It is important to have now a head of our community, someone to represent us always, to say this is the head of the Jews of Libya, this one who goes to Rome and returns and has an office in the house, writes that he is the head of the Jews of Libya, why, so that he can explain to Arafat what we are doing? [He is referring to Raffaello Fellah]. Do we care to say that we eat couscous, and that we eat hraimi [fish dish], what difference does it make. The Jews of Libya without hraimi do not exist [laughs]. It is something that unifies them.
Interviewer: What do you think unifies the Jews of Libya?
No one, as I said you no one.
Interviewer: Not a person, things, what unifies the Jews of Libya?
First of all we have in our times there are different (inaudible) what we pray, why? Because there are things that we have been using for 300/500 years that we did in Tripoli and that they do all the times, and all the Jews of Tripoli still do them today in Israel.
Interviewer: Where did our prayers come from?
Tradition, Jewish tradition, we can use liturgical books of others, but others if they picked up our books they could not pray. It is composed differently. There are some things that we read and they don't. I show you an example, we do two Purim, Purim Berghel, Purim Shrif, how do you know, do you do them in America? Why did they do them? It was historic. They did them because the Jews of Libya were in a bad situation. They were killed, they were burned alive...
Interviewer: What is the culture that unifies, you said the prayers unify them, what else?
The customs, our customs, what we eat, the way we behave, the way we raise children.
Interviewer: Can you give me some details? For example raising children, how did we do it differently?
We, first of all, feel that the Jews must know his way of life and his prayer, prayer, our children, me, my mother, before she sent me to school she sent me to the Talmud Torah, I was a small child, she would accompany till the Talmud Torah to learn Torah, the only reason, not to learn how to pray, no, to teach me how to live, how to live as a Jew. This is how we raised our children, here too, my children all of them, probably the only family that all went to Hebrew school, learned Hebrew, learned...in Italy also there were Hebrew school, the Jews of Italy very few send their children to Hebrew school, they think that it is a foolish thing to do. The last few years very few, a lot less, but first they used to send them. Now they don't send them any more. [Wife: Now there isn't enough of a group to open a Hebrew school.] Yes, Florence had a Hebrew elementary school, Kindergarten, elementary school, Jewish middle school, almost all the Jews who were there sent their children to do these schools together and they also did Italian schools. So about a family it is all a different life, a different way of living.
Interviewer: And what else?
The way we eat.
Interviewer: Where did it come from?
Much of it we took from the Arabs.
Interviewer: From the Arabs? Although it is quite different from the Arabs.
It is different [wife: the preparation], the preparation if you take a couscous made by an Arab it is not like ours, in the couscous they even put "manteca", butter, if you pass by an Arab house the smell that you sense is the smell of manteca, you know what is the manteca [A] grease (fat), [I] it is not butter, butter is liquid, butter is liquid, the life of the Arab...[wife: it is made of milk, conserved milk, something made at home, not all this industry that there is today, there wasn't that] you make couscous in America. Now they make it in packages, all ready. Who invented this package business, we? The Jews of Tunisia invented this, they came here, they made packages with couscous. We did not have this ready, every woman knew how to do it and was doing it at home. Even my wife at times, makes it herself [wife: I make it myself, I never bought it, I never buy it. But a woman who works, she needs things ready]. Take an Italian woman when she makes a sweet, she never makes the biscuits, the "kahk" what is the "kahk" (simple cookies), a Jewish thing, the Arabs make it, [H] right. [I] Another way. The little biscuits that we make every week, they are only by Tripolitatnians, [wife: I do not know maybe they also make them in Tunisia, Egypt] no, no it is not the same, I lived in Tunisia.
Interviewer: How did you become president of the community?
I was first, elections, no, president of the community, I was nominated by the government.
Interviewer: not by the Jews?
[Wife: there were election, of course].
The community, says who is the president and who is not the president, but as president I was nominated by the British, as head of the community.
Interviewer: And how did they know you the British?
They informed themselves and saw that I was the one who was interested/concerned himself with...
Interviewer: So you were the president under the British.
Yes, first under the British then under the Arabs. Even under the Arabs I was the president of the community. The Arabs need....this is what I was saying, when we were under the Arabs right away after the British government, the British gave the government in the hands of the Arabs without thinking that among the Arabs there were also at that time 50,000 Jews, no there remained 6,000 Jews in Tripoli.
Interviewer: Which year was that?
In 1967. In 1967, the Arab government was 48, 51. 51 or 52. They found that I was the residing president, so I remained president. [Wife: the time of the King Idris] yes, the time of King Idris. Why, because the head of the Jews is invited at all festivities of the Arabs, all the political gathering, etc. there is also the president of the Greek community, president of the Maltese community, [wife: like they do here, in Israel, there is always the orthodox group, the Arab group], there is always, that's what I am telling you, we are missing the [H] leader, [I] how do you say it, we have no leaders, who are our leaders? [Wife: the fact is that here they do not recognize any leader, now that the community is fragmented in many groups everyone says like it is happening in the government of Israel, everyone wants to be president, they all want to be...without knowing anything in detail]. If you pay attention, I do not know if you saw them all, the Jews of Libya, here there are 4/5/6 in all elections they say I am the head of the Jews of Libya, who from them is the real head, that one who goes to Gaza [assumed reference to Fellah], [wife: in his time he did a lot ...], now he has lost his head. He said that he came from Rome this time to see the mother of Legziel who was in serious condition, only for her [wife: who is Legziel, I know Legziel but I do not know the mother] Legziel is from Benghazi, he is not even from Tripoli, you saw Legziel, did you interview him? What did he say?
