherian, [H] right, [I] they were little mountains, not high mountains, hills, well for us they were little mountains, 300 meters...anyway, and the tribes, the tribes, they were not called Arabs then they were Berbers, they were called Berbers in Libya, those tribes accepted these few Jews with benevolence and they gave them the possibility to sleep in those caves H] caves [I] and they left them alone, therefore Gherian that is all made up of caves, there was the Jewish community, they, how do you say [H] dug in mountain [I] dug [A] dug [I] and these went into [H]tunnels, [I] squared, the height of a man, the width of 120/140 meters and they went on like this. You can imagine from 118, it was 118 since they were exterminated, three years was the state of the Jews from 118 till 1500 + these Jews were in these caverns, even we and even those who came, let's say the family Guetta from Benghazi or Megidish, I think even Teshuba, Gabbai, they were all these, they came from those areas, but these Jews, 1400 years and a little more they dug, so you see when you enter, you enter after 200 meters into the caves, you see a great door and light, what is there, they dug again on the right and they did, because they saw that there was above a little stream of water and even a bit of light, so they went toward the light and made a hall way, [H] you understand, [I] in other words they dug, [A] they dug, they dug in the middle of the mountain, they dug and made an atrium inside the house [I] in other words, in other words, they created a hall, [H] hall, [I] in this hall there is light from above, like a tunnel of about 150 meters on top of the hill, from there came the light and also the water that came down, and so, one of these, I can imagine only that one from all this community that they were different, they were neighbors of this type and these families, in these [H] 1400 years or 1450 years, [I] or 1450 maybe, and they were some that even continued, they created a wonderful life style, why, because the Jews are Jews, always more progressive than others, despite that they did not know anymore how to read, write, they forgot..., they did not know how to pray from a Siddur, everything from memory, [H] be al pe, [I] and they lived like this, they created this hall, in the hall [H] again [A] they dug on the side [H] and then a room, a room [I] a room sometimes it was six meters, height of 2 or 2.20 meters and in the corners [H] around, below like benches that they put on them things, also sleep [A] shelves [I] they made also plaster that is [H] plaster [I] plaster, so when you enter a room you see almost a normal construction, so while in the middle of the hall you find there the oven and the kitchen in effect, and [H] the donkey [I] and the donkey and some, it is called [A] the lamb [I] the lamb from whom they would take milk, or some families whose means were better would even have a cow, so what did they do as the family grew up, 1,500 years, again, they were always digging, then you find another room there, then another room there, and another room there, [H] now [I] what happens when the family grows, ad [H] Kadosh Baruh Hu [I] gives, when they are alone, they do not have television or go see an opera, even prayers they do not know very well, then they make children, so they grow, so these [H] Jews [I] dug [H] steps, [I] why, because the hall is like a pyramid, goes upward, they dug it and put some [H] steps, [I] steps of 80 centimeters, inside, then what do they do, all this they take out, in fact after the stairs there is like a landing, then again at the landing they would dig up a [H] heder (a room), [I] you understand, that is [A] a railing, that is [H] a railing they make [I] and a room here, a room here, and a room here, and a family, that is they could be 10-15 families in that one cave, [H] nice [I] now, if I could have something like that, then maybe I would go live there now, also.
Interviewer: Have you been there?
