(JTA) — In his retirement, Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch is passionate about surnames. Specifically, the last names of Jews who were living in the Arab world before the Mizrahi exodus in the middle of the 20th century around the establishment of Israel.
Rosen-Koenigsbuch spends much of his time with his head buried in archival material from bygone communities searching for names. And when he feels that he’s collected a critical mass of names from any particular city — it would be impossible to find them all — he compiles an index. So far, he’s done Cairo, Alexandria, Baghdad, Damascus and Aleppo, and earlier this month, he published his latest, Beirut — which lists nearly 800 surnames, from Abadi to Zilkha.
“I have the time. And I love it. So I don’t mind sitting for five, six hours to dig out a name,” he said.
If you’re assuming the last name Rosen-Koenigsbuch makes him Ashkenazi, you’re not wrong. And if you’re wondering why he decided to spend his retirement as a genealogist focused on other peoples’ heritage, he gets it and he likes to joke about it.
“I connect with a lot of people who see my work through social media and it’s very nice but you probably realize that if a guy called Rosen-Koenigsbuch is asking questions about Egypt, or Beirut, it sounds a bit suspicious,” he said with a long chuckle.
The answer to the question of why he does what he does is that he spent his career as a diplomat for Israel, including a few years as ambassador to Jordan, and after investigating his own Polish roots, he came to realize something: Much of his family perished in the Holocaust, but at least he can learn something about them because the archives in Europe are open. Jews with Middle Eastern roots and a genealogical itch, on the other hand, have only scraps of written material available, like circumcision ledgers and community newspapers.
This distinction in access aside, neat geographic lines don’t neatly separate Jewish identity categories like Mizrahi, Ashkenazi and Sephardic. Rosen-Koenigsbuch has been surprised to learn of the extent of geographic intermixing long before the Israel ingathered the Jewish diaspora.
“For example, I found out that at least 20% of Jews of Cairo and Alexandria were Ashkenazim,” Rosen-Koenigsbuch said. It was a “big, big, beautiful thing,” he said, when he got hold of the document, “Annual Report of the Ashkenazi Community of Cairo 1938.” “It has hundreds of names!” he said.
As another example, the standard story on Baghdadi Jewry is that the community was massive, at one point making up one-third of the metropolis, with roots going back to antiquity when the Jews were exiled from the Holy Land and held captive by a Babylonian Empire. While that narrative is not exactly wrong, successive plagues in the 19th century wiped out much of the city’s population and Baghdadi Jewish families are to a large degree transplants who arrived afterward.
“You could see by the names that people started coming from other places,” Rosen-Koenigsbuch said. “Shirazi, Darshatim, Yazdi — Persian place names — or Kirkuki. Some people came from Georgia. That’s why we see the given name Gorgi. And Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire. So you have families from Thessaloniki.”
When a name appears on Rosen-Koenigsbuch’s list, that means it came from a historical document somewhere. If you’re doing genealogical research, now you’ve got a paper trail, a lead. Rosen-Koenigsbuch makes himself available through his Facebook profile to people who’d like to get or give more information, or make a correction.
“There is a new generation of young Jews all over the world who are trying to figure out where they hail from,” he said. “This searchable index reveals to them that their surname existed also in Aleppo or Damascus or Beirut.”
Sarina Roffé, a leading expert in Sephardic genealogy, called Rosen-Koenigsbuch a “genius.”
“Jacob loves lists and is meticulous about them. I love the data that goes with the lists, names and dates and what they are for,” said Roffé, the founder of the Sephardic Heritage Project and a past board member of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.
Up next for Rosen-Koenigsbuch is an index for Basra. Or maybe Mosul. Or Port Said.
“They all deserve an index,” he said. “The work is never-ending.”
Israeli Hospital Earns Spot In Global Top 10
A hospital in central Israel was ranked in the top 10 of medical centers globally, in the new rankings out by Newsweek. Sheba Medical Center, located in Tel HaShomer in central Israel, was ranked the ninth best hospital in the world according to the US publication, its sixth year in a row.