Interviewer: He talked to me especially about the Aliyah, from Benghazi to Israel.
Interviewer: No, Shaul.
No Shaul, leave him aside.
Interviewer: No, I did not talk with Amos Legziel.
[wife: who was Shaul?]
Shaul was the president of the community of Benghazi, at my time he was the president.
Interviewer: When you were president, what were the problems of the time?
You need to understand that according to the statutes of Libya the community must think about their poor, maintain their poor, not the municipality, like the whole world, who was concerned about the poor, their upkeep, their welfare, who helped them? It was the government. By us it was always only the community. Medical care for the poor, for example, it is not like here that the Dr. is free, in Italy you pay for the Dr., in France you pay for the Dr., in Tunisia when one goes to the Dr. he pays for it. You understand, by us the Dr., the community always had its Dr., and if there was a poor Jew from the Hara of the community who was poor, they go there, they send him the Dr. to visit him to buy him the medicines, and all.
Interviewer: The Dr. was not Jewish?
Generally he was Jewish. [Wife: toward the end it was a Jew, it was (inaudible name)] it was (another inaudible name).
Interviewer: They were Tripolitanian Jews?
They were Italian Jews living in Libya.
Interviewer: And they studied medicine in Italy?
Interviewer: Before them the Drs. were...
Interviewer: How did you solve the...
We had the advise of the community, we got together every week and looked into all the problems that there were, the poor, the...our community, in order to upkeep their poor, issued a tax on the Jews of Libya, this was obligatory.
Interviewer: The tax for the wealthy only or for the entire community.
For all, how can the community choose people who can't pay, they don't pay. But generally they paid, and they tell everyone what he must pay, everyone pays differently, depending on his situation. We got to a time where the community tax was assigned among the taxes of the government, when they send me the papers for the taxes, I as a Jews, they would put that my tax for the government is such and that of the community is such, the government cashes the money, the British or the Arab government, and then it gives us back the money once a year in advance. The government of Libya, every year, sees how much tax was collected from the Jews of Libya and they gave it to us in advance.
Interviewer: Where there a lot of poor in Tripoli?
[Wife: there were 11,000 poor] Certainly yes, especially the zone of Amros. The zone of Amros, 90% of the population are sick with eye disease, trachoma, all trachoma. You understand, to the point that in Tripoli there was an elementary school, then there was an elementary school for kids with trachoma. You never knew. They did not put the kids with trachoma in the same schools as the others so that they do not infect the other children. [Wife: it is contagious disease] So the kids with trachoma had a separate school. These are illnesses that existed.
Interviewer: So one of the problems was poverty. How about education?
Yes . Yes.
Interviewer: which schools did they attend, Italian schools?
First of all they went to Talmud Torah. Why the Talmud Torah? Because the Talmud Torah was the only school in Libya that at 12:30 they served lunch to all, even to the rich. They sat at the table and they gave food to all the children.
Interviewer: Who paid, from the tax?
Generally the community, but in the last years, there were some families that for example if I had an occasion, a memorial for my father this week, I would send food to the kids of the Talmud Torah.
Interviewer: At what age they started going to Talmud Torah, three?
Interviewer: At that age only to the Talmud Torah?
At that age, and they go, who did not want to go to Italian schools goes there.
Interviewer: Did they learn Math and other subjects?
Of course, well they put it as an addition, the true teaching is the teaching of Libya, there was also a teacher who taught Hebrew, we had brought him from Palestine. A teacher who taught Hebrew at the Talmud Torah, always. You understand?
Interviewer: So almost all went to Talmud Torah.
Interviewer: What percentage would you say went to Italian schools, many, few?
No, why Italian schools were obligatory, who does not send children to the Italian school at age 6 they put him in jail.
Interviewer: Was the Italian school just for the Jews or for all?
The last few years there was also a school just for Jews.
Interviewer: Why did they have schools just for Jews? The cost is high, no?
They take taxes, and that's that.
Interviewer: Was there much difficulty between the Jews and the Arabs?
What do you mean by difficulty.
Interviewer: Did they get along?
Did they get along...in business they got along, in other things no, I wrote it in my book. In all my business I had an Arab partner, Why? First of all because the Libyan government, when it was Arab Libyan forced the Jews...I forgot what I was going to say [wife: forced the Jews to have an Arab partner to give him most of the gains]. No, because everyone in his business had to have an Arab partner, this Arab partner should not have less than 51% of the [H] Jew. [Wife: he takes more than the owner]. He takes more than the owner. I, for example, had an Arab partner. He was a good partner because he was always with me, but generally it is not at all, he is only a partner, he comes every year to see the balance and takes his amount (laughs). [Wife: not because he was much involved].
Interviewer: This was under the Italians or...
Interviewer: They did not want to give much business to the Jews?
Yes, the statute made by the notary says that Lillo has 48/49 percent and the Arab 52 [wife: it was 49/51] 49/51.
Interviewer: Although the Jews of Libya, Tripoli, where there for many generations? Yet they did not feel that they had equal rights as citizens?
No, [H] correct. [I]
Interviewer: Why, when one lives in a society for a long time one feels that they have rights of a citizen. Why did they not feel that way in Libya?
