When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History

Massoud Hayoun. New Press, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62097-416-2
In this passionate blend of family history, memoir, and rumination on identity, journalist Hayoun utilizes family lore, journals, and photographs to tell his grandparents’ story and recreate a lost multicultural era in the Arab world. His assertion that “I am Arab first and last. Judaism is an adjective that modifies my Arabness” may sound unusual or contradictory, but, as Hayoun points out, for centuries Jews made up a third or more of the populations of Arab capitals from Tunis to Baghdad. After the establishment of the state of Israel, many were forced to abandon their homelands. Hayoun recounts his family’s stories of exodus (his grandparents emigrated from Tunisia and Egypt to France, where they met, and then to the U.S., where they raised him in a largely Middle Eastern neighborhood in Los Angeles) and his community’s strained relationship with the State of Israel, where “to call a Jew from an Arab country an Arab was to insult them for being uncivilized.” Deeply personal, moving reminiscences from his ancestors will make even those with no knowledge of the subject nostalgic for a bygone age; Hayoun describes, for example, distinctive holidays his grandfather’s Egyptian Jewish community celebrated, like Leila al-Tawhid, named (in Arabic) for an Islamic theological concept, whose prayers included phrases from the Muslim liturgy. Readers will relish this revealing glimpse of that now-obscured world. (June)
Reviewed on : 07/30/2019
Release date: 06/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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