“This is a distilled moment of Israeli pride. In this challenging period, Sheba has proven its professionalism and quality for the sixth time in a row. In many ways, this is a true expression of confidence in the entire Israeli healthcare system, for which I thank it from the bottom of my heart,” said Israeli President Isaac Herzog following the news.
The Director General of the hospital, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, added; “This achievement represents a resounding endorsement by our colleagues around the world. Sheba is working diligently to make Israel a better, healthier place and highlights our abilities to be both a center of medical excellence, as well as a beacon of co-existence, where Jewish and Arab medical personnel are working side by side 24/7 to save the lives of civilians and soldiers- Jews, Moslems and Christians alike.”
According to the hospital, which placed 11th in last year’s list, thousands of patients came through their doors in 2023 from every continent on earth, “for the treatment they could not receive in their home countries.”
Concluding on a thoughtful note, Sheba wrote: “Being ranked by Newsweek as the 9th best hospital in the world is a major achievement and an honor, yet our greatest reward lies in the lives we touch and the hope we instill. Together, with our dedicated team of medical professionals, we will continue to push the boundaries of medical advancement, ensuring that every patient receives the highest standard of care regardless of their background or where they live. Thank you for entrusting us with your health and allowing us to be a beacon of hope beyond boundaries.”
Per the rankings, four of the top five hospitals in the world are in the US, with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota at the top, followed by the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Also included in the list from Israel were the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, which ranked 64th in the world, and Rabin Medical Center’s Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, placing 158th globally.
Second Synagogue in Tunisia Attacked Since October 7
A mob set fire to the courtyard of a Tunisian synagogue in the city of Sfax on Sunday, the second such incident since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.
Nobody was injured in the fire — as there are no Jews left in Sfax — and authorities were able to put out the fire before it spread and destroyed the building, but reported showed significant damage to parts of the synagogue.
Israeli Historian Edy Cohen posted a video of the fire and explained that this is yet another example of antisemitism in Tunisia. He argued that “Israel through the Western countries must help Tunisian Jews.”
היום בבוקר נשרף בית כנסת עתיק בתוניסיה .
כתבתי עשרות פוסטים ומאמרים על האנטישמיות הגואה בתוניסיה אשר הגיעה לשיאה לפני פחות משנה כאשר נהרגו שני יהודים בפיגוע של קיצונים.
ישראל באמצעות מדינות המערב חייבת לעזור ליהודי תוניסה. pic.twitter.com/8Nw1jkjtiw
— אדי כהן Edy Cohen (@DREDYCOHEN) February 26, 2024
In 1948, there were an estimated 105,000 Jews in the country. However, by 1967, that number had declined to 20,000 after many fled to countries such as Israel and France, and today Tunisia is estimated to only have about 1,500 Jews.
This is not the first time an antisemitic mob set fire to a synagogue since Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack.
On October 17, rioters set fire to the el-Hamma Synagogue, doing considerable damage. People also entered the synagogue and destroyed much of it. The synagogue is not an active place of worship, as there are no Jews left in the city.
Videos from the riot show crowds of people walking in, around, and on top of the synagogue — including at least one person waving a large Palestinian flag.
En Tunisie, la synagogue d’El Hamma a été détruite et incendiée hier soir par des centaines d’émeutiers, sans la moindre intervention policière. De nombreuses vidéos sur TikTok et Facebook. Et pas la moindre mention dans les médias nationaux https://t.co/U601jWVYWq pic.twitter.com/6F8uIZhoe3
— Joseph Hirsch (@josephhirsch5) October 18, 2023
The riot was precipitated by false reports that Israel had bombed Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, resulting in more than 500 casualties. News outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post uncritically reported the story.
Later, reports from those same outlets, along with human rights groups, suggested that a rocket launched by Palestinian terrorists malfunctioned and hit the parking lot of the hospital, killing dozens. U.S. and Israeli intelligence also conclude this is what took place.
But the damage of the initial reporting was done, whipping much of the Arab world into a frenzy, resulting in huge protests and — in this case — mob violence.