Yes, but in Libya under the [Wife (and husband repeats same: Arabs it was different, with the Arabs one has no rights.]
Interviewer: And under the Italians/English did they have more rights?
Under the Italians there was the difference of nationality. For example, I as a Jew if I were Libyan I would be treated differently than if I were a Jew of Italian citizen. I would have fewer rights than an Italian citizen.
Interviewer: Even as an Italian Jew.
Yes, as an Italian Jew. Then, we ended up all in the same way. The ones who went to Italy from Libya they also had nothing, they left Libya leaving all their things behind and no one paid them. Now, the Italian government is paying.
Interviewer: Oh, so the Italian government is paying.
Paying in a manner of speaking.
Interviewer: Will the Libyan government ever pay, one day?
No. [interruption offering coffee tea food]
Interviewer: Were there fights?
No, this is what I am saying, when I wrote in my book, I wrote that we had rapport with the Arabs, we had friendships with the Arabs, but I, for example, have never been in a house of an Arab. It is prohibited, I cannot go to see his wives, his women. [Wife: the Arab women are not seen]. This Arab partner, ones in a while he came over my house, but it is unusual to have him over at my house at all, not I in his house, nor he in mine. We have rapport outside, just in the office, in the office Arabs come to me, but at home, no.
Interviewer: Did you live in Tripoli during the Pogrom? What do you remember?
What do I remember. There were times that we were closed inside the house.
Interviewer: You were closed for protection.
For protection, they would have come to break down my house.
Interviewer: What did you hear, what did you see, before, after...
Look whoever tells you that they saw something outside is mistaken, because those who were outside were all killed. Those who went out during those days were killed by the Arabs.
Interviewer: A woman, for example, she was a child in Amros, she said the next day she saw and she said that the British gave permission to the Arabs of Amros to do whatever they wanted to do for four hours, and then they said that when you hear the planes that means the time is up, the four hours passed, leave.
Do you think that that is indeed what happened?
Interviewer: But in Tripoli it was not hours, it was two-three days, right?
Interviewer: Did the British know about this.
It is the British who did this.
Interviewer: Did they protect themselves, I heard that the Tripolitanians protected themselves.
Interviewer: They said that the first time they were not prepared but after that...
When I was elected president of the community, the first thing I said to the Jews was let's start being armed all of us, the Hara must be protected. When you hear that there is a pogrom against the Jews, you go out also and kill the Arabs. I am the one who is responsible. Tell them that I sent you to kill the Arabs, I am responsible.
Interviewer: I also heard that both men and women fought.
Yes, men and women, they were armed. All of them were armed. And who bought the arms. A cousin of Peddi Ben Attia bought the arms. The Ben Attias were not from Tripoli, they lived in Zuara, you know the Geography of Libya? Zuara is at the border of Tunisia, they go to Tunisia, the buy the arms from the Arabs, the Arabs brought them arms to buy, and they took them from Zuara till us, they sold them to the Jews. But in general we bought them, under my orders. So in the second pogrom they said that they killed 18 Jews, I counted 92 Arabs dead in the Hospital, why did I count them? Because as soon as things quieted down, one came from the office of the Government sent by the governor himself, British, and he wanted to see me. I went out with him. We are going to see the people in the hospital we go together. I counted 92 Arabs dead, and that day 16/18 Jews died.
Interviewer: The first pogrom only Jews?
40/45, (discussion on numbers) 140, 140 yes for sure.
Interviewer: Did they kill or also torture first?
Generally just killed.
Interviewer: Because at Amros they tortured.
Amros because (inaudible) was seven kilometers from Tripoli, there were Jews in the midst of Arabs, in this Arab zone there was a section of Jews, in this section one was near the other. They are families that lived in one room, they had three synagogues, and they were all sick with trachoma, all of them. They were very poor people, not only 90%, 100%. They were the first to suffer.
Interviewer: Was there a third pogrom.
No. There were skirmishes.
Interviewer: Do you remember the Aliyah of Tripoli?
Of course. I did it. It was very difficult to convince the British to give us permission to leave. We were, we had Zionist organizations [inaudible]. So these groups started saying give us passes to travel to Palestine. Palestine was not Jewish it was British. Every year, they said we want 8 passes, [inaudible] Zionist generals, Zionist... We need passes...
Now this is late, you came after the 50s, but when we first came to Israel you could see the people that I sent. They all lived in Tel Aviv, there was a zone in Tel Aviv that was all inhabited by people from Libya.
Interviewer: So it was difficult to get exit passes?
The passes were [inaudible sounds like there weren't any]
Interviewer: they left Libya without problems?
When the Aliyah became permitted by the English we called a Jewish agency, one who represented the Jewish agency, [E] Jewish Agency [I] who was there, he was the one who organized the Aliyah. There was an open office for Aliyah in Tripoli that the government knew about, that was concerned with the Aliyah and organizing these people to go. They helped the poor to arrive in Palestine. It was Palestine at that time.
Interviewer: Were there any who did not want to make Aliyah?
There was one who stayed behind, who absolutely did not want to make Aliyah. He stayed till now, I think. Because he died and then his wife married an Arab. It is difficult to say the whole history.
Interviewer: the others came voluntarily.
Many went to Italy.
Interviewer: Because they knew the language.
Even today they do not know the language. They went to Italy because first of all it was the easiest place [inaudible]. They opened stores...
Interviewer: when you remember those times, what do you think about the most ...