DAVID: Yes, during the war, I went to visit with my father, but I am saying that these shapes were different, in other words, this is the community of Gherian, then came out a little later things like shops, after the Italians came, they made a unified market, and the Jews took part, the were beautiful, but equally in Ifrin it was a different group there, that contented itself with...it was [H] less [I] less dangerous, and they took to digging in the down slope [H] they call it slope, like that [I] of the mountain, but they dug directly so there you find [H] Jews [I] that Ifrin, that for the most part they are caverns that they created from the doors, so you can see the door and the cave directly not like the others where the doors were inside, they also had them, they called the Jews of Ifrin all either Megidish, or Guetta. This was the names of the family, they remained there, they stayed there... 50 years after Erets Israel, after Erets Israel they should be already I don't know how...they are those who are... and you will see in Tirat Yehuda (Israel) these Gherianim, the same. They also have children who are very advanced. [Offers interviewer food]. And these our capable [H] Jews [I] of Ifrin, Ben Sabah, another city, we call it city, community, not even a village, a community of 20/25 families, these were also in caves, other caves. (Interrupted by phone.) [H] We talked about all these families of Ben Sabah, they went forward, it was also like the villages, but the Jews still held on to places where there are holes inside the land, inside the mountains, even in the area of Nalut they tried to be protected from all sides, they were fearful, therefore they were in the caves of Lebehza, and caves of the outside, and the outside caves that mean that the opening is on the outside, ad caves of Nalut, Gherian, Ifrin, Ben Sabah, and other places that the Jews always what happened to them, what is their outcome, some went to Zuara, this is a border city so there became a small community, after that smaller community became more modern, more modern, Orphella, Zletin, Misurata, Homs, Amros, that's all but they did not build in those years, they did not create in those years till 1600 there were no Jews in the coastal shores. What happened to us if so, that they lived there, like that they stayed pretty, because it was a nice looking race the Jews of Libya. [I] They were a nice race, but they returned with 2/3 illnesses characteristic: Mediterranean Fever, almost all the Jews have this illness, of rheumatism, etc., look, now, every 6th or 8th person needs surgical intervention on the knees, even here, they make it with 'platina' [H] everyone needs surgery, two of my sisters, [I] because 1400 years to live, the men who worked were [A] peddlers, [I] peddlers, they went around selling, not only to work but also to do [H] work [I] and they were also craftsmen, and others, that is goldsmiths for all the tribe, tribes that were primitive, the Jews were gone for weeks, then they were in the caverns, in fact, Professor Schlush, in 1904 or 6 or 08, when he saw how they lived, he came on Shabbat he saw a group of women dressed in these 'zdad' he found them to be Jews, and they invited him in these caves, that is they were outside but so they got these illness, then they found also that they found it before the Jacobo, unfortunately many Tripolitanians that we [A] Darba uSacta (hit and silence) [I] you heard the word Darba uSacta, and [A] there was one woman, how do we call her, one from Benghazi, so nice, [H] Hamuda [I] one day she became half crazy, half crazy from the pain, then she died, many they died, they just don't give...[A] she died poor thing, G-d forgive her; he died poor thing, G-d forgive him; [H] what happened to him, that's all, [I] these two illnesses and other illnesses of inflammation, vertebral inflammation, these are our, in fact in the army, in Israel, what is your name, where was your father from, born here, OK, your grandfather, oh Tripoli, Libya, in the computer they quickly mark it, meaning pay attention in the sense of health. They take all the tests, and look carefully, if they find inflammation, or Mediterranean Fever, or vertebral inflammation or Jacobo is hard to find on the moment, they give him instead of 96/97 they give him 60, and he goes why 60 I wanted to be a soldier of this or that...This is from our sins, we have inherited from the very internal life of caves, after 1600 or 1596, 1500, the 16th century, the entire century from 1500 to 1600 in fact the Jews left the caves and there were already the Turks and they went to Tripoli. Some of them went to,
Interviewer: How did they know that there was no longer any danger.
