From Steve Schwager, CEO:
According to some scholars, Jewish life in
Algeria probably dates back nearly 2,600 years, to the time of the destruction of the First Temple in in 586 B.C.E. So Penny and I feel that it is of special importance to note that this past July, the last Jew in Jerusalem assisted by JDC, Mrs. Esther Azoulay, passed away. Algeria
Her passing brings JDC's direct program involvement in that troubled country to a close after a period of 60 years. And how did that work begin?
JDC’s connection started with its support for the Refugee Welfare Committee, which was established in
in 1943 in order to bring assistance to European Jews who found asylum there during WWII. Later, when the State of Israel came into being, JDC also supported the aliyah of Jews from Algeria . However, in 1953, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Algeria felt that JDC should expand its programs for the Jews of Algeria in both the social and cultural arenas, and a JDC office was finally opened in Algeria in 1957. Algiers
JDC provided assistance in many areas: home visits to the needy, support for the development of educational institutions, medical care, cash assistance, and food packages, including matzot for Pesach. By 1959, 4,000 Jews were benefiting from JDC’s aid. In addition, JDC helped strengthen Jewish life in
by supporting the construction of a rabbinical school and Jewish summer camps. Algeria
Even prior to 1962, when
Algeria achieved its independence, Jews in had been facing hostility from certain segments of both the local French and Arab population. And once the French departed, Algerian rule was marked by militant Arab nationalism, growing Islamization, and virulent anti-Zionism. By the end of 1963, the 120,000-member community had dwindled to some 3,000-4,000 Jews. Algeria
In 1964, Mr. Choucroun, President of the Jewish community of Saïda, sent the following letter to Dr. Franco Levi, the JDC representative in
At the time when I am preparing to leave
, I would like to say once again how much I am grateful to the organization you represent and for your good deeds. You saved people in distress … thanks to your actions, children and elderly smiled at life. There do not remain any more poor people in Saïda. Algeria
The story of the final desecration/destruction of the last remaining synagogue in
in 1988 makes stomach-churning reading even today. The damage done was so extensive that the synagogue, now in ruins, had to be permanently closed. By the end of the eighties, only 94 Jews remained in the country. Algiers
In the mid-1990’s the assassination of two Jews in
marked the end of an era. Algiers
JDC remained a pillar of strength, providing assistance to those who needed help even as the community continued to shrink.
Since 1985, Line Meller, then living in
, served as JDC’s liaison with the remaining Jews of Algeria.On our behalf she helped to assure the welfare of a small number of aged and impoverished Jews, who continued to receive cash assistance from JDC until they passed away. Algiers
Although JDC could not redeem these unfortunate Jews from their suffering since they did not want to emigrate, the work that JDC did kept them alive. JDC enabled Line Meller to light a candle in a black hole of darkness.
In 2010, Mr. Messaoud Chetrit, 82-years-old and the last Jewish man still living in
, passed away. A delegation of Jews came from Oran France to ensure that he was buried according to the traditional Jewish ritual in the very where he had been the final caretaker. cemetery of Oran
And that brings us to the last Jew in
assisted by JDC, Mrs. Azoulay, who had a very difficult life. In 1992, her case came to the attention of JDC, which from that point on provided her with regular cash assistance. Over a period of two decades, this JDC aid enabled Mrs. Azoulay to pay for all the medical care she needed for her multiple ailments. But perhaps what she treasured most about this JDC connection was the reassurance it gave her that she had not been forgotten by her people. Algeria
Among her last words to JDC was this postcard, sent to Yechiel Bar-Chaim in JDC’s
January 10, 2011
Dear Mr. Bar-Chaim,
I received the magazines and the greetings card that you sent me together with the wishes of all JDC Paris staff. I was very touched. I had tears in my eyes. Fortunately, there are people like you who have compassion for others.
I wish you and the JDC Paris staff good health, peace in the world and everything you wish.
I send you my love and thank you again.