The first thing that concerned us as a community was how to take care of the poor. If you think that at my time, when I was nominated the president of the community, the community was taking care of 11,000 poor. 11,000 do you know what it means to take care of them in all aspects, to give them expenses for food, holy day expenses, when there was a holy day like Passover, we gave them everything, those who were in need. First the community gave money. They would go to the head of household and say how many people in the family, 7, 8 people? He gave them a certain sum of money. Then we saw that with the money the father bought himself some Arak, got drunk, and did not think of the family. So we said no, from now on the community does not give money, there is that shop that sells food, you can go there and buy two Kilos of flour, a kilo of bran, a kilo of sugar, whatever you need, oil, the shopping, depending on the size of the family he is obliged to give you 1/2 kilo of sugar each month, 2 kilos of flour, then there was a butcher that gave 1/2 kilo of meat, Friday, Thursday night, everyone could go to that shop and he could go 1/2 kilo, you would see in that shop all the ready packages of 1/2 kilo, and when one entered they gave it to him.
Interviewer: And they could not buy there alcoholic beverages.
Just wine for kiddush.
Interviewer: and the cigarettes, could they buy them or not, because they are a type of drug.
No the store was just a food store. [H] Market. [I] You can buy everything. Medicine from the Dr. The prescription was filled by the pharmacy for free, on the community. If the prescription is from the Medic of the community, those prescriptions were taken care of by the community. It was a [inaudible] created by man not by G-d. [wife: the poor had a special ticket] yes, the poor had a ticket from the government to give them the means to get cured, and ticket from the community to be able to have all this shopping.
Interviewer: As for the Aliyah, of which you took place as part of an organization, right?
Yes, Zionist Agency.
Interviewer: what was easy, what was difficult?
The family situation, if a family had 10 children what can you think, first of all you have to think that when they arrived in Palestine they could tell them go away, why should we take care of him, you take care of him. There was a British government not another...these poor people arrive who is going to support them? The British government, they would not take care of them?
Interviewer: So what did you do, not send them?
Of course we sent them, if it was necessary to send them you send them. There was an Aliyah office that examined each family depending on need, on necessity, depending on what was felt, if the family was rich, and they did not show that they had money...
Interviewer: Why not show that they had money?
He did not want to show that he was rich because the community would tax him 10,000 lire a year of tax, then we could assess him 50,000 (laughs), and when he was assessed 50,000 no one would take that away. The tax that I assign to each in the community no one takes it away because the order to add or subtract is our order, so can I give...if you are the richest of the community...but those who came from Palestine did a great job, there was Dudevani, the head of the Aliyah sent by the Jewish Agency, its a maddening job, he went mad with all the problems of the Jews (laughs). I knew them all.
Interviewer: what type f problems.
[Wife: there was the problem of health, if one was sick they could not send them off sick, they had to cure them] yes if one had tuberculoses they did not let him travel, we could not accept him in Israel. So they made a place for the sick to cure them before they sent them. All these problems.
Interviewer: And the Jews of Benghazi, and other places, Tripoli was a center for the Aliyah, correct?
Yes, the Aliyah yes, everyone had to come via Tripoli. At one point all the Jews of Benghazi moved to Tripoli.
Interviewer: In Tripoli, when they were planning for the Aliyah, were they thinking of all these other places, Amros, and others?
Yes. And this Naim what did he tell you of the Aliyah, he told you that they came to Tripoli. Now the Naims live in Rome now.
Interviewer: Shaul, in Milan.
Ah Shaul, you told me it was Shaul? I was thinking Naim.
[Wife: how did you know Shaul, here in Israel?]
Interviewer: he came to Israel for perhaps two weeks.
Shaul must live in Milan.
[Wife: Because we knew L. who lived in Livorno, Norma, do you know Norma Casuto, she is called Casuto but married a L.?]
Interviewer: Do you think there is a difference between the Jews of Tripoli and Benghazi or not?
We are beginning to go to antique history, they are of different origins. The majority of the Jews of Cirenaica beginning from Cirene till Benghazi, came from the Jews who escaped at the time of Tito from Israel, and they came and settled there. Those of Tripoli came from Spain in 1492, they came from Spain, Algiers, Tunisia, and Libya, for the most part, then they got mixed. So they are from different origins. For example, the Legziels are from Benghazi, we did not have a single Legziel of Tripolitanian origin.
Interviewer: So you can tell from the last names, was from Benghazi and who from Tripoli?
I did a study that I have not yet published, I have it in my box, the Jews of Libya did not have a last name, the first Jews of Tripoli, we had Lillo son of Simione, this began in 1912, recent, time of the Italians. The Italians saw all this confusion and said how can we understand this Nuccia Eugenio, and Lillo Simeone, I will never find him, so everyone had to have a last name, from where does this last name come about? Either from the surname, like this Legziel, this is a surname, where would it come from, they must have had a gazelle in the house, he who has the gazelle, he became Legziel, so that is how they made names.
Interviewer: And , [your name], where does that come from?
We do not come from Libya, we were from Livorno, from Livorno for reasons of commerce they came to Libya, is also an added last name, we did not have last names, what does my name mean in Arabic, a step son. What is a "figliastro" stepson, [wife explains that a woman who marries a man with a son he is this name] The first person who had this last name was a stepson. If it does not exist one creates it.
Interviewer: How did the name Roumani come about?
Roumani it seems that maybe it comes from Rome.