DAVID: They were peddlers, they go 30/50 kilometers to the villages, news travels, and that less dangerous that fortunately there were not there any more and the Turks were more [H]just [I] just toward the Jews. They came, they build the Jewish community of Tripoli, and in fact, when Rav Shimon Labi came in passing from Tangiers, Spain, and went toward Israel, he found...when they saw this man with a bead, a hat, a righteous man, they welcomed him. He asked do you have a synagogue, etc. they said yes, and they showed him a little place, he saw that they did not know, so he stayed there from 1569 and taught a few Jews, it was a community of 200 250 people, and remained there and died there after 10 years, or so. Where did they live, in Dahra, a place outside, agricultural, and when they buried him, the Arabs said this is an Arab saint and they would not let the Jews touch any more this grave, and so there were [A] problems, [I] we can imagine the difficulties, they left Dahra, there were only about 5/6 families left, and that tomb remained always Arab. The community of Tripoli started growing, they built the big synagogue, and there were legends, they saw a eagle that flew by and made a sign, stories, and they created that big synagogue and the communities of the big Hara, the small Hara, and life continued, and despite the situation some became somewhat well to do, never very rich in the sense of today as we here about millionaire, and billionaires, it was not like that, so, since the Jewish world...[H] how do they say [F] l'eau s'en passe [I] the Tripolitanians, and [H] the connection, hence the connection with Cyrenaica, with Benghazi was very friendly, with the communities of the world, [I] you understand, the creation of the mentality of the people of Benghazi, as opposed to the mentality of let's say the other Libyans, because there, poor things, what can they do, they were all together, they understood, they met with them, they felt that we are better, [H] and that is correct [I] they were [H] you understand [I] and so they have this let's say [H] pride [I] they are proud to say we from Benghazi we are different, it is true, they were different. Even my uncle who went from the caves there, there, all the children are from Benghazi, true, but since we are delving in this, these Jews were created, so the Jews of Europe did not send assistance to this community, they arrive in Tunisia, in Algiers, nothing, they created every constitutions, offices, [H] help for the poor [I] that is help for the poor and there were 93% poor, and even [H] medical assistance, [I] medical assistance they always brought a doctor from somewhere else, then remained, there was Dr. Sera who became Tripolitanian, after 60 years, poor thing, but we are saying that the community became, and they built schools, and they adapted the Hebrew writing of Tripoli, very different from other Hebrew, I will later write for you the Alef Bet and you will see, so they were always proud of their doings, good people, I do not touch you and you do not touch me, one of the Libyan character: watch it, I respect you but if you do not respect me be careful, [A] a cent you don't take from me not I from you, be careful not that the cent is a lot, but I keep my respect and you keep your respect, I am your neighbor, and you are my neighbor,
Interviewer: Did Jews of Libya come directly from Spain?
David: very few, even those who arrived, arrived much much later, who are those who came from Spain, they went to Turkey, they went to Tunisia, they spoke Ladino even in Tunisia, we did not have anyone who spoke Ladino in Tripoli, even those who arrived at the end of the 18th century, the family Numisrais, for work, family Koreel, Mumu Giorno, they came from Turkey not from Spain directly, then came the family Barche, family Maggiar, you can count them on one hand, also the family Klaus came at the end of the 18th c., Ashkenazim, or Dar Schandalar, Schindler we have Schindler, Klaus, Dar Maggiar, Dar Barche, Dar Zard, Clemente Zard [dar=family of] all these were at the end of the 18th c., they had some business, they stayed, but from Spain, besides the Rabbi Shimon Labi, who by chance passed by there...
Interviewer: Chlafo Romano told me in an interview that there were 4 Romano brothers who came from Spain to Benghazi. He said it was the second Jewish family in Benghazi.
DAVID: OK, this yes, this could be, in fact they maintained the name, how did they come by the name, first they went to Rome, from Spain to Rome, they got the name Romano, at that time, all the Jews took the name of a city, Romano, Bolognese, Adon Bologna, Adon Napoli, and Adon Padova and Adon Venezia, [A]all these are names [I] these are all the names they took, but in Tripoli we did not have.
Interviewer: There was a large number from Jesus on, then there were very few only in the caves.