Just a year prior to the war, there was a deadly terrorist attack against the El Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba, where the vast majority of Tunisia’s Jews live. The terrorist opened fire on security guards, killing two and injuring six. He also shot at Jews at the synagogue, two of whom were killed and another four were injured.
The post Second Synagogue in Tunisia Attacked Since October 7 first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
From Ground Zero to the Gaza Border: US Medical Doctors Volunteer In Israel
On September 12, 2001, Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld, a specialist in occupational medicine, was treating victims of terror at a site that would later become known as Ground Zero. More than 22 years later, Wilkenfeld found himself 6,000 miles away from Ground Zero treating terror victims in Israel.
Wilkenfeld took leave of his job for two weeks to volunteer with IL-USDocAID, an initiative that was established in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attacks on October 7, in which more than 1200 people were murdered and 253 were abducted to Gaza.
The project, a joint partnership between Israel’s Health Ministry and the Israel Economic Mission to the US, came in response to the sudden duress suffered by Israel’s health system from soaring casualties and the deployment of thousands of medical staff members, who serve in the IDF as reserve soldiers, to the frontlines.
Wilkenfeld said he was driven to come to Israel after seeing reports of mobilization efforts by Israeli civilians, some as early as October 7 itself. The idea of Israelis who were told to stay in their safe rooms rushing to help first responders wherever they could compelled him to action.
“In America, you feel helpless. What are you going to do? The ability to go here and even play a small role, just to give some advice medically – it’s a beautiful thing,” he told The Algemeiner.
Wilkenfeld took his family with him, who volunteered by cooking for soldiers while he was treating people.
In Israel, Wilkenfeld experienced many firsts. Despite 30 years of being active in the medical profession, including at the scenes of terror attacks, it was the first time he had ever encountered an ambulance station pockmarked by shrapnel and ambulances riddled with bullet holes.
Visiting physicians are given a choice to volunteer with paramedics in ambulances or work directly inside hospitals.
“When you have a doctor in the ambulance there’s more you can do as a paramedic,” Wilkenfeld said. “It also gives real strength for the paramedics to know that people want to come and give help.”
Wilkenfeld said the visit taught him not to pay too much attention to misinformation about Israel.
“I didn’t learn too much about medicine, but I learned a lot about Israel,” he said. “You read in the press that Israel is an apartheid state. But from a medical perspective it’s precisely the opposite.”
During his time in the country, Wilkenfeld said that all the patients he treated received the same medical care, from the “arab in east Jerusalem” to the “major rabbi from Har Nof,” an ultra-Orthodox suburb.
He noted, however, that working in Jerusalem was vastly different from the south, which suffered the brunt of the onslaught, where people are still in an acute state of shock.
“I’ve seen almost a thousand 9/11 responders, the responders in Sderot have the same look in their eyes,” he said of the southern Israeli city in which at least 50 civilians and 20 police officers were murdered. “They talk about the bodies in the ambulance station, about how to prioritize patients, that they haven’t slept in weeks.”
He also said that meeting with the families of hostages left him with a “terrible sadness,” rendering him speechless. Leaning on his medical expertise, however, eventually allowed Wilkenfeld to find his own voice to console them.
“It’s not possible to live in southern Israel and not have PTSD,” he said.
Wilkenfeld returned to his job in New York, where he serves as chief of occupational medicine and clinical assistant professor at NYU-Langone in Long Island, with a somber sense of the realities facing Israel.
He is already working to recruit more volunteers for the project if war should come to Israel again.
“If there is a next time, God forbid, now we can mobilize,” he said. “Now we know who to talk to, where things are.”
Parting ways with the Israeli medical personnel he worked alongside, Wilkenfeld was struck by their sacrifice amidst incomprehensible conditions.
“I leave and they have to live with this.” At the end of the day, he said, “they did much more for me than I did for them.”
To find out more about volunteering as a medic in Israel, click on the following link: IL-USDocAID: https://www.ilusdocaid.org/
The post From Ground Zero to the Gaza Border: US Medical Doctors Volunteer In Israel first appeared on Algemeiner.com.