Interviewer: They say they were from Spain.
From Spain they went to Italy, then they went to Rome, from Rome then they ere called those Roumani. [Wife: for example I have a nephew who came to study in a Yeshiva, when I call him he says [H] who is this the Italian ? [I] The Italians, yes this, so then they call him for me, it is an Italian last name (laughs). We were forced to create last names. [Interruption offering food]. For example there was a family they called Tbeba, why because she was a healer (in Arabic it means Dr.), helped the ill, so they would ask him, who are you, the Tbeba, so his last name became Tbeba.
Interviewer: The Jews form Benghazi and the Jews from Tripoli, they were of different origins, did they get along?
We had to get along without choice, because those had to come to go to Israel, otherwise they could never go, because at one point the community of Benghazi had to shut down completely, they could not stay, there were very few left and they could not stay under the Arabs, you understand, they all went to Tripoli. [Wife: but even from the beginning Benghazi was small, it did not have too many people.] Benghazi had about 5,000. But they stayed till 69 till Ghaddafi took over, just about 50 families. [Wife: are there some now?]
Interviewer: they say only one or two, old people.
No, in Tripoli yes, just a couple.
Interviewer: did people marry Arabs?
No, an occasional girl by force was kidnapped by an Arab, captured, and he married her. We had no rapport with the Arabs, just in business.
Interviewer: Isn't it strange to have interaction only in business?
That depends on the Arabs, if the Arab woman cannot see any man,
Interviewer: Well, can't you go visit, and say to the woman in advance during this hour don't come out of the room.
No, this is not possible. [wife: there was not much rapport with the Arabs, one reason is the Kashrut, if we go to an Arabs house, and he offers something, and we cannot eat it is an insult, so...]
For example, I knew many Arabs, a rich Arab, in his own house, there was a section dedicated to women, and another big living room dedicated to men. Anytime that we had to go to him we met in that room there. [Wife: Gherta they called it, Gherta]
Interviewer: There was no rapport with the Arabs so not just because of the women.
An Arab woman cannot even know other Arab men, [A] she cannot meet [I] she does not even know Arab men, [wife: it is prohibited for her to meet other men]. When did you ever see an Arab woman, she is closed with just the eye open. [Wife: maybe in Benghazi it was different]. No, no Arab women, worse than we.
Interviewer: But let's say a man who was a bachelor, there was not the problem of women, the socializing did not exist?
No, there was no socializing, it did not exist, only in business, rapport in business.
Interviewer: Although life was among Arabs for many generations.
Yes, many generations.
Interviewer: look at the problem of assimilation in the US, even in Italy, because when one lives a long time with others, [wife: it is normal to frequent one another].
[Wife: Yes, correct, I think the problem of Kashrut contributed a lot]. I remember we went to Tunisia, a group of Jews of the community, when we arrived in Tunisia we had Arabs with us also, Jews and Arabs, we went for business or the like, I remember that one Jew gathered us together, and the Arabs, and said what are we going to do about food? Now, I will take you to a restaurant of Jews, Kasher, Tunisian, and you can all go eat there, even the Arabs, the Arabs also went to eat there because they were afraid of eating pig or .. so they ate with us the whole time. [wife: they loved the food]. It has nothing to do with loving the food, they had to because of circumstances, they also had to see the slaughter of the Arab type, like us, because they also do not kill ...they do shkhitah like us.
Interviewer: Did you travel in many places besides Tunisia?
I was in Tunisia for Business, I went to Benghazi, to Cyrene. [wife: but not for business...]
Interviewer: Do you remember the time of war?
Interviewer: and wife: the war of the 40s, the second world war.
I remember all the wars, I remember the 1919 war (laughs).
Interviewer: Please tell me.
What do you want me to remember.
Interviewer: what went on in Libya during the war?
First of all the lack of food, completely scarce.
Interviewer: did you hear all the news then.
No, even during the time of the British it was prohibited to listen to the radio. [Wife: we had to give in our radios.] As soon as the British came they confiscated all the radios, everyone had a radio, there was no television, so we all had radios, they said you once bought a radio give it to me. [Wife: the times of fascism]. They gave us a receipt, when all settled down they gave them back. [Wife: they also confiscated the cars, they needed for their use for war, reasons of war. I remember I was going to school, as a girl when the second world war broke out, all the women due to the state of war had to give their wedding ring, it was obligated to give them up. I know that the catholic women gave their gold wedding ring and they received one of copper. They said it was for the use for war, that's what they said. As for cars they were sequestered, who had a car, then there were busses, they had carozze (horse and carriage).] I had a carroza, I lived in the country and I had a carrozza with the [inaudible].
Interviewer: were there also Jews near by?
Yes, yes. [Wife: in the country there were Jews, because they waned to get a little far from the city, then there was a naval bombardment which threw bombs in he city and it was disastrous so the people moved even further up, and we went to [sounds like Cicero] my family, my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, 130 kilometers [inaudible] . We stayed two years, you could hear the bombardment, you could see them from afar]. When we arrived at this place, I was never there, it was in the inner part of Libya, it was a place of Arabs, I and my mother, and someone from the family, we were in a car, we were there in the street, there was a Arab coffee shop there, so I got off and went to have a cup of coffee. All of a sudden I saw an Arab whom I had known in Tripoli. He asked him what are you doing here? He said with the bombardment of last night, my family and I escaped by car, and I am in the coffee shop to see... He told me wait five minutes and I will be back. He came back in about half an hour, and he said follow me with the car. He took us into a big Arab house right next to t mosque, here was the house and the mosque was attached to the house. Inside the Mosque there was a house with a big salon, he said this salon is yours, live here until the war ends. I remember that after a few days this Arab came into the house, he called my mother, Signora, [sounds like come here in Arabic] in that room there was a closed door, he opened that door and it opened to a room that was full of goods, coffee, all that you need take without paying one Lira. You know that we used it. For a long time we used those things. At that time it was hard to get a hold of a kilo of sugar.