DAVID: in the caves there were hundreds, less. In the 16th c., then also mortality was high, a family could give birth to 6/8/10/12 kids, and they would have 4 left, you understand, many died of many illness, that they said [A] a hit and quiet, he dripped and dripped till he died, this dripped, dripped he had [H] hemorrhoids [I] preptologhia [A] Baser [H] they lost so much blood till they died, in the bathroom. [A] They found him stiff there. [H] In the condition of those days, it was much worse, you would not have had to die from this. I remember in my days that means in the 40s the conditions were bad. Despite that the Jews developed, therefore in all of Libya in 1948 after hundreds of years we came to number 34,000 Jews. [I] 34,000 thousand Jews, 30,000 arrived in Israel and 4,000 were left more or less and then they went to Italy, part of these 4,000 also arrived in Israel and the Jewish community of Libya in Italy is mostly in Rome, another part, let's say about 2, 3 or 4 hundred in Milan, about one hundred nearby here in Livorno, Firenze two or three families, but there are also some Jews from Tripoli in other places [H] for example [I]like Toronto for example, 20 or 30 families, in fact they have a Libyan center, they call him Tino Nahum or Tino Arbib he became the great honor of the French legion and they gave him the [H] foreign legion [I] foreign legion, and this is The Libyan Jewry how it was created, but in 1930, when the Italians came the Jews knew a little Hebrew, because they did not have another language, in fact when they first came, they could not speak with the Italian Jewish soldiers they communicated with a little Hebrew and then they began to hear that the land of Israel was open that the Mesiah is coming, [H] the road was open pretty soon [A] we are going out the Mesiah, the Mesiah is going to come, and the Jews became poor things [H] all dreaming [A] the Mesiah will come to us and will find us in Jerusalem [H] there is no need to do anything, yes, yes, they believed and this happened in the year 1950 in the ships that they took them, because before his majesty Ben Gurion did not want the Jews of Libya, why, so, only after the war when a missionary of the Haganah and others came, the Jews of Tripoli came for themselves to come to Israel, I have a note that when the Libyan Jews came to Israel they gave money, they were naive, that's what they said we had been... I respect that, that's nice, but slowly they came, they found their way around, but one thing they had, natural intelligence for the majority, and also nice looking, look they came to Israel what is there for them to work, they help out, take the bucket, fill it with cement, bring it to the builders, or the plasterers, after a week or two, the Tripolitanian says to him I want to learn your work, this happened, that is the way I learned also, after two weeks carrying the cement with the hands getting cracked and getting a Lira and half a day, but then he tells you half a Lira if you learn that, fine, after three weeks the Tripolitanian knows plastering and what did he do, he did not wait long he became a contractor for plastering. That's how you can find 200/300 contractors of plastering the same kind, everyone started like that. You see contractors today who did not finish 3rd and 4th grade, who build a billion and half dollar a neighborhood and let aside Yitzhak Teshuba, that he is the last one, who plays in the billions, we talk about the family Bublil that their father was a 'Shammas' [services the synagogue], and how we say, thank G-d, we knew hunger and we ate dry, and thank G-d we have all the good things. And this is how you can find them creative in everyplace and they made progress also in education, today we have more than 300 doctors, more than 500 lawyers, more than 250 engineers, 4000 teachers, and this is the community, the community grew bigger, different conditions, and others came in, together the community numbers 150 thousand, that means 5 times [I] 5 times the number that came as Aliyah [H] therefore if we see, aside from all the different professors, there are the best doctors among us, even my son is a gynecologist, his specialty, and other good doctors, the head of the hospital, the women's ward in Bellinson, Tripolitanian, he grew up in the transit camp, Professor Ben Rafael Fellus, you understand, so the development is big and we find them everywhere, good workers, the ones on the side [I] those that we cannot respect are very few, we do not have one prostitute, [H] not even one Tripolina, thank G-d [I] this is the community.
Interviewer: Was there any intermarriage?
DAVID: You can count 2 or 3, once one woman from the family Halifa but then her husband converted, he was Italian, the other, before, Julia Rubin her [H] mazal [lot/luck] [I] her husband died then she made Aliyah and married an Ashkenazi Jew, and very few Jewish women intermarried, even in the Diaspora, for example in Livorno the family from Benghazi by the name of ... Guetta with 3 boys and 5 girls and none was married, [H] with sins [I] the oldest daughter got married right away with Bedarida, Bedarida is a very wealthy family, the nephew of the Rabbi Traph, yes, and the second they married her off to a Jew from Rome, [H] they married them all off to Jews, [H] Baruh Hashem (thank G-d).