Interviewer: Were you afraid that he might turn on you?
No, they behaved perfectly.
Interviewer: But not all.
Not all. [Wife: Then we found out that Italy began to [inaudible] the war it was allied with the Germans, we saw that they began to lose and we knew that the English were about to enter, so we went further into the interiors, another 18 Kilometers, a desolate place ...] He put us in the house, this man, I remember that all the time there was his messenger with a gun he was a guard at the door so no one would bother us. [Wife: I remember we were three families, the father, his brother, his sister who was his mother, everyone had a room, ad that's how we lived, I don't even know how we lived in that period. I know that for the kids it was a big deal, there was no school, so we had fun, we did want w wanted, we went to the hills]. It was a nice, mountainous area. I always remember it fondly, though they were times of war, people behaved perfectly. And all were Arabs, there was a small Jewish group, very poor people.
Interviewer: What was the name of the place?
Interviewer: I want to say again that we were saying that initially when fascism came to Libya it was only a form of government, that was primarily a government of justice, everything went straight, and correctly, then perhaps because of the influence of Nazism it became anti Jewish, in fact the Italians sent the...
Jews of Benghazi to Giado, and the foreign Jews who were in Tripoli they sent them all to Tunisia, hey sent them all to Tunisia, for two, three years in Tunisia. And they suffered a lot because they took them to the border [inaudible]
Interviewer: So you, personally, did not feel the times of war that much since you were away.
We went away, we went in the midst of the Arabs.
Interviewer: Did many do that?
Not many, I remember this Arab who kept us in his has and gave us all that food, he used to tell me I am sure that when the war is over and I come to Tripoli, the most you will offer me is a cup of coffee. [Laughs]. We always staid friend, you know why, because soon after the British came in and we were in this place [inaudible] so the English began to get information, who knows English, thy asked around the Jews and, and they found that I knew English, so they took me and put me as secretary of the Municipality. I, the secretary of the municipality, [inaudible] I remember one Saturday afternoon I was home sleeping, a knock at the door, who is it, the landlord, he said you know there is a lot of confusion happening, two Arab families among each other are killing each other, please if you can make peace, so I went with him and I straightened things out, from that day they respected me.
Interviewer: So you were well known among the Arabs.
Interviewer: After the war how did you find Tripoli, after you returned from the mountains?
We found more confusion, perhaps, but we were fine, also because we had these Arabs, when we had rationing, we had tickets to buy anything, we could not go anywhere to buy anything, the time of the Italians, the last years, it was all ticketed, you could not even get not even get bread, just one bread, an Arab who sells bread knows that you can buy a bread with he ticket, with the ticket you could by 1/4 kilo of sugar a month per person, how many people you have in the house, three kilo of sugar must last you for entire months; coffee did not exist. And in that room there were sacks [laughs]. There was a very rich place because of oil, olive oil, in that area, there was millions of, it was full of olive oil, people were very rich from that area. So we stayed friends till the end. Even when we went to Rome, many of them came to visit us.
Interviewer: How do you feel about the Jewish community in Libya, are you proud of them, or?
That's what I am talking about, you are doing all these interviews, we had no head here as head of the Jews of Libya.
Interviewer: You feel that is important in Israel.
Interviewer: And what would this person do?
In this Jewish State he can do many things.
Interviewer: Perhaps that is precisely why they feel there is no need for a head, this is a Jewish State.
Why do I have to go pray at my synagogue 100 meters from my house, and I can't go to another synagogue that is more beautiful with a Rabbi with a nice voice.
Interviewer: Why do you have to do that?
Because our method of praying is different, we have prayers that we read that others do not. For example [inaudible] the two Purims that we do, the Shabbat before we read a prayer where there is a story of why this Purim was done, Purim Sherif. The whole story why this is done, and we read [H] micha mocha" in Arabic, it is translated even in Arabic, even in the synagogue it is read in Hebrew and Arabic.
Interviewer: Can you tell me one or two of the Arabic sentences?
Interviewer: what would you like, for example, what would this head do, would you like him to make the Libyan synagogue bigger and nicer or would you like it closer?
Why, for example, a country like Israel, why do I have to see a Synagogue that says Beth El, Bet Hakeneset leYehude Luv, on the right, in front of you, you see a beautiful just for the Jews of Libya, true that others can pray there too, but they have to pray like us.
Interviewer: A head of the Jews of Libya, what would he do differently? How would he change things.
He would not change anything, in our tradition we sell honors to the Torah, there are many budgetary entries, if you see the balance of our Synagogue you see 7/8 million NIS, what do we do with them, we should help the poor, if there is someone in our in the Synagogue that he wants to marry of a son, a daughter, or there is a child, and needs help they should give the money. If you go to another Synagogue no one would know you. We have every week an entry of [inaudible amount] NIS, because when I go to the Synagogue I cannot go every time and not buy an honor to go up to the Torah, I do an auction. I say 50, the other says 100, I say 210 or not buy it.
[What he was trying to say here was not clear to the interviewer.]
Interviewer: Do you remember fondly the times of Libya?
Without a doubt.
Interviewer: What in particular?
It was a tranquil life, without problems.
Interviewer: Despite the fact that you were the president of the community.
Yes, I solved them, I was the only one, I took care of everything. One would say you know the Hebrew teacher is not good, my children are complaining that he is not teaching well, we should fire him and get someone else from Israel to teach better. So I have to do that.
Interviewer: So despite pogroms, despite fascism, despite the British who were difficult, it was a tranquil life.
Life with respect. For example the president of the community [E] President of the Jewish community [I] it makes you think of the Jews of London, [laughs] [inaudible].
Interviewer: Yet it was a large community.
[E] The Jewish community.
[I] Interviewer: Yet the people were fine people.
Yes. The Arabs respected me like an Arab chief/head. First of all because I studied Arabic at the University, I knew Arabic better than the Arabs.
Interviewer: The University there or another place.
Naples, at the Institute of Oriental Studies. In the street [inaudible] A special institute that teaches Arabic, Assyriac, and other middle eastern languages.
Interviewer: So from Tripoli you went directly to the University.
Yes, but there was a University that we studied, and a delegation of this Institute came to give us exams.
Interviewer: So first in Tripoli then the University.
We did not have University, everything with correspondence. A delegation of professors came to give us the
Interviewer: Then after that you went to Naples, you passed the exams, after you finished the University of Naples you returned to Libya.
Yes, yes. I write Arabic better than Italian, I read, and write, books in Arabic.
Interviewer: So in Libya there were good teachers, a good education?
The last years yes, the last years the schools improved, they opened the University in Benghazi. Benghazi was the center of the University, till now, Tripoli does not have a University. People go to Benghazi to study. [Sounds like this also brought work to the city.]
Interviewer: So you said toward the end studies were good, but before no.
Before no, before you know it was a colony, few people used the Italians language, people spoke Arabic. We spoke Arabic at home, with my mother, my grandmother, we spoke Arabic.
Interviewer: When the Italians came you started speaking Italian?
Everyone studied Italian. Our official language that we spoke at home was Arabic. Like now we speak Italian, my wife and I always speak Italian.
Interviewer: Why is that, because you lived in Italy, because after Libya you went to live in Italy?
After Libya we went to Livorno. The official language of our family was Italian, because it was of Italian origin. But my grandmother did not know Italian, she knew Arabic, the spoken Arabic.
Interviewer: So it was Judeo Arabic, not what the Libyan Arabs spoke.
Judeo-Arabic. In Libya they spoke an Arabic dialect that we understand and that they understand, to a great extent, ours.
Interviewer: If I spoke Arabic with an Arab from Libya would he know immediately that I was Jewish?
Yes, immediately, certainly. A Tripolitanian Arab changed in the last years, because when we spoke Arabic in Tripoli at my house, we said "cha" "cha", that sound does not exist in Arabic, they say "ta" "ta". When did you leave Benghazi.
How was your Arabic.
Interviewer: Like you said, we said cha.
If you say cha, an Arab knows right away you are a Jew. You say 'chaghla" (come here).
Interviewer: Do you think this was Italian influence?
I have no idea, they wanted to improve the language you understand, the influence of the Arabic, even the Arab himself speaks a dialect, he cannot write it, the written Arabic that they write is always the classical Arabic. Th letters that they write to each other, the History that they read in the books are in classical Arabic. The language instead, the language [sounds like Berber].
Interviewer: Were there many "chachamim" (knowledgeable people) who wrote on the Tanah (bible) ...
There was one from Benghazi, Mordechai Cohen , you did not hear of him, he was the first to write. Do you have the books.
Interviewer: Yes, I have some. Let's say Torah commentary, did they write the Jews of Libya?
Yes, but Mordechai Cohen wrote primarily History. But other rabbis there were.
[Wife: Do you want coffee, take a sweet] You know what you call this?
Ghreyba, (a cookie).
Interviewer: will you publish the book on names?
Of course, it's ready.
Interviewer: It will be interesting.
It will be very interesting. I put all the last names of the Jews of Libya and for many even the origins, how they were called thus.
Interviewer: Where did you get this information.
Research, like you are doing now. Was Pedi useful to you?
Interviewer: Yes very. I would like to have an Exhibition.
He collected many books and many things too.
Interviewer: He had a small exhibition here, I would like to do one in the US. When I get back I will work on it.
[Wife: of books or things].
He has many things. [Discussion on articrafts.]
Interviewer: What do you think are the most interesting characteristics of Libya?
[Wife: something that distinguishes them from others?]
Do you remember how they dressed the women with the "zdad" Particular to Jews, my mother till the age of 50 wore this.
Interviewer: Then they quickly changed to dress a la European?
Yes, some did not want to do it. Do you remember when they put the white baraccano? In addition to this [zdad] they put like an overcoat.
Interviewer: Many say what is the difference among the Jews of Libya, Morocco? Ho wold you explain the difference, besides sending them to read books. As we say in English "standing on one foot."
No, it is different. [Avoids questions asks me when I am leaving the country. Discussion on my date of departure.]
Interviewer: do you have an answer?
There is a difference. [Wife: I, for example, did not go to Morocco, maybe they are different.] I for example with my experience, if I meet a Jew from Benghazi, I would know immediately that he was from Benghazi.