[I] Interviewer: Would you describe life in Libya somewhat easy or hard?
DAVID: It was a life that was complete in the spiritual sense, synagogues, songs of Tehillim, there were about tenish taverns and there people met, they did not get drunk rather for company, then all the synagogues were full of 'Hugim', they are called Hugim now, they come together there, they read Tehillim together, and one will tell stories, another would donate from his own pocket herbs to drink, and every Motzei Shabbat, the synagogue of the [A] small Hara, the white synagogue, [H] there are also liturgical singers, they even sang Tehillim in the form of ... [I] they even had music of Abdul Uhab but the words in Hebrew, yes, [sings in Arabic then repeats in [H] my charming beloved please bring me light...] people enjoyed it. [Another Arabic song: igri igri igri] they put it in Hebrew words that's why we do not have any musicians, till today, we do not have any composers, no dancers, when we came to Suzan Dalal [center for dances][I] they wanted to do an evening of Jewish Libyans bring them [H] please, [I] we do not have it till today, [H]sorry [I] till today [H] yes, we had Zion Mahlula, yes, it was nice, we had Zignini with oud, we had tarbuka, Manuhlafer, [I] did you hear sometime that Manuflaher is a woman very dear, but she was Lesbian, she and Gamilla Bota lived together, with us it was something normal to live together, Manuflaher was the [H] man [I] and Gamila Bota was the [H] woman, [I] in Libya, Tripoli, she was a good singers, but she was full of goodness, she was helping all the young ladies to get married, [A] poor thing she would help them from her personally, [H] you understand, she is also a character, a special character, how can it not be? She was a beautiful woman and even Gamilla Bota, she had big eyes, black, we did not even laugh at them, just the opposite, we knew that they were living together [A] she was her wife, [H] we had no problem, but we did not have whores, but we did have one, Massauda Rahli, a wonderful woman, very pretty, she fooled around only with the generals and Italian marshal, she keeps, but she is also a boss, in fact she never let a Jewish girl to fall, what can you say about a Jewish lady like that, she was a righteous woman, in the course of 30 or 40 years, she was in charge in the area of Amran, [A] the Street Bu Ras, the Street of the Gherbi, [H] there was Vilma, and other prostitutes, but when a Jewish girl came she was helping her with money to marry her off, the most important is that she would not be a prostitute. She immigrated to Israel, she married an Ashkenazi, and the poor thing she died, but one day I will write about her. You understand here you have Tripoli from all sides, prostitutes, lesbians, you understand.
Interviewer: But not homosexual men.
DAVID: They said they were there also, they knew them even, you don't see that, that is [A] you ass, [H] you disgusting, you defiled one, and that's it, not this you go after them, you lesbian, prostitute. No, they lived, full life, but economically was very poor, poverty, poverty, they will say what they say. But they were very poor, and they were waiting sometimes till noon till they got one franc, and she took the franc, the poor lady, with the children, [A] you understand [H] to make a little [A] bread, she takes with 10 cents tomatoes [H] he was taking to the owner of the shop tomatoes on a yellow paper, that once they were folding that, once it was a yellow paper they would put in it [A] flour, [H] but it is a yellow paper thick like a bag, they make it like this, and they tie it like that. But he gives her with a knife, he takes a little bit of tomato like that, and she is taking to make a meal, who will say ... the food, pieces of bread they kept them, they got dry, and you take them with a lot of left over vegetables and [A] pepper, they make it so [H] with oil, and they eat it and they call it Salyama, Sharmula, that's what they eat, but there were others who were living well, nothing to say, some were in the middle, and lower middle, and much lower, but the poverty, [E] absolutely, [H] but nobody rebelled, they see this like a part, there was one man I know he had seven children, his wife in the home, she was not working, they did laundry when they found, what the wife was doing was waiting, what is a big plate like this one [A] like this [I] these little triangles [H] you make into cones like this, small, [I] of paper [H] and you fill them with zgugu, what is zgugu, it is what the cows eat, [A] they small ones, like that, and they put it on the fire, and they put some salt on it [H] I buy from him the [A] bu ashra, what is this, [I] 10 cents of the franc. [A] you understand, that my father would give me 40 ? [H] 4 times bu ashra. I bought from him one, and other children, how many could he have, 30, 40, 50, [A] poor thing he returns [H] home after he waited till the kids left school, why was it so important, all the children that learned in school were given a roll with this, true that there was one with the name of Hasu Balila, a very generous man, rich in the way we mean it, but he was giving meals in the school, he made a vow, so that was life, people middle class and
very few, like Nahum, Farush, Barda, that were considered to have money, [A] the brothers, sons of Muchai, a coal merchant, but the rest...there was this [small] and this [big].