Interviewer: From what.
The face, he has semitic features that are difference, even different from Libya. Yes, because we did not come from the same origins. We come form the Jews of Spain, they come from being kicked out by Tito after the Roman war, the Jews escaped or were sent away, and they went to Cyrenaica, whereas we came from Spain.
Interviewer: Some say that our liturgy actually comes from the time of Palestine, they say they are pure and they came from the beginning. Do you think so?
Yes, without a doubt. It is the original. Many times for example, our Rabbi is sick, someone else reads the Torah differently from us, people can't tolerate it, they are not able to follow him. [inaudible]. [Wife: When they sing the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur they are very, very harmonious, ours. You should ask Pedi to give you cassettes on the liturgy.
(discussion on personal issues, cassettes, my brother, etc.)
Interviewer: In finishing the interview, are there things you would like to add about the Jews of Libya so no one forgets?
I believe that they have even different (sommatici) Semitic characteristics. Because if I were in Rome and I meet someone I know right away if he is a Jew from Tripoli or Benghazi from the appearance. You can even find the same last name among Jews of Tripoli, you can find, for example Legziel of Tripoli and Legziel of, how do you call it, the border...You can hear when someone speaks poorly with another he says you are Amrosi (from Amros). [laughs]. The fact that the Italian government found it necessary to have a school just for people with Trachoma. (Ingrapati) were the Jews, (ingrapati). A symptomatic fact , the Italian government found it necessary to do it.
Interviewer: Why did the Jews have so much Trachoma.
[Wife: some of them lived in the sand, lack of cleanliness, hygiene...] even in Tripoli there was a school for people with Trachoma, remember across the street from us. It was a big school, built especially for the purpose of those with Trachoma, with special teachers, a Dr. who checked them every day. Even the Hara, for example of Tripoli, the most important place is the place where people were checked by the Dr. and the Dr. goes to this house that is secluded, and it is exactly for being received by the Dr., [Wife: ambulatory] yes, ambulatory. It was all at the expense of the municipality.
Interviewer: The women of that time, did they have stories to tell, particular songs that they sang? Perhaps that they sang for a bride.
Ah, yes, perhaps we have some cassette.
Interviewer: These were particular to women, correct?
Interviewer: Mainly women, right? They used to make them up right?
Yes, women. They made it up. [Wife: someone made them up and the others sang them]. [A] There was Hnafer and the other who used to sing. [I] [Wife: they sang for the bride during the Hanna. [Sings in Arabic: take your daughter, "five" on her...inaudible]
Interviewer: Do you remember more?
You saw pictures of the Hanna, didn't you? Pity, there must be somewhere. Have you ever been to a Hanna here? There were those who dyed even the feet, even the Arabs did it. [Wife: The people of the interiors made some nice festivities, when we were at Qusabat, when I was a child there, they invited us. They made some fabulous parties. For example, a girls when she got engaged, every night she would be invited by another relative, and these made her a party].
Interviewer: You mean [H} Sheva Brachot (the seven benedictions)?
[I] No, this is before the wedding, right after the engagement. Every night they invited her elsewhere.
Interviewer: The Jews you are talking about, where did they come from, did they live there?
[Wife: Yes, they lived there] They even dressed differently. [Wife: in Israel they live in Dalton, there is a place near Sfat]. Too bad, if you had time, I would send you there.
Interviewer: I would like to go. I got to Moshava Porat.
They are not like these, these are specific.
Interviewer: Is it far?
Yes, [Wife: near Sfat, three hours by car. Perhaps Pedi, if you ask him. He used to go.] Write the name: Dalton. If you have time it is important to go there. These are the ones from these places, either Tarhuna or Qusabat. [Wife: I know that before the wedding they used to have these parties, they had this dance, that has always remained in my mind. There were two young women, sitting on the floor, dressed a la Arab, they let their hair loose, and there was one that played the [husband interrupts with an Arabic word, perhaps the name of the instrument or the dance], the dance is called Nehan.] What do hey do, they threw their hair in front of them, [wife: they let their hair down in front of them, then they slowly threw it back, one side first then he other, in unison (she demonstrates), two sitting together, they used o do hi dance that made an impression on me for many years. In fact when I came here to Israel, there was a woman we knew from a long time, and I asked her do you still do this dance for the wedding, and she said [H] no, it is not modern. [I] But it was something beautiful.] [Husband asks if they grow their hair]. [Wife: they don't grow it, they let it down, and then with the music, they did it, first one then the other. It was a splendid thing.].
Interviewer: Only the hair and the hands.
[Wife: Yes, sitting on the floor.] Called Nehan.
Interviewer: And what does "Nahan" mean?
I don't know, it is this kind of movement.
Interviewer: And only the Jews did this?
[Wife: I was only at Jewish weddings. I don't know. They always invited us. My father was well known, and whenever there was an event we were the first to be invited. And I know that this dance was the maximum that (inaudible).] And what's nice is that these people have remained friends till now. (inaudible). It is three hours in each direction. (discussion on how to go to Dalton, and discussion on my tapes and photographs--the project). [Wife: You may have come too late. Raffaello took many of these pictures that people had and he did not return them. Perhaps he even gave them to someone else... he was the one who concerned himself with these things.] All he synagogues of Libya you can still see them...[Wife: because he liturgy is very harmonious, very nice].