[I] It is all there, Signora, other questions.
Interviewer: Someone told me there were Italian schools just for Jews.
DAVID: Yes, the fact is, first the Jews did not want to go to the schools, because they did not want to learn another language outside the [H] holy language [I] it became that the religion was keeping everybody, like Rav Zion Cohen who said [H] eshcula [I] but then till 1930 there was so and so, but then they opened the Jewish school, Pietroverri in the center of the Jewish community, the Hara, it was an Italian school for the Jews, not really a Jewish school, but no one else but the Jews wanted to go, we learned mathematics, complete, Italian History, Geography, calligraphy, everything, till the fifth grade, the teachers were [H] goyot = [I] Italian, even the director, etc. this was the school Pietroverri, then the school Tomaseo, what is the school Tomaseo, it is found outside the walls, all the kids who have trachoma, because there were hundreds of thousand sick with trachoma, and even when they arrived in Israel they staved them off, because several..., in Zletin and Amros, because the zone...there was hardly no one that was not with one eye, blind, and the trachoma hit in every zone, many were blind of [A] or had a white eye [I] many, Tomaseo had Arabs and Jews, not Italians, the Italians had their schools of the nuns, the first School of Roma, High School, 6th grade on, the first school of Roma was open to Jews till 1935, [I] the sanction, [H] then they said to the Jews should learn on Shabbat, [I] they did not want to accept this desire from the government, then 1938 came the Race, [H] the Jews studied by themselves, [I] the middle school [H] that's why all the people of Israel are friends the Alliance, [I] Alliance, was open to all, no it, the Alliance did not come from France, the director was Abarvanel, from Tripoli, they came from Spain, then Napoli, then Turkey then us, these are the authentic stories of Libya, all these stories that we were rich, that as it says in [H] how do you say it in Tosca [I]: "When they see him, all of Rome trembles" that is not true, these are stories, we grew up with great respect, good families, we studied that which we could, and then the progress...in fact we are not like the Jews of Tunisia or the Jews of Iraq that when the Iraqis came, came a dozen doctors and hundreds of [H] accountants [I] they all studied in England, or the Tunisians or Algerians in France, while in Tripoli there was no one, there was one that was called engineer Haddad and he was the miracle of the people of Tripoli, he was the only one, he came here, he became [H] member of a the Kibbutz Yadi Eliahu, [I] that was all the Libyans, they were nice, they are authentic they are good, and today, thanks to the land of Israel, no one feels them as Sephardim, yet there is [H] North African Marocco, Tunisia, Algeria, North Africa but not Libya, oh ok, maybe, [I] they see it like this you are Italian, no from Tripoli, oh, [H] not important, [I] and when they talk about North Africa here, when they do anything for North Africa we are nothing to them, we are what we are for us, and we are a wonderful community, you saw on Shabbat, fifty years later, so simple, they came from Moshavim, they are who they are, at night you see those women with their hats [breaks into Arabic song imitating the women] interesting community, for example [H] therefore an interesting community, a community that as I told you is going up and up, that's how we find it everywhere, thank G-d for me, just an example, my second son is a Doctor, he was born when I was in Italy, he was born in Livorno, a gynecologist, and when he came here he learned Hebrew.